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Major Media Outlets That Use Invasive User Tracking Are Lobbying Against Regulation

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 02/02/2022 - 5:52am in

News outlets entrusted with promoting transparency and privacy are also lobbying behind closed doors against proposals to regulate the mass collection of Americans’ data.

In a filing last week, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a trade group, reported it was lobbying against a push at the Federal Trade Commission to restrict the collection and sale of personal data for the purpose of delivering advertisements. The IAB represents both data brokers and online media outlets that depend on digital advertising, such as CNN, the New York Times, MSNBC, Time, U.S. News and World Report, the Washington Post, Vox, the Orlando Sentinel, Fox News, and dozens of other media companies.

Under President Joe Biden and FTC Chair Lina Khan, the advertising technology industry is facing its first real challenge of federal regulation. There are several bills in Congress that attempt to define and restrict the types of data collected on users and how that data is monetized. Last July, Biden called for the FTC to promulgate rules over the “surveillance of users” in his landmark executive order on competition, which identified unfair data collection as a challenge to both competition and privacy.

In December, the advocacy group Accountable Tech petitioned the FTC calling for regulation of what it calls “surveillance advertising”: the process of collecting mass data on users of popular apps and websites and creating profiles of those users based on location, age, sex, race, religion, browsing history, and interests in order to serve targeted ads. The industry has grown in leaps and bounds, now generating billions in revenue, but has so far faced limited regulation in the U.S.

Major media corporations increasingly rely on a vast ecosystem of privacy violations, even as the public relies on them to report on it.

In a letter, IAB called for the FTC to oppose a ban on data-driven advertising networks, claiming the modern media cannot exist without mass data collection. “Data-driven advertising has actually help preserve, and grow, news outlets since its inception over twenty years ago,” the letter said. “The thousands of media companies and news outlets that rely on data-driven advertising would be irreparably harmed by the Petition’s suggested rules.”

The privacy push has largely been framed as a showdown between technology companies and the administration. The lobbying reveals a tension that is rarely a center of the discourse around online privacy: Major media corporations increasingly rely on a vast ecosystem of privacy violations, even as the public relies on them to report on it. Major news outlets have remained mostly silent on the FTC’s current push and a parallel effort to ban surveillance advertising by the House and Senate by Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.

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Illustration: Soohee Cho for The Intercept

“They certainly report on aspects of this problem, but they’re not reporting on how they’re complicit in the surveillance advertising story,” said Jeff Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, which supports the FTC petition for regulation.

Chester noted that major media outlets will cover episodic scandals, such as the use of Facebook data by the firm Cambridge Analytica during the 2016 presidential election or algorithmic targeting of ads in politics, but don’t provide context of how the outlets themselves use and benefit from the same collection of data for routine advertising purposes. (On its website, The Intercept uses Google Analytics but does not host more invasive trackers. Its podcasts use a separate third-party system, which users can opt out of.)

“The large media companies have their own programmatic advertising operations, or what you might call surveillance advertising, using content on their own websites,” said Chester. “Not only are they not reporting on this issue and what’s at stake, but they don’t report on what they do. It’s not just a privacy issue. It’s a democracy issue. It’s a consumer protection issue.”

The tension was highlighted in a 2019 New York Times guest opinion column provocatively titled, “This Article Is Spying on You.” The article noted that a reader visiting a Times news article on, for instance, abortion might encounter tracking technology used by nearly 50 different companies, including BlueKai, a firm owned by the massive company Oracle that sells user data for markets to target those with “health conditions” and “medical terms.”

The column was based on a review of 4,000 U.S.-based news websites and 4,000 non-news sites conducted by Timothy Libert, formerly with Carnegie Mellon University, and Reuben Binns, with the University of Oxford. It found that news sites are generally more reliant on third-party tracking technology than non-news sites and had a lower degree of user privacy.

“While users may turn to the news to learn of the ways in which corporations compromise their privacy, it is news sites where we find the greatest risks to privacy,” noted the authors.

Since then, news sites’ user tracking has only gotten more extreme. In 2020, a study published by Ghostery, a company that provides tools to block third-party data collection, found that news websites contained the most trackers globally — more than business, banking, entertainment, or adult websites. The trackers tend to collect a variety of data, including browsing history, location, and phone identifying information.

And it’s been highly profitable. The New York Times, for instance, has moved away from traditional print advertising and paper delivery and is increasingly reliant on digital advertising and subscriptions. In its latest quarterly disclosure, the Times revealed that its digital ad revenues increased by $19.2 million over the same period in the previous year. The increase was driven in part by greater programmatic advertising revenue, a term for the automated ads served by third-party ad brokers. The Times, notably, is a member of IAB, the lobby group that defends the digital advertising industry from regulation.

Last month, as part of the regulatory push on data privacy, the FTC issued a $2 million fine against the advertising tech firm OpenX for illegally collecting and monetizing location data from children on a mass scale. Advertising platforms such as OpenX serve as an exchange, with data from thousands of web publishers and tens of thousands of apps feeding profiles of users into a system that advertising agencies use to place targeted ads that appear across multiple news websites as users browse the web.

Many gaming, weather, and dating apps, as well as a variety of websites, quietly collect behavioral, demographic, health, and location data on users that is sold to advertising tech brokers. Advertising agencies go to data brokers to better target potential consumers. As individuals browse the web, they are greeted by custom advertisements based on profiles of what data brokers believe to be their shopping habits, interests, or concerns.

OpenX, which processes nearly 100 billion ad requests per day, is one of the largest third-party platforms that serve as a key mechanism of this data exchange. The FTC alleged that OpenX vacuumed up location information on child-focused apps without parental consent and used the data to attract advertisers.

There were a few blogs and industry trade outlet stories that covered the settlement, but no pieces in major media outlets that have otherwise intensely covered Silicon Valley and the sprawling privacy issues presented by consumer-facing tech companies.

If major media outlets had covered the story, they would have had to acknowledge an awkward reality. OpenX is one of the largest third-party advertising platforms serving the news media, alongside AppNexus, Google, and Facebook. The company is used or has been used in recent months for the placement of targeted ads by outlets such as the New York Times, CNN, Gizmodo, HuffPost, Fox News, and Der Spiegel. Several outlets said they were in the process of reviewing the advertising partnership with OpenX but could not comment further.

The Gizmodo website, for example, uses trackers that store or sell user location data, including trackers from RhythmOne, Simpli.fi, Smart Adserver, Lotame, and OpenX, according to data compiled by Ghostery and privacy policy disclosures under the California Online Privacy Protection Act. Simpli.fi, according to disclosures, collects precise location data and partners with third-party data brokers such as Cuebiq.

“We work with OpenX as a marketplace through which advertisers may bid to place ads on our website. We do not provide OpenX with either data relating to children or precise location data,” said Danielle Rhoades Ha, a spokesperson for the New York Times. The Times’s response, however, belies the nature of the third-party ad broker business; the Times does collect user location data, and its third-party behavioral ad partners, such as OpenX, use an array of sources to monetize location data for the placement of ads on sites such as the Times’s website. Other publications did not respond or declined to comment on their ties to OpenX.

“Almost all sites are trapped in a system of surveillance capitalism, in which they either steal data or rely on technology that steals data.”

The growth of digital advertising has forced nearly every major for-profit news website to utilize the most intrusive forms of mass surveillance, including browsing history and location data — a dynamic highlighted by the OpenX fine.

“It’s really a puzzling and tricky situation because almost all sites are trapped in a system of surveillance capitalism, in which they either steal data or rely on technology that steals data,” said Krzysztof Modras, director of engineering and product at Ghostery. “I don’t think OpenX is abnormal at all.”

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Illustration: Soohee Cho for The Intercept

Though advertising is the focus of the data collection industry, the applications of user data are boundless. Law enforcement agencies have tapped the oceans of user data, including for the targeting of protesters and activist groups. Powerful political interests have hired data brokers to better influence voters. The data broker Acxiom, another tech firm that partners with many news websites, has provided data to the FBI and discussed programs to sell user data to the Pentagon.

The Pillar, a conservative Catholic publication, claimed to have obtained location data from the gay hookup app Grinder from third-party data brokers to out a prominent Catholic priest as gay.

In the case of the FTC fine issued in December, OpenX had sourced precise geolocation data from children under the age of 13, including child-directed apps “for toddlers,” “for kids,” and “preschool learning,” in the data the company offered to advertisers, in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, rule.

“OpenX secretly collected location data and opened the door to privacy violations on a massive scale, including against children,” Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. “Digital advertising gatekeepers may operate behind the scenes, but they are not above the law.”

Following the settlement, OpenX agreed to a periodic review of the apps the company uses to source its data. Max Nelson, a spokesperson for the company, pointed to a statement issued by the firm that noted the use of children’s location data was an “unintentional error” that has since been fixed.

Critics argue that the FTC needs to go beyond enforcing COPPA by cracking down on the sources of data that feed into the larger ecosystem. Many children’s websites and apps contain code that enable the sharing of user data with brokers. The tracking technology, known as an SDK, or software development kit, is intentionally embedded by web developers in order to monetize user data.

Angela Campbell, professor of law at Georgetown University, has argued for more enforcement and an update to the current law to make it easier for regulators to create clear rules to protect children from targeted data collection and advertising. Campbell noted that OpenX’s many partners also could have been targeted by regulators.

“I have a children’s app, if it’s a child-directed app and I’m the app developer, and I use an SDK from OpenX, I’m responsible,” noted Campbell. “This whole bidding process and advertising process is not transparent so the public doesn’t know about it. The FTC has not enforced this COPPA law very much at all.”

News outlets are also implicated. Although major media publications say they are not intentionally selling children’s data to OpenX and other brokers, these statements are largely expressions of plausible deniability rather than affirmative knowledge.

Unlike products and services which are specifically targeted at children, which are required under federal COPPA guidelines to collect age information, media sites are not required to verify the age of users as their products are primarily directed at adult audiences. This means that by default, news media sites assume all readers are adults and treat the data of all visitors the same, so children’s data is almost certainly provided to brokers — it just isn’t labeled as such.

Even news media sites with student sections, such as CNN Student News, which describes itself as “ten-minute, commercial-free, daily news program designed for middle and high school classes” do not consistently collect age information, thereby following the media industry standard assumption that readers are adults.

Due to this lack of verification, CNN’s parent company WarnerMedia has a privacy policy that simply states “on most Sites, we do not knowingly collect information from children,” while still sending data to ad brokers without verification.

The near-unavoidable nature of online surveillance has presented similarly thorny issues for other privacy-centric organizations. Last year, Ashkan Soltani, a prominent privacy advocate, noted that the American Civil Liberties Union used many of the very data trackers the group has long critiqued. The ACLU shared personally identifiable information with third parties such as Facebook, including names, email addresses, phone numbers, and ZIP codes.

The decision to use the tracking technology was made by the ACLU’s fundraising and advocacy team, not its legal department, which often does not work in tandem, noted Catherine Crump, a former ACLU attorney who now leads the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic at the University of California’s Berkeley School of Law.

This is all the more reason, advocates say, to focus on broad reform rather than simply highlighting cases of individual bad actors.

“There’s a tendency to focus on individual narratives even in the face of systemic problems,” said Alan Butler, the president of Electronic Privacy Information Center, who favors universal opt-out solutions for users and strict rules on so-called secondary collection of data.

“It’s not a solution to just bring a fine or enforcement when there is surveillance advertising happening up and down the stack and throughout the ecosystem,” added Butler.

The bigger question for the media might be, how do we create a free press that isn’t reliant on mass data collection?

“Does the free internet mean an internet dominated by surveillance and manipulation?” asked Chester, of Center for Digital Democracy. “What does it mean that the only way to have an independent news media is to have this kind of surveillance system? Those issues [have] not been covered by the press.”

The post Major Media Outlets That Use Invasive User Tracking Are Lobbying Against Regulation appeared first on The Intercept.

Cartoon: High tech medievalism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/02/2022 - 11:50pm in

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Follow me on Twitter at @JenSorensen

How modern technology could bring democracy to a crossroads

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 28/01/2022 - 4:58am in

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Technology

Advances in technology have resulted in employment and wage dislocations that are polarising society and undermining trust in political institutions. Technological progress has been the key driver of the enormous improvement in living standards in all the advanced economies since the Industrial Revolution. No wonder governments have welcomed technological progress and sought to foster it. Continue reading »

Emerging Challenges for ESG Reporting

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 25/01/2022 - 1:34pm in

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What would your business do without its key stakeholders, such as investors and customers? The short answer is that it would rapidly ebb out. Now, all of these stakeholders want to see one thing: a responsible enterprise. This leaves you with no choice but to embrace ESG reporting fully. ESG sustainability reporting is the disclosure of a company’s…

The post Emerging Challenges for ESG Reporting appeared first on Peak Oil.

Facebook's Tamil Censorship Highlights Risks to Everyone

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 19/01/2022 - 10:00pm in

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Technology, World

Facebook’s Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy, a vast library of secret rules limiting the online speech of billions, is ostensibly designed to curtail offline violence. For the editors of the Tamil Guardian, an online publication covering Sri Lankan news, the policy has meant years of unrelenting, unexplained censorship.

Thusiyan Nandakumar, the Tamil Guardian’s editor, told The Intercept that over the past several years, Facebook has twice suspended the publication’s Instagram account and removed dozens of its posts without warning — each time claiming a violation of the DIO policy. The censorship comes at a time of heightened scrutiny of this policy from free speech advocates, civil society groups, and even the company’s official Oversight Board.

A string of meetings with Facebook have yielded nothing more than vague assurances, dissembling, and continued deletions, according to Nandakumar. Despite claims from the company that it would investigate the matter, Nandakumar says the situation has only gotten worse. Faced with ongoing censorship, the Guardian’s staff have decided to self-censor, sparingly using the outlet’s Instagram account for fear of losing it permanently.

Facebook admitted to The Intercept that some of the actions taken against the outlet had been made in error, while defending others without providing specifics.

Civil liberties advocates who discussed the Tamil Guardian’s treatment said that it’s an immediately familiar dynamic and part of a troubling trend. Facebook moderators, whether in South Asia, Latin America, or in any of the other places they patrol content, routinely take down posts first and ask questions later, the advocates said. They tend to lack expertise and local nuance, and their employer is often under pressure from local governments. In Sri Lanka, authorities have “picked up and harassed” Tamil journalists for critical coverage in real life, according to Steven Butler of the Committee to Protect Journalists, who called the Tamil Guardian’s Facebook experience “definitely a press freedom issue.” Indeed, experts said Facebook’s censorship of the Guardian calls into fundamental question its ability to sensibly distinguish “dangerous” content that can instigate violence from journalistic and cultural expression about groups that have engaged in violence.

Sri Lanka’s Information Offensive

The roots of the Tamil Guardian’s very 21st-century online content dilemma go back more than four decades, to the civil war that erupted between Sri Lanka’s government and members of its Tamil ethnic minority in 1983. It was then that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam began a 25-year, sporadically fought conflict to establish an independent Tamil state. During the war, the LTTE, also known as the Tamil Tigers, developed an increasingly ruthless reputation. To the ruling party of Sri Lanka and its allies in the West, the Tamil Tigers were a bloody, irredeemable militant group, described by the FBI in 2008 as “among the most dangerous and deadly extremists in the world.” But for many Sri Lankan Tamils, the Tigers were their army, a bulwark against a government intent on repressing them. “It was an organization that at the time became almost synonymous with Tamil demands for independence, as they were the group that was quite literally willing to die for it,” Nandakumar explained via email.

Unquestionably, however, the LTTE was a violent organization whose tactics included the use of suicide bombings, torture, civilian assaults, and political assassinations. The government, meanwhile, perpetrated decades of alleged war crimes, including the repeated massacre of Tamil civilians, generating waves of bloodshed that dispersed Sri Lankan Tamils throughout the world. The Tamil Guardian was founded in London in 1998 to serve members of this diaspora as well as those who remained in Sri Lanka. Though it was often considered a pro-Tiger publication in contemporaneous reporting during the war, the Tamil Guardian of today runs editorials by the likes of David Cameron and Ed Milliband, and its work is cited by larger outlets in the western political media mainstream.

The Tigers were defeated and dissolved in 2009, bringing the civil war to a close after the deaths of an estimated 40,000 civilians. In the years since, Sri Lankan Tamils have observed Maaveerar Naal, an annual remembrance of those who died in the war, with ceremonies both at home in Sri Lanka and abroad. “When [Tigers] died or were killed, people lost family, friends, colleagues,” said Nandakumar. “They are people that many around the world still want to remember and commemorate.”

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan state has conducted what human rights observers have described as a campaign of brutal suppression against the memorialization of war casualties and other expressions of Tamil national identity. Mentions of the LTTE are subject to particularly fierce crackdowns by the hard-line government helmed by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a former Sri Lankan defense secretary accused of directly ordering a multitude of atrocities during the war.

The suppression campaign has included attempts to stifle unwanted online commentary. In September 2019, Gen. Shavendra Silva, Sri Lanka’s army chief, announced a military offensive against “misinformation” at the nation’s Seventh Annual Cyber Security Summit. “Misguided youths sitting in front of the social media would be more dangerous than a suicide bomber,” Silva remarked. Soon after, Nandakumar says, the Tamil Guardian found itself unable to even mention the Tigers on Facebook without being subjected to censorship via the DIO policy. Nandakumar said that virtually any coverage from the Guardian related to the Tigers or even to sentiments of Tamil pride risks removal. Routinely stricken from the Tamil Guardian’s Facebook and Instagram accounts are posts covering Tamil nationalist political protests inside Sri Lanka as well as uploads merely depicting historically notable LTTE figures. Each time the Tamil Guardian has posts deleted or its account ejected, the only rationale provided is that the post somehow violated Facebook’s prohibition against “praise, support, or representation” of a dangerous organization, even though the policy is supposed to carry an exemption for journalism.

“We have never been accused of breaching any UK, or indeed U.S., laws particularly with regards to terrorism,” Nandakumar told The Intercept.

On the Tamil Guardian’s overall experience with Facebook, spokesperson Kate Hayes would say only, via email: “We remove content that violates our policies, but if accounts continue to share violating content, we will take stronger action. This could include temporary feature blocks and, ultimately, being removed from the platform.”

Though defunct, the Tigers are still a designated terror organization in the U.S., Canada, and the European Union, and Facebook cribs much of its DIO roster from these designations, blacklisting and limiting discussion of not only the Tigers but also 26 other allegedly affiliated persons and groups. Still, as Nandakumar points out, Western outlets like the BBC and U.K. Guardian routinely cover the same protests and remembrances as his publication, and write obituaries for the same ex-LTTE cadres, without their publications being deemed terrorist propaganda.

Nandakumar is convinced that the government is monitoring the Tamil Guardian’s Instagram account and reporting anything that could be construed pro-Tamil, Tiger or otherwise — although he concedes that he can’t prove the Sri Lankan state is behind the Facebook and Instagram suppression. In July 2020, Instagram removed a photo uploaded by the Tamil Guardian of Hugh McDermott, a member of the Australian Parliament, attending a Maaveerar Naal memorial event in Sydney, while a photo of a flower being laid at a similar event in London was deleted three months later. When the outlet published an article about Anton Balasingham, a former LTTE negotiator, in November 2020, on the anniversary of his death, an Instagram post promoting the article was quickly removed, as was a post that same month depicting the face of S. P. Thamilselvan, former head of the LTTE’s political wing and a peace negotiator who was killed by a Sri Lankan airstrike in 2007.

Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam's (LTTE) chief negotiator Anton Balasingham during the press conference at the Bogis-Bossey chateau in Celigny, Switzerland, on Feb. 23, 2006.

Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam’s chief negotiator Anton Balasingham during the press conference at the Bogis-Bossey chateau in Celigny, Switzerland, on Feb. 23, 2006.

Photo illustration: Soohee Cho for The Intercept, Francois Mori/AP

Facebook Adds to Government Pressure

In January 2021, following two years of vanishing posts and requests for more information from Facebook, Nandakumar was able to secure a meeting with the team responsible for DIO enforcement. “The meeting was cordial, with Facebook acknowledging that … their policy can sometimes be bluntly applied and that mistakes can occur,” Nandakumar said. “They encouraged us to send examples, assuring us that this was an issue of importance and one that they would look into.” Nandakumar says the outlet then submitted an 11-page brief documenting the removals and hoped for the best.

Meanwhile, the deletions kept coming. “We continued to send over examples, ensuring Facebook was kept almost constantly aware of the number of times our news coverage was being unfairly removed,” said Nandakumar.

Despite Facebook’s suggestion that the posts had been removed in error, Nandakumar says that in February 2021, the DIO team flatly told him that the Tamil Guardian account had in fact been properly punished for its “praise, support, and representation” of terrorism. “It was extremely disappointing,” recounted Nandakumar in an email to The Intercept. “We had what seemed like a productive meeting, sent over a detailed brief and repeatedly emailed extensive examples, yet received a curt and blunt response which failed to address any of the issues we had raised. We were being brushed off. We highlighted once more that some of the events we covered were actually taking place in the [U.S.], legally and with full permission, but were still inexplicably being removed. Their reasoning just did not hold.”

“We had what seemed like a productive meeting … yet received a curt and blunt response which failed to address any of the issues we had raised.”

The deletions continued apace: When Kittu Memorial Park in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, burned to the ground in March 2021, the Tamil Guardian wrote an article accompanied by an Instagram post reporting on the suspected arson attack. The park was named for a Tiger colonel who killed himself in 1993, and Facebook deleted the Instagram post associated with the Guardian article. Two months later, when the outlet published a series revisiting the 2009 destruction of a civilian hospital, believed to have been perpetrated by the Sri Lankan government and described by Human Rights Watch as a war crime, the accompanying Instagram posts were removed.

A photo of Kittu Memorial Park posted to Instagram by the Tamil Guardian in March 2021 and removed later that month.

Tamil Guardian

A photo of Australian MP Hugh McDermott attending a Sri Lankan civil war memorial event in Sydney posted by the Tamil Guardian’s Instagram account, removed by Facebook in July 2020.

Tamil Guardian

During the weekend of Maaveerar Naal this past November, the account was reopened with an automated Facebook message saying that the suspension had been a mistake and then banned once more within the same 24-hour period. Though the account is currently reactivated, Nandakumar says the Tamil Guardian’s editors decided that using it to reach and grow the publication’s audience of about 40,000 monthly readers isn’t worth the risk.

Facebook’s Hayes wrote, “We removed the Tamil Guardian account in error but we restored it as soon as we realized our mistake. We apologize for any inconvenience caused.” The company did not answer questions about why the Tamil Guardian’s deleted posts had been removed if its overall suspension had been an error.

The Tamil Guardian obtained a second meeting with Facebook this past October after a pressure campaign from Canadian and British parliamentarians and Reporters Without Borders. At that meeting, Facebook cited its obligation “to comply with U.S. government regulation,” Nandakumar said, and stated that “our content may have continued to breach their guidelines.”

Experts say there is no law on the books in the U.S. stopping Facebook from letting journalists or ordinary users freely discuss or even praise LTTE figures, commemorate the war’s victims, or depict contemporary remembrances of the dead. “I know of no obligation under U.S. law, no requirement that they remove such material,” Electronic Frontier Foundation Civil Liberties Director David Greene told The Intercept. “For years they would say, ‘I’m sorry, we are required by law to take that down.’ And we would ask them for the law, and we wouldn’t get anything.”

The Daunting Job and “Human Error” of Moderators

It appears then to be Facebook, not the federal government of the U.S., that is collapsing the LTTE and Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism into a single entity, the consequences of which make exploring the country’s painful past and uncertain future from the perspective of the war’s losing side a near impossibility on an internet where a presence on the company’s platforms is crucial to reaching an audience.

Nandakumar said that the history of the Tigers and the future of Sri Lanka’s Tamils are impossible to untangle. “For newspapers and media organizations reporting on the conflict and the Tamil cause, it was impossible to avoid the LTTE – just as much as it would have been to avoid the Sri Lankan state,” he continued. Today, Nandakumar said, “alongside highlighting of the daily repression faced in the Tamil homeland, our role is to reflect and analyze the variety of Tamil political voices and opinion. We report on commemoration of historical or significant events as these remain important to the Tamil polity, who continue to mark these dates despite Sri Lanka’s attempts to stop them.”

Tamil Guardian reporters, along with staff from other outlets, are frequently harassed and detained by Sri Lankan police, sometimes on the grounds that they’ve violated national anti-terror laws, according to a Reporters Without Borders report. In 2019, the Tamil Guardian’s Shanmugam Thavaseelan was arrested for “trying to cover a demonstration calling for justice for the Tamil civilians who disappeared during the civil war,” as the report put it.

Nandakumar says he’s convinced that the Sri Lankan government has a hand in the Facebook deletions, in part because he’s learned that it has attempted similar tactics on other platforms: In December 2020, Twitter informed the Tamil Guardian that the Sri Lankan government had lobbied, unsuccessfully, to have the outlet’s tweets deleted on the platform. “This coincided with a ramping up of media suppression across the island and with the removal of our content on Facebook and Instagram.”

“What is one person’s dangerous individual or organization is someone else’s hero.”

“The action taken against The Tamil Guardian account was not in response to any government pressure or mass reporting,” said Facebook’s Hayes, adding that each of the two Instagram suspensions “was a case of human error.”

Greene said that the Tamil Guardian’s treatment is illustrative of a fundamental parochialism behind the DIO policy: “What is one person’s dangerous individual or organization is someone else’s hero.” But before values come into play, there is the question of basic facts; a moderator overseeing Sri Lanka must know “who the Tamil Tigers were, what the political situation was, the fact that they don’t exist, what their ongoing legacy might be,” Greene said. “The amount of expertise that a company like Facebook is required to have on every single geopolitical situation around the world is really startling.”

According to Jillian York, director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the rigidity of Facebook’s DIO roster risks causing what she described as “cultural and historical erasure,” a status quo under which one can’t publicly and freely discuss a group designated as an enemy by the U.S., even after that enemy ceases to exist. “We’ve seen this with some groups in Latin America that are still on the U.S. [terror] list, like FARC,” the Colombian guerrilla army that dissolved in 2017 but remains banned from free discussion under Facebook policy. “At some point, you have to be able to talk about these things.”

Update: January 19, 2022
This article has been changed to reflect a decision by the Tamil Guardian this week to resume posting on Instagram in a limited fashion.

The post Facebook’s Tamil Censorship Highlights Risks to Everyone appeared first on The Intercept.

Pegasus Spyware Used Against Dozens of Activist Women in the Middle East

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 19/01/2022 - 7:40am in

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Dozens of women journalists and human rights defenders in Bahrain and Jordan have had their phones hacked using NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, according to a report by Front Line Defenders and Access Now.

The report adds to a growing public record of Pegasus misuse globally, including against dissidents, reporters, diplomats, and members of the clergy. It also threatens to increase pressure on the Israel-based NSO Group, which in November was placed on a U.S. trade blacklist.

“When governments surveil women, they are working to destroy them,” wrote Marwa Fatafta, Middle East and North Africa policy manager at Access Now, in a statement accompanying the report. “Surveillance is an act of violence. It is about exerting power over every aspect of a woman’s life through intimidation, harassment, and character assassination. The NSO Group and its government clients are all responsible, and must be publicly exposed and disgraced.”

NSO Group was placed on the trade blacklist after a consortium of journalists working with the French nonprofit Forbidden Stories reported multiple cases in which journalists and activists appear to have been targeted by foreign governments using the spyware. (NSO denied the allegations.) The same month, researchers from Amnesty International and the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab said they found Pegasus on the phones of six Palestinian human rights activists. Last week, another Citizen Lab report found that dozens of Salvadoran human rights activists’ phones had been hacked using Pegasus.

Pegasus is breathtaking in its ability to take complete control of a device without detection and is often referred to as “military grade” spyware. Researchers have said that it can access every message the subject has sent and received, including from encrypted messaging services; it can also access the camera and microphone, record the screen, and monitor the subject’s location via GPS.

Apple sued NSO Group in November, trying to stop the company’s software from compromising its operating systems. That followed a similar suit from Facebook in 2019 alleging that the company was hacking the social media giant’s WhatsApp messaging service.

NSO Group did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the new report. But earlier this week, in the wake of the El Salvador research, it said that it only grants licenses to government intelligence and law enforcement agencies following “a process of investigation and licensing” by the Israeli Ministry of Defense. The company added that the use of its cybersecurity tools to monitor dissidents, activists, and journalists is a serious misuse of that technology.

In a study published in December 2020, Citizen Lab identified 25 countries whose governments had acquired surveillance systems from Circles, a company affiliated with NSO Group: Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Chile, Denmark, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, Israel, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Peru, Serbia, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

The hacks of the activists in Jordan and Bahrain now add two more countries to the list.

Beaten by Police Then Hacked Eight Times

The report documents how Pegasus can have a particularly egregious impact on women, who are disproportionately vulnerable to the weaponization of personal information when governments seek to intimidate, harass, and publicly smear dissidents.

It details the case of Ebtisam al-Saegh, a renowned human rights defender who works in Bahrain with the advocacy group SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights. Al-Saegh’s iPhone was hacked at least eight times between August and November 2019 with Pegasus spyware, according to the researchers.

The privacy violations extended what the report described as brutal harassment by Bahraini authorities. On May 26, 2017, the report said, Bahrain’s National Security Agency summoned al-Saegh to the Muharraq Police Station. Interrogators subjected her to verbal abuse and physically beat and sexually assaulted her. They threatened her with rape if she did not halt her human rights activism. Upon release, she was immediately taken to a hospital.

“I am in a state of daily fear and terror after I was informed by Front Line Defenders that I was spied on.”

“I am in a state of daily fear and terror after I was informed by Front Line Defenders that I was spied on,” the report quotes al-Saegh as saying. “I started to be afraid of having the phone next to me, especially when I am in the bedroom or even at home among my family, my children, my husband.”

Front Line Defenders’ forensic investigation found that al-Saegh’s phone was compromised multiple times in August 2019 (on August 8, 9, 12, 18, 28, and 31); on September 19, 2019; and on November 22, 2019. Traces of process names linked to Pegasus were identified on her phone, such as “roleaccountd,” “stagingd,” “xpccfd,” “launchafd,” “logseld,” “eventstorpd,” “libtouchregd,” “frtipd,” “corecomnetd,” “bh,” and “boardframed.” Amnesty International’s Security Lab and the Citizen Lab have both attributed these process names to the NSO spyware.

Another victim described in the report is Hala Ahed Deeb, a human rights activist and member of the legal team defending the Jordan Teachers’ Syndicate, one of the country’s largest labor unions. The Jordanian government dissolved the union in December 2020 in response to mass protests. Deeb’s phone was compromised by Pegasus on March 16, 2021, according to the report.

Other victims mentioned in the report include Emirati activist Alaa al-Siddiq, Alaraby journalist Rania Dridi, and Al Jazeera broadcast journalist Ghada Oueiss.

The report calls for an “immediate moratorium on the use, sale, and transfer of surveillance technologies produced by private firms until adequate human rights safeguards and regulation is in place” and a “move to take serious and effective measures against surveillance technology providers like NSO Group.”

The post Pegasus Spyware Used Against Dozens of Activist Women in the Middle East appeared first on The Intercept.

The Real Cost Of The Gig Economy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 07/01/2022 - 5:01pm in

With workers pushed to breaking point, is it now time to call time on predatory business models that give rise to this form of exploitative relationship?

Ross met up with Writer and Filmmaker, Shannon Walsh, to discuss.

The post The Real Cost Of The Gig Economy appeared first on Renegade Inc.

The Real Cost Of The Gig Economy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 07/01/2022 - 5:01pm in

With workers pushed to breaking point, is it now time to call time on predatory business models that give rise to this form of exploitative relationship?

Ross met up with Writer and Filmmaker, Shannon Walsh, to discuss.

The post The Real Cost Of The Gig Economy appeared first on Renegade Inc.

Even Walmart Is

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 06/01/2022 - 6:47am in

hello i have written about the metaverse and that cursed walmart video that’s been going around

Vaccine Passports Are Here to Stay. Why Worry?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 01/01/2022 - 10:00pm in

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Illustration: Soohee Cho/The Intercept

“Yeah I use the pass. What should I be afraid of?” That’s Jack, a friend who works in state and city politics, responding to a poll I posted on Facebook about digital Covid-19 vaccination passports. “Are you using one?” it asked. “Why’d you download it instead of using the paper card? Do you have any fears about it?”

The responses were untroubled. Using it: mostly yes. “Now that theater is back, [New York] Excelsior passes are handy, since proof of vax is mandatory,” wrote a critic. A retired teacher noted that the app is more durable; paper “rumples” and gets lost.

And fears? Mostly no. I sent Jack a few off the top of my head: “Concerns about privacy, misuse of digitized biodata, lack of transparency, more info in hands of tech companies and the state in some unknown collaboration.”

“The state already had vax data,” he replied. “I never considered the rest. Which answers your question about whether people were worried, in my case.”

The digital Covid vaccination certification, or “passport,” is a mobile app that instantaneously affirms the vaccinated status, Covid test results, birth date, gender, and/or other identifiers of its holder. The information is usually mosaicked in a QR code, read by a proprietary scanner, and linked to a government registry. Led by New York, California, and Louisiana, as many as 30 states are rolling them out. The Biden administration announced last spring that it would wrangle them under national standards but so far it hasn’t. Internationally, the EU and a growing number of countries are adopting them, from repressive regimes like Bahrain to democracies like Denmark.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern heralded her country’s My Vaccine Pass as the keycard to the kingdom. “It’s actually really straightforward. If you’ve got a vaccine pass, you can do everything,” she announced, flashing a friendly shark grin. “Basically, that’s it.”

Not everybody is as nonchalant as Jack or as gung-ho as the PM. Twenty U.S. states have banned the passes, and hashtags like #NoVaccinePassports are proliferating on both sides of the Atlantic. “Spoiler alert,” tweeted British DJ, record producer, and anti-vaccine conspiracy-monger Lange. “They are not planning on removing vax passports once introduced. This is just the first step to get you conditioned to accepting government restrictions in your daily life via your mobile phone. This digital ID is going to expand to all aspects of your life.” Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene called the passport “Biden’s mark of the beast.”

Normally I’d rather have the mark of the beast tattooed on my forehead than write these words, but: Marjorie is not entirely wrong.

I’ve been double-vaxxed and boosted. Needless to say, I want to do everything — or at least go to the movies. I’ve handed my paper vaccine card to a dozen gatekeepers, but I’m not getting New York’s Excelsior Pass. So I too am bartering shreds of my personal data for brief furloughs from the cage. I’m not pure.

Still, I’m troubled. What else am I — are we — trading away? There’s no doubt something like the vaccine passport is here for good, beyond Covid. In the end, we may decide we want this thing. But we should go into it with our eyes open.

Evidence supports the detractors’ suspicions. Every government introducing a vaccine certification vows that their use is voluntary and no personal information will be held beyond its necessity. International bodies including the World Health Organization, the EU, and the International Chamber of Commerce are crafting regulatory standards. But governments are far from unanimous even on such basics as whether you need to show the pass to enter a bar — much less on how long and by whom our intimate information will be held, owned, or overseen.


New York, for one, is not expecting to mothball the technology when Covid wanes. Along with IBM, the designer, state bureaucrats are “exploring how the platform could be retrofitted to verify other types of records and credentials,” according to Vox. Experience with the Excelsior Pass has “accelerated our thinking about digital governments,” said the architect of the program. Will President Joe Biden use the passport to enforce his federal employee vaccine mandate? Then what? Once biodata are collected and filed, cautioned Hamid Kahn of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, which organizes in Los Angeles’s poorest and most policed communities, “there’s no delete button.”

When biometric data — bodily attributes digitized — are married to surveillance technology, both the potential for profit and the ambitions of the techno-futurists inflate without limit. One industry analyst predicts the global biometrics market will grow 15 percent annually, reaching nearly $105 billion by 2028. The British tech firm Onfido envisions a seamless EU-wide identify verification, or IDV, system for online gambling, telemedicine, car rentals, electronic voting, “and more.” Scientists in academe and industry are working on a global biodata repository. It would be naïve to assume these networks would not be linked.

In 2020, Onfido called its immunity passport in development the “linchpin of a new normality in a post-COVID19 society.” This year, the company’s chief privacy officer (an Orwellian job title if ever there was one) told Biometric Update that proven immunity to the virus du jour might become a “basic permission attribute.” A Swedish company has introduced a vaccine certification microchip that can be implanted under the skin.

What should I be afraid of?

I have no beef with data collection per se. Data are the lifeblood of what Michel Foucault called the biopolitical state, which governs by maximizing life and sustaining populations rather than by threatening violence and imposing death, as earlier regimes had done. Logically, one of the chief institutions of the biopolitical state is public health. A big part of public health is containing transmissible, fatal diseases: keeping illness from becoming epidemic, and epidemics from mushrooming into pandemics. In the last century, that job has been the ambit of epidemiology, the science of the spread of disease.

Epidemiologists have a lot of tools, but many are stored in the drawer marked “surveillance” — identifying the first cases of a superspreader like Ebola, avian flu, or Covid-19; tracing and testing the patients’ contacts; treating or isolating those who’ve been infected — and all the while gathering and analyzing data to predict the routes the pathogen will take and the bodies it will hijack to keep traveling. The data then go into larger databases to parse when the next murderous bug comes along.

Biodata can serve the public good — or they can give ammunition to eugenicists or evidence to the prosecutors of an HIV-positive person who failed to inform a lover of his serostatus, a felony in some states. In the biopolitical state, there is no bright line between benign and malign surveillance.

In the biopolitical state, there is no bright line between benign and malign surveillance.

Similarly, prevention and cure can look a lot like discipline and punishment. When the Trump administration squandered the opportunity to use less draconian epidemiological measures, the nation was pitched into extreme action: lockdown. Jeffrey Escoffier, a historian of sexuality, queer activism, and public health, was alarmed. Quarantine is a grave incursion on liberty, he told me. During the two decades he served as director of health media and marketing for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene — “propaganda minister for the biopolitical state” — the decision to impose it on even one person was taken with caution. But lock up everyone? Self-isolation is sometimes necessary. It is also the carceral function of the health-protecting state; the doctor moonlights as a prison warden.

During Italy’s lockdown, the philosopher Giorgio Agamben blogged about the “techno-medical despotism” so focused on eliminating the risk of contagion to preserve mere biological existence — what he calls “bare life” — that it prohibited everything that makes human society meaningful, from dating to democracy. “How could we have accepted,” he asked in a New York Times interview, “in the name of a risk that we couldn’t even quantify, not only that the people who are dear to us … should have to die alone but also — and this is something that had never happened before in all of history from Antigone to today — that their corpses should be burned without a funeral?” Actually it has happened before: during the plagues of the Middle Ages, according to Foucault, the birthplace of the biopolitical state.

But we don’t have to look back that far to see a wish for perfect security trumping everything else that matters. The surveillance technologies of the War on Contagion are inherited from the War on Terror, and the software is encoded with the same forever-war mentality: Both fight risk rather than actual threat. When the enemy is protean, like suicide bombers and viruses, the calculation of risk is easily manipulated and often subjective. My partner and I used to argue about whether to wash the milk cartons from the supermarket. Now we listen to delphic sentences like this one, from Chief White House medical adviser Anthony Fauci speaking of the omicron variant on NPR: “You have so many cases it essentially obviates any diminution of the severity, because of the quantitative number of cases that you’ll get with such a highly transmissible virus.” Then we Google the latest statistics and argue about whether to eat out.

Risk cloaked in statistics is a ghost in a suit. It starts to resemble a person. Who is the terrorist? Who is the Covid carrier? Among the contradictions of the pandemic is that collective safety requires honesty and mutual trust, yet the expression of that trust is vigilant mutual suspicion. The best bet is to fear everyone.

The vaccination passport seems to solve this problem, replacing suspicion with certainty. But in admitting the vaccinated and deporting the unvaccinated, it also sorts the good biocitizen from the outlaw. The rhetoric of contagion has long mobilized xenophobia and legitimized racist and eugenicist citizenship and immigration policies (think Donald Trump’s “Chinese virus”). American University historian Alan M. Kraut calls this “medicalized nativism.”

“Securing borders is all about fear. The action of fear is to restrict movement.”

“Passports have everything to do with borders,” says Jenell Johnson, associate professor of rhetoric, politics, and culture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a co-editor of “Biocitizenship: The Politics of Bodies, Governance, and Power.” “Securing borders is all about fear. The action of fear is to restrict movement. The passport allows for movement in both physical and economic ways. It also immediately suggests belonging — the people who belong and people who don’t.”

A pocket-size dossier of one’s “attributes of permission” affords its holder a sense of inclusion, and thus protection from a menacing world. My Facebook friends told me as much. “What I like about Excelsior is the extra level of confirmation it offers — the info individuals input is checked against a database,” responded one woman. “Basic steps to avoid fraud make me feel better about being in a venue with similarly vaccinated and vetted people.” In fact the apps are subject to fraud, glitches, and haphazard use; they may provide more security theater than security. Anyway, the omicron variant is infecting everyone, vaccinated or not. But even skeptics are buying the ticket. Wrote one: “I’d rather hand over my personal info to some corporation than eat [in a restaurant] next to the unvaccinated.”

I too want to eat in a restaurant, away from the unvaccinated. But to be honest, it’s not just because I don’t want to get sick. It’s because I despise them — whoever they are — the sans-papiers. I am not proud of this.

“We are going to be living in pandemic societies for the rest of our lives,” predicted Escoffier, the historian. “What does this mean politically?” I wondered: Can public health kill public life?

Perhaps it was inevitable that in a nation where mutuality is in splinters, isolation turned from prescription to preference. Workers reconsidered the rewards of in-person colleagueship and deemed them not worth the commute. Shopkeepers slid the credit card reader forward, recoiling from accidental touch. We all withdrew further into our screens. Human connection squeezed further into digital pathways patrolled by corporations. With the decline of casual social intercourse in public spaces we are unlearning the instincts and emotions — the very notion — of the social. Babies are starting life without ever seeing a stranger’s smile.

Omicron is leapfrogging from body to body. The virus is no doubt busily mutating. Now the corporate digital police are reinforced by agents of the biopolitical state, armed with scanners. They read our QR codes and unlock our cells. Who does not want out?

The vaccine passport embodies the contradictions of the pandemic that birthed it. It guards borders, divides us from them. It also facilitates travel, and travel is an antidote to tribalism. In either case, it is not going away. Therefore, if it is indeed the prototype linchpin of a future global, digital hyper-surveillance apparatus, we must demand that it be universally accessible, publicly owned and regulated, its workings transparent, and its uses stringently defined.

For the moment, the vaccine pass is allowing us to repopulate the third spaces and revitalize the public square, where accidental touch accustoms us to tolerance and minor conflict conditions us for democratic discourse. Technologies encode their makers’ and users’ values. This one must serve the survival of the social.

The post Vaccine Passports Are Here to Stay. Why Worry? appeared first on The Intercept.

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