Spillikins No. 710. Censorship in social networks, as well as mass surveillance of people


The end of last week was festive, the site turned twenty years old, and the number of congratulations

came as a pleasant surprise. I will not repeat myself, I wrote an article for twenty years, after all, an anniversary. So if you missed it, then go there to inquire about some individual milestones.

Mobile‑ Anniversary, twenty years with you!

The round anniversary is an occasion to remember the bright moments, the principles of building, when it all began and where it is going. We celebrate!

The anniversary is not a reason to relax, so life went onas usual, news and articles came out, we continued to work as usual. This issue is largely about security and surveillance, as well as topics that have been raised repeatedly, but have been developed here and now. Go!

Table of Contents

  • Censorship on social networks - how it is done in the USA
  • Mass Surveillance with FogReveal
  • Hack "Yandex.Taxi" - the first of September
  • Filmstrips - an unexpected greeting from childhood
  • Books about IT for the little ones and the big ones
  • Painting created by AI algorithm wins prize
  • Advertising of goods and people in it is a complete international!
  • Books. "Complete nonsense! Skepticism in the world of big data.

Censorship on social networks - how it is done in the USA

The US presidential election is getting closer, everyonemore often, the election race begins with mutual accusations and dragging out dirty laundry into the white light. For us, this is interesting in that phenomena become publicly available, about which many guessed, but could not confirm their existence with certainty. For example, when the situation around Russia was just beginning to escalate, more and more new sanctions were introduced, we had several materials in the wake of discussions and meetings in the White House. There, representatives of technology companies defended their interests before politicians and explained to the latter why it was impossible to turn off Russia and the Russian market, and what consequences this would have for America. Not the most well-known side of the White House's work with American business, hundreds of people know about it, but do not seek to talk publicly about how the state interacts with them, controls their business.

Information is now publicly availablethat the White House is censoring social media on an ongoing, weekly basis. The attorneys general of two states, Louisiana and Missouri, went to court, where they revealed the facts of censorship and that it is carried out by the Biden administration on an ongoing basis. I think it's fair to assume that this tool would have been used by the Trump administration as well, but social media owners have been in opposition to him and his policies. So the mutually beneficial alliance of the White House and social media became possible during the Biden era.

It is indicated that the work was carried out not only withFacebook* and Instagram*, but also with Twitter and a number of other social networks. Here is a short list of those who gave instructions to take down the content: The White House, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Electoral Commission, the Department of Health, the Cybersecurity Agency. In most situations, information was removed without a court order or any security documents, at the request of the government agency or official concerned.


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Before us are examples of censorship that are given withevidence and excerpts from the reports of various officials. As one prosecutor put it, “The Justice Department hides behind executive privilege and refuses to relay messages between senior Biden administration officials and social media companies. That's why we asked the court yesterday to order the Department of Justice to release these records. We're just getting started - stay tuned."

I am sure that many interestingfacts about how censorship was carried out. It is impossible to talk about any freedom of speech in America today in principle, even social networks are controlled by the White House, plus remember that Trump, as the current president of the United States, was disconnected from all social networks, gagged. If the owners of social networks did this at the suggestion of Trump's opponents when he was still the President of the United States, then what can they do with any ordinary citizen? Anything, just block, erase records and so on. Social networks in the US have become a propaganda tool and support only certain views, all the rest of them are sooner or later cleaned out. Spillikins №625. Xiaomi has been sanctioned what does this mean for us

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Mass Surveillance with FogReveal

Another scandal unfolds in the USprivacy and mass surveillance of people, this time the focus was on Fog Data Science, which was created by two former senior officials of the US Department of Homeland Security, who worked during the presidency of George W. Bush. Since 2018, the Fog Reveal app has been sold on the open market, bought by law enforcement and beyond. The cost of an annual subscription is from $ 7,500, which looks like a penny for the US. There are no restrictions, private companies can also buy a subscription to this service.

It is important to say that tools for spying onthere are many users, think NSO Group's Pegasus, Karma's tool for downloading all content from Apple devices remotely. The market is saturated with various applications and services for spying on users, there are more than a dozen of them, and each time companies decide how to get around legal restrictions, to make their product at least minimally comply with the requirements of the law. In most countries of the world, it is impossible to monitor citizens and what they do, how they move, where they go. Surveillance is prohibited at the level of constitutions, as well as local laws. Therefore, they come up with schemes in which it is possible to avoid violation of these laws and make everything clean.

The Fog Reveal tool collects informationvarious data brokers, which, in turn, receive it from people's smartphones. The advertising identifier, unique for each smartphone, becomes the main one. That is, in fact, surveillance is not carried out on a person, but on the advertising ID of the device. Not a very elegant way to avoid getting in trouble with the law. Also, in the company's user agreement, lawyers wrote a bunch of nonsense that the software is not designed to spy on a specific person, but even the instructions for using it show that the task is completely different - the ability to isolate a specific person from the crowd, find him and then track all his movements .

Fog Reveal instructions can be found here.

Interestingly, the company has been operating since 2017,a year later, it began selling its services, and since then there has been a database with billions of entries for 250 million phones in the US. That is, you can track not only what is happening today, but also what happened in the past. This software does not allow you to monitor a person in real time, the data is not updated immediately.

Developers are data providersapplications such as Waze or Starbucks. The company does not directly buy any data from these companies, the same Starbucks has officially stated that it does not transfer any data to Fog Data Science, I am sure that this is true. The company buys all data from data brokers such as Venntel, which in turn collects it from various sources. The data broker market is huge today, but the main thing is that all its players feel that they are working in a gray zone, so they strive to create cumbersome structures, launder data before selling it. Thus, they create additional layers of security for themselves when the data is split, but the buyer is explained how it can be put together and get a complete picture of what is happening. For example, an advertising identifier is sold by one company, while another makes it possible to correlate it with social networks, the third provides a database that reveals a person's identity in social networks. Everyone has their own specialty, and data separation protects each player from possible prosecution by those who are being monitored.

The application from Fog Data Science allows you to quicklyfind phones in a certain area, and then, in a fairly simple interface, narrow down the circle of those who were at the right time in the right place. For the police, this is a great tool that removes the need to interview people, watch video cameras, or speed up the search for people at times. This does not require court permission, since there is no surveillance of people, they are looking for advertising phone identifiers! Interestingly, over the four years of active use of the Fog Reveal program, the courts have never mentioned its existence, that is, they first find a person, and only then form evidence from the usual materials of police work. It turns out that this is a magic wand that does not shine anywhere, it became known about it due to publications in AP. The first post can be found here.

And this, of course, was a revelation for many, sohow there is a tool that allows you to learn almost everything about a person’s life, track his movements and then recreate a picture of his life. There is no access to smartphone data, photos from it - there is none of this. It is enough just to see where the person was when his phone was online, and when he was not working.

And already this information is enough to make thoseor other conclusions. The AP article has many examples of how this tool was used by the police, and there are both successful cases and those where it turned out to be useless. It is important to understand here that the data received from third-party applications may be incomplete, but accuracy can be increased by saturating the database with data from different applications. Moreover, Fog Data Science used an advertising identifier, and other companies use a number of other IDs that make it possible to track a person, more precisely, his device. It is impossible to avoid such surveillance on any of the existing platforms, the first attempts to get rid of advertising and identifiers look very weak, as companies simply shape the market for themselves, cut off other players from it.

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It must be clearly understood that the public is becomingthere are isolated cases of using this or that software, rather it is a competitive struggle, when those who interfere with the sale of new solutions are merged. In reality, these are dozens of different applications and services, some are more common, some are less known and at the same time accurate, but at the same time they cost other money. But such information is available to all interested parties, those who are willing to pay for it. And at the moment, we, as smartphone users, have no way to protect ourselves from such surveillance, since Google or Apple at the level of their systems (including Huawei, as an option) do not provide protection, for obvious reasons, turn a blind eye to the presence of vulnerabilities . These are stakeholders who work against their users, since each person's data has a very concrete dimension in money, there are already huge markets for this data. And there is no need for any leaks from the services, the data is collected every second, so that later they can be used. The nice thing here is that you can always see where I was on July 17, 2012 or some other date, restore my whole day in detail, even view photos and other information. There has never been anything like it in the history of mankind. And I really want to believe that these systems will not fall into bad hands, there will be restrictions that will not allow them to be used for harm. The dictators of the past could only envy such opportunities, the whole life of a person is available in a couple of keystrokes, and no complicated procedures are needed, different social strata can be distinguished, those who adhere to certain views. A dictator's dream, to say the least.

For those who live in illusions, I suggest reading two articles on the topic of personal data and the illusion of their protection in modern devices.

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Hack "Yandex.Taxi" - the first of September

On the morning of the first of September on Kutuzovsky Prospekt inIn Moscow, one could observe a string of dozens of yellow taxis from Yandex. The traffic jam stretched for several kilometers, the cars drove to the Fili region, but could not get there, as a traffic jam had formed. Someone was able to hack the Yandex system and call more than a hundred cars to one place, which rushed to the “order”, creating traffic jams in the city. Yandex claims that there were dozens of such cars, this is how the press service commented on the situation to TASS: “On the morning of September 1, Yandex.Taxi faced an attempt by intruders to disrupt the service - several dozen drivers received mass orders to the Fili region. Drivers spent about 40 minutes in traffic due to fake orders. The issue of compensation will be resolved as soon as possible. Now taxi cars have already left the congestion area and are fulfilling orders as usual.” Quote from here.

The fact that the system was hacked is indicated by the following comment from the press service: “The algorithm for detecting and preventing such attacks has already been improved to prevent similar incidents in the future.”

I am confused by the fact that Yandex has similarholes that allow real-time manipulation of their service, and the fact that such attacks have not been stopped. It saves that the attackers were stupid enough and simply broke the service, and did not cascade failures, did not use other systems, which could both paralyze traffic in the city and lead to real problems, and not only of an economic nature.

Against the backdrop of personal data leaks, includingfrom Yandex, we need the state to establish new rules of the game for large services, in particular, we need an independent audit of information security, control over how services work, where they store data and where they transfer it or not. For socially significant services, this is a necessity, and it should have the status of law. That is, in fact, the state should check, in the person of authorized companies, how the systems of Yandex and other players work, how they correspond to the level of necessary security.

For Yandex as a company that constantlytransfers data from Russia to other jurisdictions, such security audits are lethal, the company's systems will not be able to pass them. I think that many objections to this are heard, including because of this. But with each similar story of manipulations with Yandex services, data leaks, and so on, a serious need is brewing to introduce the rules of the game, self-regulation on the part of the company no longer works here. We need transparent and understandable for all the rules that the state sets. If it were not for all these sad stories, such regulation would not be needed, but now it is necessary.

Filmstrips - an unexpected greeting from childhood

Every year Gostiny Dvor hostsinternational book fair, I like to wander around the stands, look at books of large and small publishers, including those published in small editions in the far corners of our country. Sometimes very rare things catch my eye, sometimes I leave with those things that I looked after before in ordinary bookstores. Spending an hour walking through the civilized bookstores is worth the experience you get.

On a small stand I saw filmstrips, somemodern projector and surprised. In the world of computers, tablets and smartphones, the existence of filmstrips is impossible, they have no practical value, only nostalgia for the past. I remember how, as a child, my grandfather put a projector in front of a white door in the corridor, turned off the light and we watched filmstrips, there were more than a dozen of them. Only now I caught myself thinking that filmstrips were the Soviet answer to comics, the idea is exactly the same.

In our family there was a division of generations, grandfathershowed filmstrips, dad took out a film projector and showed cartoons, I had several issues of “Well, wait a minute!”, They were my favorite. At a time when video recorders were absent in the USSR as a class, such film projectors were popular. But the cartoons here were also without sound, inscriptions appeared on the screen. Grandfather did not like to touch the film projector, he always offered to twist filmstrips. In the female part of the family, there was also a division: my grandmother cooked delicious pies and pies, my mother specialized in newfangled cakes and pastries.

Of course, for me filmstrips are a technology from my childhood. And to see that someone was selling such films was amazing.

To begin with, Avito sells a hugethe number of old projectors, people buy them, prices from 500 rubles and above. The girl at the stand said that they buy such projectors, wash them and restore them, and at the same time change the filling, they become safe for children, they do not heat up.

But you can also buy a new projector, created in China by order of a Hungarian company.

Various films, but all from the past, newfilmstrips are not created today. Although it seems to me that the same comics will fit modern children in this format, you can do something special, a kind of cultural phenomenon. Watch them not on a smartphone or tablet, but with a projector at home. Films cost from 95 rubles and more, many of them have been restored, they have returned the saturated color that was originally intended.

Buried in the film "The most-most-most-most",The pictures are colorful and very bright. It turns out that the author of the fairy tale is Vasily Livanov (the same Soviet Sherlock Holmes), he is one of the artists! Never knew him like this.

Parents show their childhood whenshow filmstrips to their children, there is definitely a touch of nostalgia. I like the fact that this story has not ended, enthusiasts support technology from the past. It definitely has something warm, as they say, lamp.

Books about IT for the little ones and the big ones

Another book fair observation thatmay be considered banal: we have begun to read again, and the age of the reading public is steadily decreasing, there are many young faces. There was a moment when there were very few young people, as if they were not interested at all, now the situation has changed. Perhaps someone is attracted to comics, but many leaf through ordinary books.

Infrastructure is being built around books, each stand is trying to attract attention, there are robots with which you can talk, only they are deaf.

I really liked the fact that there are exhibition stands that show graphics from books of the past, the way they were published. A sort of excursion into the past.

Book publishing in Russia is very competitivearea, books appear for every taste, but what pleases me personally, there are a huge number of publications about technology. Fifteen years ago, such a variety was not even remotely, and today there is an explanation of AI algorithms even for the smallest.

The variety of books indirectly indicates thatthere is a demand for such literature. And we begin to live in a different coordinate system, when knowledge is again important, and reading shows who you are. And people are aware of this, they are drawn into reading books, they pay attention to this. I like that everything is going the way it is, the trend is encouraging.

My favorite publishing house "Vita Nova"print books in Russia, in the Baltic States they were simply denied the publication of books (yeah, culture is out of politics, as well as sports). It is almost impossible to distinguish new books printed in Russia from previous ones from the Baltic states, the quality is on the same level. Another stereotype has disappeared that we cannot print high quality, on expensive paper, with good illustrations, and make expensive bindings. So gradually, you see, stereotypes about what can and cannot be done in Russia will be destroyed.


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Painting created by AI algorithm wins prize

An expected scandal out of hundreds of similar ones.A painting competition was held at the Colorado Fair, with Théâtre D'opéra Spatial by Jason Allen winning first place. That's just he created a picture with the help of Midjourney.

The comments about the event are, of course, epochal: "We are witnessing the decline of art." Someone is more modest in their statements, but most people are inclined to think that this is simply dishonest.

The irony is that we are surrounded by hundredsThousands of photographers who have mastered Photoshop and other editors are constantly tweaking their shots to make them stand out. Artists do not stand aside and also often draw in computer editors, and then transfer their creations to canvas. In a word, artists as artisans from the past no longer exist, they have new tools that expand the boundaries of the possible. And we somehow got used to it.

I wonder if social networks existedat the time of the appearance of the first graphic editors, would the discussions have been as emotional? Computer graphics has become a separate discipline, no one is rejected by the fact that an artist can draw on a computer in some kind of software. Moreover, the very existence of work in the form of dots on the screen is also perceived as something ordinary. Although a hundred years ago it would have caused a culture shock. So why do we hate what algorithms can draw for us? Fear that they will take away our individuality, make us unnecessary? I think that one of the fears nests precisely in this, in the uselessness of a person. But the fear is far-fetched, because a person will still have to manage the algorithm, it's just another tool in our treasury of useful things.

You can read about Midjourney itself in our material, and at the same time “draw”.

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Advertising of goods and people in it is a complete international!

At the suggestion of MTS, a curious topic came to mind, andnamely advertising of goods, where images of people who are poorly associated with Russia are used. Perhaps the most striking example of all these years is the Samsung R220 television advertisement. In the video, which was played on all federal channels, the girl looked at a black basketball player illuminating the ring with the screen of his push-button phone. The blue cone of light hit downwards - then the main feature was the blue backlight of the screen. I didn’t manage to find that advertisement right off the bat, I didn’t dig into the archives. But Samsung did something similar for the Indian market.

Unfortunately, very often companies useimages of people who don't fight local markets is a common problem for corporations. In Russia, there is no nationalism as such, our society is not infected with this disease, but you must admit that it is strange to see in advertising or promotional materials people who are not associated with those living in the country. For example, here is a recent newsletter from Samsung, here photos of people are also selected, which are clearly not associated with the inhabitants of the country.

For large corporations, this is the norm, often takenpictures intended for other markets. But when something similar begins to happen in Russian companies, you involuntarily start thinking. So, here are photos of the Russian MTS with their new merchandise.

It is possible that in some get-together it is so accepted andit has some background, but it is unknown to me. Why use images in advertising that do not reflect the majority of the country's inhabitants? The target audience of the merchandise is sellers, but are they exclusively newcomers to MTS? Was it this or something else? I really don't understand, because it all looks strange. Twenty years ago you could find some sense in this, today it is difficult to do, although, perhaps, I have an erroneous view on this issue.

Books. "Complete nonsense! Skepticism in the world of big data.

Last week shared a nonsense book aboutbig data, but promised to advise a good one, here it is - “Complete nonsense! Skepticism in the world of big data. Written by Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West, it focuses on what the data looks like, which they try to regale us with in the media and beyond. Inside is an excellent debriefing on what certain samples might look like, why they are sometimes paradoxical, and how they manipulate the data for us.

I’ll write a separate text about the book, itdeserves. But I heartily recommend it, because it is not one hundred percent perfect (everyone has their own misconceptions), but it reveals the topic very, very well. In a word, for everyone who wants to understand a little more how other people can handle data and what to look at in order to figure out whether they are leading you by the nose or not. How samples are formed, why they can be true or not. And at the same time, this book perfectly complements another (“Dark Data”), which I wrote about recently.

Books. "Dark Data: A Practical Guide to Making Good Decisions in a World of Missing Data"

A statistician's book that describes the data we don't see and how it affects our decisions and actions is a lot of great examples. Good book.

P.S. Have a good working week, they made their way to Moscowcold, and the feeling of dankness in the room covers with a wave, I want the heating to be turned on faster, but this is still far away. Have a good week and pleasant events, let everything turn out right. We will have a lot of interesting materials this week, both about the past of the technology market, and about two other times - about the present and the future. Look for a visit!

*Meta Platforms, which includes the social networks Facebook and Instagram, has been recognized as an extremist organization and banned in the Russian Federation.

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