Sunday, November 09, 2014

Yes, Your New TV Is Watching You


This man is terrified of his new television. And he has good reason to be:
I am now the owner of a new “smart” TV, which promises to deliver streaming multimedia content, games, apps, social media and Internet browsing. Oh, and TV too.

The amount of data this thing collects is staggering. It logs where, when, how and for how long you use the TV. It sets tracking cookies and beacons designed to detect “when you have viewed particular content or a particular email message.” It records “the apps you use, the websites you visit, and how you interact with content.” It ignores “do-not-track” requests as a considered matter of policy.
It also has a built-in camera — with facial recognition. The purpose is to provide “gesture control” for the TV and enable you to log in to a personalized account using your face. On the upside, the images are saved on the TV instead of uploaded to a corporate server. On the downside, the Internet connection makes the whole TV vulnerable to hackers who have demonstrated the ability to take complete control of the machine.

More troubling is the microphone. The TV boasts a “voice recognition” feature that allows viewers to control the screen with voice commands. But the service comes with a rather ominous warning:

“Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party.” Got that? Don’t say personal or sensitive stuff in front of the TV.

You may not be watching, but the telescreen is listening.
The Full Story Is Here

Trying To Destroy Heroin Trade Opened Up Markets For Meth

The horror of unintended consequences writ-large.

A remarkable interview between journalist Mark Colvin and Edward Follis, ex-senior undercover agent for the US Drug Enforcement Administration - a front line soldier in the long ago failed War On Drugs. What really leaps out of this interview is not just the monumental scale of how the War On Drugs failed to stop drug abuse, distribution and addiction, but how breaking up the heroin trade in Asia's Golden Triangle led to the rise and spread of methamphetamine, which could be argued is even a worse and more society-destroying drug than smack. It's certainly more quickly addictive.

Some highlights from the interview, which you can listen in full to here:
(Mark Colvin) He told me of his exploits in the '80s and '90s helping crush the Shan United Army, and thus most of the heroin trade out of South East Asia's Golden Triangle.
But were the Wa State which replaced them any better?

EDWARD FOLLIS: No. What the Wa did is they became some of the pre-eminent methamphetamine dealers, distributors, wholesalers, just traffickers on the planet.

And they developed a drug called Yâ - which means "medicine" - and Hmâ, which means "dog" in Thai: Yâ Hmâ. And they completely saturated Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia and so forth, to the extent that there was almost a national decree to start pressing in heavier than the borders allowed.

What the Wa did is they learned from their enemies.

MARK COLVIN: Is Yâ Hmâ actually basically ice?

EDWARD FOLLIS: Yes. Well, it's not ice. Ice is a purified form. It's powdered methamphetamine.

MARK COLVIN: Okay, so we can say that you crushed the heroin trade, and as a result an explosion in the meth trade, which ultimately led to the ice trade.

EDWARD FOLLIS: Yeah, right, especially out of Philippines, Korea, North Korea, Hong Kong, and the whole really Pacific basin. You're right sir: ice became the drug of choice.

MARK COLVIN: And it's been in the news here in Australia recently that there's now a plague of ice, just for instance in little Victorian country towns, among people that you simply wouldn't expect. So is this always subject to the law of unintended consequences?

EDWARD FOLLIS: I think there may be a few of those unintended consequences that surface, but we have to realise the kingpins and higher echelon managers are not Rhodes scholars, or Harvard scholars, but they're smart guys.

The Rest Of The Interview Is Here

Cyborg Cockroaches? They're Here To Help

Any news story on the future reality of 'cyborg cockroaches' back in the 1990s would have paranoia -riddled and focused around their use for surveillance. But their true potential is in search and rescue:
Researchers at North Carolina State University have figured out how to make cyborg cockroaches -- or biobots, as they call them -- pick up sound and seek out its source. So one day, the first responders to a rubble-filled disaster scene might be rescue roaches.

Cockroaches are tiny and resilient, perfect for getting through the nooks and crannies of a disaster zone. If rescue workers can control them and have them carry mics and cameras, they can be used to track down survivors.
There's a long way to go, but rescue roaches are certainly on the horizon. Maybe one day we'll associate the bugs with hope instead of dirty bathrooms.
The Full Story Is Here

2015: Oh Shit!


So it's getting near the end of 2014 (where exactly did it go anyway?) and I was looking around for a list of things to look forward to in 2015 when I stumbled across this list. It wasn't exactly what I was looking for, but it's still a comprehensive preview of what we can expect as far as broad worldwide trends go for next year. It's just, well, fucking depressing:
Growing economic inequality, increasing joblessness, global pollution and severe weather events are among the world’s most pressing threats, according to a report released today by the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Councils....

Here's a few trends to not look forward to, the rest are here:
INEQUALITY: While wealth is rapidly increasing in developing nations, and advanced economies struggle with stagnation, there is great concern about rising economic inequality in all parts of the world, particularly in Asia...

The Outlook 2015 report suggests renewed focus on improved education, tax policy and job creation as ways to alleviate the problem. Pew Research Center’s own findings show that majorities in all of the 44 nations surveyed say inequality is a big problem facing their countries

PERSISTENT JOBLESS GROWTH: Harvard professor Larry Summers writes that this global threat is brought on, in part, by technological changes, and that “automation is certainly the biggest single contributing factor” to the problem. Our 2014 #web25 survey of technology experts found that half envision a future in which robots and digital agents have displaced significant numbers of both blue- and white-collar workers.

RISING POLLUTION IN THE DEVELOPING WORLD: Once again, Asian respondents to the Global Agenda survey are more concerned about air pollution than other regions. But across 34 emerging and developing nations that we surveyed, including nine in Asia, a median of 54% see air pollution as a problem in their countries.
And just to finish off, the management of America's vast nuclear arsenal, capable of wiping out every human on the planet many times over, is now coming apart at the seams:
The foundation of America's nuclear arsenal is fractured, and the government has no clear plan to repair it.

The cracks appear not just in the military forces equipped with nuclear weapons but also in the civilian bureaucracy that controls them, justifies their cost, plans their future and is responsible for explaining a defense policy that says nuclear weapons are at once essential and excessive.
It's not clear that the government recognizes the full scope of the problem, which has wormed its way to the core of the nuclear weapons business without disturbing bureaucracies fixated on defending their own turf. Nor has it aroused the public, which may think nuclear weapons are relics of the past, if it thinks about them at all.

This is not mainly about the safety of today's weapons, although the Air Force's nuclear missile corps has suffered failures in discipline, training, morale and leadership over the past two years. Just last week the Air Force fired nuclear commanders at two of its three missile bases for misconduct and disciplined a third commander.

Rather, this is about a broader problem: The erosion of the government's ability to manage and sustain its nuclear "enterprise," the intricate network of machines, brains and organizations that enables America to call itself a nuclear superpower.

Um, Happy New Year?