Tuesday, 23 October 2018

ICE officials met with Amazon this summer to discuss using its controversial facial recognition surveillance technology (AMZN)

Immigration activists march outside of the Department of Justice in DC last month.

  • Amazon met with ICE officials in June to discuss the potential use of its real-time facial recognition surveillance technology known as "Rekognition," according to a report by The Daily Beast. 
  • The meeting was held at a McKinsey & Company office in Redwood City, California, as ICE and the consulting firm had a contract that ended this summer. 
  • The report suggests concerns that the technology could be used by ICE to target immigrants near "sensitive locations" like medical facilities and houses of worship. 
  • ICE does not have any public contracts with Amazon today for Rekognition. 

Amazon met with officials from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) this summer to discuss the potential use of its real-time facial recognition surveillance technology known as "Rekognition," according to a report by The Daily Beast and documents obtained by the Project on Government Oversight. 

The Daily Beast report raises concerns that the technology could be used by ICE to target immigrants near "sensitive locations" like medical facilities and houses of worship, which is discouraged by official policy but has been carried out under the current administration. 

The report also cites multiple studies, including one from the ACLU, that shows Amazon's Rekognition — which attempts in real-time to identify people by scanning faces in a video feed — often misidentifies individuals and does so at a disproportionate rate for people of color.

The meeting between ICE and Amazon Web Service took place at the McKinsey & Company offices in Redwood City, California this June, according to the report. ICE and McKinsey had a management contract that ended this summer, and it had been previously unreported that the consulting firm had suggested ICE adopt the cutting edge facial recognition technologies, The Daily Beast said.

One former ICE official quoted in the report voiced concerned that immigration officers could abuse the technology, relying on Rekogition to make arrests rather than what Amazon claims its intended purpose of being "the first step in identifying an individual.” 

Amazon did not immediately return Business Insider's request for comment. ICE told The Daily Beast it does not have any public contracts with Amazon today for the facial recognition technology. 

In an anonymous Medium post last week, one Amazon employee warned that the company's facial recognition tech should not be used to police, especially given that it is more likely to misidentify people with darker skin. 

Amazon has publicly refuted the ACLU's research and just last week in an interview with Wired, CEO Jeff Bezos defended his company working with government agencies, like the Department of Defence. Bezos did, however, try to distance himself from the ICE discussion by saying, "I’d let them in if it was me, I like ‘em, I want all of them in.”

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Friday, 19 October 2018

Facebook is battling a tidal wave of fake news and misinformation on WhatsApp in Brazil (FB)

Jair Bolsonaro protest brazil

  • Facebook is battling a wave of fake news and disinformation in Brazil.
  • Business groups have been spreading hoaxes supporting the far-right candidate in the presidential election, and ones study found half of all political content being shared was false or misleading.
  • It shows how Facebook still struggles to police content on its platforms, and the seismic consequences this can have around the world.

Facebook is currently battling a deluge of digital misinformation and fake news ahead of a contentious election featuring a bombastic, far-right populist candidate. It's like 2016 all over again — but this time, the misinformation is spreading on messaging app WhatsApp, which Facebook owns, and the election is in Brazil. 

Brazil is currently in the middle of its presidential election, which is pitting the far-right Jair Bolsonaro against left-wing Fernando Haddad. Bolsonaro, who came out in front in a first-round vote but failed to win outright, has espoused extreme, nationalistic views, including opposition to equal marriage, support for torture, and more lethal tactics by police

Unlike in the US, WhatsApp is extremely popular and widespread in Brazil as a standard communication app — but hoaxes and false information can spread like wildfire on the platform. Writing in The New York Times recently, researchers found that the majority of the most popular political content shared on the app in Brazil is either false or misleading.

There are coordinated efforts to spread falsehoods, too: Hundreds of entrepreneurs and business groups have been actively pushing pro-Bolsonaro misinformation via WhatsApp via an illegal campaign, according to a report from Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo

There is no easy answer for Facebook. WhatsApp's messages are end-to-end encrypted, meaning the company can't view the content and proactively moderate like it might on Facebook's newsfeed, or on Instagram or Messenger (which can encrypt messages, but doesn't by default). 

But this chaos illustrates how — even as Facebook touts improvements in security and preparedness — it still faces struggles in policing unethical behaviour on its services, and the potentially seismic impact this can have on politics around the world.

Reached for comment, a WhatsApp spokesperson pointed towards a recent column by the app's boss, Chris Daniels, and provided a statement: "WhatsApp has proactively banned hundreds of thousands of accounts during the Brazilian election period. We have best-in-class spam detection technology that spots accounts that engage in abnormal behavior so they can’t be used to spread spam or misinformation. We're also taking immediate legal action to stop companies from sending bulk messages on WhatsApp and have already banned accounts associated with those companies."

The spokesperson did not respond to Business Insider's subsequent questions and requests to talk on the record about the steps WhatsApp is taking.

In Daniels' column, he flags a "forwarding" label, new controls for group admins, and a public education campaign among the measures WhatsApp is taking to try and tackle the problem. 

Do you work at Facebook? Got a tip? Contact this reporter via Signal or WhatsApp at +1 (650) 636-6268 using a non-work phone, email at rprice@businessinsider.com, WeChat at robaeprice, or Twitter DM at @robaeprice. (PR pitches by email only, please.) You can also contact Business Insider securely via SecureDrop.

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Apple CEO Tim Cook demands Bloomberg retract its Chinese chip hacking report — 'there is no truth in their story' (AAPL)

Tim Cook

  • Bloomberg reported in early October that Chinese spies had infiltrated U.S. companies by planting microchips in their servers.
  • Apple released a statement soon after denying the allegations, but Apple's CEO Tim Cook took it a step further and asked Bloomberg to retract the story, he told Buzzfeed News.
  • Cook's comments are an unusually aggressive move by the CEO with respect to the news organization.

In an interview with Buzzfeed News, Apple CEO Tim Cook has called on Bloomberg to retract a contentious news report that alleged Chinese spies used microchips to infiltrate a number of major U.S. tech companies.

Although Apple had released a statement denying what Bloomberg found soon after the investigation was published, Cook's comment to Buzzfeed is the first time the CEO has spoken publicly about the controversy and marks an unusually confrontational move by the head of the world's most valuable tech company. 

“There is no truth in their story about Apple,” Cook told BuzzFeed. "They need to do that right thing and retract it."

The Bloomberg article alleged that Chinese spies managed to implant tiny chips on computer motherboards made by Super Micro Computer, and used by several of the largest American tech companies, like Amazon and Apple. The chips were designed to provide secret access to the private data on the machines. 

Since the report was published, a series of statements from government officials and information security professionals — including some named in the stories — have cast doubt about the report's main claims.

Read more about the controversy over the Bloomberg chip hacking story:

The security community increasingly thinks a bombshell Bloomberg report on Chinese chip hacking could be bogus

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Thursday, 18 October 2018

Microsoft fired the guy overseeing its NFL partnership for allegedly scalping company Super Bowl tickets and trying to fake $1.4 million in invoices (MSFT)

NFL Microsoft Surface

  • A federal grand jury has indicted Microsoft's former director of Sports Marketing and Alliances for allegedly trying to create fake invoices for up to $1.4 million, according to the DOJ.
  • The indictment alleges that Jeff Tran tried to route fake invoices through two Microsoft vendors and that he scalped Super Bowl tickets Microsoft acquired through its Surface tablet partnership with the NFL.
  • Tran was one of the people responsible for Microsoft's relationship with the NFL.

A federal grand jury has indicted Microsoft's former director of Sports Marketing and Alliances Jeff Tran for allegedly trying to create more than $1.4 million in fake invoices, the Department of Justice announced on Thursday.

The indictment alleges that Tran, 45, tried to submit fake invoices and that he sold Super Bowl tickets that Microsoft had paid for, pocketing the proceeds for himself.

A big part of Tran's job was to oversee Microsoft's marketing partnership with the National Football League. The most prominent part of that relationship is the NFL's use of Surface tablets on the sidelines of games. Last year, the NFL signed a renewed, five-year contract for the Surface tablets.

As part of its arrangement with the NFL, Microsoft was allowed to buy a block of Super Bowl tickets. It was Tran's job to distribute them to Microsoft employees but the indictment alleges that instead of distributing them all, he took 62 of the tickets, sold them off for $200,000 and kept the money for himself.

But what tipped Microsoft off was suspicions around some invoices, according to the Department of Justice allegations. As part of Tran's job, he was allowed to authorize payments to some vendors. The indictment alleges that he had a fake $775,000 invoice submitted through Microsoft's vendors, subverting the payment to his own bank account. He is accused of trying to submit another, $670,000 fake invoice as well, but when Microsoft's vendors grew concerned about the nature of these invoices, they alerted the company.

Microsoft reportedly confronted Tran, the DOJ says, and he returned the initial $775,000. The company fired him, a spokesperson tells Business Insider, saying, "When we learned of Mr. Tran’s conduct we investigated, terminated his employment, and then referred the matter to law enforcement."

Microsoft is known to pay its director-level employees pretty well. The job may not pay millions, but a director of marketing at Microsoft makes on average $195,000 total compensation and a more senior person makes closer to $250,000, according to self-reported salaries at Glassdoor. 

Tran will be arraigned on the charges in U.S. District Court in Seattle in the next ten days. Tran could not be reached for comment.

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Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Facebook thinks the hackers that stole 29 million users' info were spammers not a nation state

Facebook believes that spammers, and not a nation-state, are responsible for the recent hack that stole the personal information of 29 million Facebook users, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.

The report, which cites anonymous sources, says that Facebook has "tentatively" concluded the hackers were spammers who were posing as a digital marketing company. 

Facebook did not immediately return a request for comment.

Developing...

 

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White House counsel Don McGahn is reportedly out after tumultuous tenure in the Trump administration

Don McGahn

  • White House counsel Don McGahn reportedly left the Trump administration on Wednesday.
  • President Donald Trump floated the idea of replacing McGahn with attorney Pat Cipollone, a Justice Department veteran, earlier this week.
  • McGahn's departure adds to a long list of exits from the Trump administration. The turnover has already broken records fewer than two years into Trump's first term.

White House counsel Don McGahn left the Trump administration on Wednesday after a tumultuous 21-month tenure, two people with knowledge of the situation said in a New York Times report published Wednesday evening.

McGahn was said to be on his way out of the White House, which was likely to happen after the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

President Donald Trump floated the idea of replacing McGahn with attorney Pat Cipollone, a Justice Department veteran, earlier this week.

Cipollone, who currently practices in a Washington, DC-based law firm, was reportedly working with Trump's legal team in recent months and has extensive experience with crisis management, consumer fraud, and constitutional issues.

Trump described Cipollone as "a very fine man, highly respected by a lot of people."

McGahn's departure adds to a long list of exits from the Trump administration. The turnover had already broken records fewer than two years into President Donald Trump's first term.

Despite playing a critical role in Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation process, McGahn's relationship with the president appeared to be fray in recent months, according to multiple news reports.

McGahn, who was frustrated with Trump's "volcanic anger" and abrupt eruptions, reportedly described the president as "King Kong" behind his back. McGahn was also viewed as a check on Trump's impulsive actions, according to The Times, and as a result, found himself attracting the president's ire.

The White House counsel's office, which typically consists of a 50 attorneys, currently has around 25, according to a Washington Post report published Saturday.

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This $500 device wants to make it easy for you to ditch your Google or Yahoo email account and run your own, private email server

Helm email server

  • Helm, a $500 device with a $99 yearly subscription plan, lets you operate an email server out of your own home. 
  • Your email and data is stored on the device in your home, and it's encrypted before traveling through Helm's servers. 
  • Helm claims to collect very little information from its users — just the necessary payment information and device diagnostics.
  • While no server is completely secure, this could provide peace of mind to people who don't trust large tech companies to protect their data. 

It's not hard to get the impression that big tech companies can't effectively keep our data safe. 

Just in the past few weeks, Google disclosed a security bug that exposed hundreds of thousands of private accounts on the Google+ social network. Facebook admitted that 29 million users had private information stolen. It's easy to decide to quit using social media sites, but nearly everyone needs or uses an email service. Email is the backbone of every internet account — you almost can't get by in life these days without an email address. 

One solution is to run your own in-house email server, as plenty of companies and tech-savvy individuals do. 

This means that a private entity is in control of the email server and all of the information stored there. There's no need to place your trust in a tech company that has proven itself to be vulnerable to security bugs or breaches. 

But if you're not an IT pro, the idea of setting  up an email server can be pretty intimidating. That's where Helm comes in.

Helm wants to make that a reality for the everyday email user — someone who probably wouldn't know how to set up an email server from scratch. Helm's $500 device is an in-home email server, meaning all of your data and emails are stored on the device right in your home. Helm doesn't collect much information about its users besides the necessary details like payment information and device diagnostics, and any communication or data are encrypted when they leave the Helm device. 

With traditional email services like Gmail or Yahoo, your data and emails are stored on a server controlled by the email provider. You don't have much control over what that company does with your data.

Helm stores your emails and data in your home, but that doesn't mean it's completely safe. Any server can be attacked, regardless of where it's located. However, you're paying for the control over your emails and the ability to be free from a tech company storing your data. Helm also says it hires hackers to try to locate vulnerabilities in the device or its software, and it plans to release improvements and boost security through future software updates. 

You can choose to store a backup of your emails on Helm's servers, but those backups are encrypted and require your security key in order to be decrypted. 

Helm features a standard 120GB of storage, but that can be increased to up to 5TB with additional hardware. The device also comes with physical encryption keys for encrypting data locally on the machine and offline for a secure backup. The device costs $500, and has a $99 subscription fee for every year after the included one-year subscription. 

For more information, or to purchase a device, visit Helm's website here

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