Good Monday Morning

It’s January 23rd. Friday is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Spotlight On … Facial Recognition Abuse

Several alarming incidents related to facial recognition abuse threaten the promising progress being made in machine learning and image recognition. In two cases, police requested arrest warrants based on image matches that caused mistaken arrests. In another, a woman was barred from entering a theater based on where she worked.

Jailed for Days Despite Never Have Been There

Though the software works largely as intended, police in Louisiana and Texas have improperly used matching records to seek arrest warrants. When she learned there was an arrest warrant for her, doctoral student Julie Hudson visited a Philadelphia police station to solve the problem. She was arrested and held for six days. A Texas police detective investigating a shoplifting used facial recognition software to match her face to social media images even though she had never been to Texas.

Weeks earlier, Randall Reid, 28, was arrested in Georgia for stealing luxury purses from two New Orleans suburbs despite having never been to Louisiana. As Reid’s appearance was distinctly different, including a visible mole and substantial weight difference, observers questioned how the mistake could have occurred, yet Reid was jailed for days.

Wrongly arrested people can suffer serious legal consequences due to mistaken identity. Those problems aren’t limited to technology, but facial recognition abuse by police has ugly ramifications. For example, Reid and Hudson must now both acknowledge on job and credit applications that they have been arrested. Expunging arrest records can be time-consuming and expensive.

Removed From a Holiday Show

New Jersey mother Kelly Conlon is also a victim of facial recognition abuse. While accompanying her daughter’s Girl Scout troop to a Radio City Music Hall holiday show, Conlon was removed from the theater because the law firm where she works is involved in a lawsuit against an affiliated restaurant. She was not involved in the litigation personally or professionally. In a statement, Madison Square Garden, which owns Radio City Music Hall, said that attorneys in litigation against the company are not allowed to attend events at any MSG venues.

That rule may have triggered even more legal action. An attorney at the firm where she works is now challenging MSG’s liquor license.

3 More Stories to Know

1)  T-Mobile customers still have until later today to file claims for $25 ($100 in California) due to a 2021 data breach. The timing is mind-blowing since T-Mobile announced a new breach affecting 37 million customers last Thursday. 

2) After announcing 10,000 job cuts last November, Amazon will lay off an additional 8,000 employees. Also being eliminated is Amazon Smile’s charity rebate program, which provided hundreds of millions of dollars to charities over ten years. That program ends on February 20.

3) Microsoft engineers published a paper earlier this month that claims software they’ve developed uses machine learning to generate a computer sound-alike from only three seconds of audio.

Trends & Spends

Did That Really Happen? — Yes, A Child Themed Rifle Was Introduced Last Year

Social media buzzed last week with news about a rifle made for children. There are 1,000 American children shot every year, but gun maker Wee1 Tactical has developed a rifle for children that looks like an AR-15 semi-automatic weapon. The rifle’s marketing introduction featured babies, children, and pacifiers in its design. Snopes documents its timeline.

Following Up — CNET Publishing Automated Articles

In another twist on abusing new technology, CNET has begun using unspecified AI software to write non-bylined articles. Futurism elaborates on the factual errors that have been published.

Protip — Find Hidden Cameras With Your Phone

Your phone can detect the infrared light used by many hidden cameras that your eyes can’t detect. The Verge shows you how and also writes about software that will help detect sneaky cameras.

Screening Room – Apple

Science Fiction World — Bird Bots 

Robotics takes a giant flap forward with new winged models that can autonomously land on a perch using a claw like attachment. That engineering trick hadn’t been mastered until last month’s announcement and video from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

Coffee Break —  And Still More Birds

The My Bird Buddy smart birdfeeder includes a camera that identifies and records the birds visiting your backyard. It comes with notifications to your phone to alert you when that extra-special avian shows up. There’s no word on whether it does the same for squirrels.

Sign of The Times

Good Monday Morning

It’s September 26th. Happy New Year. Rosh Hashanah began yesterday and ends tomorrow at sundown local time.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,351 words — about 5 minutes to read.

News To Know Now

Quoted:“[Opening links in their own browser instead of the user’s browser] allows Meta to intercept, monitor and record its users’ interactions and communications with third parties, providing data to Meta that it aggregates, analyzes and uses to boost its advertising revenue.”

— Willis vs Meta Platforms, a suit seeking class action status that was first reported on by Bloomberg.

Driving the news: Global energy shake-ups due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and unrest throughout the weekend in Iran are exacerbating problems in an already troubled economy. Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic told CBS’ Face the Nation yesterday that the Fed is trying “to avoid deep, deep pain.”

Three Important Stories

1) The SEC fined Morgan Stanley $30 million last Tuesday in the penalty phase of a case it brought after the financial giant inadvertently sold nearly 5,000 devices that still contained client data. It’s important to note that Morgan Stanley outsourced this, but didn’t confirm the data was wiped.

2) London police working with the FBI announced the arrest of a 17-year-old in connection with hacks of Uber and software company Rockstar, the maker of the popular Grand Theft Auto series. Police officials are not releasing any additional information because the suspect is a minor.

3) Google is making it even easier for individuals to remove their personal data from the search engine’s results. After years of requiring people to directly contact the website posting the data, Google has introduced a new Android feature that streamlines the process of removing data. See it in action at 9 to 5 Google, which broke the news.

  Trends & Spends

Spotlight Explainer — AI Art

The concept of automated art in any form–image, music, or writing–is still foreign to most people. If a software program is trained by incorporating billions of lessons and then provides some form of art by reassembling them, isn’t that just reorganizing the material from the lessons? Or put another way, when does creativity start? After all, most Western music scales only have twelve notes. How they’re assembled and played dictates whether the music is classical, hip-hop, or something else.

No country or entity is remotely close to solving the issue of who or what creates the art product, who owns the art, and whether it should be subject to some non-recognized status when compared with art created by humans.

Creating Images Using Only Words

The words used to create images using modern systems are called prompts.  They can range from a few words to extremely complex paragraphs with multiple instructions. There are hundreds of sites offering prompts. I used one on my work computer that I found on Metaverse Post. The prompt was: “portrait photo of a asia old warrior chief, tribal panther make up, blue on red, side profile, looking away, serious eyes, 50mm portrait photography, hard rim lighting photography–beta –ar 2:3”

I had four examples after only a minute or two. Here’s the one I thought looked best.

Here is the same prompt processed by a more advanced program. 

And now the questions begin anew. Who owns the rights? How can we ever hope to trust an image again? This isn’t old school airbrushing or Photoshop manipulation. It’s something entirely new.

Getty Images Bans AI Generated Content

Publicly-traded Getty Images houses about five hundred million images and has just banned users from uploading and selling AI-generated images. The company cites the notion that data scraping, a legal activity in the U.S., may not provide as much legal protection for the company when an artist’s work or style has been copied and then used to derive a new work. 

OpenAI to Allow Photo Uploads

Dall-E 2’s owner OpenAI announced last Wednesday that it will allow users of its AI art software to begin uploading photos that show real people with that person’s consent. The organization, which also created the groundbreaking GPT-3 text model, said that users were clamoring for the ability to use the system to create new looks for themselves or edit family photos. The company also quoted a reconstructive surgeon who told OpenAI that he used the system to help patients understand what their surgical results might look like.

US Copyright Office Allows Registration

We also learned last week that a graphic novel called Zarya of the Dawn has been granted a copyright by the U.S. Copyright Office despite the main character’s “uncanny resemblance” to actress Zendaya. The agency had previously said that AI software may not be cited as the author of art generated by software.

Garbage In, What Comes Out?

A brand new article by Vice describes how they were able to use a new lookup tool to determine that some AI art software including Google’s unreleased Imagen and AI Stable Diffusion were trained on a 5 billion image data set scraped from the internet that includes images from nonconsensual pornography and executions carried out by the ISIS terror group. That type of contaminated data is what has caused text-based AI projects to output misogynistic and racist text.

For now, organizations are warning users in a fashion similar to OpenAI’s GPT-3 disclaimer that reads in part, “Internet-trained models have internet-scale problems.”

Google says it won’t be releasing Imagen publicly and other companies insist that they are slowly rolling out their products although I already have access to two separate ones so the scope isn’t very limited.

One Cheerful Thought About Darth Vader

Actor James Earl Jones, 91, gave Disney his blessing last week to use software that mimics his voice so that the Disney+ show Obi-Wan Kenobi and future Darth Vader appearances can keep the character’s original voice.

Did That Really Happen? — Doctored Video of Biden Circulating

 A video of President Biden exiting the stage at the United Nations and then turning and going back to the stage is doctored, according to a Newsweek fact check. Missing from the clip, but visible on U.N. and C-SPAN video, are  the president pausing on the steps for a photo and then turning back when the next speaker addressed him by name multiple times. Biden apparently hovered near the stage’s steps rather than exiting while the next speaker addressed him.

Following Up — TikTok Bans Political Fundraising Ads

Just one week after we wrote about how internet platforms intend to deal with the upcoming midterm elections, TikTok announced that it is banning all political fundraising videos. The company also says that government and political accounts will be verified.

Protip — YouTube Launching Clip Feature

The long awaited YouTube function of sharing a clip from a video instead of the whole video or starting a video at a specific time, is finally here. Here is how you can start sending your own mini-videos.

Screening Room — Jeff Bridges’ Up the Antibodies

Oscar-winner (and seven-time nominee) Jeff Bridges appears in this spot for Astra Zeneca’s Up the Antibodies campaign. The 72-year-old actor announced his lymphoma diagnosis during the pandemic’s early months and says he is now in remission.

Science Fiction World — Visiting Mars

This stunning website aggregates images from Mars and let’s you trace the Rover’s journey. Stopping at the map markers lets you hear the sounds the machine made on its rounds.

Coffee Break — All The Cover Songs

No matter what your favorite song, the database at SecondHand Songs can tell you if there is a cover version–even if it was never officially released. 

Most covered song: Silent Night
Most covered popular song: Summertime by the Gershwins
Most covered song rock era: Yesterday by The Beatles

Do your own searches and watch videos of the covers or listen via Spotify embeds.

Sign of the Times

Good Monday Morning

It’s September 12th. Financial markets are watching tomorrow’s Consumer Price Index announcement as an early indicator of how much the Federal Reserve will increase interest rates when it meets next week. The agency has increased the rates banks and other institutions charge each other by 2.25 points in just six months. That’s directly affected mortgage, credit card, automotive, and other consumer interest rates.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,349 words — about 5 minutes to read.

News To Know Now

Quoted:“We are particularly targeting house extensions like verandas. But we have to be sure that the software can find buildings with a large footprint and not the dog kennel or the children’s playhouse.

— Antoine Magnant, a French government official quoted by the BBC after France used AI to identify 20,000 swimming pools that were undeclared on homeowner taxes. The government expects the pools to contribute $11 million in additional property tax revenue.

Driving the news: Consumer anxiety around unsettled political and economic forces continue to take their toll as interest rates rise and important midterm elections are only nine weeks away.

Three Important Stories

1)Irish regulators fined Meta about $400 million for violating EU privacy data laws regarding the company’s treatment of children’s data on Instagram. Meta is subject to Irish regulatory action because it is where the company’s European headquarters is located. Politico reports that Ireland’s data privacy agency has “at least six other” Meta investigations in progress.

2)The IRS exposed information about 120,000 taxpayers on its website after what it termed a “human-coding error.” The data was publicly accessed by The Wall Street Journal, which also reported that ProPublica published tax data about wealthy Americans last year, but failed to link that expose with this data release.

3) The White House banned publishers from putting taxpayer-funded research behind paywalls online. Publishers of expensive scientific journals must now make federally funded research available for free on the same day that it is published.

Trends & Spends

Spotlight Explainer — Abortion Location Data

The FTC sued a large data broker as the Labor Day weekend approached two weeks ago. The broker, Kochava Inc., is accused of selling millions of records from telephone data that tracked consumer locations to abortion providers, substance abuse recovery facilities, and plenty of other sensitive places.

The FTC said even sample data was telling.
“A free sample [of the data] … was sufficient to identify the mobile device that visited a clinic and then trace that device to a single family home,” quoted Wall Street Journal coverage of the suit.

This is critical for you to understand.
Abortion location data doesn’t have to be accurate to affect you and change your life. You or one of your loved ones may not even be physically capable of bearing a child. Your data is being aggregated and if a person can buy location information in an unregulated data market, you might be a target of vigilantism in the hopes of an “abortion bounty,” doxxed, or worse. 

Maybe you’re dating someone who works in the office. Or maybe your company just sold some office supplies there. Or maybe you’re thinking about having an abortion.

This is not hyperbole.
We can buy this location data from multiple brokers. We’ve done it it in the past to prove that it can be done. There is no license required or background information needed. Then the information only needs to get matched to existing data. That’s not hard if you know what you’re doing and don’t mind spending money.

Private citizens in Texas can get bounties called “rewards”.
Skirting any constitutional protections, Texas created a law that allows private citizens to file civil lawsuits against anyone suspected of performing or inducing an abortion, or anyone who “aids and abets” that behavior. The suit can be filed for up to four years and the lowest bounty is $10,000. That buys a whole lot of location data. 

And if you’re the person wrongly accused of having an abortion or aiding and abetting one, you still have to pay an attorney to defend yourself.

Every carrier and almost every app sells this data.
Law enforcement agencies have been using a secret tool called Fog Reveal to access this data since 2018. A joint expose from The Associated Press and EFF found law enforcement agencies accessing billions of records from 250 million mobile devices. Many agencies do not require their officers to get a warrant for the data, information that the company says is “freely given by individuals.” 

As the EFF points out, “police can also, for instance, track people whose devices have been inside an immigration attorney’s office, a women’s health clinic, or a mental health facility. Police could easily, with almost no oversight, use this tool to watcha  secret rendezvous between a journalist and their whistle-blowing source.”

Researchers have found more than 1,000 phone apps that track location data, according to Time. Telecom carriers like AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile keep pinpoint location data for months and all location data for one to five years each.

Privacy expert and UVA law professor Danielle Citron points out that law enforcement agencies investigating an abortion (how’s that for a horrifying phrase?) don’t have to rely on Big Tech companies and can also seize and search your phone or other devices with a warrant.

Billionaire invests in “femtech.”
Billionaire anti-abortion activist Peter Thiel has financed a new “femtech” startup called 28 that provides a holistic view of physical and emotional content related to menstrual cycles. Thiel invested $3.2 million in the company’s app which will be offered free in app stores and not carry advertising.

Did That Really Happen? — Meta Removes RFK Jr.’s Org for Misinformation

An organization led by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. that promotes misinformation about vaccines has been banned from Facebook and Instagram. Kennedy’s Children’s Health Defense company was called a member of the “disinformation dozen” last year by a watchdog group that found 65% of all false anti-vaccine content online could be tracked to Kennedy’s and eleven other organizations.

Following Up — An IRS Submission Platform

The Internal Revenue Service is investigating whether it can offer U.S. taxpayers a free filing system that it had originally attempted to offer through public-private partnerships. We’ve written at length about the work ProPublica has done in calling attention to the abuses of the IRS’ Free File program available to most taxpayers reporting under $73,000 in income. 

The IRS estimates that 70% of taxpayers should be able to use the Free File program, but only 3% of taxpayers do. That disparity is considered to be the result of companies like H & R Block and Intuit making the program difficult to access online without first paying for the company’s services.

Protip — Google Docs’ Spiffy Changes

Google has done a great job with its free Docs program over the last year, and there are 11 cool new tips you should try. The email draft is awesome, but the table templates are pretty nifty too.

Screening Room — Sandy Hook Promise’s Emmy

Last week, Sandy Hook Promise won a Creative Arts Emmy Award for their “Teenage Dream” video that combined real people with Katy Perry’s hit song of the same name. The Creative Emmys are handed out one week before the Primetime Emmy Awards telecast.

Science Fiction World — Driverless Ice Cream Vans

Robomart and Unilever are partnering on driverless vans with fancy vending machines that will dispense Ben & Jerry’s, Breyers, and other ice cream treats by hailing the van via an app. That’s right, you’ll soon be able to whip out your phone and summon a pint of Cherry Garcia to your driveway where no one will judge you even if it’s 10 a.m.

Coffee Break — The Top Invention Every Year

Have a gander at the best invention every year since 1954’s microwave oven. Stop in at 1974 (barcodes), 1996 (DVDs), and 2010 (Siri).

Sign of the Times