In This Email
Social media, China, Amazon Ring, ICE, Palantir, Pentagon, Instagram, WordPress, Tumblr, What3Words, Facebook, facial recognition, Calm, Amazon, YouTube, PayPal, Panda cheese
2. News To Know Now
1. Facebook contractors listened to and transcribed recordings of Facebook Messenger and Chat audio. The company said it used the transcriptions to improve voice recognition services “much like Google and Amazon”. Bloomberg broke the story.
2. WordPress’ parent company Automattic bought Tumblr from Verizon for $3 million. Tumblr had been purchased by Verizon acquiree Yahoo just six years ago for more than $1 billion. Yahoo famously turned down buying Google twice and Facebook once. They also turned down a $44 billion offer from Microsoft in 2008 and were acquired by Verizon nine years later for only $4.5 billion.
3. What3Words is a UK-based app whose developers have divided the world into 57 trillion discrete areas measuring 3 square meters. The app was the subject of a glowing BBC story about pinpointing locations for meetups or emergencies and spent the weekend going viral on Facebook. Read the article.
4. ctrl shift face has been wowing people with deep fakes of movie scenes and interviews for months. Their latest is a sequence featuring a Bill Hader interview where he quotes and his face morphs into Tom Cruise and Seth Rogen’s appearances. Check it out below.
3. How Police Use Social Media
Law enforcement organizations continue making news by using consumer technology to buttress enforcement and analysis.
Cozy relationships between Amazon and more than 200 U.S. agencies are under attack. We’ve told you before that Amazon asks for access to live emergency dispatch feeds for the Ring network. We’re also learning via an explosive Vice expose that Amazon has exerted control over online police statements regarding Ring data.
Amazon distributes 46 standardized responses including some in which police officers advocate the purchase of a Ring system according to heavily sourced reporting from Vice regarding police in Topeka and northern New Jersey.
New York City Police, meanwhile, are under fire for uploading mugshots of juveniles as young as eleven years old into facial recognition databases despite facial recognition algorithms not performing as well with younger faces.
Technology companies and law enforcement can also be on opposite sides of an issue. Apple famously refused to cooperate with the FBI in unlocking a mass shooter’s iPhone. And police in Hong Kong are reportedly “prying open protestors’ shut eyes” to unlock their phones according to MIT Technology Review. Experts say that the issue of unlocking phones via biometrics instead of a passcode is not adequately addressed by case law, which makes the exposure of over one million fingerprint records in Europe two weeks ago especially problematic.
Federal agencies are also involved in high tech monitoring. A Mijente study reported by TNW showed that the military, Border Patrol, ICE, and Homeland Security are spending $1.5 billion with Palantir to create vast databases combining local government records like fishing license applications, bank information, and social media.
The FBI is also building a social media database according to a Wall Street Journal story last week. Facebook is obviously an important part of that database which sets up an interesting issue for regulators: how much does the government want to rein in Facebook’s algorithmic probing of people when federal law enforcement wants the data?
The Pentagon is at least planning some unique surveillance. A Guardian story quotes from documents filed with the FCC and claims that the Pentagon launched 25 unmanned balloons traveling at 65,000 feet over the Midwest. The “persistent surveillance” includes tracking radar that can monitor individual vehicles including boats during any time and through any weather. The mesh networking technology linking the balloons is similar to what your home wifi uses.
4. SearchWeek: News about finding things online
Back-to-school time is in full swing all over the country which means that new upperclassmen are turning their thoughts to colleges. Google announced that it has expanded college search features to include two year schools. The search engine is also using data from the Department of Education to provide grids comparing costs, graduation rates, and similar data between schools.
Beware of Instagram image embedding on websites, said Googler John Mueller during his weekly SEO chat. The way Instagram images are shared on websites can cause the sites to lose visibility. Don’t just add a plugin and start embedding images without understanding this issue.
5. Debugged: Dorothy Didn’t Tweet from the Fridge.
Sorry, Ferris Bueller fans. The tech world got together to puncture several huge holes in the story of Dorothy, a teen supposedly in trouble with her mother and tweeting from the family’s smart refrigerator.
6. Also in the Spotlight
YouTube is testing paid online meet-and-greets with its influencers, according to Engadget.
A hacker took $40,000 from a company and was caught after he verified his PayPal account for the money transfer, reports Quartz.
Amazon has prevailed in an appeal by the government over a $1.5 billion tax liability per Reuters.
7. Food for Thought: Strategic Acquisitions
Yahoo is not the only organization to make multiple poor acquisition decisions although they did manage to make three world changing ones in the space of ten years.
AOL is also owned now by Verizon and one of its former CEOs spilled to CNBC last week that AOL held talks to buy Facebook and YouTube in 2006 as well as Chinese tech holding company Tencent in 2004.
Read about those potential acquisitions and consider a tech landscape where AOL bought YouTube instead of Google or managed to combine its massive chat rooms with a nascent Facebook.
8. Protip: Free Calm for Teachers
Calm makes a fantastic mindfulness app in a freemium model. They’ve announced a plan to give “every teacher in the world free access to Calm”. They describe the requirements as having a K-12 classroom.
9. Great Data: Pain Pills at the Local Drugstore Level
The Washington Post continued its cutting edge data journalism by creating a feature last month show the movement of opioid pain pills to different towns. Now comes an even bigger graphical interface that shows the number of pills dispensed per pharmacy for every pharmacy.
The local data is remarkable. At the shopping center closest to my house, the Giant Food pharmacy received 432,360 narcotic pills. That’s less than 1 pill for the people who live within 5 miles of the pharmacy. But the CVS Pharmacy next to it received 2.9 million pills during the same time. You can even download the individual data for each.
10. Coffee Break: Panda Cheese
Egyptian cheese maker Panda came out with a set of unique television spots back in 2010. After law enforcement and pain pill stories today, you need this.