Start Up: video game gamblers collared, ethics of machine learning, Wi-Fi tube maps, and more


Hurricane Irma has caused devastation through the Caribbean – but been a boon for a walkie-talkie app. Photo by anttilipponen on Flickr.

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A selection of 14 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Video game influencers settle FTC complaint over endorsement • Rolling Stone

Brian Crecente:

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Two well-known social media influencers have reached a tentative agreement with the Federal Trade Commission over charges that they deceptively endorsed gambling site CSGOLotto – and paid others to do so – without disclosing that they owned the company itself.

CSGOLotto owners Trevor “TmarTn” Martin and Thomas “Syndicate” Cassel agreed to a deal in which they promise to report all of their activity to the FTC and disclose connections with endorsers. While the deal doesn’t require the two to admit any culpability nor does it include a fine, future infractions could cost more than $40,000 per violation, according to an FTC spokesperson who spoke with Glixel about the case.

Under the FTC Act, according to the spokesperson, the commission typically can’t assess civil penalties on the first violation. Today’s consent agreement will be subject to public comment until October 10th, at which point the commission will decide whether to make the order final…

…”The goal of the FTC isn’t to be a punitive or draconian agency,” FTC spokesman Mitchell J. Katz says. “We are here to educate consumers about new markets.”

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Come on. Does anyone seriously think these two believed it was all above board to do this? And as for the FTC: maybe rethink that mission statement. Especially when it comes to gambling – which can quickly turn into ruinously addictive behaviour – it’s entirely correct to be punitive and draconian. And when you have gambling mixed with deception, it’s hammer time.
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Is this research ethical? • Light Blue Touchpaper

Professor Ross Anderson:

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The Economist features face recognition on its front page, reporting that deep neural networks can now tell whether you’re straight or gay better than humans can just by looking at your face. The research they cite is a preprint, available here.

Its authors Kosinski and Wang downloaded thousands of photos from a dating site, ran them through a standard feature-extraction program, then classified gay vs straight using a standard statistical classifier, which they found could tell the men seeking men from the men seeking women. My students pretty well instantly called this out as selection bias; if gay men consider boyish faces to be cuter, then they will upload their most boyish photo. The paper authors suggest their finding may support a theory that sexuality is influenced by fetal testosterone levels, but when you don’t control for such biases your results may say more about social norms than about phenotypes.

Quite apart from the scientific value of the research, which is perhaps best assessed by specialists, I’m concerned with the ethics and privacy aspects. I am surprised that the paper doesn’t report having been through ethical review; the authors consider that photos on a dating website are public information and appear to assume that privacy issues simply do not arise.

Yet UK courts decided, in Campbell v Mirror, that privacy could be violated even by photos taken on the public street, and European courts have come to similar conclusions in I v Finland and elsewhere.

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Anderson, as ever, raises important questions. (The privacy topic will probably get ignored until someone – a famous model? – brings a big case. Then the boilerplate on the dating site or whatever will be changed to force you to give up your rights. Or the dating site will sue the maker of the AI for some of the profits.)
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London Underground Wifi tracking: here’s everything we learned from TfL’s official report • Gizmodo UK

James O’Malley on the findings from TfL’s Wi-Fi pilot tracking scheme:

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TfL was also able to see how disruptions impacted stations too: Apparently when mega-congested, the walk times increased from 3 minutes to more than ten minutes. Which creates a whole array of second-order problems for the poor staff on the ground trying to squeeze everyone in.

The wifi data also enables TfL to generate more accurate data on crowding in stations. The above graph compares the number of Oyster touch-ins with wireless device detections over the course of the day.

Previously, how busy a station was could only be measured using Oyster touch in data but there’s a fairly big flaw in using this: There’s a fairly hard limit on how many people can use a set of ticket barriers at any one time. So measuring it by touch-ins doesn’t account for hundreds or thousands of grumpy commuters in the queue.

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This is going to be enormously useful for planning. You can see how it might also be helpful for buses; offering free Wi-Fi on buses would serve some of the same purposes. (If you offered it at bus stops, though, you’d get people who didn’t intend to get on the bus..)
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Amazon was tricked by fake law firm into removing hot product, costing seller $200K • CNBC

Eugene Kim:

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Shortly before Amazon Prime Day in July, the owner of the Brushes4Less store on Amazon’s marketplace received a suspension notice for his best-selling product, a toothbrush head replacement.

The email that landed in his inbox said the product was being delisted from the site because of an intellectual property violation. In order to resolve the matter and get the product reinstated, the owner would have to contact the law firm that filed the complaint.

But there was one problem: the firm didn’t exist.

Brushes4Less was given the contact information for an entity named Wesley & McCain in Pittsburgh. The website wesleymccain.com has profiles for five lawyers. A Google image search shows that all five actually work for the law firm Brydon, Swearengen & England in Jefferson City, Missouri…

…The owner of Brushes4Less agreed to tell his story to CNBC but asked that we not use his name out of concern for his privacy. As far as he can tell, and based on what CNBC could confirm, Amazon was duped into shutting down the seller’s key product days before the site’s busiest shopping event ever.

“Just five minutes of detective work would have found this website is a fraud, but Amazon doesn’t seem to want to do any of that,” the owner said. “This is like the Wild Wild West of intellectual property complaints.”

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I’m hearing more and more complaints about how Amazon behaves, both here and through its promotions. Once more, the problem is: what alternative do you have?
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Tesla extended the range of some Florida vehicles for drivers to escape Hurricane Irma – The Verge

Andrew Liptak:

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As Hurricane Irma bears down on Florida, Tesla issued an over-the-air update to drivers in the state that unlocks the full battery capacity of its 60 and 70 kilowatt-hour Model S and X vehicles. The update provides those trying to escape the path of the storm with an additional 30 to 40 miles above the typical range of the vehicle, according to Electrek.

Tesla’s 60 and 60D vehicles offer a range of just above 200 miles on a charge. Faced with an order to leave, one Tesla owner contacted the company, saying that they needed an additional 30 miles of range to get out of the mandatory evacuation zone they were in. In response, the company issued an update to other drivers in the state, providing them with the full 75 kWh capacity of their vehicles through September 16th. One driver posted a screenshot of his app, which showed off the new extended range. A Tesla spokesperson confirmed that the company’s 70kWh vehicles also received the update.

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So what’s to stop someone trying to figure out what the software update does, and applying that to their battery firmware? (Maybe it’s signed with a Tesla cryptographic key?) This seems really strange – that the only difference is a few lines of code, and that the low-end car is intentionally hobbled not through physics but software. And what Tesla can give, it can take away. That’s scary too.
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As Hurricane Irma devastates, walkie talkie app Zello adds six million users in a week • Buzzfeed

Alex Kantrowitz:

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Zello is used almost exactly like a walkie talkie, except it relies on wifi and cell service, so it can support big groups of people in dispersed locations. When Harvey caused widespread devastation in and around Houston, volunteers leaned on Zello to coordinate search and rescue efforts. And people in the path of Irma seem to believe they can put the app to similar uses in this storm too.

Zello has added six million new registered users since Monday, the company’s CEO, Bill Moore, told BuzzFeed News, and is now the top free app on the iOS App Store. The app is supporting a few massive groups dedicated to Irma relief, including the 1,800+ member South Florida Hurricane Irma channel.

“With the crush of new users and emergency situations, most of the Zello team is working long days either maintaining capacity or helping with customer support,” Moore said.

As Zello’s usage grows, it risks getting overloaded and becoming less useful to rescuers. The South Florida group, for instance, seemed to contain a mixture of useful information and chaos Saturday evening. “We’re not Google, we’re not the National Weather Service,” one administrator told the group after a number of requests for weather updates.

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Question is, will anyone use it in a month’s time?
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Hurricane Irma and tax havens • Progressive Economics Group

Richard Murphy:

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Although it will take time for the full impact of Hurricane Irma to become apparent, it is clear that it will create significant damage in the British Overseas Territories of Anguilla, The British Virgin Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands. It has already done that on Antigua and Barbuda and may also do so to The Bahamas, both of which are Commonwealth states to which the UK has at least a moral obligation.

There is also risk to Bermuda and St Kitts and Nevis, which are also British Overseas Territories.  It is thought that well over half of all buildings in Barbuda have been subject to substantial hurricane inflicted damage.

It is beholden on the UK to provide all aid necessary to restore normal life in its Overseas Territories, without delay. There are good reasons for suggesting that it should provide similar assistance to affected Commonwealth States. That said, there is no reason why this support should be supplied unconditionally. 

All the places mentioned are secrecy jurisdictions (tax havens) as indicated by the Tax Justice Network’s influential Financial Secrecy Index. What this means is that these places, without exception, have deliberately created regulation for the primary benefit and use of people who are not resident in those islands, and knowing that that regulation in question will be used to undermine the legislation or regulation of another jurisdiction. 

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You can probably guess what comes next, but I won’t spoil the surprise.
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Partisanship, propaganda, and disinformation: online media and the 2016 US presidential election • Berkman Klein Center

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In this study, we analyze both mainstream and social media coverage of the 2016 United States presidential election. We document that the majority of mainstream media coverage was negative for both candidates, but largely followed Donald Trump’s agenda: when reporting on Hillary Clinton, coverage primarily focused on the various scandals related to the Clinton Foundation and emails. When focused on Trump, major substantive issues, primarily immigration, were prominent. Indeed, immigration emerged as a central issue in the campaign and served as a defining issue for the Trump campaign.

We find that the structure and composition of media on the right and left are quite different. The leading media on the right and left are rooted in different traditions and journalistic practices. On the conservative side, more attention was paid to pro-Trump, highly partisan media outlets. On the liberal side, by contrast, the center of gravity was made up largely of long-standing media organizations steeped in the traditions and practices of objective journalism.

Our data supports lines of research on polarization in American politics that focus on the asymmetric patterns between the left and the right, rather than studies that see polarization as a general historical phenomenon, driven by technology or other mechanisms that apply across the partisan divide.

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And yes, Facebook and Twitter are in there.
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Seriously, Equifax? Why the credit agency’s breach means regulation is needed • The New York Times

Farhad Manjoo is angry:

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If a bank lost everyone’s money, regulators might try to shut down the bank. If an accounting firm kept shoddy books, its licenses to practice accounting could be revoked. (See how Texas pulled Arthur Andersen’s license after the Enron debacle.)

So if a data-storage credit agency loses pretty much everyone’s data, why should it be allowed to store anyone’s data any longer?

Here’s one troubling reason: Because even after one of the gravest breaches in history, no one is really in a position to stop Equifax from continuing to do business as usual. And the problem is bigger than Equifax: We really have no good way, in public policy, to exact some existential punishment on companies that fail to safeguard our data. There will be hacks — and afterward, there will be more.

Experts said it was highly unlikely that any regulatory body would shut Equifax down over this breach. As one of the nation’s three major credit-reporting agencies, which store and analyze consumers’ financial history for credit decisions, it is likely to be considered too central to the American financial system; Equifax’s demise would both reduce competition in the industry and make each of the two survivors a bigger target. Raj Joshi, an analyst at Moody’s, said in a note to investors that Equifax was likely to be fine, as “the impact of the security breach will only modestly erode its solid credit metrics and liquidity.”

The two regulators that do have jurisdiction over Equifax, the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, declined to comment on any potential punishments over the credit agency’s breach.

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Too critical to fail. And you can’t stop Equifax from getting more of your data. This, and antitrust, are two examples where the law, and punishment, just isn’t up to the problems that can follow – which are outsourced to all the company’s users, instead of the company.
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Equifax breach response turns dumpster fire • Krebs On Security

Brian Krebs:

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Yesterday’s story here pointed out the gross conflict of interest in Equifax’s consumer remedy for this breach: Offering a year’s worth of free credit monitoring services to all Americans via its own in-house credit monitoring service.

This is particularly rich because a) why should anyone trust Equifax to do anything right security-wise after this debacle and b) these credit monitoring services typically hard-sell consumers to sign up for paid credit protection plans when the free coverage expires.

I have repeatedly urged readers to consider putting a security freeze on their accounts in lieu of or in addition to accepting these free credit monitoring offers, noting that credit monitoring services don’t protect you against identity theft (the most you can hope for is they alert you when ID thieves do steal your identity), while security freezes can prevent thieves from taking out new lines of credit in your name.

Several readers have written in to point out some legalese in the terms of service the Equifax requires all users to acknowledge before signing up for the service seems to include legal verbiage suggesting that those who do sign up for the free service will waive their rights to participate in future class action lawsuits against the company.

KrebsOnSecurity is still awaiting word from an actual lawyer who’s looking at this contract, but let me offer my own two cents on this.

Update, 9:45 p.m. ET: Equifax has updated their breach alert page to include the following response in regard to the unclear legalese:

“In response to consumer inquiries, we have made it clear that the arbitration clause and class action waiver included in the Equifax and TrustedID Premier terms of use does not apply to this cybersecurity incident.”

Original story:

Equifax will almost certainly see itself the target of multiple class action lawsuits as a result of this breach, but there is no guarantee those lawsuits will go the distance and result in a monetary windfall for affected consumers.

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U.S. spies think the FBI is botching the Kaspersky investigation • Cyberscoop

Patrick Howell O’Neill:

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U.S. spies believe FBI agents have mismanaged the ongoing counterintelligence investigation into Moscow-based cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab, current and former senior U.S. officials familiar with the matter tell CyberScoop.

Officials tell CyberScoop they believe the FBI has engaged in deliberate media leaks and overblown classified congressional briefings to build the case around Kaspersky. These officials also say the FBI should be more covert in its efforts to persuade private companies to uninstall Kaspersky software. A quieter operation would help avoid putting the rest of the intelligence community — especially agencies engaged in cyber-operations — in the crosshairs for retaliation, the officials say.

The FBI has briefed private sector companies across several industries, urging them to cut ties with Kaspersky on security grounds, CyberScoop reported last week. On some occasions, the FBI’s outreach efforts in the U.S. have been successful. At least one major American energy firm recently opted against signing a significant business deal with Kaspersky due in large part to the bureau’s briefings. Larger, brand-name technology giants have generally been less receptive and cooperative with the FBI.

The reaction from inside the U.S. intelligence community to the FBI’s work on Kaspersky has been mixed and, at times, disapproving. While there is general agreement among the intelligence agencies that Kaspersky is connected to and works with Russian spies, senior U.S. intelligence officials disapprove of the bureau’s handling of the years-long issue.

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The Kaspersky aspersions had passed me by, but this is pretty amazing. Kaspersky denies any connection with the Russian government.
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Samsung sees its best Note preorders with the new Galaxy Note8 • Samsung Newsroom

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Samsung Electronics America announced today [Sept 8] that more people in the US have purchased the Galaxy Note8 than previous Samsung Note phones during the same time period. Introduced on August 23, the Galaxy Note8 — featuring the largest ever screen in a Note device, an enhanced S Pen1, and the world’s first smartphone with two 12MP rear cameras with Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) on both the wide-angle and telephoto lenses — will be available in stores on September 15.

“We’re thrilled to see the strong consumer response to the next level Note,” said Tim Baxter, president and chief executive officer, Samsung Electronics North America. “Today’s consumers want to do bigger things in work and life, and Note helps make that possible. We built the Galaxy Note8 for people who desire a device that lets them be productive and allows for self-expression.”

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The Note 7 was actually introduced a few days earlier last year, on August 19. You don’t have to think too hard to realise why the Note 8 would have record orders, though. Everyone who wanted to have a Note 7 last year couldn’t get one (or if they did get one, had to get it back). They’ve had to make do with something else, but they probably really wanted the Note 7, as indicated by the low defection rate from Samsung when it was recalled. So there’s a ton of wanted-to-be-Note-7 owners who will dump their existing phones for this.

And then there’s all the people who would have upgraded anyway; perhaps they own the Note 5, or something else, and would have been in line to get it (while in the alternative universe where the Note 7 didn’t catch fire, Note 7 owners hung on to their devices).

In other words, it would almost be surprising if there weren’t record orders for the Note 8; I’d expect this story to be repeated around the globe. It’s good news for Samsung, whose financials compared to last year will look Godzilla-like.
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Worldwide brand motherboard shipments continue to fall • Digitimes

Monica Chen and Joseph Tsai:

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Worldwide brand motherboard shipments are expected to reach only 45m units in 2017 and may drop further in 2018 as related demand continues shrinking, according to sources from the upstream supply chain.

Worldwide brand motherboard shipments were 75m units in 2013, but slipped below 50m units in 2016. Since motherboard demand from China, which had been the main growth driver in the past few years, is dropping significantly, shipments are expected to remain in decline in 2017.

Gigabyte Technology is also expected to see its motherboard shipments drop below 13m units in 2017. In addition to China’s weakening demand, competition from Asustek has also grown fiercer, the sources noted.

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These figures roughly track the decline in the overall PC market (2013: 315m; 2016: 261m), and are also a declining ratio of that number. Building your own PC was always a minority sport; now it looks endangered.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

One thought on “Start Up: video game gamblers collared, ethics of machine learning, Wi-Fi tube maps, and more

  1. “until someone – a famous model? – brings a big case.”
    Thanks for giving me a chance to ponder the line between idiotic stereotype and bigotry, I guess…

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