Start Up No.2011: AI-faked Pentagon hit goes viral, Meta fined €1.2bn over US data transfer, America’s trucking Indians, and more

The 1970s produced a ton of great sci-fi films that weren’t Star Wars – shouldn’t we revisit them? CC-licensed photo by Dr Umm on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Suits you, Mr Connery. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. On Mastodon: Observations and links welcome.

AI-generated image of explosion near Pentagon spreads on social media • The Guardian

Abené Clayton:


An AI-generated image that appeared to show an explosion next to a building in the Pentagon complex circulated on social media platforms on Monday, in the latest incident to highlight concerns over misinformation generated by AI.

The image of a tall, dark gray plume of smoke quickly spread on Twitter, including through shares by verified accounts. It remains unclear where it originated.

The US Department of Defense has confirmed that the image was a fake. Still, its virality appears to have caused a brief dip in the stock market, CNN reports.

In a tweet, the fire department for Arlington, Virginia, outside of Washington DC, said that it was aware of social media reports about the explosion but that there was no threat to the public.

OSINTdefender, a Twitter page that shares news about international military conflicts and has over 336,000 followers, was one of the verified pages that shared the photo.

The page’s owner apologized for spreading misinformation and said the incident was an example of how “easily these sort of images can be used to manipulate the information space and how dangerous this could be in the future”.


Well done Twitter junking all that tiresome “verified user” nonsense, eh. Though it caught the surprise of 9/11 all those years ago.
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Facebook owner Meta Fined $1.3bn over data transfers to US • WSJ

Sam Schechner:


Facebook owner Meta Platforms was fined $1.3bn by European Union regulators for sending user information to the US, a record privacy penalty for the bloc.

The ruling raises pressure on the US government to complete a deal that would allow Meta and thousands of multinational companies to keep sending such information stateside.

Tech companies have been especially vulnerable to regulatory scrutiny absent such a deal. But most large international companies rely on a relatively free flow of data across the Atlantic, and the steep fine for Meta highlights the regulatory challenges that have mounted since a previous data-transfer deal was overturned by European courts in 2020.

Meta’s top privacy regulator in the EU said in its decision Monday that Facebook has for years illegally stored data about European users on its servers in the US, where it contends the information could be accessed by American spy agencies without sufficient means for users to appeal.

The €1.2bn fine surpasses the previous record of €746m, or $806m, under the General Data Protection Regulation against Amazon in Luxembourg in 2021 for privacy violations related to its advertising business. The company has appealed that decision in Luxembourg courts.

In addition to imposing a fine, Monday’s decision also orders Meta to stop sending information about European Facebook users to the US, and delete data already sent, within about six months. The decision, though—said Meta—could avoid those orders if Washington completes a trans-Atlantic agreement with the EU to allow data transfers before then.


Nick Clegg, Meta’s PR honcho, was predictably quick to come on Twitter and say this wasn’t a big deal. But the deletion of the data is going to matter. And this does put some cards in the EU’s hands when it comes to negotiate with the US over whatever topic they’re negotiating on.

The fine, though, isn’t going to matter to the money monster of Facebook/Instagram.

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Along the highways, Indian restaurants serve America’s truckers • The Washington Post

Meena Venkataramanan:


Long before dawn on a frosty February morning in Dallas, Palwinder Singh rises from the mattress in his sleeper cab and prepares to haul his cargo cross-country. After five hours of driving north along U.S. 287, and then west on Interstate 40, it’s lunchtime.

Singh, 30, pulls his semi off Exit 36 into Vega, a quiet town in the Texas Panhandle along the historic Route 66. For lunch, he bypasses the typical long-haul trucker menu of convenience-store snacks and heat-lamp hot dogs at the large Pilot Travel Center and instead rolls into the parking lot of a modest white building across the street. A sign on the building’s red roof spells out the words “Punjabi Dhaba” in the Punjabi language’s Gurmukhi script, with the English translation below it.

The Vega Truck Stop and Indian Kitchen, as it’s officially known, attracts truckers like Singh originally from Punjab, a region spanning northwest India and eastern Pakistan. The store is filled with Punjabi snacks, sweets, truck decorations and a restaurant, known as a dhaba, that serves fresh meals including paratha and butter chicken — a slice of South Asia in the middle of rural Texas.

That afternoon, Singh parked his truck, decorated with colorful fabrics and ornaments called jhalars and parandas. He was promptly greeted in Punjabi by another trucker, Amandeep Singh, of Fresno, Calif., who had also stopped for lunch. As they each poured a cup of steaming chai indoors, the truckers chatted about their drives.

The Vega eatery is among an estimated 40 dhabas, and likely many more, that have popped up along American highways across the country in response to the growing number of Punjabi truckers, who have dominated the Indian trucking industry for decades. Punjabis now make up almost 20% of the US trucking industry, according to Raman Dhillon, chief executive of the North American Punjabi Trucking Association. Punjabis are both truckers and owner-operators, running companies such as Tut Brothers out of Indiana and Khalsa Transportation out of California. They’re challenging the stereotype of the rugged White, male trucker that has long been associated with the industry.


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A Twitter bug is restoring deleted tweets and retweets — including my own • The Verge

James Vincent:


It’s not clear how widespread this problem might be or what the cause is. It could be due to the tool used to delete tweets (though I used while Morrell said he used Redact), while some have speculated it’s caused by Twitter’s servers being moved around and accidentally restoring the data. ZDNET reports Morrell saying that over 400 people had told him they’d had similar problems, while a quick survey of my colleagues at The Verge who’ve mass-deleted tweets received mixed results. Some said their old tweets were still gone while others said it seemed like some had come back.

Whatever’s happening, it’s another demonstration of Twitter’s crumbling infrastructure and inability to fulfill even the basic functions it promises users. Some of these failings predate Elon Musk’s takeover of the company. (See, for example, the years-long problem of properly deleting direct messages.) But there’s been an uptick in bugs since Musk initiated mass firings, with users reporting similar glitches like private tweets being made public.

For me, the issue is trivial. It’s just a few old retweets. But it points to a larger problem. Twitter is still an important tool for activists, whistleblowers, and protestors around the world. There’s a reason Turkey is forcing the company to block certain tweets during its ongoing elections. Twitter still matters. But if you are, say, a political dissenter in an authoritarian country, then the ability to delete your own tweets could be crucial to your freedom. For all Musk’s talk about free speech, the company doesn’t seem to care about this.


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HP rushes to fix bricked printers after faulty firmware update • Bleeping Computer

Sergiu Gatlan:


HP is working to address a bad firmware update that has been bricking HP Office Jet printers worldwide since it was released earlier this month.

While HP has yet to issue a public statement regarding these ongoing problems affecting a subset of its customer base, the company told BleepingComputer that it’s addressing the blue screen errors seen by a “limited number” of users.

“Our teams are working diligently to address the blue screen error affecting a limited number of HP OfficeJet Pro 9020e printers,” HP told BleepingComputer.

“We are recommending customers experiencing the error to contact our customer support team for assistance:”

Impacted printers include HP OfficeJet 902x models, including HP OfficeJet Pro 9022e, HP OfficeJet Pro 9025e, HP OfficeJet Pro 9020eAll-in-One, HP OfficeJet Pro 9025e All-in-One Printer

Affected customers report that their devices display blue screens with “83C0000B” errors on the built-in touchscreen.

Since the issues surfaced, multiple threads have been started by people from the U.S., the U.K., Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, Poland, New Zealand, and France who had their printers bricked, some with more than a dozen pages of reports.

“HP has no solution at this time. Hidden service menu is not showing, and the printer is not booting anymore. Only a blue screen,” one customer said.


I never, ever understand what it is that these firmware updates are, well, updating. There’s never any visible difference. Well, except with this one, I guess.
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China bans Micron’s products from key infrastructure, citing security risk • FT via Ars Technica

Eleanor Olcott and Demetri Sevastopulo:


China said US chipmaker Micron Technology’s products posed “serious network security risks” as it banned operators of key infrastructure from buying them, in its first big measure against an American semiconductor group.

The Cyberspace Administration of China on Sunday announced that the company, which is the biggest US maker of memory chips, “posed significant security risks to China’s critical information infrastructure supply chain.” As a result, it ordered “critical national infrastructure operators” to stop purchasing products from Idaho-based Micron.

The move follows a seven-week investigation into Micron by the CAC, a probe that was widely seen as retaliation for US efforts to curb China’s access to critical technology. Last October, Washington introduced expansive chip export controls, and the Netherlands and Japan have since followed.

The US Department of Commerce said it strongly opposed the action, which it said had “no basis in fact.”

“This action, along with recent raids and targeting of other American firms, is inconsistent with the PRC’s assertions that it is opening its markets and is committed to a transparent regulatory framework,” the Department of Commerce said.

It said it would engage with Chinese authorities to seek clarification. “We also will engage with key allies and partners to ensure we are closely coordinated to address distortions of the memory chip market caused by China’s actions,” it added.

Analysts said Micron presented an obvious first target for Beijing as its tech would be more easily replaced with competitors’ chips from South Korean rivals Samsung and SK Hynix.


Very slow tit-for-tat.
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The most underrated sci-fi movies of the 1970s • Den of Geek

Don Kaye:


If the 1950s was the decade in which science fiction cinema began to mature and evolve, and the 1960s was the era where it started to experiment and stretch in new directions, then the 1970s was the period when the genre more or less went batshit insane.

The movies of the era continued to touch on socially and globally relevant themes, a trend that began 20 years earlier, while also continuing the literary pedigree and even more progressive concerns of the decade prior. But they did so in ever weirder ways, taking big swings (and often steep plunges as well) as many of the films of the decade aimed high but lacked the resources to match their ambitions.

Still, even the clunkier efforts of the ‘70s had their charms, and the creative success stories touched nerves in ways that the films of the previous decades hadn’t quite achieved. But almost none of the movies of this turbulent decade garnered the kind of critical approval lavished upon other genres at that time, with sci-fi still considered a lesser cinematic arena than more upscale categories.

Some of the era’s output has been reappraised since then, however, and we’d venture that the genre was at its unbridled best in terms of imagination and creative freedom then. Well, at least until 1977 when a little movie called Star Wars came along and made the studios realize that there was box office gold in that secluded little sci-fi valley—and moved in with big budgets and armies of development execs.


Zardoz! Bodysnatchers! Logan’s Run with Jenny Agutter! Silent Running! Dark Star! What a collection. Then again there were some great ones in the 1980s. Maybe not as crazy, though.
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UK court tosses class-action style health data misuse claim against Google DeepMind • TechCrunch

Natasha Lomas:


Google has prevailed against another UK class-action style privacy lawsuit after a London court dismissed a lawsuit filed last year against the tech giant and its AI division, DeepMind, which had sought compensation for misuse of NHS patients’ medical records.

The decision underscores the hurdles facing class-action style compensation claims for privacy breaches in the UK.

The complainant had sought to bring a representative claim on behalf of the approximately 1.6 million individuals whose medical records were — starting in 2015 — passed to DeepMind without their knowledge or consent — seeking damages for unlawful use of patients’ confidential medical data. The Google-owned AI firm had been engaged by the Royal Free NHS Trust which passed it patient data to co-develop an app for detecting acute kidney injury. The UK’s data protection watchdog later found the Trust had lacked a lawful basis for the processing.

In a judgment issued on Monday by the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Justice Heather Williams dismissed the case on the grounds that it did not meet the bar for bringing a representative action, which requires the claim to be based on general circumstances that apply to the entire class rather than on individual circumstances, finding therefore that the claim would be bound to fail.


It’s quite something that the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) says the transfer breached data protection laws, and yet a high-powered team of lawyers can’t find a suitable formulation that covers “the class of people whose data was affected by the breach”.

The judgment is pretty complex. You could read a lot of it and think that the class action was going to succeed.
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Google’s photo app still can’t find gorillas. And neither can Apple’s • The New York Times

Nico Grant and Kashmir Hill:


Google, whose Android software underpins most of the world’s smartphones, has made the decision to turn off the ability to visually search for primates for fear of making an offensive mistake and labelling a person as an animal. And Apple, with technology that performed similarly to Google’s in our test, appeared to disable the ability to look for monkeys and apes as well.

Consumers may not need to frequently perform such a search — though in 2019, an iPhone user complained on Apple’s customer support forum that the software “can’t find monkeys in photos on my device.” But the issue raises larger questions about other unfixed, or unfixable, flaws lurking in services that rely on computer vision — a technology that interprets visual images — as well as other products powered by AI.

[Software developer Jacky] Alciné [who first discovered the problem with Google photos identifying black people as “gorillas” in 2015] was dismayed to learn that Google has still not fully solved the problem and said society puts too much trust in technology. “I’m going to forever have no faith in this AI,” he said.

Computer vision products are now used for tasks as mundane as sending an alert when there is a package on the doorstep, and as weighty as navigating cars and finding perpetrators in law enforcement investigations.

Errors can reflect racist attitudes among those encoding the data. In the gorilla incident, two former Google employees who worked on this technology said the problem was that the company had not put enough photos of Black people in the image collection that it used to train its AI system. As a result, the technology was not familiar enough with darker-skinned people and confused them for gorillas.

As artificial intelligence becomes more embedded in our lives, it is eliciting fears of unintended consequences. Although computer vision products and AI chatbots like ChatGPT are different, both depend on underlying reams of data that train the software, and both can misfire because of flaws in the data or biases incorporated into their code.


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Rail passengers in England could lose wifi access amid cost cuts • The Guardian

Gwyn Topham:


Train passengers face losing access to [free] Wi-fi after the government told rail companies to stop providing the service unless they can demonstrate its business case.

The move is being pushed by the Department for Transport (DfT) in order to cut costs as it looks to “reform all aspects of the railway”.

Most British train services now provide free Wi-fi as standard but the DfT has told its contracted operators in England that they should cease offering it if they cannot justify it financially. The department said it was looking for “value for money” and Wi-fi was low on passenger’s priorities, particularly on shorter journeys.

The drive was questioned by passenger groups and industry figures who said the railway should be continuing to do all it could to attract people back, with peak commuter numbers still significantly lower than pre-pandemic levels.

Christian Wolmar, who revealed the proposals on the Calling All Stations podcast, said it was a “ridiculous measure”, adding: “The DfT actually wants to reduce the quality of the train service by saying to passengers: sorry, you can’t access Wi-fi.

“It’s all about saving money. But we’re trying to attract commuters back on to the railway, and people like to get on their phone or laptops.

“They’re going backwards. My view is that Wi-fi is as essential as toilets now – people expect to be connected.”


The toilets comparison is interesting: do toilets pay their way? Does every passenger use them during the journey? No and no, yet nobody’s suggesting getting rid of them. In 2015, the Tory administration put £50m of funding into free Wi-fi for trains, calling it “a priority for many”. In December 2017 Matt Hancock talked of gigabits speeds on trains and making trips “more enjoyable and productive”. What changed?
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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