AI

New Toronto Declaration Calls On Algorithms To Respect Human Rights 12

A coalition of human rights and technology groups released a new declaration on machine learning standards, calling on both governments and tech companies to ensure that algorithms respect basic principles of equality and non-discrimination. The Verge reports: Called The Toronto Declaration, the document focuses on the obligation to prevent machine learning systems from discriminating, and in some cases violating, existing human rights law. The declaration was announced as part of the RightsCon conference, an annual gathering of digital and human rights groups. "We must keep our focus on how these technologies will affect individual human beings and human rights," the preamble reads. "In a world of machine learning systems, who will bear accountability for harming human rights?" The declaration has already been signed by Amnesty International, Access Now, Human Rights Watch, and the Wikimedia Foundation. More signatories are expected in the weeks to come.

Beyond general non-discrimination practices, the declaration focuses on the individual right to remedy when algorithmic discrimination does occur. "This may include, for example, creating clear, independent, and visible processes for redress following adverse individual or societal effects," the declaration suggests, "[and making decisions] subject to accessible and effective appeal and judicial review."
Businesses

Chinese 'Accelerators' In Silicon Valley Aim To Bring Startups Home (reuters.com) 68

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Beijing's unslakeable thirst for the latest technology has spurred a proliferation of "accelerators" in Silicon Valley that aim to identify promising startups and bring them to China. The surge in the number of China-focused accelerators -- which support, mentor and invest in early-stage startups -- is part of a larger wave of Chinese investment in Silicon Valley. At least 11 such programs have been created in the San Francisco Bay Area since 2013, according to the tech-sector data firm Crunchbase. Some work directly with Chinese governments, which provide funding. Reuters interviews with the incubators showed that many were focused on bringing U.S. startups to China. For U.S. government officials wary of China's growing high-tech clout, the accelerator boom reaffirms fears that U.S. technological know-how is being transferred to China through investments, joint ventures or licensing agreements. "Our intellectual property is the future of our economy and our security," Senator Mark Warner, the Democratic vice-chairman of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement to Reuters about Chinese accelerators. "China's government has clearly prioritized acquiring as much of that intellectual property as possible. Their ongoing efforts, legal or illegal, pose a risk that we have to look at very seriously."
Cellphones

Pentagon-Funded Project Will 'Solve' Cellphone Identity Verification Within Two Years (nextgov.com) 95

Long-time Slashdot reader Zorro quotes Nextgov: The Defense Department is funding a project that officials say could revolutionize the way companies, federal agencies and the military itself verify that people are who they say they are and it could be available in most commercial smartphones within two years. The technology, which will be embedded in smartphones' hardware, will analyze a variety of identifiers that are unique to an individual, such as the hand pressure and wrist tension when the person holds a smartphone and the person's peculiar gait while walking, said Steve Wallace, technical director at the Defense Information Systems Agency.

Organizations that use the tool can combine those identifiers to give the phone holder a "risk score," Wallace said. If the risk score is low enough, the organization can presume the person is who she says she is and grant her access to sensitive files on the phone or on a connected computer or grant her access to a secure facility. If the score's too high, she'll be locked out... Another identifier that will likely be built into the chips is a GPS tracker that will store encrypted information about a person's movements, Wallace said. The verification tool would analyze historical information about a person's locations and major, recent anomalies would raise the person's risk score.

A technical director at the agency "declined to say which smartphone and chipmakers planned to participate in the project, but said the capability will be available 'in the vast majority of mobile devices.'"
AI

Did Google's Duplex Testing Break the Law? (daringfireball.net) 69

An anonymous reader writes: Tech blogger John Gruber appears to have successfully identified one of the restaurants mentioned in a post on Google's AI blog that bragged about "a meal booked through a call from Duplex." Mashable then asked a restaurant employee there if Google had let him know in advance that they'd be receiving a call from their non-human personal assistant AI. "No, of course no," he replied. And "When I asked him to confirm one more time that Duplex had called...he appeared to get nervous and immediately said he needed to go. He then hung up the phone."

John Gruber now asks: "How many real-world businesses has Google Duplex been calling and not identifying itself as an AI, leaving people to think they're actually speaking to another human...? And if 'Victor' is correct that Hong's Gourmet had no advance knowledge of the call, Google may have violated California law by recording the call." Friday he added that "This wouldn't send anyone to prison, but it would be a bit of an embarrassment, and would reinforce the notion that Google has a cavalier stance on privacy (and adhering to privacy laws)."

The Mercury News also reports that legal experts "raised questions about how Google's possible need to record Duplex's phone conversations to improve its artificial intelligence may come in conflict with California's strict two-party consent law, where all parties involved in a private phone conversation need to agree to being recorded."

For another perspective, Gizmodo's senior reviews editor reminds readers that "pretty much all tech demos are fake as hell." Speaking of Google's controversial Duplex demo, she writes that "If it didn't happen, if it is all a lie, well then I'll be totally disappointed. But I can't say I'll be surprised."
Privacy

Repo Men Scan Billions of License Plates -- For the Government (washingtonpost.com) 222

The Washington Post notes the billions of license plate scans coming from modern repo men "able to use big data to find targets" -- including one who drives "a beat-up Ford Crown Victoria sedan." It had four small cameras mounted on the trunk and a laptop bolted to the dash. The high-speed cameras captured every passing license plate. The computer contained a growing list of hundreds of thousands of vehicles with seriously late loans. The system could spot a repossession in an instant. Even better, it could keep tabs on a car long before the loan went bad... Repo agents are the unpopular foot soldiers in the nation's $1.2 trillion auto loan market... they are the closest most people come to a faceless, sophisticated financial system that can upend their lives...

Derek Lewis works for Relentless Recovery, the largest repo company in Ohio and its busiest collector of license plate scans. Last year, the company repossessed more than 25,500 vehicles -- including tractor trailers and riding lawn mowers. Business has more than doubled since 2014, the company said. Even with the rising deployment of remote engine cutoffs and GPS locators in cars, repo agencies remain dominant. Relentless scanned 28 million license plates last year, a demonstration of its recent, heavy push into technology. It now has more than 40 camera-equipped vehicles, mostly spotter cars. Agents are finding repos they never would have a few years ago. The company's goal is to capture every plate in Ohio and use that information to reveal patterns... "It's kind of scary, but it's amazing," said Alana Ferrante, chief executive of Relentless.

Repo agents are responsible for the majority of the billions of license plate scans produced nationwide. But they don't control the information. Most of that data is owned by Digital Recognition Network (DRN), a Fort Worth company that is the largest provider of license-plate-recognition systems. And DRN sells the information to insurance companies, private investigators -- even other repo agents. DRN is a sister company to Vigilant Solutions, which provides the plate scans to law enforcement, including police and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Both companies declined to respond to questions about their operations... For repo companies, one worry is whether they are producing information that others are monetizing.

Privacy

'I Asked Apple for All My Data. Here's What Was Sent Back' (zdnet.com) 160

"I asked Apple to give me all the data it's collected on me since I first became a customer in 2010," writes the security editor for ZDNet, "with the purchase of my first iPhone." That was nearly a decade ago. As most tech companies have grown in size, they began collecting more and more data on users and customers -- even on non-users and non-customers... Apple took a little over a week to send me all the data it's collected on me, amounting to almost two dozen Excel spreadsheets at just 5MB in total -- roughly the equivalent of a high-quality photo snapped on my iPhone. Facebook, Google, and Twitter all took a few minutes to an hour to send me all the data they store on me -- ranging from a few hundred megabytes to a couple of gigabytes in size...

The zip file contained mostly Excel spreadsheets, packed with information that Apple stores about me. None of the files contained content information -- like text messages and photos -- but they do contain metadata, like when and who I messaged or called on FaceTime. Apple says that any data information it collects on you is yours to have if you want it, but as of yet, it doesn't turn over your content which is largely stored on your slew of Apple devices. That's set to change later this year... And, of the data it collects to power Siri, Maps, and News, it does so anonymously -- Apple can't attribute that data to the device owner... One spreadsheet -- handily -- contained explanations for all the data fields, which we've uploaded here...

[T]here's really not much to it. As insightful as it was, Apple's treasure trove of my personal data is a drop in the ocean to what social networks or search giants have on me, because Apple is primarily a hardware maker and not ad-driven, like Facebook and Google, which use your data to pitch you ads.

CNET explains how to request your own data from Apple.
Earth

Floating Pacific Island Is In the Works With Its Own Government, Cryptocurrency (cnbc.com) 163

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: Nathalie Mezza-Garcia is a political scientist turned "seavangelesse" -- her term for an evangelist in favor of living off the grid -- and on the ocean. Mezza-Garcia spoke with CNBC's Matthew Taylor about what she sees as the trouble with governments, and why she believes tech startups should head to Tahiti. This seavangelesse is a researcher for the Blue Frontiers and Seasteading Institute's highly-anticipated Floating Island Project. The project is a pilot program in partnership with the government of French Polynesia, which will see 300 homes built on an island that runs under its own governance, using a cryptocurrency called Varyon.

"Once we can see how this first island works, we will have a proof of concept to plan for islands to house climate refugees," she said. The project is funded through philanthropic donations via the Seasteading Institute and Blue Frontiers, which sells tokens of the cryptocurrency Varyon. The pilot island is expected to be completed by 2022 and cost up to $50 million. As well as offering a home for the displaced, the self-contained islands are designed to function as business centers that are beyond the influence of government regulation.

Privacy

FCC Investigating LocationSmart Over Phone-Tracking Flaw (cnet.com) 19

The FCC has opened an investigation into LocationSmart, a company that is buying your real-time location data from four of the largest U.S. carriers in the United States. The investigation comes a day after a security researcher from Carnegie Mellon University exposed a vulnerability on LocationSmart's website. CNET reports: The bug has prompted an investigation from the FCC, the agency said on Friday. An FCC spokesman said LocationSmart's case was being handled by its Enforcement Bureau. Since The New York Times revealed that Securus, an inmate call tracking service, had offered the same tracking service last week, Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, called for the FCC and major wireless carriers to investigate these companies. On Friday, Wyden praised the investigation, but requested the FCC to expand its look beyond LocationSmart.

"The negligent attitude toward Americans' security and privacy by wireless carriers and intermediaries puts every American at risk," Wyden said. "I urge the FCC expand the scope of this investigation, and to more broadly probe the practice of third parties buying real-time location data on Americans." He is also calling for FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to recuse himself from the investigation, because Pai was a former attorney for Securus.

AI

Google's Duplex AI Robot Will Warn That Calls Are Recorded (bloomberg.com) 27

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: On Thursday, the Alphabet Inc. unit shared more details on how the Duplex robot-calling feature will operate when it's released publicly, according to people familiar with the discussion. Duplex is an extension of the company's voice-based digital assistant that automatically phones local businesses and speaks with workers there to book appointments. At Google's weekly TGIF staff meeting on Thursday, executives gave employees their first full Duplex demo and told them the bot would identify itself as the Google assistant. It will also inform people on the phone that the line is being recorded in certain jurisdictions, the people said.
Transportation

Utilities, Tesla Appeal Federal Rollback of Auto Emissions Standards (arstechnica.com) 117

A coalition of utilities and electric vehicle makers, including Tesla, are petitioning the EPA to reconsider its recent plan to roll back auto emissions standards. In April, the EPA said that it would relax greenhouse gas emissions standards that had been put in place for model year 2022-2025 vehicles. Ars Technica reports: The National Coalition for Advanced Transportation (NCAT) represents 12 utilities as well as Tesla, electric truck maker Workhorse, and EV charging network EVgo. NCAT earlier this month asked the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, DC to review the EPA's latest efforts to relax the Obama-era fuel economy standards.

The coalition challenge to the EPA follows a similar challenge made by 17 states, including California. The utilities' efforts show that they're interested in protecting one of the major projected avenues for growth in electricity demand. Electricity consumption has stagnated in the U.S. as efficiency measures take effect and, in some states, solar panels make it easier for residents to buy less electricity from the local utility.

Privacy

Cell Phone Tracking Firm Exposed Millions of Americans' Real-time Locations (zdnet.com) 38

Earlier this week, ZDNet shed some light on a company called LocationSmart that is buying your real-time location data from four of the largest U.S. carriers in the United States. The story blew up because a former police sheriff snooped on phone location data without a warrant, according to The New York Times. ZDNet is now reporting that the company "had a bug in its website that allowed anyone to see where a person is located -- without obtaining their consent." An anonymous reader shares an excerpt: "Due to a very elementary bug in the website, you can just skip that consent part and go straight to the location," said Robert Xiao, a PhD. student at the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, in a phone call. "The implication of this is that LocationSmart never required consent in the first place," he said. "There seems to be no security oversight here." The "try" website was pulled offline after Xiao privately disclosed the bug to the company, with help from CERT, a public vulnerability database, also at Carnegie Mellon. Xiao said the bug may have exposed nearly every cell phone customer in the U.S. and Canada, some 200 million customers.

The researcher said he started looking at LocationSmart's website following ZDNet's report this week, which followed from a story from The New York Times, which revealed how a former police sheriff snooped on phone location data without a warrant. The sheriff has pleaded not guilty to charges of unlawful surveillance. He said one of the APIs used in the "try" page that allows users to try the location feature out was not validating the consent response properly. Xiao said it was "trivially easy" to skip the part where the API sends the text message to the user to obtain their consent. "It's a surprisingly simple bug," he said.

Google

Google Won't Confirm If Its Human-Like AI Actually Called a Salon To Make an Appointment As Demoed at I/O (axios.com) 95

The headline demo at Google's I/O conference earlier this month continues to be a talking point in the industry. The remarkable demo, which saw Google Assistant call a salon to successfully fix an appointment, continues to draw skepticism. News outlet Axios followed up with Google to get some clarifications only to find that the company did not wish to talk about it. From the report: What's suspicious? When you call a business, the person picking up the phone almost always identifies the business itself (and sometimes gives their own name as well). But that didn't happen when the Google assistant called these "real" businesses. Axios called over two dozen hair salons and restaurants -- including some in Google's hometown of Mountain View -- and every one immediately gave the business name.

Axios asked Google for the name of the hair salon or restaurant, in order to verify both that the businesses exist and that the calls were not pre-planned. We also said that we'd guarantee, in writing, not to publicly identify either establishment (so as to prevent them from receiving unwanted attention). A longtime Google spokeswoman declined to provide either name.

We also asked if either call was edited, even perhaps just cutting the second or two when the business identifies itself. And, if so, were there other edits? The spokeswoman declined comment, but said she'd check and get back to us. She didn't.

Music

YouTube Unveils New Streaming Service 'YouTube Music,' Rebrands YouTube Red (gizmodo.com) 106

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: YouTube Music, a streaming music platform designed to compete with the likes of Spotify and Apple Music, officially has a launch date: May 22nd. Its existence will also shift around YouTube and Google's overall media strategy, which has thus far been quite the mess. YouTube Music will borrow the Spotify model and offer a free, ad-supported tier as well as a premium version. The paid tier, which will be called YouTube Music Premium, will be available for $9.99 per month. It will debut in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and South Korea before expanding to 14 other countries.

One of the selling points for YouTube Music will be the ability to harness the endless amount of information Google knows about you, which it will use to try to create customized listening experiences. Pitchfork reported that the app, with the help of Google Assistant, will make listening recommendations based on the time of day, location, and listening patterns. It will also apparently offer "an audio experience and a video experience," suggesting perhaps an emphasis on music videos and other visual content. From here, Google seems to be focused on making its streaming strategy a little less wacky. Google Play Music, the company's previous music streaming service that is still inexplicably up and running despite teetering on the brink of extinction for years, will slowly be phased out according to USA Today.
Meanwhile, the paid streaming subscription service, known as YouTube Red, is being rebranded to YouTube Premium and will cost $11.99 per month instead of $9.99. (Pitchfork notes that existing YouTube Red subscribers will be able to keep their $9.99 rate.) YouTube Premium will include access to YouTube Music Premium. Here's a handy-dandy chart that helps show what is/isn't included in the two plans.
Government

Cops Will Soon ID You Via Your Roof Rack (arstechnica.com) 98

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: On Tuesday, one of the largest license plate reader (LPR) manufacturers, ELSAG, announced a major upgrade to "allow investigators to search by color, seven body types, 34 makes, and nine visual descriptors in addition to the standard plate number, location, and time." Such a vast expansion of the tech now means that evading such scans will be even more difficult.

"Using advanced computer vision software, ELSAG ALPR data can now be processed to include the vehicle's make, type -- sedan, SUV, hatchback, pickup, minivan, van, box truck -- and general color -- red, blue, green, white and yellow," ELSAG continued. "The solution actively recognizes the 34 most-common vehicle brands on US roads." Plus, the company says, the software is now able to visually identity things like a "roof rack, spare tire, bumper sticker, or a ride-sharing company decal."

Businesses

Senate Votes To Save Net Neutrality (gizmodo.com) 288

In a monumental decision that will resonate through election season, the U.S. Senate on Wednesday voted to reinstate the net neutrality protections the Federal Communications Commission decided to repeal late last year. From a report: For months, procedural red tape has delayed the full implementation of the FCC's decision to drop Title II protections that prevent internet service providers from blocking or throttling online content. Last week, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai confirmed that the repeal of the 2015 Open Internet Order would go into effect on June 11. But Democrats put forth a resolution to use its power under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to review new regulations by federal agencies through an expedited legislative process. All 49 Democrats in the Senate supported the effort to undo the FCC's vote. Republicans, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, John Kennedy of Louisiana and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska crossed party lines to support the measure. Further reading: ArsTechnica.

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