Category Archives: Course Extras

What Surveillance Valley knows about you

Google is very secretive about the exact nature of its for-profit intel operation and how it uses the petabytes of data it collects on us every single day for financial gain.

Fortunately, though, we can get a sense of the kind of info that Google and other Surveillance Valley megacorps compile on us, and the ways in which that intel might be used and abused, by looking at the business practices of the “data broker” industry.

Thanks to a series of Senate hearings, the business of data brokerage is finally being understood by consumers, but the industry got its start back in the 1970s as a direct outgrowth of the failure of telemarketing. In its early days, telemarketing had an abysmal success rate: only 2 percent of people contacted would become customers. In his book, “The Digital Perso,” Daniel J. Solove explains what happened next:

To increase the low response rate, marketers sought to sharpen their targeting techniques, which required more consumer research and an effective way to collect, store, and analyze information about consumers. The advent of the computer database gave marketers this long sought-after ability — and it launched a revolution in targeting technology.

The dossiers are not restricted to generic market segmenting categories like “Young Literati” or “Shotguns and Pickups” or “Kids & Cul-de-Sacs,” but often contain the most private and intimate details about a person’s life, all of it packaged and sold over and over again to anyone willing to pay.

Take MEDbase200, a boutique for-profit intel outfit that specializes in selling health-related consumer data. Well, until last week, the company offered its clients a list of rape victims (or “rape sufferers,” as the company calls them) at the low price of $79.00 per thousand. The company claims to have segmented this data set into hundreds of different categories, including stuff like the ailments they suffer, prescription drugs they take and their ethnicity:

These rape sufferers are family members who have reported, or have been identified as individuals affected by specific illnesses, conditions or ailments relating to rape. Medbase200 is the owner of this list. Select from families affected by over 500 different ailments, and/or who are consumers of over 200 different Rx medications. Lists can be further selected on the basis of lifestyle, ethnicity, geo, gender, and much more. Inquire today for more information.

MEDbase promptly took its “rape sufferers” list off line last week after its existence was revealed in a Senate investigation into the activities of the data-broker industry. The company pretended like the list was a huge mistake. A MEDbase rep tried convincing a Wall Street Journal reporter that its rape dossiers were just a “hypothetical list of health conditions/ailments.” The rep promised it was never sold to anyone. Yep, it was a big mistake. We can all rest easy now. Thankfully, MEDbase has hundreds of other similar dossier collections, hawking the most private and sensitive medical information.

via What Surveillance Valley knows about you | PandoDaily.

The Second Class Citizens of the Google Cafeteria

A rising wind raises all rideshare helicopters–or so the pixel Pollyannas of the Valley would have you think, all progress and prosperity. And the… Read…

As part of a week-long exploration of income inequality in the midst of an economic boom, NPR has matched some faces with abstract dots on a map, demonstrating that you can work for Google and still go hungry.

All Tech Considered interviewed Manny Cardenas, a 25-year-old part-time security guard who has worked at Google\’s Mountain View campus for a year and a half, commuting from low-income housing in San Jose. Cardenas earns $16/hour without benefits and has had to rely on a food pantry to care for himself and his daughter. He never gets more than 30 hours a week.

via The Second Class Citizens of the Google Cafeteria.

Research shows how MacBook Webcams can spy on their users without warning

The woman was shocked when she received two nude photos of herself by e-mail. The photos had been taken over a period of several months — without her knowledge — by the built-in camera on her laptop.

Fortunately, the FBI was able to identify a suspect: her high school classmate, a man named Jared Abrahams. The FBI says it found software on Abrahams’s computer that allowed him to spy remotely on her and numerous other women.

Abrahams pleaded guilty to extortion in October. The woman, identified in court papers only as C.W., later identified herself on Twitter as Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf. While her case was instant fodder for celebrity gossip sites, it left a serious issue unresolved.

Most laptops with built-in cameras have an important privacy feature — a light that is supposed to turn on any time the camera is in use. But Wolf says she never saw the light on her laptop go on. As a result, she had no idea she was under surveillance.

via Research shows how MacBook Webcams can spy on their users without warning.

Disruptions: Internet’s Sad Legacy: No More Secrets

Snapchat’s privacy page explains that private images are stored on someone’s phone — and on its own servers. “Forensically, even after they are deleted,” Snapchat says, those images can be retrieved. Whisper’s privacy page says the company owns the intellectual property, both images and text, that people post; Whisper reserves the right to sell that stuff to third parties. And Telegram, while seemingly less innocuous with its claims, nonetheless leaves out something you might want to know: someone can just take a screenshot or picture of that “private” conversation.


Video Games’ race problem goes all the way to the top

This article is about whether the video game has a race problem or not. what we really need to fix is an insular industry, and a gaming culture that punishes people for bringing up race. “Are video games racist?” is not an evolved enough question to ask today. Instead of prompting a discussion, it puts the medium and its players on trial. Asking “is the game you’re playing racist?” is to ask “Are you racist (for playing this game)?” The racial anxiety triggered by accusations of racism by proxy is spelled out across the forums and comment boxes of (mostly white, mostly male, mostly cis-gendered) players fighting a judgment we didn’t make.

Positives and Negatives of Video Games

There is always controversy about whether video games are good or bad for children. Some argue that they make kids less active and social, where others argue that it is in fact a social activity and helps kids gain certain skills. This article lists the pros and cons of video games. There are positives, such as following instructions, hand-eye coordination, planning, multitasking, quick-thinking, perseverance, and memory. And there are negatives, such as violent content, social isolation, confusion of reality and fantasy, obesity and health issues, and impulsive behavior. I think that like a lot of things in this world, video games are fine if they are played in moderation. There are positives and negatives to playing video games, but if parents monitor what their kids are playing, how much they are playing, and how they are playing them, then I think that overall, video games can be a positive activity for children.

Cyber Bullying Leads to Girl’s Suicide, Charges Dropped

Florida judges dropped charges against two girls who had cyber bullied a 12-year-old girl, Rebecca Sedwick, for a month, leading to her suicide this past October. Apparently, one of the girls was Sedwick’s “best friend” before a falling out. The older of the two girls had a Facebook post that said she did not feel bad about Sedwick’s death. I think that this article sends an important message and reminds us of the horrible affects of cyber bullying.

Where America’s Computers Go to Die

This article talks about the economic and social harm that hazardous computer waste has when not disposed of properly. It goes to poorer and more developing areas where people are hired to take apart and sort different computer parts for pennies. This exposes them to multiple harmful and toxic metals like lead and mercury.

On the other side, where computers are made, majorly in China, people come from the poorest of areas to work exhausting hours making 30 center per hour to put these machines together. As American consumers, we hardly pay attention to these problems, going about our day to day lives using computers and throwing them away without second thought. Part of this is awareness and knowledge. We need to become more aware of these harmful actions and take a stand. At the very least, we can dispose of our old electronics properly.

Tech Firms Push to Control Web’s Pipes

Google and Facebook are expanding their efforts to control more of the world’s internet backbone, raising tensions with telecom companies over who runs the web. In the last year, these companies that supply much of the world’s online content have ramped up their investment in Internet infrastructure. The moves include bringing online new submarine and underground cables they have funded, striking long-term agreements to lease so-called dark fiber, and building their own networking hardware. In the process, they are beginning to rival some of the telecom companies that count them as clients. Google has spent years piecing together a network of private fiber-optic cables and now controls more than 100,000 miles of routes around the world, said one person familiar with its assets


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Google’s robotics program has legs, but where is it going?

A lot of people are unaware of Google’s robotics program. Google owns a company that make robot robot arms, robot eyes, and now robot legs. This 80 person program can make robots that can “run faster than Usain Bolt and catch their balance after slipping on ice. Google’s robotics team is capable of developing the kinds of robots we only see in science fiction. It is unclear what Google is trying to build Google has declined to elaborate on its robotics program.


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