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Category: Review (Page 1 of 2)

Internet Research Agency Overview

This June 2015 Adrian Chen NY Times piece is kinda the ‘canonical’ source with regards to the alleged Russian-government-linked Internet Research Agency.

  • Address: 55 Savushkina Street, St. Petersburg

“The Columbian Chemicals hoax was not some simple prank by a bored sadist. It was a highly coordinated disinformation campaign, involving dozens of fake accounts that posted hundreds of tweets for hours, targeting a list of figures precisely chosen to generate maximum attention. The perpetrators didn’t just doctor screenshots from CNN; they also created fully functional clones of the websites of Louisiana TV stations and newspapers. The YouTube video of the man watching TV had been tailor-made for the project. A Wikipedia page was even created for the Columbian Chemicals disaster, which cited the fake YouTube video. As the virtual assault unfolded, it was complemented by text messages to actual residents in St. Mary Parish. It must have taken a team of programmers and content producers to pull off.”

  • Informant, supposed former employee: Ludmila Savchuk

“The first thing employees did upon arriving at their desks was to switch on an Internet proxy service, which hid their I.P. addresses from the places they posted; those digital addresses can sometimes be used to reveal the real identity of the poster. Savchuk would be given a list of the opinions she was responsible for promulgating that day. Workers received a constant stream of “technical tasks” — point-by-point exegeses of the themes they were to address, all pegged to the latest news.”

“The point was to weave propaganda seamlessly into what appeared to be the nonpolitical musings of an everyday person.”

“Management was obsessed with statistics — page views, number of posts, a blog’s place on LiveJournal’s traffic charts — and team leaders compelled hard work through a system of bonuses and fines. “It was a very strong corporate feeling,” Savchuk says. Her schedule gave her two 12-hour days in a row, followed by two days off. Over those two shifts she had to meet a quota of five political posts, 10 nonpolitical posts and 150 to 200 comments on other workers’ posts. “

Savchuk:

“While employed there, she copied dozens of documents to her personal email account and also plied her co-workers for information. She made a clandestine video of the office. In February, she leaked it all to a reporter for Moi Raion, a local newspaper known for its independent reporting. The documents, together with her story, offered the most detailed look yet into the daily life of a pro-Kremlin troll. “

  • Russian media claims IRA is funded by restaurater Evgeny Prigozhin
  • Prigozhin –> Concord (holding company)
  • An employee of Concord was spotted as IRA team leader
  • Concord approves payments to IRA (leaked emails)

“The boom in pro-Kremlin trolling can be traced to the antigovernment protests of 2011, when tens of thousands of people took to the streets after evidence of fraud in the recent Parliamentary election emerged. The protests were organized largely over Facebook and Twitter and spearheaded by leaders, like the anticorruption crusader Alexei Navalny, who used LiveJournal blogs to mobilize support. The following year, when Vyascheslav Volodin, the new deputy head of Putin’s administration and architect of his domestic policy, came into office, one of his main tasks was to rein in the Internet. Volodin, a lawyer who studied engineering in college, approached the problem as if it were a design flaw in a heating system. Forbes Russia reported that Volodin installed in his office a custom-designed computer terminal loaded with a system called Prism, which monitored public sentiment online using 60 million sources. According to the website of its manufacturer, Prism “actively tracks the social media activities that result in increased social tension, disorderly conduct, protest sentiments and extremism.” Or, as Forbes put it, “Prism sees social media as a battlefield.””

[Note: unable to find original source on Forbes mention. Also, is there some link to PRISM (surveillance program)?]

Russian crackdowns on internet (same NYT source):

“Laws were passed requiring bloggers to register with the state. A blacklist allowed the government to censor websites without a court order. Internet platforms like Yandex were subjected to political pressure, while others, like VKontakte, were brought under the control of Kremlin allies. Putin gave ideological cover to the crackdown by calling the entire Internet a “C.I.A. project,” one that Russia needed to be protected from.”

Columbian Chemicals hoax:

“The chain that links the Columbian Chemicals hoax to the Internet Research Agency begins with an act of digital subterfuge perpetrated by its online enemies. Last summer, a group called Anonymous International — believed to be unaffiliated with the well-known hacktivist group Anonymous — published a cache of hundreds of emails said to have been stolen from employees at the agency.”

… “The emails indicated that the Internet Research Agency had begun to troll in English. One document outlined a project called “World Translation”; the problem, it explained, was that the foreign Internet was biased four to one against Russia, and the project aimed to change the ratio. Another email contained a spreadsheet that listed some of the troll accounts the agency was using on the English-language web. After BuzzFeed reported on the leak, I used the spreadsheet to start mapping the network of accounts on Facebook and Twitter, trying to draw connections.”

[Note: I believe this is the Buzzfeed reporting from June 2014.

Trying to locate a copy of the actual leaks (presumably in Russian?), and the described spreadsheet.

Independent Russian newspaper account of infiltrating the agency.]

“Soshnikov showed me how he used a service called Yomapic, which maps the locations of social-media users, to determine that photos posted to Infosurfing’s Instagram account came from 55 Savushkina. He had been monitoring all of the content posted from 55 Savushkina for weeks and had assembled a huge database of troll content.”

  • FAN – Federal News Agency shares same address / building.
  • People’s News, same address

I can see now why that 2015 Chen NYT article is the canonical source for all this stuff.

Jumping to Buzzfeed’s 2014 reporting on the Internet Research Agency leaked emails from Anonymous International:

“The documents show instructions provided to the commenters that detail the workload expected of them. On an average working day, the Russians are to post on news articles 50 times. Each blogger is to maintain six Facebook accounts publishing at least three posts a day and discussing the news in groups at least twice a day. By the end of the first month, they are expected to have won 500 subscribers and get at least five posts on each item a day. On Twitter, the bloggers are expected to manage 10 accounts with up to 2,000 followers and tweet 50 times a day.”

  • Names as IRA leader: Igor Osadchy
  • Possibly founded in April 2014

Buzzfeed article links to this Russian site as holding the leaked emails. I clicked the link at the site and was re-directed to a mega.nz page reading telling me the file was unavailable because the account had multiple Terms of Service violations.

[Note: immediately after that, I experienced an unusual glitch on my self-hosted WordPress site telling me my session had expired and to log back in. Suspicious!]

Still can’t find the Buzzfeed 2014 Anonymous leaked spreadsheet of account names. But in November 2017, Recode published the House Intelligence committee blocked Twitter account list. Perhaps there is some cross-over?

Meduza 2015 article about Shaltai Boltai (Humpty Dumpty), the hacker group responsible for IRA leaks.

“Shaltai also released documents about how Concord, a company owned by Kremlin-connected restaurant owner Evgeny Prigozhin, apparently coordinates an army of pro-Putin “Internet trolls” through an outfit called the Internet Research Agency.

Igor Osadchy, whom the leaked emails name as the director of Translator, a project at the Internet Research Agency tasked with placing comments in foreign news media, later sued Shaltai for personal data theft. A representative at Roskomnadzor, Russia’s federal agency for media oversight, then announced, “A court has determined that the information [published by Shaltai] must be deleted, but the website’s hosting provider has not responded to our notification. Therefore, our agency has ordered Internet Service Providers to block this blog.” On July 27, 2014, acting on orders from Roskomnadzor, Russian ISPs blocked access to the domain b0ltai.org. The group’s main Twitter account, @b0ltai, was also blocked. Today, Shaltai’s website is accessible in Russia only via VPN or a mirror site. The group also runs @b0ltai2, a duplicate Twitter account, still unblocked in Russia, that reproduces all the first account’s posts, down to its retweets.”

… “In August 2014, Anonymous International released archives from three different email accounts allegedly belonging to Dmitri Medvedev, as well as correspondence from Duma deputy and United Russia member Robert Shlegel about an organized “troll” attack on the websites of major American and British news media (including The New York Times, CNN, the BBC, USA Today, and The Huffington Post).”

The Atlantic, October 2013 article about online Russian propaganda trolls.

  • Article lists St. Petersburg address: 131 Lakhtinsky Prospekt
  • 8 hr not 12 hr days
  • Free lunch
  • Uncertain name of above outfit. IRA mentioned seemingly separately. Other Google searches for this address point to same source text.

Adrian Chen, New Yorker July 2016 article about Russian hacks.

RBC.ru Russian language article about Internet Research Agency, October 2017. [Quotes via Google Translate Chrome extension]

“[The IRA ran] at least 118 communities and accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter […] In August-September 2017, all identified communities with a combined audience of 6 million people were blocked by Facebook and Twitter.”

… “Communities associated with the “troll factory” for two years initiated about 40 offline events in the US cities, said a source close to the leadership of the organization. ”

… ”

Assistance in their conduct was provided by approximately 100 local activists who, according to the interlocutors of RBC magazine, did not know who they were dealing with: all communication was on the Internet, in English and from fake accounts.”

RBC.ru source is probably another “canonical”-ish source, which many other news articles refer to.

Guardian, April 2015 article on Russian troll factory.

“The Guardian spoke to two former employees of the troll enterprise, one of whom was in a department running fake blogs on the social network LiveJournal, and one who was part of a team that spammed municipal chat forums around Russia with pro-Kremlin posts. Both said they were employed unofficially and paid cash-in-hand. ”

… ““We had to write ‘ordinary posts’, about making cakes or music tracks we liked, but then every now and then throw in a political post about how the Kiev government is fascist, or that sort of thing,” she said.

Scrolling through one of the LiveJournal accounts she ran, the pattern is clear. There are posts about “Europe’s 20 most beautiful castles” and “signs that show you are dating the wrong girl”, interspersed with political posts about Ukraine or suggesting that the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is corrupt.”

… “Instructions for the political posts would come in “technical tasks” that the trolls received each morning, while the non-political posts had to be thought up personally.”

… “The trolls worked in teams of three. The first one would leave a complaint about some problem or other, or simply post a link, then the other two would wade in, using links to articles on Kremlin-friendly websites and “comedy” photographs lampooning western or Ukrainian leaders with abusive captions.

Marat shared six of his technical task sheets from his time in the office with the Guardian. Each of them has a news line, some information about it, and a “conclusion” that the commenters should reach.”

“Leaked documents have linked the opaque company running the troll factory to structures close to the Kremlin, but there has been no hard evidence. “

Buzzfeed June 2014 about how IRA targeted Harry Potter fans, and other topics.

Guardian November 2016 article on government manipulation of social media.

” In 2011 the PR firm Bell Pottinger told undercover journalists that they could “create and maintain third-party blogs”, and spruce up Wikipedia profiles and Google search rankings. “

Links out to BBC March 2012 article about Bell Pottinger Wikipedia scandal.

Telegraph June 2015 article on Savchuk:

“She was put in the so-called Special Projects department using the LiveJournal blogging platform, where, she says, “people pretending to be individual bloggers– a fortune teller, a soldier, a Ukrainian man – had to, between posts about daily life or interesting facts, insert political reflections”. “

New York Times, May 2016 about Finnish activist exposing Russian trolls:

““They fill the information space with so much abuse and conspiracy talk that even sane people start to lose their minds,” she added.”

… “Pro-Russian activists insist that they are merely exercising their right to free speech, and that they do not take money or instructions from Moscow.”

Newsweek, October 2017 article on trolls, bots and fake news.

Regarding Azerbaijan:

“Social media has been a part of his presidential strategy since at least 2010, when members of the country’s main youth group, IRELI, were instructed to proliferate pro-government opinions online. As troll training-centers multiplied across the country—one source says there were 52 in different towns and cities, funded with government money…”

Article compares pro-government troll efforts around the world ^.

“It is estimated that 45% of Twitter activity in Russia is managed by such accounts.”

Estimated how, and by whom?

Independent, October 2017, accounts of IRA from a supposed former employee.

[Note, WordPress won’t accept article link: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/hillary-clinton-sex-tape-russia-body-double-troll-farm-employee-claims-a8023901.html ]

“He worked at the company from November 2014 to April 2015 and said he would impersonate “Kentucky rednecks” and African-Americans online on a regular basis.”

Daily Beast, Oct. 2017, version of same story.

“And Baskaev fingered Putin pal Yevgeny Prigozhin as his former “boss,” or “our guy who gives us money.” But the real head of the American department, he said, was the Azerbaijani-born Dzheykhun Aslanov—known simply as “Jay.””

Wired, September 2017 article discussing switch from IRA name to Glavset:

[Link problem continuing: https://www.wired.com/story/facebook-may-have-more-russian-troll-farms-to-worry-about/ ]

“The IRA, which was the subject of a 2015 New York Times Magazine investigation, may have been behind many of the bogus Facebook ads, the company says.

Of course, things aren’t as simple as that. Russian corporate records indicate Internet Research Agency has been inactive since December 2016. But that doesn’t mean that Russians no longer engage in such activity. According to Russia researchers at the liberal advocacy group Center for American Progress, there’s reason to believe the Internet Research Agency is operating under a new name: Glavset.

A Russian tax filing reveals that Glavset, which launched in February 2015, operates out of the same office building—55 Savushkin Street in St. Petersburg—that once housed the Internet Research Agency. The filing lists Mikhail Ivanovich Bystrov, former head of the Internet Research Agency, as its general director.”

… “It’s not clear whether Glavset purchased political ads on Facebook, or any other platform. A Facebook spokesman could not immediately say whether Facebook uncovered any ads placed by Glavset in the investigation it revealed Wednesday. That probe found 470 inauthentic pages and accounts affiliated with Internet Research Agency; Facebook turned that information over to special counsel Robert Mueller.”

NY Times September 2017 fake Russian accounts bought $100,000 ads on Facebook.

“Facebook officials said the fake accounts were created by a Russian company called the Internet Research Agency, which is known for using “troll” accounts to post on social media and comment on news websites.”

Is there a link to a blog post or other official testimony of them linking these accounts and ad buys to IRA?

Same source:

“Mr. Stamos wrote that while some of the ads specifically mentioned the two candidates, most focused instead on issues that were polarizing the electorate: “divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.””

Ah, here we go, looks like the NYT source for the Stamos Facebook account quotes–a September 2017 Facebook security post.

Describes multiple sets of review data:

“In reviewing the ads buys, we have found approximately $100,000 in ad spending from June of 2015 to May of 2017 — associated with roughly 3,000 ads — that was connected to about 470 inauthentic accounts and Pages in violation of our policies. Our analysis suggests these accounts and Pages were affiliated with one another and likely operated out of Russia.”

The second more broad:

“In this latest review, we also looked for ads that might have originated in Russia — even those with very weak signals of a connection and not associated with any known organized effort. This was a broad search, including, for instance, ads bought from accounts with US IP addresses but with the language set to Russian — even though they didn’t necessarily violate any policy or law. In this part of our review, we found approximately $50,000 in potentially politically related ad spending on roughly 2,200 ads.”

August 2017 announcement by Facebook they will not allow advertising by pages that repeatedly share fake news.

Jumping back for a second to NYT Sept. 2017 article linked above:

“One question underlying the investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia is whether Russia-sponsored operators would have needed any guidance from American political experts. Facebook said that some of the ads linked to Russian accounts had targeted particular geographic areas, which may raise questions about whether anyone had helped direct such targeting.”

Wikipedia Web brigades article.

Linked off the Wikipedia page: November 2017, Washington Post.

“President Trump retweeted content from a fake account affiliated with Russia, a member of a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee revealed this week.

The account in question, @10_gop, tweeted “We love you, Mr. President,” and Trump retweeted the post saying “So nice, thank you!” on Sept. 19.”

“FOLLOW THE MEMES…”

Wikipedia web brigades page continuing:

“Any blog post written by an agency employee, according to the leaked files, must contain “no fewer than 700 characters” during day shifts and “no fewer than 1,000 characters” on night shifts. Use of graphics and keywords in the post’s body and headline is also mandatory. In addition to general guidelines, bloggers are also provided with “technical tasks” – keywords and talking points on specific issues, such as Ukraine, Russia’s internal opposition and relations with the West.[21]”

… “In 2015 Lawrence Alexander disclosed a network of propaganda websites sharing the same Google Analytics identifier and domain registration details, allegedly run by Nikita Podgorny from Internet Research Agency. The websites were mostly meme repositories focused on attacking Ukraine, Euromaidan, Russian opposition and Western policies. Other websites from this cluster promoted president Putin and Russian nationalism, and spread alleged news from Syria presenting anti-Western viewpoints.[37]”

… “In August 2015 Russian researchers correlated Google search statistics of specific phrases with their geographic origin, observing increases in specific politically loaded phrases (such as “Poroshenko”, “Maidan”, “sanctions”) starting from 2013 and originating from very small, peripheral locations in Russia, such as Olgino, which also happens to be the headquarters of the Internet Research Agency company.[38]”

Wikipedia Internet Research Agency page:

Wikipedia, re: Trolls from Olgino:

“The group’s office in Olgino, a historical district of Saint Petersburg, was exposed by Novaya Gazeta newspaper in 2013.[3]”

… “According to journalists’ investigations, the office in Olgino was named as Internet Research Agency Ltd. (Russian: ООО «Агентство интернет-исследований»).[3][8] The company was founded in the summer of 2013.[6]

Below citations link out to Russian language sites (for possible use to establish time-line):

“In 2014, according to Russian media, Internet Research Ltd. (Russian: ООО «Интернет исследования»), founded in March 2014, joined the agency’s activity. Novaya Gazeta newspaper claim this company to be a successor of Internet Research Agency Ltd.[10] Internet Research Ltd. is considered to be linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the holding company Concord. The “Trolls of Olgino” from Saint Petersburg are considered to be his project. As of October 2014, the company belonged to Mikhail Bystrov, who had been the head of the police station at Moscow district of Saint Petersburg.[11]”

… “Russian media point out that according to documents, published by hackers from Anonymous International, Concord is directly involved with trolling administration through the agency. Researchers cite e-mail correspondence, in which Concord gives instructions to trolls and receives reports on accomplished work.[5] ”

… “59°59′03.5″N 30°16′19.1″E

According to Russian online newspaper DP.ru, several months before October 2014 the office moved from Olgino to a four-story building at 55 Savushkina Street.[11][12][17]”

… “Novaya Gazeta newspaper reported that, according to Alexey Soskovets, head of the office in Olgino, North-Western Service Agency was hiring employees for similar projects in Moscow and other cities in 2013.[3]

From Novaya Gazeta September 2013 article (Google Translate from Russian):

“From the data of the Unified State Register of Legal Entities, it follows that the organization was registered on July 26, 2013. The founder is Mikhail Kurkin, the general director is Nikolai Chumakov.”

… “

Whew, well I think that’s a fairly exhaustive round-up of top links and quotes relative to the subject. Will try to condense this down into a more human-readable format in coming days.

 

Persona Management Systems, Propaganda & The Internet Research Agency

Little bit of thread-connecting here for my own mental house-keeping:

  1. It is being increasingly reported that state-sponsored actors around the world are using social media to covertly influence public opinion, both at home and abroad.
  2. It’s a known fact that the US Military/CENTCOM/Airforce awarded a contract to Ntrepid to develop an online ‘persona management system’ for exactly this purpose under Operation Earnest Voice.
  3. Still determing exact status of current law, but it may now be technically legal for the government to disseminate propaganda to domestic audiences.
  4. HBGary leaked emails describe proposed operational details of personas or “characters” for such a persona management system according to levels of developed detail.
  5. Official news sources report that the Russian-based Internet Research Agency used tactics like those described above to influence the outcome of the US election, infiltrate social movements and sow discord and misinformation using social media and other methods.
  6. Russia has a known history of using similar tactics prior to the advent of this agency (IRA), particularly in relation to manipulation of youth movement and dirty tricks in Ukraine.
  7. Fake news factories out of countries like Macedonia manipulated social opinion for financial gain via a network of fraudulent social media accounts and independent blog sites. It is unknown, that I can tell, whether there is any evidence made public at this time which would link especially Macedonian fake news to personnel, money, or instructions from the Internet Research Agency, or other arm of the Russian government.

Prohibitions against domestic propaganda in the United States

Washington Post, July 2013 article about Somali-American’s website caught in counter-intelligence operation:

“The Pentagon is legally prohibited from conducting psychological operations at home or targeting U.S. audiences with propaganda, except during “domestic emergencies.” Defense Department rules also forbid the military from using psychological operations to “target U.S. citizens at any time, in any location globally, or under any circumstances.””

… ““We don’t deal with domestic. End of issue,” Andrew Black, Navanti’s chief executive, said in an interview. “We turned it over to the cognizant authorities. That’s where we stopped. That’s really important that that is where we stopped.” The firm “followed the law,” he added.”

May 2012, Buzzfeed article about a Bill to lift the domestic propaganda ban being introduced with some more details.

July 2013 article from Foreignpolicy.com:

“For decades, a so-called anti-propaganda law prevented the U.S. government’s mammoth broadcasting arm from delivering programming to American audiences. But on July 2, that came silently to an end with the implementation of a new reform passed in January. The result: an unleashing of thousands of hours per week of government-funded radio and TV programs for domestic U.S. consumption in a reform initially criticized as a green light for U.S. domestic propaganda efforts.”

February 2012, independent history of Smith-Mudt Act and implications of amending.

Wikipedia article (current as of November 2017) about Propaganda in the United States, stating: “The Smith-Mundt Act prohibits the Voice of America from disseminating information to US citizens that was produced specifically for a foreign audience.”

Foreignpolicy.com article linked above states the provisions only apply to select branches of the State Department.

Wikipedia US propaganda article seems to confirm later:

“However, Emma L Briant points out that this is a common confusion – The Smith-Mundt Act only ever applied to the State Department, not the Department of Defense and military PSYOP, which are governed by Article 10 of the US Code.[18]”

So, seems to be at least some public confusion around this.

Wikipedia article (current Nov. 2017) about Smith-Mundt Act, states:

“Section 1462 requires “reducing Government information activities whenever corresponding private information dissemination is found to be adequate” and prohibits the State Department from having monopoly in any “medium of information” (a prescient phrase). “

Continuing from article above, regarding Voice of America:

“”This means that VOA is forbidden to broadcast within the United States.” In reality, of course, any American with a shortwave receiver or an Internet connection can listen to VOA. This is incidental, however. VOA cannot direct or intend its programs to be “for” Americans. “

Here is what appears to be text of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012. I have not read it in its entirety, but a relevant excerpt:

“Sec. 208. Clarification on domestic distribution of program material

(a)In general

No funds authorized to be appropriated to the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors shall be used to influence public opinion in the United States.” […]

(b)Rule of construction

Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors from engaging in any medium or form of communication, either directly or indirectly, because a United States domestic audience is or may be thereby exposed to program material, or based on a presumption of such exposure. Such material may be made available within the United States and disseminated, when appropriate, pursuant to sections 502 and 1005 of the United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 (22 U.S.C. 1462 and 1437), except that nothing in this section may be construed to authorize the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors to disseminate within the United States any program material prepared for dissemination abroad on or before the effective date of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012.”

I don’t know quite how to interpret that, having not read the rest, combined with my incomplete knowledge of linked items in US Code.

Wikipedia article Operation Earnest Voice (current to Nov. 2017) cites the above act with this statement:

“According to CENTCOM, the US-based Facebook and Twitter networks are not targeted by the program because US laws prohibit state agencies from spreading propaganda among US citizens as according to the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012.[6] However, according to the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012, dissemination of foreign propaganda to domestic audiences is expressly allowed over the internet including social media networks.[7]”

Macedonian fake news sites and shadow tracking

There is a good CNN video, 13 minutes, here about the city of Veles in Macedonia, which emerged as one of the capitals of fake news deployment in run up to US 2016 election.

Also an article from the Guardian, July 2017, about investigation into Russian ties to fake news sites.

“Mattes, a former Senate investigator, did some digging into the sudden phenomenon of eastern European Sanders enthusiasts. He found a spike in activity on the anonymous browsing tool Tor in Macedonia that coincided with the launch of the fake news campaign, which he believes could represent Russian handlers contacting potential east European hosts to help them set up automated websites.”

Jonathan Albright’s November 2016 Medium post about the marriage of propaganda, misinformation, and analytics draws together all these threads into a darkly amazing tapestry. Albright:

“I’m going to use the data I’ve collected for this project to make the argument that this “micro-propaganda machine” is not only a source of “fake news,” political noise, and strategic misinformation, it’s weaponized, behavioral-tracking shadow tech…

The data trails left from visiting these propaganda/hoax/viral/ misinformation “fake news” sites are being used to reflect on people’s past decisions to influence the future: It’s called predictive modeling.”

 

 

Quebec Bill 62 & The Charter of Rights and Freedoms

I’ve been loosely following the story of Quebec’s so-called “Religious Neutrality” Bill 62, which recently passed and which prohibits full face coverings in the context of receiving a variety of government services. Text of the bill may be found on the Quebec Assembly Nationale website in PDF form.

Relevant text from the bill:

DIVISION II

SERVICES WITH FACE UNCOVERED

9. […] Similarly, persons receiving services from such personnel members must have their face uncovered…

Division III deals with criteria for determining religious accomodations to above, with references to section 10 of the Charter of human rights and freedoms of Quebec.

From the Charter, items 3 through 5 seem relevant:

3. Every person is the possessor of the fundamental freedoms, including freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association.

4. Every person has a right to the safeguard of his dignity, honour and reputation.

5. Every person has a right to respect for his private life.

Freedom of religion, right to safeguard of dignity, respect for private life. Also relevant, from a discrimination perspective:

CHAPTER I.1
RIGHT TO EQUAL RECOGNITION AND EXERCISE OF RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS

10. Every person has a right to full and equal recognition and exercise of his human rights and freedoms, without distinction, exclusion or preference based on race, colour, sex, gender identity or expression, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status, age except as provided by law, religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, a handicap or the use of any means to palliate a handicap.

Discrimination exists where such a distinction, exclusion or preference has the effect of nullifying or impairing such right.

I’m not a lawyer, but I would break this down like so:

  • The Charter grants religious freedom, and safeguards dignity and privacy.
  • The covering of the face specifically targeted in Bill 62 is exclusively religious in nature.
  • The Charter expressly prohibits limitation of the full and equal recognition and exercise of one’s rights and freedoms on the basis of religion.
  • Were there many other common cases where individuals seek government services with faces covered, there might be a stronger argument to be made that Bill 62 does not have the effect of targeting people based on their religion, and preventing them from exercising their religious rights.

It will be interesting to see how this bill is challenged in the courts.

Location: Other Offices

Entity: Other firms. Addresses. Co-located groups.

As in IRA/FAN/GLAV STPETBG.

Senate Panel on Disinformation and Social Media

I watched all three hours of this today, live:

…and have to admit I found it utterly fascinating.

The main theme I took away from it is that “Washington” seems to want to move towards legislative oversight of social media

Duolingo percent fluent score is way off

I’ve been using Duolingo for several weeks now to create a base floor of knowledge in German. I’ve decided their percent fluency score is pretty much random…

The length of time I’ve been 26% Fluent in German is ridiculous. Obviously, I understand this is a hard thing to measure, and that people need to incentivize their progress as they work through the steps towards a goal like this, but this is one element I really wish they would revisit.

I also don’t really care at all about their virtual reward currency, “lingots,” which allow me to “buy cool stuff at their virtual store.” It has almost no bearing on my usage of the application.

Lastly, don’t fool yourself into thinking that because you’re receiving good marks on a language via Duolingo that this will automatically translate into a “high score” when you go try to practice speaking that language in the actual country or community. It’s a fun app, and can be a good supplement to other learning, but I wouldn’t trust a 100% fluency score off Duolingo to equal real world fluence by a long shot…

Trust-breakers (Chinese Social Credit System)

Legal effects of automated processing, a comparison.

I’ve been reading about China’s emerging social credit system, Sesame Credit.

“The score is used to rank citizens of China based on a variety of factors like loyalty to the Chinese government and loyalty to Chinese brands based on social media interactions and online purchases. The rewards of having a high score include easier access to loans, easier access to jobs and priority during bureaucratic paperwork.”

Here are a couple articles to get you started:

Blah blah blah, obligatory Black Mirror reference. Now that we have that out of the way, from the CNBC link:

“When rules are broken and not rectified in time, you are entered in a list of ‘people subject to enforcement for trust breaking’ and you are denied access from things. Rules broken can lead to companies being unable to issue corporate bonds or individuals not being allowed to become company directors,” Creemers said.

Basically, a bunch of apps and agencies work together to rank your behavior and profile you socially as either a trust-keeper or trust-breaker as described above. Via the FP link:

“By 2020, the government says that social credit will “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.””

I had a dream years ago that I used a urinal at a shopping mall, and the system automatically administered a drug test on me, which I failed. Not being a cell phone user, I needed to then borrow a friend’s phone to make a call and the system linked my voice-print to my biometric/pee test and I was disallowed from using my friend’s phone. Such a unified system may be a few years off still, but the possibility is becoming tantalizingly real. I might even say it’s, on some level of implementation, pretty much inevitable.

I’ve been following a parallel strand of research these past few months. It’s partly intuition, partly investigative leg work, but it’s lead from public records databases used by private eyes 🕵 to the vast store-houses of data kept commercially against named individuals by data brokers. I’m still largely in the dark about how data brokers operate, and, er, broker — despite hours spent around the subject on Youtube. But I have to assume that those storehouses of information about people have to be searchable — at a price. Whether it’s pseudonymized in aggregate, or traceable to an identified or identifiable individual, all this information exists somewhere out there, waiting to be linked up and put to use.

Meanwhile, half a world away, Europe is set to roll out it’s GDPR next May (2018) which will quite possibly make very difficult – or at least very different – such a social credit system were it to be rolled out to customers in the European Economic Area.

I explored this question elsewhere, of processing of personally-identifying information linked to automated decision-making, and profiling, with “legal effects”. So I won’t completely rehash it here, but to quote Article 22 of the GDPR:

“The data subject shall have the right not to be subject to a decision based solely on automated processing, including profiling, which produces legal effects concerning him or her or similarly significantly affects him or her.”

The recital for that article mentions explicitly as an example the “automatic refusal of an online credit application” as something that has a legal effect.

I guess this is worth quoting more extensively from second half of Recital 71:

“Such processing includes ‘profiling’ that consists of any form of automated processing of personal data evaluating the personal aspects relating to a natural person, in particular to analyse or predict aspects concerning the data subject’s performance at work, economic situation, health, personal preferences or interests, reliability or behaviour, location or movements, where it produces legal effects concerning him or her or similarly significantly affects him or her.”

So this is pretty much explicitly describing an all-encompassing “social credit” system such as is currently being live-beta tested on Chinese society. In other words, Europe is baking into their privacy & data protection regime this idea that the fundamental rights of humanity (from which privacy/data prot. are derived) are incompatible with automated decision-making based on data processing with (potentially negative) legal consequences.

That’s huge.

To me, as we move into the Algorithmic Society (and it’s many diverse, fascinating and horrifying forms, instantiations and iterations), this will be a fundamental tension as humanity transitions to greater and greater levels of algorithmic control, automation and governance of day-to-day life.

Quoting from Art. 22, 3:

“…at least the right to obtain human intervention on the part of the controller, to express his or her point of view and to contest the decision.”

The subject still blows my mind. Partly because we now live in (or very soon will) a society where such rules have become necessary. The algorithmic age where Trust Breakers ™ can’t buy train tickets, or make a phone call. But in exchange for keeping your score up, you’re eligible for ultra-fast lane physical access from Boston to DC in 15 minutes, with no control checkpoints, minimal surge pricing, only light deep packet inspection and limited throttling. [See full Terms & Conditions.]

Or a world where slow, boring, crappy, unreliable human bureaucratic decision-making is baked into break-points in societal algorithms to ensure some sort of fairness, humanity, tolerance, resilience (and maybe forgiveness?) into what will otherwise most assuredly become a mesh of AI’s vying for planetary control…

I’m sorry, that’s just where my mind goes when I pull out my 🔮. I think it’s why I like the GDPR as a document in the first place: it reads like a dystopian cyberpunk text that young punks in the future will repeat back verbatim to quasi-governmental robots that are beating the snot out of them because their social credit score has fallen too low.

Whoops, I went off into la-la land there again at the end*. But what can I say? I’m on vacation! 🌴🍹


* You try talking about this without landing on the subject of killer robots. It’s not so easy. It’s like Godwin’s law, but for killer robots and data processing.

Javascript rapid word input tool

I went off on pretty much a tear earlier investigating the possibility of coming up with some kind of rapid communication board which would allow you to input words, not letters.

I went once or twice around the bend, and found the closest match in an app called DocsPlus which gives you the ability to create customizable word-bars. There’s a 28 day free trial. It’s interesting, but my use case is to be able to rapidly paste in the results of these sentence creation actions into Firefox in a spreadsheet. It was too combersome with switching back and forth between tabs to access other word bars.

So I cooked up some Javascript I’m still tinkering with which looks at the moment like this:

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