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Deeptech: Shutdown Weakening Cybersecurity, US Mobile Carriers Caught Selling Location Data on the Black Market (again), Fakebook’s Baby Boomer Problem, & CES

It Only Sounds Like Science Fiction

You are being watched by a machine that spies on you every hour of every day. No, really.

Your mobile phone carrier collects and sells your real-time location data to “location aggregators” who then resell it on the black market. They have done this for nearly a decade. And, yes the federal government knows. This isn’t a fringe issue; it affects every single US-based cell phone user. It’s not even new: mainstream outlets like the New York Times reported on it just last month. A damning report published by Motherboard earlier this week showed that anyone (bounty hunters, stalkers, law enforcement agencies, and potential employers) can track anyone else with just a phone number for as little as $4.95. According to Motherboard’s story, the reporters paid a bounty hunter $300 to track a phone’s real-time location. Since the location data comes from wireless towers, there’s no way to opt-out or to prevent your phone from being tracked. Following Motherboard’s report, several US lawmakers have called on the Federal Communications Commission to investigate US mobile phone carriers. It’s unclear what effect the investigation would have since Congress has failed repeatedly to safeguard user privacy. Last year, a congressional probe found that prison officials used location data from Verizon to spy on innocent Americans. Civil rights groups warn that the data is commonly abused by law enforcement, which undermines basic privacy rights. Yet, Verizon continues to sell user data. On the bright side, T-mobile has already vowed to stop selling user location data–in March. Before you waste $300 (or burn your phone), why not try getting in on the espionage and building your own IMSI catcher for just $20!

Plot Twist: The US Government Shutdown over Border Security Actually Weakens Cybersecurity

The US government shutdown, now in its third week, is severely crippling national cybersecurity and threatens to exacerbate the Defense Department’s brain drain. Over 43% of employees at the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency have been furloughed. This newly-established agency responds to cyber threats to critical infrastructure and protects government networks, which contain vast amounts of confidential data. The DHS has also cancelled a three-day national cybersecurity conference. Analysts fear that the fallout from the shutdown is likely to linger for years, as the government struggles to recruit top technical talent. Other than national cybersecurity and future staffing, the shutdown has also delayed SpaceX’s launch; halted some FDA inspections; and stopped the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) from processing filings. Investors and industry analysts say that the shutdown is delaying IPO processes and is disrupting long-awaited IPOs, like Uber and Lyft.

Fakebook’s Problem: Your Aunt Carol & Other Republican Baby Boomers

Over the break, the US Senate Intelligence Committee released two separate reports detailing exactly how Russia’s disinformation operation used troll farms to weaponize social media before, during, & after the 2016 general elections. Russia’s Internet Research Agency used Facebook and a variety of other social media platforms to sow discord and confusion. It turns out that very few users actually shared fake news on Facebook during the 2016 presidential election, according to a recent study published in Science Advances. The researchers found that conservative users were more likely to share fake news articles and that users over 65 shared nearly seven times more fake news articles than users 18 to 29. The study is among the first attempts to understand who shares fake news stories, and it suggests that any  policy to counter misinformation should focus on older social media users. Analysts caution that poor digital literacy could exacerbate the flow of misinformation. Facebook has also come under fire for its poorly designed moderation guidelines, which were leaked to the New York Times two weeks ago. Analysts say the guidelines show that Facebook is no longer a mere publishing platform, and instead moderates global speech. Facebook’s former chief security officer, Alex Stamos, warned: “Five or ten years from now, there could be machine-learning systems that understand human languages as well as humans. We could end up with machine-speed, real-time moderation of everything we say online.” Oh, and Facebook recently filed a patent to calculate your future location.

CES Puts the “C” in Cockblock

This week CES, the largest consumer electronics trade show in the world, attracted business and industry leaders but not high ranking US officials—like the head of the FCC—due to the ongoing government shutdown. But, as startups and global giants demonstrate cutting edge technologies and next-generation innovations, the conference organizers, CTA, have come under fire. They gave a Robotics Innovation Award for a vibrator and then took it back, calling the award a ‘mistake’ and the vibarator ‘immoral’. Attendees point to larger problems with the trade show, now in its 50th year. Despite the diversity of new consumer technology, among the show’s keynote speakers, there is not a single woman. There also aren’t any members of the Black, Latina/o or LGBTQ communities (or any other underrepresented minorities) in the whole keynote speaker lineup. Critics have called CTA’s past responses about speaker diversity inadequate and offensive. Other big news from the show includes: Google Assistant’s new interpreter mode, which can translate 27 languages in real-time and Yubico’s YubiKey for Lightning iOS.

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