We Built a (Legal) Facial Recognition Machine for $60

The law has not caught up. In the United States, the use of facial recognition is almost wholly unregulated.

The New York Times has an opinion piece by Sahil Chinoy on how (they) We Built a (Legal) Facial Recognition Machine for $60. They describe an inexpensive experiment they ran where they took footage of people walking past some cameras installed in Bryant Park and compared them to known people who work in the area (scraped from web sites of organizations that have offices in the neighborhood.) Everything they did used public resources that others could use. The cameras stream their footage here. Anyone can scrape the images. The image database they gathered came from public web sites. The software is a service (Amazon’s Rekognition?) The article asks us to imagine the resources available to law enforcement.

I’m intrigued by how this experiment by the New York Times. It is a form of design thinking where they have designed something to help us understand the implications of a technology rather than just writing about what others say. Or we could say it is a form of journalistic experimentation.

Why does facial recognition spook us? Is recognizing people something we feel is deeply human? Or is it the potential for recognition in all sorts of situations. Do we need to start guarding our faces?

Facial recognition is categorically different from other forms of surveillance, Mr. Hartzog said, and uniquely dangerous. Faces are hard to hide and can be observed from far away, unlike a fingerprint. Name and face databases of law-abiding citizens, like driver’s license records, already exist. And for the most part, facial recognition surveillance can be set up using cameras already on the streets.

This is one of a number of excellent articles by the New York Times that is part of their Privacy Project.

Research Team Security

One of the researchers in the GamerGate Reactions team has created a fabulous set of recommendations for team members doing dangerous research. See Security_Recommendations_2018_v2.0. This document brings together in one place a lot of information and links on how to secure your identity and research. The researcher put this together in support of a panel that I am chairing this afternoon on Risky Research that is part of a day of panels/workshops following the Edward Snowden talk yesterday evening. (You can see my blog entry on Snowden’s talk here.) The key topics covered include:

  • Basic Security Measures
  • Use End-to-End Encryption for Communications  Encrypt Your Computer
  • Destroy All Information
  • Secure Browsing
  • Encrypt all Web Traffic
  • Avoiding Attacks
  • On Preventing Doxing
  • Dealing with Harassment

More on Cambridge Analytica

More stories are coming out about Cambridge Analytica and the scraping of Facebook data. The Guardian has some important new articles:

Perhaps the most interesting article is in The Conversation and argues that Claims about Cambridge Analytica’s role in Africa should be taken with a pinch of saltThe article carefully sets out evidence that CA didn’t have the effect they were hired to have in either the Nigerian election (when they failed to get Goodluck Jonathan re-elected) or the Kenyan election where they may have helped Uhuru Kenyatta stay in power. The authors (Gabrielle Lynch, Justin Willis, and Nic Cheeseman) talk about how,

Ahead of the elections, and as part of a comparative research project on elections in Africa, we set up multiple profiles on Facebook to track social media and political adverts, and found no evidence that different messages were directed at different voters. Instead, a consistent negative line was pushed on all profiles, no matter what their background.

They also point out that the majority of Kenyans are not on Facebook and that negative advertising has a long history. They conclude that exaggerating what they can do is what CA does.

Mother Jones has another story, one of the best summaries around, Cloak and Data, that questions the effectiveness of Cambridge Analytica when it comes to the Trump election. They point out how CA’s work before in Virginia and for Cruz at the beginning of the primaries doesn’t seem to have worked. They go on to suggest that CA had little to do with the Trump victory which instead was ascribed by Parscale, the head of digital operations, to investing heavily in Facebook advertising.

During an interview with 60 Minutes last fall, Parscale dismissed the company’s psychographic methods: “I just don’t think it works.” Trump’s secret strategy, he said, wasn’t secret at all: The campaign went all-in on Facebook, making full use of the platform’s advertising tools. “Donald Trump won,” Parscale said, “but I think Facebook was the method.”

The irony may be that Cambridge Analytica is brought down by its boasting, not what it actually did. Further irony is how it may bring down Facebook and finally draw attention to how our data is used to manipulate us, even though it didn’t work.

The story of Cambridge Analytica’s rise—and its rapid fall—in some ways parallels the ascendance of the candidate it claims it helped elevate to the presidency. It reached the apex of American politics through a mix of bluffing, luck, failing upward, and—yes—psychological manipulation. Sound familiar?

Digital Cultures Big Data And Society

Last week I presented a keynote at the Digital Cultures, Big Data and Society conference. (You can seem my conference notes at Digital Cultures Big Data And Society.) The talk I gave was titled “Thinking-Through Big Data in the Humanities” in which I argued that the humanities have the history, skills and responsibility to engage with the topic of big data:

  • First, I outlined how the humanities have a history of dealing with big data. As we all know, ideas have histories, and we in the humanities know how to learn from the genesis of these ideas.
  • Second, I illustrated how we can contribute by learning to read the new genres of documents and tools that characterize big data discourse.
  • And lastly, I turned to the ethics of big data research, especially as it concerns us as we are tempted by the treasures at hand.

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Common Crawl

The Common Crawl is a project that has been crawling the web and making an open corpus of web data from the last 7 years available for research. There crawl corpus is petabytes of data and available as WARCs (Web Archives.) For example, their 2013 dataset is 102TB and has around 2 billion web pages. Their collection is not as complete as the Internet Archive, which goes back much further, but it is available in large datasets for research.

BuzzFeed on Breitbart courting the alt-right

Screen of emails from Dan Lyons

Buzzfeed News has an article on Here’s How Breitbart and Milo Smuggled Nazi and White Nationalist Ideas Into The Mainstream. The article in based on a cache of internal Breitbart emails and mostly deals with what Milo Yiannopoulos was up to.

From this motley chorus of suburban parents, journalists, tech leaders, and conservative intellectuals, Yiannopoulos’s function within Breitbart and his value to Bannon becomes clear. He was a powerful magnet, able to attract the cultural resentment of an enormously diverse coalition and process it into an urgent narrative about the way liberals imperiled America. It was no wonder Bannon wanted to groom Yiannopoulos for media infamy: The bigger the magnet got, the more ammunition it attracted.

Part of the story also deals with some “liberal” journalists who apparently were emailing Milo like Dan Lyons. It just get more and more sordid.

Many of those who wrote Milo seem to be disgruntled people who feel oppressed by the “political correctness” of their situation, whether in a tech company or entertainment business. They email Milo to vent or pass tips or just get sympathy.

Alice and Bob: the World’s Most Famous Cryptocouple

Alice and Bob is a web site and paper by Quinn DuPont and Alana Cattapan that nicely tells the history of the famous virtual couple used to explain cryptology.

While Alice, Bob, and their extended family were originally used to explain how public key cryptography works, they have since become widely used across other science and engineering domains. Their influence continues to grow outside of academia as well: Alice and Bob are now a part of geek lore, and subject to narratives and visual depictions that combine pedagogy with in-jokes, often reflecting of the sexist and heteronormative environments in which they were born and continue to be used. More than just the world’s most famous cryptographic couple, Alice and Bob have become an archetype of digital exchange, and a lens through which to view broader digital culture.

The web site provides a timeline going back to 1978. The history is then explained more fully in the full paper (PDF). They end by talking about the gendered history of cryptography. They mention other examples where images of women serve as standard test images like the image of Lena from Playboy.

The design of the site nicely shows how a paper can be remediated as an interactive web site. It isn’t that fancy, but you can navigate the timeline and follow links to get a sense of this “couple”.

Vault7 – Wikileaks releases CIA documents

Wikileaks has just released a first part of a series of what purports to be a large collection of CIA documents documenting their hacking tools. See Vault7, as they call the whole leak. Numerous news organizations like the New York Times are reporting on this and saying they think they might be “on first review”.

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Why We Need to Talk About Indigenous Literature in the Digital Humanities

Screenshot from 1991 BBC Horizon documentary

I’ve just come across some important blog essays by David Gaertner. One is Why We Need to Talk About Indigenous Literature in the Digital Humanities where he argues that colleagues from Indigenous literature are rightly skeptical of the digital humanities because DH hasn’t really taken to heart the concerns of Indigenous communities around the expropriation of data.

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FBI Game: What is Violent Extremism?

sheep

From Slashdot a story about an FBI game/interactive that is online and which aims at Countering Violent Extremism | What is Violent Extremism?. The subtitle is “Don’t Be A Puppet” and the game is part of a collection of interactive materials that try to teach about extremism in general and encourage some critical distance from the extremism. The game has you as a sheep avoiding pitfalls.

Continue reading FBI Game: What is Violent Extremism?