Legislators Are Missing the Point on Facebook

Legislators Are Missing the Point on Facebook

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The real issue: How our data get used
  • Facebook has been quite open and obvious about their skeevy practices
  • America needs a smarter conversation about data usage

I’m getting increasingly baffled and disappointed by the scandal-cum-congressional-ragefest surrounding Facebook. Instead of piling on Mark Zuckerberg or worrying about who has our personal data, legislators should focus on the real issue: How our data get used.

Let’s start with some ground truths that seem to be getting lost:

– Cambridge Analytica, the company the hoovered up a bunch of data on Facebook users, isn’t actually much of a threat. Yes, it’s super sleazy, but it mostly sucked at manipulating voters.

– Lots of other companies – maybe hundreds! – and “malicious actors” also collect our data. They’re much more likely to be selling our personal information to fraudsters.

– We should not expect Zuckerberg to follow through on any promises. He’s tried to make nice before to little actual effect. He has a lot of conflicts and he’s kind of a naive robot.

– Even if Zuckerberg was a saint and didn’t care a whit about profit, chances are social media is still just plain bad for democracy.

Politicians don’t want to admit that they don’t understand technology well enough to come up with reasonable regulations. Now that democracy itself might be at stake, they need someone to blame. Enter Zuckerberg, the perfect punching bag. Problem is, he likely did nothing illegal, and Facebook has been relatively open and obvious about their skeevy business practices. For the most part, nobody really cared until now. (If that sounds cynical, I’ll add: Democrats didn’t care until it looked like Republican campaigns were catching up to or even surpassing them with big data techniques.)

What America really needs is a smarter conversation about data usage. It starts with a recognition: Our data are already out there. Even if we haven’t spilled our own personal information, someone has. We’re all exposed. Companies have the data and techniques they need to predict all sorts of things about us: our voting behaviour, our consumer behaviour, our health, our financial futures. That’s a lot of power being wielded by people who shouldn’t be trusted.

If politicians want to create rules, they should start by narrowly addressing the worst possible uses for our personal information – the ways it can be used to deny people job opportunities, limit access to health insurance, set interest rates on loans and decide who gets out of jail. Essentially any bureaucratic decision can now be made by algorithm, and those algorithms need interrogating way more than Zuckerberg does.

To that end, I propose a Data Bill of Rights. It should have two components: The first would specify how much control we may exert over how our individual information is used for important decisions, and the second would introduce federally enforced rules on how algorithms should be monitored more generally.

The individual rights could be loosely based on the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which allows us to access the data employed to generate our credit scores. Most scoring algorithms work in a similar way, so this would be a reasonable model. As regards aggregate data, we should have the right to know what information algorithms are using to make decisions about us. We should be able to correct the record if it’s wrong, and to appeal scores if we think they’re unfair. We should be entitled to know how the algorithms work: How, for example, will my score change if I miss an electricity bill? This is a bit more than FCRA now provides.

Further, Congress should create a new regulator – along the lines of the Food and Drug Administration – to ensure that every important, large-scale algorithm can pass three basic tests (Disclosure: I have a company that offers such algorithm-auditing services.):

– It’s at least as good as the human process it replaces (this will force companies to admit how they define “success” for an algorithm, which far too often simply translates into profit),

– It doesn’t disproportionately fail when dealing with protected classes (as facial recognition software is known to do);

– It doesn’t cause crazy negative externalities, such as destroying people’s trust in facts or sense of self-worth. Companies wielding algorithms that could have such long-term negative effects would be monitored by third parties who aren’t beholden to shareholders.

I’m no policy wonk, and I recognise that it’s not easy to grasp the magnitude and complexity of the mess we’re in. A few simple rules, though, could go a long way toward limiting the damage.

[“Source-gadgets.ndtv”]

NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover Completes 2,000 Days on Mars

NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover Completes 2,000 Days on Mars

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has now marked 2,000 days on the red planet.

That’s 2,000 days by Martian standards. A Martian sol, or solar day, is equivalent to 24 hours, 39 minutes and 35 seconds. So 2,000 days on Mars equal 2,055 days here on Earth.

Either way, it’s a big milestone this week for scientists eager for Curiosity to begin drilling again, this time into potentially clay-rich rocks on the slopes of Mount Sharp. The six-wheeled rover has traveled 11.6 miles (18.7 kilometers) since its arrival in 2012.

The rover Opportunity, though, has Curiosity beat.

Last month, NASA’s busy Opportunity surpassed its 5,000 day on Mars. It’s been exploring Mars since 2004. NASA plans to send another robotic geologist to Mars in May. Named InSight, the lander will stay in one place as a heat-measuring device burrows deep into the Martian terrain.

Curiosity’s flight controllers, meanwhile, are testing a new drilling method. The rover’s drill stopped working properly in 2016, and so engineers devised another way to bore into Martian rocks and get the pulverised rock samples into the rover’s lab instruments.

[“Source-gadgets.ndtv”]

NASA’s Kepler Discovers Nearly 100 New Exoplanets

NASA's Kepler Discovers Nearly 100 New Exoplanets

An international team of scientists have confirmed the discovery of nearly 100 new exoplanets — planets located outside our solar system.

The discovery was based on data from the second mission of NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope or K2 released in 2014.

K2 searches for exoplanet transits by registering dips in light caused by the shadow of an exoplanet as it crosses in front of its host star.

The researchers found that some of the signals were caused by multiple star systems or noise from the spacecraft.

But they also detected planets that range from sub-Earth-sized to the size of Jupiter and larger.

One of the planets detected was orbiting a very bright star.

“We validated a planet on a 10 day orbit around a star called HD 212657, which is now the brightest star found by K2 missions to host a validated planet,” said lead author Andrew Mayo, doctoral student at the National Space Institute (DTU Space) at the Technical University of Denmark.

For the study, appearing in the Astronomical Journal, the team started out analysing 275 candidates of which 149 were validated as real exoplanets.

In turn 95 of these planets have proved to be new discoveries, Mayo said.

The Kepler spacecraft was first launched in 2009 to hunt for exoplanets in a single patch of sky, but in 2013 a mechanical failure crippled the telescope.

However, astronomers and engineers devised a way to repurpose and save the space telescope by changing its field of view periodically. This solution paved the way for the follow up K2 mission.

Adding the newly discovered exoplanets brings the total number of exoplanets by K2 mission to almost 300, the study said.

The first planet orbiting a star similar to our own Sun was detected only in 1995. Today some 3,600 exoplanets have been found, ranging from rocky Earth-sized planets to large gas giants like Jupiter.

[“Source-gadgets.ndtv”]

Apple, Epson Face French Legal Complaints Over Allegedly Shortening Life of Products

Apple, Epson Face French Legal Complaints Over Allegedly Shortening Life of Products

HIGHLIGHTS

  • A French consumer association filed preliminary, legal complaints
  • Apple is already facing lawsuits in the US
  • Planned obsolescence is illegal in France

Smartphone maker Apple and Japanese printer company Epson are facing legal complaints in France over allegedly speeding up the ageing process of their products to stimulate demand.

A French consumer association called “HOP” – standing for “Stop Planned Obsolescence” – filed preliminary, legal complaints in court against the two groups over the charges.

HOP said it filed its complaint against Apple in Paris on Wednesday. A prosecutor opened an investigation into Epson last month, a judicial source said on Thursday, following a complaint filed in September by HOP in a court in the Paris suburb of Nanterre.

Laetitia Vasseur, co-founder of HOP, told Reuters the aim of both complaints was to apply the French consumer law, which was modified in 2015 to include the notion of planned obsolescence.

Apple is already facing lawsuits in the United States over accusations of having defrauded iPhone users by slowing down devices without warning to compensate for poor battery performance.

These lawsuits came after Apple said last week that operating system updates released since “last year” for the iPhone 6, iPhone 6s, iPhone SE and iPhone 7 included a feature “to smooth out” power supply from batteries that are cold, old or low on charge.

Phones without the adjustment would shut down abruptly because of a precaution designed to prevent components from getting fried, Apple said.

Under French law, companies risk fines of up to 5 percent of their annual sales for deliberately shortening the life of their products to spur demand to replace them.

A spokeswoman for Epson France said Epson denied the charges made against it by the HOP association. She added that Epson was working with authorities on the matter and that the quality of its products was of the utmost importance for the company.

Officials for Apple France could not be immediately reached for comment.

[“Source-gadgets.ndtv”]