Weekly Axis Of Easy #149
Last Week’s Quote was “Uncertainty is an uncomfortable position. But certainty is an absurd one” winner was Michael Sierchio
This Week’s Quote: “Emergencies have always been the pretext on which the safeguards of the individual have been eroded” …by ???
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Podcast: Axis Of Easy #149
In this issue:
- Facebook rebrands Libra as Novi to try again
- The Romanian criminal cartel that stole over 1B via ATM skimming
- Class action lawsuit against Google over private browser tracking
- Canadian telco’s spurn Huawei and go with alternatives for 5G
- New service pinpoints your email before you submit any data
- Amazon bans (then allows) book that challenges Coronavirus narrative
- The inevitable narrative wars around the #GeorgeFloyd protests
- AxisOfEasy Salon 7: Nevermind the influencers, here come the revolts.
So far, Facebook’s attempt to rebrand their failed Libra initiative has flown under my radar. Maybe everybody’s. When Facebook came out last year I wrote at length on why the idea of Facebook coming out with their own crypto-currency was a terrifying prospect to nation states in general, and why it was no surprise when governments moved quickly to shut them down. In AxisOfEasy 117 we detailed how the Senate all but extorted the various constituents of the Libra Council to drop out or face investigations for their roles in distributing child pr0n (yes, really).
And in case I’m sounding too sympathetic to Facebook, note that Charles, Jesse and I have spent multiple episodes of our AxisOfEasy Salon’s analyzing how much it would suck if the successors to our currently failing institutions turn out to be the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon.We’re basically talking about two overwhelmingly huge and self-serving, venal entities (nation states and Big Tech platforms), duking it out for hegemony over everybody else.
It was by pure fluke that I caught an article Facebook Novi & Surveillance Finance by UK developer Stephen Diehl. All other references in the news about Facebook’s rebranding under the “Novi” label frame it as a benign brand overhaul of Facebook’s proposed crypto wallet. Only this article continues on the theme of what the ramifications are for the rest of us under a regime of Big Tech autonomous digital currencies like Libra, Novi.
“Facebook’s latest attempt to infiltrate the financial services sector has seen the rebranding of their Libra cryptocurrency project into the new Facebook brand Novi. Last year this release was widely criticized by both regulators and the technology industry. After the initial announcement and code drop last year, the Libra name has been dragged through the mud by the press due to the project’s complete disdain for compliance, horrific privacy implications, and bizarre code architecture. However, nothing about this project has changed in any meaningful way and its intentions are just as insidious as they were last year. Novi is an attempt to build a large global data mining project on consumer financial data. If the Facebook Novi project is allowed to launch, it has the potential to create conflicts of interest which rival the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal.”
As I frequently do observe in those aforementioned AoE Salons: For a significant portion of the population, if they become inculcated to using a digital currency built-in to something like Facebook, their Facebook login and account will become a more significant and relevant component of their day-to-day lives than their government issued passport (this is even more true today, now that we are being conditioned to accept that travel will be a luxury for important people only under The New Normal).
Amid that tension between nation states and Big Tech platforms, the Novi initiative illustrates a likely working simpatico between them, a vice between which the privacy and autonomy of individual citizens will be squeezed….
“While the United States struggles with social unrest and Zuckerberg cozies up to the Trump administration for favours, the Novi project is business as usual. The executives are right now trying to weasel through the requirements across the US and Europe to put this new project into place. Regulators are being asked to allow Facebook to quietly construct a massive data mining apparatus on top of the American and European financial systems. This new move would allow Facebook directly into the most personal data of citizens. As has always been the business model of Facebook, user data will at best be sold off to Novi consortia members, monetised for advertisers, and at worst used for the same political purposes as we saw in 2018.”
I do encourage you to read the article in full and forward to your circles.
You might wonder, what is the antidote? If both our flailing institutions and ascendant surveillance capitalism platforms are our enemies, what to do? Embrace decentralization as much as possible, start working with true crypto-currencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin and associated ecosystems there. We are basically in Season 2 of Mr. Robot, where we figure out that the entire plot is really about an epic struggle between open source decentralized protocols like Bitcoin, and closed, proprietary systems like EvilCo’s EvilCoin (played by Facebook, Microsoft,et al).
A fascinating 30 minute documentary Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) looks at the Riviera Maya organized crime gang. They are a Romanian group that specializes in ATM bank machine skimmers, operating primarily in the heavy tourist areas of Mexico. First outed by security writer Brian Krebs in 2015, the group is reputed to have stolen over $1,000,000,000 USD to date.
The operation was so sophisticated that they even owned and operated their own ATM company “Instacash”, which made it easier for them to deploy bank machines pre-loaded with card reading skimmers. That’s some next level criminality right there.
Class action lawsuit against Google over private browser tracking
Many of us are inculcated to believe that if we simply open up a private browsing tab (i.e. “incognito mode” under Chrome), we don’t need to worry about being tracked. However, according to a class action lawsuit just filed in California, Google still tracks your movements through the company’s sprawling ad network which is used by over 70% of all online publishers.
Whenever you hit a website running Google Adwords (like I said, that is pretty near all of the websites that run ads), even within a private browsing tab:
“the user’s personal information, such as the user’s IP address, what the user is viewing, what the user last viewed, and details about the user’s hardware are sent to the company’s servers in California.”
…and the plaintiffs allege that this is being done without the website visitor’s consent because Google doesn’t require its network of publishers to disclose this capture of personal info to the visitor.
The class action is open to anybody who owns an Android device or anybody who has a Google account, who visited a website containing Google ads in private mode on, it seeks damages of $5,000/user or 3X actual damages, whichever is greater.
At around the same time, the Arizona attorney general filed a similar complaint against Google, who is also facing similar cases involving improper ad tracking in the UK and Australia. Last September Google paid $170M USD to settle a case with the US FTC over illegally collecting the data of children.
Canadian telco’s spurn Huawei and go with alternatives for 5G
In this article CBC states that “the three major telecoms” have decided not to use Huawei equipment to build out their 5G networks. Bell and Telus have decided to go with the Scandinavian infrastructure companies Ericcson (Sweden) and Nokia (Finland). Rogers already had a pre-existing relationship with Ericcson.
The decisions come amid widespread suspicion that using Huawei to build the next generation IT backbone would come with national security implications, given that the Chinese government is widely suspected of using that country’s Big Tech players in foreign surveillance, intelligence gathering and even intellectual property theft.
There is some deeper coverage of this, specifically as it relates to the Chinese Communist Party’s and Huawei’s operations within Canada in Jonathan Manthorpe’s “Claws of the Panda: Beijing’s Campaign of Influence and Intimidation in Canada”.
New service pinpoints your email before you submit any data
Here’s a developer named Heshie Brody who was shocked to find that retargeting and shopping-cart abandonment recovery initiatives had perhaps gone “over the creepy line” when he was shopping for a breast pump for his wife. He had found a site and was completing an insurance form there to learn about his coverage options but had not submitted the form. He took a break from the process while his wife researched the pump.
10 minutes later, he got a shopping cart abandonment email from the website.
How the heck?
“Network[s] many sites to a point where at least one knows who you are, once identified that website will share it with the rest of the network.”
Brody’s real world analogy in my mind, is apt:
‘Imagine if every store you visited would take a picture of you and then share and compare it with neighboring stores until they find one that you are a customer of and has your information.If such an agreement was in place, that store would now share who you are with the store that you are not yet a customer of and then add you to their marketing list.This is exactly what “AddShoppers” does.’
While Brody concedes that he is not lawyer and couldn’t possibly comment on whether this approach is legal, I cannot possibly understand how it could be CASL compliant here in Canada. I’m not as sure about the prevailing law in the US but I would bet poker chips on it being offside of the EU GDPR.
Amazon bans (then allows) book that challenges Coronavirus narrative
We’ve been following the war on dissenting opinion over these newsletters and how that has accelerated since the Coronavirus began. Leading the charge against non-conforming speech are the tech platforms and the mainstream media. The former deplatforms while the latter marginalizes and stigmatizes. The latest salvo was fired by Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing unit, which refused to publish a book by Alex Berenson entitled “Unreported Truths about COVID-19 and Lockdowns: Part 1: Introduction and Death Counts and Estimates”.
Berenson is a former New York Times reporter and author who’s first installment questions the official narrative around the COVID-19 fatality rates. Amazon notified him they would not be carrying his book after he uploaded it to the KDP platform, stating that in matters related to Coronavirus, the company would be referring customers to official sources for any information about the virus.
After an uproar erupted across social media, Amazon reversed their position and are now carrying the book, which I read over the weekend and find that it is well documented with verifiable data and sources and contains nothing particularly controversial or incendiary, other than that governments worldwide seemed to have overreacted in the face of deeply flawed computer models.
I wrote a longer piece on this over on the AxisOfEasy website….
(As we’ve noted previously, official sources like the WHO seem just as confused about what’s going on with this pandemic as anybody else. We saw that again as recently yesterday when the WHO came out and said it turns out that asymptomatic transmission was very rare, and then today and tried to walk the entire thing back.).
The inevitable narrative wars around #GeorgeFloyd are No Accident
At the risk of wading into the midst of a minefield, not my intent, I did think this article over on Epsilon Theory did a cogent and heartfelt job analyzing the conflicting narratives around the incident and the ensuing unrest…
“As you learned more about George’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, maybe you felt and thought a lot of different things at once. About the rule of law. About police and whose interests they serve and protect. About racism and where it still exists. About righteous protest and civil disobedience. About the moral obligations that go along with that disobedience. And then maybe you felt like you were being told that you couldn’t feel all of those things, that they were somehow in conflict with one another. Maybe you felt like you were being offered a set of two diametrically opposed and arbitrarily limited perspectives that didn’t allow for the depths of everything you felt. Maybe you felt channeled into one of the two archetypes which just so happened to align with the messaging of the two major political parties.”
The article takes the reader through Epsilon Theory’s methodology around measuring and collating narratives as they emerge and as they evolve, which I think is somewhat revolutionary.
Then they end up where most of their articles end up, and where anybody reading these newsletters or where Charles and Jesse and I frequently end up on our Salons: An inescapable conclusion that our institutions are no longer capable of truly serving their constituencies. More often, too often, and perhaps unconsciously, they only can only serve their own interests, twisting everything that happens into a binary, near cartoonish trope that either vindicates their own dogmas or demonizes the opposing camp.
AxisOfEasy Salon 7: Nevermind the influencers, here come the revolts.
What a difference a week makes. In our previous Salon we were shouting at clouds about the loss of institutional legitimacy. This time we found ourselves in the midst of what looks like the early innings of a revolt. As the coronavirus was the catalyst and not the cause of the current economic crisis, the #GeorgeFloyd killing was not the cause but the catalyst of widespread unrest amongst the populace. As Jesse quipped at the beginning of the previous week’s episode, “people are pissed”. Yes indeed.
Watch here: https://axisofeasy.com/podcast/salon-7-nevermind-the-influencers-here-come-the-revolts/