Weekly Axis Of Easy #215
Last Week’s Quote was “What this country needs is more unemployed politicians.” Was Angela Davis, no one got it.
This Week’s Quote: “It’s not the events of our lives that shape us, but our beliefs as to what those events mean” …by???
THE RULES: No searching up the answer, must be posted to the blog – the place to post the answer is at the bottom of the post, in the comments section.
The Prize: First person to post the correct answer gets their next domain or hosting renewal is on us.
In this issue:
- US Government secretly orders Google to provide data on anyone who searches a sexual assault victim’s personal information.
- Mozilla Firefox address bar now includes ads; learn how to disable them
- The New York Times: No proof exists that 1.5 billion Facebook users’ private data is being sold by hackers
- IMF states that half the world’s central banks are exploring their own digital currencies
- Moderna vaccine use is restricted in Nordic countries due to myocarditis risk
- Google will demonetize and ban ads that deny climate change
Government investigators and law enforcement agencies are reportedly issuing Google with “keyword warrants” that require it to provide personal information, such as IP addresses, about people who searched specific terms during a particular period. In response to this investigation technique, privacy and civil rights activists have begun to question the reality of online privacy.
An instance of this technique was used in 2019 when federal investigators in Wisconsin were hunting men suspected of participating in a minor’s trafficking and sexual abuse. Attempting to trace the perpetrators, investigators turned to Google, requesting the company provide information on anyone who might have searched for the victim’s name, her mother’s name, and her address over 16 days across the year. In mid-2020, Google complied with the request to provide access to all relevant accounts and IP addresses of those who carried out the searches, though the court documents do not reveal how many users’ data was sent to the government.
Despite concerns over the legality of such controversial requests and the potential to implicate innocent people who happened to search for the relevant terms, Google is continuing to comply with them. “Trawling through Google’s search history database enables police to identify people merely based on what they might have been thinking about, for whatever reason, at some point in the past. This is a virtual dragnet through the public’s interests, beliefs, opinions, values, and friendships, akin to mind reading powered by the Google time machine,” explained Jennifer Granick, surveillance and cybersecurity counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Among the numerous privacy concerns, it highlights First Amendment freedom of speech issues, considering that these secret searches could cause anxiety amongst Google users. In this matter, Granick also pointed that “this never-before-possible technique threatens First Amendment interests and will inevitably sweep up innocent people, especially if the keyword terms are not unique and the time frame is not precise. Police are currently doing this in secret, which insulates the practice from public debate and regulation.”
The Wisconsin case was supposed to remain secret, but the Justice Department accidentally exposed the warrant in September.
Mozilla Firefox address bar now includes ads; learn how to disable them
A new suggested search option was introduced in Mozilla Firefox’s 93.0 release. The Firefox Suggest feature, which helps users “surface relevant information and sites to help them achieve their goals,” is similar to the suggestions offered by most browsers but also includes advertisements.
Firefox Suggest does not require “collection, storage, or sharing of new data” to make recommendations. According to the Suppor Page, the company only works with partners who meet its privacy standards.
As noted in the support post, “If contextual suggestions are enabled, Firefox Suggest will use your location and your search keywords to suggest relevant information from Firefox and our partners.” You will see these “relevant suggestions” from “trusted partners” beneath the usual search suggestions pulled from your bookmarks, history, and open tabs. In essence, it’s an ad, just less intrusive.
After you update your Firefox browser, you may see a pop-up window that asks you to enable contextual suggestions or to adjust your settings. If you accidentally enable them, you can disable them by following these steps:
Go to Settings.
Click on Privacy and Security and scroll to Address Bar > Firefox Suggest.
Turn on or off the contextual suggestions selecting or deselecting the checkbox.
Select or deselect the checkbox for “occasional sponsored suggestions.”
While the feature first appeared in the current version’s release notes, it has been around since the 92.0 release.
Marsha Blackburn, a Republican Senator from Tennessee, claimed last Tuesday that private data belonging to more than 1.5 billion Facebook users is being sold on a hacking forum. Despite her claims, The New York Times finds that this issue is “largely unverified and possibly false,” according to its recent article on the topic.
The claim spread rapidly over the internet due to an anonymous post on a forum that claimed to have obtained access to the database from a supposed company called “X2Emails.” The post offered data on “more than 1.5b Facebook Databases” containing information about users’ email addresses, locations, phone numbers, and more.
Even though some news portals report the breach as fact, it has not been confirmed. Nevertheless, Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne said that they are investigating the claims and were in the process of sending a takedown request to the user forum advertising the alleged data.
IMF states that half the world’s central banks are exploring their own digital currencies
The managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Kristalina Georgieva, said last Tuesday that more than half of the world’s central banks the IMF deals, from 110 countries, were at “some stage” of exploring the creation of their own digital currencies (CBDCs).
“Before the pandemic, remember we used to say, the future is digital. With the pandemic, the future has arrived and very prominently in the world of money,” Georgieva explained.
Among the countries exploring CBDCs, China is several years ahead of most other economies, considering that it is currently trialing a digital yuan even when the government has banned cryptocurrencies’ trading and mining activities. On the other hand, nations like the US, UK, Canada, Nigeria, India, and some from the EU have been trying to up their efforts on the CBDC race.
In this context, Georgieva said that the momentum surrounding CBDCs more widely “is going to be moving quite, quite, quite rapidly.” “When we look at this universe, the most reliable is our central bank digital currencies. Why? Because they have the backing of the state, and they are integrated into the monetary policy,” she added.
The IMF considers that it is still to be determined if people will trust or not CBDCs as a means of exchange, but believe that, since these are stablecoins, pegged to an underlying asset, just like a fiat currency, it shouldn’t fight with the volatility that cryptocurrencies like bitcoin undergo.
Moderna vaccine use is restricted in Nordic countries due to myocarditis risk
Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine has been banned in Finland, Denmark, and Sweden for young people because of rare cardiovascular complications that could develop after the second shot.
The Swedish government will stop using the Moderna vaccine for people born after 1991, while Denmark is pausing its use for all under 18. Those under 30 in Finland, on the other hand, will be offered the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine instead.
Reports from Reuters state that the decision for these three countries is based on concerns that it could result in myocarditis, an inflammatory condition of the heart muscle.
Mika Salminen, director of health security at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), said the Moderna vaccine poses more significant risks to young men and boys after receiving their second dose.
“THL’s instructions are that the Moderna vaccine should not be given to men and boys under the age of 30 for the time being, but that the Pfizer vaccine should be used instead,” he explained to local media reports.
According to Moderna, these are generally mild cases that often recover quickly following standard treatment and rest.
To prevent climate change deniers from spreading misinformation or making money from YouTube videos, Google has implemented a new policy targeting video creators, advertisers, and publishers to block digital ads that promote false climate change claims.
In a blog post released last Thursday, Google explained that the policy would prohibit advertising for and monetizing content that contradicts the existence and causes of climate change.
According to the company, advertisers don’t want their ads displayed next to content denying climate change, and publishers and creators don’t want them appearing on their pages or videos.
The Google ad team said that a growing number of its advertising and publisher partners raise concerns about ads that promote inaccurate claims about climate change.
Any content that claims climate change is a hoax or denies that human activity and greenhouse gas pollution have contributed to long-term warming will be subject to this new policy and will be reviewed using both automated tools and human reviewers to enforce the rules when it takes effect in November.