[AxisOfEasy] Google parses your Gmail for financial transactions

Weekly Axis Of Easy #100

Last Week’s Quote was  “Strange times are these in which we live when old and young are taught falsehoods in school. And the person that dares to tell the truth is called at once a lunatic and fool.” …by Plato! Haha, tricked you all, except everybody who got it. Winner was Karen McMillan, who got it first.

This Week’s Quote:  “For the great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities, and are often more influenced by the things that seem than by those that are.” …by ???

THE RULES: No searching up the answer, must be posted in the comments below:

The Prize: First person to post, gets their next domain or hosting renewal on us.

This is our 100th edition of #AxisOfEasy – the response to it has been surprising and overwhelming. Possibly the only company newsletter in existence where if we skip a week, I get emails from people asking why they haven’t received it. Thanks to all of you, and if you think you know a colleague who could benefit from #AxisOfEasy, send them here.

In This Issue:
  • Ed Snowden addresses Dalhousie University via webcast
  • US DoJ preparing anti-trust procedures against Google
  • US money funds China’s surveillance state
  • Media and tech co’s cooperate with China to suppress Tiananmen remembrance 
  • Amazon patents indicate that Alexa will record everything
  • Uber to ban low rated passengers 
  • Simple print-out foils AI powered surveillance 
  • Growing calls for Zuckerberg to resign as Facebook CEO
  • Google parses your gmail for financial transactions

Ed Snowden addresses Dalhousie University via webcast

The whistleblower who revealed that our governments really do spy on citizens all the time, everywhere addressed an audience at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia via web cast last week. Snowden takes the viewer through the backstory leading up to the leaks. The broadcast audio get garbled around the 1:10 mark but is fixed after he reconnects. Interesting remarks about “over-the-air” updates, given that Microsoft has unofficially signalled that Windows will be moving toward to invisible background updates.

Good layman’s explanation of how governments compromise the systems we use everyday and use that to spy on us, with a nice shout-out to Canada’s own CitizenLab as “the best organization in the world” at tracking and uncovering state sponsored espionage against citizens.

US DoJ preparing anti-trust procedures against Google

The big news headed into the weekend which may have contributed to the recent weakness in tech stocks (moreso than a slowly dawning realization that much of the sector are money-losing unicorns pumped up by money printing), was the news that the  US DoJ is gearing up to launch an antitrust investigation into Google. Both Google and Facebook have been hit with various fines in Europe for various privacy breaches, and politicians like Sen Elizabeth Warren are campaigning with a “break up Big Tech” platform. All of which, I have repeatedly admitted, induces cognitive dissonance in my Libertarian mind. For some reason, my heart does not bleed.

(And then if they went ahead and audited the Fed, it might even restore my faith in government).

US money funds China’s surveillance state (Twitter bans china accounts, who face detention in China)

Via Buzzfeed: Millions of dollars from US university endowments, foundations, and retirement plans have helped fund two billion-dollar Chinese facial recognition startups: SenseTime and Megvii. The Chinese government is using their technologies to surveil and profile its own citizens.”

(I mention this because today (June 4th) is the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Square uprising by student protesters and ensuing massacre in China. The outpouring of solidarity, remembrance,  and mourning from Western tech platforms and media companies has been overwhelming and deafening….)

Media and tech co’s cooperate with China to suppress Tiananmen remembrance

Just kidding. In reality, some Western tech platforms and media companies have been bending over backward to appease the Beijing government and suppress dissident voices seeking to commemorate the massacre.

Twitter dutifully began suspending accounts of known Chinese dissidents last week:
And global provider of financial data feeds, Refinitiv (co-owned by the Blackstone Group and Thompson Reuters) began blocking Reuters stories covering Tiananmen at the request of the Chinese government.
Throughout China media outlets are on notice to keep a lid on the observances.

As usual, to get a more frank version of events emanating from China, refer to the South China Morning Post:

Read: https://series.scmp.com/june4/

On the topic of China, I just started reading “We Have Been Harmonized: Life In China’s Surveillance State” by Kai Strittmatter. He seems to be advising the west to let go of what he calls “The China Fantasy”, the idea that through a more open economy and increasing prosperity, China would automatically begin resembling the West and politically liberalize. That is not happening, and instead China is leveraging technology to perfect a full spectrum authoritarian state. My worry, is that instead of the West “infecting” China with liberal democracy, things will go the other direction, and we here in the West will instead, embrace their state controlled technocracy.

Amazon patents indicate that Alexa will record everything

An Amazon patent application filed in January but only made public recently explains the technical issue home assistant devices like Amazon Echo, Apple’s Siri and Google have “wake words”, which signal the device to start listening (and recording, and sending those recordings back to the mothership). But what if you want to do something like “Play some funky music, Alexa”. Since the wake word comes at the end of the sentence, no funky music will be forthcoming.

The workaround, according to the patent application, then, would be to listen all the time and then when the device hears the wake word, analyze if the command is coming after, or happened before the wake word. But the side effect is, Alexa would be listening all the time.

Read: https://www.sciencealert.com/creepy-new-amazon-patent-would-mean-alexa-records-everything-you-say-from-now-on (h/t to K. Drieger)

It still just blows me away that people put these things in their homes. Put them in East Germany, with snitches and secret police on every corner and they’ll cross minefields and climb over barbed wire to get out. Put a microphone with a catchy name in their home that records everything while serving up infotainment and they’ll open a bag of cheesies and revel in it.

Uber to ban low rated passengers

In an announcement from the company blog, Uber has announced that soon, passengers with a low ratings score will be barred from using the service. Obligatory ack: Yes, Uber is a private company that can do whatever they want. Same with the drivers who have the final word on who they will or will not allow into their vehicles.

With that out of the way, I wonder out loud about Goodhardt’s law, which I once wrote about. Goodhardt’s Law observes that “when a measure, becomes a target, it becomes useless”.  In other words, if both drivers or passengers are subject to actionable consequences of their ratings and scores, they will adjust their behaviour to game the scores themselves, and that dis-incentivizes the outcomes sought by the scoring mechanism.


Another good one, Black Mirror, Season 3 premiere, “Nosedive”.

Simple print-out foils AI powered surveillance

Here’s a privacy hack that shows promise in thwarting AI driven facial recognition systems – simply print up a specially devised colour template on a piece of paper and tape it onto your person (see the pic in the linked article) and walk around with it. Researchers have developed a special ink pattern that throw the popular open-source object recognition system called YoLo(v2).

Where do I see this going? Fashion. Pants, shirts, apparel that may look gauche but that neutralize facial recognition systems. “Wearable countermeasures”.

Google parses your Gmail for financial transactions

There is an old quote, frequently attributed to Mark Twain but more likely apocryphal, “It’s easier to fool people than to tell them they’ve been fooled”. Yesterday I published a piece about Gmail’s scanning and parsing of user mail and pulling out and tracking their purchase history, even from third party merchants. Both the reporter who originally wrote the story, and then myself, after I ran some tests to verify, are somewhat taken aback by the fact that this happens without your knowing about it or opt-ing into it.

Others beg to differ, the story went semi-viral, and the comments on both hackernews and reddit (not to mention our own easyDNS blog) bordered on hostile, accusing us of being alarmist. One client accused us of having Privacy Derangement Syndrome and would be considering taking his domains elsewhere.

We don’t think so. I asked a colleague of mine who works as a high ranking executive for a major cloud provider via private message if he thought we were overreacting or genuinely onto something. His reply to me was “off the record: it’s worse than you can imagine”.

It’s not like the track records of Big Tech firms (nor our various governments) have them operating from a position of unassailable credibility.

Read: https://axisofeasy.com/blog/2019/06/03/googles-gmail-scans-parses-analyzes-and-catalogs-your-email/

Always bear in mind that most domain packages with easyDNS come with easyMail, hosted IMAP included. See the packages hereIf you have lots of historical email at Gmail (or anyplace else) you can also use our IMAP migration tool to painlessly copy everything over from Google, except, alas, your purchase history.

And so concludes our 100th edition of #AxisOfEasy. Thank you for being a part of this and for being an easyDNS client. We will be ramping up our efforts and turning #AxisOfEasy into a full blown tech news channel. Watch this space.

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