[AxisOfEasy] The Final Frontier: Using The Human Body As A Digital Wallet

by on September 9, 2019

Weekly Axis Of Easy #112

Last Week’s Quote was “ order to draw its conclusions ‘science’ is forced to accept a great many purely hypothetical propositions as known and unquestionable data, requiring no proof.” …was the early 20th century mathematician and philosopher, P.D Ouspensky. Nobody got it.

This Week’s Quote: “When information is cheap, attention becomes expensive.” ….by ????

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

The Prize: First person to post the correct answer gets their next domain or hosting renewal is on us.

In this issue:
  • China’s first cloned cat looks nothing like the original
  • Cyber-crooks pull heist by deep-faking CEO’s voice
  • Facebook implements facial recognition for all users
  • Apple and Google turn over names of scope app users to LEA
  • Flaws in GPS trackers expose location of children they’re meant to track
  • The Final Frontier: using the human body as a digital wallet
  • China to use cameras in classrooms to monitor students’ behaviour
  • Ladies: your period tracker app just told Facebook when you last had sex

China’s first cloned cat looks nothing like the original

If this is indicative of how cloning will actually play out, it renders over 100 years of sci-fi obsolete. A man in China paid the equivalent of $35,000 USD to have his departed favourite pet, a cat named Garlic, cloned after the original passed away (Apparently, this is not entirely new, Barbara Streisand once revealed that two of her dogs are clones). In this case, it is the first pet cloning to occur in China, but the problem is that the clone looks nothing like the original. Despite an outside company confirming that Garlic 2.0 is biologically identical to the version 1 it obsoleted, the 2.0 version bears no resemblance whatsoever and the owner is crestfallen.

The original NYTimes article doesn’t reference the discrepancy but touches on the ethical implications of using cloned animals in medical research in China, where there are no animal cruelty laws  (reminds me of that movie “The Island”). The company who performed the procedure is also pondering using AI to transfer the memories of original pets to the clones (how would anybody know?).


Cyber-crooks use AI to deep-fake CEO’s voice

Criminals used artificial intelligence to fake a CEO’s voice and used it to steal $243,000 USD from a UK-based energy business. The incident took place in March when the attackers called the CEO of the British firm pretending to be the CEO of its German parent company. Analysts believe AI-based software was used to impersonate the chief executive’s voice, as it had the slight German accent and other qualities the UK CEO recognized in his boss’s voice”.

He then acted on “urgent” verbal instructions to transfer the funds to a purported supplier within the hour.  The thieves came back to make further requests but by then suspicions were raised. Investigators believe this could be the first instance of AI used in a cyber-heist.

Facebook implements facial recognition for all users

It looks like all that tagging of your friends in photos on Facebook has trained the platform’s facial recognition AI to the point where it doesn’t need you anymore. Facebook thanks you for your service and has now enabled facial recognition for all users. According to Reuters, it’s an opt-out setting that can be accessed via your profile, however when I went to look at my facial recognition setting it was already set to disabled (It’s possible I stumbled across it before I saw this piece and opted-out already).

Apropos to this, is a great little Citizen’s Hackathon we sponsored over this past weekend here at the CSI Annex in Toronto. One of the teams we talked to was building an app called “Unzuck Me” which would do a Gaussian transformation on your photos before you upload them to #FB. To the naked eye, they would look the same, but they would foil Facebook’s facial recognition. All of the apps developed this weekend were along these themes of personal data privacy and free speech. It was heartening to meet all these bright, motivated kids who were very keen on these aspects of computing. Made me a bit more optimistic.


Apple and Google ordered by DoJ to turn over names of scope app users

It’s being called a precedent setting action, where the US Department of Justice has ordered both Apple and Google to turn over the names and personal data of every single user who has downloaded a specific app. In this case it’s Obsidian 4, made by American Technologies Network Corp. It is an app that allows one to calibrate rifle scopes, get a live stream or take a video from their rifle scope.

Watchdog group Privacy International’s head of State Surveillance worries that if Google and Apple comply it will hand over personal data of thousands of users who have nothing to do with the actual crimes being investigated.

Flaws in GPS trackers expose location of children they’re meant to track

If you’re using GPS devices to track your kids, or seniors, you may be inadvertently exposing them to privacy leaks and surveillance. A study of GPS tracker products sold on Amazon estimates that as many as 600,000 devices sold from the platform have vulnerabilities ranging from use of unencrypted HTTP connections to relay data to the ability to cause the trackers to make a phone call to an arbitrary number and then listen-in on the subject. Oh, and over a half-million of these units also shipped with the admin password set to “123456”.

The Final Frontier: using the human body as a digital wallet

This article explores the inevitability of biometric payments, where we won’t use our credit cards or even our phones anymore, we’ll just use some sort of identifying attribute of our own bodies: face, eyes, etc. and that will be tied directly to our personal finances. The logic is that the lower the friction is to make payments, the higher spending will be.

There are of course some issues, not the least of which include: privacy (governments the world over are driving to the hoop to eliminate cash), security: if somebody’s biometric data is compromised, you can’t exactly reset their password by rearranging their face, and, not really mentioned in the article, liberty, if you run afoul of the system and everything is tied to your biometrics, you can be made a “non-person” quite easily. (Think China’s Sesame Credit, which is in the early innings of technocratic total control of the population, see next item).

China pilot uses cameras in classrooms to monitor students’ behaviour

One university in China has installed a facial recognition system that can access every student’s personal information and monitors their behaviour. Installed at the China Pharmaceutical University in Nanjing, East China’s Jiangsu Province, it is designed to detect distracted students, such as nodding off in class, or other undesirable traits like looking at their mobile devices.

No doubt, this will eventually tie into that country’s Sesame Credit system, which will increasingly monitor and enforce all aspects of every Chinese citizens’ lives, penalizing them for engaging in behaviours the state deems sub-optimal while rewarding those who unfailingly play by the rules.

Ladies: your period tracker app just told Facebook when you last had sex

This is a stop-the-presses type item our COO came across last night after we sent this edition of #AxisOfEasy “to press”, so to speak.

A comprehensive study by Privacy International, released via Buzzfeed yesterday, found that most of the menstruation tracking apps women use to track their cycles share data with facebook even if you don’t have a Facebook account or even if you are logged out of your Facebook account.

Using Facebook’s SDK, data is sent from the moment the app is opened, and as the report outlines, there is a lot Facebook can infer from just that simple notification (i.e. you’re probably a woman, you’re either trying to, or trying to avoid, getting pregnant, etc).

In one case (Maya) the app started sharing data with Facebook before the end-user even agrees to anything. The Maya app also collects data on when you last had intercourse and whether it was protected or unprotected, which was then shared with Facebook.

We’ll link to both the Buzzfeed article and the report below, I recommend taking some time to read the latter. As a guy who has been tracking this sort of thing for awhile now, I still found myself shocked when confronted with the inner workings of this digital data mining ecosystem.



To their credit, according to the study, Period Tracker by GP International LLC did not share any data with Facebook, and Maya by Plackal Tech has since responded to the report authors that they have removed the Facebook core SDK from the app. However as you read the report you will see how this practice affects nearly the entire space of these apps.

2 responses to “[AxisOfEasy] The Final Frontier: Using The Human Body As A Digital Wallet”

  1. John McBride says:

    Quote is by James Gleick.

  2. The saying When information is cheap, attention becomes expensive was by James Gleick

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