April 29, 2018

Crisis: About Facebook, Hacking Laptops, Plastic Particles, Internet for Corporations, Trump


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from April 29, 2018
     B. One extra bit

This is a Nederlog of Sunday, April 29, 2018.

1. Summary

This is a crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was the last five years:

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch, but since 2010 in English) and about the enormous dangers of surveillance (by secret services and by many rich commercial entities) since June 10, 2013, and I will continue with it.

On the moment and since more than two years (!!!!) I have problems with the company that is supposed to take care that my site is visible [1] and with my health, but I am still writing a Nederlog every day and I shall continue.

2. Crisis Files

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:

A. Selections from April 29, 2018
1. Gaius Publius: What To Do About Facebook — First Thoughts
2. It’s Impossible to Prove Your Laptop Hasn’t Been Hacked. I Spent Two
     Years Finding Out.

3. Plastic Particles Infest the Arctic
4. The Internet Is Designed for Corporations -- Not People
5. How To Stop Trump
The items 1 - 5 are today's selections from the 35 sites that I look at every morning. The indented text under each link is quoted from the link that starts the item. Unindented text is by me:

1. Gaius Publius: What To Do About Facebook — First Thoughts

This article is by Gaius Publius on Naked Capitalism and originally on DownWithTyranny. It starts as follows:

The revelations about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have come and gone quickly, like a fiery auto crash into a ten-foot wall, the remains of which nevertheless disappear overnight — in this case replaced by the next Trump scandal to hit the news. Pedestrians walking past the crash site today can only smell the fumes of earlier fevered concerns.

Yet the Facebook problem remains, if barely considered now. As we wrote earlier, what Facebook did in that case was no more than it was designed to do. Not only that, but what Cambridge Analytica did was follow a path others had tread before, except that this time the “Trump! Russia!” taint had made its own deeds unacceptable.

But ask yourself, if either political party had done what CA did, would this be news? A scandal? Or just “how things are done around here”? And given the power of this kind of private company over the public, is its very existence in the public interest at all?

I mostly agree with the first two quoted paragraphs, but the third depends on quite a few different things, such as the rules that determine which articles and subjects are being published, and which not.

Also, there is a middle part of this article that quotes rather extensively from The Guardian, that raised the question Gaius Publius also raises, and did so a bit earlier, and in terms I do not find helpful for the most part.

Therefore I leave that to your own interests and only add one more bit from this article:

The questions surrounding Facebook are many and serious. Facebook is first a monopoly; next, a mass manipulator capable of swinging elections and other social decisions in an order-of-magnitude-greater way than simple common advertising, no matter how targeted; third, a source of enormous wealth to a powerful few; and finally, it performs an almost utility-like, ubiquitous social function in today’s Internet age. (Consider the telephone network as a utility that connects masses of people and enables communication. Now consider Facebook as a kind of modern-day telephone network. The communication is what we’re interested in. The monetizable data and metadata of our communication is what its owners are interested in. The data collection is not necessary to the communication function.)

Most of this is correct, but - I take it - even Mark Zuckerberg will reply to the last three statements in the above quote by insisting that Facebook needs the data collection in order to provide its victims (that it calls "members") with the communications they seem to desire (and to make Zuckerberg $70 billions by stealing private data from his victims and selling these to advertisers). 

2. It’s Impossible to Prove Your Laptop Hasn’t Been Hacked. I Spent Two Years Finding Out.

This article is by Micah Lee on The Intercept. It starts as follows:

Digital security specialists like me get some version of this question all the time: “I think my laptop may have been infected with malware. Can you check?”

We dread this sort of query because modern computer exploits are as complex, clever, and hard to reason about as modern computers — particularly if someone has the ability to physically access your device, as is routinely the case with laptops, especially when traveling. So while it’s definitely possible to detect certain types of tampering, it isn’t always trivial. And even in controlled environments, it’s impossible to give a laptop a clean bill of health with full confidence – it’s always possible that it was tampered with in a way you did not think to check.

The issue of tampering is particularly relevant for human rights workers, activists, journalists, and software developers, all of whom hold sensitive data sought by powerful potential attackers. People in these vocations are often keenly aware of the security of their laptops while traveling – after all, laptops store critical secrets like communication with sources, lists of contacts, password databases, and encryption keys used to vouch for source code you write, or to give you access to remote servers.

This is the beginning of a long and quite interesting article that is well worth reading, especially if you have a laptop.

Here is more:
I hoped I could get a sense of the risks with a carefully controlled experiment. For the last two years, I have carried a “honeypot” laptop with me every time I’ve traveled; this computer was intended to attract (and then detect) tampering. If any hackers, state-sponsored or otherwise, wanted to hack me by physically messing with my computer, I wanted to not only catch them in the act, but also gather technical evidence that I could use to learn how their attack worked and, hopefully, who the attacker was.
I had no idea, but I think this project was quite worthwile. Here is the outcome:
I never caught anyone tampering with this laptop. But the absence of any evidence of tampering — and my obsessive thoughts about the various ways an attacker could have evaded by detection — serve to underline how fraught the process of computer forensics can be. If someone who makes their living securing computers thinks they could have missed a computer infection, what hope is there for the average computer user?
Here is my answer to the last question: None whatsoever.

In fact, at least from my own perspective, here the really interesting bit of this article starts, and does so as follows:
If you don’t use full disk encryption on your laptop, anyone who gains physical access to it, even for just a few minutes, can access all of your data and even implant malware on your computer to spy on you in the future. It doesn’t matter how good your password is because without encryption, the attacker can simply unscrew the case on your laptop, remove your hard disk, and access it from another computer.

Disk encryption does a great job of protecting your data in case you lose your laptop or someone steals it from you. When this person tries accessing your data, they should be completely locked out, so long as the passphrase you use to unlock your laptop is strong enough that they can’t guess it.

There is a whole lot more in the article, which is recommended, but especially this article on The Intercept (from 2015) should be read by every user of a laptop.
3. Plastic Particles Infest the Arctic

This article is by Tim Radford on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

Plastic particles have colonised one of the last once-pristine oceans. German scientists sampled sea ice from five locations within the Arctic Circle and counted up to 12,000 microscopic particles per litre of ice.

They have even been able to identify the sources and piece together the journey to the icy fastness. Some tiny lumps of plastic detritus have made their way north from what has become known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a swirling assembly of an estimated 80,000 tons of plastic floating in the ocean across a stretch of water bigger than France.

Other fragments, that began as paint and nylon, date from the invasion of increasingly ice-free Arctic summer waters by more freight ships, and more fishing vessels, the scientists report in the journal Nature Communications.

“During our work, we realised that more than half of the microplastic particles trapped in the ice were less than a twentieth of a millimetre wide, which means they could easily be ingested by Arctic micro-organisms like ciliates, but also by copepods,” said Ilka Peeken, a biologist with the Alfred Wegener Institute.

“No one can say for certain how harmful these tiny plastic particles are for marine life, or ultimately also for human beings.”

I say! Here is more:

Microplastic particles are defined as 5mm or smaller, and many are measured in millionths of a metre. These are formed by the deterioration of larger pieces of plastic dumped into landfills in billions of tonnes, or released into the waterways and thus into the ocean.

Man-made synthetic polymers are effectively indestructible, and now represent a major source of marine pollution and a constant hazard to wildlife.

More than two-thirds of the particles measured 50 millionths of a metre or smaller. Some were as small as 11 micrometres – one sixth of the diameter of a human hair.

I think the information in this article is quite horrible, but the article is strongly recommended.

4. The Internet Is Designed for Corporations -- Not People

This article is by Gordon Hull on AlterNet and originally on The Conversation. It starts as follows:

Urban spaces are often designed to be subtly hostile to certain uses. Think about, for example, the seat partitions on bus terminal benches that make it harder for the homeless to sleep there or the decorative leaves on railings in front of office buildings and on university campuses that serve to make skateboarding dangerous.

Scholars call this “hostile urban architecture.”

When a few weeks ago, news broke that Facebook shared millions of users’ private information with Cambridge Analytica, which then used it for political purposes, I saw the parallels.

As a scholar of the social and political implications of technology, I would argue the internet is designed to be hostile to the people who use it. I call it a “hostile information architecture.”

Mr. Hull is an assistant professor of philosophy. I am a philosopher as well, though not a professor, in considerable part because I have been ill the last 40 years with ME/CFS, which only six weeks ago (!!!) was allowed (by one fairly important Dutch politico-medical organization) to be "a serious and chronic disease". (I had to wait 40 years on this, and meanwhile lost all of my faith in 90% of all Dutch medics, simply because 90% of the medical doctors I have seen were obvious frauds who pretended to know non-medical bullshit that explained why I (and my ex, who likewise has been ill for forty years) we were ill: we were hallucinating - for forty years, in which both of us got excellent MA degrees as psychologists - or else we were trying to deceive them.)

In any case, I suppose Mr. Hull to know logic and methodology of science, but I do not know (among other things because I was denied the legal right to take my - excellent - M.A. in philosophy 30 years ago this year, because I had criticized Marxism, postmodernism and my teachers who all propounded that intellectual rot).

I do, and the point of writing the previous two paragraphs is to say that - I think that - "a “hostile information architecture”" is a quite serious mistake.

There is something that is true about it - see below - but it must be seriously misleading simply because the vast majority of all computer users does not know how to program (not at all, not even in html), does hardly know anything about computing (which is a combination of mathematics and engineering), is anyway - in considerable majority - neither intelligent nor well educated, and still is supposed to use computers and does use them, which they can do because so much has been simplified for them.

What is true (I think) is not that "the internet is designed to be hostile to the people who use it" but that specific programs (I hate the pretentious term "algorithm") have been designed so as to make finding out certain things (many, in fact, often) or doing certain things very much more difficult than the vast majority can cope with, and this has been done on purpose to see to it that the vast majority cannot find out or do the things the designers of the program did not want them to find out or do.

And here is one major example of what I just said and it is about the specific program Facebook:

Let’s start with Facebook and privacy. Sites like Facebook supposedly protect user privacy with a practice called “notice and consent.” This practice is the business model of the internet. Sites fund their “free” services by collecting information about users and selling that information to others.

Of course, these sites present privacy policies to users to notify them how their information will be used. They ask users to “click here to accept” them. The problem is that these policies are nearly impossible to understand. As a result, no one knows what they have consented to.

Yes, I quite agree - and almost everything I have seen about "privacy policies" was intentionally made far more difficult than it could and should have been.

Then there is this:

But that’s not all. The problem runs deeper than that. Legal scholar Katherine Strandburg has pointed out that the entire metaphor of a market where consumers trade privacy for services is deeply flawed. It is advertisers, not users, who are Facebook’s real customers. Users have no idea what they are “paying” and have no possible way of knowing the value of their information. Users are also unable to protect themselves, as opting out of sites like Facebook and Google isn’t viable for most.

In fact, it is because of passages like this that I started saying Mr. Hull is a philosopher. In the present case, I doubt whether "legal scholar" Strandburg knows what a metaphor is - for clearly Facebook operates on a market, has consumers of various kinds, and does trade privacy for services (with some of its customers, that it calls "members").

It is true that Facebook is extremely dishonest, in (partial) consequence of which "Users have no idea what they are “paying” and have no possible way of knowing the value of their information. Users are also unable to protect themselves", but none of that makes Facebook less of a real player in a real market.

As a last bit about the above quoted paragraph, I also fundamentally disagree that "opting out of sites like Facebook and Google isn’t viable for most": You can very simply switch from using Google as your search machine to DuckDuckGo, while in fact html was designed to help people make sites through which they could communicate with everybody else.

It turns out to be too difficult for ordinary users.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this - rather confusing but I think honest - article:

Several years ago, two of my colleagues, Celine Latulipe and Heather Lipford
and I published an article in which we argued that many of Facebook’s privacy issues were problems of design. 

Our argument was that these design elements violated ordinary people’s expectations of how information about them would travel. For example, Facebook allowed apps to collect information on users’ friends (this is why the Cambridge Analytica problem impacted so many people). But no one who signed up for, say, tennis lessons would think that the tennis club should have access to personal information about their friends.

The details have changed since then, but they aren’t better. Facebook still makes it very hard for you to control how much data it gets about you. Everything about the Facebook experience is very carefully curated. Users who don’t like it have little choice, as the site has a virtual monopoly on social networking.

Yes, this is true again. This is a recommended article, but it has to be read critically.

5. How To Stop Trump

This article is by Robert Reich on his site. It starts as follows:
Why did working class voters choose a selfish, thin-skinned, petulant, lying, narcissistic, boastful, megalomaniac for president?
I totally agree with Reich's terms for Trump, but I also have an inference from the fact that he was elected as president in spite of the above true description of the man:

The reasons for Trump's election were these: The majority of all Americans is badly educated and does not know much, and the basic reasons for Trump's election are these: Stupidity, Ignorance, Wishful Thinking and Conformism on the part of those who voted for him (and were not rich).

Reich does not seem to quite agree with me (and in fact I know few are):

Certainly many white working class men and women were – and still are – receptive to Trump’s bigotry.  

But what made them receptive? Racism and xenophobia aren’t exactly new to American life. Fears of blacks and immigrants have been with us since the founding of the Republic.

What changed was the economy. Since the 1980s the wages and economic prospects of the typical American worker have stagnated. Two-thirds now live paycheck to paycheck, and those paychecks have grown less secure.

Good-paying jobs have disappeared from vast stretches of the land. Despite the official low unemployment rate, millions continue to work part-time who want steady jobs or they’re too discouraged to look for work.

Yes BUT 1980 is almost 40 years ago, and it is not as if nothing was said about what has been happening ever since - it just was not picked up by most.

Then there is this, which is quite true:

Meanwhile, all the economy’s gains have gone to the richest ten percent, mostly the top 1 percent. Wealthy individuals and big corporations have, in turn, invested some of those gains into politics.

As a result, big money now calls the shots in Washington – obtaining subsidies, tax breaks, tax loopholes (even Trump promised to close the “carried interest” loophole yet it remains), and bailouts.

Here is a diagnosis of Reich:

This whole story might have been different had Democrats done more to remedy wage stagnation and widening inequality when they had the chance.

Instead, Bill Clinton was a pro-growth “New Democrat” who opened trade with China, deregulated Wall Street, and balanced the budget. (I still have some painful scars from that time.)

Obama bailed out the banks but not homeowners. Obamacare, while important to the poor, didn’t alleviate the financial stresses on the working class, particularly in states refused to expand Medicaid.

I agree (if Reich does with my term) that both Bill Clinton and Obama were basically frauds, who seem to have cared more for becoming millionaires themselves than to help others (and in terms of personal success both the Clintons and the Obamas successfully became millionaires by their politics).

Here is the last bit I quote from this article:

A few Democrats are getting the message – pushing ambitious ideas like government-guaranteed full employment, single-payer health care, industry-wide collective bargaining, and a universal basic income.

But none has yet offered a way to finance these things, such as a progressive tax on wealth.

Nor have they offered a credible way to get big money out of politics.

Yes, I think that is correct. But as I have said before: As long as the Democrats are ruled by Nacy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, Timothy Perez, and Tim Kaine, I do not see the real difference between the Democrats and the Republicans, and I give up on both of them. And this is a recommended article. 

B. One extra bit

Persons who read considerably more of Nederlog than a few daily bits - Nederlog exists since 2006 (or indeed, but the first two years only about Holland, since 2004) and is fully present on my site - know that until a couple of years ago I regularly reviewed seven or eight articles a day.

I stopped doing so for various reasons some years ago. The most important one is that I have a serious chronic disease since 1.i.1979 (and meanwhile am almost 68, and also got serious eye- problems in 2012, that have lessened but have not disappeared), while a secondary important one is that I thought reviewing 5 of the best or most interesting articles I could find every day on 35 sites was generally sufficient (while it is also something I do not know anyone else does).

But occasionally I do find special bits, and this is one:
This article is by Jessica Corbett on Common Dreams. It is one of the rare bits of good news and starts as follows:
Faced with mounting scientific evidence that bee-poisoning neonicotinoids, or neonics, could cause an "ecological armageddon," European regulators on Friday approved a "groundbreaking" and "historic" ban on the widely-used class of pesticides—an announcement met with immediate applause by campaigners.
"The E.U.'s groundbreaking ban on bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides is a huge win for pollinators, people, and the planet," responded Tiffany Finck-Haynes, senior food futures campaigner for Friends of the Earth (FOE).

Lori Ann Burd, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's environmental health program, said it's also a win for "science-based regulation of pesticides."

Under the new rules, which build on existing restrictions and are expected to take effect by the end of the year, three main neonics—imidacloprid, clothianidin, and thiamethoxam—will only be allowed in permanent greenhouses "where no contact with bees is expected," according to a statement by the European Union (EU).

In fact, I have written repeatedly before about bees and the fact that their health (and existence) seems to be seriously threatened by neonicotinoid pesticides.

And this is a fine outcome (which is - unfortunately - rare in Nederlog). Here is some more:

"Bee health remains of paramount importance for me since it concerns biodiversity, food production, and the environment," Andriukaitis told the Guardian.

The vote was widely praised by the many environmental advocates who have spent years fighting for an outright ban on the use of neonics—a position that has been met with protests from major agricultural groups and lobbyists for pesticide manufacturers.

Indeed. And this is a recommended article.


[1] I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that is systematically ruining my site by NOT updating it within a few seconds, as it did between 1996 and 2015, but by updating it between two to seven days later, that is, if I am lucky.

They have claimed that my site was wrongly named in html: A lie. They have claimed that my operating system was out of date: A lie.

And they just don't care for my site, my interests, my values or my ideas. They have behaved now for 2 years as if they are the eagerly willing instruments of the US's secret services, which I will from now on suppose they are (for truth is dead in Holland).

The only two reasons I remain with xs4all is that my site has been there since 1996, and I have no reasons whatsoever to suppose that any other Dutch provider is any better (!!).

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