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An article in the Guardian presents a scenario on the privacy risks even the most careful social media output could pose when analysed with data-mining software descended from that currently in existence:
"Tina Porter, 26. She's what you need for the transpacific trade issues you just mentioned, Alan. Her dissertation speaks for itself, she even learned Korean..." He pauses.Of course, if employers (and health insurance companies and the police and organised criminals and advertising firms and psychotic stalkers) can data-mine a tendency to get migraines from the fluctuation of the vocabulary of one's posts, one might suggest that those with a healthy amount of paranoia should avoid social media altogether, beyond having a simple static page that gives away absolutely nothing. Except that not having an active social media profile is increasingly seen as suspicious in itself; if you're not tweeting your TV viewing or Instagramming your sandwiches and leaving a statistically normal trail of well-adjusted narcissistic exhibitionism, there's a nonzero probability that you might be the next Unabomber; and, in any case, the HR department who knocked Tina Porter back for her carefully concealed migraines would certainly not even look at the CV of the potential ticking timebomb whose online profile draws a blank.
"But?..." Asks the HR guy.
"She's afflicted with acute migraine. It occurs at least a couple of times a month. She's good at concealing it, but our data shows it could be a problem," Chen says.
"How the hell do you know that?"
"Well, she falls into this particular Health Cluster. In her Facebook babbling, she sometimes refers to a spike in her olfactory sensitivity – a known precursor to a migraine crisis. In addition, each time, for a period of several days, we see a slight drop in the number of words she uses in her posts, her vocabulary shrinks a bit, and her tweets, usually sharp, become less frequent and more nebulous. That's an obvious pattern for people suffering from serious migraine. In addition, the Zeo Sleeping Manager website and the stress management site HeartMath – both now connected with Facebook – suggest she suffers from insomnia. In other words, Alan, we think you can't take Ms Porter in the firm. Our Predictive Workforce Expenditure Model shows that she will cost you at least 15% more in lost productivity."
So, if this sort of thing comes to pass (and whether that sort of data could be extracted from social data with few enough false positives to be useful is a big if), we may eventually see an age of radical transparency, where everyone knows who's likely to be marginally more or less productive, along with possible laws regulating when this may be taken into account. Either that or the evolution of Gattaca-style systems and techniques for chaffing one's social data trail and masking any deficiencies which it may betray, in an ever-escalating arms race with new analytical techniques designed to detect such gaming.
The perils of automated spellchecking have been illustrated in spectacular fashion in a leaflet promoting cycling published by Kirklees Council (or Kirtles Council, as the leaflet would have it):
Kirklees Council had 7,000 leaflets printed but they repeatedly spell Kirklees as Kirtles, Cleckheaton became Czechisation, Birstall ended up as Bistable and Kirkburton as Kirkpatrick.
The mangled spelling also affected the names of local bike shops, with Spen Velo becoming Supen Vole.
Even more bizarrely, an email address for British Waterways was given as: enquiries.manic-depressive@brutalisation's.co.uk
Two years ago, a Spanish airliner crashed shortly after takeoff from Madrid, killing 154 passengers. Now, a Spanish news article (machine-translated here) claims that the crash may have been due to an aircraft maintenance computer having been infected with malware and failing to flag two faults which, had they been noticed, would have resulted in the plane having been taken out of service. If this is true, would it be the highest body count of any computer virus so far?
"I used to run a small web design service, the domain for which I allowed to expire after years of non-use. A few weeks ago, I noticed that my old site was back online at the old domain. The site-cloners are now using my old email addresses to gain access to old third-party web services accounts (invoicing tools, etc.) and are fraudulently billing my clients for years of services. I've contacted the Russian site host, PayPal, and the invoicing service. What more can I do? Can I fight back?"
A 21-year-old Australian call centre employee is facing unspecified disciplinary action after taking sick leave and bragging on Facebook that he was absconding from work due to a hangover. Kyle Doyle's undoing seems to have been that, at some earlier time, he had added his boss to his friends list, which suggests that he might not have been the sharpest knife in the drawer; if you're looking for a partner to pull off the perfect crime with, he's probably not your man.
Heaping irony on top of stupidity, the snapshot of his profile that is circulating with the damning admission lists him as a supporter of the "Liberal Party of Australia", the right-wing party which introduced harsh industrial relations laws which, among other things, allow employers to demand medical certificates for as little as one day of sick leave.
A study in Singapore has shown that the sight or smell of appetising food can compel people to make impulse purchases, or else compromise their ability to judge risks and payoffs:
Similarly, another experiment used a cookie-scented candle to further gauge whether appetitive stimulus affects consumer behavior. Female study participants in a room with a hidden chocolate-chip cookie scented candle were much more likely to make an unplanned purchase of a new sweater -- even when told they were on a tight budget -- than those randomly assigned to a room with a hidden unscented candle (67 percent vs. 17 percent).The researchers make the further claim that "the presence of an attractive woman in the trading room might propel an investor to choose the investment option providing smaller but sooner rewards".
(via Boing Boing)
14-year-old "electronics genius" in Lódz, Poland, built a remote control for the city's tram system (apparently out of a TV remote control, though presumably they mean that he housed it in a TV remote control case ) and used it to change points, forcing trams onto the wrong tracks, until he was arrested.
"He had converted the television control into a device capable of controlling all the junctions on the line and wrote in the pages of a school exercise book where the best junctions were to move trams around and what signals to change.
Problems with the signalling system on Lodz's tram network became apparent on Tuesday when a driver attempting to steer his vehicle to the right was involuntarily taken to the left. As a result the rear wagon of the train jumped the rails and collided with another passing tram. Transport staff immediately suspected outside interference.
The latest advance in Windows worms is a worm which takes over people's instant-messaging accounts and chats to their friends, attempting to talk them into downloading it; in short, an automated form of social engineering:
According to IMlogic, the worm, dubbed IM.Myspace04.AIM, has arrived in instant messages that state: "lol thats cool" and included a URL to a malicious file "clarissa17.pif." When unsuspecting users have responded, perhaps asking if the attachment contained a virus, the worm has replied: "lol no its not its a virus", IMlogic said.Which suggests that the Turing test may be easier to pass in an environment where people start messages with "lol". If your friends suddenly turn into giggling prepubescents and start trying to convince you to download a file, you know what's happening.
I wonder whether this will lead to an arms race in worm conversational abilities. Perhaps the next one will trawl message logs and pick out phrases/words used by that contact (or use them to change its own writing style)?
Scare meme of the day: if bird flu, al-Qaeda weaponised ebola or a meteor strike don't get us, alien computer viruses exploiting Seti@Home to take over Earth's computer systems just might. Assuming, of course, that the aliens understand enough about our puny earthling computer architectures, operating systems and library vulnerabilities to write a useful exploit and encode it the right way in a radio signal.
(via bOING bOING)
The aftermath of the Christmas party season is the busiest time of the year for photocopier technicians, thanks to drunk office workers' propensity for photocopying their bottoms, with the increasing weight of McWorlders possibly adding to the problem:
Geoff Bush from the north of England said one case he'd attended, where a young lady had cracked the glass mid-scan, also jammed the scanner so that it wasn't until the machine was fixed and her colleagues all sober that copies of her backside starting pouring from the machine.
Partly in response to this trend--or perhaps because of the "supersizing" of the western physique--Canon has now increased the thickness of its glass by an extra millimeter.
Taking the hack even further, Samy realized that he could simply insert the entire script into the visiting user's profile, creating a replicating worm. "So if 5 people viewed my profile, that's 5 new friends. If 5 people viewed each of their profiles, that's 25 more new friends," Samy explained.For a brief time, Samy had more than one million new friends. Then MySpace noticed that something strange was happening, shut the site down and cleaned the script off users' pages. Google's Evan Martin has an analysis of the code.
First there were zombie sharks swimming down the main streets of New Orleans; now, it emerges, there may be US Navy hunter-killer dolphins on the loose in the Gulf of Mexico, waiting to start picking off unsuspecting surfers with toxic darts:
Dolphins have been trained in attack-and-kill missions since the Cold War. The US Atlantic bottlenose dolphins have apparently been taught to shoot terrorists attacking military vessels. Their coastal compound was breached during the storm, sweeping them out to sea. But those who have studied the controversial use of dolphins in the US defence programme claim it is vital they are caught quickly.
In the US, there has been some concern recently over automated voting machines that allow elections to be easily and undetectably rigged (not that anyone in a position of power would do such a nefarious thing, of course). Now the state of Nevada is putting its expertise in auditing slot machines to use on the voting machines. Slot machines (of which Nevada is full) are apparently subject to extremely rigorous technical audits to find any possible security holes, vulnerabilities or bugs that could compromise their fairness or allow them to be rigged; voting machines face no such standards. (via Slashdot)
A Californian hospital recently found itself blackmailed by a third-world data-entry worker threatening to post patient records on the internet unless she was paid. The UCSF Medical Center did not know that the clerical work had been exported to Pakistan, as the records went through a chain of three subcontractors (each probably being the lowest bidder, chosen hourly, where a fraction of a cent can mean bankrupcy). Looks like someone along the line needs to tighten up their paramilitary death squads, err, industrial-relations practices. (via /.)
Scientists at Johns Hopkins University have found that assessing a community's cancer risk could be as simple as counting the number of trucks and cars that pass through the neighborhood. Another reason to encourage the development of public transport. Not that anybody's listening here, with the government falling over itself to spend billions of dollars on new freeways and spending only the most grudging pittance on public transport (which is next to useless outside of the inner city). (thanks, Toby)
Journalist almost freezes to death when trying to use a Microsoft Smartphone mobile to call for help after a ski accident in the Scottish Highlands. He was eventually rescued when a passerby lent him her Nokia phone. Proof that bad UIs can endanger your life. (via bOING bOING)
Occupational hazards: English conceptual artist Tracey Emin (best known for exhibiting soiled bedsheets and the like) recently lost her cat, Docket. Doing what any cat owner would do, she put up posters with a picture of the cat -- only to find them taken down by art collectors who believed them valuable.
For no sooner had the notices gone up, than they were torn down as rumours circulated that they could be worth a fortune. A neighbour in Miss Emin's trendy East London artists' enclave, which also houses Gilbert and George, said: "Apparently people have been quoted £500 a poster."
(via bOING bOING)
Not from Risks Digest: An elderly war veteran stabbed his next-door neighbour to death, after a fireworks display triggered a flashback to World War II and he mistook the frail widow for a German soldier. (via Leviathan)
Chicks Don't Dig Losers: Another study confirms that women prefer risk-prone men to risk-averse nice-guy shmucks, much as evolutionary psychology predicted, and that flaunting wealth, strength and/or bravery increases mens' sexual success. One of the authors of the paper, Robin Dunbar, was involved in the survey which showed that mobile phones were a lekking device, flaunted by single males in the presence of females and competing males. Mind you, mobile phones have lost some of their lekking power, having become more or less ubiquitous; however, a London jeweler is working around that, by encrusting mobile phones with diamonds. Each unit (based on an off-the-shelf phone) sells for US$20,000 to US$50,000, though some are predicting fake gem-studded mobiles to become popular with teenagers. In decades to come, the Noughties may be known as the decade of those tacky fake-jewelled mobile phones.
The technology for electronically faking video footage is coming to fruition. And we all know how the street finds its own uses for new technologies...
A demo tape supplied by PVI bolsters the point in the prosaic setting of a suburban parking lot. The scene appears ordinary except for a disturbing feature: Amidst the SUVs and minivans are several parked tanks and one armored behemoth rolling incongruously along. Imagine a tape of virtual Pakistani tanks rolling over the border into India pitched to news outlets as authentic, and you get a feel for the kind of trouble that deceptive imagery could stir up.
Suddenly those large stretches of programming between commercials-the actual show, that is-become available for billions of dollars worth of primetime advertising. PVI's demo tape, for instance, includes a scene in which a Microsoft Windows box appears-virtually, of course-on the shelf of Frasier Crane's studio. This kind of product placement could become more and more important as new video recording technologies such as TiVo and RePlayTV give viewers more power to edit out commercials.
With just a few minutes of video of someone talking, their system captures and stores a set of video snapshots of the way that a person's mouth-area looks and moves when saying different sets of sounds. Drawing from the resulting library of "visemes" makes it possible to depict the person seeming to say anything the producers dream up-including utterances that the subject wouldn't be caught dead saying. In one test application, computer scientist Christoph Bregler, now of Stanford University, and colleagues digitized two minutes of public-domain footage of President John F. Kennedy speaking during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. Using the resulting viseme library, the researchers created "animations" of Kennedy's mouth saying things he never said, among them, "I never met Forrest Gump."
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