Facebook’s ’10 Year Challenge’ Is Just a Harmless Meme—Right? – KATE O’NEILL SECURITY 01.15.19


Alyssa Foote; Getty Images

If you use social media, you’ve probably noticed a trend across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter of people posting their then-and-now profile pictures, mostly from 10 years ago and this year.

Instead of joining in, I posted the following semi-sarcastic tweet:

My flippant tweet began to pick up traction. My intent wasn’t to claim that the meme is inherently dangerous. But I knew the facial recognition scenario was broadly plausible and indicative of a trend that people should be aware of. It’s worth considering the depth and breadth of the personal data we share without reservations.

Of those who were critical of my thesis, many argued that the pictures were already available anyway. The most common rebuttal was: “That data is already available. Facebook’s already got all the profile pictures.”

Of course they do. In various versions of the meme, people were instructed to post their first profile picture alongside their current profile picture, or a picture from 10 years ago alongside their current profile picture. So, yes: these profile pictures exist, they’ve got upload time stamps, many people have a lot of them, and for the most part they’re publicly accessible.

But let’s play out this idea.

Imagine that you wanted to train a facial recognition algorithm on age-related characteristics, and, more specifically, on age progression (e.g. how people are likely to look as they get older). Ideally, you’d want a broad and rigorous data set with lots of people’s pictures. It would help if you knew they were taken a fixed number of years apart—say, 10 years.

Sure, you could mine Facebook for profile pictures and look at posting dates or EXIF data. But that whole set of profile pictures could end up generating a lot of useless noise. People don’t reliably upload pictures in chronological order, and it’s not uncommon for users to post pictures of something other than themselves as a profile picture. A quick glance through my Facebook friends’ profile pictures shows a friend’s dog who just died, several cartoons, word images, abstract patterns, and more.

In other words, it would help if you had a clean, simple, helpfully-labeled set of then-and-now photos.

What’s more, for the profile pictures on Facebook, the photo posting date wouldn’t necessarily match the date that the picture was taken. Even the EXIF metadata on the photo wouldn’t always be reliable for assessing that date.

Why? People could have scanned offline photos. They might have uploaded pictures multiple times over years. Some people resort to uploading screenshots of pictures found elsewhere online. Some platforms strip EXIF data for privacy.

Through the Facebook meme, most people have been helpfully adding that context back in (e.g. “me in 2008, and me in 2018”), as well as further info, in many cases, about where and how the pic was taken (e.g. “2008 at University of Whatever, taken by Joe; 2018 visiting New City for this year’s such-and-such event”).

In other words, thanks to this meme, there’s now a very large data set of carefully curated photos of people from roughly 10 years ago and now.

Of course, not all the dismissive comments in my Twitter mentions were about the pictures being already available; some critics noted that there was too much crap data to be usable. But data researchers and scientists know how to account for this. As with hashtags that go viral, you can generally place more trust in the validity of data earlier on in the trend or campaign— before people begin to participate ironically or attempt to hijack the hashtag for irrelevant purposes.

As for bogus pictures, image recognition algorithms are plenty sophisticated enough to pick out a human face. If you uploaded an image of a cat 10 years ago and now—as one of my friends did, adorably—that particular sample would be easy to throw out.

What’s more, even if this particular meme isn’t a case of social engineering, the past few years have been rife with examples of social games and memes designed to extract and collect data. Just think of the mass data extraction of more than 70 million American Facebook users performed by Cambridge Analytica.

Is it bad that someone could use your Facebook photos to train a facial recognition algorithm? Not necessarily; in a way, it’s inevitable. Still, the broader takeaway here is that we need to approach our interactions with technology mindful of the data we generate and how it can be used at scale. I’ll offer three plausible use cases for facial recognition: one respectable, one mundane, and one risky.

The benign scenario: facial recognition technology, specifically age progression capability, could help with finding missing kids. Last year police in New Delhi, India reported tracking down nearly 3,000 missing kids in just four days using facial recognition technology. If the kids had been missing a while, they would likely look a little different from the last known photo of them, so a reliable age progression algorithm could be genuinely helpful here.

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Maxine Waters meets with CBS News representatives over lack of black 2020 reporters – Tal Axelrod 01/15/19 11:01 PM EST


Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) met with representatives from CBS News to discuss the ongoing controversy over the network’s lack of black reporters slated to cover the 2020 presidential race.

“CBS admitted they had a lot of work to do & committed to including Blacks on their 2020 election team & all other teams. True diversity is the inclusion of ALL. I won’t let them off the hook!” Waters tweeted Tuesday night.

The California Democrat had earlier sent a tweet panning the network for its lack of diversity in its campaign team.

“CBS, the efforts on your website about your support for diversity fly in the face of your display of all of the reporters you’ve selected for the 2020 campaign. Not one Black. What’s up with this? An explanation is needed,” she tweeted Monday morning.

CBS News did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill regarding the Waters meeting.

The network has faced criticism after it rolled out its campaign team last week.

“This WH admin has made having a functional understanding of race in America one of the most important core competencies for a political journalist to have, yet @CBSNews hasn’t assigned a *single* black journalist to cover the 2020 election,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Saturday.

“CBS News’ decision to not include Black reporters on their 2020 Election news team further proves the voting power and voices of Black America continue to be undervalued,” the NAACP echoed in a statement Tuesday.

A CBS spokesperson said Sunday that its team was an “initial wave of what will be an outstanding and diverse wave of journalists” that will cover the highly anticipated election.

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White House Sought Options to Strike Iran – Dion Nissenbaum Updated Jan. 13, 2019 10:10 p.m. ET


State and Pentagon officials were rattled by the request

John Bolton, President Trump’s national security adviser, had asked for military options to strike Iran.

President Trump’s National Security Council asked the Pentagon to provide the White House with military options to strike Iran last year, generating concern at the Pentagon and State Department, current and former U.S. officials said.

The request, which hasn’t been previously reported, came after militants fired three mortars into Baghdad’s sprawling diplomatic quarter, home to the U.S. Embassy, on a warm night in early September. The shells—launched by a group aligned with Iran—landed in an open lot and harmed no one.

But they triggered unusual alarm in Washington, where Mr. Trump’s national security team led by John Bolton conducted a series of meetings to discuss a forceful U.S. response, including what many saw as the unusual request for options to strike Iran.

“It definitely rattled people,” a former senior U.S. administration official said of the request. “People were shocked. It was mind-boggling how cavalier they were about hitting Iran.”

The Pentagon complied with the NSC’s request to develop options for striking Iran, the officials said. But it isn’t clear if the proposals were provided to the White House, whether Mr. Trump knew of the request or whether serious plans for a U.S. strike against Iran took shape at that time.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, here visiting the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad this month, joined forces with national security adviser John Bolton to develop a more aggressive policy aimed at weakening the government in Tehran.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, here visiting the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad this month, joined forces with national security adviser John Bolton to develop a more aggressive policy aimed at weakening the government in Tehran. Photo: ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS, PRESS POOL

Garrett Marquis, an NSC spokesman, said the body “coordinates policy and provides the president with options to anticipate and respond to a variety of threats.”

“We continue to review the status of our personnel following attempted attacks on our embassy in Baghdad and our Basra consulate, and we will consider a full range of options to preserve their safety and our interests,” he said.

Mr. Bolton’s request reflects the administration’s more confrontational approach toward Tehran, one he has pushed since taking up the post last April.

As national security adviser, Mr. Bolton is charged with providing a range of diplomatic, military and economic advice to the president.

Former U.S. officials said it was unnerving that the NSC asked for far-reaching military options to strike Iran in response to attacks that caused little damage and no injuries.

Mira Ricardel, who was ousted as Mr. Bolton’s deputy in November, described the attacks in Iraq as ‘an act of war.’

Mira Ricardel, who was ousted as Mr. Bolton’s deputy in November, described the attacks in Iraq as ‘an act of war.’ Photo: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg News

Last year, then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis argued against strikes that might hit Russian and Iranian forces when Mr. Trump and his national security team were looking at ways to punish President Bashar al-Assad of Syria for a chemical-weapons attack, people familiar with the debate said. Mr. Mattis, who resigned in December amid a dispute with Mr. Trump over the president’s national security decisions, pushed for a more modest response that Mr. Trump eventually embraced.

In talks with other administration officials, Mr. Bolton has made it clear he personally supports regime change in Iran, a position he championed before joining Mr. Trump’s administration, people familiar with the discussions said.

As a think-tank scholar and Fox News commentator, Mr. Bolton repeatedly urged the U.S. to attack Iran, including in a 2015 New York Times op-ed titled, “To stop Iran’s bomb, bomb Iran.”

After taking the White House post, Mr. Bolton joined forces with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to develop a more aggressive policy aimed at weakening the government in Tehran. Mr. Bolton has said his job is to implement the president’s agenda, which doesn’t include regime change in Tehran. The State Department declined to comment.

Mr. Bolton worked last year to quickly pull the U.S. out of former President Obama’s nuclear-containment deal with the country and to tighten economic sanctions on Tehran, moves eagerly sought by Mr. Trump. In a September speech, Mr. Bolton warned Tehran that there would be “hell to pay” if Iran threatened the U.S. or its allies.

Mr. Bolton and his deputy at the time, Mira Ricardel, were pressing for new ways to confront Iran militarily.

The Sept. 6 mortar attack in Baghdad generated little news coverage. The city’s Green Zone has been a frequent target for insurgents since the U.S. invasion in 2003. A Shiite militia group aligned with Iran eventually claimed responsibility for the attack.

Two days later, amid anti-Iranian protests in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, unknown militants fired three rockets that hit relatively close to the U.S. consulate, but caused no serious damage.

No one claimed responsibility for the second attack, but White House officials decided they needed to send a clear message to Iran.

Alongside the requests in regards to Iran, the NSC asked the Pentagon to provide the White House with options to respond with strikes in Iraq and Syria as well, people familiar with the talks said.

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Report: Americans Are Now More Likely To Die Of An Opioid Overdose Than On The Road – Ian Stewart January 14, 2019 12:01 AM ET


Used syringes are discarded at a needle exchange clinic in Vermont in 2014. Americans’ odds of dying from an opioid overdose have risen in recent years.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

For the first time in U.S. history, a leading cause of deaths, vehicle crashes, has been surpassed in likelihood by opioid overdoses, according to a new report on preventable deaths from the National Safety Council.

Americans now have a 1 in 96 chance of dying from an opioid overdose, according to the council’s analysis of 2017 data on accidental death. The probability of dying in a motor vehicle crash is 1 in 103.

“The nation’s opioid crisis is fueling the Council’s grim probabilities, and that crisis is worsening with an influx of illicit fentanyl,” the council said in a statement released Monday.

Fentanyl is now the drug most often responsible for drug overdose deaths, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in December. And that may only be a partial view of the problem: Opioid-related overdoses have also beenunder-counted by as much as 35 percent, according to a study published last year in the journal Addiction.

The council has recommended tackling the epidemic by increasing pain management training for opioid prescribers, making the potentially-lifesaving drug naloxone more widely available and expanding access to addiction treatment.

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HOW MISDEMEANORS TURN INNOCENT PEOPLE INTO CRIMINALS – Jordan Smith January 13 2019, 6:30 a.m.


Image: EyeEm/Getty Images

GAIL ATWATER AND her two young children were driving home from soccer practice in March 1997 when they realized that a rubber bat that was usually affixed to the window of their pickup truck was missing. It was a favorite toy of Atwater’s 3-year-old, Mac, so the trio turned around, retracing their route to see if they could find it.

Atwater slowed to a speed of roughly 15 miles per hour as she cruised through Lago Vista, the lakeside bedroom community just northwest of Austin, Texas. And although state law required passengers in the front seat of a truck to wear a seatbelt, Atwater told her kids they could unbuckle themselves so they could look outside for the toy. There was no one else on the road, and she was driving very slowly.

Then, she saw the police car. She knew she was likely to be pulled over, which she found reasonable, she later told the New York Times. Under state law, driving without a seatbelt was punishable by ticket and carried a $50 fine.

But when Lago Vista police officer Barton Turek got to her driver side window, he jabbed his finger at her and began yelling. She asked him to lower his voice because he was scaring her children. He told her that she was going to jail.

He cuffed her and put her in the back of his squad car. (A neighbor who had heard about the disturbance out on the street came and took the children home before Atwater was carted off.) Atwater was booked into jail and then later released on $310 bond. She ultimately pleaded no contest to the seatbelt violation and was fined $50. And she paid an additional $110 to get back her truck, which had been towed.

Atwater was incensed by the arrest. Under state law, the seatbelt violation was a fine-only misdemeanor offense, meaning it was not punishable by jail time. Yet she’d been taken to jail for the violation. Atwater sued the city, claiming Turek had violated her constitutional protection against unlawful seizure. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and in 2001, Atwater lost.

The ruling was astonishing to many, in part because it demonstrated a serious misunderstanding of the nation’s misdemeanor criminal justice system. Justice David Souter wrote that, during oral argument, Atwater’s attorney was asked whether he had any other examples of “comparably foolish, warrantless misdemeanor arrests,” and that he offered “only one.” Souter wrote that while there were certainly additional examples out there, “just as surely the country is not confronting anything like an epidemic of unnecessary minor-offense arrests.”

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DNA discoverer James Watson stripped of honors over views on race – Erin Durkin First published on Sun 13 Jan 2019 15.13 EST


New York laboratory cuts ties with 90-year-old scientist who helped discover DNA, revoking all titles and honors

A New York laboratory has cut ties with James Watson, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who helped discover DNA, over “reprehensible” comments in which he said race and intelligence are connected.

The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory said it was revoking all titles and honors from Watson, 90, who led the lab for many years.

The lab “unequivocally rejects the unsubstantiated and reckless personal opinions Dr James D Watson expressed on the subject of ethnicity and genetics”, its president, Bruce Stillman, and chair of the board of trustees Marilyn Simons said in a statement.

“Dr Watson’s statements are reprehensible, unsupported by science, and in no way represent the views of CSHL, its trustees, faculty, staff, or students. The laboratory condemns the misuse of science to justify prejudice.”

With Francis Crick and Rosalind Franklin, the scientist was one of the researchers who discovered the double helix strucure of DNA in 1953.

In 2007, the lab removed him as chancellor after he told the Sunday Times he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours, whereas all the testing says, not really”.

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He also said that while he wished the races were equal, “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true.”

Watson apologized at the time but in a recent documentary he said his views have not changed.

“Not at all,” he said in the PBS documentary American Masters: Decoding Watson, the New York Times reported.

“I would like for them to have changed, that there be new knowledge that says that your nurture is much more important than nature. But I haven’t seen any knowledge. And there’s a difference on the average between blacks and whites on IQ tests. I would say the difference is, it’s genetic.”

The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory said it was revoking Watson’s honorary titles, which include chancellor emeritus, Oliver R Grace professor emeritus, and honorary trustee.

The latest comments “effectively reverse the written apology and retraction Dr Watson made in 2007”, the lab said, adding it appreciates his legacy of scientific discoveries and leadership of the institution but can no longer be associated with him.

“The statements he made in the documentary are completely and utterly incompatible with our mission, values, and policies, and require the severing of any remaining vestiges of his involvement,” Simons and Stillman said.

The Times reported that Watson’s family said he was unable to respond, having been in medical care since a car accident in October. The PBS interview was filmed last summer.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/13/james-watson-scientist-honors-stripped-reprehensible-race-comments