Amazon Alexa-Powered Device Recorded and Shared User’s Conversation Without Permission – Laura StevensMay 24, 2018 7:07 p.m. ET

Amazon said the incident involved a series of misunderstandings, with words being confused for commands

The company confirmed that one of its devices mistakenly recorded and shared a user’s conversation.

The company confirmed that one of its devices mistakenly recorded and shared a user’s conversation. Photo: Elaine Thompson/Associated Press


Laura Stevens Inc. AMZN 0.08% said that one of its Echo home speakers mistakenly recorded a private conversation and sent it to a person in the owners’ contact list, an incident that raises questions about the security of such voice-operated devices.

Confirming a report by a local television station in Seattle, Amazon on Thursday said that the Echo device misunderstood pieces of a conversation as commands, causing it to think it was being instructed to send the message.

“As unlikely as this string of events is, we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely,” a spokeswoman added in a statement.

The incident was first reported by KIRO 7, which aired an interview with a Portland, Ore., user identified only as Danielle. The user said that one of her husband’s employees had received a recording sent from inside her house. The couple verified it was real and determined that it originated with one of their Echo devices.

Attempts to reach the woman for comment weren’t immediately successful.

The Echo and other devices from Amazon powered by its artificial-intelligence bot Alexa have sold quickly since hitting the market in 2014, and have been followed by similar gadgets including Alphabet Inc.’s Google Home and AppleInc.’s HomePod. Proponents envision them eventually helping to handle a wide array of personal tasks, from operating smart-home devices to paying for gas from consumers’ cars. Amazon last year enabled the Echo to be used for calling and messaging, too.

The growing popularity of such devices in homes and vehicles has triggered new privacy concerns from some consumers and analysts who fear the combination of internet-connected microphones and AI-powered automation could lead to mishaps or intentional misuse.

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EXACTLY FIVE YEARS ago this week, Edward Snowden absconded to Hong Kong with a trove of documents detailing the extent of the U.S. government’s global and domestic surveillance programs. He soon found himself in exile in Russia and dubbed “the most wanted man in the world.” The Snowden leaks started a new conversation about digital privacy and online security, and even led to changes in the law. But more recently we’ve discovered it isn’t just big government that poses a massive threat to our privacy, but also big tech. Facebook, for example, exposed data on up to 87 million Facebook users to a researcher who worked at Cambridge Analytica, a political consultancy employed by the Trump campaign. The issues of surveillance and privacy and mass data collection not just by the government but by big tech firms like Facebook, are still as live and and as contentious as ever. On this week’s episode of Deconstructed, Edward Snowden joins Mehdi Hasan from Moscow to discuss surveillance, tools that can help protect people’s privacy, and the likelihood of a Trump-Putin deal to extradite him.

A century on, why are we forgetting the deaths of 100 million? | Martin Kettle Fri 25 May 2018 06.00 BST

The 1918 Spanish flu outbreak killed more people than both world wars. Don’t imagine such a thing could never happen again

Flu victims in an American emergency hospital near Fort Riley, Kansas, 1918.’
Flu victims in an American emergency hospital near Fort Riley, Kansas, in 1918. Photograph: AP Photo/National Museum of Health

This year marks a century since some women got the vote; a century since the end of the first world war; 50 years since the 1968 revolts; 70 since the founding of Israel and the NHS. All have been well marked. So it is striking that the centenary of one of the most devastating events in human history has been allowed to pass thus far with almost no public reflection of any kind.

This year is the 100th anniversary of the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. Estimates about its impact vary. But when you read that a third of the entire global population probably caught the Spanish flu and that it killed between 50 and 100 million people in all corners of the globe – up to 5% of all human beings on the planet at the time – you get an inkling of its scale.

By the time the pandemic finally ended, it had killed around 25 times more people than any other flu outbreak in history. It killed possibly more people than the first and second world wars put together. As Laura Spinney puts it in her new book, Pale Rider – the best modern account of the Spanish flu crisis – “the flu resculpted human populations more radically than anything since the Black Death”. Think about that. Not the western front, not Hitler’s invasion of Russia, not Hiroshima. But the flu.

In the face of such figures, it seems unbelievable that we forget or look away. Yet we do. Perhaps that is because, unlike equality for women, a disease has no ultimate prize to win and celebrate. Perhaps it is because, while wars have victors, pandemics leave only the vanquished, as Spinney puts it. Perhaps too, as the critic Walter Benjamin once argued, silences about public horrors can permit human societies to cope with collective recovery and to progress. Or perhaps, as Spinney also reflects, the Spanish flu has been consigned to the footnotes because its onslaught did not occur in public but in private, behind closed doors in millions of homes.

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POTUS’ Immigration Crackdown Is a Boom Time for Private Prisons – Madison PaulyMay/June 2018 Issue

Give me your tired, your poor, your per diem…

Hardline immigration policies put in place by President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have inspired more than just fear and panic in immigrant communities—they’ve also inspired investors in private prisons. In the week following the 2016 election, stock prices for the country’s two biggest prison companies rose by around a third, largely on the promise that the new administration would reverse the Obama administration’s move away from doing business with prison companies.

A year and half later, with the administration’s immigration crackdown in full swing, Immigration and Customs Enforcement is forecasting that next year will bring a 23 percent increase over the already historic number of people it locked up daily in 2017. That’s good news for companies like CoreCivic and the GEO Group, which take in millions of dollars from ICE to detain people awaiting immigration or asylum hearings. And they’re already planning to expand, with proposals for new private detention centers from Minnesota to Texas.

The growth of immigration detention

Between 2002, when the Department of Homeland Security was created, and 2017, the total number of immigrants arrested by ICE and apprehended by the Border Patrol fell by more than half, correlating with lower levels of illegal immigration. Yet the average daily population of US detention centers nearlydoubled.

Who’s detained?

More than 300,000 people are put into immigration detention annually. Nearly three-fourths of those held each day are kept in privately run facilities, according to an ICE facility list obtained by the nonprofit Detention Watch Network. (Just 9 percent of state and federal prisoners are held in for-profit facilities.)

People in ICE detention are largely from Mexico, Central America, India, and China. They include adults and children, and they’re held for up to two monthson average. Some are detained for years, with no right to an attorney.

According to an internal ICE report from July 2016, fewer than half of the people booked into immigration detention that year had been convicted of a crime.

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GOP nearing end game on immigration votes – BY MIKE LILLIS AND SCOTT WONG – 05/25/18 06:00 AM EDT

© Greg Nash

House Republicans left Washington for their 11-day Memorial Day recess without solving the vexing immigration issue that is dividing them just months before the midterm elections.

Yet the effort by GOP centrists to force immigration votes gained steam before Thursday’s exit, suggesting Republican leaders may soon be forced to address legislation protecting the so-called Dreamers, perhaps as early as next month.

Two more Republicans and six Democrats signed their name Thursday to a discharge petition, leaving supporters just five signatures short of being able to bypass Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and force a series of votes to protect hundreds of thousands of young, undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S.

That leaves Ryan and GOP leaders with a narrow window to negotiate an agreement between the party’s warring conservative and centrist factions over legislation to salvage the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which President Trump wants to dismantle.

But the leading proponents of the petition say they have the support locked down to reach the magic number of 218, even if the final signatures have not yet materialized. Heading into the recess Thursday morning, some centrist Republicans indicated they might endorse the petition when Congress returns if GOP leaders are unable to secure a separate DACA deal by June 7.

Leadership has scheduled a two-hour, all-conference immigration meeting for that very day.

“Everybody’s negotiating still,” said Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), a senior deputy whip. “So we’re giving them 10 days to see what happens. At least I am.”

Ross said he might sign the petition when Congress returns to Washington in June, but added, “I’m not there yet.”

Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) was not as patient. The co-chairman of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, Reed endorsed the petition on the House floor during Thursday’s votes. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) added his name a short time later, bringing the number of Republican signatures up to 23.

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Why Your Inbox Is Crammed Full of Privacy Policies – NITASHA TIKU BUSINESS 05.24.1807:00 AM

Rosie Harriet Ellis/Getty Images

May 25 marks the dawn of a new age in consumer privacy. Yet it wasn’t supposed to look like the Promotions tab in Gmail—full of messages that may or may not be useful, none of which you want to click on, all with fine print that makes the information less engaging.

For months, companies have been bombarding inboxes with privacy updates, nominally to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation, a supercharged set of privacy laws in the European Union, which go into effect on Friday. Under GDPR, companies are required to have a legal basis for collecting personal data, such as the user’s consent, or face serious fines. The law applies to companies processing data of people in the EU, which means most major American companies are also affected.

As the deadline approaches, the deluge has only intensified. That’s prompted GDPR critics to point to “consent fatigue” over the notices as a sign that the regulation is burdensome, and that consumers don’t care about privacy anyway. They question whether the new policies offer users any additional protection.

But EU regulators, lawyers, and privacy advocates insist it didn’t have to be this way. GDPR was supposed to inform consumers about the personal data being collected about them, and for what purpose. The idea was to incentivize companies to minimize the amount of data they hoovered up. Consent had to be informed, unambiguous, and freely given. If people were put off by clear explanation of how their personal information was being used, then the behavior would stop.

Instead, many of the law’s defenders say companies are using these emails as a way to avoid the underlying principles of clear disclosure. In some cases, their requests for consent are unnecessary, spamming you when they already had a legitimate reason to have your info; in other cases, organizations are using GDPR to mask the fact that they never had any right to your data in the first place. Then there are the emails that seem to openly flout the law—either threatening to shut down an account unless you agree to new privacy terms, or saying they’ll interpret your silence as consent.

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