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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Prosecutors hoping to prove a top lawyer for Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign lied while trying to get the FBI to investigate a suspected secret link between Donald Trump's company and a Russian bank are having a hard time getting their own witnesses to confirm the claim.

The average American has their personal information shared in an online ad bidding war 747 times a day. For the average EU citizen, that number is 376 times a day. In one year, 178 trillion instances of the same bidding war happen online in the US and EU.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The Pentagon's Office of Inspector General has found that the brother of Retired Army Col. Alexander Vindman, a key witness in former President Trump's first impeachment trial, likely faced retaliation from the then-president's officials. read more

Proposed consent decree with FDA will require Abbott to take corrective actions.

The U.S. Department of Justice asked the House of Representatives committee investigating last year's attack on the U.S. Capitol to turn over some transcripts from interviews conducted as part of its probe, the panel's chairman said on Tuesday. read more



Researchers find Amazon uses Alexa voice data to target you with ads

...A report released last week contends that Amazon uses voice data from its Echo devices to serve targeted ads on its own platforms and the web. The report, produced by researchers affiliated with the University of Washington, UC Davis, UC Irvine, and Northeastern University, said the ways Amazon does this is inconsistent with its privacy policies.

Titled, "Your Echos are Heard: Tracking, Profiling, and Ad Targeting in the Amazon Smart Speaker Ecosystem," the report concludes that Amazon and third parties (including advertising and tracking services) collect data from your interactions with Alexa through Echo smart speakers and share it with as many as 41 advertising partners. That data is then used to "infer user interests" and "serve targeted ads on-platform (Echo devices) as well as off-platform (web)." It also concludes that this type of data is in hot demand, leading to "30X higher ad bids from advertisers."

Amazon confirmed to The Verge that it does use voice data from Alexa interactions to inform relevant ads shown on Amazon or other sites where Amazon places ads. "Similar to what you'd experience if you made a purchase on Amazon.com or requested a song through Amazon Music, if you ask Alexa to order paper towels or to play a song on Amazon Music, the record of that purchase or song play may inform relevant ads shown on Amazon or other sites where Amazon places ads." Amazon spokesperson Lauren Raemhild said in an email.

The company also confirmed there are targeted ads on its smart speakers. "Customers may receive interest-based ads when they use ad-supported premium content -- like music, radio or news streams," said Raemhild, pointing out that this is the same experience if they engaged with that content on other channels.

She went on to say that Amazon does not share voice recordings with developers. "Developers get the information necessary to fulfill your requests within their skills, such as answers when you play a trivia skill, or the name of the song you want to play," she said. "We do not share our customers' personal information to third-party skills without the customer's consent." Amazon allows Alexa users to opt out of ad targeting as well (see sidebar)....

More from the article...

...That's according to data shared by the Irish Council on Civil Liberties in a report detailing the extent of real-time bidding (RTB), the technology that drives almost all online advertising and which it said relies on sharing of personal information without user consent.

The RTB industry was worth more than $117 billion last year, the ICCL report said. As with all things in its study, those numbers only apply to the US and Europe, which means the actual value of the market is likely much higher.

Real-time bidding involves the sharing of information about internet users, and it happens whenever a user lands on a website that serves ads. Information shared with advertisers can include nearly anything that would help them better target ads, and those advertisers bid on the ad space based on the information the ad network provides.

That data can be practically anything based on the Interactive Advertising Bureau's (IAB) audience taxonomy. The basics, of course, like age, sex, location, income and the like are included, but it doesn't stop there. All sorts of websites fingerprint their visitors - even charities treating mental health conditions - and those fingerprints can later be used to target ads on unrelated websites.

Google owns the largest ad network that was included in the ICCL's report, and it alone offers RTB data to 4,698 companies in just the US. Other large advertising networks include Xandr, owned by Microsoft since late 2021, Verizon, PubMatic and more. ...

House Jan. 6 committee so far refuses to provide DOJ with witness transcripts

...The U.S. House committee investigating the violent January 6 capitol insurrection is for now refusing to turn over witness deposition transcripts to the Department of Justice.

January 6 Select Committee Chair Bennie Thompson has not agreed to the request.

The New York Times first reported the DOJ request Tuesday.

The written request came from Kenneth A. Polite, Jr., assistant attorney general for the criminal division, and Matthew M. Graves, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, to Timothy J. Heaphy, lead investigator for the Select Committee.

Rep. Thompson told reporters the transcripts are the work product of the committee and the committee is conducting its own investigation. Thompson said the committee can't give the DOJ full access to "our product."...

Timeline shows Putin's alleged health problems as Ukraine claims he is concealing a serious illness

...Putin has for decades cultivated an image of virile masculinity at peak fitness " but an investigation by independent Russian media outlet Proekt alleged that this was only possible with significant deception. ...

Putin was visited by a cancer surgeon dozens of times in 4 years and takes rejuvenating baths in deer antler blood, says Russian investigative news outlet (April 2, 2022)

@#2 ... Maybe, just maybe the DOJ actually knows what they're doing after all....

That's always a possibility. Though front-row seat is not as important in my view as arranging a meeting between January 6 ~participants, commanders and planners~ and the rule of law.

There's also this OpEd...

OpEd: Merrick Garland Is Right to Resist Calls to Indict Trump

...Some of the same people who once considered Merrick Garland a martyr to Republican villainy now consider him a disappointment, or worse, as attorney general. What they want him to do, most of all: Indict former president Donald Trump. Garland should keep disappointing them.

University of Michigan law professor Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney, has made the most thorough case for indictments. Trump pressured Vice President Mike Pence to block congressional certification of Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 presidential race. Trump engaged in this pressure campaign even though many people -- including federal judges, state officials and his own advisers -- had indicated that he lost the election, the widescale fraud he kept invoking had not occurred, and the Constitution now demanded that Biden take office.

This course of behavior, McQuade argues, broke two laws. It was a corrupt attempt to obstruct or impede an official proceeding, and it was a conspiracy to defraud the U.S.

McQuade acknowledges that "charging Trump criminally could have profoundly negative consequences for our country," including "violent protests and civil unrest." But she concludes it would be worse to let him skate. Applauding her analysis, Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin said that if Garland does not act on it, he should resign or be fired....

Trump's behavior was shameful and impeachable. It is a pity that the country did not form a consensus against it strongly enough to sustain a congressional vote to disqualify him from future office.

Whether he should be indicted for it is a different question. There are three reasons to refrain....

NYC elevates to 'high' COVID-19 alert level, indoor masks urged

...New York City entered the "high" COVID-19 alert level Tuesday, and health officials are strongly recommending wearing masks in public indoor settings.

Health officials say there is high community spread, and pressure on the health care system is increasing....

Here in CT the positivity testing ate is running around 13.4% (and that percentage does not include home testing positive results). Fortunately, the hospitalizations, while increasing, are not as bad as prior variants. Hospitalizations are running about 3.5 times what they were a month or two ago, around 350.

Not surprising that Mr Musk seems to be looking for an out to get out of this deal.

The talking heads on BloombergTV have been saying for over a week that it has been looking like Mr Musk wants to walk away from the deal.

OpEd: Elon Musk Does Not Care About Spam Bots

...I think it is important to be clear here that Musk is lying. The spam bots are not why he is backing away from the deal, as you can tell from the fact that the spam bots are why he did the deal. He has produced no evidence at all that Twitter's estimates are wrong, and certainly not that they are materially wrong or made in bad faith. (Musk can only get out of the deal if Twitter's filings are wrong in a way that would cause a "material adverse effect" on Twitter, which is vanishingly unlikely.)

His own supposed methodology for counting spam bots is laughable. Yesterday Twitter's chief executive officer, Parag Agrawal, tweeted a thread explaining in general terms how Twitter estimates that fake accounts represent fewer than 5% of its count of active users, and how this analysis can't be easily replicated by outsiders (because they don't know which accounts are real, and also because they don't know which accounts Twitter counts as daily active users). It seems clear that Agrawal's thoughtful answer is basically correct. Musk responded with a poop emoji....

- and -

Elon Musk Has a Bigger Problem Than Twitter Bots: A Huge Debt Burden

...Elon Musk may be directing his buyer's remorse at Twitter Inc.'s bot problem. But underpinning the deal is a $13 billion debt bill that's looking like a bigger burden by the day.

The package, drummed up in a rush and signed by banks before the end of the billionaire's beloved April 20 weed holiday, will leave the social media platform with an annual interest expense approaching $1 billion, giving the company an alarmingly small margin for error.

To sober-minded credit analysts, second thoughts about the deal are to be expected.

The purchase will be funded with a leveraged loan and high-yield bonds. CreditSights estimates this will dramatically increase Twitter's annual interest expense to around $900 million, while Bloomberg Intelligence sees $750 million to $1 billion.

With numbers like those, Twitter looks poised to burn cash, boosting the pressure on Musk to transform the company by finding new sources of revenue and slashing costs. That's even the case with Wall Street analysts estimating record earnings in 2022, though those rosy forecasts could be imperiled if predictions for a US recession -- Musk said Monday one is already under way -- come true....

Tangentially related...

US assault ship on way to Stockholm to ensure security and stability'

...American warship USS Kearsarge is en route to Stockholm to "work with Allies and partners in ensuring security & stability in the region", according to the US Navy.

The 257 metre long warship is on its way to Stockholm, although authorities are concerned that it's too big for the harbour, DN reports....

The vessel will participate in the Baltops Nato exercise in the beginning of June. Sweden will also be participating. The exercise will take place between June 5th-June 16th in the Baltic Sea, as well as in coastal areas of Sweden, Germany, Poland and the Baltic states. A number of foreign vessels are already in the Baltic Sea to take part in a Nato exercise in Estonia....

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