With fitness trackers in the workplace, bosses can monitor your every step — and possibly more

With fitness trackers in the workplace, bosses can monitor your every step — and possibly more
By Christopher Rowland
Feb 16 2019

It’s led by Wayne Gono, and his wife, Patsy, whose father founded the business in 1970. Patsy is the company’s president. Wayne has taken the title of visionary/chief networking officer and has passed the title of chief executive to the couple’s son, Chad, 36, the third generation to take the reins. The company never gave any thought to the fitness of its employees, Wayne Gono said, until a few years ago, when it offered its workers a chance to join a UnitedHealth program that distributed basic Trio wrist devices that measure steps.

Enrollees in the program, called UnitedHealthcare Motion, get up to $1,000 a year if they hit certain goals, such as 10,000 steps in a day, 3,000 of those steps within 30 minutes, and 500 steps at intervals throughout the day. The money reimburses health-plan enrollees for prescription co-pays and other payments under their deductibles.

Gono said he has not seen evidence the program is saving the business money on premiums. But he says it stands to reason that healthier employees will be better for the bottom line — eventually. Regal Plastics employees who wear the devices (many don’t, especially younger people who don’t have many medical expenses) said they like them.

Gono’s UnitedHealth app reveals a list of the top performers. Ronald “Hot Rod’’ Wilborn, 47, has an advantage over many of his colleagues and consistently ranks near the top. His job, using precision machines to turn sheet plastic into useful things, requires him to walk multiple round trips from the shop to the warehouse. On a recent day, one round trip clocked at 386 steps. He frequently amasses more than 20,000 steps a day. He gets a small check every quarter from UnitedHealth.

“The more I walk, the more I get,’’ Wilborn said.

Another employee whom Gono said he personally challenged to lose weight, Eddie Watson, 46, works in the Irving office as a sales representative. He has lost 40 pounds but has hit a plateau and is looking for ways to lose 20 more. He has a 6-year-old daughter and takes her to the park near his house to accumulate steps, he said.

During an interview in the Regal break room, Watson munched from a plate of guacamole and greens. Exercise surveillance is just part of a broader culture shift at Regal aimed at employee well-being, including introduction of standing desks, music during working hours, and graphics at work stations that show each person’s working style and preferences.

As part of the changing culture, Regal’s leaders encouraged employees to “clean up your life, too,’’ Watson said. “That kind of planted the seeds.’’

Now, Watson said he examines every aspect of his diet through a prism of personal health, for example: “I can’t drink this soda, because there’s no place for it in my body.’’ Without encouragement from his employer, he added, none of this would have happened.

One of the few millennials with a step-tracker on his wrist at Regal was Travis Lee, a thin, 29-year-old purchasing agent. He has few medical expenses, so he doesn’t even earn money from UnitedHealth for hitting step goals. But on Black Friday last year, he upgraded to a Fitbit Charge 2 because he likes monitoring his steps, sleep and heart rate. He synced it to his UnitedHealth account so he still shows up on Gono’s app.

He doesn’t worry too much about where his data goes, or how it is used.
“It’s part of the generation. We’re used to it,’’ Lee said. “We kind of know we’re giving something up to use it.’’


How Ring & Rekognition Set the Stage for Consumer Generated Mass Surveillance

[Note:  This item comes from friend Steve Schear.  DLH]

How Ring & Rekognition Set the Stage for Consumer Generated Mass Surveillance
By Jevan Hutson
Jan 28 2019

If every home on a street, in a neighborhood, or in a town had a Ring surveillance system, the individual cameras, taken together, could construct an extremely intimate picture of daily public life. By integrating facial recognition and contractingwith local and federal law enforcement agencies, Amazon supercharges the potential for its massive network of surveillant consumers to comprehensively track the movements of individuals over time, even when the individual has not broken any law. Fully realized, these technologies set the stage for consumer generated mass surveillance.

Amazon’s Ring surveillance system dominates the growing video doorbell market. Ring, acquired by Amazon last April, is a system of home surveillance doorbell cameras which operate on an integrated social media platform, Neighbors. Neighbors allows users to share camera footage with other users and law enforcement agencies, as well as report safety issues, strangers, or suspicious activities. The platform aggregates user-generated reports and video data into a local activity maps and watchlists. Similar community platforms where neighbors can report suspicious persons or activity, such as NextDoor, are notorious for racial biasand profiling. This problem will surely be made worse by Amazon’s desire to automatically classify persons as “suspicious” through sentiment analysis and other biometric data collection.

A recent patent application shows that Amazon will integrate their facial recognition product Rekognition into the Ring system, while also collecting and analyzing a litany of other biometric information. Many raise serious concerns about the integration of facial recognition to our contemporary digital ecosystem. Indeed, a unique consensus among researchers, lawmakers, advocates, and technology companies that facial recognition technology amplifies bias, intensifies mass surveillance and ought be subject to stringent regulation. [For more WJLTA coverage on algorithmic bias, see here.]

A centralized social network of private facial recognition cameras expands and streamlines traditional surveillance infrastructure by creating more data that is easily searchable. Hundreds of thousands of home security cameras will certainly generate massive amounts of data, but the integration of a social networking platform and facial recognition analytics cuts though the problem of irrelevant data. The Neighbors platform allows users and Amazon to identify and aggregate relevant data, while Rekognition can sift through both stored data and live visual feeds to locate and track individuals and groups.

This dystopic infrastructure is not only physical, it is cultural. Consumer surveillance technologies entrench surveillance as an essential duty of citizenship. Beyond offloading the costs and pressures of physical infrastructure from the state to consumers—creating new avenues for surveillance and data collection with less restrictions—these technologies inculcate surveillance as a social and communal obligation and engender public support and acceptance of ever more pervasive and invasive surveillance.

By reorienting the surveillance relationship between individual and the state to the individual versus the individual, the Ring system fragments accountability and deprives the individual of the ability to challenge or escape data collection. It becomes harder to challenge a larger, consolidated surveillance apparatus because it is built consensually by private parties. Our neighbors have the right to watch and protect their private property, despite the objections of others. A diffused network of cameras reduces freedom of choice in how individuals protect their privacy because they are up against an architecture of fragmented private parties, rather than just the state.


The Evolution of Darknets

The Evolution of Darknets
By Bruce Schneier
Jan 23 2019

This is interesting https://opaque.link/post/dropgang/:

To prevent the problems of customer binding, and losing business when darknet markets go down, merchants have begun to leave the specialized and centralized platforms and instead ventured to use widely accessible technology to build their own communications and operational back-ends.

Instead of using websites on the darknet, merchants are now operating invite-only channels on widely available mobile messaging systems like Telegram. This allows the merchant to control the reach of their communication better and be less vulnerable to system take-downs. To further stabilize the connection between merchant and customer, repeat customers are given unique messaging contacts that are independent of shared channels and thus even less likely to be found and taken down. Channels are often operated by automated bots that allow customers to inquire about offers and initiate the purchase, often even allowing a fully bot-driven experience without human intervention on the merchant’s side.


The other major change is the use of “dead drops” instead of the postal system which has proven vulnerable to tracking and interception. Now, goods are hidden in publicly accessible places like parks and the location is given to the customer on purchase. The customer then goes to the location and picks up the goods. This means that delivery becomes asynchronous for the merchant, he can hide a lot of product in different locations for future, not yet known, purchases. For the client the time to delivery is significantly shorter than waiting for a letter or parcel shipped by traditional means – he has the product in his hands in a matter of hours instead of days. Furthermore this method does not require for the customer to give any personally identifiable information to the merchant, which in turn doesn’t have to safeguard it anymore. Less data means less risk for everyone.

The use of dead drops also significantly reduces the risk of the merchant to be discovered by tracking within the postal system. He does not have to visit any easily to surveil post office or letter box, instead the whole public space becomes his hiding territory.

Cryptocurrencies are still the main means of payment, but due to the higher customer-binding, and vetting process by the merchant, escrows are seldom employed. Usually only multi-party transactions between customer and merchant are established, and often not even that.


Other than allowing much more secure and efficient business for both sides of the transaction, this has also lead to changes in the organizational structure of merchants:

Instead of the flat hierarchies witnessed with darknet markets, merchants today employ hierarchical structures again. These consist of procurement layer, sales layer, and distribution layer. The people constituting each layer usually do not know the identity of the higher layers nor are ever in personal contact with them. All interaction is digital — messaging systems and cryptocurrencies again, product moves only through dead drops.

The procurement layer purchases product wholesale and smuggles it into the region. It is then sold for cryptocurrency to select people that operate the sales layer. After that transaction the risks of both procurement and sales layer are isolated.

The sales layer divides the product into smaller units and gives the location of those dead drops to the distribution layer. The distribution layer then divides the product again and places typical sales quantities into new dead drops. The location of these dead drops is communicated to the sales layer which then sells these locations to the customers through messaging systems.

To prevent theft by the distribution layer, the sales layer randomly tests dead drops by tasking different members of the distribution layer with picking up product from a dead drop and hiding it somewhere else, after verification of the contents. Usually each unit of product is tagged with a piece of paper containing a unique secret word which is used to prove to the sales layer that a dead drop was found. Members of the distribution layer have to post security – in the form of cryptocurrency – to the sales layer, and they lose part of that security with every dead drop that fails the testing, and with every dead drop they failed to test. So far, no reports of using violence to ensure performance of members of these structures has become known.

This concept of using messaging, cryptocurrency and dead drops even within the merchant structure allows for the members within each layer being completely isolated from each other, and not knowing anything about higher layers at all. There is no trace to follow if a distribution layer member is captured while servicing a dead drop. He will often not even be distinguishable from a regular customer. This makes these structures extremely secure against infiltration, takeover and capture. They are inherently resilient.


It is because of the use of dead drops and hierarchical structures that we call this kind of organization a Dropgang.

Great Firewall fears as Russia plans to cut itself off from internet

Great Firewall fears as Russia plans to cut itself off from internet
Moscow says temporary disconnection is a test of its cyberdefence capabilities
By Alex Hern in London and Marc Bennetts in Moscow
Feb 12 2019

Russia is planning to temporarily disconnect from the internet as part of what it says is an experiment to test its cyberdefence capabilities.

According to a report on the Russian news site RBC, the planned disconnection is intended to analyse the country’s preparedness for a draft law mandating a “sovereign” internet. 

Under the draft law, all internal internet traffic would be carried within the country’s own networks. Any traffic that leaves Russia would be forced to go thorough registered exchange points, subject to regulation by the state communications regulator Roskomnadzor.

Ostensibly the goal of the legislation is to protect the Russian internet from the US, which has an offensive cybersecurity strategy and lists Russia as one of the major sources of hacking attacks.

However, many observers think the creation of a Russian intranet is a further step towards a goal of duplicating the Great Firewall of China to restrict the access of the country’s internet users to content deemed harmful by the authorities.

Russia has already moved to block webpages run by opposition figures such as Alexei Navalny, a prominent Kremlin critic. Agora, a Russian human rights group, said in a report this month that Russian internet freedoms had fallen fivefold in the past 12 months.

In the short term the planned disconnection is largely intended to assuage the fears of domestic internet service providers that the draft legislation could impose huge costs on them and harm the reliability of the Russian internet.

Natalya Kasperskaya, the president of the information security working group that has recommended the experiment, told RBC that the law “has good goals, but the mechanisms for its implementation raise many questions and disputes. Moreover, the methods of its implementation have not yet been precisely defined.”

Cost ranks high among the ISPs’ concerns. RBC cites an estimate of 134bn roubles (£1.5bn) to compensate telecom operators each year, plus another 25bn roubles to create the register of exchanges required by Roskomnadzor.

Even that may not work: the draft law requires Roskomodzor to be kept informed of the entire scheme of every ISP’s network and traffic routing in real time, something the operators argue is not possible.

Senior Russian officials have expressed increasing alarm that some form of disconnection may be forced upon them. German Klimenko, Vladimir Putin’s internet adviser, said last year that western countries could just “push a button” to disconnect Russia from the global internet. Putin has previously called the internet a “CIA project”.

Andrei Klishas, a senator and one of the authors of the draft bill, which was approved in its first reading in parliament on Tuesday, said the government had already earmarked 20bn roubles to cover the costs of ensuring Russia’s cybersecurity in the event of foreign aggression.

Some experts said they failed to see the logic behind the government’s drive to build a domestic internet capable of functioning in the event of a move by western countries to isolate it from the worldwide web.

“The disconnection of Russia from the global web would mean that we are already at war with everyone,” Filipp Kulin, a Russian internet expert, told the BBC’s Russian language service. “In this situation we should be thinking how to grow potatoes in a nuclear winter, and not about the internet.”

Some opposition figures were sceptical about the plan to temporarily disconnect from the global internet. Leonid Volkov, a Navalny aide and IT expert, said Russia had tried and failed to unplug from the internet in 2014.


Scientists Are Totally Rethinking Animal Cognition

Scientists Are Totally Rethinking Animal Cognition
What science can tell us about how other creatures experience the world
Mar 2019 Issue

Amid the human crush of Old Delhi, on the edge of a medieval bazaar, a red structure with cages on its roof rises three stories above the labyrinth of neon-lit stalls and narrow alleyways, its top floor emblazoned with two words: birds hospital.

On a hot day last spring, I removed my shoes at the hospital’s entrance and walked up to the second-floor lobby, where a clerk in his late 20s was processing patients. An older woman placed a shoebox before him and lifted off its lid, revealing a bloody white parakeet, the victim of a cat attack. The man in front of me in line held, in a small cage, a dove that had collided with a glass tower in the financial district. A girl no older than 7 came in behind me clutching, in her bare hands, a white hen with a slumped neck.

The hospital’s main ward is a narrow, 40-foot-long room with cages stacked four high along the walls and fans on the ceiling, their blades covered with grates, lest they ensnare a flapping wing. I strolled the room’s length, conducting a rough census. Many of the cages looked empty at first, but leaning closer, I’d find a bird, usually a pigeon, sitting back in the gloom.

The youngest of the hospital’s vets, Dheeraj Kumar Singh, was making his rounds in jeans and a surgical mask. The oldest vet here has worked the night shift for more than a quarter century, spending tens of thousands of hours removing tumors from birds, easing their pain with medication, administering antibiotics. Singh is a rookie by comparison, but you wouldn’t know it from the way he inspects a pigeon, flipping it over in his hands, quickly but gently, the way you might handle your cellphone. As we talked, he motioned to an assistant, who handed him a nylon bandage that he stretched twice around the pigeon’s wing, setting it with an unsentimental pop.

The bird hospital is one of several built by devotees of Jainism, an ancient religion whose highest commandment forbids violence not only against humans, but also against animals. A series of paintings in the hospital’s lobby illustrates the extremes to which some Jains take this prohibition. In them, a medieval king in blue robes gazes through a palace window at an approaching pigeon, its wing bloodied by the talons of a brown hawk still in pursuit. The king pulls the smaller bird into the palace, infuriating the hawk, which demands replacement for its lost meal, so he slices off his own arm and foot to feed it.
I’d come to the bird hospital, and to India, to see firsthand the Jains’ moral system at work in the world. Jains make up less than 1 percent of India’s population. Despite millennia spent criticizing the Hindu majority, the Jains have sometimes gained the ear of power. During the 13th century, they converted a Hindu king, and persuaded him to enact the subcontinent’s first animal-welfare laws. There is evidence that the Jains influenced the Buddha himself. And when Gandhi developed his most radical ideas about nonviolence, a Jain friend played philosophical muse.

In the state of Gujarat, where Gandhi grew up, I saw Jain monks walking barefoot in the cool morning hours to avoid car travel, an activity they regard as irredeemably violent, given the damage it inflicts on living organisms, from insects to larger animals. The monks refuse to eat root vegetables, lest their removal from the earth disturb delicate subterranean ecosystems. Their white robes are cotton, not silk, which would require the destruction of silkworms. During monsoon season, they forgo travel, to avoid splashing through puddles filled with microbes, whose existence Jains posited well before they appeared under Western microscopes.

Jains move through the world in this gentle way because they believe animals are conscious beings that experience, in varying degrees, emotions analogous to human desire, fear, pain, sorrow, and joy. This idea that animals are conscious was long unpopular in the West, but it has lately found favor among scientists who study animal cognition. And not just the obvious cases—primates, dogs, elephants, whales, and others. Scientists are now finding evidence of an inner life in alien-seeming creatures that evolved on ever-more-distant limbs of life’s tree. In recent years, it has become common to flip through a magazine like this one and read about an octopus using its tentacles to twist off a jar’s lid or squirt aquarium water into a postdoc’s face. For many scientists, the resonant mystery is no longer which animals are conscious, but which are not.

No aspect of our world is as mysterious as consciousness, the state of awareness that animates our every waking moment, the sense of being located in a body that exists within a larger world of color, sound, and touch, all of it filtered through our thoughts and imbued by emotion.

Even in a secular age, consciousness retains a mystical sheen. It is alternatively described as the last frontier of science, and as a kind of immaterial magic beyond science’s reckoning. David Chalmers, one of the world’s most respected philosophers on the subject, once told me that consciousness could be a fundamental feature of the universe, like space-time or energy. He said it might be tied to the diaphanous, indeterminate workings of the quantum world, or something nonphysical.

These metaphysical accounts are in play because scientists have yet to furnish a satisfactory explanation of consciousness. We know the body’s sensory systems beam information about the external world into our brain, where it’s processed, sequentially, by increasingly sophisticated neural layers. But we don’t know how those signals are integrated into a smooth, continuous world picture, a flow of moments experienced by a roving locus of attention—a “witness,” as Hindu philosophers call it.


Drake was the unlikely source for the Grammys’ biggest moment of truth

Drake was the unlikely source for the Grammys’ biggest moment of truth
By Chris Richards
Feb 11 2019

If you believe that music is the greatest thing that human beings ever came up with, then a night when everyone across this country listens to the same music should feel something like fun. Yet somehow, Grammy night remains cruel, or at least unusual — even when it’s as passable and semi-coherent as the one we just experienced. But as the dust settles, here’s one way to know that the Grammys are still pure madness: The most clarifying, truth-to-power moment of Sunday night’s telecast belonged to Drake.

Yeah, Drake, that sayer of only the sweetest nothings, the most obsequious superstar that rap may ever know, the guy who actually made a music video where he just goes around giving people free hugs and money. That video was for “God’s Plan,” and when this year’s Grammy electorate decided that it was worthy of being named best rap song at the 61st Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, Drake, who traditionally goes AWOL on Grammy night, surprised us all by showing up to grip his golden gramophone in person. Then, with his new trophy sparkling in his well-moisturized hands, he talked about its worthlessness.

“I wanna take this opportunity while I’m up here to just talk to all the kids that are watching this that are aspiring to do music, all my peers that make music from their heart, that do things pure and tell the truth,” he said. “I wanna let you know we’re playing an opinion-based sport, not a factual-based sport. So it’s not the NBA where at the end of the year you’re holding a trophy because you made the right decisions or won the games. This is a business where sometimes, you know, it’s up to a bunch of people that might not understand, you know, what a mixed-race kid from Canada has to say, or a fly Spanish girl from New York [pointing to Cardi B] . . . Or a brother from Houston right there, my brother Travis [pointing to Travis Scott].”

He continued, “Look, the point is, you’ve already won. If you have people who are singing your songs word for word, if you’re a hero in your hometown — look, look — if there’s people who have regular jobs, who are coming out in the rain, in the snow, spending their hard-earned money to buy tickets to come to your shows? You don’t need this right here. I promise you. You already won.”

He wasn’t finished speaking, but Grammy producers don’t like it when Grammy winners tell Grammy viewers that the Grammys themselves don’t matter — so someone in the CBS control room cut him off and rolled into a commercial break. (And let’s hope Drake was about to give a shout-out to 21 Savage, a Grammy nominee who was arrested and detained last week by ICE officials in Atlanta. Instead, the only person to mention 21’s name from the Grammy stage was Childish Gambino’s Swedish producer Ludwig Goransson, because, you know, this is America.)

Even if Drake hadn’t fully completed his point, he’d already landed a few important punches. First and foremost, he was rightfully ripping the Grammys for its abiding race problems — the fact that rap music has been the dominant music of our time for quite some time, but only one rap act has ever won album of the year (OutKast in 2004). On top of that, it has now been 11 years since a black artist won album of the year (Herbie Hancock in 2008).

But while he was demystifying the industry-blessed hardware, Drake was ultimately suggesting that true prestige is conferred on the community level — in New York, Houston, Canada and everywhere else. If you were already a “hero in your hometown,” you needn’t worry about this annual farce of a television show making you feel like a loser. “You already won.”

That’s an incredibly potent message to send from the industry’s most hallowed halls on Music’s Biggest Night — the idea that music should unify neighbors and galvanize communities, the idea that music can help you find your people, and that it can help your people find you. It should, it can and it does. Music’s true value is decided on that level, not on this “higher” plane where the Red Hot Chili Peppers are forced to sing with Post Malone in the dark.


Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten collapse of nature’

Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten collapse of nature’
Insects could vanish within a century at current rate of decline, says global review
By Damian Carrington
Feb 10 2019

The world’s insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, according to the first global scientific review.

More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century.

The planet is at the start of a sixth mass extinction in its history, with huge losses already reported in larger animals that are easier to study. But insects are by far the most varied and abundant animals, outweighing humanity by 17 times. They are “essential” for the proper functioning of all ecosystems, the researchers say, as food for other creatures, pollinators and recyclers of nutrients.

Insect population collapses have recently been reported in Germany and Puerto Rico, but the review strongly indicates the crisis is global. The researchers set out their conclusions in unusually forceful terms for a peer-reviewed scientific paper: “The [insect] trends confirm that the sixth major extinction event is profoundly impacting [on] life forms on our planet.

“Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades,” they write. “The repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosystems are catastrophic to say the least.”

The analysis, published in the journal Biological Conservation, says intensive agriculture is the main driver of the declines, particularly the heavy use of pesticides. Urbanisation and climate change are also significant factors.

“If insect species losses cannot be halted, this will have catastrophic consequences for both the planet’s ecosystems and for the survival of mankind,” said Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, at the University of Sydney, Australia, who wrote the review with Kris Wyckhuys at the China Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing.

The 2.5% rate of annual loss over the last 25-30 years is “shocking”, Sánchez-Bayo told the Guardian: “It is very rapid. In 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none.”

One of the biggest impacts of insect loss is on the many birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish that eat insects. “If this food source is taken away, all these animals starve to death,” he said. Such cascading effects have already been seen in Puerto Rico, where a recent study revealed a 98% fall in ground insects over 35 years.

The new analysis selected the 73 best studies done to date to assess the insect decline. Butterflies and moths are among the worst hit. For example, the number of widespread butterfly species fell by 58% on farmed land in England between 2000 and 2009. The UK has suffered the biggest recorded insect falls overall, though that is probably a result of being more intensely studied than most places.

Bees have also been seriously affected, with only half of the bumblebee species found in Oklahoma in the US in 1949 being present in 2013. The number of honeybee colonies in the US was 6 million in 1947, but 3.5 million have been lost since.

There are more than 350,000 species of beetle and many are thought to have declined, especially dung beetles. But there are also big gaps in knowledge, with very little known about many flies, ants, aphids, shield bugs and crickets. Experts say there is no reason to think they are faring any better than the studied species.

A small number of adaptable species are increasing in number, but not nearly enough to outweigh the big losses. “There are always some species that take advantage of vacuum left by the extinction of other species,” said Sanchez-Bayo. In the US, the common eastern bumblebee is increasing due to its tolerance of pesticides.

Most of the studies analysed were done in western Europe and the US, with a few ranging from Australia to China and Brazil to South Africa, but very few exist elsewhere.

“The main cause of the decline is agricultural intensification,” Sánchez-Bayo said. “That means the elimination of all trees and shrubs that normally surround the fields, so there are plain, bare fields that are treated with synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.” He said the demise of insects appears to have started at the dawn of the 20th century, accelerated during the 1950s and 1960s and reached “alarming proportions” over the last two decades.

He thinks new classes of insecticides introduced in the last 20 years, including neonicotinoids and fipronil, have been particularly damaging as they are used routinely and persist in the environment: “They sterilise the soil, killing all the grubs.” This has effects even in nature reserves nearby; the 75% insect losses recorded in Germany were in protected areas.