Danger map reveals health threat zone

Danger map reveals health threat zone
South America could be home to the next major threat to the world’s health, researchers say.
By James Gallagher
Jun 23 2017

The EcoHealth Alliance in New York looked at mammals, the viruses they harbour and how they come into contact with people. 

It revealed bats carry more potential threats than other mammals. 

The researchers hope the knowledge could be used to prevent the next HIV, Ebola or flu. 

Some of the most worrying infections have made the jump from animals to people – the world’s largest Ebola outbreak seemed to start in bats, while HIV came from chimpanzees.

The researchers’ challenge – and it was far from easy – was to predict from where the next could emerge. 

They looked at all 586 viruses known to infect 754 species of mammal. This included 188 zoonotic infections – those that have infected both humans and other mammals. 

But they also knew some species had been studied in incredible detail while others had been practically ignored. 

So the researchers used the information they did know to fill the gaps in their knowledge and estimate which species were harbouring viruses with the potential to infect people. 

The study, published in the journal Nature, predicts 17 zoonotic infections in every species of bat and 10 in every species of primate and rodent. 

The team then mapped the ranges of species and the infections they carry to work out where the world’s danger zones are.

The threat from rodents was again global, but with a concentration in South America.

Dr Kevin Olival, one of the researchers, told the BBC News website: “The missing hotspots are different for different groups of mammals in different parts of the world, but the bat signal overwhelms some of the others. 

“But I’m not scared of bats, it’s not the bat’s fault.”


Comcast accused of cutting competitor’s wires to put it out of business

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

Comcast accused of cutting competitor’s wires to put it out of business
Comcast “systematically destroyed” an ISP with 229 customers, lawsuit claims.
By Jon Brodkin
Jun 22 2017

A tiny Internet service provider has sued Comcast, alleging that the cable giant and its hired contractors cut the smaller company’s wires in order to take over its customer base.

Telecom Cable LLC had “229 satisfied customers” in Weston Lakes and Corrigan, Texas when Comcast and its contractors sabotaged its network, the lawsuit filed last week in Harris County District Court said.

Comcast had tried to buy Telecom Cable’s Weston Lakes operations in 2013 “but refused to pay what they were worth,” the complaint says. Starting in June 2015, Comcast and two contractors it hired “systematically destroyed Telecom’s business by cutting its lines and running off its customers,” the lawsuit says. Comcast destroyed or damaged the lines serving all Telecom Cable customers in Weston Lakes and never repaired them, the lawsuit claims.

Telecom Cable owner Anthony Luna estimated the value of his business at about $1.8 million, which he is seeking to recover. He is also seeking other damages from Comcast and its contractors, including exemplary damages that under state statute could “amount to a maximum of twice the amount of economic damages, plus up to $750,000 of non-economic damages,” the complaint says.

CourtHouse News Service has a story about the lawsuit, and it posted a copy of the complaint.

“We disagree with Telecom’s claim and will vigorously defend ourselves,” Comcast VP Ray Purser said in a statement provided to Ars. Comcast did not offer any further response to the allegations, and has not yet filed an official answer to Luna’s complaint.

A “severed mainline cable”

Luna says he did not oppose Comcast’s entry into Weston Lakes. Before Comcast began construction, Telecom Cable “made special efforts to mark its lines and equipment to prevent any inadvertent damage. Using an RF modulated transmitter and inductive connection to the cable, Mr. Luna located Telecom’s underground lines and marked the lines with industry-standard orange paint, as well as ‘buried cable flags’ for prompt and easy identification,” the complaint says. “Mr. Luna also mailed a map of Telecom’s system to the Director of Construction at Comcast’s Tidwell office.”

But then Luna was notified of service outages and “rushed to the job site” where he “found his severed mainline cable” along with Comcast contractors who were installing their own cable, the complaint says.

“The foreman acknowledged that Telecom’s cables had been marked—freshly marked, in fact—but the crew had inexplicably ignored the markings, purportedly because they assumed that the fresh orange paint marked an ‘abandoned’ cable plant,” the complaint says.


Shining a light on the dark corners of the web

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Rosenthal.  DLH]

Shining a light on the dark corners of the web
Cybercrime researcher Gianluca Stringhini explains how he studies hate speech and fake news on the underground network 4chan.
By Daniel Cressey
Jun 9 2017

Gianluca Stringhini spends his days in some of the shadier corners of the internet. As a cybercrime researcher at University College London, he has studied ransomware, online-dating scams and money laundering. In May, his team published two papers exploring how hate speech and fake news are spread around the Internet, focusing on the notorious but popular 4chan message boards.

In a conference-proceedings paper, the researchers analysed 8 million posts on 4chan’s /pol/ (‘politically incorrect’) board, and traced how its users ‘raid’ other websites by posting inflammatory comments1. And in a preprint posted to the arXiv server2, they traced interactions between 4chan boards and other online communities, such as Twitter and Reddit, to examine how sites share links from known fake news sites, or from what the team calls ‘alternative’ news sources such as RT (formerly Russia Today). Stringhini talked to Nature about his research.

What made you decide to research 4chan?

Nobody is really looking at these communities, but there is a lot of anecdotal evidence suggesting that they have an impact in the real world by spreading certain types of news. So we wanted to understand whether this is true, and to what extent they actually influence the rest of the web.

We started by just looking at 4chan. We selected /pol/, the politically incorrect board, which is where most alt-right users gather and discuss their world-views. We started by trying to understand the dynamics of these populations and this service. 4chan is very different from most other online sites in that it is both anonymous and its posts are ephemeral: they are deleted after a short while.

How did you go about it?

We applied a number of techniques. We used a database containing hate words to understand what are the most prominent hate words, what is the incidence of hate speech and so on.

The percentage of /pol/ posts containing hate speech is 12%, whereas on Twitter it’s 2%. It is reasonably higher, let’s say. It’s not perfect, because we used a keyword-based list, so we might actually be missing some hate speech that doesn’t just fall into these pre-compiled categories. After understanding how this works, we started looking at how 4chan, and /pol/ in particular, influences the rest of the web.

And this is the subject of your paper1 on ‘raids’ from 4chan to other websites? Was this something you already thought was happening?

Yes. The limitations on what members of the research community have done so far are that they looked at the services in isolation. There is a lot of work towards understanding how attacks happen on Twitter, on YouTube, on Facebook. But there is not a lot of work on the source of these attacks, or their causes.

Because /pol/ is such a hateful platform, we saw empirically that often, people would post hyperlinks to YouTube videos that went against their world-views. They could be videos advocating for gender equality, feminism, tolerance. And then they would call for members to go and attack these people.

And so we would have a signal on 4chan that this link had been posted and people would be talking about it. And then we could see whether we could observe an effect on the YouTube comments to that video. We basically applied signal-processing techniques that have been used in radio signals to understand how synchronized these two signals are. There was a strong correlation between comments on YouTube spiking within the lifetime of a 4chan thread, and the amount of hate speech in those comments. This gave us evidence that these raids are really happening, and this will be grounds for future work. Now the question is, ‘So what?’ What do we do about it?

Can anything be done?

This gives us an opportunity to identify videos that are at risk of being attacked. If YouTube only uses its own platform to identify raids, it can basically identify them as the raids are happening. But if it were looking at something else as well — an indicator that somebody is talking about this video in a hateful manner on a different platform — maybe it should start monitoring the comments more carefully. Or maybe, given that these threads on 4chan have a short lifespan, YouTube should disable comments on the video for the length of the lifespan.


Chelsea Manning leaks had no strategic impact on US war efforts, Pentagon finds

Chelsea Manning leaks had no strategic impact on US war efforts, Pentagon finds
Uploading of more than 700,000 files to WikiLeaks had no significant strategic effect, analysis finds, putting into context the severe punishment she received
By Ed Pilkington
Jun 20 2017

The publication of hundreds of thousands of secret US documents leaked by the Aarmy soldier Chelsea Manning in 2010 had no strategic impact on the American war efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, a newly released Pentagon analysis concluded.

The main finding of the Department of Defense report, written a year after the breach, was that Manning’s uploading of more than 700,000 secret files to the open information organization WikiLeaks had no significant strategic effect on the US war efforts.

The belated publication of the analysis gives the lie to the official line maintained over several years that the leak had caused serious harm to US national security.

It also puts into context the severe punishment that was meted out to the soldier – 35 years in military prison, the harshest sentence in history for an official leak. And it raises questions about the continuing investigation by the US justice department into the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange.

The conclusions are contained in the final report of the information review task force that the DoD set up in the wake of the Manning leaks to look into their impact in the hope of mitigating any damage. The report was obtained by BuzzFeed’s investigative reporter Jason Leopold under freedom of information laws.

The report is so heavily redacted in the form it was given to Leopold that its original 107 pages have been reduced to 35. Nonetheless, some key findings can still be gleaned from it.

On Afghanistan, the review finds that there was no “significant ‘strategic impact’ to the release of this information”.

Similarly, the study of the impact on the Iraq war concludes “with high confidence that disclosure of the Iraq data set will have no direct personal impact on current and former senior US leadership in Iraq”.

Beneath these headline observations, the defense department review does raise concerns about the fallout from the documents, which were initially published by a consortium of international news outlets led by the Guardian. It says that “lives of cooperative Afghans, Iraqis, and other foreign interlocutors are at increased risk”, and it notes that 23 serving US military personnel were warned in advance of publication that their full names and social security numbers were included in the files.

The Guardian and the other international outlets involved in the consortium, including the New York Times and Der Spiegel, published selected documents from Manning’s trove having removed any sensitive personal information, such as the names of US informants. Later, WikiLeaks published the full set of 740,000 documents with no redactions.


Facebook and Twitter are being used to manipulate public opinion – report

Facebook and Twitter are being used to manipulate public opinion – report
Nine-country study finds widespread use of social media for promoting lies, misinformation and propaganda by governments and individuals
By Alex Hern
Jun 19 2017

Propaganda on social media is being used to manipulate public opinion around the world, a new set of studies from the University of Oxford has revealed.

From Russia, where around 45% of highly active Twitter accounts are bots, to Taiwan, where a campaign against President Tsai Ing-wen involved thousands of heavily co-ordinated – but not fully automated – accounts sharing Chinese mainland propaganda, the studies show that social media is an international battleground for dirty politics.

The reports, part of the Oxford Internet Institute’s Computational Propaganda Research Project, cover nine nations also including Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, and the the United States. They found “the lies, the junk, the misinformation” of traditional propaganda is widespread online and “supported by Facebook or Twitter’s algorithms” according to Philip Howard, Professor of Internet Studies at Oxford.

At their simpler end, techniques used include automated accounts to like, share and post on the social networks. Such accounts can serve to game algorithms to push content on to curated social feeds. They can drown out real, reasoned debate between humans in favour of a social network populated by argument and soundbites and they can simply make online measures of support, such as the number of likes, look larger – crucial in creating the illusion of popularity.

The researchers found that in the US this took the form of what Samuel Woolley, the project’s director of research, calls “manufacturing consensus” – creating the illusion of popularity so that a political candidate can have viability where they might not have had it before. 

The US report says: “The illusion of online support for a candidate can spur actual support through a bandwagon effect. Trump made Twitter centre stage in this election, and voters paid attention.”

While the report finds some evidence of institutional support for the use of bots, even if only in an “experimental” fashion by party campaign managers, Woolley emphasises that it’s just as powerful coming from individuals. “Bots massively multiply the ability of one person to attempt to manipulate people,” he says. “Picture your annoying friend on Facebook, who’s always picking political fights. If they had an army of 5,000 bots, that would be a lot worse, right?”

Russian propaganda on social media is well known in the west for its external-facing arm, including allegations of state involvement in the US and French presidential elections. But the nation’s social media is also heavily infiltrated with digital propaganda domestically according to the report on that country.

It shows that Russia first developed its digital propaganda expertise for dealing with internal threats to stability and drowning out dissent to Putin’s regime while providing the same illusion of overwhelming consensus that was used in the US election years later. “Political competition in Putin’s Russia created the demand for online propaganda tools,” the report’s author, Sergey Sanovich, writes, “and … market competition was allowed to to efficiently meet this demand and create tools that were later deployed in foreign operations”.


Is the American dream really dead?

Is the American dream really dead?
Research shows that poor people in the US are 20 times less likely to believe hard work will get them ahead than their (poorer) Latin American counterparts – with white Americans particularly pessimistic. What’s driving their despair?
By Carol Graham
Jun 20 2017

The United States has a long-held reputation for exceptional tolerance of income inequality, explained by its high levels of social mobility. This combination underpins the American dream – initially conceived of by Thomas Jefferson as each citizen’s right to the pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

This dream is not about guaranteed outcomes, of course, but the pursuit of opportunities. The dream found a persona in the fictional characters of the 19th-century writer Horatio Alger Jr – in which young working-class protagonists go from from rags to riches (or at least become middle class) in part due to entrepreneurial spirit and hard work. 

Yet the opportunity to live the American dream is much less widely shared today than it was several decades ago. While 90% of the children born in 1940 ended up in higher ranks of the income distribution than their parents, only 40% of those born in 1980 have done so.

Attitudes about inequality have also changed. In 2001, a study found the only Americans who reported lower levels of happiness amid greater inequality were left-leaning rich people – with the poor seeing inequality as a sign of future opportunity. Such optimism has since been substantially tempered: in 2016, only 38% of Americans thought their children would be better off than they are.

In the meantime, the public discussion about inequality has completely by-passed a critical element of the American dream: luck. 

Just as in many of Alger’s stories the main character benefits from the assistance of a generous philanthropist, there are countless real examples of success in the US where different forms of luck have played a major role. And yet, social support for the unlucky – in particular, the poor who cannot stay in full-time employment – has been falling substantially in recent years, and is facing even more threats today. 

In short, from new research based on some novel metrics of wellbeing, I find strong evidence that the American dream is in tatters, at least.

White despair, minority hope

My research began by comparing mobility attitudes in the US with those in Latin America, a region long known for high levels of poverty and inequality (although with progress in the past decades). I explored a question in the Gallup world poll, which asks respondents a classic American dream question: “Can an individual who works hard in this country get ahead?”

I found very large gaps between the responses of ‘the rich’ and ‘the poor’ in the US (represented by the top and bottom 20% income distributions of the Gallup respondents). This was in stark contrast to Latin America, where there was no significant difference in attitudes across income groups. Poor people in the US were 20 times less likely to believe hard work would get them ahead than were the poor in Latin America, even though the latter are significantly worse off in material terms.


Verizon is killing Tumblr’s fight for net neutrality

[Note:  This item comes from friend Robert Berger.  DLH]

Verizon is killing Tumblr’s fight for net neutrality
One of the open internet’s fiercest defenders has a new boss
By Kaitlyn Tiffany
Jun 21 2017

In 2014, Tumblr was on the front lines of the battle for net neutrality. The company stood alongside Amazon, Kickstarter, Etsy, Vimeo, Reddit, and Netflix during Battle for the Net’s day of action. Tumblr CEO David Karp was also part of a group of New York tech CEOs that met with then-FCC chairman Tom Wheeler in Brooklyn that summer, while the FCC was fielding public comment on new Title II rules. President Obama invited Karp to the White House to discuss various issues around public education, and in February 2015 The Wall Street Journal reported that it was the influence of Karp and a small group of liberal tech CEOs that swayed Obama toward a philosophy of internet as public utility. 

But three years later, as the battle for net neutrality heats up once again, Tumblr has been uncharacteristically silent. The last mention of net neutrality on Tumblr’s staff blog — which frequently posts about political issues from civil rights to climate change to gun control to student loan debt — was in June 2016. And Tumblr is not listed as a participating tech company for Battle for the Net’s next day of action, coming up in three weeks.

A representative for Battle for the Net told The Verge in an email, “Outreach for the day of action is very much an active and ongoing process… I wouldn’t read too much into who is and isn’t on the list so far.” Still, a rep for Tumblr declined to comment on whether the company would be participating, and AOL’s senior VP of brand communications Caroline Campbell responded to an inquiry about whether Tumblr would maintain its stance on net neutrality, writing “[It’s] just too early to answer your question.” 

When a company and a CEO have a reputation for being loud, silence says something.

Karp is still outspoken on other issues that matter to him, however. He is on the board of Planned Parenthood, and Tumblr hosted a “Never Going Back” rally at SXSW this year, protesting renewed threats on reproductive rights. He published a joint statement with Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards on The Verge, and has been extremely outspoken about his belief that tech industry leaders are obligated to step in to defend federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Meanwhile, Karp’s only public comment about net neutrality since the 2016 election was a quote he gave to Variety as an aside at SXSW in March: “I’m heartbroken to see the sea change on net neutrality.”

One reason for Karp and Tumblr’s silence? Last week Verizon completed its acquisition of Tumblr parent company Yahoo, kicking off the subsequent merger of Yahoo and AOL to create a new company called Oath. As one of the world’s largest ISPs, Verizon is notorious for challenging the principles of net neutrality — it sued the FCC in an effort to overturn net neutrality rules in 2011, and its general counsel Kathy Grillo published a note this April complimenting new FCC chairman Ajit Pai’s plan to weaken telecommunication regulations.

Now, multiple sources tell The Verge that employees are concerned that Karp has been discouraged from speaking publicly on the issue, and one engineer conveyed that Karp told a group of engineers and engineering directors as much in a weekly meeting that took place shortly after SXSW. “Karp has talked about the net neutrality stuff internally, but won’t commit to supporting it externally anymore,” the engineer said. “[He] assures [us] that he is gonna keep trying to fight for the ability to fight for it publicly.” Karp did not respond to four emails asking for comment, and neither Yahoo nor Tumblr would speak about the matter on the record.