Category Archives: News

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Report finds remote learning apps collected and sold kids’ data

Source: Engadget

Article note: Of course they do. For-ptofit ed-tech is always carpetbagger bullshit, and they had a window to "scale their business" that was too hurried for serious vetting, so they're getting away with all kinds of bullshit that might not survive scrutiny.

In their rush to employ online learning as a COVID-19 mitigation strategy, governments across the world exposed young people to the threat of their personal data being collected and sold without their consent. In a report published on Wednesday, Human Rights Watch found that many of the apps and services governments either directly procured or recommended for remote learning as recently as 2021 were actively harvesting the data of children or were otherwise engaged in monitoring their activities.

In its study of 49 countries, the nonprofit found that 146 of the 164 “EdTech” products used in those places reviewed employed data practices that either put the rights of young people at risk or actively infringed on them. Those platforms either employed or had the capacity to use tracking technology to monitor their young users secretly and without their consent or that of parents. What’s more, their data was frequently sold to third-party companies.

Human Rights Watch observed 146 of the apps it reviewed directly sending or granting access to the data of their young users to 196 third-party companies, with the vast majority of that information making its way to adtech platforms. Put another way, there were significantly more advertising firms buying the data of children than there were tech companies collecting it.

“In the process of endorsing and ensuring their wide adoption during COVID-19 school closures, governments offloaded the true costs of providing online education onto children, who were unknowingly forced to pay for their learning with their rights to privacy, access to information and potentially freedom of thought,” the report’s authors said.

Human Rights Watch points out that many of the tools governments recommended for online learning, including Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex, weren’t explicitly designed for use by children. But even those that were, such as ST Math, often employed trackers that sent data to companies like Meta and Google that could then later be used for behavioral advertising.

The report is yet one reminder of just how problematic surveillance capitalism has become in recent years. A similar report published earlier this month found that Immigration and Customs Enforcement operates as a “domestic surveillance agency,” and that it was able to bypass laws governing its operation by purchasing databases from private companies.

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Google urged to stop collecting phone location data before Roe v. Wade reversal

Source: Ars Technica

Article note: That actually seems pretty low on the long list of henious things that giant silos of searchable, purchasable, subpoenable location data will be used for, but it's always nice when the women's rights folks are on the privacy train.
A pro-choice demonstrator holds a sign with a coat hanger and the words

Enlarge / A pro-choice demonstrator in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on May 11, 2022. (credit: Getty Images | Stefani Reynolds)

More than 40 Democratic members of Congress called on Google to stop collecting and retaining customer location data that prosecutors could use to identify women who obtain abortions.

"[W]e are concerned that, in a world in which abortion could be made illegal, Google's current practice of collecting and retaining extensive records of cell phone location data will allow it to become a tool for far-right extremists looking to crack down on people seeking reproductive health care. That's because Google stores historical location information about hundreds of millions of smartphone users, which it routinely shares with government agencies," Democrats wrote Tuesday in a letter led by Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.). The letter was sent to Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

Specifically, Google should stop collecting "unnecessary customer location data" or "any non-aggregate location data about individual customers, whether in identifiable or anonymized form. Google cannot allow its online advertising-focused digital infrastructure to be weaponized against women," lawmakers wrote. They also told Google that people who use iPhones "have greater privacy from government surveillance of their movements than the tens of millions Americans using Android devices."

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Scalable polymer films for sustainable moisture harvesting in arid environments

Source: Hacker News

Article note: Well that's just neat. I'm not well enough versed in the area to be sure how practical it is, but it seems more credible than a lot of the empty eco tech hype that burbles into my sphere of awareness.
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Mel’s Loop – A Comprenesive Companion to the Story of Mel

Source: adafruit industries blog

Article note: I'm pretty well-versed in computer history and _The Story of Mel_ is still a little tricky to contextualize, seeing it annotated like a piece of challenging historical literature is nifty.

Many years ago (not 39 years ago, though possibly 19) I remember reading The Story of Mel, a Real Programmer. Already, a lot had to be explained to a programmer of the day. But now there’s Mel’s Loop, an annotated version with a page of resources for additional background. According to the author,

Today we celebrate the 39th anniversary of the first publication of The Story of Mel by Ed Nather. The Story of Mel was written as a memoir about the era of early computing of the late 1950s, creating a fresh memory of the days when Hackership was first forged. It continued to live through the years as an epic hacker folklore.

Little is known about the origins of The Story of Mel, its characters, and technical aspects. Over the past few years, I’ve spent a lot of time researching the story. As I interviewed people who were related to it, I discovered some interesting details about the life and origins of Mel, Ed, and their stories, as well as the company where it all happened, and developed a deep perspective of Mel’s famous hack.

To celebrate this research, we launch today a new project: Mel’s Loop, which includes an annotated version of the story, along with articles and other materials that are soon to be added to this web companion – related to The Story of Mel, and to the Hacker Folklore genre in general.

And here’s the opening of The Story of Mel itself:

A recent article devoted to the macho side of programming made the bold and unvarnished statement:

Real Programmers write in FORTRAN.

Maybe they do now, in this decadent era of Lite beer, hand calculators, and “user-friendly” software…

Check out Mel’s Loop!

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My Unholy Battle with a Rock64

Source: Hacker News

Article note: ...Yeah, I've done Linux bring-up on a bunch of ARM SOC boards, they're essentially all flaming piles of bullshit of roughly this magnitude. It's a serious problem.
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The very weird Hewlett Packard FreeDOS option

Source: OSNews

Article note: I expected weird, and this is still next level.

In this installment: some strange things I discovered when purchasing a FreeDOS laptop from Hewlett Packard. I suspect that the audience for this will be somewhat limited but I had fun exploring this. Perhaps you, dear reader, will find a chuckle in here too.

Some background: I recently purchased a HP ZBook 17.8 G8 as I run Fedora Linux I decided to have a little fun with the OS selection and picked the FreeDOS option (Other options include Ubuntu, and various flavors of Windows 11).

I can guarantee you this will be a lot weirder than you think.

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DigitalOcean: New $4 Droplet and updated pricing

Source: Hacker News

Article note: This is a small but unfortunate price bump. Not enough to make me want to move things, but unfortunate.
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Wp-SQLite: WordPress running on an SQLite database

Source: Hacker News

Article note: The implementation is ...frightening... (it's using regex rewrite rules on something that isn't a regular language), but sqlite should really be the default back-end for most web stuff, it's wildly simpler to deal with and scales further than most users need.
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Nvidia releases open-source GPU kernel-modules

Source: Hacker News

Article note: Holy shit. It's not the whole stack (eg. they're still using their own closed source GL/CL/Vulcan/etc. implementation in libraries), and only supports the newer models, but it's a huge and unexpected improvement.
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“War upon end-to-end encryption”: EU wants Big Tech to scan private messages

Source: Ars Technica

Article note: We've been fighting this dumb bullshit for 30 fucking years now, can the authoritarians and pearl-clutchers please fuck off already? We're gonna have to have another PZ/PGP situation where someone builds a free distributed mechanism that allows individuals to bypass the bullshit, until it becomes clear what a bad idea it is.
Illustration of an eye on a digital background.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Yuichiro Chino)

A European Commission proposal could force tech companies to scan private messages for child sexual abuse material (CSAM) and evidence of grooming, even when those messages are supposed to be protected by end-to-end encryption.

Online services that receive "detection orders" under the pending European Union legislation would have "obligations concerning the detection, reporting, removal and blocking of known and new child sexual abuse material, as well as solicitation of children, regardless of the technology used in the online exchanges," the proposal says. The plan calls end-to-end encryption an important security tool but essentially orders companies to break that end-to-end encryption by whatever technological means necessary:

In order to ensure the effectiveness of those measures, allow for tailored solutions, remain technologically neutral, and avoid circumvention of the detection obligations, those measures should be taken regardless of the technologies used by the providers concerned in connection to the provision of their services. Therefore, this Regulation leaves to the provider concerned the choice of the technologies to be operated to comply effectively with detection orders and should not be understood as incentivising or disincentivising the use of any given technology, provided that the technologies and accompanying measures meet the requirements of this Regulation.

That includes the use of end-to-end encryption technology, which is an important tool to guarantee the security and confidentiality of the communications of users, including those of children. When executing the detection order, providers should take all available safeguard measures to ensure that the technologies employed by them cannot be used by them or their employees for purposes other than compliance with this Regulation, nor by third parties, and thus to avoid undermining the security and confidentiality of the communications of users.

A questions-and-answers document describing the plan emphasizes the importance of scanning end-to-end encrypted messages. "NCMEC [National Center for Missing and Exploited Children] estimates that more than half of its CyberTipline reports will vanish with end-to-end encryption, leaving abuse undetected, unless providers take measures to protect children and their privacy also on end-to-end encrypted services," it says.

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