TechCrunch: “Google buys Eyefluence eye-tracking startup”


Eyefluence shared the announcement quietly today in a blog post, spotted first by Mattermark:

Today, we are excited to announce that the Eyefluence team is joining Google!  With our forces combined, we will continue to advance eye-interaction technology to expand human potential and empathy on an even larger scale.  We look forward to the life-changing innovations we’ll create together!

As Google launches its Daydream virtual reality platform next month with its Daydream View headset, there is already attention being directed to its next-gen headset efforts.

There’s no reason to believe that Google or any other company has today or will evee infiltrate people’s computers to track their eye movements, but they’re certainly incentivized to do so. I encourage you cover your cameras.

The ad-block cold war

The web advertising industry is facing an existential threat: ad-blockers. The beauty of browsers is that, for the most part, web pages are still static files that you download and execute locally and safely. You can control everything very precisely, choosing to not download certain IPs, block whole file extensions, or a combination of these two the circumvent any advertisements. This is probably impossible to overcome. Additionally, the people that tend to be ad-block users tend to be future consumers of expensive things like cars, houses, investment products, razors, whatever. And this is only growing, here’s a chart demonstrating this from PageFair:

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 10.25.51 PM

And this is a pretty serious problem. Some of the most important businesses run on advertisements: search engines, journalism, random web utilities like JSON formatters, etc. Google is used by doctors, mechanics, programmers, almost every professional, to do their job better and faster. Yet people are increasingly saying no to Google’s business model.

This commentary comes on the heels of Facebook’s ongoing cat-and-mouse game with AdBlock Plus. Here’s TechCrunch’s report:

Adblock Plus launched a workaround to Facebook’s adblock bypass today that ham-handedly removes posts from friends and Pages, not just ads, according to a statement provided by Facebook to TechCrunch.

I think everyone here is at fault. Facebook is releasing thousands of lines of user-hostile source code, putting tremendous effort into continuing to go against their users wishes. Meanwhile, AdBlock Plus claims no moral high ground, as they’re not really protecting people from advertisements and tracking, their protecting users against the advertisements and tracking that doesn’t pay AdBlock Plus to be white-listed, according to the Wall Street Journal:

Eyeo GmbH, the company behind popular desktop ad-blocking tool Adblock Plus, now accepts payment from around 70 companies in exchange for letting their ads through its filter. Eyeo stipulates that they must comply with its “acceptable ads” policy, meaning their ads aren’t too disruptive or intrusive to users.

That is Facebook’s hard-earned money, but that doesn’t mean I’m either removing my ad-blocker or ecstatic to use Facebook’s product, rather just that the web advertising industry is morally bankrupt and soon to be actually bankrupt. And this is not a good thing for all of us who rely on actually important ad-supported businesses like the Wall Street Journal and Google. I implore you: if you find something that’s critical to your day-to-day life like software, information, or anything digital: find out how to pay them money so that your both on the same team. Today, doctors are using a product that’s funded in part by pharmaceutical companies showing ads to them. Journalists are paid by the same companies that are polluting the earth, building defective products, or other scandals that need to be investigated by journalists.

Which makes the inevitability of the demise of digital advertising on the web so scary and exciting.

Oliver Stone on Pokemon GO and surveillance capitalism

[…] Once the government had been hounded by Snowden, of course the corporations went into encryption, because they had to for survival, right? But the search for profits is enormous. Nobody has ever seen, in the history of the world, something like Google, ever. It’s the fastest-growing business ever, and they have invested huge amounts of money into what surveillance is, which is data-mining. They’re data-mining every person in this room for information as to what you’re buying, what it is you like, and above all, your behavior. Pokémon Go kicks into that. It’s everywhere. It’s what some people call surveillance capitalism. It’s the newest stage.

– Oliver Stone via Vulture

Obvious, low-tech, anti-spyware

A key feature of Orwell’s dystopia was the ever-present screens that can never be turned off and were also always recording. Wanting to turn the devices off was met with suspicion. I used to use a sticky note, but now I have a cute bit of swag I got from a meet up. It’s two pieces of plastic, one which slides to cover the camera, with two tiny adhesive strips to keep it comfortably in place. I cover the camera because I’ve occasionally been in front of my computer when I receive a FaceTime call, and my image pops up on the screen. Of course it’s not transmitted, but it’s unpleasant enough of an experience that it made me want to be in control of that. In recent news, Marc Zuckerberg was shown to have tape on his camera and microphone. John Gruber found a 2013 study that found you could hack the camera:

Marcus Thomas, former assistant director of the FBI’s Operational Technology Division in Quantico, said in a recent story in The Washington Post that the FBI has been able to covertly activate a computer’s camera — without triggering the light that lets users know it is recording — for several years.

You should cover your cameras, because you have your privacy to lose and nothing to gain from having it exposed.

“Could children one day sue parents for posting baby pics on Facebook?”

I find myself both envious of the technology that children grow up with these days and contradictorily thankful that my childhood wasn’t as public as it might’ve been today. Furthermore, I find it oddly uncomfortable and saddening to see how infants react to being filmed with a smartphone, because their eyes immediately fix on the camera, like they know it’s important but they’re not sure why. On that note, France has created a precedent which would allow babies to sue their parents for violations of privacy:

That photo of your toddler running around in a nappy or having a temper tantrum? Think before you post it on Facebook. That’s the advice from French authorities, which have warned parents in France they could face fines of up to €45,000 (£35,000) and a year in prison for publishing intimate photos of their children on social media without permission, as part of the country’s strict privacy laws.

Can children or infants consent to being recorded? Are parents responsible for managing their child’s privacy? What’s the harm in posting your baby pictures for your baby? I’d argue that most infants don’t understand privacy, that in fact the consent does fall upon the parents to manage (for better or worse), and that the harm is that before your child comes to the age of consent, they have already irrevocably lost a part of their privacy. In a way, it’s akin to smoking around your child, became through no fault of the child, little parts of their well-being are gone forever. Of course, people will disagree, especially considering that those pictures likely bring great pleasure to social-media-savvy grandparents.

WhatsApp hit with 72-hour ban in Brazil

WhatsApp has been banned for 72 hours in Brazil:

Brazil has once again opted to temporarily block the popular messaging service WhatsApp in the country. According to Brazilian publication Folha De S.Paulo, the block is scheduled to remain in place for 72 hours, affecting WhatsApp users across the country. The reason for the temporary ban hasn’t yet been revealed, but previous bans have come in response to Facebook’s refusal to comply with federal investigators in in ongoing criminal cases.

I suspect the reason they’re being banned isn’t truly “refusal to comply” but rather “inability to comply.” Not only that, but I wish that government officials would read the Wikipedia page on end-to-end encryption to understand why there’s no way to have any privacy at all with backdoors. Furthermore, the ban of WhatsApp is silly because even if WhatsApp placed a backdoor for Brazilian government officials, some other encrypted communication application will take it’s place.

The government wants your fingerprint to unlock your phone

A major difficulty for government today and ever-growing problem for the government of tomorrow is the rate-of-change of technological advancement. For a axiomatic example, consider this from the L.A. Times via MacRumors:

Even with the limited outlines of the inquiry, Brenner said the act of compelling a person in custody to press her finger against a phone breached the 5th Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination. It forced Bkchadzhyan to testify —without uttering a word — because by moving her finger and unlocking the phone, she authenticated its contents.

On my view, this absolutely violates one’s rights against self-incrimination, because I consider one’s phone to be an extensions of one’s mind. As a defense against this sort of government overstepping, I’d like a “Touch Wipe” option to be available, via Robert Graham:

So I propose adding a new technicality into the mix: “Touch Wipe”. In addition to recording fingerprints to unlock the phone, Apple/Android should add the feature where users record fingerprints to wipe (erase) the phone. For example, I may choose my thumb to unlock, and my forefinger to wipe.
Admittedly, the danger here is wiping your phone when you forgot that your index finger wipes and your thumb unlocks. As an alternative, I could see use in having one code for unlocking, one code for wiping. The fear of you wiping your phone may be enough to deter over-zealous government.

NSA data will soon routinely be used for domestic policing

The Washington Post published an opinion piece that quotes the ACLU of Massachusetts (via John Gruber):

What does this rule change mean for you? In short, domestic law enforcement officials now have access to huge troves of American communications, obtained without warrants, that they can use to put people in cages. FBI agents don’t need to have any “national security” related reason to plug your name, email address, phone number, or other “selector” into the NSA’s gargantuan data trove. They can simply poke around in your private information in the course of totally routine investigations. And if they find something that suggests, say, involvement in illegal drug activity, they can send that information to local or state police. That means information the NSA collects for purposes of so-called “national security” will be used by police to lock up ordinary Americans for routine crimes.


GovtOS and resignation as civil disobedience

In the debate between Apple and the FBI, the software giant has filed an appeal to dismiss the the court order. On page 13, there’s a very interesting section discussing what it would take to develop the custom version of iOS that would allow the government to brute force passwords on someone’s phone (which has come to be known as “GovtOS”):

The compromised operating system that the government demands would require significant resources and effort to develop. Although it is difficult to estimate, because it has never been done before, the design, creation, validation, and deployment of the software likely would necessitate six to ten Apple engineers and employees dedicating a very substantial portion of their time for a minimum of two weeks, and likely as many as four weeks.

Up to ten engineers for up to four weeks, Apple believe GovtOS will take. I have to wonder what I would do if I were given this assignment. I consider it similar in some respects to what must have gone through the heads of Volkswagen engineers that were asked to create a way to fake emission reports: it’s immoral and it’s my job. Unique to the Apple case, however, is the addendum that it might be illegal to not do it. I do not envy the engineers that get this assignment should Apple be compelled to create GovtOS, and I imagine that it would be given to their most trusted and senior members.

I’d like to say that I’d resign in that position, but the fact is, with a court order, if someone chooses not to do it, they will be replaced with someone that will. And a project of this fragility deserves to be in the most trustworthy and capable hands. Having said that, resignation as civil disobedience would weigh heavily on my conscience.