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Daily Archives: December 4, 2023

Tracking people in-and-out of Mar-a-Lago was easy thanks to commercial software

Rolling Stone: “Spying on presidents used to be a tough business. One of the great unsung heroes of American history was a formerly enslaved woman named Mary Bowser, a spy who infiltrated the family of Jefferson Davis as a domestic servant, and eventually landed a full-time job in the Southern White House, the political seat of his Confederacy. Armed with a photographic memory and an all-access pass to the inner workings of the Davis administration, she fed details daily to the Union army, which Ulysses S. Grant called the “most valuable information” he received from the Southern capital during the war. These days, it’s a whole lot easier. While researching our new book, The Secret Life of Data, we gathered some sensitive information from Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump’s Palm Beach club, which he used as a base for political operations both during and after his presidency. He even referred to on several occasions as his “Southern White House.”

We didn’t have to risk life and limb, posing as the help and smuggling information out through a well-funded spy ring. All we had to do was sign up for an online service, enter the address of Mar-a-Lago, and click a button. Within a few minutes, we had a report profiling thousands of visitors to Trump’s club over the course of an entire year, including details like where they likely live and work, their ages, incomes, ethnicities, education levels, where they were immediately before visiting, and where they spent their time on the property once they got there. This wasn’t some dark web hacker thing. No Bitcoin was exchanged. The service we used was perfectly legal and freely available on the open web, one of dozens of “data brokers” that collect and trade in consumer data. It’s a $300-billion-per-year business — about the same as the gross domestic product of Hong Kong. This particular data broker, called Near, uses smartphone location data to trace the foot traffic of about 1.6 billion people across 70 million locations in 44 countries…”

The Best Inventions of 2023

TIME: “Every year for over two decades, TIME editors have highlighted the most impactful new products and ideas in TIME’s Best Inventions issue. To compile this year’s list, we solicited nominations from TIME’s editors and correspondents around the world, and through an online application process, paying special attention to growing fields—such as AI, green energy,… Continue Reading

Was it something I said? Legal protections for employee speech

Economic Policy Institute Paper: Executive summary – “At-will” employment is sometimes shorthanded as employers’ rights to fire employees (and employees’ right to quit) for a bad or arbitrary reason, or for no reason at all.  Among the bad or arbitrary reasons that employers sometimes fire workers: something the worker said, or something they didn’t say.… Continue Reading

Inside America’s School Internet Censorship Machine

Wired [read free]: “…WIRED requested internet censorship records from 17 public school districts around the US, painting a picture of the widespread digital censorship taking place across the country. Our investigation focuses on Albuquerque Public Schools (APS), one of the largest school districts in the US, which provided the most complete look at its web-filtering… Continue Reading

“A live, real-time map of passenger train locations in North America. This project amalgamates data from train GPS tracking and displays all trains on one map. Data is updated every minute, and the map updates automatically. This project was created by @rydercalmdown. Supported Trains – Currently the map supports the following trains: Via Rail –… Continue Reading

Automakers’ data privacy practices “are unacceptable”

Ars Technica: “US Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass.) is one of the more technologically engaged of our elected lawmakers. And like many technologically engaged Ars Technica readers, he does not like what he sees in terms of automakers’ approach to data privacy. On Friday, Sen. Markey wrote to 14 car companies with a variety of questions… Continue Reading

AI and Trust

Schneier on Security – “…Interpersonal trust and social trust are both essential in society today. This is how it works. We have mechanisms that induce people to behave in a trustworthy manner, both interpersonally and socially. This, in turn, allows others to be trusting. Which enables trust in society. And that keeps society functioning. The… Continue Reading

The Opt Out: 5 reasons to skip at-home genetic testing

PopSci: “In the last decade direct-to-consumer genetic tests like those from and 23andMe have become ubiquitous in the US. These services cater to Americans looking for distant relatives, a missing piece of their history, or insight into their health. But if you can’t wait to swab your cheeks or spit into a plastic tube… Continue Reading

PDFgear supercharges your workflows for iPhone, iPad, and Mac with AI Copilot

9to5Mac: “Wish you could find a PDF editor with all the features you need without paying for another subscription or an expensive upfront purchase? PDFgear is a cross-platform app that’s truly free with no catches like watermarks, page limits, or in-app purchases. Here’s what’s included with the impressive PDFgear iOS, Mac, and Windows apps, including… Continue Reading

23andMe confirms hackers stole ancestry data on 6.9 million users

TechCrunch: “On Friday [December 1, 2023], genetic testing company 23andMe announced that hackers accessed the personal data of 0.1% of customers, or about 14,000 individuals. The company also said that by accessing those accounts, hackers were also able to access “a significant number of files containing profile information about other users’ ancestry.” But 23andMe would… Continue Reading