Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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Internet

Online shopping brings gridlock to New York City streets

The New York Times reports: An Amazon order starts with a tap of a finger. Two days later — or even in a matter of hours — the package arrives. It seems simple enough. But to deliver Amazon orders and countless others from businesses that sell over the internet, the very fabric of major urban areas around the world is being transformed. And New York City, where more than 1.5

What Jeff Bezos wants for his empire and himself, and what that means for the rest of us

Franklin Foer writes: I first grew concerned about Amazon’s power five years ago. I felt anxious about how the company bullied the book business, extracting ever more favorable terms from the publishers that had come to depend on it. When the conglomerate Hachette, with which I’d once published a book, refused to accede to Amazon’s demands, it was punished. Amazon delayed shipments of Hachette books; when consumers searched for some

Political operatives are faking voter outrage with millions of made-up comments to benefit the rich and powerful

BuzzFeed reports: In the spring of 2017, a virtual war was raging over the future of the internet, much of it through comments on the website of the Federal Communications Commission — the government agency responsible for regulating the broadband industry. Reeves wasn’t the only ghost to get sucked in from beyond the grave to do battle on behalf of giant telecommunications companies such as AT&T and Comcast. At issue

How Amazon’s next-day delivery network brought chaos, exploitation, and danger to communities across America

BuzzFeed reports: Amazon is the biggest retailer on the planet — with customers in 180 countries — and in its relentless bid to offer ever-faster delivery at ever-lower costs, it has built a national delivery system from the ground up. In under six years, Amazon has created a sprawling, decentralized network of thousands of vans operating in and around nearly every major metropolitan area in the country, dropping nearly 5

San Francisco: City of the rich and the destitute

Julia Carrie Wong writes: The tale of how tech destroyed the city that gave us the Summer of Love has been told so many times that in 2014, the San Francisco Chronicle produced a satirical cheat sheet for out-of-town reporters parachuting in for taste of avocado toast and class warfare. (Amid a bumper crop of new elegies to San Francisco in recent months, web publication HmmDaily updated the form with

What happens after Amazon’s domination is complete? Its bookstore offers clues

The New York Times reports: “The Sanford Guide to Antimicrobial Therapy” is a medical handbook that recommends the right amount of the right drug for treating ailments from bacterial pneumonia to infected wounds. Lives depend on it. It is not the sort of book a doctor should puzzle over, wondering, “Is that a ‘1’ or a ‘7’ in the recommended dosage?” But that is exactly the possibility that has haunted

Google made $4.7 billion from the news industry in 2018, study says

The New York Times reports: $4,700,000,000. It’s more than the combined ticket sales of the last two “Avengers” movies. It’s more than what virtually any professional sports team is worth. And it’s the amount that Google made from the work of news publishers in 2018 via search and Google News, according to a study to be released on Monday by the News Media Alliance. The journalists who create that content

Bellingcat and how open source reinvented investigative journalism

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad writes: It’s a brief window into a doomed soul. Clinging to his mother’s back, the child looks twice into the camera held by the man about to kill him. The natural curiosity of a child that fear has failed to extinguish. The smartphone captures the casual cruelty with which both mother and child are killed. Nearby, another mother and daughter are executed. One killer continues to pump

How an aging, digitally semi-literate population is reshaping the internet and politics

BuzzFeed reports: Although many older Americans have, like the rest of us, embraced the tools and playthings of the technology industry, a growing body of research shows they have disproportionately fallen prey to the dangers of internet misinformation and risk being further polarized by their online habits. While that matters much to them, it’s also a massive challenge for society given the outsize role older generations play in civic life,

A new age of warfare: How Internet mercenaries do battle for authoritarian governments

The New York Times reports: The man in charge of Saudi Arabia’s ruthless campaign to stifle dissent went searching for ways to spy on people he saw as threats to the kingdom. He knew where to go: a secretive Israeli company offering technology developed by former intelligence operatives. It was late 2017 and Saud al-Qahtani — then a top adviser to Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince — was tracking Saudi

How social media’s business model helped the New Zealand massacre go viral

The Washington Post reports: The ability of Internet users to spread a video of Friday’s slaughter in New Zealand marked a triumph — however appalling — of human ingenuity over computerized systems designed to block troubling images of violence and hate. People celebrating the mosque attacks that left 50 people dead were able to keep posting and reposting videos on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter despite the websites’ use of largely

Companies use your data to make money. California thinks you should get paid

CNN reported in February: People give massive amounts of their personal data to companies for free every day. Some economists, academics and activists think they should be paid for their contributions. Called data dividends, or sometimes digital or technology dividends, the somewhat obscure idea got a boost on Feb 12 from an unexpected source: California’s new governor, Gavin Newsom. “California’s consumers should … be able to share in the wealth

Without humans, AI can wreak havoc

Katherine Maher, chief executive and executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, writes: Too often, artificial intelligence is presented as an all-powerful solution to our problems, a scalable replacement for people. Companies are automating nearly every aspect of their social interfaces, from creating to moderating to personalizing content. At its worst, A.I. can put society on autopilot that may not consider our dearest values. Without humans, A.I. can wreak havoc. A

U.S. Cyber Command operation disrupted Internet access of Russian troll factory on day of 2018 midterms

The Washington Post reports: The U.S. military blocked Internet access to an infamous Russian entity seeking to sow discord among Americans during the 2018 midterms, several U.S. officials said, a warning that the Kremlin’s operations against the United States are not cost-free. The strike on the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, a company underwritten by an oligarch close to President Vladi­mir Putin, was part of the first offensive cyber

AI that writes convincing prose risks mass-producing fake news

MIT Technology Review reports: Here’s some breaking fake news … Russia has declared war on the United States after Donald Trump accidentally fired a missile in the air. Russia said it had “identified the missile’s trajectory and will take necessary measures to ensure the security of the Russian population and the country’s strategic nuclear forces.” The White House said it was “extremely concerned by the Russian violation” of a treaty

Targeted advertising is ruining the internet and breaking the world

Nathalie Maréchal writes: In his testimony to the US Senate last spring, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg emphasized that his company doesn’t sell user data, as if to reassure policymakers and the public. But the reality—that Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other social media companies sell access to our attention—is just as concerning. Actual user information may not change hands, but the advertising business model drives company decision making in ways that