Uh-Oh: Feds Say Google ‘Systematically Destroyed’ Evidence for Years by Auto-Deleting Employee Chats


Photo: Alex Wong (Getty Images)

Google’s reliance on commonly used messaging systems that automatically delete conversations after a day has landed the company in hot water with the Department of Justice.

In filing Thursday evening, the DOJ accused Google of using so-called “history off” communications that they say “routinely destroyed” written communication after 24 hours. Some of those destroyed chats, the DOJ alleges, may have discussed “sensitive topics.” That’s a bad look as the tech giant faces not one, but two antitrust investigations by the nation’s leading law enforcement division.

“For nearly four years, Google systematically destroyed an entire category of written communications every 24 hours.” the DOJ alleges.

These “history off” chats—also referred to as off the record chats—allegedly occurred on Google Hangouts and instant messages. To Google’s credit, anyone who uses Google communications, even outside the company, has the ability to have their communications automatically deleted after 24 hours. Not everyone is under investigation from the feds though. In its filing,the DOJ claims Google use of history of chats, maliciously or not, may run afoul of laws requiring companies to preserve communications for litigation.

Google did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comments, however a spokesperson for the company told CNBC it “strongly refute[s] the DOJ’s claims.”

“Our teams have conscientiously worked for years to respond to inquiries and litigation,” the spokesperson said. “In fact, we have produced over 4 million documents in this case alone, and millions more to regulators around the world.”

The DOJ maintains Google should have suspended its auto-delete practices by 2019, when it was clear litigation was coming. Amazingly though, the DOJ claims Google employees continued communicating using history off chats up until the week of the filling. Up until then, the DOJ says Google left it largely up to employees when chats could be relevant to preserve for future legal action. During all of that time, the agency claims Google falsely said it had “put a legal hold in place” suspending the auto deletion practice. Now, according to the filing, the DOJ says Google has finally committed to a “permanently set history on.”

The allegations make Google’s already rocky start to 2023 even worse. The tech giant, which was already busy fighting off a federal suit claiming it has built a monopoly in search and search advertising markets, got slapped with another major antitrust suit last month. That lawsuit, filed by the DOJ and eight state attorneys general, claims Google maintains an illegal monopoly in the digital ad markets. If the DOJ gets its way, Google will be forced to break up its ad business.

If that wasn’t enough, there’s reason to believe more legal action may be brewing. This week, reporting from Bloomberg and Politico claims the DOJ is investigating to determine if the company’s dominant Google Maps app violates antitrust practices. Bottom line, Google has a long legal year ahead of it.

via Gizmodo https://gizmodo.com

February 24, 2023 at 11:05AM

10 Pieces of Fashion You Can Wear to Confuse Facial Recognition


I hate to break it to you, but a world where your every move can be tracked using facial recognition has gone from science fiction to an everyday reality. Facial recognition is common at airports, concerts, and stores, its in our schools, and you might even have to use it to file your taxes. Some people are willing to trade privacy for safety, but facial recognition has serious, built-in flaws that limit its accuracy. The technology may already be responsible for putting innocent people in jail.

But with a little ingenuity and a flexible definition of style, there are clothes and accessories you can wear that can confuse the algorithms and keep your face undetectable. I wouldn’t bet my life on them working in all circumstances, but some of these outfits have science backing their anti-face-rec claims.

Facial recognition is a tool that uses so-called “computer vision” technology to identify patterns. Sometimes it’s just recognizing that there is a human face in an image, but it can be trained on the contours of individual faces to spot specific people as well.

Essentially, these dystopian duds work by introducing new patterns specially designed to distract or confuse the image recognition software, leaving you to go about your business undetectable. Some of them look pretty cool too.

Click through for our selection of some of the more interesting garments. Some of them are available for purchase, though some are just forward-looking art-objects.

via Gizmodo https://gizmodo.com

February 25, 2023 at 06:07AM

Yikes, the U.S. Is Now Using Facial Recognition Rigged Drones for Special Ops


Image: Getmilitaryphotos (Shutterstock)

Flying killer robots used to be a nightmarish sci-fi fantasy—something that only existed in James Cameron movies or Michael Crichton novels. These days, not so much. Not only is drone warfare close to two decades old, but innovations to this lethal technology are being developed all the time.

Case in point: New Scientist magazine recently unearthed a contract between the U.S. Air Force and a little known defense firm that shows the government is using reconnaissance and surveillance drones equipped with facial recognition to aid in special operations missions. While the magazine notes that those smaller drones aren’t typically armed (unlike, say, their big siblings, the Predator and the Reaper), they clearly present dizzying new possibilities for America’s most shadowy and deadly cadres. The Air Force’s provider is a Seattle-based firm, RealNetworks, which sells a platform dubbed Secure Accurate Facial Recognition, or SAFR. The government paid $729,056 for SAFR, which will be deployed “on an autonomous sUAS for special ops, ISR, and other expeditionary use-cases,” according to the contract. While not a ton is known about how the U.S. is using this technology or how long it’s been using it, one thing is certain: it’s creeping people out.

“Big huge NOPE to everything here,” tweeted Jake Wiener, a lawyer with the digital privacy organization EPIC, in response to the news.

Another critic, Nicholas Davis, of the University of Technology Sydney, told Newsweek: “There are innumerable ethical implications, from the way such devices might redistribute power or threaten groups within a society, to the ways in which they threaten established international humanitarian law in conflict zones.”

Skeptics have dutifully noted the horrifying nature of this particular integration. Given the fact that special operations units are most well known for their clandestine and lethal activities (read: assassinations and raids), the deployment of an AI-powered airborne robot affixed with face recording tech means America’s goon squads now have a powerful new tool to carry out their dark deeds. Motherboard notes that such drones could easily be used for “intelligence and target acquisition,” meaning that anybody being trailed by these little contraptions is probably in deep shit.

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The scariest thing about this development, frankly, is that it’s clearly only the beginning of the race to make drones faster, smarter, more sophisticated and, potentially, more lethal. From the Navy’s planned drone swarm warfare to the surge in drone use in the Russo-Ukrainian war, to the specter of flying robots that could come equipped with chemical or biological payloads, get ready for your worst sci-fi nightmares to come true.

via Gizmodo https://gizmodo.com

February 27, 2023 at 07:21PM

Record Number of Countries Blocked the Internet in Blackouts in 2022


Image: Lipowski Milan (Shutterstock)

Governments in 35 countries shut down the internet for a record total of at least 185 times in 2022 alone, a new study shows. The New York-based watchdog group, Access Now, published the report on Tuesday noting that the rate of online shutdowns has not only skyrocketed but is lasting longer and are often targeting the populations during times when it is needed the most.

Access Now launched its Keep It On campaign in 2016, and has found that India accounted for nearly half of the outages recorded last year. The majority of the outages occurred during humanitarian crises, mass protests, active conflicts, elections, and war, with India reportedly carrying out 84 internet shutdowns last year, making it the number one country to censor internet access for the fifth year in a row.

People in Tigray, Ethiopia have suffered more than two years of a full communication blackout, making it the longest active shutdown, while some regions in Myanmar continue to struggle with a continued blackout for more than 500 days. “Authorities ordered shutdowns for many of the same reasons they have for years, some using the same tired justifications,” Access Now wrote in the report. “For prolonged periods of time, those in power used shutdowns to silence people, often targeting specific communities through complete blackouts, mobile shutdowns, and platform blocking.”

The report shows that not only are governments using internet outages to silence protestors or block alleged misinformation, it has also acted as a cover for countries whose government, military, and police carried out war crimes as well as covering up violent human rights violations including murder, torture, or rape.

Russia reportedly cut internet access 22 times amidst its invasion of Ukraine, using the outages to destroy telecommunications infrastructure and issue cyberattacks while Iran used the outages to combat protests in the wake of the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old who was killed by the country’s “morality police.”

Although the rate of internet blackouts is growing at an unprecedented rate, Access Now says it has seen progress as it works alongside the United Nations to bring an end to global shutdowns. The group says in the report that it “successfully mobilized against election-related shutdowns globally,” including mobilizing against outages during the Kenya general election, progress toward ending the two-year blackout in Ethiopia, and working with the United Nations High Commissioners for Human Rights (OHCHR) organization. 

The UN conducted a similar report last year, reflecting similar findings to Access Now, and describing the severity of the human rights violations. “When a state shuts down the internet, both people and economies suffer. The costs to jobs, education, health, and political participation virtually always exceed any hoped-for benefit,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a press release last year.

She added, “What this report clearly highlights is that swift action is needed to end Internet shutdowns, including through more prominent reporting of their impacts, more transparency by involved companies, and ensuring that we all defend connectivity from self-imposed disruptions.”

via Gizmodo https://gizmodo.com

February 28, 2023 at 02:41PM

NASA’s X-57 Maxwell Could Bring Aviation Into the Electric Future


Image: NASA Langley/Advanced Concepts Lab, AMA, Inc. Graphics: Vicky Leta

NASA’s X-57 Maxwell team is a winner of the 2023 Gizmodo Science Fair for designing a fully electric propulsion aircraft and new aeronautic technologies in the process.

The Question

Can an experimental electric aircraft make aviation greener?

The Results

The X-57 Maxwell is a fully electric airplane and a demonstration of new technologies that could be deployed across air travel. Originally, the team’s plan was to create a high-lift wing that could operate as well in the air as it could during takeoff and landing. When they achieved that wing design, the team set their sights on a bigger goal: designing and flying an electric airplane boasting the novel wing plan.

The project draws its power (and its novelty) from a unique system of 14 propellers, seven per wing, including one on each wingtip. The propellers are air-cold, meaning they don’t require an additional liquid cooling system to stay cool.

The wing design was crafted to make the plane just as efficient at cruise altitudes while also generating plenty of lift on takeoff and landing. The propellers are powered by two lithium ion battery packs that sit in the main cabin. In the final design, all but the wingtip propellers will fold up at cruise.

X-57 Maxwell Electric Airplane Flight Simulation

In anticipation of the X-57’s first flight, the team conducted thermal testing of the motors in February 2023. Takeoff is slated for some time this year and will occur at Edwards Air Force Base in California; according to pilot Tim Williams, the flight should last about 20 minutes.

During that first flight, NASA researchers will be evaluating the airplane’s rigging and confirming it can reach altitude, get close to a stall speed, and land safely back on the ground. Simple enough, right?

Why NASA Did It

“We really want to see this technology made more available to more people,” said Sean Clarke, principal investigator on the X-57 project. “I want to see aviation in general move in a direction that uses less resources, that gets more utility with fewer impacts on the environment. And these electric propulsion technologies really provide some exciting opportunities for that.”

“There’s only one way to prove out that you can take a motor and a motor controller, tie it to a prop, and put it in an air environment where you have gyroscopic loads, and then push a lot of forces all over this stuff, and be safe about it,” said Tim Williams, pilot of the X-57. “We’re going to go up.”

Why X-57 Maxwell Is a Winner

Electric propulsion is generally cleaner, greener, and cheaper than combustion engines. Flying with jet fuel adds greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. The technology to decarbonize air travel doesn’t yet exist, but even if only small aircraft could be fully electric, it could reduce the huge carbon footprints of the world’s wealthiest, who frequently travel in private jets. The X-57 Maxwell is an important first step in developing electric propulsion tech. Its batteries were developed based on the ones used in remote-controlled planes, Williams noted. Now, those batteries have been enlarged and tinkered with to get a full-scale, crewed aircraft off the ground.

Though NASA isn’t about to launch its own airline, the lessons learned and technologies created in the process of designing X-57 could help other companies employ new wing and battery designs in their fleets.

What’s Next

The imminent issue is the first flight, which has already been delayed a few times. Besides the flight—which will involve Mod II of the aircraft—the X-57 team must complete Mods III and IV.

Should all go well, the X-57’s propeller system will have shown a way to increase airflow and generate lift even when the plane is flying slowly. These principles have already been tested and modeled, but it will be another matter entirely to demonstrate them in the skies over California.

The Team

Nick Borer, deputy principal investigator; Sean Clarke, principal investigator; Heather Maliska, project manager; Vince Schultz, deputy project manager; and Tim Williams, pilot.

See the full list of Gizmodo Science Fair winners

Read More: Can NASA Get Its Experimental Electric Plane Off the Ground?

via Gizmodo https://gizmodo.com

March 1, 2023 at 08:06AM