Tech Friday


  • DNA testing and databases have huge privacy implications:
    • Research recently published in the journal Science indicates that enough people have now had DNA tests to match much of the US population
    • DNA databases can now identify more than 60% of Americans with some European ancestry
    • The most disturbing finding is that these people can be identified even if they have not supplied their own DNA. DNA submissions by relatives could lead to you
    • This year police used DNA from a public database to nab Joseph DeAngelo who is suspected of being the "Golden State Killer"
    • A distant cousin of DeAngelo had taken a commercial DNA test which narrowed the list down
    • Police retrieved DNA from a tissue DeAngelo threw away. His DNA matched samples collected from the scenes of dozens of rapes and murders in California
    • Genealogy website MyHeritage and staff from Columbia University wrote "Between April to August 2018, at least 13 cases were reportedly solved by long range familial searches"
    • Yaniv Erlich, chief science officer of MyHeritage and his team analyzed the DNA of 1.2 million people who had submitted their DNA for testing
    • Erlich's team coupled this research with publicly available genealogical records to identify third cousins or closer relatives for 60% of those with mostly European ancestry
    • "Genetic genealogy databases act like a GPS system for anonymous DNA" - Yaniv Erlich 
    • Erlich said that a "suspect list can be pruned from basic demographic information" and "Our simulations indicate that localizing the target to within 100 miles will exclude 57 percent of the candidates on average"
    • Reducing the range of ages to within five years removed another 90% of possibilities and inferring the sex reduces the list to less than 20 people
    • "Moreover, the technique could implicate nearly any U.S. individual of European descent in the near future" Erlich's team said
    • Those of non-European descent are more difficult to identify. For example, people of purely Asian or African lineage tend to have less DNA testing
    • While this technique presents great opportunities for law enforcement to close cold cases, it also means that others could use this information to find you
  • When Your Boss Is an Algorithm:
    • "An algorithm is set of instructions for solving a problem or accomplishing a task" - Investopedia
    • Algorithms are presented as objective and neutral. They determine things like search results, news in our feeds and can provide highly personalized information and services
    • Our world is increasingly ruled by algorithms in form of software. Internet pioneer Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape, has famously said "software is eating the world"
    • And there is concern about intentional and unintentional bias in algorithms that can cause any number of issues
    • Silicon Valley companies are increasingly trying to apply algorithms to manage and control work, and Uber is one prime example
    • As an Uber driver, you have no real-life managers. Your algorithmic manager watches your every move and provides real-time metrics and "encouragement"
    • Uber algorithms control things like pricing and ratings. In certain Uber services, if drivers fall below 4.6 stars on a 5-star rating system, they may be "deactivated". This leads some drivers to tolerate bad passengers rather than risk losing their gig
    • In most cases, there is no manager or HR to talk to, the algorithms decide your fate
    • Algorithms are also increasingly common for screening employment candidates
    • Algorithms don't take vacation, don't call in sick and can work around the clock. Expect to see to see software take middle management jobs, especially in work that is repetitive
    • Are you ready for an algorithmic boss? You may have one sooner than you think
  • Was Jamal Khashoggi's murder captured by his Apple Watch?
    • News reports have speculated that Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi's Apple Watch may have captured audio of his murder in the Saudi embassy in Turkey
    • Khashoggi had gone to the embassy to get paperwork to marry his fiancee Hatice Cengiz and was reportedly questioned, tortured and murdered by a "hit squad" at the embassy
    • The audio was file was reportedly synced with Khashoggi's iPhone which was with Cengiz who was waiting outside the embassy during the exchange
    • Khashoggi has been spotted in past photos wearing a LTE Series 3 Apple Watch
    • So far, no one has been able to determine if this story is true, or merely a cover story to deflect Turkish surveillance in the embassy
    • While Turkish officials have described the audio recordings, they have declined to disclose how audio was obtained
    • A senior Turkish official said that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has heard an audio recording of the murder
    • While it's possible that the Apple Watch recorded the murder, it's not certain that the data would have been able to escape the embassy
    • Embassies are well know for high levels of security and are thus heavily shielded against radio frequency emissions
    • The Apple Watch LTE radios do not function in Turkey and Bluetooth has a very short range and likely not enough power to escape any shielding. And it's very doubtful that his watch would have been allowed to connect to the embassy Wi-Fi
    • It's actually pretty unlikely that the watch was the source of any audio recorded in this case, but a device like this could be used in other circumstances