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
Brian Thomas

Brian Thomas

Based in Cincinnati, OH, the Brian Thomas Morning Show covers news and politics, both local and national, from a conservative point of view. Read more


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