How one guy's exercise routine made him a burglary suspect, thanks to Google's Geofence Warrants

At 30-years-old, Zachary McCoy was really getting his shit together. He'd recently finished his associate's degree in computer programming, and he was exercising on the reg, riding his bike around his Gainesville, Florida neighbor and tracking his progress on the RunKeeper app. Things were looking up — until the morning when he got that fateful email. From NBC News:

It was from Google’s legal investigations support team, writing to let him know that local police had demanded information related to his Google account. The company said it would release the data unless he went to court and tried to block it. He had just seven days.

[…]

[McCoy's parents] agreed to dip into their savings to pay for a lawyer. The lawyer, Caleb Kenyon, dug around and learned that the notice had been prompted by a “geofence warrant,” a police surveillance tool that casts a virtual dragnet over crime scenes, sweeping up Google location data — drawn from users’ GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and cellular connections — from everyone nearby. […]

[McCoy] looked up his route [on the RunKeeper app] on the day of the March 29, 2019, burglary and saw that he had passed the victim’s house three times within an hour, part of his frequent loops through his neighborhood, he said.

“It was a nightmare scenario,” McCoy recalled. “I was using an app to see how many miles I rode my bike and now it was putting me at the scene of the crime. And I was the lead suspect.”

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Rage Inside the Machine: an insightful, brilliant critique of AI's computer science, sociology, philosophy and economics

Rob Smith is an eminent computer scientist and machine learning pioneer whose work on genetic algorithms has been influential in both industry and the academy; now, in his first book for a general audience, Rage Inside the Machine: The Prejudice of Algorithms, and How to Stop the Internet Making Bigots of Us All, Smith expertly draws connections between AI, neoliberalism, human bias, eugenics and far-right populism, and shows how the biases of computer science and the corporate paymasters have distorted our whole society. Read the rest

You treasure what you measure: how KPIs make software dystopias

"Key Performance Indicators" -- KPIs -- are the metrics used by software shops to figure out whether their products are improving; notoriously, much of the software industry has converged on "engagement" (that is, minutes spent with an app) as a KPI, and everyone from designers to programmers to managers to execs earn their bonuses and promotions by making that number go up. Read the rest

Customizable ethics checklists for Big Data researchers

Deon is a project to create automated "ethics checklists" for data science projects; by default, running the code creates a comprehensive checklist covering data collection and storage, modeling and deployment: the checklist items aren't specific actions, they're "meant to provoke discussion among good-faith actors who take their ethical responsibilities seriously. Because of this, most of the items are framed as prompts to discuss or consider. Teams will want to document these discussions and decisions for posterity." Read the rest