Machine learning classifiers are up to 20% less accurate when labeling photos from homes in poor countries

A new study from Facebook AI Research evaluates common machine-learning classifiers' ability to label photos of objects found in households in rich countries versus household objects from poor countries and finds that the models' performance lags significantly when being asked to classify the possessions of poor people. Read the rest

A deep dive into stalkerware's creepy marketing, illegal privacy invasions, and terrible security

Stalkerware -- spyware sold to people as a means of keeping tabs on their romantic partners, kids, employees, etc -- is a dumpster fire of terrible security (compounded by absentee management), sleazy business practices, and gross marketing targeted at abusive men who want to spy on women. Read the rest

Countries with longer copyright terms have access to fewer books (pay attention, Canada!)

Rebecca Giblin (previously) writes, "We've just dropped a new study we've been working on for a year. You know how it keeps being claimed that we need longer copyrights because nobody will invest in making works available if they're in the public domain? Heald and some others have done some great work debunking that in the US context, but now we've finally tested this hypothesis in other countries by looking at the relative availability of ebooks to libraries. It's also the first time anyone has been able to compare availability of identical works (by significant authors) across jurisdictions. The books we sampled were all in the public domain in Canada and NZ, all under copyright in Australia, and a mix in the US (courtesy of its historical renewal system)." Read the rest

Training a modest machine-learning model uses more carbon than the manufacturing and lifetime use of five automobiles

In Energy and Policy Considerations for Deep Learning in NLP, three UMass Amherst computer science researchers investigate the carbon budget of training machine learning models for natural language processing, and come back with the eyepopping headline figure of 78,468lbs to do a basic training-and-refinement operation. Read the rest

Empirical analysis of behavioral advertising finds that surveillance makes ads only 4% more profitable for media companies

In Online Tracking and Publishers’ Revenues: An Empirical Analysis, a trio of researchers from U Minnesota, UC Irvine and CMU report out their findings from a wide-ranging (millions of data-points) study of the additional revenues generated by behaviorally targeted ads (of the sort sold by Facebook and Google) versus traditional, content-based advertising (that is, advertising a piano to you because I spied on you when you searched for pianos yesterday, versus showing you an ad about pianos next to an article about pianos). Read the rest

Report from the Fed reveals that "economic growth" is a highly localized phenomena, masking widespread financial desperation

Trump likes to boast about economic growth, and while many have pointed out that many of the policies that produced the rosy figures are leftovers from Obama's policies, it's also important to note that the "growth" is highly localized, with aggregated national figures hiding the incredible economic desperation in the poorest parts of America. Read the rest

Print book reading is surging, just not in research libraries

US booksellers and public libraries are reporting strong growth in demand for print books, but research libraries are increasingly serving as archives, rather than references. Read the rest

Gabriel Zucman: the Piketty-trained "wealth detective" who catalogued the secret fortunes of the super-rich and figured out how to tax them

Bloomberg's Ben Steverman offers a long and exciting profile of Gabriel Zucman (previously), a protege of Thomas Piketty (Zucman was one of the researchers on Piketty's blockbuster Capital in the 21st Century) who has gone on to a career at UC Berkeley, where he's done incredibly innovative blockbuster work of his own, particularly on estimating the true scale of the wealth gap in the USA and worldwide. Read the rest

Study attributes mysterious rise in CFC emissions to eastern Chinese manufacturing

A new study reported in Nature (Sci-Hub mirror) tracks down the origins of the mysterious rise in CFC-11, a banned ozone-depleting greenhouse gas whose rise was first reported a year ago, and blames the increase on manufacturing in eastern China. Read the rest

Exploitation of workers becomes more socially acceptable if the workers are perceived as "passionate" about their jobs

In a new paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a team from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business found that people look more favorably on exploiting workers (making do "extra, unpaid, demeaning work") if the workers are "passionate" about their jobs. Read the rest

In less than one second, a malicious web-page can uniquely fingerprint an Iphone, Pixel 2 or Pixel 3 without any explicit user interaction

In a new paper for IEEE Security, a trio of researchers (two from Cambridge, one from private industry) identify a de-anonymizing attack on Iphones that exploits minute differences in sensor calibration: an Iphone user who visits a webpage running the attack code can have their phone uniquely identified in less than a second, through queries to the sensors made through automated background processes running on the page. Read the rest

Massive, careful study finds that social media use is generally neutral for kids' happiness, and sometimes positive

In Social media’s enduring effect on adolescent life satisfaction, a pair of Oxford psych researchers and a colleague from Stuttgart's University of Hohenheim review a large, long-running data-set (Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study, 2009–2016) that surveyed 12,672 adolescents at eight points over seven years. Read the rest

The world's preeminent cryptographers can't get visas to speak at US conferences

Ross Anderson (previously) is one of the world's top cryptographers; the British academic and practitioner was honored by having his classic, Security Engineering, inducted into The Cybersecurity Canon; however, he was not able to attend the awards gala himself because the US government sat on his visa application for months, and ultimately did not grant it in time. Read the rest

Amazon's monopsony power: the other antitrust white meat

In 2017, law student Lina Khan shifted the debate on Amazon and antitrust with a seminal paper called Amazon's Antitrust Paradox, which used Amazon's abusive market dominance to criticize the Reagan-era shift in antitrust enforcement, which rewrote the criteria for antitrust enforcement, so that antitrust no longer concerned itself with preventing monopoly, and only focused on "consumer harm" in the form of higher prices. Read the rest

Towards a method for fixing machine learning's persistent and catastrophic blind spots

An adversarial preturbation is a small, human-imperceptible change to a piece of data that flummoxes an otherwise well-behaved machine learning classifier: for example, there's a really accurate ML model that guesses which full-sized image corresponds to a small thumbnail, but if you change just one pixel in the thumbnail, the classifier stops working almost entirely. Read the rest

Why "collapse" (not "rot") is the way to think about software problems

For decades, programmers have talked about the tendency of software to become less reliable over time as "rot," but Konrad Hinsen makes a compelling case that the right metaphor is "collapse," because the reason software degrades is that the ground underneath it (hardware, operating systems, libraries, programming languages) has shifted, like the earth moving under your house. Read the rest

Duke University acquires the archives of Charles N Brown, founder of Locus Magazine

Charlie ("Charles N") Brown was the force behind Locus Magazine (previously) until his death in 2009; he hired me to be a columnist for the magazine in 2006 and I've been writing for them ever since. Read the rest

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