Deutschland Ditches Distancing | Social Score From Your Smartphone | Gaming on the Company Dime
August 3, 2020
The Good News
- Wyoming’s ‘Bird Lady’ offers a haven for injured birds (High Country News)
- From foster child to fundraiser: My Five-Year-Old Raised $1.6M Walking 6 Miles Using Prosthetic Legs (Newsweek)
- Despite everything wrong in the world right now, humanity is always progressing: A Blood Test for Alzheimer’s? Markers for Tau Take Us a Step Closer (Alzheimer’s Association)
“When two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly halfway between them. It is possible for one side to be simply wrong.” ― Richard Dawkins
Big Tech Settles the Score
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that their movements are being tracked by their phone. But do they know their habits and personalities are also being scored, perhaps quite harshly? This process is called surveillance scoring, and it’s the product of two trends.
First is the rampant, almost unregulated, collection of every intimate detail about our lives. Second is the arrival of technologies able to instantaneously crunch this data: powerful computers and high-speed communications systems like 5G networks that use artificial intelligence scoring algorithms to rate all of us, in some way, for different purposes. The result is a system of automated decision-making, based on unique scores given to each consumer — scores that are concealed and virtually impossible to change.
Specialized tech companies operating in the shadows of the online marketplace use the vast troves of personal data to generate these secret “surveillance scores” — digital mug shots that supposedly predict future behavior. The firms sell their scoring services to major businesses across the US.
Core Logic and TransUnion tell landlords their scores can predict whether a potential tenant will pay the rent on time, or possibly break a lease. Large companies use HireVue, a firm that analyzes “tens of thousands of factors,” including a person’s facial expressions and voice intonations, to generate a job candidate’s “employability” score. Other employers use Cornerstone’s scoring system, which judges how successful job candidates will be based on where they live and which web browser they use.
Brand-name retailers purchase “risk scores” from Retail Equation to help make judgments about whether consumers commit fraud when they return goods for refunds. Scores calculated using information from smartphone apps that track driving styles are used by auto insurers to raise premiums. Wireless customers predicted to be “less profitable” must often endure longer customer service hold times. And just how comfortable would you be knowing that the next time you log into your Starbucks account, book an Airbnb, or make a reservation on OpenTable, Sift was scoring your “overall trustworthiness”?
The bottom line is that surveillance scoring allows companies to cloak old-school discrimination with an aura of technological infallibility. The scores create micro-markets in which some consumers are no longer welcome, effectively dividing Americans into “haves” and “have-nots,” with losers effectively relegated to the status of second-class citizens. Worst of all, consumers are kept completely in the dark about these systems, with no access or appeal process, and the federal government isn’t interested in helping.
Germs in Germany
(Maja Hitij via Getty Images)
- Over the summer, Germany successfully brought the COVID-19 pandemic under control, until the government began warning of a new spike in cases in late July. Blame for the increase is pinned on lax enforcement of social distancing and hygiene rules, as well as travelers returning from abroad.
- Still in effect are guidelines stipulating that people must maintain a distance of 5 feet; where that is not possible, face masks must be worn. On Friday, Germany recorded 955 new COVID-19 infections in a 24-hour time span for the first time since the beginning of May. Nevertheless, on Saturday some 17,000 people attended a rally in Berlin to protest the restrictions.
- Organizers named the march the “Day of Freedom — The End of the Pandemic.” Among the attendees were anti-vaccine groups and some far-right and neo-Nazi organizations. Berlin police had warned that only people wearing face coverings and practicing social distancing would be allowed to participate. “Our colleagues are using loud speakers to urge the adherence to the rules. We are also documenting non-compliance for possible later prosecution,” police tweeted.
- But a livestream of the event showed most of the protesters not socially distancing or wearing masks; some could be heard yelling: “We are the second wave.” Authorities said a criminal complaint was filed against one of the march’s organizers for not adhering to hygiene rules. (CNN)
A Different Kind of Respiratory Problem
- Scientists and environmental groups are very alarmed after new satellite images released by Brazil’s space research agency Saturday revealed a 28 percent increase in fires in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, with 6,803 fires in July 2020 compared to 5,318 in July 2019.
- An Amazon ecologist noted that July is the beginning of the burning season, when areas that have been deforested are burned to clear the land. “This is an indicator that the rest of the burning season is going to be very intense,” she said. Another environmental scientist warned: “It’s a terrible sign. We can expect that August … and September will be worse yet.”
- The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest, often referred to as the “lungs of the planet.” 60 percent of the rainforest lies in Brazil, but the country’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro — a climate change denier — has urged for more development and economic opportunities in the Amazon region. In May, the military was sent in to fight the fires. Under mounting pressure, Bolosonaro’s government said it planned to ban fires in the Amazon for 120 days, a measure Greenpeace called “insufficient.”
- The environmental organization shared images of fires burning in the central state of Mato Grosso despite the ban. It said the photos show smoke, flames, “and just how ineffective the ban has been.” Researchers at NASA warned that 2020’s warmer than average sea surface temperatures in the tropical North Atlantic Ocean have elevated the risk of fires in the southern Amazon, increasing the chance that human-set fires for agriculture and land clearing would be more prone to grow out of control and spread. (NBC News)
Additional World News
- Inside the Hong Kong Newsroom at the Edge of Autocracy (Atlantic, $)
- Hong Kong Delays Election, Citing Coronavirus. The Opposition Isn’t Buying It. (NYT, $)
- TSMC walks tightrope between US and China as Intel falls behind (CNN)
- Why a Data Breach at a Genealogy Site Has Privacy Experts Worried (NYT, $)
- Body Bags and Enemy Lists: How Far-Right Police Officers and Ex-Soldiers Planned for ‘Day X’ (NYT, $)
- Thousands demonstrate against Netanyahu as Israel protests gain strength (Guardian)
- UAE starts up Arab world’s first nuclear plant (BBC)
- In India, a Gay Prince’s Coming Out Earns Accolades, and Enemies (NYT, $)
- The US ambassador to Brazil reportedly asked Brazilian officials to help Trump’s reelection (Vox)
- 2 New But Early Studies Suggest COVID-19 Vaccine Could Be Given In 1 Dose (NPR)
- Why Hong Kong’s ‘third wave’ is a warning to all (BBC)
- Japan Acted Like the Virus Had Gone. Now It’s Spread Everywhere. (Bloomberg)
- Fighting the Coronavirus, from New York to Utah (New Yorker)
- After Plummeting, the Virus Soars Back in the Midwest (NYT)
- Cramped workplaces, parties … the factors fuelling local Covid-19 spikes (Guardian)
- The Coronavirus Infected Hundreds at a Georgia Summer Camp (NYT)
- Schools Aren’t Going to Reopen This Fall (Atlantic)
The Peninsula Takes a Pounding
(Joe Raedle via Getty Images)
- COVID-19 has killed more than 7,000 Floridians and is entrenched in communities from Pensacola to Key West. Now the storm season has begun earlier than usual as Tropical Storm Isaias stalks the Atlantic coast. Although this storm is turning out to be relatively mild, it is piggybacking on top of a public health crisis and an economic calamity, which have left over a million Floridians out of work and struggling with an unemployment payment system designed to be slow.
- The still-raging pandemic has caused emergency management officials to draw up special plans to deal with people fleeing or displaced by storms. Instead of heading to shelters, the first choice is for coastal residents in homes vulnerable to flooding to stay with relatives or friends farther inland, while still being careful to wear masks and remain socially distant.
- According to the emergency management director for Palm Beach County: “Shelters should be considered your last resort.” Some South Floridians rushed to supermarkets, gas stations and hardware stores to get prepared, but others appeared unfazed by the relatively wea storm. Many are simply more worried about the continued spread of the virus than another tropical storm.
- The state’s latest surge in cases has been driven by a rapid economic reopening that exposed people to infection in bars and house parties. Contact tracers in Miami-Dade County found that almost a third of people who tested positive for the virus were exposed by someone in their household.
- An epidemiologist said Miami’s larger-than-average household sizes and higher poverty rates, coupled with uneven mask use, meant the virus was declining so slowly it might be December before a 5 percent positivity rate may be reached. (NYT)
- California’s Apple Fire Destroys More Than 20,000 Acres (NPR)
Down on the Ballot, But Not Out
- From the outset, World Health Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made one thing clear about COVID-19. “Do not politicize this virus,” he said in April, as the United States fell into a pattern of partisan bickering over the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Almost four months later, it appears that the virus has not only become a political issue, but a defining one at that. As election season quickly approaches, Democrats are staking their fall fortunes on a narrative that Republicans are responsible for the nation’s prolonged outbreak.
- These strategies from the left not only apply to the presidential race, but are seen permeating throughout local-level campaigns for state legislative positions. Many Republican-led states have witnessed a summer spike in cases due to premature re-openings and — even while many of those decisions have come from governors who aren’t on the ballot this November — political strategists expect that frustration to be taken out on state legislative seats.
- Ever since the Tea Party movement in 2010, Republicans have held a firm grip on legislative chambers across the country. Deep pockets and gerrymandered districts have kept Democrats from gaining much ground, and conservatives currently hold a 400-seat advantage nation-wide. However, this could change if the public’s opinion on COVID-19 holds steady into November.
- By assessing public approval for both Trump and Republican governors, the down-ballot effects of COVID-19 become evident. Since the outbreak, governors in Florida and Texas have seen their approval ratings drop to below 40%, mirroring the president’s current polls. All throughout the Sun Belt, trust in Republican leadership is waning as cases continue to surge. For Democrats, this faltering faith represents a rare opportunity to regain and redraw districts that have been intentionally designed by a conservative majority. (The Atlantic)
Additional USA News
- Kodak C.E.O. Got Stock Options Day Before News of Loan Sent Stock Soaring (NYT, $)
- Even mail has become political: Mail Delays Fuel Concern Trump Is Undercutting Postal System Ahead of Voting (NYT, $)
- Portland protests calm after federal officers leave the city (WaPo, $)
- Federal Agents Don’t Need Army Fatigues (NYT, $)
- COVID-19 Is Upending the Battle for State Legislatures (Atlantic, $)
- Media to be banned from Republican convention due to coronavirus restrictions (Guardian)
- This devastating video encapsulates the Trump/GOP horror show in 3 minutes (Boing Boing)
- In Trumpworld, the Grown-Ups in the Room All Left, and Got Book Deals (NYT, $)
- The moment impeachment managers realized how corrupt Trump’s defense was (WaPo, $)
- How a 16-year old Rush Limbaugh fan became a senior policy advisor to Trump: The Man Who Made Stephen Miller (Politico)
- Tammy Duckworth Is Nothing and Everything Like Joe Biden (NYT, $)
Office Hours on the Xbox
- Rather than playing a round of golf or ordering a round of drinks, business executives are now turning to a new venue for COVID-friendly corporate leisure: video games. In lieu of tedious Zoom calls, the world of virtual gaming allows for meetings to take place in collaborative and entertaining settings, whether they be with employees or clients.
- Brooklyn-based advertising executive Lewis Smithingham is an early adopter of the idea, claiming that he often invites associates to chat with him over a violent game of Grand Theft Auto, a video game where players can rob banks, hijack vehicles, and slaughter pedestrians. While the activity may seem discourteous, many corporate gamers find that these shared experiences lead to better team building and creativity amongst employees, all from a safe distance.
- The idea of using video games as an alternative workplace predates the pandemic itself. Companies like IBM and Coca Cola once held “office space” in a simulated world called Second Life in the early 2000s. Today, other companies favor more popular digital spaces like Minecraft, where employees can help build their workplaces.
- Obviously, nothing beats old-fashioned in person interaction. But for business leaders looking to maintain a sense of cohesion and comradery amongst their personnel in a socially distanced setting, logging on to the Xbox might be the next best thing. (NYT, $)
- Is that stimulus check burning a hole in your pocket, or is it just you?: How to Know if There’s Too Much Cash in Your Savings Account (Lifehacker)
- Why the Working Class Votes Against Its Economic Interests (NYT, $)
- Nuclear Regulators Consider New Safety Rules For Smaller Plants (NPR)
- Incognito Mode May Not Work the Way You Think It Does (Wired)
- Why looking at yourself in mirrors and Zoom is not the same: The Weirdness of Watching Yourself on Zoom (Scientific American)
- How to Practice Ukeireru, The Japanese Art of Acceptance (Lifehacker)
- For young people, emotions are highly contagious social viruses (Psyche). Apparently negative emotions can even be spread online as well.
- How a Cheese Goes Extinct (New Yorker, $)
- The history of twine: Take a tusk, drill holes, weave a rope – and change the course of history (Guardian)
- Do Animals Really Anticipate Earthquakes? Sensors Hint They Do (Scientific American). Additional video: My dog Sophie senses 6.5 earthquake in Eureka at the Times-Standard
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