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This Uber news is shadier than a white paneled van

(TECH NEWS) Uber is up to some shady stuff again that could have some real legal repercussions – more than just upsetting a Twitter mob this time.




The accusations are uber-serious!

Ridesharing app, Uber has been using a hidden tool called “Greyball” to collect data that would identify law enforcement officials. The purpose?

To allegedly evade authorities for illegally operating in cities or countries where Uber had no legal approval to provide certain or all services.

A leak of wiki proportions

The New York Times has acquired internal company documents from four anonymous whistleblowers, all Uber employees.

Greyball, these documents show, is part of Uber’s VTOS program that has been in operation since 2014.

The “Violation of Terms of Service” program was originally created to identify and blacklist users improperly targeting its services.

The program is currently operational in countries like South Korea, China, and Italy. But Uber has also used the program to evade authorities in many U.S. cities including Las Vegas and Boston.

How does Greyball actually work?

A brilliant demonstration came as early as 2014 from Portland, Oregon when Uber had no approval to operate in the city. As part of a sting operation, Erich England, a code enforcement inspector, hailed a cab on his Uber app from downtown Oregon. The app displayed miniature vehicles on Mr. England’s screen.

However, the app was displaying “ghost cars” on purpose, and no physical cars were coming to pick him up.

The display, in other words, was a smokescreen, a fake version of the app.

The app had already identified Mr. England as a city official, thereby “greyballing” him, in order to circumvent being captured for covertly and illegally operating in the city.

Uber: A brief history

One of Silicon Valley’s biggest success stories, Uber is valued at $70 billion and operates in more than 70 countries around the world.

It is the dominant ride hailing company in the United States, and is expanding rapidly into South America and Asia.

The company’s roster of investors is impressive. Last year, Uber raised $3.5 billion from Saudi Arabia alone, in order to expand in the Middle East. Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and even mutual fund giants like BlackRock have stakes in the company.

When bad press is actually bad press

Uber has recently come under increased scrutiny for its aggressive work culture, rife with fear of retaliation, abuse, and insanely demanding work hours. Susan Flower, an ex-employee, published detailed accusations of discrimination and sexual harassment.

At a 2015 Las Vegas company party, Beyoncé was hired, Uber employees did cocaine in the hotel bathrooms, and a manager groped several female employees.

In a recently filed federal lawsuit, Google also sued Uber for using technology acquired through intellectual property theft.

This latest revelations of the existence of the Greyball tool really substantiates how dangerously far Uber will test legal boundaries in order to dominate the market.

Denial, not just a river in Egypt

Uber seemed to defend its practice as more of a necessary, preventative step.

“This program denies ride requests to users who are violating our terms of service — whether that’s people aiming to physically harm drivers, competitors looking to disrupt our operations, or opponents who collude with officials on secret ‘stings’ meant to entrap drivers.”

Nevertheless, the law enforcements agencies might have a vastly different interpretation of this behavior. The VTOS program and the Greyball tool, it seems to analysts, was developed in response to the fallout of the UberX service.

Makin’ waves

The UberX feature (summoning a noncommercial driver in a private car with only cursory background check) ran into legal hurdles globally, including in U.S. cities like Austin, Philadelphia, and Tampa.

As a result, Uber started losing thousands of dollars in lost revenues to law enforcement officials for impounded or ticketed UberX drivers.

The Greyball tool was then introduced. Identify enforcement officers, preempt their sting operations by displaying a fake app, and never offer an actual ride.

If the plan was simple, the modus operandi was straight up sinister

The tool utilized around a dozen mechanisms to identify officers.

Including, but not limited to, stalking on social media; “geofencing” around authorities’ office buildings; checking credit card information tied with the Uber account; and even blacklisting cheap mobile phone numbers, which city officials with limited budgets were most likely to purchase and use during large-scale sting operations.

Can’t trust them as far as you can throw them

Such sophistication has proven to be a largely effective technique. Now the big question is, how aggressive and effective the law agencies would be in challenging Uber’s current practices.

Perhaps even more to the point, can the public trust such devious companies?Click To Tweet

Uber is not new to legal hurdles. But the latest revelations seem more like breach. A breach of faith, ethics, and probably the law.


Barnil is a Staff Writer at The American Genius. With a Master's Degree in International Relations, Barnil is a Research Assistant at UT, Austin. When he hikes, he falls. When he swims, he sinks. When he drives, others honk. But when he writes, people read.

Tech News

Snap a business card pic, Microsoft app finds ’em on LinkedIn

(TECH NEWS) Microsoft Pix is teaming with LinkedIn in a neat way that will benefit networking, especially if you have any lazy bones in your body.



microsoft pix

Have you ever been watching some sort of action-adventure movie where there’s a command center with all sorts of unbelievable technology that kind of blows your mind? Well, every day we come closer and closer to living within that command center.

You may think that I’m talkin’ crazy, but check this out – there is a new technology that can scan a business card, and find the business card’s owner on LinkedIn. (Can I get a “say what????!”)

This app is courtesy of Microsoft and goes by the name Pix (it’s not new, but this function is).

The way it works is simple: Bill Jones hands you his business card, you fire up the Pix app (currently only on the iPhone. Sorry, Droids), you snap a picture of the card and the app takes the details (phone number, company, etc.) and finds Bill on LinkedIn. Bingo.

It also will automatically take that information and will create a new profile for Bill Jones within your phone’s contacts. After you scan the business card through Pix, Microsoft will ask if you want to take action.

At this point, Pix will recognize and capture phone numbers, email addresses, and URLs. If your phone is logged into LinkedIn, the apps will work together to find Bill’s profile. Part of me wants to think that this is kind of creepy but a larger part of me thinks that it’s really cool.

According to Microsoft Research’s Principal Program Manager, Josh Weisberg, “Pix is powered by AI to streamline and enhance the experience of taking a picture with a series of intelligent actions: recognizing the subject of a photo, inferring users’ intent and capturing the best quality picture.”

“It’s the combination of both understanding and intelligently acting on a users’ intent that sets Pix apart. Today’s update works with LinkedIn to add yet another intelligent dimension to Pix’s capabilities.”

Pix itself originally launched in 2016 as a way to compete against AI’s ability to edit a photo by use of exposure, focus, and color. This new integration in working with LinkedIn is a time saver, and is beneficial for those who collect business cards like candy and forget to actually do something with them.

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Tech News

Walmart and the blockchain, sitting in a tree

(TECH NEWS) Say goodbye to #foodwaste with Walmart’s new smart package delivery proposal featuring everyone’s favorite pal, blockchain.




Following the trend of adding “smart” as a prefix to any word to make it futuristic, Walmart now proposes “smart packages.” The retail giant filed for a new patent to improve their shipping and package tracking process using blockchain.

Last week, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) released the application, which was filed back in August 2017.

Officially, the application notes the smart package will have “a body portion having an inner volume” and “a door coupled to the body portion” that can be open or closed to restrict or allow access to the package contents.

In other words, they’ve patented a box with a door on it that also has lots of monitoring devices.

Various iterations lay claim to all versions of said box include smart packaging utilizing a combination of monitoring devices, modular adapters, autonomous delivery vehicles, and blockchain.

Monitoring devices would regulate location tracking, inner content removal, and environmental conditions of the package like temperature and humidity. This could help reduce loss of products sensitive to environmental changes, like fresh produce.

Modular adapters perform these actions as well, and also ensure the package has access to a power source and the delivery vehicle’s security system to prevent theft.

Blockchain comes into play with a delivery encryption system, monitoring, authenticating, and registering packages. As it moves through the supply chain, packages will be registered throughout the process.

The blockchain would be hashed with private key addresses of sellers, couriers, and buyers to track the chain of custody. Every step of the shipping process would be documented, providing greater accountability and easier record keeping.

This isn’t Walmart’s first foray into the world of blockchain. Last year they teamed up with Nestle, Kroger, and other food companies in a partnership with IBM to improve food traceability with blockchain.

Walmart also took part in a similar food tracking program in China with last year as well.

And let’s not forget Walmart’s May 2017 USPTO application to use blockchain tech for package delivery via unmanned drones. Their more recent application builds on the drone idea, which also proposed tracking packages with blockchain and monitoring product conditions during delivery.

In their latest application, Walmart notes, “online customers many times seek to purchase items that may require a controlled environment and further seek to have greater security in the shipping packaging that the items are shipped in.”

Implementing blockchain and smart package monitoring as part of the shipping process could greatly reduce product loss and improve shipment tracking.

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Tech News

Experts warn of actual AI risks – we’re about to live in a sci fi movie

(TECH NEWS) A new report on AI indicates that the sci fi dystopias we’ve been dreaming up are actually possible. Within a few short years. Welp.



AI robots

Long before artificial intelligence (AI) was even a real thing, science fiction novels and films have warned us about the potentially catastrophic dangers of giving machines too much power.

Now that AI actually exists, and in fact, is fairly widespread, it may be time to consider some of the potential drawbacks and dangers of the technology, before we find ourselves in a nightmarish dystopia the likes of which we’ve only begun to imagine.

Experts from the industry as well as academia have done exactly that, in a recently released 100-page report, “The Malicious Use of Artificial Intelligence: Forecasting, Prevention, Mitigation.”

The report was written by 26 experts over the course of a two-day workshop held in the UK last month. The authors broke down the potential negative uses of artificial intelligence into three categories – physical, digital, or political.

In the digital category are listed all of the ways that hackers and other criminals can use these advancements to hack, phish, and steal information more quickly and easily. AI can be used to create fake emails and websites for stealing information, or to scan software for potential vulnerabilities much more quickly and efficiently than a human can. AI systems can even be developed specifically to fool other AI systems.

Physical uses included AI-enhanced weapons to automate military and/or terrorist attacks. Commercial drones can be fitted with artificial intelligence programs, and automated vehicles can be hacked for use as weapons. The report also warns of remote attacks, since AI weapons can be controlled from afar, and, most alarmingly, “robot swarms” – which are, horrifyingly, exactly what they sound like.

Read also: Is artificial intelligence going too far, moving too quickly?

Lastly, the report warned that artificial intelligence could be used by governments and other special interest entities to influence politics and generate propaganda.

AI systems are getting creepily good at generating faked images and videos – a skill that would make it all too easy to create propaganda from scratch. Furthermore, AI can be used to find the most important and vulnerable targets for such propaganda – a potential practice the report calls “personalized persuasion.” The technology can also be used to squash dissenting opinions by scanning the internet and removing them.

The overall message of the report is that developments in this technology are “dual use” — meaning that AI can be created that is either helpful to humans, or harmful, depending on the intentions of the people programming it.

That means that for every positive advancement in AI, there could be a villain developing a malicious use of the technology. Experts are already working on solutions, but they won’t know exactly what problems they’ll have to combat until those problems appear.

The report concludes that all of these evil-minded uses for these technologies could easily be achieved within the next five years. Buckle up.

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