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What Ashley Madison hackers released (how Eric Schmidt was vindicated)

When hackers unveiled email addresses and transaction data on millions of Ashley Madison users last night, they vindicated Eric Schmidt’s callous statements made six years ago.

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Hackers seek to take down Ashley Madison

Avid Life Media, operator of AshleyMadison.com (a popular site for adulterers) has confirmed the legitimacy of user data published online today by hactivist group, Impact Team. The massive data dump was done last night and was posted through the Tor network (part of the “dark web” only accessible by a specific browser that doesn’t track traffic data).

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Data was released on 32 million users, which includes names, usernames, addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, birth dates, descriptions of themselves, and the kicker – individual credit card transactions including the last four digits of their credit card number, the time, date, and amount paid, and from what IP address. Although the company maintains that they have never stored credit card information on their servers, many, like Quartz have reviewed the data and confirmed that transaction data and the last four digits of the credit card number are stored on the servers, but not the full credit card number.

How and why did this happen?

The hacktivist group, Impact Team threatened to release the information if Ashley Madison and sister site Established Men (which matches young women with sugar daddies) were not shut down.

In a statement, Avid Life Media stated, “This event is not an act of hacktivism, it is an act of criminality. It is an illegal action against the individual members of AshleyMadison.com, as well as any freethinking people who choose to engage in fully lawful online activities. The criminal, or criminals, involved in this act have appointed themselves as the moral judge, juror, and executioner, seeing fit to impose a personal notion of virtue on all of society. We will not sit idly by and allow these thieves to force their personal ideology on citizens around the world.”

Conversely, it is being said that Impact Team initially threatened to expose the database after discovering Avid Life Media allegedly promised to delete their users’ information from their database for $19, but the hackers were able to find the data still on the Avid Life Media servers and took issue with the alleged scam. Threats were made, action was not taken, and the hackers made good on their public promise.

How Eric Schmidt was vindicated today

“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place,” then-CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt tells CNBC, dismissing the importance of privacy. In 2009, when Schmidt made these claims, the internet exploded with rage, as the arbiter of our most personal data basically said there’s no such thing as privacy and that you should just behave.

Regardless of motive, the end result of the Ashley Madison breach is proof that there is no privacy, no secret dark corner of the web where you can misbehave. If your browser isn’t watching (and it is unless you’re using Tor), your computer might be (if you’re using Windows 10, you may not know the keystroke tracker is on), or your phone might be listening through it’s live microphone (that you turned on so you can say “OK, Google” from across the room), or your open laptop’s camera could be watching you (several lawsuits of people easily hacking into open cameras have landed people in jail).

So, like Schmidt said, “the reality is that search engines, like Google, retain this information for some time.” Privacy didn’t die, it never existed, it was an illusion, and we’re openly giving our privacy away. Time to reconsider your own bad behaviors online.

#AshleyMadison

Tech News

5 pending House bills that could break up Big Tech

(TECHNOLOGY) As Big Tech flails about with lobbying, legislators are forging ahead with bills to regulate their mere existence – can you name any of the five pending bills? If not, keep reading.

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The US House of Representatives has its sights set on Big Tech heavy hitters like Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Apple as it considers a group of five bills to tackle these giants in anti-monopoly legislation.

This has good sides and possible down sides. More competition in the market drives prices down. Amazon says if it has to separate out core functions it will make it harder on small businesses who rely on their platforms and could compromise free two-day shipping. It is impossible to predict what changes may or may not come to pass at this stage, but it is clear that change is inevitable. As a leaked document from Facebook in October of 2020 made clear, preparations have been underway for a while.

In late June 2021, the DC federal court threw out two antitrust suits against Facebook.

US District Court Judge James Boasberg needed the suits to answer two critical questions they couldn’t provide sufficient clarity on. What were the two asks the suits couldn’t meet? Define a social network– specific bounds and features outlining the market in consideration. Determine Facebook’s share in said market – the lawsuit cited 60+% percent, but the judge declared their arguments “vague,” which in this instance can be taken to mean insufficient to develop case law.

Also in June 2021, the House Judiciary Committee considered 5 bills and gained nigh unheard of bipartisan backing, outlined below.

You can sign up for updates for legislative actions on each of the bills directly from Congress.gov by clicking each of the headings.

1. Ending Platform Monopolies Act

  • Introduced in the House of Representatives on June 11th, 2021 by Representative Jayapal as House Bill 3825.
  • “To promote competition and economic opportunity in digital markets by eliminating the conflicts of interest that arise from dominant online platforms’ concurrent ownership or control of an online platform and certain other businesses.”
  • This bill would provide definitions for unlawful conflicts of interest, enforcement actions and limitations on board membership and other service by interested individuals.

2. American Choice and Innovation Online Act

  • Introduced in the House of Representatives on June 11th, 2021 by Representative Cicilline as House Bill 3816.
  • “To provide that certain discriminatory conduct by covered platforms shall be unlawful, and for other purposes.”
  • Does “and for other purposes” make your skin crawl a little? Don’t worry, the other section headers include Judicial Review (guidance for judges), Bureau of Digital Markets (creating an oversight entity), Enforcement Guidelines, and Suits By Persons Injured.

3. Platform Competition and Opportunity Act

  • Introduced in the House of Representatives on June 11th, 2021 by Representative Jeffries as House Bill 3826.
  • “To promote competition and economic opportunity in digital markets by establishing that certain acquisitions by dominant online platforms are unlawful.”
  • This bill would outline what constitutes an unlawful acquisition, provide guidance to judges, and define enforcement actions and procedures.

4. Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act

  • Not to be confused with its 2019 predecessor, this bill was introduced in the House of Representatives on June 11th, 2021 by Representative Scanlon as House Bill 3849.
  • “To promote competition, lower entry barriers, and reduce switching costs for consumers and businesses online.”
  • This bill would define what unfair method of competition means, look at portability and interoperability of services, and authorize the establishment of a technical committee to oversee the development and implementation of the Act’s policies.

5. Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act

  • Introduced in the Senate on February 4th, 2021 by Senator Klobuchar as Senate Bill 228.
  • “To promote antitrust enforcement and protect competition through adjusting premerger filing fees, and increasing antitrust enforcement resources.”
  • This bill make it more expensive for corporate mega-mergers to occur and provide funding to the Federal Trade Commission ($418m) and the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice ($252m).

How these bills will evolve as they move through the legislature is anyone’s guess. Whether any of them will make it to the President’s desk at all is even questionable at this stage. Big Tech is imminently going to see changes in regulation and oversight, as these major players touch all of our lives in some facet or another.

I am going to be keeping a close eye on the progress of this legislation. We’ll keep you posted.

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Tech News

The billionaire nerds’ space race is the launch of a new era

(TECHNOLOGY) As billionaires begin launching their own bodies into space, a new era of tourism is being born, and a plethora of ancillary industries will inevitably follow.

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“I know nothing with any certainty but the sight of stars make me DREAM.” – Vincent Van Gogh

For the entirety of the recorded history of mankind, we have dreamed of the stars. Some ancient cultures used them to tell stories, believing that the turning of time created more. Others developed complicated maps and time tables using their positioning. No matter who you are or where you come from, there is something about those twinkling points of light that strikes a sense of wonder at your heart. Whether it’s a twinkle in the eye or on the horizon, we can’t help but be enveloped by their essence.

Under all the hustle and bustle, a private race has been going on for the last two decades. A couple of billionaires with urgent aspirations have been racing towards one of the next biggest steps for human space travel. Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin both started within a few years of each other back around 2001. Since then, both companies and their founders have been pushing and striving for their goals.

Although culturally, most recognize Elon Musk’s SpaceX as the reigning royalty of private space exploration, after 16 years of research, Virgin Galactic recently reached the next milestone. Founder, Sir Richard Branson, is the first civilian on a commercial space flight – he declared, “We are at the vanguard of a new industry determined to pioneer twenty-first century spacecraft, which will open space to everybody – and change the world for good.”

Virgin Galactic launch: Sir Richard Branson becomes first billionaire in space

Sir Richard Branson made astronautical history on Sunday afternoon by becoming the first billionaire in space.The 70-year-old Virgin Galactic founder lifted …

Now personally, I see this as a severe over-simplification of the next steps for us but we can definitely see the beginning of a new industry taking shape. With both grace and expediency space travel – as tourism – is taking off. There are many possible avenues these companies to take. We can only sit back and watch currently as these titans continue to grow.

On the heels of Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin has just completed their own manned flight with their respective billionaire, Jeff Bezos. Who, in stroke of compassion, has invited the renowned Wally Funk to join him on their inaugural flight.

Blue Origin’s rocket launches to edge of space, carrying Jeff Bezos and crew

CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” team watches the liftoff of Blue Origin’s historic launch that is carrying Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his crew.

As we near this new era in travel we have many things to not only be thankful for but also to figure out. This long-awaited moment has now been experienced by the super-rich. Virgin Galactic’s prices were last reported at $250,000 per seat. Other reports for some companies put one of the seats for Blue Origins maiden flight $28 million. Enough money to be thrown around to cover so many things.

We all knew this was going to be expensive.

The price of advancing the human race was always going to be capitalism. Let’s see where the planet’s billionaires take us. Hopefully it’s better for us all as we continue to manifest our dreams amongst the stars.

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Tech News

How blockchain could dramatically improve democracies

(TECH) Blockchain is changing the face of democracy with a magical fix to basically all the problems.

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Despite our best intentions to be active, informed citizens in democratic practices, not everyone has time, figuring out how to be engaged can be confusing, and reps don’t always vote how you want. Plus, confidence in Congress is hilariously/depressingly low with all the scandals and thinly veiled corporate interests.

Well hooray for the future, because now we have blockchain technology to propel us out of the murky waters of representative democracy and into a more efficient liquid democracy.

A liquid democracy platform, also referred to as delegative democracy, has voters select a personal representative as a proxy for their vote. In our current set up, elected representatives vote for things on your behalf, and the best you can do other than running for office yourself is call in and ask them to vote your way.

With a liquid democracy, everyone votes on each piece of legislation.

You can assign a delegate to vote on your behalf by proxy when you’re not available. Personal representatives can be removed and reassigned at any time unlike set terms for elected officials.

The delegate can even select a proxy for their votes, creating a directed network graph, where voters and politicians are connected on a publicly verified blockchain. Anyone can be selected as a delegate as long as they’re a legal resident of your jurisdiction registered to vote.

Quick refresher course: Blockchain is essentially a decentralized digital list of records with timestamps and transaction data information. Each individual record is considered a block, which is cryptographically secured and resistant to modification.

Blocks contain a cryptographic hash of the previous block, creating a chain. Once recorded, data cannot be altered without network majority consent. As an open, peer-to-peer distributed ledger, blockchain is a permanent and efficient way to record transactions.

Used by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008 for cryptocurrency exchange to create Bitcoin, blockchain has now expanded to the healthcare industry, banking, and now potentially democratic practices.

David Ernst, one of the leaders of the liquid democracy movement, founded United.vote, a platform established to get the ball rolling. The site helps connect voters to personal representatives, and provides a scorecard that tracks how elected politicians’ votes compare to constituents wishes.

“What if instead centralizing authority into the hands of a few strong men, we expanded political power to many, many more voices,” Ernst suggested at the 2017 CyFy conference.

His plan to expand power is liquid democracy via the United.vote platform, which he notes is backwards-compatible with our current system. Ernst is also running as an independent candidate for California Assembly District 19.

He was partially inspired by the Flux Party’s 2016 campaign in Australia, who tried to implement an issue-based direct democracy similar to liquid democracy. Although the party only got 0.15 percent of the vote nationwide, Ernst stands by the idea.

A liquid democracy via blockchain would theoretically increase accountability, participation, and representation.

Through direct participation and personal representation, elections would no longer be necessary.

Instead, voters simply choose someone to represent them, and can select a different person for individual issues. Delegation can be changed at any time, so you’re not stuck with someone if they end up being a total weasel.

So far, only a little over one thousand people have signed up for United.vote, but Ernst stated, “If I got elected, but only 20 people were actually using [the platform], I would still follow those people.”

Although the concept may be ahead of its time (and possibly a wishful Utopian dream), Ernst is confident that these changes can fix democracy.

This editorial was first published here in February 2018.

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