Tech went to Washington this week, and their biggest problems followed them.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg faced Congress, and though Google CEO Larry Paige was invited, he declined to make the trip—a move that didn’t ingratiate him with Congressional watchdog Mark Warner. One uninvited guest did make an appearance at the hearings, however: Alex Jones. He heckled Dorsey and a CNN reporter, and was captured by a photographer’s lens for what is one of the most perfect (and surreal) photos of 2018. Though Jones’ DC antics were mild compared with his past bad behavior, being that physically close to his trolling seems to have finally woken up Dorsey; Twitter permanently banned Jones the next day.
In other Washington news, Jon Kyl heads to DC to take John McCain’s Arizona senate seat. Kyl is of particular interest to people in Silicon Valley, as he’s the person Facebook appointed to investigate allegations of its bias against conservatives. And the Department of Justice officially charged a North Korean with hacking Sony Pictures in 2014, and also names him as participating in both the WannaCry ransomware scare and a 2016 Bangladesh Bank heist.
In other Google news, the company celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Chrome browser, and announced its plans to kill the URL. Apple, also missing in Washington, was busy this week looking into reports that one of the most popular apps in its Mac App Store acts like spyware. The company pulled the app after WIRED and others reported on its shady data collection.
Plus, there's more. As always, we’ve rounded up all the news we didn’t break or cover in depth this week. Click on the headlines to read the full stories. And stay safe out there.
NYPD and IBM Built a Skin-Tone Recognition Algorithm for CCTV Footage
An object-recognition software IBM developed for use in self-driving cars morphed into a security surveillance tool in recent years. The Intercept reports that, according to documents and interviews with former IBM engineers, the NYPD gave IBM video and images from CCTV cameras placed all around New York City, enabling the tech company to refine image recognition search by facial features, including skin tone and body type. The NYPD began using the technology in 2010. In 2016 or early 2017, IBM reportedly upgraded the NYPD’s algorithm to explicitly search for people by ethnicity. The Intercept reports the software is also being used by a university in California. Civil rights advocates call the report alarming.
Malicious British Airways Breach Exposed 380,000 Credit Cards
Anyone who booked a British Airways flight using the airline’s website or app from August 21 to September 5 had their financial details compromised, BA revealed Thursday. Though personal data was taken, CEO Alex Cruz said the hackers got no passport or travel details. The airline says it will compensate customers for any financial loss resulting from the breach, which it is still investigating.
Google Emails Customers Under FBI Investigation
Motherboard reports that dozens of people reportedly got a very disquieting email from Google recently, telling them they were part of a secret FBI investigation. The email told customers that the FBI had contacted the search giant asking for access to their customer data on them, and that Google had complied. The notices seem related to an investigation into the LuminosityLink, a hacking tool whose creator pled guilty last year to distributing to hundreds of people. Some of those people claiming to have received the email from Google had apparently also purchased the LuminosityLink.
Google Hasn’t Solved its Russian Ad Problem
Charlie Warzel at Buzzfeed News reports that for just $35, a group of researchers impersonating Russian trolls were able to buy ads on Google. This might not be surprising, but it shouldn’t have happened, considering Google has sworn to secure its platform against foreign meddlers. The ads were “racially and politically divisive” and were made to look like they came directly from a Russian troll farm. Yet, Google sent them out to thousands of Americans on major news sites, proving that Google’s current safeguards against such material are not up to the job. If Google had shown up to testify in DC to week, politicians would certainly have asked about this failure.
Beware Sketchy Fake Army Websites
Army.com sounds like a legit government URL, but according to a Federal Trade Commission, it was a scam site that took potential recruit’s information and sold it to for-profit universities. It wasn’t the only one. The FTC took down nine such sites, targeting the private information of military hopefuls, and filed suit against the two Alabama-based companies running the sites, which the FTC allege made $11 million of the scam, which had been running, it seems, since 2010.