Posts tagged with "Gizmodo"

Montana just passed a first-of-its-kind law banning TikTok on all devices

April 18, 2023

Montana made history on Friday, April 14, by becoming the first state legislature to approve a wholesale TikTok ban affecting nearly all devices in the state. The first-of-its-kind ban, which goes far beyond previous state efforts banning the app on government devices, could set the precedent for a wave of TikTok bans in other Republican-led states. Widespread TikTok bans, for better or worse, could become a reality, reports Gizmodo.

The state’s House of Representatives voted in favor of the bill, called SB 419, by a margin of 54-43 on Friday afternoon. Montana’s state senate already had approved the bill back in March,—meaning the only thing preventing it from becoming law is a signature from governor and known journalist body-slammer Greg Gianforte.

Once signed, the ban will take effect in January 2024. However, the bill would become void if Congress enacts its own national TikTok ban. The bill also wouldn’t apply if TikTok divests its U.S. business from Chinese ownership.

SB 419  prohibits TikTok from operating “within the territorial jurisdiction of Montana,” over fears the app could be manipulated by the Chinese government for espionage purposes. If TikTok or app stores violate the law, Montana’s Department of Justice could slap them with penalties of up to $10,000 per day for the length of the violation. Those fines would apply to entities facilitating TikTok’s download rather than the app’s users.

“TikTok endangers the safety of Montanans and Americans at large,” Montana state Senator Shelley Vance, one of the bill’s primary authors said according to KTVH. “We know that beyond a doubt that TikTok’s parent company ByteDance is operating as a surveillance arm of the Chinese Communist Party and gathers information about Americans against their will.”

It’s worth noting here that, while numerous lawmakers and intelligence agencies have justified banning TikTok out of national security concerns, there’s still no concrete evidence the Chinese government has even used TikTok to surveil American users. But previous reporting has shown ByteDance employees in China can and have been able to view U.S. user data.

In an email to Gizmodo, a TikTok spokesperson said the bill amounted to censorship and would almost certainly be challenged by courts.“We will continue to fight for TikTok users and creators in Montana whose livelihoods and First Amendment rights are threatened by this egregious government overreach,” a TikTok spokesperson said.

Opponents of the Montana bill like the ACLU say it would violate the First Amendment and be a disaster for freedom of expression. In a letter sent to lawmakers earlier this week, the ACLU and five other civil liberties organizations said they had failed to prove TikTok poses any immediate harm to Montana residents.

“Montana’s TikTok bill is censorship, plain and simple,” ACLU Senior Policy Counsel Jenna Leventoff said in a statement. “Montanans deserve better than to have their representatives violate their free speech rights by cutting them off from a unique platform that allows them to speak their minds, exchange information, and learn new things.”

By approving the nation’s first TikTok ban, Montana may have just given a green light to Republican lawmakers across the country to push forward with their own copycat bills. If that happens, TikTok may have no choice but to agree to a forced spinoff of its U.S. business currently favored by the Biden Administration.

A patchwork of state TikTok bans also could encourage lawmakers in Congress to pursue its own federal TikTok ban. While that seemed unlikely just a few months ago, lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle seemed united in their aggressive stance towards TikTok during a combative hearing with the company’s CEO Shou Zi Chew last month. There are currently around half a dozen bills floating around D.C. that, one way or another, would end up with TikTok banned.

Research contact: @Gizmodo

Two peas from different pods: Your doppelganger may have strikingly similar genes and habits

March 8, 2023

You’ve heard stories about twins separated at birth who unwittingly go on to live similar lives—but what about doppelgangers who aren’t closely related by blood, but just look incredibly alike? Do you have one, and just how similar is he or she, beyond just looking like you?

A one-two punch of a fascinating photography project and a follow-up scientific study tackles these very questions, reports Futurism.

The photos, by Canadian photographer François Brunelle, convincingly capture the uncanny resemblance of doppelganagers. Have a peek at these lookalikes—who, we should clarify again, are unrelated.

Brunelle’s photos caught the eye of geneticist Manel Esteller at the Leukemia Research Institute in Barcelona, Spain. Together, they tracked down 32 pairs of lookalikes whom Brunelle then photographed. Esteller got their DNA samples and, with a team of researchers, put their photos through three different facial recognition algorithms to determine which pairs were the most similar, narrowing it down to 16.

The findings, published in the journal, Cell Reports: Those 16 doppelganger pairs had much more similar DNA than the remaining pairs who weren’t considered as visually similar by the algorithms.

But that’s not all. Beyond just being lookalikes, the study found that the doppelgangers also tended to act alike—at least in the sense that they had similar education and smoking habits. Height and weight, too, were close between pairs.

“These people really look alike because they share important parts of the genome, or the DNA sequence,” Esteller told The New York Times.

While it may seem like common sense that people who look alike share more similar genes than those who don’t, Esteller says it had “never been shown”—until now.

It’s a more complicated question than it seems, and involves the bafflingly complex world of epigenetics, or how genes express themselves. The expression of genes plays a sizable role in how you look, and can be affected by environmental factors in a person’s upbringing—or even, some scientists now believe, by hisor her ancestors’ experiences.

Just how much of a role is hard to quantify, but the findings of the study seem to show that the genomes themselves, rather than the expression of the contained genes therein, plays the larger role.

“Thus, nature is very strong, but nurture tunes up the genome a little bit,” Esteller said to Gizmodo.

Logically, it comes down to sheer numbers. With billions of people in the world, there’s bound to be someone out there by pure chance that looks like you, right?

Strongly linking DNA to appearances and behavior could obviously have some useful medical implications—like using physical indicators to assess a patient’s risk of disease—but it could just as easily have some damaging ones too, bordering on detestable practices like eugenics and phrenology.

Still, it’s no doubt an intriguing revelation — just one that needs to be approached with caution.

Research contact: @futurism

Meet Bard, Google’s answer to ChatGPT

February 8, 2023

Nothing has made the tech industry cower in quite the way that ChatGPT has. The chatbot, which was launched by San Francisco-based OpenAI last November, already has attracted a multibillion-dollar investment from Microsoft.

Microsoft reputedly invested in OpenAI in order to super-charge its search engine, Bing, with ChatGPT, which could have a widespread release this spring.

Concurrently, other major tech players—Google, in particular—are attempting to compete. The search giant has just announced its answer to the wildly popular chatbot, and it’s called BardAI, reports Gizmodo.

BardAI is Google’s own experimental chatbot that is built with the company’s Language Model for Dialogue Applications, or LaMDA. LaMDA is the same AI engine that an ex-Google engineer warned us was sentient, but the company hopes that LaMDA is powerful enough that it will make Bard Google’s rival to ChatGPT.

Bard is currently only available to testers, but Google says that BardAI is using a lightweight version of LaMDA, so that it can scale easily after the trial period and reach more users.

“Bard seeks to combine the breadth of the world’s knowledge with the power, intelligence and creativity of our large language models. It draws on information from the web to provide fresh, high-quality responses,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in a company blog post, adding, “Bard can be an outlet for creativity, and a launchpad for curiosity, helping you to explain new discoveries from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope to a nine-year-old, or learn more about the best strikers in football right now, and then get drills to build your skills.”

Google has also added some AI capability to its basic search engine function, because, as Pichai puts it, “people are turning to Google for deeper insights and understanding.” In other words, Google wants its search engine to provide quicker answers to deeper, potentially multi-part questions. The company also indicated that the search engine’s interface may change slightly too, in order to feed users more in-depth answers to questions in an easier way.

ChatGPT has taken the world by storm since its release to the general public late last year. As Big Tech has taken notice, Google appears to be the first to release its own version of the chatbot while others, like Microsoft, have decided to hop on the bandwagon.

Research contact: @Gizmodo

GoodRx made money selling your health data. The FTC is making it pay.

February 2, 2023

GoodRx has not been very good at protecting your privacy. In fact, reports Vox, it’s more like BadRx.  And now the Federal Trade Commission has written an expensive prescription: a hefty fine and an agreement to implement various privacy protections.

If you’re one of the tens of millions of people who used GoodRx to find bargains on your medications, the drug discount and price-shopping website and app might have done a little more than you bargained for: It sent your sensitive health data to data brokers as well as tech companies like Meta and Google to use for advertising, according to the FTC.

The FTC announced on Wednesday, February 1, that GoodRx has agreed to pay a $1.5 million fine and take various steps to ensure that it no longer shares health data for advertising purposes, that it obtains user consent to share health data for other reasons, and that it makes an effort to get the third parties with whom it previously shared data to delete that data. The move shows how committed the FTC is to protecting people from digital privacy violations, even as

Indeed, Vox notes, America lacks federal privacy laws that would make that job a lot easier. It also shows just how leaky some of these services, which we entrust with our most private information, can be.

The FTC alleges that GoodRx shared the names of medications users were looking for on the app, which medications users redeemed GoodRx coupons for at pharmacies, and which conditions they were using GoodRx’s telehealth platform to get treatment for. GoodRx is also accused of sending lists, including identifying information, of users who purchased certain medications to Meta to then target those users with ads related to the conditions GoodRx knew they had.

“Digital health companies and mobile apps should not cash in on consumers’ extremely sensitive and personally identifiable health information,” Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. “The FTC is serving notice that it will use all of its legal authority to protect American consumers’ sensitive data from misuse and illegal exploitation.”

GoodRx did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some of GoodRx’s practices were first exposed in February 2020 by reports from Consumer Reports and Gizmodo, which detailed how user data was being sent to third parties. At the time, GoodRx apologized, said the data wasn’t used to target ads, and implemented some privacy controls. That seemed to be the end of it, as GoodRx operates in a digital privacy gray area. Although it may collect the same data that pharmacies, doctors, and health insurance companies do, in most cases it’s not beholden to the same health privacy laws — namely, HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Even when HIPAA didn’t apply to GoodRx, the FTC says that the company gave users the impression that it did by putting a little “HIPAA” icon on its website.

When websites and apps collect and mismanage health data that isn’t covered by HIPAA, that might be a job for the FTC’s consumer protection arm. When the period tracker app Flo Health sent users’ fertility information to data brokers despite promises that it wouldn’t, the FTC went after the company for deceiving users.

The FTC is also in the midst of an unfair or deceptive acts lawsuit against Kochava, a data broker that the agency has accused of making people’s personally identifiable and sensitive location data that could cause substantial harm easily available; while those people have no way of knowing that their data is being collected or used this way, let alone how to stop it.

With GoodRx, things are a little different, as the FTC is using a rule it has never invoked before. The Health Breach Notification Rule requires vendors of personal health records that aren’t covered by HIPAA to notify consumers if their data has been accessed by a third party without consumers’ authorization. It’s been on the books since 2009, but the FTC never enforced it until now. The agency signaled a move like this would be coming in 2021, when it issued a warning to health apps and connected devices that they must get their users’ permission before disclosing their health data to third parties.

This was both a clarification of the rule and a warning that the FTC was ready and willing to enforce it. Now it’s made good on that threat for the first time. It likely won’t be the last, given FTC Chair Lina Khan’s stated commitment to data privacy and the notoriously leaky nature of apps and websites. But it should prompt some of these companies to make an effort to either better secure their users’ health data—or to make it more clear to them how and why it’s being shared with someone else, lest the hammer come down on them, too.

The FTC’s new order has to be approved by a federal court before it goes into effect. Assuming it is, the $1.5 million fine won’t kill GoodRx, which reported revenue of $745.42 million in 2021, the most recent year for which that data is available.

But it’s not nothing, either; despite pulling in almost three-quarters of a billion dollars, GoodRx ended the year with a net loss of $25.25 million. There are also the added costs of setting up all the compliance measures the FTC requires per the order; as well as however much revenue GoodRx loses as a result of users deciding to take their business elsewhere because they don’t trust GoodRx to keep their data private.

Consumers pay, too. For some of them, GoodRx disclosed their most sensitive information when they were at their most vulnerable: searching for a way to get medication they otherwise couldn’t afford. They might not be so quick to use drug discount apps in the future now that they know at least one of them sent that data to Facebook.

Research contact: @voxdotcom

NASA’S Lucy spacecraft will carry a time capsule intended to be found by future astro-archaeologists

July 15, 2021

NASA engineers installed a time capsule on the Lucy spacecraft late last week— intended for future astro-archeologists to retrieve and interpret. The time capsule is a plaque that includes messages from Nobel Laureates and musicians, among others, as well as a depiction of the solar system’s configuration on October 16, 2021—the date on which the spacecraft is expected to launch, Gizmodo reports.

Like the Pioneer and Voyager probes, Lucy will carry a message to whomever eventually might intercept the craft. But while the previous probes have messages meant for aliens, as they were shot toward interstellar space, Lucy will stay within the solar system. Its time capsule will presumably be for future humans to retrieve, hence the inclusion of words from Nobel Laureates, Poet Laureates, and musiciansaccording to a NASA release detailing the plaque’s inclusion.

The plaque was installed on Lucy on July 9 in Colorado, where the craft is undergoing final preparations before its slated autumn launch.

The plaque includes quotes from civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., authors and poets including Orhan Pamuk, Louise Glück, Amanda Gorman, Joy Harjo, and Rita Dove, scientists Albert Einstein and Carl Sagan, and musicians—including all four Beatles and Queen guitarist and astronomer Brian May. The messages discuss hope, love, the heavens, cultural memory, and eternity. A complete list can be found on Lucy’s website.

Lucy’s mission focuses on the Trojan asteroids, a group of space rocks that orbits the Sun beyond the ring of the asteroid belt—taking turns leading Jupiter or chasing the gas giant in its own solar orbit. (Trojan asteroids are those that share an orbit with a planet and often are byproducts of that planet’s formation, but the term most commonly applies to those involved with Jupiter.) Jupiter has a phalanx of Trojans, but Lucy (named for the fossil hominin, itself named for the Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”) is targeting just seven of them for flybys over the course of 12 years.

According to Gizmodo, the asteroids are intriguing because they are thought to have formed in the early solar system; just as the Lucy fossil helped paleoanthropologists understand human evolution, the hope is that the Lucy spacecraft will inform NASA about solar system evolution. And since Lucy’s in the sky—beyond it, if we’re being extremely literal—you can imagine the “diamonds” here are the asteroids, a veritable wealth of information.

Lucy is a product of the Discovery Program, the NASA initiative that is producing the DAVINCI+ and VERITAS missions to Venus. The Lucy mission will conclude in 2033, just around the same time when those spacecraft will be arriving at Venus, but Lucy will bounce between the Trojans and Earth for at least hundreds of thousands of years. (NASA has no plans to snatch the craft back out from space.)

Perhaps the most apt passage on the plaque, then, is a quote from science journalist Dava Sobel: “We, the inquisitive people of Earth, sent this robot spacecraft to explore the pristine small bodies orbiting near the largest planet in our solar system. We sought to trace our own origins as far back as evidence allowed. Even as we looked to the ancient past, we thought ahead to the day you might recover this relic of our science.”

To the future humans who may nab Lucy: Enjoy your plaque. You probably won’t be using any language currently spoken on Earth, but hopefully you can grok our intent.

Research contact: @Gizmodo

Fashionistas mock SpaceX’s ‘half-finished Power Ranger’ space suit

June 2, 2020

On Saturday afternoon, May 30, in a first for U.S. private industry, SpaceX, launched a pair of NASA astronauts into the thermosphere—about 200 to 240 miles above the Earth’s surface.

The Elon Musk-led space company put on a big show. Clad in futuristic space suits courtesy of SpaceX, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley got the red carpet treatment as they made their way to a NASA logo-adorned Tesla Model X that drove them to the historic launch complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

However, Futurism reports, while the technology was flawless—and the flight docked without a hitch with the International Space Station on Sunday— the astronauts weren’t properly dressed for the occasion, according to fashion mavens.

“A boxy white top with minor detailing, paired with boxy white pants with minor detailing?” GQ Contributing Writer Tyler Watamanuk wrote in a recent article for the men’s lifestyle magazine—condemning SpaceX’s design choices.

This is the International Space Station, not Everlane!” Watamanuk added, pointing out that “in some ways, the design feels deliberately trend-adverse, paying no mind to contemporary style or even the larger world of design.”

“It looks like car upholstery,” Gizmodo staff reporter Whitney Kimball wrote in a post that Futurism picked up. “It looks like Tron. It looks like a half-finished Power Ranger. It looks like a Tesla-sponsored NASCAR tracksuit.”

Other fashionistas were kinder to the design.

“Actually, what the SpaceX suits evoke most of all is James Bond’s tuxedo if it were redesigned by Tony Stark as an upgrade for [‘Star Trek’ captain] James T. Kirk’s next big adventure,” Vanessa Friedman, chief fashion critic for The New York Times, wrote in a Thursday commentary piece.

“They do not have the dangling hoses, knobs, and wires of the traditional suits,” she added.

According to Futurism, the suit’s designer is Jose Fernandez, a Hollywood costume veteran who worked on movies including “The Avengers” and “Batman v Superman.” The flashy design was reverse-engineered to meet space travel requirements—not the other way around.

But speaking of dangling hoses and knobs, NASA’s own take for its upcoming Artemis missions to the Moon looks strikingly different. The agency’s Orion Crew Survival System suit features a traffic pylon-orange design with NASA-blue trim.

The boots look like a pair of futuristic Adidas. The helmet evokes the Apollo missions. And the gloves could basically be worn snowboarding, from a purely aesthetic point of view, Futurism notes. It’s liquid cooled, custom-fitted to each astronaut, and features a survival kit including a life preserver, rescue knife, flashlight, whistle, and light sticks.

In short, the Orion design is  a freakin’ space suit that’s ready for anything. Function takes precedence over form; it was designed to look like a space suit—not a tuxedo.

Research contact: @futurism

Is your police department getting the feed from Amazon’s Ring cameras? See the interactive map!

September 4, 2019

More than 400 police agencies nationwide are working with the Amazon-owned Ring home surveillance system to track unlawful activities at our doorsteps and in our neighborhoods—and now you can check to see if your local department is one of them.

Ring disclosed the number today on August 28, according to the news outlet Quartz—and, at 400, it’s double what reports had previously revealed.

The security company also published an interactive map that shows which police departments can see all the Ring cameras in a given neighborhood, and can seamlessly request the footage from those cameras,

The map also provides information on when each department started working with Ring, along with a blog post about the Ring-law enforcement partnership. The company will be updating the map as new departments are added, it says.

The release coincided with an in-depth story by The Washington Post, which disclosed the full number of agencies for the first time. According to the report by the Post, “The number of police deals, which has not previously been reported, is likely to fuel broader questions about privacy, surveillance and the expanding reach of tech giants and local police. The rapid growth of the program, which began in spring 2018, surprised some civil liberties advocates, who thought that fewer than 300 agencies had signed on.”

The Ring system includes its surveillance cameras (most famously the motion-activated camera doorbells) as well as the Neighbors app (where people can share footage from their cameras and discuss crime in their areas) and the Neighborhood Portal (where police can see a map of Ring cameras and quickly submit a request for footage during an investigation).

In recent months, ViceCNET, and Gizmodo have reported on U.S. law enforcemnt’s close relationship with the company—which, for example, gives departments discounts or free cameras to distribute among local residents. In some cases, police have used the giveaways as leverage to demand that people hand over their footage, although Ring says it is supposed to be voluntary.

The company said in a statement sent to Quartz that “customers, not law enforcement, are in control of their videos.”

Ring added: “Videos are shared through the Neighbors program only if: 1) a customer chooses to post it publicly on the Neighbors app; 2) explicit consent is provided by the customer. Law enforcement agencies who participate in the Neighbors app must go through the Ring team when making a video request to customers. Customers can choose to opt out or decline any request, and law enforcement agencies have no visibility into which customers have received a request and which have opted out or declined.”

Research contact: @ring