The profound and odious ways the authorities manipulate information have long been a subject of study. After a couple years of very bad press, the New York Police Department is in the spotlight again for what some see as unforgivable shenanigans on a few Wikipedia pages.
In the most heinous cases, about a dozen IP addresses associated with the NYPD made subtle changes to the pages about to victims of excessive force. Specifically Eric Garner, Amadou Diallo, and Sean Bell, all of whom were killed in high-profile incidents by the department. The page about the Eric Garner incident, where officer Daniel Pantaleo killed Garner using a choke hold the department had trained officers not to use, was modified just hours after a New York City grand jury decided not to indict the officer for the wrongful death of Garner. The image below demonstrates the importance of how information is conveyed.
Eric Garner Case Semantically Engineered
As you can see, the description of Garner’s surrendering body language is changed to “flailing,” which can be interpreted as a threatening gesture. The size of the man is added in an attempt to garner pity for the officers, who were smaller in stature than Eric Garner. Garner’s size did not prevent Pantaleo from successfully subduing the man on that fateful day.
On the page of Amadou Diallo, the man killed in 1999 when police officers claimed to mistake a wallet for a gun, an NYPD IP address changed a crucial fact about officer Kenneth Boss, whom Amy Goodman had reported as having killed another unarmed man in 1997. The edit changed “unarmed” to “armed.” According to a Village Voice article from the era, the evidence as to whether Bailey was or was not armed is conflicting. The Anti-Crime Unit that Kenneth Boss was a member of was similar in nature to the “Rough Riders” of the Oakland Police Department. By this, it is meant that these officers were not operating within the normal procedural framework expected of them. In Bailey’s killing, for instance, they did not announce themselves as police at all.
In any case, an edit made in the interest of truth and factuality would have simply changed the term to the naked “man,” without the word “armed” or “unarmed,” since it is objectively hard to establish whether the unloaded shotgun was a plant or not. (Witnesses of the killing insist that Bailey was unarmed; in the event that he actually had been holding a gun, the fact that the officers had not identified themselves would make it seem reasonable for the man to wield it against unidentified, armed intruders.)
Police Inserting Themselves in Band Profiles and Adding Homophobic Falsities
In less nefarious edits made by addresses associated with the NYPD – the full list of which is available here – an anonymous editor from the department added three officers to the line-up of British anarcho-punk band Chumbawamba. In August, 2009, they changed the names of Lou Watts, Boff Whalley, and Jude Abbot to Mark Kraljevic, Danny Levine, and Paul Law, all of whom are NYPD officers.
The more reprehensible hijinx of the department are on the page about the eye infection Stye, where they make ludicrous claims about the disease emanating from homosexual acts.
New York City is a big place and it’s not surprising that Capital caught them in these many acts of information manipulation. The question is where else these sorts of edits are going unnoticed, and how effective community editing can be in an age of unprecedented disinformation.
Images from Shutterstock.
This Tool Lets you Scan the Dark Web for your (Stolen) Personal Data
A recently revealed a dark web scanning service was launched in the UK. The service is called OwlDetect and is available for £3,5 a month. It allows users to scan the dark web in search for their own leaked information. This includes email addresses, credit card information and bank details.
The service reportedly uses online programs and a team of trained experts to scan hundreds of thousands of dark web websites in order to look for their customers’ data. If any personal data is found, the company helps its users act in order to keep themselves safe. It was launched in an attempt to remove reliance on big companies, as users usually only know they were hacked after these companies make it public.
In a few cases, however, the information is revealed a long time after users are hacked. Earlier this year, Yahoo confirmed that, at least 500 million user accounts were compromised by what they believed to be a “state-sponsored actor”. The breach reportedly occurred in 2014, so it took users two years to know they were hacked.
Chairman of the National Cyber Management Centre, and member of OwlDetect’s advisory team, Professor Richard Benham said:
Today the risk of having your personal information compromised is greater than ever. From messaging apps to online shopping and dating websites, we trust a huge number of companies with our details, and there are endless opportunities for those details to fall into the wrong hands.
Crawling the Deep Web
The deep web is, as we all know, beyond the reach of regular search engines. That may be about to change in the future, as more and more tools keep on claiming to be able to crawl it in search for specific information.
According to their website, this new service has a database of stolen data. This database was created over the past 10 years, presumably with the help of their software and team. A real deep web search engine does exist, however.
A few days ago, Hacked.com reported how the Department of Defense’s deep web search engine was to be enhanced by a recent acquisition. This search engine, named Memex, is reportedly able to crawl 90 to 95% of the deep web, presenting its search results in sophisticated infographics.
Image from Shutterstock.
Facebook Looking into “Disrupting Economics” of Fake News Sites
In a Facebook post Friday night, founder of the popular social network Mark Zuckerberg took time to outline the steps the company will take to tackle its “fake news” problem, which has been a hot topic in the wake of the election. One way the social media behemoth plans on doing that is by making sure fake news sites can’t profit.
Mr. Zuckerberg calls it “disrupting fake news economics.”
“A lot of misinformation is driven by financially motivated spam,” he posted. “We’re looking into disrupting the economics with ads policies like the one we announced earlier this week, and better ad farm detection.”
Mr. Zuckerberg underscored that Facebook takes “misinformation serious” and reinforced the company’s goal “to connect people with the stories they find most meaningful.”
The social media tycoon admits “We’ve been working on this problem for a long time.” There’s more work to be done, he says.
“Historically, we have relied on our community to help us understand what is fake and what is not,” he wrote in the long post. “…The problems here are complex, both technically and philosophically. We believe in giving people a voice, which means erring on the side of letting people share what they want whenever possible. We need to be careful not to discourage sharing of opinions or mistakenly restricting accurate content. We do not want to be arbiters of truth ourselves, but instead rely on our community and trusted third parties.”
Mr. Zuckerberg claims the percentage of misinformation is small, then outlines what Facebook will do, including stronger detection, easy reporting by users, third party verification via fact checking organization, warnings for stories flagged as false by other users, and raising bar for articles which appear in related articles suggestions.
“Some of these ideas will work well, and some will not,” he admits. “But I want you to know that we have always taken this seriously, we understand how important the issue is for our community and we are committed to getting this right.”
Image from Shutterstock.
LastPass Password Manager Goes Free Cross-Platform
LastPass, arguably the most widely used password manager around is passing on some welcome news to its users. Starting Wednesday, LastPass users will be able to sync their passwords across multiple devices and platforms, for free.
The cross-platform sync for users’ credentials, previously a perk enjoyed by paying members, will now be enabled for all users and members on the free tier can start using the feature immediately across on multiple devices beyond their desktops or laptops.
Launched in 2008, LastPass has come a long way in becoming a ubiquitous name in password management. Joe Siegrist, founder and general manager of LastPass who made the announcement , sees the move enabling good password habits into becoming the norm. Using a password manager that works everywhere across devices and platforms, he notes, will help users with a strong foundation for securing their identities.
LastPass protects users’ credentials (usernames and passwords) and other data in a vault that’s secured by a master password. The data is encrypted with AES-256 bit encryption with Sha-256 salted hashes, which enables encryption and decryption to take place offline.
The announcement makes for a significant move for LastPass, the second in as many years. In August 2015, LastPass announced that it would enable users to manage their passwords, for free, on any one device. The popular choice was, of course, between desktops or smartphones. Now, users will merely have to put up with ads to use LastPass on their mobile devices once they’re out and about, away from their desktops or laptops.
Just under a year ago, LastPass was acquired by remote-access management provider LogMeIn, in a deal worth $110 million. This year, LastPass was proven to be vulnerable through a phishing attack. Since the revelation, the company has revamped and strengthened its security framework, before eventually launching its own two-factor authentication app, comparable to the likes of Google Authenticator and Authy.
Image from LastPass.
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