Friday, March 3, 2017

Last Call For The Greyball Special

Ride-sharing giant Uber is exactly the kind of tech company I despise: they come in and "disrupt" business, cheat at it, throw money at it, and act like spoiled brats when they get resistance.  But this NY Times story shows the depths to which the company will sink to when it comes to dealing with curious cops.

Uber has for years engaged in a worldwide program to deceive the authorities in markets where its low-cost ride-hailing service was being resisted by law enforcement or, in some instances, had been outright banned. 
The program, involving a tool called Greyball, uses data collected from the Uber app and other techniques to identify and circumvent officials. Uber used these methods to evade the authorities in cities such as Boston, Paris and Las Vegas, and in countries like Australia, China, Italy and South Korea. 
Greyball was part of a broader program called VTOS, short for “violation of terms of service,” which Uber created to root out people it thought were using or targeting its service improperly. The VTOS program, including the Greyball tool, began as early as 2014 and remains in use, predominantly outside the United States. Greyball was approved by Uber’s legal team. 
Greyball and the broader VTOS program were described to The New York Times by four current and former Uber employees, who also provided documents. The four spoke on the condition of anonymity because the tools and their use are confidential and because of fear of retaliation by the company.

Information is the greatest weapon of them all, folks, and Uber is king at using it.  A company that has an app that literally knows where you are at all times can use that to play all the games it wants to, and nobody beats Uber at it.

Uber’s use of Greyball was recorded on video in late 2014, when Erich England, a code enforcement inspector in Portland, Ore., tried to hail an Uber car downtown as part of a sting operation against the company. 
At the time, Uber had just started its ride-hailing service in Portland without seeking permission from the city, which later declared the service illegal. To build a case against the company, officers like Mr. England posed as riders, opening the Uber app to hail a car and watching as the miniature vehicles on the screen made their way toward the potential fares. 
But unknown to Mr. England and other authorities, some of the digital cars they saw in the app did not represent actual vehicles. And the Uber drivers they were able to hail also quickly canceled. That was because Uber had tagged Mr. England and his colleagues — essentially Greyballing them as city officials — based on data collected from the app and in other ways. The company then served up a fake version of the app populated with ghost cars, to evade capture.

The real question is of course if Uber can use this technology to make sure cops don't get rides, well, it can use that technology to make sure anyone it wants to can be "greyballed out".  And you'd never know.

Time is money.  Uber wants to make as much as possible, so matching up fat fares with profitable drives is the kind of thing a datamining startup can excel at, taking into account traffic conditions, weather, position, history, and oh yeah, all your personal information.

So maybe you'd get that ride.  But maybe Uber makes more money if you pick up this other guy over here two blocks over.  Not your fault, it's playing the percentages.  But maybe you don't get a ride for 30 minutes...when Uber can charge later surge pricing, for example, because of high volume.

At a time when Uber is already under scrutiny for its boundary-pushing workplace culture, its use of the Greyball tool underscores the lengths to which the company will go to dominate its market. Uber has long flouted laws and regulations to gain an edge against entrenched transportation providers, a modus operandi that has helped propel the company into more than 70 countries and to a valuation close to $70 billion. 
Yet using its app to identify and sidestep the authorities in places where regulators said Uber was breaking the law goes further toward skirting ethical lines — and, potentially, legal ones. Some within the company who knew about the VTOS program and how the Greyball tool was being used were troubled by it. 
In a statement, Uber said, “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.” 
Dylan Rivera, a spokesman for the Portland Bureau of Transportation, said in a statement: “We’re very concerned to hear that this practice continued at least into 2015 and affected other cities. 
“We take any effort to undermine our efforts to protect the public very seriously,” Mr. Rivera said.

Most of all is the fact that Uber has pretty much decided it's going to put every cab company on the planet out of business, and that it's going to run over every local government that dares to get in its way as a multinational "disruptor of tech".  Laws don't apply to Uber, it seems...and it has the money to make those laws go away.  Now we see it also has the tech to make the law go away too.

Nice company, huh?

The Tale Of Three Brothers

No state typifies the Trump/Pence mindset than Indiana, where we meet the Marshall brothers down the road from here a bit over in Evansville, Jeremy, Troy, and Brandon.  They all voted for Trump, but now they're wondering if that was such a good idea.

Unemployment is low in southwestern Indiana, like the Midwest in general, after a seven-year jobs expansion under President Barack Obama. Still, there are thousands fewer high-paying manufacturing jobs than a decade ago. Factory wages have fallen.
As a result, Evansville’s middle class is hollowing out. Household income is flat, compared with strong growth nationally. The dream of a comfortable life with less than a bachelor’s degree — a credential held by only one in four Indiana adults — is receding.
“That way of life has really evaporated,” said Jonathan Weinzapfel, who was Evansville’s mayor the year Whirlpool left, idling 1,100 workers. 
And blue-collar workers are not the only members of the middle class being squeezed. Jeremy Marshall, who has a master’s degree and earns about $50,000 a year teaching at an elementary school, has long worked a second job — first mowing lawns, now as a home inspector. 
After Indiana’s Republican legislature rolled back teachers’ bargaining rights and tied their pay to student test scores a few years ago, Jeremy said, he missed out on what otherwise would have been an automatic $12,000 raise. He said he voted for Mr. Trump, but in statewide elections he supports Democrats, who are union-friendly. 
His workday is longer and more stressful than it used to be, he said. “I go home, and I’m mentally zapped. Everything’s data-driven. It’s always analyzing data, creating assessments to create more data.” 
At Applebee’s, as the conversation circled around the complexities of trade, Brandon Marshall, once in favor of strict protectionism, seemed to shift his view. He considered how tariffs might strain Jeremy’s budget and threaten Troy’s job. 
“It’s hard to say what would happen if we shut the borders off and had to start surviving on our own,” Brandon said.

“The thing about Trump, he never had to worry about a $15 tape measure compared to a $6 one,” he added. “He’s got good intentions. He wants to keep the jobs here. But if all those parts coming for Toyota cost more money to get here, is it going to turn jobs away in the long run?”

Well, you know Brandon, there was another candidate in the race who had some really good ideas on that complex and complicated subject, but you and your bros were perfectly okay voting for the racist bigot who you are now discovering may have not had your best interests in mind.

I'd tell the Marshall brothers would I would tell any Trump voter:  Maybe you're not a racist bigot, but you were super okay voting for the guy who is one to be our president in direct response to the nation's first black commander-in-chief.  In my book, that makes your judgment suspect at best, so maybe you should leave the heavy lifting of voting to the people with actual moral standards next time, eh?

Another Pence-ive Disaster

You could make the argument that as massively incompetent as the Trump regime seemed to be at governing that VP Mike Pence, Indiana's former governor, at least had executive experience and wasn't an obvious chowderhead.  At least, you could have made that argument before the Indianapolis Star dropped this story about Pence using a personal AOL account to conduct state account that was of course hacked.

Vice President Mike Pence routinely used a private email account to conduct public business as governor of Indiana, at times discussing sensitive matters and homeland security issues

Emails released to IndyStar in response to a public records request show Pence communicated via his personal AOL account with top advisers on topics ranging from security gates at the governor’s residence to the state’s response to terror attacks across the globe. In one email, Pence’s top state homeland security adviser relayed an update from the FBI regarding the arrests of several men on federal terror-related charges.

Cyber-security experts say the emails raise concerns about whether such sensitive information was adequately protected from hackers, given that personal accounts like Pence's are typically less secure than government email accounts. In fact, Pence's personal account was hacked last summer.

Furthermore, advocates for open government expressed concerns about transparency because personal emails aren't immediately captured on state servers that are searched in response to public records requests.

I seem to recall Republicans making a rather large deal about using personal email accounts to conduct government business because it was clearly unsafe and exposed information to hackers.

Cybersecurity experts say Pence’s emails were likely just as insecure as Clinton’s. While there has been speculation about whether Clinton's emails were hacked, Pence’s account was actually compromised last summer by a scammer who sent an email to his contacts claiming Pence and his wife were stranded in the Philippines and in urgent need of money.

Corey Nachreiner, chief technology officer at computer security company WatchGuard Technologies, said the email accounts of Pence and Clinton were probably about equally vulnerable to attacks.

"In this case, you know the email address has been hacked,” he said. “It would be hypocritical to consider this issue any different than a private email server.

He and other experts say personal accounts such as the one Pence used are typically less secure than government email accounts, which often receive additional layers of monitoring and security, and are linked to servers under government control.

So yeah, turns out Mike Pence was actually guilty of what Republicans spent years accusing Hillary Clinton of doing, and of course it doesn't matter in the least because IOKIYAR.  Pence is just as awful and corrupt as the rest of the Trump regime, and oh yeah, he's trying to hide his emails too.

Oh, and let's not forget that Trump EPA chief Scott Pruitt did the same thing when he lied to Congress during his confirmation hearing about using a personal email account for state business when he was Oklahoma Attorney General.

An environmental group and several Democratic senators are demanding a review of the personal email account of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, after he said during confirmation hearings that he never used that account for official business as Oklahoma state attorney general.

When asked whether he had ever used a private email account while on the job, Pruitt told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee: “I use only my official OAG [office of the attorney general] email address and government-issued phone to conduct official business.”

Yet several of Pruitt’s official emails, released in a lawsuit in Oklahoma, were copied to his personal email — an Apple account that was partially blacked out before being released.

“Lo and behold, the documents Scott Pruitt wanted to keep hidden have confirmed our suspicion that he used his personal email address to conduct official state business and that he was not honest with the Senate about this during his confirmation process,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

But hey, her emails.  So.  Whatever.


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