Tech companies protect against government surveillance

The best protection against widespread government surveillance now comes from major tech companies, including those accused of collecting mass amounts of data to sell to other companies seeking targeted advertising.

The FBI has accused Apple of aiding criminals by offering default encryption in the new iPhones it sells. Government reproach is also directed towards Google, which is offering the same encryption for its new Android phones. However, the majority of Americans are grateful for the tech companies’ new developments; a recent Pew survey found that 65 percent of people believe that there aren’t enough limits on government surveillance.

Smartphone encryption is not the only guard against surveillance, either. Google and Yahoo announced that they’re both working on end-to-end encryption in email, and Facebook was established on a Tor hidden services site so that people with access to network traffic can’t access user data.

Encryption tools are generally difficult to operate, and thus only tech-savvy users have been able to achieve full privacy. As a result, anyone using encryption tools was unique and therefore suspicious to government officials. With new integrated encryption, privacy will be more universal, and those previously using encryption systems will be better camouflaged.

Articles: The Center for Internet and Society, September 9, 2015

Photo: DC Ralley Against Mass Surveillance via Susan Melkisethian [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]


Google’s algorithm can manipulate elections

According to a study done by Robert Epstein and Ronald E. Robertson, changes made to Google’s search algorithm have the ability to manipulate voting preferences of undecided voters by 20 percent or more. Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the study experimented with the Search Engine Manipulation Effect (SEME) in two countries with over 4,500 participants.

The investigators conducted an experiment where participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups in which search rankings favored Candidate A, B, or neither. Before researching for 15 minutes on a search-engine called Kadoodle, participants were provided a short description of both candidates and asked whom they would be voting for. The 30 search results were the same for everybody, but ordered differently depending on the group. The number of people favoring a candidate increased between 37 and 60 percent due to the biased search algorithm.

Google adjusts its search algorithm 600 times a year. In refutation of SEME, Google comments: “Providing relevant answers has been the cornerstone of Google’s approach to search from the very beginning. It would undermine the people’s trust in our results and company if we were to change course.”

 

Articles: Politico Magazine, August 19, 2015; via MILRN

Photo: Campaigning with a Smile via Jack [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]