[Plura-list] Scammers recycled covid nose-swabs; Ed-tech apps spy on kids; NY AG attributes Net Neutrality fraud to telcos

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Thu May 6 11:42:18 EDT 2021


Tomorrow (May 7), the Gaithersburg Book Festival is featuring me in an
interview conducted by John Scalzi; we pre-recorded the event but I'll
be in the live chat for the premiere.



Today's links

* Scammers recycled covid nose-swabs: Indonesia had 1.6m infections and
these supervillains helped export them.

* Ed-tech apps spy on kids: Disciplinary Technology, SDKs, censorware,
and education.

* NY AG attributes Net Neutrality fraud to telcos: 18 million fraudulent
comments filed in the FCC docket.

* This day in history: 2011, 2016, 2020

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming/recent appearances, current
writing projects, current reading


👩🏾‍🦯 Scammers recycled covid nose-swabs

Indonesia has experienced one of the worst covid outbreaks in Asia, with
1.6m cases and 46,000 deaths. Early on, the country took prevent
measures so travelers wouldn't carry infection domestically and abroad,
requiring fliers to get an antigen nasal swab before boarding.

It turns out that this might have actually led to further spread of the
disease, because corrupt employees of the Indonesian pharma giant Kimia
Farma were enriching themselves by *repackaging and reusing nasal swabs*.



The practice of re-using swabs is thought to have begun on Dec 17, 2020
at Kualanamu International Airport in Medan, North Sumatra, and is
believed to have affected at least 10,000 passengers.

Five Kimia employees including the regional business manager face
criminal charges, and two lawyers among the affected fliers are bringing
a class action against the corporation seeking 1b rupiah per passenger
in damages.


👩🏾‍🦯 Ed-tech apps spy on kids

When schools switched to distance learning amid the lockdown, it
represented a chance to rethink education and ed-tech, from lessons to
schedules to evaluation.

For the most part, we have squandered that chance, doubling down on the
most destructive educational practices.

This is true across the board, not just in ed-tech. Take the bizarre
start-times for classes - as early as 7AM for students enrolled in
"period 0" classes. This timing has nothing to do with best practices in
pedagogy or our understanding of adolescent brain-development.

Instead, it's a least-worst option arising from the US's unwillingness
to treat high-quality child-care as a public good that benefits both
kids and working parents. We open our schools at o-dark-hundred because
parents need to get to work.

This, despite the fact that the majority of teens' body-clocks shift
nocturnally as they go through puberty. We know that waking kids up
early hurts their learning outcomes, but we accept that tradeoff because
the alternative (kids whose parents can't earn a living) is worse.

Virtual schools represented an opportunity to shift education to more
humane hours, but we blew it. And that's the least of our failures,
barely registering in comparison with the way that we failed to fix
ed-tech even as it grew to eclipse all other pedagogical questions.

Exhibit A, of course, is "remote invigilation," the spyware that we
force students to install on their computers in the name of preventing
cheating on the pedagogically bankrupt high-stakes tests we cling to.


These tools are force-multipliers for the destructive power of
high-stakes testing: their junk-science "sentiment analysis" facial
recognition algorithms can't recognize dark-skinned faces, forcing Black
kids to sit tests with multiple lamps shining directly in their eyes.

Students forced to use tools like Proctorio are expected to rotate their
webcams 360 degrees to prove they're alone in a room at home - which
means that poor kids who share a room (or can only get wifi in the
parking lot of a Taco Bell) are penalized for poverty.

Unsurprisingly, a company that would knowingly torment children in this
way is run by terrible people and behaves terribly. It's not just that
the CEO doxed a child who complained about his products on Reddit:


The company has also abused copyright law to sue and intimidate its
critics, including a student security researcher who revealed defects in
the company's products:


The fact that businesses that profit by spying on children are run by
awful, awful people is no surprise.

One of the most established ed-tech categories is censorware, which
schools are required to install as a condition of receiving federal
funds, under 1997's CDA.

This software captures every student's click and search-term, and often
their chats and emails, and spies on all of it, using arbitrary
word-matches and human classifications to block kids (and teachers) from
seeing materials deemed "inappropriate."

The premise of this exercise is that somewhere there is a boiler-room
full of prudes so large that it can look at billions and billions of
webpages and decide which ones are and aren't "child-safe" and that an
"AI" can pass judgment on the pages they haven't got to.

Even if you accept that bizarre premise, remember: this isn't an
editorial process, it's a surveillance system. It's one thing for a
school librarian to make decisions about which books to shelve, but this
doesn't require them to spy on everything every kid tries to read.

For censorware companies to block your kids' data-requests, they have to
intercept and examine them. Censorware is spyware. Given that, it's
worth asking, "Who are we allowing to spy on our kids?

Terrible people, as it turns out.

The school censorware industry is a subsidiary of the global censorware
industry, and its largest clients aren't schools - their bread and
butter is the tyrants of the Middle East and former Soviet Union,
dictators who buy their products to keep their citizens in line.

These are the depraved human-rights abusers we get to spy on our kids
(they also provide censorware for corporate, hotel and airport wifi!),
and you know what? They've got *terrible* judgment.

Independent audits of their blocklists show that they're blocking about
a third of the top search results for terms related to the common
curriculum, with overblocking skewed heavily to women's health,
reproductive health, and LGBTQ (no surprises there).

And, like Proctorio, these censorware companies have a long history of
intimidating and harassing their critics, abusing copyright law to
prevent independent analysis of their blocklists in a bid to make it
impossible to test whether they are any good at their jobs.

We've been spying on schoolkids' online activities since 1997, and the
pandemic only accelerated that process, and not just through test
proctoring, either, as a new report from the Me2B Alliance shows.


The report analyzed 73 mobile apps that 38 schools in 14 US states were
using as part of their administration and instruction and found that 60%
of them transmit student data to commercial data-mining companies.


The apps were built using "free" SDKs from Facebook, Google and other
surveillance companies; these SDKs make it easy to build apps quickly,
but they also harvest the app users' data at scale and subject it to
long-term retention and analysis.


Me2B found that the apps were sucking up "identifiers (IDFA, MAID, etc),
Calendar, Contacts, Photos/Media Files, Location, Network Data (IP
address), permissions related to Camera, Microphone, Device ID, and Calls."

Ios devices were far less likely to harvest user data than Android apps,
but 1 in 4 still spied on users, and on both platforms, "95% of
third-party data channels... are active even when the user is not signed
in and that these apps send data as soon as the app is loaded."


👩🏾‍🦯 NY AG attributes Net Neutrality fraud to telcos

Trump made a lot of terrible senior appointments, but few so bad as Ajit
Pai, the Verizon lawyer turned FCC Chairman who presided over a grossly,
lavishly fraudulent repeal of his predecessor's Net Neutrality order.

The public comments docket for the 2017 Net Neutrality repeal attracted
a record number of responses - 22 million! - and the vast majority of
them were obviously fraudulent.


Millions of them were attributed to name/email address pairs from
publicly available breach data. Millions more were random strings with
followed by "@pornhub.com." Almost without exception, they supported the
telecoms industry's position that Net Neutrality should be killed.

Among Big Telcos' most ardent supporters were many dead people:


And multiple sitting US senators who said their identities had been stolen:


When millions of *real* people wrote in support of Net Neutrality (in
response to John Oliver's call to arms) Pai fraudulently claimed the FCC
had been compromised by a DDoS attack, not wanting to admit how popular
Net Neutrality really was.


Pai took no action to investigate the fraudulent comments supporting his
neutrality repeal, not even in response to bipartisan letters from Congress:


Instead, Pai announced that he was going to treat every comment as real:


The New York Attorney General's office was moved to open an
investigation into the fraud, which Pai personally obstructed:


But the investigation went on, and today, the NY AG released its findings:


Unsurprisingly - but importantly - the NY AG found that 18 million of
the 22 million comments the FCC received were fake, that the fake
comments favored the Net Neutrality repeal, and that *the fraud was a
paid operation on behalf of telcos*.


The AG's made the attribution after it flipped the companies that
engaged in the fraud - Fluent, React2Media, and Opt-Intelligence - and
let the off with a $4m settlement in exchange for ratting on their Big
Telco clients.

Pai claimed repealing Net Neutrality would spur broadband deployment,
ending America high priced, slow broadband, among the worst in the OECD.
Instead, investment was cut as telcos raised prices and paid billions to


Pai left millions of Americans with slow broadband (or no broadband at
all) even as the pandemic moved all education, employment, healthcare,
and family life online. He is one of history's great monsters.

Naturally, he's just been given a cushy private equity job at
Searchlight Capital Partners.


*Thankfully*, his successor, Jessica Rosenworcel is a hard-fighting
public advocate who has signalled her intention to rein in America's
lavishly fraudulent broadband profiteers and wants you broadband
measurements to help her do so:



👩🏾‍🦯 This day in history

#10yrsago Syria’s man-in-the-middle attack on Facebook

#5yrsago America’s prisons are replacing vital in-person visits with
expensive, nonfunctional video calling

#5yrsago Data-driven look at America’s brutal, racist debt-collection

#5yrsago Community college evicts daycare center to make room for
Goldman Sachs

#5yrsago 2,000 US doctors endorse Sanders’ single-payer healthcare

#5yrsago FBI has been harassing a Tor developer since 2015, won’t tell
her or her lawyer why https://blog.patternsinthevoid.net/fbi-harassment.html

#5yrsago Weird porn author who was dragged into Hugo Awards mess pulls
off epic troll

#1yrago Ohio's got snitchline for bosses whose workers who won't go back

#1yrago Sacrifice banks to save businesses


👩🏾‍🦯 Colophon

Today's top sources: Slashdot (https://slashdot.org).

Currently writing:

* A Little Brother short story about pipeline protests.  RESEARCH PHASE

* A short story about consumer data co-ops.  PLANNING

* A Little Brother short story about remote invigilation.  PLANNING

* A nonfiction book about excessive buyer-power in the arts, co-written
with Rebecca Giblin, "The Shakedown."  FINAL EDITS

* A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause."  FINISHED

* A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues."  FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: How To Destroy Surveillance Capitalism (Part 05)

Upcoming appearances:

* In conversation with John Scalzi (Gaithersburg Book Festival), May 7,

* Interoperability and Alternative Social Media, Reimagine the Internet,
May 12, https://knightcolumbia.org/events/reimagine-the-internet

* Book launch for Aminder Dhaliwal's Cyclopedia Exotica (Indigo), May
13, https://www.crowdcast.io/e/udbva8py/register

* Seize the Means of Computation, Ryerson Centre for Free Expression,
May 19,

Recent appearances:

* Hexapodia XIII with J Bradford De Long and Noah Smith

* Podcapitalism Podcast

* Talking "Robot Artists & Black Swans" with Bruce Sterling

Latest book:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone
technothriller for adults. The *Washington Post* called it "a political
cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution
and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies

* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet
analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a
(print edition:
(signed copies:

* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime,
gender, and kicking ass. Order here:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed
copy here:

Upcoming books:

* The Shakedown, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics,
Beacon Press 2022

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"*When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla*" -Joey "Accordion
Guy" DeVilla

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