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You Furnish Alexa, and He’ll Furnish the War

February 10, 2019 Comments off

When Hearst Artist Frederic Remington, cabled from Cuba in 1897 that “there will be no war,” William Randolph Hearst cabled back: “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.”

Time Magazine

Many artists I speak to have a serious moral problem driving their fans to YouTube knowing that the artists are simply feeding Google’s data bombing with collateral damage in the form of their music and their fans.  Yet Google’s beachhead in the data apocalypse is nothing compared to Amazon–as far as I know, which I hesitate to say too categorically given that it’s Google.

But Amazon’s super groovy Alexa comes with many Intelligence Community connections that on balance are more destructive to society than the carbon footprint of Amazon trucks creating the inverse of the efficiency of the shopping center, brutalizing employees or destroying small retailers.

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What does Amazon do with your fan’s Alexa data (or your data for that matter)?  Belle Lin reports in the Intercept:

At the beginning of October [2018], Amazon was quietly issued a patent that would allow its virtual assistant Alexa to decipher a user’s physical characteristics and emotional state based on their voice. Characteristics, or “voice features,” like language accent, ethnic origin, emotion, gender, age, and background noise would be immediately extracted and tagged to the user’s data file to help deliver more targeted advertising.

The algorithm would also consider a customer’s physical location — based on their IP address, primary shipping address, and browser settings — to help determine their accent. Should Amazon’s patent become a reality, or if accent detection is already possible, it would introduce questions of surveillance and privacy violations, as well as possible discriminatory advertising, experts said.

The civil rights issues raised by the patent are similar to those around facial recognition, another technology Amazon has used as an anchor of its artificial intelligence strategy, and one that it controversially marketed to law enforcement. Like facial recognition, voice analysis underlines how existing laws and privacy safeguards simply aren’t capable of protecting users from new categories of data collection — or government spying, for that matter. Unlike facial recognition, voice analysis relies not on cameras in public spaces, but microphones inside smart speakers in our homes. [Emphasis mine]

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What’s the connection to the Intelligence Community?  It’s all in the cloud, baby–according to Frank Konkel writing in The Atlantic:

The intelligence community is about to get the equivalent of an adrenaline shot to the chest. This summer, a $600 million computing cloud developed by Amazon Web Services for the Central Intelligence Agency over the past year will begin servicing all 17 agencies that make up the intelligence community.

And of course the next step after the old IC is the largest employer in Crystal City.  According to many sources, Amazon is competing to win a $10 billion–that’s with a  B–contract from the Department of Defense to provide cloud services to the entire U.S. military, called the Joint Enterprise Defense Initiative or “JEDI”.  (Oh, please.)  The Pentagon, by the way, is essentially next door to Amazon’s HQ2 site in Crystal City/Alexandria.  There are many interesting twists to this particular Amazon grab at the taxpayer’s money, but one story that caught my eye is Reuters’ reporting that Google dropped out of the competition–why you may ask?

Alphabet Inc’s Google said on Monday it was no longer vying for a $10 billion cloud computing contract with the U.S. Defense Department, in part because the company’s new ethical guidelines do not align with the project, without elaborating.

Google said in a statement “we couldn’t be assured that [the JEDI deal] would align with our AI Principles and second, we determined that there were portions of the contract that were out of scope with our current government certifications.”

Yes, that’s right.  Too corrupt even for Google.  (And CNN reports that Amazon is being investigated by the Pentagon for illegal government contracting practices.)  That’s right–Jeff Bezos, JEDI master, wants those big bucks from John Q. Public.

Amazon is looking more and more like Halliburton, and Jeff Bezos is looking more and more like the Charles Foster Kane of the data apocalypse.  YouTube looks tame by comparison, which tells you how bad it really is.

And then there’s this braying about Amazon’s “Rekognition” AI-driven facial recognition application:

Amazon Rekognition today announces three new features: detection and recognition of text in images, real-time face recognition across tens of millions of faces, and detection of up to 100 faces in challenging crowded photos. Customers who are already using Amazon Rekognition for face verification and identification will experience up to a 10% accuracy improvement in most cases.

And who among us will find it useful to use this tool for “detection of up to 100 faces in challenging crowded photos”.  Well…depends on who you mean by “us” as Ava Kofman reports in The Intercept:

Police in Lancashire, a county in northwest England, have rolled out a program to broadcast crime updates, photos of wanted and missing people, and safety notifications to Amazon Echo owners. Since February, the free app has been available to those using Alexa, a cloud-based voice assistant hooked up to the Echo smart speaker. The first of its kind in the U.K., the program was developed by the police force’s innovations manager in a partnership with Amazon developers.

The program marks the latest example of third parties aiding, automating, and in some cases, replacing, the functions of law enforcement agencies — and raises privacy questions about Amazon’s role as an intermediary. Lancashire County will store citizens’ crime reports on Amazon’s servers, rather than those operated by the police.

And once Amazon uses Alexa to collect this biometric and other data, who do you think has access to it, hmmm?  And then there’s Ring, but what happens when Ring meets Alexa is a story for another day, or perhaps an Amazon Prime original series.

So are you still sure you want to promote Alexa penetration?  Just ask “her”–“Alexa, deliver my file” and see what happens.

 

 

HFA/Amazon and MRI

December 5, 2012 Comments off

Lot’s of quizzical…yes, that’s what it was, quizzical…reaction to the announcement by HFA that they will be handling a few items for Amazon.  First of all, I have to say that it’s always encouraging when one of the Gang of Four tech oligarchs (per Eric Schmidt) like Amazon does something on the top of the table.  Something, anything (to quote Todd Rundgren).

The last time we heard from Amazon about its cloud offering they had launched it without warning in the dead of night, always a sure sign that someone is confident in their rights.  If they did it once, they’ll do it again.

Notwithstanding that the authors and artists helped Amazon get started, the company has shown little gratitude (something to remember in current and future dealings with the oligarchs, minioligarchs and wanna be oligarchs in the “Gang”–a word that is no doubt absent from Google’s FTC correspondence).  The Amazon cloud service is exhibit A.

One might think that Amazon would have helped itself by hiring HFA.  As usual, however, the oligarch stumbled out of the gate.  The last time we heard from Amazon about licensing their cloud service, it was on a carpet bombed NOI cover letter sent by MRI in their signature “hey idiot” correspondence style saying (let me paraphrase) “News from the Czar! You, too, can be one of tens of thousands of rights holders who are too stupid to do long division and will be attracted to give MRI your data by a $1 million pot of money to be divided amongst all of you fools. Click here to agree to our hillbilly terms and get your $0.01 check, boychik!”

Or something like that.

So what happened to MRI?  Maybe they’re still in there somewhere, but I gather from the press release that they have been replaced by HFA.  And if you’re like those readers who have reached out to me, you’re wondering if HFA (emphasis on the Harry Fox Agency) is representing their publisher principals or Amazon?

Strangely, no one seems to have gotten that explanatory letter.  Yet.

From what we are hearing, it seems more and more inevitable that the publisher licensing and collections part of HFA will need to be more like SoundExchange in the near future–the easy way, hopefully.  HFA performs an important function for their publishers, but we would not want to wake up one day and find out that HFA has gone the way of Rightsflow into the Satanic flames.  This would solve the principal’s dilemma in exactly the wrong way.

Jeff Bezos on Google Books: It doesn’t seem right that you should get a prize for violating copyrights

June 16, 2009 Comments off

An excellent insight into the creepy Google Books settlement in an news.com interview by Caroline McCarthy of Jeff Bezos of Amazon–a tough customer himself. Bezos has done more to try to incorporate old and new business models far more successfully than any other entrepreneur save Steve Jobs. I remember being interviewed at length about the music business by an Amazon employee back when they were just selling books in late 1997. These were people who wanted to know how things were being done so they could make them better.

“‘…[I]t doesn’t seem right that you should…get a prize for violating a large series of copyrights,’ Bezos said.”

No, it doesn’t.

Just because you can figure out a way to sell advertising inside books doesn’t mean you get to do it because you’re “disruptive” or whatever the O’Reilly word is this week.

See–after the panel is over, there are still authors trying to figure out what in the world you did to their books.

The darkly funny thing about it is that you could equally say that about Li’l Chad and YouTube, too.

Sony Reaches Deal to Share in Google’s E-Book Library

March 23, 2009 Comments off

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

In case you were wondering what the future holds for those who don’t oppose the Google Books class action settlement, there is a helpful story in the New York Times announcing a deal that Google has already made with Sony to cover books in the public domain.

With the usual laser beam of critical focus that the mass media brings to its business coverage of Google, the NYT overlooked a couple questions it might have asked in the piece (aptly entitled “Sony Reaches Deal to Share in Google’s E-Book Library“. Because it is Google’s library, make no mistake.)

First, do you really think that Google and Sony would make a deal that only covered public domain material when the deadline on the fairness hearing on the Google Books settlement is coming up on May 4 with the fairness hearing on June 11?

Doesn’t it seem more likely that Google and Sony would make a deal that would cover public domain materials now, and then everything else once the settlement is in place? Do the two companies intend to start all over again with a completely different negotiation for the in-copyright works? Maybe. But we don’t seem to know that from the newspaper of record.

So in case you weren’t planning on licensing your lyrics or sheet music to Sony for their reader, you might be interested in that fact, and it might have been nice for the NYT to have brought that up in their reportage.

Also, how does this license of public domain books actually work? Is Sony paying for the digitization of the works? Why couldn’t Sony have digitized the work themselves?

It’s only 500,000 works. That’s a significant number of works but hardly daunting for a company like Sony. Was there some reason why Sony couldn’t get the works from a library and do the digitizing themselves? What could possibly have been blocking a company the size of Sony from doing the same thing that Google did?

Will Sony keep paying Google for using the digitized works or is it a one-time payment? Who gets the money? Does it go to the “Google Books Registry” or does Google keep it? Does Google get a fee for each player, or what?

According to the NYT, the companies didn’t release the financial terms of the deal.

And when it comes to Google, that’s where it stops. That’s where the newspaper of record stops its investigation into what is clearly the most significant antitrust event to hit the creative community.

This so typically Orwellian for the Leviathan of Mountain View. Make it sound like you’re promoting competition with Amazon when you’re busily locking up the rights to world literature, sheet music, lyrics, the works.

As Google’s Sergey Brin told the Wall Street Journal (who at least asked the right questions):

“WSJ: Is establishing a registry for rights holders a model that Google thinks it can replicate in other areas of digital media, like video?

Brin: Very much so. In fact, with video and our fingerprinting technology, we are essentially building the [opt-in] registry. We have a number of big media companies that send us their raw video files and we fingerprint that and we can attribute those videos to them.”

The longer Google can keep creators in the dark, the stronger they get.

Like the man said, “Ignorance is strength.”

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