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The birth of cryptocurrency Zcash

Cryptocurrencies have been the subject of great mystery since the first creation of the original digital currency Bitcoin back in 2009. As the legend of Bitcoin goes, the creator Satoshi Nakamoto has still yet to have their identity revealed. The mystery of Bitcoin however stops there, as the simplicity and public openness of its blockchain technology is actually one of the selling and security points in Bitcoin’s favour. 

There is a new cryptocurrency however even more steeped in mystery than its original. Zcash is not a new digital coin, but with renewed interest in online currencies after Bitcoing and fellow coin Ether reached all time highs this year, RadioLab podcast series revisited the birth of Zcash. 

Morgan Peck is the RadioLab journalist who was present at the birth of Zcash, there to witness the myriad and labyrinth-like set up the small team had created to produce the coin. Layers of security were created by the team which involved simple hacks, like moving computers away from the wall to avoid microphones hearing from the other room, to complicated chain series where multiple computers were involved in producing a key only to then be destroyed by their user after completion. 

The drama however occurred when the reporter’s phone began to produce a feedback loop roughly halfway through the ceremony that placed fears into the group they had been hacked. With the multiple security procedures in place however, they decided it was safe enough to continue the procedure and as a result the Zcash coin was born. 

The secret ceremony was constructed with multiple cameras recording the events, with then additional cameras filming the first cameras so as to ensure they had not been tampered with. The extreme measures were put in place to inspire trust in the birth of the currency which positions itself as the full private for users – the opposite to Bitcoin.The birth of cryptocurrency Zcash

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Companies Influencers Politics Society Twitter

Twitter stands up to world leaders with account bans

Twitter has been a leader in the social media forefront since its conception back in 2015. The platform finally launched publicly on March 26th 2006 and has been a long-standing big name amongst the online social media giants since. After a controversial banning of the then U.S. President Donald Trump back in early 2021, it has made global headlines again with its banning of an account linked to the Iranian president Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. 

The Associated Press was the first to report the closing of an account named @khamenei_site, which had been linked to the Supreme Leader of Iran’s personal website. The account, written in Farsi, was claimed to have violated the hate speech regulations of the platforms when it posted an image of Trump playing golf. While the image may at first seem harmless, the connected caption written in Farsi translated as a threatening ‘Revenge is certain’. 

The account was linked without a doubt to the Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei, when the same image then appeared on his website last month. The picture was accompanied again with a quote from the Supreme Leader Khamenei: ‘Soleimani’s murderers and those who ordered his murder must face revenge. … Both the murderers and those who ordered it should know that revenge may come at any time.’

The account ban comes after Twitter made sensational world news previously with their banning of Donald Trump from the platform – whilst he was still president of the United States of America. A statement about the suspension, which was released via the Twitter blog on Friday 8th January 2021, cited a ‘risk of further incitement of violence’ as the cause for concern driving the shutdown. 

The statement came the same day in response to Trump’s tweets that are alleged to have started the riots in the capital, for which he is now also under an ongoing impeachment trial.

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Apps Society Video Chat

Libraries by the yard for Zoom backgrounds make a rise in demand for second hand books

The year of 2020 has been quite the year of ‘strange and unprecedented’ times as the saying goes and 2021 looks set to keep hold of that tradition. As the slow realisation that life will never return to quite how it once was, we continue to find ourselves adapting to life in this ‘new normal’. 

Zoom is one company that has dominated headlines this year as making mega-profits from the uptake in sales of their platform from users stuck at home due to the pandemic. The company has truly lucked out from a worldwide tragedy with a staggering rise in profits from $5.5 million to $185.7 million for the same period last year. 

Yet it’s not just the company Zoom that has profited from the rise in digital conferencing software usage. Zoom has become a new word in our shared vocabulary, changing culture with effects such as detailed neckline and slouchy waistline as Zoom influenced fashion trends that emerged in late 2020. The brand name software has even coined its own term of ‘zoomers’ – a play on the word ‘boomers’ to describe older generations, ‘zoomers’ describes those of Gen Z born into this time. 

Other unpredictable consequences of the rise in videoing into work from home is the increasing demand for second hand books. Some large scale companies such as Random House offer free digital zoom backgrounds including their publications, whilst other more boutique companies such as Bookbarn International offer bespoke services. The UK based book store describes the growing interest in their library by the yard service, which aims to help customers looking to improve their home office decor. The second hand book retailer will then help to tailor make the bookshelf into a selection uniquely tailored for each customer. The aim of the retailer is to help customers find books that reflect and expand upon their individual interests and specialities.

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Influencers Politics Society Travel

Online influencers receive backlash for travel during global pandemic

Online influencers have received backlash recently for their lavish Instagram posts featuring them globetrotting and holidaying as usual, despite a global pandemic. Social media stars, often having risen to fame from reality TV shows or celebrity gossip sites, are used by businesses as advertising for their services or products in the same way as traditional advertising uses famous actors or models. Stars of social media sites like Instagram and TikTok however have been deemed out of touch with the public to be posting jealousy inducing travel porn whilst the majority of us around the world are still existing in various states of lockdown. 

Stars such as ‘travelinmysoul’, the TikTok account run by influence account Barbora Ondrackova, has over 176.6 thousand followers on TikTok and over 535 thousand followers on her @fashioninmysoul Instagram. Many of her thousands of fans however were displeased at a post she made at the end of 2020 showing a compilation of places she’d visited that year. The insensitivity of the post and questionable activity of the content enraged many commenters. 

Other influencers coming under fire for their choice to continue travel during a time when infections of COVID-19 continue to rise in many places include reality TV star Chloe Ferry. The star, made famous on UK reality show Geordie Shore, featured herself in Dubai partying as usual and making the statement to “Fuck 2020!” Celebrities such as Ferry have clapbacked at the criticisms, claiming the travel was essential for their work online as influencers. 

Elsewhere in the USA there have been fears that influencers online taking refuge from the pandemic in more rural areas may encourage a migration by others. As people confined to densely populated urban areas become increasingly frustrated by lockdown measures, there are concerns they will follow their celebrity idols to smaller and middle-town areas currently less affected by the pandemic.

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Apps Politics Social Media Twitter Uncategorized

Twitter sued by the man behind NY Post’s infamous Hunter Biden story

A couple weeks before the US presidential election, the New York Post—a right wing tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch—published a story about Hunter Biden, the son of then-Democratic nominee Joe Biden. The thrust of the article was that Hunter essentially bribed foreign officials with access to his father when the latter was Barack Obama’s vice president.

How the story developed was odd to say the least: someone went to a computer repair shop—sort of like a health analytics company for computers—and dropped off a water-damaged laptop that allegedly belonged to Hunter. The owner of the shop proceeded to look at the contents of the laptop’s hard drive, discovering a mass of incriminating files. Then, as any rational, well-meaning individual would do, he decided it was a good idea to share them with Rudy Guliani’s lawyer. Then he turned the hard drive over to the FBI.

Guliani and his army of Trump-worshipping orcs shopped the hard drive story around to various media outlets. The Post, presumably, was the only one to accept it. The article was published, and the Trump campaign thought it had its October surprise. But within a few hours the article had been censored by Twitter, which later justified the clearly-political move by citing its “hacked materials” policy. It even disabled the NY Post’s Twitter account.

A couple days later Twitter restored the account as well as the censored links, but of course the damage was done; the controversy surrounding the story had become far bigger than the story itself. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey responded to the hoopla by saying he didn’t want “Twitter to be a distributor for hacked materials,” but conceded that it had been a “mistake” to simply censor an article without providing any context.

Anyway, the owner of the computer repair shop, John Paul Mac Isaac, is now suing Twitter for defamation. His lawyers claim that by slapping the “hacked materials” label on the Post’s story, Twitter implied that he is a hacker. Isaac is seeking $500 million in punitive damages, an unspecified amount in compensatory damages, and a “public retraction of all false statements.”

“Plaintiff is not a hacker and the information obtained from the computer does not [constitute] hacked materials because Plaintiff lawfully gained access to the computer,” the lawsuit says, adding that Isaac “is now widely considered a hacker” and was forced to close his repair business due to threats and negative customer reviews.

This reminds me of that time when the previously-bald-headed Elon Musk was sued for defamation after referring to a cave diver as a “pedo guy” on Twitter. He won the case by claiming his tweet was satirical. Poor judgment on the part of that judge.

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Apple Blog Companies Google Microsoft Policy Politics Privacy

Europe to break up big tech if U.S. can’t

Following antitrust investigations from the U.S. Government into online giants Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple back in July 2020, the EU has now threatened to break up Silicon Valley’s big tech companies if the US can’t.

The argument revolves around monopoly and antitrust laws, put in place to stop companies from engaging in anti competitive behaviour. Whilst the U.S has been conducting investigations this December in an aim to break up Facebook and bringing seemingly incriminating emails sent from its founder to light, the EU has since released two major new drafts of regulations for tech companies. 

The two documents are the Digital Markets Act and a Digital Services Act which seek to hold companies accountable for both unfair competition and the regulation of illegal behaviour on their platforms. The documents come from the EU centre of Brussels and are the first significant revamp of policy from the EU in twenty years. Both proposals for the new acts will first need to be voted on by the Council of Ministers and European Parliament before being able to be made into law. There is, however, no timetable as of yet to when this might occur. 

The proposals include big fines for big tech companies seeking to eat up market competition. Companies will be liable for up to 10% of their worldwide revenue for acts of deliberate anti-competition, while fines for up to 6% of global revenue will be put in place for companies that fail to regulate their platforms for illegal behaviour. 

If the new laws were to come into place they would indicate one of the biggest and most significant shifts in worldwide policy making, as EU law would greatly impact US companies’ working practices. The EU laws are noted to be some of the most strict and stringent big tech companies would have to comply with.

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Blog Facebook Policy Politics

Breaking up big tech: continued scrutiny for Facebook

A world without Facebook – or any other of its online social media outlets such as Instagram and Whatsapp – seems almost unimaginable for some. In fact, an increasing number of the global population are born into a world they will never know without an ever growing digital realm. For those born between the mid- to late- 1990s until the early 2010s, this generation has even become known as Gen Z – or rather Generations Zoomers since the undeniable takeover of 2020 from the digital conference platform zoom in wake of the global coronavirus pandemic. 

Since its launch in 2004 Facebook has continually dominated our social sphere, affecting both our online and offline behaviours. It’s growing control as a media conglomerate has caused much controversy in more recent times this year, yet the social media giant is not accustomed to controversy and lawsuits. The infamous dispute between founder Mark Zuckerberg and some fellow Harvard law students was encapsulated in the 2010 film The Social Network, starring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield and even Justin Timberlake. 
With a history of breaking up large company monopolies such as logging companies in the 1840s, Standard Oil in the 1910s, and then AT&T in the 1980s, the U.S. Government has finally taken on big tech. Following investigative court proceedings with the four online giants Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Google back in July 2020, the government has once again taken on Facebook for holding too much power in the social media sphere. The government has since filed an antitrust law against Facebook, directed at the company’s tactics of buying rival competition. Whilst policy makers have described the court proceedings as likely to be an uphill battle though are keen to break up the monopoly that arguably stifles rival competition and hinders creative diversity, others have criticised the government for attempting a break up that could cause unintended and unforeseeable consequences.

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Blog Influencers Politics Society

Who is Q?

“Q”, the anonymous individual behind the QAnon movement, is apparently two people—or was one person and is now another. That’s according to an analysis done by a company called OrphAnalytics. OrphAnalytics is dedicated to authenticating texts and “detecting ghostwriting issues.”

The company recently applied its genomics-based technology to 4952 QAnon posts—or “Q drops”—that had been published on 4chan and 8chan between October 2017 and November 2020.

“The whole corpus is collected in order to challenge the proposal that a single writer be the sole author of Q-drops specific to QAnon,” OrphAnalytics wrote in an abstract.

It goes on to explain (in absurdly esoteric language that would stop a fast courier in its tracks):

“The stylometry of the 7.5k concatenates of Q-drops classified chronologically reveals two clusters, characteristic of two different styles, which correspond to the two periods of publication of the Q-drops on the 4chan and 8chan forums. This observation sheds light on the background information of the media surveys.

“The signal is mostly carried by Q-drops of less than 1000 characters and clustering does not seem to interfere with the analyses. The other type of concatenation tested, concatenation by size, proves unable to cluster reasonably. A success rate was calculated by non-hierarchical clustering analysis: more than 90%. This rate is comparable to that measured in a criminal case under investigation and to that obtained on texts from a solved case.”

What the hell does that mean? Damned if I know. Apparently it means that two different people have written as “Q.”

“Our results very strongly suggest the existence of two different authors behind Q,” said OrphAnalytics’ CEO Claude Alain Roten, according to PRNewswire. “Moreover, these distinct signatures clearly correspond to separate periods in time and different online forums.”

In other words, the 4chan Q is different from the 8chan Q. The former was active from October 28, 2017 to December 1, 2017—a pretty short stint. At that point, the Q baton was passed to someone else, and that person began posting on 8chan. Roten says it’s probable—though not certain—that a single person has authored all of the Q drops since December 2017.

So where is OrphAnalytics going with this? Well, Roten says the objective is to unmask Mr Q.

“The next step is to contribute putting a name on QAnon by comparing these signatures to those of the usual suspects,” he said. “To do that, we gather and cure written material from these persons to compare it with Q messages.” 

It has been suggested that 8chan owner Jim Watkins is Q. That seems logical enough.

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Amazon Companies Policy Politics

Should Amazon censor books that peddle ‘disinformation’?

Amazon has a QAnon problem, according to a new report in the European edition of Politico. The website analysed hundreds of books sold on Amazon and promoted by the e-commerce monopoly’s algorithms and found about 100 books written by QAnon cranks. There are also reportedly more than 80 books promoting conspiracy theories related to the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccines.

In case you haven’t heard, QAnon maintains that the United States and thus much of the world is covertly run by a gang of satanic, blood-swigging pedophiles (including all Democrats) and that Donald Trump is fighting to save the nation from their clutches. This idea has gained quite a bit of traction over the past few years, spreading far beyond America’s borders much like the coronavirus spread out from Wuhan, China. Needless to say, QAnoners wouldn’t pass your standard PPSR check.

Unlike Facebook and YouTube, Amazon has not yet moved to censor QAnon content on its platform. That seems to me to be something for which they ought to be applauded rather than condemned—after all, free speech only matters if it’s available to everyone, not just those who express views with which we agree (Joe Stalin had no problem with free speech for purveyors of Soviet propaganda). But Politico—and I’m sure it’s not alone here—implies that Amazon needs to get with the program and ramp up its censorship practices.

Of course, Amazon already bans plenty of books, just not enough to satisfy the mass media raging appetite for censorship. Even Facebook, the digital world’s leading censor, is said to be too tolerant of speech that “offends.” The censorship enthusiasts won’t quit until everybody is muzzled—including themselves.

Politico spoke to Ciaran O’Connor, described as a “disinformation researcher,” who said that “Amazon is falling short by allowing people to promote these conspiracy theories” and by providing “online influencers with an infrastructure to monetize content and material directly linked to disinformation.”

Okay, but who gets to declare what is and isn’t real information? Ciaran O’Conner? Jeff Bezos? The US government? Are you prepared to let someone else determine whether you’re allowed to read a book? Considering Amazon’s utter domination of the online book market (several of the “alternatives,” e.g. Abe Books, are actually owned by Amazon), this goes way beyond a private company exercising its right not to stock certain books. Amazon, in all of its monopolistic glory, has the power to simply erase a book, and an author, from public visibility. If you think that’s a good thing, you’re very confused.

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Amazon Apple Blog Companies Facebook Google Instagram Messaging Microsoft Politics Privacy Social Media TikTok Twitter Video Chat WhatsApp YouTube

US government investigating how 9 social media companies collect and use data

The Federal Trade Commission, which enforces US antitrust and consumer protection laws, has issued orders to nine social media companies demanding information about how and for what purposes they collect and store user data. The FTC is also wants to know about the companies’ advertising and user engagement practices, specifically as they relate to child and adolescent users.

The list of targeted companies is a rogues gallery of digital malefactors: Amazon, ByteDance (owner of TikTok), Discord, Facebook, Reddit, Snap, Twitter, WhatsApp, and YouTube. They have 45 days to respond to the order. I’m not sure, but I don’t believe that any of them have 1300 numbers.

On its webpage, the FTC writes that the objective is to gain a fuller understanding of:

  • how social media and video streaming services collect, use, track, estimate, or derive personal and demographic information;
  • how they determine which ads and other content are shown to consumers;
  • whether they apply algorithms or data analytics to personal information;
  • how they measure, promote, and research user engagement; and
  • how their practices affect children and teens.

“The FTC wants to understand how business models influence what Americans hear and see, with whom they talk, and what information they share,” explained the FTC in a press statement. “And the FTC wants to better understand the financial incentives of social media and video streaming services.”

As CNBC reports, there’s a clause in the FTC Act that enables the FTC to conduct wide-reaching probes that are separate from law enforcement. These are known as “6(b) studies.” The FTC carried one out earlier this year in which it reviewed various takeovers by some of the major US monopolies, namely, Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft.

Of course, Bill Gates’ Microsoft was the subject of a major antitrust lawsuit in 2001. In that case, Microsoft was confirmed as a corporate outlaw operating in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. Now Facebook finds itself faced with a similar lawsuit filed just this month by the FTC along with 48 attorneys general. In that suit, Facebook is alleged to have taken over Instagram and WhatsApp after determining that, if left alone, they could pose a threat to Facebook’s hegemony.

Thus, Facebook is accused of unlawfully crushing competition and subsequently harming consumers by limiting their range of options, particularly with regard to privacy. Facebook plans to use the fact that the FTC approved its takeovers of Instagram and WhatsApp as the main pillar of its defense.