Law and Legal
Bloomberg: The Big Three—BlackRock, Vanguard, and State Street—are the most important players in corporate America. Whether they like it or not. “If you hold a stock market index fund, congratulations. The S&P 500’s total return was a thumping 31.5% in 2019, and a fund that passively tracks that benchmark delivered almost all those gains, minus a tiny fee—perhaps just 0.04% of assets. Now here’s something you probably weren’t thinking about when you clicked on the box to choose an index fund in your 401(k) or IRA: You were also part of one of the biggest shifts in corporate power in a generation. The index fund is one of a handful of unambiguously beneficial financial innovations. Before it caught on, investors routinely paid sky-high fees to active stockpickers who often delivered subpar returns. The near-universal popularity of index funds puts them up there with Social Security, Stevie Wonder, and streaming TV. Indexing also has been a runaway success for some fund companies. The largest asset manager in the world, BlackRock Inc., best known for its iShares brand of exchange-traded index funds, has $7 trillion under management. Index pioneer Vanguard Group Inc. has $5.6 trillion. The No. 3 indexer, State Street Corp., manages $2.9 trillion. These companies also run active funds, but together they hold about 80% of all indexed money. They’ve come to be known as the Big Three…”
Slate – Here are the 30 most dangerous, ranked by the people who know: “…The tech industry doesn’t intoxicate us like it did just a few years ago. Keeping up with its problems—and its fixes, and its fixes that cause new problems—is dizzying. Separating out the meaningful threats from the noise is hard. Is Facebook really the danger to democracy it looks like? Is Uber really worse than the system it replaced? Isn’t Amazon’s same-day delivery worth it? Which harms are real and which are hypothetical? Has the techlash gotten it right? And which of these companies is really the worst? Which ones might be, well, evil? We don’t mean evil in the mustache-twirling, burn-the-world-from-a-secret-lair sense—well, we mostly don’t mean that—but rather in the way Googlers once swore to avoid mission drift, respect their users, and spurn short-term profiteering, even though the company now regularly faces scandals in which it has violated its users’ or workers’ trust. We mean ills that outweigh conveniences. We mean temptations and poison pills and unanticipated outcomes…”
EFF: “Washington D.C.—The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that functional aspects of Oracle’s Java programming language are not copyrightable, and even if they were, employing them to create new computer code falls under fair use protections. The court is reviewing a long-running lawsuit Oracle filed against Google, which claimed that Google’s use of certain Java application programming interfaces (APIs) in its Android operating system violated Oracle’s copyrights. The case has far-reaching implications for innovation in software development, competition, and interoperability. In a brief filed today, EFF argues that the Federal Circuit, in ruling APIs were copyrightable, ignored clear and specific language in the copyright statute that excludes copyright protection for procedures, processes, and methods of operation. “Instead of following the law, the Federal Circuit decided to rewrite it to eliminate almost all the exclusions from copyright protection that Congress put in the statute,” said EFF Legal Director Corynne McSherry. “APIs are not copyrightable. The Federal Circuit’s ruling has created a dangerous precedent that will encourage more lawsuits and make innovative software development prohibitively expensive. Fortunately, the Supreme Court can and should fix this mess.”…
Amazon Science – “Product search algorithms, like the ones that help customers place orders through Alexa, aim at returning the products that are most relevant to users’ queries, where relevance is usually interpreted as “anything that satisfies the users’ need”. A common way to estimate customers’ satisfaction is to rely on the judgment of human annotators. (We annotate a very small fraction of 1% of interactions.) We’ve noticed that customers frequently engage with voice shopping results that annotators label as irrelevant. At this year’s ACM Web Search and Data Mining (WSDM) conference, in February, we will present a systematic analysis of this phenomenon…”
Wired – Open-source intelligence proved vital in the investigation into Ukraine Airlines flight PS752. Then Iranian officials had to admit the truth: “..I.t’s not unusual nowadays for OSINT to lead the way in decoding key news events. When Sergei Skripal was poisoned, Bellingcat, an open-source intelligence website, tracked and identified his killers as they traipsed across London and Salisbury. They delved into military records to blow the cover of agents sent to kill. And in the days after the Ukraine Airlines plane crashed into the ground outside Tehran, Bellingcat and The New York Times have blown a hole in the supposition that the downing of the aircraft was an engine failure. The pressure – and the weight of public evidence – compelled Iranian officials to admit overnight on January 10 that the country had shot down the plane “in error”.
So how do they do it? “You can think of OSINT as a puzzle. To get the complete picture, you need to find the missing pieces and put everything together,” says Loránd Bodó, an OSINT analyst at Tech versus Terrorism, a campaign group. The team at Bellingcat and other open-source investigators pore over publicly available material. Thanks to our propensity to reach for our cameraphones at the sight of any newsworthy incident, video and photos are often available, posted to social media in the immediate aftermath of events. (The person who shot and uploaded the second video in this incident, of the missile appearing to hit the Boeing plane was a perfect example: they grabbed their phone after they heard “some sort of shot fired”.) “Open source investigations essentially involve the collection, preservation, verification, and analysis of evidence that is available in the public domain to build a picture of what happened,” says Yvonne McDermott Rees, a lecturer at Swansea University…”
The Telegraph (UK) – “The oldest thing ever found on Earth has been discovered by scientists, and it is more than two billion years older than our planet. Tiny specks of stardust, dating back seven billion years, have been uncovered in a meteorite which landed in Victoria, Australia, in 1969. Known as the Murchison Meteorite it contains a mix of material from when our own Solar System was forming, as well as star-building dust that is far earlier. Some previous samples from the meteorite date to about 5.5 billion years ago, the oldest things ever found on Earth, but a new analysis shows some grains are seven billion years old. Scientists at the Field Museum in Chicago discovered most particles dated from between 4.9 to 4.6 billion years ago, a time when the Solar System was forming, which is the earliest that dust has been found up to now. But some particles were seven billion years old, the oldest ever seen. “This is one of the most exciting studies I’ve worked on,” said Dr Philipp Heck, a curator at the Field Museum, and associate professor at the University of Chicago. “These are the oldest solid materials ever found, and they tell us about how stars formed in our galaxy. They’re solid samples of stars, real stardust.”…
The Conversation – Helen Norton: “When regular people lie, sometimes their lies are detected, sometimes they’re not. Legally speaking, sometimes they’re protected by the First Amendment – and sometimes not, like when they commit fraud or perjury. But what about when government officials lie? I take up this question in my recent book, “The Government’s Speech and the Constitution.” It’s not that surprising that public servants lie – they are human, after all. But when an agency or official backed by the power and resources of the government tells a lie, it sometimes causes harm that only the government can inflict. My research found that lies by government officials can violate the Constitution in several different ways, especially when those lies deprive people of their rights…” [h/t Pete Weiss]
The Seattle Times: “Cory Doctorow’s sunglasses are seemingly ordinary. But they are far from it when seen on security footage, where his face is transformed into a glowing white orb. At his local credit union, bemused tellers spot the curious sight on nearby monitors and sometimes ask, “What’s going on with your head?” said Doctorow, chuckling. The frames of his sunglasses, from Chicago-based eyewear line Reflectacles, are made of a material that reflects the infrared light found in surveillance cameras and represents a fringe movement of privacy advocates experimenting with clothes, ornate makeup and accessories as a defense against some surveillance technologies. Some wearers are propelled by the desire to opt out of what has been called “surveillance capitalism” — an economy that churns human experiences into data for profit — while others fear government invasion of privacy…
Today, artificial intelligence (AI) technology, such as facial recognition, has become more widespread in public and private spaces — including schools, retail stores, airports, concert venues and even to unlock the newest iPhones. Civil-liberty groups concerned about the potential for misuse have urged politicians to regulate the systems. A recent Washington Post investigation, for instance, revealed FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents used facial recognition to scan millions of Americans’ driver’s licenses without their knowledge to identify suspects and undocumented immigrants…”
The New York Times: “The National Security Agency has taken a significant step toward protecting the world’s computer systems, announcing Tuesday that it alerted Microsoft to a vulnerability in its Windows operating system rather than following the agency’s typical approach of keeping quiet and exploiting the flaw to develop cyberweapons. The warning allowed Microsoft to develop a patch for the problem and gave the government an early start on fixing the vulnerability. In years past, the National Security Agency has collected all manner of computer vulnerabilities to gain access to digital networks to gather intelligence and generate hacking tools to use against American adversaries. But that policy was heavily criticized in recent years when the agency lost control of some of those tools, which fell into the hands of cybercriminals and other malicious actors, including North Korean and Russian hackers. By taking credit for spotting a critical vulnerability and leading the call to update computer systems, the National Security Agency appeared to adopt a shift in strategy and took on an unusually public role for one of the most secretive arms of the American government. The move shows the degree to which the agency was bruised by accusations that it caused hundreds of millions of dollars in preventable damage by allowing vulnerabilities to circulate…”
Watson Institute, Neta C. Crawford – November 13, 2019: “Summary – Since late 2001, the United States has appropriated and is obligated to spend an estimated $6.4 Trillion through Fiscal Year 2020 in budgetary costs related to and caused by the post-9/11 wars—an estimated $5.4 Trillion in appropriations in current dollars and an additional minimum of $1 Trillion for US obligations to care for the veterans of these wars through the next several decades. The mission of the post-9/11 wars, as originally defined, was to defend the United States against future terrorist threats from al Qaeda and affiliated organizations. Since 2001, the wars have expanded from the fighting in Afghanistan, to wars and smaller operations elsewhere,in more than 80 countries —becoming a truly“global war on terror. ”Further, the Department of Homeland Security was created in part to coordinate the defense of the homeland against terrorist attacks. These wars, and the domestic counter terror mobilization, have entailed significant expenses, paid for by deficit spending. Thus, even if the United States withdraws completely from the major war zones by the end of FY2020 and halts its other Global War on Terror operations, in the Philippines and Africa for example, the total budgetary burden of the post-9/11 wars will continue to rise as the US pays the on-going costs of veterans’ care and for interest on borrowing to pay for the wars. Moreover, the increases in the Pentagon base budget associated with the wars are likely to remain, inflating the military budget over the long run.”…
cmaj news: “Starting today, all new Canadian Medical Association Journal content is now freely available online, with older material becoming available on March 1, 2020. Previously, CMAJ research articles, editorials and news stories were freely available, and other content including commentaries and practice articles were only fully available after one year. Dr. Andreas Laupacis, editor-in-chief of the journal, says providing immediate free access to content will make the journal more relevant to discussions about improving Canada’s healthcare system. “Some of the material in CMAJ that is useful to public discussion around important issues with our healthcare system were only available to CMA members and I think they are of broader interest to members of the public, patients and policymakers,” he says. With more accessible content, Laupacis hopes to attract new voices to CMAJ, including those of patients. “It’s hard to say to patients that we want you to be involved in our work, but you have to pay to see it,” he says. The move to fully free content will involve a financial hit for CMAJ’s publisher, Joule, as there are no plans to offset lost subscription revenue by increasing publication fees — a common way other journals finance open access publishing. According to Laupacis, the company felt that the increase in access justified the lost revenue. The Canadian Medical Association is supportive of the move, says association president Dr. Sandy Buchman. “It’s a great example of how we are trying to operationalize our vision to have an impact on the healthcare system.”
Nieman Lab: “Journalist’s Resource sifts through the academic journals so you don’t have to. Here they collect the best of 2019, including research into the effectiveness of fact-checking, why people are susceptible to fake news, and the changing volume of misinformation on social media. What better way to start the new year than by learning new things about how best to battle fake news and other forms of online misinformation? Below is a sampling of the research published in 2019 — seven journal articles that examine fake news from multiple angles, including what makes fact-checking most effective and the potential use of crowdsourcing to help detect false content on social media. Because getting good news is also a great way to start 2020, I included a study that suggests President Donald Trump’s “fake news” tweets aimed at discrediting news coverage could actually help journalists. The authors of that paper recommend journalists “engage in a sort of news jujitsu, turning the negative energy of Trump’s tweets into a force for creating additional interest in news.”…”
Boston Review:”…Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates have all publicly expressed their concerns about the advent of this kind of “strong” (or “general”) AI—and the associated existential risk that it may pose for humanity. In Hawking’s words, the development of strong AI “could spell the end of the human race.”…These are legitimate long-term worries. But they are not all we have to worry about, and placing them center stage distracts from ethical questions that AI is raising here and now. Some contend that strong AI may be only decades away, but this focus obscures the reality that “weak” (or “narrow”) AI is already reshaping existing social and political institutions. Algorithmic decision making and decision support systems are currently being deployed in many high-stakes domains, from criminal justice, law enforcement, and employment decisions to credit scoring, school assignment mechanisms, health care, and public benefits eligibility assessments. Never mind the far-off specter of doomsday; AI is already here, working behind the scenes of many of our social systems. What responsibilities and obligations do we bear for AI’s social consequences in the present—not just in the distant future? To answer this question, we must resist the learned helplessness that has come to see AI development as inevitable. Instead, we should recognize that developing and deploying weak AI involves making consequential choices—choices that demand greater democratic oversight not just from AI developers and designers, but from all members of society…”
New York Public Library: “Since The New York Public Library’s founding in 1895, millions of books have been checked out by patrons of all ages throughout the city. In honor of the 125th anniversary, a team of experts from the Library carefully evaluated a series of key factors to determine the most borrowed books, including historic checkout and circulation data (for all formats, including e-books), overall trends, current events, popularity, length of time in print, and presence in the Library catalog. Read on to discover the top 10 checkouts in our history…”
The Guardian – “Bushfires have swept large parts of Australia since October, leaving more than 20 people dead, destroying thousands of homes and devastating wildlife. Unprecedented bushfires continue to ravage south-east Australia, with at least 24 people confirmed dead so far and almost 2,000 homes destroyed. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes in New South Wales and Victoria, in some cases only with help from the Australian navy…The fires have had catastrophic effects on the local wildlife, killing millions of animals and threatening the survival of entire species. Smoke plumes posed a significant health threat even to those living miles away, as the wind carried heavily polluted air to Sydney and Canberra, and as far as New Zealand. Wildfire smoke contains poisonous gases such as carbon monoxide and fine particles known as PM2.5 which pass through the lungs and can harm virtually every organ in the human body. A monitoring site in the Monash suburb of Canberra measured an air quality index of 5,185 on Friday, more than 20 times the level that is considered hazardous…”
LifeSavvy: “Although working from home sounds lovely and relaxing, it has its own set of challenges. You need to be diligent about scheduling or risk getting distracted. Here are some easy steps for boosting your productivity. Structure Your Day: You’re forced into a structure when you work in a traditional office environment. You have to get dressed (properly), commute, and attend meetings. You have the pressure of working around colleagues and you have defined times for starting and ending work. It’s harder to implement structure when you’re on your own. However, creating a solid routine is key to being productive.
- Wake up at a designated time: Just because you work from home doesn’t mean you should keep hitting snooze. One thing successful entrepreneurs have in common is that they get up early. Don’t let those productive hours slip by!
- Get dressed: This will help switch your mindset to “work mode,” making you feel more productive. Resist the urge to work in your PJs: take a shower and fix yourself up, even if no colleagues will see you.
- Do some work before breakfast: The usual recommendation is to start with a healthy breakfast, to fuel you for your busy day ahead. However, when you’re home all day, breakfast can be a drawn-out luxury, with reading, checking social media, and other distractions preventing you from getting started. Try diving into a quick work task, checking it off the list, and then sitting down to breakfast.
- Prep meals in advance: Try prepping your breakfast and lunch the night before. Avoid the kitchen during your work day—you’ll be tempted to cook elaborate meals or waste time mopping the floor.
- Eat in a separate space: Take your meal breaks away from your office—outside if possible. Pause all work activities, switch your phone to silent mode, enjoy the fresh air, and let your mind reset.
- Exercise: One great thing about working from home is flexibility. Hit the gym early, do a YouTube yoga class from the comfort of your living room, or go for a quick run if you’re feeling stuck or need a mid-afternoon boost.
- Utilize your productive time: Plan your day according to when you’re most alert and focused. If that happens to be first thing in the morning, then schedule demanding tasks at that time. If you experience a mid-afternoon slump, then plan on making phone calls, responding to emails, or meeting up with a colleague in person.
- Set specific hours: Don’t let your work blend from morning to night without any definition. Set boundaries, just like an office job would do. This might look like 9-5, or you can start at 8 and finish at 4. Some home workers even break their day into two different four-hour blocks with a rest period between them.
- Minimize interruptions: If you have others in your home during the work day, post a Do Not Disturb sign on your door or have a whiteboard that lists your work hours. When you first start working from home, the people you live with will assume that you’re home (and therefore available to them) instead of at work….[Please take time to read the entire article – you will find it useful even if you think your telework or work at home routine is just fine]
Active Navigation: “There is a strong belief, both in the public and private sector, that the worst thing you can do with a piece of data is to delete it. The government stores all sorts of data, from traffic logs to home ownership statistics. Data is obviously incredibly important to the Federal Government – but storing large amounts of it poses significant compliance and security risks – especially with the rise of Nation State hackers. As the risk of being breached continues to rise, why is the government not tackling their data storage problem head on?..”
The Correspondent – “If words make worlds, then we urgently need to tell a new story about the climate crisis. Here is one vision of what it could look and feel like to radically, collectively take action. Centuries of evidence have shown that storytelling can change the course of history. Our story of the 2020s is yet to be written, but we can decide today whether or not it will be revolutionary. Radical imagination could help us begin to see that the power to change reality starts with changing what we consider to be possible. So, I want to map out a possible path for what this decade could look like, if we do what we need to do. As a trained meteorologist, I used current evidence to predict future events. As a writer, I’ve always chosen to let the scientific truth that we exist as an interdependent community of species on a finite planet guide me…”
MentalFloos – Michael Rogalski: “For 60 years, American drivers unknowingly poisoned themselves by pumping leaded gasoline into their tanks. Here is the lifelong saga of Clair Patterson—a scientist who helped build the atomic bomb and discovered the true age of the Earth—and how he took on a billion-dollar industry to save humanity from itself…Over the previous nine years, the oil industry had awarded Patterson about $200,000. But the minute he published a paper in Nature blaming the industry for abnormal lead concentrations in snow and sea water, the American Petroleum Institute rescinded its funding. Then his contract with the Public Health Service dissolved. At Caltech, a member of the board of trustees—an oil executive whose company peddled tetraethyl lead—called the university president and demanded they shut Patterson up.
One day, the petroleum industry knocked on Patterson’s door. The four oil executives (or, as Patterson termed them, “white shirts and ties”) acted friendly. They showed him a résumé of ongoing projects and wondered if he’d like money to study something new. “[They tried to] buy me out through research support that would yield results favorable to their cause,” Patterson remembered. Instead of shooing the suits away, Patterson asked them to sit before a lectern as he explained, bluntly, “how some future scientists would obtain explicit data showing how their operations were poisoning the environment and people with lead. I explained how this information would be used in the future to shut down their operations.”,,”
Journal of Higher Ed: “Somewhere between birth and college, students hopefully have learned how to compose concise, grammatically correct and contextually appropriate emails. Often they haven’t. So, to head off 3 a.m. need-your-help-now emails from Jake No Last Name, many professors explicitly teach students how to email them at the start of the academic year. Approaches vary. A number of professors use specific reference documents. A pointer webpage called “How to Email a Professor” posted by Michael Leddy in 2005 is still quite popular, with professors and individual students: by early last year it had been accessed some 675,000 times and accessed from 135 countries and territories. Biologist and “Seven-Minute Scientist” Amy B. Hollingsworth wrote “Five Ways to Get a Busy Professor to Answer Your Emails That Don’t Involve a Bribe.” A 2015 op-ed co-written by two Southeastern University professors of English is still sometimes one of the most-read articles on Inside Higher Ed. The University of California, Santa Cruz, offers advice about emailing research professors here. And Laura Portwood-Stacer’s template, published on Medium in 2016, has lots of fans….”