In Custodia Legis – “In January, Robert announced the first version of the new Committee Schedule that we have been working on. It is a great way to see quickly which meetings and hearings the House and Senate committees have scheduled for the week…”
Transparency Report 2018 – January 1, 2018 to December 31, 2018 – “Every year, Reddit produces a Transparency Report to provide users with information about the types of requests that we receive from third parties that want Reddit to disclose user data or remove content from the platform. Reddit takes the privacy of its users seriously. Reddit therefore insists on compliance with procedural requirements, scrutinizes requests and legal process for facial validity and legal sufficiency, and objects to process when appropriate. This year, we will be sharing additional information with you about copyright removals, restorations, and retractions, as well as removals for violations of Reddit’s Content Policy and subreddit rules. Not only does this additional information increase transparency for our users, but it helps bring Reddit into line with The Santa Clara Principles on Transparency and Accountability in Content Moderation, the goals and spirit of which we support as a starting point for further conversation. Reports for previous years can be found here…”
“Some level of bafflement attends tax-filing season every year. But in 2019, as Americans examine their returns for the first time under the full effect of the sweeping new Republican tax law, the situation is the most cryptic in memory. Some tax breaks have been erased or capped, while others have been expanded or introduced. This is equal-opportunity anxiety. Blue-state professionals feel micro-targeted by new limits on state and local tax deductions, while filers elsewhere can’t figure out why they’re no longer getting a fat refund, if the law was supposed to be so good for them. We asked accountants across the country to tell us their clients’ most common queries. Here are some answers…”
PCWorld: “Some governments, schools, and businesses try to block websites in order to reduce distractions, conserve bandwidth, or censor content. If you want to circumvent such limitations—and you’re willing to assume any attendant risks—you can try to enlist the aid of a VPN, or virtual private network. A VPN creates a secure tunnel between your PC and a server in another location. When you connect to a VPN server, all of your communication travels through that tunnel, so third parties can’t monitor it. In this setup, your online identity—your IP address—becomes anonymized, and you can access blocked websites…”
“Algorithms are all around us, using massive stores of data and complex analytics to make decisions with often significant impacts on humans – from choosing the content people see on social media to judging whether a person is a good credit risk or job candidate. Pew Research Center released several reports in 2018 that explored the role and meaning of algorithms in people’s lives today. Here are some of the key themes that emerged from that research…”
Two former members of President Assad's intelligence agency were arrested in Germany for allegedly participating in the abuse of captive dissidents. A third Syrian national was apprehended in Paris.
Motherboard – Reading the terms and conditions of online consumer contracts requires, on average, more than 14 years of education. Two law professors analyzed the sign-in terms and conditions of 500 popular US websites, including Google and Facebook, and found that more than 99 percent of them were “unreadable,” far exceeding the level most American adults read at, but are still enforced. According to a new paper published on SSRN (Social Science Research Network), the average readability level of the agreements reviewed by the researchers was comparable to articles in academic journals. “While consumers are legally expected or presumed to read their contracts, businesses are not required to write readable ones. This asymmetry—and its potential consequences—puzzled us,” wrote co-author Samuel Becher, a law professor at Victoria University of Wellington, in an email to Motherboard. We’ve all been there, signing up for a new digital service such as Amazon or Uber and being asked to tick the box saying that we agree to the terms of service, or ToS. These agreements typically include clauses on intellectual property, prohibited use, and termination, among many others. Most of us accept the terms without bothering to read the fine print. But with these relatively new types of contracts, known as sign-in-wrap agreements, there is a danger in clicking “agree” without reading or understanding them—they’re regularly enforced…”
Popular Mechanics: “When you’re browsing online, who sets the prices? An algorithm, most likely. A study from 2015 showed that a third of all items on Amazon had prices set by an algorithm, and chances are that percentage has only risen. A new study shows how easy it would be for price-setting algorithms to learn to collude with each other and keep prices at a disadvantage for customers. This sort of collusion would stem from a certain type of algorithm, the researchers say. Reinforcement algorithms learn through trial and error. In the simplest terms, a walking robot would take a step, fall, and try again. These algorithms have often been used to teach algorithms to win games like Go.
“From the antitrust standpoint,” say professors Emilio Calvano, Giacomo Calzolari, and others from the University of Bologna in Italy, “the concern is that these autonomous pricing algorithms may independently discover that if they are to make the highest possible profit, they should avoid price wars. That is, they may learn to collude even if they have not been specifically instructed to do so, and even if they do not communicate with one another.” To test their theory they built two AI pricing agents and let them interact with each other. They found that “even relatively simple pricing algorithms systematically learn to play sophisticated collusive strategies.”..
The Military Family Advisory Network gathered responses from families in 46 states. It concluded that residents' complaints were ignored and fear of retaliation on service members' careers persisted.
(Image credit: U.S. Army FOIA/Handout/Reuters)
After years of being beaten up, this teen decided to take justice into his own hands. A school district in Oregon showed him a better way to solve his problems.
(Image credit: Beth Nakamura for NPR)
Consumer Report: “Amazon’s agreement to buy the wireless router manufacturer Eero could make it easier for homeowners to manage a wide array of wireless devices, like smart thermostats and video doorbells, according to analysts and Consumer Reports’ in-house experts. But some of them expressed concern over how often high-profile startups get bought by the tech world’s behemoths…The Eero three-pack, $500, is one of the highest-ranked wireless routers in our ratings, with our testers noting strong performance (depending on the wireless network range), easy-to-use controls, and automatic firmware updates, which helps keep you and your data safe from hackers…Routers sit at the center of your home network and necessarily handle all of the internet traffic entering and leaving your home. Amazon collects data through its Echo speakers, Fire tablets, and other devices, and it’s technically possible for a router to do that, too. “All of these issues will have to be dealt with appropriately, with things like privacy policies, consumer choice, and voluntary opt-in, in a way that consumer confidence is not eroded,” says Russell of Parks Associates…” [h/t Pete Weiss]
Next City: “Before 2009, the San Francisco Public Library’s bathrooms often became spaces of contention, with security staff escorting patrons out of the library, sometimes arresting them if they were found bathing, sleeping or injecting. But that year, the library hired the first library social worker in the United States, Leah Esguerra, marking a shift in attitudes that have since spread to library systems across the country…the San Francisco Public Library now has a team of Health and Safety Associates (now known as HASAs) who use the bathrooms as outreach space. HASAs have since expanded their work outside bathrooms and provide outreach on all seven floors of the main branch. They also work at other branches to support staff and inform patrons about resources and services. The program has placed at least 130 patrons into stable housing, Esguerra says. San Francisco’s experience directly inspired change at the Denver Public Library. In 2012, the Homeless Services Action Committee — an internal working group with the Denver library — made recommendations to add a social worker to staff. The library eventually hired social worker Elissa Hardy in 2015 to begin building the library’s Community Resource program, bringing on additional social workers and peer navigators. The program has gone from serving 434 library customers in 2015, when it was just Hardy, to 3,500 served in 2018…
And across the country, there’s been increasing discussion of how libraries can address homelessness and mental health issues. A 2018 report by the Chicago Tribune estimated there are now more than 30 library systems across the country with full-time social workers. “In social work we have this term called a ‘protective factor,’” says Hardy. “The library is a protective factor for people, which is basically a place or a thing where we’re helping to support people, and not change things negatively for them.” One of the key lessons from San Francisco and Denver so far: as much as possible, hiring peer navigators and HASAs who have come with lived experiences of homelessness and other adverse life challenges, making them uniquely qualified to do outreach at the library…”
The Washington Post – “The Senate on Tuesday passed the most sweeping conservation legislation in a decade, protecting millions of acres of land and hundreds of miles of wild rivers across the country and establishing four new national monuments honoring heroes including Civil War soldiers and a civil rights icon. The 662-page measure [S.47, Natural Resources Management Act] which passed 92 to 8, represented an old-fashioned approach to dealmaking that has largely disappeared on Capitol Hill. Senators from across the ideological spectrum celebrated home-state gains and congratulated each other for bridging the partisan divide…”
…it makes all federal lands open to hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting unless otherwise specified. Jesse Deubel, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, said in an interview that expanding wilderness in his state will be a powerful lure for hunters seeking bighorn sheep, mule deer, quail and other animals. “People will travel to these places to pursue game in this wild, untamed habitat.”
The ruling from Judge Amy Berman Jackson means the prosecutors led by Robert Mueller are no longer bound by their plea deal with Manafort, onetime chairman of Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.
(Image credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
There have been lots of stories about the unique animal in the central Kenya's Laikipia County. Now cameras have captured multiple high-quality photos and video.
(Image credit: Will Burrard-Lucas/Burrard-Lucas Photography)
Families learn to be skeptical about vaccines in communities where incomplete vaccination is the norm. A researcher into the phenomenon found that people are ready to listen, if they're heard, too.
(Image credit: Karl Tapales/Getty Images)
She wants to make it help 50 million women around the world get jobs and start their own businesses. Critics are waiting for more details.
(Image credit: Evan Vucci/AP)