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Stick Figures :: Archeology

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Tampa, Florida’s Stick Figures revered the Delta 5, opened for the Fall and caught the attention of John Peel in their short first run, churning out a clatter and rattle, jittering post-punk more in line with London or Manchester scenes than their native South Florida. The band made only one recording in its heyday, a four-song self-titled EP. That EP plus six additional unreleased studio tracks, two live cuts and a modern day reworking of their most chaotic song “Ellis Otivator Dub” make up the new Archeology compilation.

The post Stick Figures :: Archeology appeared first on Aquarium Drunkard.

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bronzehedwick
6 days ago
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I never heard of this band, but I'm digging them. Very angular, propulsive post-punk.
Jersey City, NJ
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Manasseh Meets The Equaliser :: Dub The Millennium

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Dub The Millennium. First released in 1993, Manasseh's swirling medley of dub, reggae, electronic, ambient and UK indie. The original vinyl edition of the lp is home to ten tracks, the CD twelve. This matters as the eleventh track, "Souljah", is a high watermark of the album-long exercise in disparate fusion.

The post Manasseh Meets The Equaliser :: Dub The Millennium appeared first on Aquarium Drunkard.





Download audio: https://aquariumdrunkard.info/upload/11%20-%20Souljah.mp3
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bronzehedwick
6 days ago
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Very cool chill-out music.
Jersey City, NJ
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Long-Secret FBI Report Reveals New Connections Between 9/11 Hijackers and Saudi Religious Officials in U.S.

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A long-suppressed FBI report on Saudi Arabia’s connections to the 9/11 plot has revealed that Saudi religious officials stationed in the United States had more significant connections to two of the hijackers than has been previously known.

The 2016 report was released late Saturday night under an executive order from President Joe Biden, who promised to make it public no later than the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks that killed 2,977 people and injured more than 6,000 others. The 16-page document was a final inventory of circumstantial evidence and leads from the FBI’s investigation of Saudi ties to the plot; it was heavily redacted.

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Nonetheless, lawyers for families of the 9/11 victims, who are suing the Saudi kingdom in federal court, said the document provided important support to their theory that a handful of Saudis connected to their government worked in concert to assist the first two Qaida hijackers sent to the United States in January 2000.

“This validates what we have been saying,” said James Kreindler, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs. “The FBI agents working this case detailed a Saudi government support network that was working in 1999, 2000 and 2001 to provide the hijackers with everything they needed to mount the attacks — apartments, money, English lessons, flight school.”

The Saudi government has always denied any role in the attacks, noting that al-Qaida and its former leader, Osama bin Laden, were sworn enemies of the royal family. But the 2016 report shows that FBI agents found evidence that several Saudi religious officials working in the United States had connections not only to people who assisted the hijackers but also to other Qaida operatives and suspected extremists. At the time, there were many Saudis in the country who had diplomatic credentials but were mainly involved in religious activity. The FBI later investigated many of them for extremism.

The FBI agents investigating possible Saudi involvement in the 9/11 attacks were part of a largely secret second phase of the bureau’s examination of the plot, called Operation Encore. The story of that inquiry, and the obstacles it faced, was first revealed last year by ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine.

The report released on Saturday was written by a senior analyst on the Encore team, John Nicholson, after the leader of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York, Carlos Fernandez, decided with federal prosecutors to reassign Nicholson and the rest of his New York team, effectively shutting down their work.

Although the FBI stopped investigating the case, officials said, it kept the Encore file nominally open until earlier this year. The Justice Department repeatedly cited the continuing inquiry as a primary reason why it could not disclose Encore files to families of the 9/11 victims. But relatives of the victims say the U.S. government has maintained a shield of secrecy to protect the Saudi kingdom from embarrassing revelations.

“There is no reason this shouldn’t be brought to light,” said Christopher Ganci, a battalion chief in the New York Fire Department, whose father, Peter, was the highest-ranking fire official to die in the attacks. “The American people deserve to know this information. The ground troops, the FBI agents on the street, have been chomping at the bit to have this come out. It’s been so frustrating for them and for us.”

Among the pieces of new evidence cited in the 2016 report are telephone records showing that a Saudi graduate student who helped the two first hijackers to settle in San Diego was in contact with a Saudi religious official stationed in the United States, who in turn had connections to other Qaida operatives and later became a target of a new investigation.

The Saudi student, Omar al-Bayoumi, was a middle-aged man who rarely attended classes and was being paid surreptitiously by the Saudi Defense Ministry, where he had previously worked. Starting in 1998, the FBI had investigated him for suspected extremist activity, but that inquiry was inconclusive.

An FBI official who was a case agent for the bureau’s initial investigation of the attacks, Jacqueline Maguire, testified to the bipartisan 9/11 Commission in 2004 that “by all indications” Bayoumi’s first meeting with the hijackers “was a random encounter.” Maguire and other FBI officials have described Bayoumi as an unwitting accomplice.

But the Encore team came to believe that Bayoumi not only gave extensive help to the two Qaida operatives, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, but later lied about his dealings with them and others.

Although Mihdhar and Hazmi were seasoned Qaida operatives, they spoke virtually no English, could not read street signs and were unable to navigate around the United States without considerable help, people who knew them told investigators. The Encore team believed that a support network of Saudi officials and other extremists in Southern California mobilized before their arrival in Los Angeles on Jan. 15, 2000.

Witness testimony in the 2016 report provides the strongest evidence yet that on Feb. 1, 2000, Bayoumi went directly from a meeting at the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles to a nearby cafe, where he waited for Hazmi and Mihdhar, approached them when they arrived and then spent about half an hour speaking with them.

Another witness, who appears to be a former Yemeni student in Los Angeles, told the FBI that a friend of his was tasked with helping the hijackers by a Saudi imam assigned to the Saudi Consulate, Fahad al-Thumairy. The FBI report quotes the witness as saying his friend, an Eritrean worshipper at Thumairy’s mosque named Mohammed Johar, was instructed to take the two hijackers to the cafe where they met Bayoumi.

In interviews through his lawyer with ProPublica and in his statements to the FBI, Johar denied having been asked by Thumairy to assist the hijackers as well as allegations that he provided lodging for them at Thumairy’s direction. According to the 2016 report, he said that a few days after the lunch meeting, he took Hazmi and Mihdhar to a Greyhound station to catch a bus to San Diego. They were met there by Bayoumi, who found them an apartment in his building, loaned them money to rent it, helped them arrange English classes and flying lessons, and introduced them to a circle of other Muslims, including the future Qaida cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

FBI officials had previously described Bayoumi as having been in close telephone contact with Thumairy, the Saudi imam and consular official in Los Angeles. The 2016 report reveals that Thumairy was also in telephone contact with the family home in Saudi Arabia of two Qaida militants, Suleyman and Abd al Aziz Al-Khalidi, who were later captured in Afghanistan and sent to the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The detainees’ older brother, Issa, was killed by Saudi forces during the 2004 kidnapping of an American worker in Saudi Arabia, Paul Johnson, who was beheaded by his captors.

According to the 2016 report, Thumairy also had telephone contacts with some alleged Muslim extremists in Los Angeles who were suspected of helping Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian who was captured by U.S. border agents as he tried to cross from Canada on his way to bomb Los Angeles International Airport in late 1999. It is not clear if the FBI determined the extent of those suspected connections.

The FBI investigated Thumairy after the attacks, and the State Department withdrew his diplomatic visa on the suspicion that he led a radical Islamist faction at the King Fahad Mosque in the Los Angeles suburb of Culver City. He was deported to Saudi Arabia when he tried to return to Los Angeles in 2003; he has denied knowing the hijackers or supporting militant causes. Investigators for the 9/11 Commission concluded that he was not a credible witness.

That 2016 report also cites an intriguing but briefly described report from a source that Thumairy received a telephone call from an unidentified person in Malaysia shortly before Hazmi and Mihdhar flew into Los Angeles International Airport on Jan. 15, 2000.

It has long been known that the CIA had the hijackers under surveillance in Malaysia as they met there with other Qaida operatives early that January, days before leaving for the United States. The CIA then lost the hijackers’ trail and neglected for more than 16 months to alert the FBI, even after learning that at least one of them had entered the United States.

The 2016 report also reveals a new layer to Bayoumi’s efforts, noting telephone records that show he was in touch with another Saudi religious official, Mutaeb al-Sudairy, who was then assigned to the Saudi Embassy in Washington. Significantly, “Bayoumi called Sudairy five times” during the crucial period when the hijackers met Bayoumi in Los Angeles and he helped them move to San Diego, the report says.

Sudairy, the son of a prominent Saudi family, traveled extensively in the United States as a Muslim missionary for the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs, according to documents and interviews. During this period, the Encore report states that he also spent four months as the roommate of Ziyad Khaleel, a Palestinian-American extremist who was living in Missouri. The FBI investigated Khaleel for terrorism-related activities, including the procurement of a satellite phone for bin Laden, according to court documents and interviews. (Khaleel has since died.)

After the Sept. 11 attacks, an American who knew Sudairy in Missouri reported him to the FBI as a possible extremist. But the Saudi religious official had left the country, and the result of the report is not known.

In 2010, Sudairy caught the FBI’s attention again. While examining old phone activity of Bayoumi, an analyst on the Encore team discovered links to Sudairy. Soon afterward, the analyst learned that Sudairy and another official in the religious ministry had recently applied for new U.S. visas to study English at the University of Oklahoma. This was strange because the two Saudis were educated, wealthy officials who had lived and worked in the United States years earlier. Because of their suspected extremist links, agents believed that the plan to study in Oklahoma might be a cover for something more nefarious.

In contrast to other leads developed by the Encore team, FBI leaders took the matter seriously. They authorized an operation to put the two Saudis under full-time surveillance after they landed in the United States, former officials have told ProPublica.

But the episode ended when CIA officers in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, objected strongly to the FBI plan, one former official said. For reasons that remain unclear, the two Saudis canceled the visit at the last minute. Former investigators felt they lost an important opportunity to learn more about the suspected role of Saudi officials in the support network of the Sept. 11 hijackers. The new information about Sudairy raises even more questions about why U.S. authorities were not able to pursue the lead more aggressively in 2010.

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bronzehedwick
9 days ago
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Maaaaaaan
Jersey City, NJ
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Russia’s SolarWinds Attack and Software Security

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The information that is emerging about Russia’s extensive cyberintelligence operation against the United States and other countries should be increasingly alarming to the public. The magnitude of the hacking, now believed to have affected more than 250 federal agencies and businesses — ­primarily through a malicious update of the SolarWinds network management software — ­may have slipped under most people’s radar during the holiday season, but its implications are stunning.

According to a Washington Post report, this is a massive intelligence coup by Russia’s foreign intelligence service (SVR). And a massive security failure on the part of the United States is also to blame. Our insecure Internet infrastructure has become a critical national security risk­ — one that we need to take seriously and spend money to reduce.

President-elect Joe Biden’s initial response spoke of retaliation, but there really isn’t much the United States can do beyond what it already does. Cyberespionage is business as usual among countries and governments, and the United States is aggressively offensive in this regard. We benefit from the lack of norms in this area and are unlikely to push back too hard because we don’t want to limit our own offensive actions.

Biden took a more realistic tone last week when he spoke of the need to improve US defenses. The initial focus will likely be on how to clean the hackers out of our networks, why the National Security Agency and US Cyber Command failed to detect this intrusion and whether the 2-year-old Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has the resources necessary to defend the United States against attacks of this caliber. These are important discussions to have, but we also need to address the economic incentives that led to SolarWinds being breached and how that insecure software ended up in so many critical US government networks.

Software has become incredibly complicated. Most of us almost don’t know all of the software running on our laptops and what it’s doing. We don’t know where it’s connecting to on the Internet­ — not even which countries it’s connecting to­ — and what data it’s sending. We typically don’t know what third party libraries are in the software we install. We don’t know what software any of our cloud services are running. And we’re rarely alone in our ignorance. Finding all of this out is incredibly difficult.

This is even more true for software that runs our large government networks, or even the Internet backbone. Government software comes from large companies, small suppliers, open source projects and everything in between. Obscure software packages can have hidden vulnerabilities that affect the security of these networks, and sometimes the entire Internet. Russia’s SVR leveraged one of those vulnerabilities when it gained access to SolarWinds’ update server, tricking thousands of customers into downloading a malicious software update that gave the Russians access to those networks.

The fundamental problem is one of economic incentives. The market rewards quick development of products. It rewards new features. It rewards spying on customers and users: collecting and selling individual data. The market does not reward security, safety or transparency. It doesn’t reward reliability past a bare minimum, and it doesn’t reward resilience at all.

This is what happened at SolarWinds. A New York Times report noted the company ignored basic security practices. It moved software development to Eastern Europe, where Russia has more influence and could potentially subvert programmers, because it’s cheaper.

Short-term profit was seemingly prioritized over product security.

Companies have the right to make decisions like this. The real question is why the US government bought such shoddy software for its critical networks. This is a problem that Biden can fix, and he needs to do so immediately.

The United States needs to improve government software procurement. Software is now critical to national security. Any system for acquiring software needs to evaluate the security of the software and the security practices of the company, in detail, to ensure they are sufficient to meet the security needs of the network they’re being installed in. Procurement contracts need to include security controls of the software development process. They need security attestations on the part of the vendors, with substantial penalties for misrepresentation or failure to comply. The government needs detailed best practices for government and other companies.

Some of the groundwork for an approach like this has already been laid by the federal government, which has sponsored the development of a “Software Bill of Materials” that would set out a process for software makers to identify the components used to assemble their software.

This scrutiny can’t end with purchase. These security requirements need to be monitored throughout the software’s life cycle, along with what software is being used in government networks.

None of this is cheap, and we should be prepared to pay substantially more for secure software. But there’s a benefit to these practices. If the government evaluations are public, along with the list of companies that meet them, all network buyers can benefit from them. The US government acting purely in the realm of procurement can improve the security of nongovernmental networks worldwide.

This is important, but it isn’t enough. We need to set minimum safety and security standards for all software: from the code in that Internet of Things appliance you just bought to the code running our critical national infrastructure. It’s all one network, and a vulnerability in your refrigerator’s software can be used to attack the national power grid.

The IOT Cybersecurity Improvement Act, signed into law last month, is a start in this direction.

The Biden administration should prioritize minimum security standards for all software sold in the United States, not just to the government but to everyone. Long gone are the days when we can let the software industry decide how much emphasis to place on security. Software security is now a matter of personal safety: whether it’s ensuring your car isn’t hacked over the Internet or that the national power grid isn’t hacked by the Russians.

This regulation is the only way to force companies to provide safety and security features for customers — just as legislation was necessary to mandate food safety measures and require auto manufacturers to install life-saving features such as seat belts and air bags. Smart regulations that incentivize innovation create a market for security features. And they improve security for everyone.

It’s true that creating software in this sort of regulatory environment is more expensive. But if we truly value our personal and national security, we need to be prepared to pay for it.

The truth is that we’re already paying for it. Today, software companies increase their profits by secretly pushing risk onto their customers. We pay the cost of insecure personal computers, just as the government is now paying the cost to clean up after the SolarWinds hack. Fixing this requires both transparency and regulation. And while the industry will resist both, they are essential for national security in our increasingly computer-dependent worlds.

This essay previously appeared on CNN.com.

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bronzehedwick
257 days ago
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Jersey City, NJ
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Justice Department Charges Zoom With Suppressing U.S. Calls About Tiananmen Square, at Behest of China

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Drew Harwell and Ellen Nakashima, reporting for The Washington Post:

A security executive with the video-tech giant Zoom worked with the Chinese government to terminate Americans’ accounts and disrupt video calls about the 1989 massacre of pro-democracy activists in Tiananmen Square, Justice Department prosecutors said Friday. […]

Prosecutors said the China-based executive, Xinjiang Jin, worked as Zoom’s primary liaison with Chinese law enforcement and intelligence services, sharing user information and terminating video calls at the Chinese government’s request.

Jin monitored Zoom’s video system for discussions of political and religious topics deemed unacceptable by China’s ruling Communist Party, the complaint states, and he gave government officials the names, email addresses and other sensitive information of users, even those outside China.

Outrageous in so many ways. How in the world can Zoom ever claim that calls are private and encrypted when they’ve clearly demonstrated the ability to monitor them, and abused that in patently offensive ways? Best to assume that every call made with Zoom is monitored by the Chinese government. Remember too that Zoom employs 700 Chinese nationals on its engineering staff. I’d be surprised if Zoom’s source code and server infrastructure was not riddled with backdoors and eavesdropping features.

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bronzehedwick
277 days ago
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Yikes. Tempted to repeatedly say Tiananmen Square in a Zoom and see what happens.
Jersey City, NJ
zippy72
277 days ago
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FourSquare, qv
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1 public comment
jqlive
275 days ago
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Wow. the xenophobia in the last 2 sentences is strong. Just because you hire Chinese nationals, doesn't automatically mean they're up to no good.
CN/MX
kyounger
264 days ago
Do you think the likelihood goes up, the more you hire? This isn't a slight on the Chinese people, but their government.
jqlive
257 days ago
No, I do not. That's like saying if you hire enough Mexicans, you'll get some cartel members, or if you hire enough Russians you'll get FSB agents. One bad overzealous actor does not represent an entire group of people.

Should There Be Limits on Persuasive Technologies?

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Persuasion is as old as our species. Both democracy and the market economy depend on it. Politicians persuade citizens to vote for them, or to support different policy positions. Businesses persuade consumers to buy their products or services. We all persuade our friends to accept our choice of restaurant, movie, and so on. It’s essential to society; we couldn’t get large groups of people to work together without it. But as with many things, technology is fundamentally changing the nature of persuasion. And society needs to adapt its rules of persuasion or suffer the consequences.

Democratic societies, in particular, are in dire need of a frank conversation about the role persuasion plays in them and how technologies are enabling powerful interests to target audiences. In a society where public opinion is a ruling force, there is always a risk of it being mobilized for ill purposes — ­such as provoking fear to encourage one group to hate another in a bid to win office, or targeting personal vulnerabilities to push products that might not benefit the consumer.

In this regard, the United States, already extremely polarized, sits on a precipice.

There have long been rules around persuasion. The US Federal Trade Commission enforces laws that claims about products “must be truthful, not misleading, and, when appropriate, backed by scientific evidence.” Political advertisers must identify themselves in television ads. If someone abuses a position of power to force another person into a contract, undue influence can be argued to nullify that agreement. Yet there is more to persuasion than the truth, transparency, or simply applying pressure.

Persuasion also involves psychology, and that has been far harder to regulate. Using psychology to persuade people is not new. Edward Bernays, a pioneer of public relations and nephew to Sigmund Freud, made a marketing practice of appealing to the ego. His approach was to tie consumption to a person’s sense of self. In his 1928 book Propaganda, Bernays advocated engineering events to persuade target audiences as desired. In one famous stunt, he hired women to smoke cigarettes while taking part in the 1929 New York City Easter Sunday parade, causing a scandal while linking smoking with the emancipation of women. The tobacco industry would continue to market lifestyle in selling cigarettes into the 1960s.

Emotional appeals have likewise long been a facet of political campaigns. In the 1860 US presidential election, Southern politicians and newspaper editors spread fears of what a “Black Republican” win would mean, painting horrific pictures of what the emancipation of slaves would do to the country. In the 2020 US presidential election, modern-day Republicans used Cuban Americans’ fears of socialism in ads on Spanish-language radio and messaging on social media. Because of the emotions involved, many voters believed the campaigns enough to let them influence their decisions.

The Internet has enabled new technologies of persuasion to go even further. Those seeking to influence others can collect and use data about targeted audiences to create personalized messaging. Tracking the websites a person visits, the searches they make online, and what they engage with on social media, persuasion technologies enable those who have access to such tools to better understand audiences and deliver more tailored messaging where audiences are likely to see it most. This information can be combined with data about other activities, such as offline shopping habits, the places a person visits, and the insurance they buy, to create a profile of them that can be used to develop persuasive messaging that is aimed at provoking a specific response.

Our senses of self, meanwhile, are increasingly shaped by our interaction with technology. The same digital environment where we read, search, and converse with our intimates enables marketers to take that data and turn it back on us. A modern day Bernays no longer needs to ferret out the social causes that might inspire you or entice you­ — you’ve likely already shared that by your online behavior.

Some marketers posit that women feel less attractive on Mondays, particularly first thing in the morning — ­and therefore that’s the best time to advertise cosmetics to them. The New York Times once experimented by predicting the moods of readers based on article content to better target ads, enabling marketers to find audiences when they were sad or fearful. Some music streaming platforms encourage users to disclose their current moods, which helps advertisers target subscribers based on their emotional states.

The phones in our pockets provide marketers with our location in real time, helping deliver geographically relevant ads, such as propaganda to those attending a political rally. This always-on digital experience enables marketers to know what we are doing­ — and when, where, and how we might be feeling at that moment.

All of this is not intended to be alarmist. It is important not to overstate the effectiveness of persuasive technologies. But while many of them are more smoke and mirrors than reality, it is likely that they will only improve over time. The technology already exists to help predict moods of some target audiences, pinpoint their location at any given time, and deliver fairly tailored and timely messaging. How far does that ability need to go before it erodes the autonomy of those targeted to make decisions of their own free will?

Right now, there are few legal or even moral limits on persuasion­ — and few answers regarding the effectiveness of such technologies. Before it is too late, the world needs to consider what is acceptable and what is over the line.

For example, it’s been long known that people are more receptive to advertisements made with people who look like them: in race, ethnicity, age, gender. Ads have long been modified to suit the general demographic of the television show or magazine they appear in. But we can take this further. The technology exists to take your likeness and morph it with a face that is demographically similar to you. The result is a face that looks like you, but that you don’t recognize. If that turns out to be more persuasive than coarse demographic targeting, is that okay?

Another example: Instead of just advertising to you when they detect that you are vulnerable, what if advertisers craft advertisements that deliberately manipulate your mood? In some ways, being able to place ads alongside content that is likely to provoke a certain emotional response enables advertisers to do this already. The only difference is that the media outlet claims it isn’t crafting the content to deliberately achieve this. But is it acceptable to actively prime a target audience and then to deliver persuasive messaging that fits the mood?

Further, emotion-based decision-making is not the rational type of slow thinking that ought to inform important civic choices such as voting. In fact, emotional thinking threatens to undermine the very legitimacy of the system, as voters are essentially provoked to move in whatever direction someone with power and money wants. Given the pervasiveness of digital technologies, and the often instant, reactive responses people have to them, how much emotion ought to be allowed in persuasive technologies? Is there a line that shouldn’t be crossed?

Finally, for most people today, exposure to information and technology is pervasive. The average US adult spends more than eleven hours a day interacting with media. Such levels of engagement lead to huge amounts of personal data generated and aggregated about you­ — your preferences, interests, and state of mind. The more those who control persuasive technologies know about us, what we are doing, how we are feeling, when we feel it, and where we are, the better they can tailor messaging that provokes us into action. The unsuspecting target is grossly disadvantaged. Is it acceptable for the same services to both mediate our digital experience and to target us? Is there ever such thing as too much targeting?

The power dynamics of persuasive technologies are changing. Access to tools and technologies of persuasion is not egalitarian. Many require large amounts of both personal data and computation power, turning modern persuasion into an arms race where the better resourced will be better placed to influence audiences.

At the same time, the average person has very little information about how these persuasion technologies work, and is thus unlikely to understand how their beliefs and opinions might be manipulated by them. What’s more, there are few rules in place to protect people from abuse of persuasion technologies, much less even a clear articulation of what constitutes a level of manipulation so great it effectively takes agency away from those targeted. This creates a positive feedback loop that is dangerous for society.

In the 1970s, there was widespread fear about so-called subliminal messaging, which claimed that images of sex and death were hidden in the details of print advertisements, as in the curls of smoke in cigarette ads and the ice cubes of liquor ads. It was pretty much all a hoax, but that didn’t stop the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission from declaring it an illegal persuasive technology. That’s how worried people were about being manipulated without their knowledge and consent.

It is time to have a serious conversation about limiting the technologies of persuasion. This must begin by articulating what is permitted and what is not. If we don’t, the powerful persuaders will become even more powerful.

This essay was written with Alicia Wanless, and previously appeared in Foreign Policy.

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bronzehedwick
282 days ago
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Great essay on one of the defining, yet often hidden to the wider public, issues of our time.
Jersey City, NJ
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