Curating the Internet: Science and technology digest for January 21, 2020

in rsslog •  last month  (edited)

A company that sells social-media photograph searches to law enforcement; Controversy in nutrition science over links between red meat and cancer; Supply chain transparency as an environmental tool; Frontier Communications is expected to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy; and a Steem essay describing a study of Nigerian clay for use as oil drilling mud

Fresh and Informative Content Daily: Welcome to my little corner of the blockchain

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Links and micro-summaries from my 1000+ daily headlines. I filter them so you don't have to.

First posted on my Steem blog: SteemIt, SteemPeak*, StemGeeks.


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  1. The Secretive Company That Might End Privacy as We Know It - This article covers the emergence of a new facial recognition company, Clearview AI. The firm has scraped public photos from social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Venmo, and built a database of more than three billion public images that it sells in a service to let a client upload a photo and search for a match. The company has backing from billionaire investor, Peter Thiele, and it currently offers its services to law enforcement agencies and security firms. In addition to its database of social media images, the company also adds photos that its users upload to its database, giving it a growing collection of photos of people who have caught the attention of law enforcement. Despite little public information about how the system works, how accurate it is, or how many false positives it generates, advocates say that it has assisted in the arrests of criminals ranging from child molesters to murderers. Critics, on the other hand argue that the dystopian possibilities of this sort of technology outweigh the benefits, and it should be banned. Scraping photos in this fashion violate terms of service for platforms like Facebook and Twitter, but CEO Hoan Ton-That argues that this is a soft prohibition, because all sorts of companies are engaging in scraping and the platforms know about it and do nothing to prevent it. -h/t Bruce Schneier

  2. Backlash Over Meat Dietary Recommendations Raises Questions About Corporate Ties to Nutrition Scientists - Based on a systematic review of nutrition literature including randomized clinical trials, observational studies, and policy recommendations, a group of researchers concluded that evidence on the relationship between red meat and cancer is not strong enough to justify a recommendation for adult Americans to change their meat-eating behavior. Before the conclusion was even published, the journal was flooded with an onslaught of nearly identical communications from the The True Health Initiative (THI) and its allies. The messages came in at such a high volume that the editor's inbox needed to be shut down. Many of the criticisms included claims that the authors were conflicted by ties to the meat industry, but those criticisms failed to mention the critics' own ties to industry organizations who compete with the meat producers. In addition to the debate over the risk of meat itself, this article also points out that the overall state of nutritional science is being called into question as unreliable because of difficulties with self-reporting, diet compliance, and experimental design. Further, the fact that the e-mails came in before the article was published raises the possibility that the journal's embargo policy may have been violated. -h/t RealClear Science

  3. How supply chain transparency can help the planet - This TED talk by Markus Mutz was posted in September of 2019 and came across the RSS feed on January 15. Mutz argues that humans have access to near-perfect information in many areas, but that is not true for the consumer market place. He points to the example of seafood, saying that consumers can choose between types of seafood at the grocery store, but they have no way of making informed decisions about the environmental and ethical trade-offs that come with the purchase. To address this problem, he has helped to launch the OpenSC (open supply chain) project. This project aims to make use of the falling price of sensors along with machine learning in order to give consumers confidence that the products they purchase were obtained in a sustainable and ethical way. This will be accomplished, he says, by giving an identity to every product that enters the market place and tracking it through its entire lifecycle. [Note that what he's describing here is very similar to a "non-fungible token" (NFT)]. In addition to machine learning and sensor technologies, OpenSC also makes use of RFID tagging and blockchain. In conclusion, he notes that the technology has already rolled out at scale in fish and seafood, but adds that they are planning to expand into other product lines like dairy, fruit & vegetable, and even non-food products made out of wood.

  4. Frontier, an ISP in 29 states, plans to file for bankruptcy - Recent numbers suggest that the company is saddled with $16.3 billion in long term debt as it offers fiber and copper Internet service in 29 states with revenues of $2 billion and quarterly losses in the range of $345 million. The company has also been shedding customers and staff, declining from 21,375 employees to 19,132 over the course of a year. As a result, the CEO has met with creditors in order to negotiate an agreement before $356 in payments come due on March 15. The deal will most likely involve entering into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in order to avoid disruptions to the company's remaining phone and Internet customers. The article says that recent declines were caused by the decreasing relevance and poor maintenance of its copper networks and also by poor customer service for its Fiber products. In my own employment, I was peripherally involved with work that related to a major Frontier acquisition around the 2009 timeframe, and - based on that experience - this news does not seem very surprising.

  5. STEEM Enhancement of Local Clays for Drilling Fluids Applications - In this post, @tomlee describes a study of local clays that was undertaken in an effort to minimize the amount of bentonite that must be imported by oil drilling companies in Nigeria. The study examined two types of local clay, and found that although the clays were not naturally suitable for oil drilling, they could be processed in a way that leads to good drilling mud. This process, known as beneficiation, involves altering low-quality clay in a way that improves its drilling properties. In this study, beneficiation was accomplished through "the addition of barite, carboxyl methylcellulose and soda ash in considerable concentrations ". (A 10% beneficiary setting has been applied to this post for @tomlee.)

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