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Ford CEO frankly admits that the car of the future is a surveillance device that you pay to spy on you

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The era of finance capitalism is marked by a curious shift in the desire of the business world: to get out of the business of making things people use, and into the business of getting money for owning, extracting and/or liquidating things.

The thing is, this isn't a good strategy. Not only did the drive to build up financial institutions themselves precipitate the financial crisis (tanking Lehman Brothers in the process, and bringing the rest to the brink of extinction, forced to beg for government handouts), but all the real-economy businesses that tried to become financial institutions also collapsed in the crisis: GM converted its making-cars business to a issuing loans business and nearly croaked as a result; ditto GE.

Since then, the extractive model has shown itself to be a loser for businesses do things that people value: Toys R Us was looted into bankruptcy; so was Sears.

But the dream of extractive rentierism still haunts the managerial classes.

Take Ford CEO Jim Hackett, whose recent Freakonomics Radio appearance celebrated his company's shift from a car business to a debt-issuance business, with Ford Credit now accounting for a third of the company's profits. Hackett vowed to increase that share by using the leverage he could exert over his debtors to force them to let him spy on them (for example, by doubling down on GM's car radio surveillance), and then cross-referencing this data on the data borrowers are forced to supply in order to buy their cars, and with data-sets from corporate acquisitions like the scooter company Spin.

It's funny how these real-economy naifs keep getting taken for rides by finance svengalis, who convince them to convert their making-things-people-need businesses to extracting-value-at-loan-point businesses. Every single time, they end up like the bottom tier of a pyramid scheme, emptying their pockets to benefit the con-artists who kicked the whole business off.

For the CEO of Ford to announce that he will goose his company's debt business with a surveillance business at the exact moment that the world's biggest debt issuers and surveillance businesses are coming under tight scrutiny and fretting about massive regulation as they head into another 2008-grade crisis is pretty perfect rustbelt timing. Welcome to the bottom of the pyramid, Ford. Your financial betters will be along shortly to get rich off of your touching enthusiasm and trust.

“We have 100 million people in vehicles today that are sitting in Ford blue-oval vehicles. That’s the case for monetizing opportunity versus an upstart who maybe has, I don’t know, what, they got 120, or 200,000 vehicles in place now. And so just compare the two stacks: Which one would you like to have the data from?” Hackett said, according to the podcast transcript.

“The issue in the vehicle, see, is: We already know and have data on our customers. By the way, we protect this securely; they trust us,” Hackett said. “We know what people make. How do we know that? It’s because they borrow money from us. And when you ask somebody what they make, we know where they work, you know. We know if they’re married. We know how long they’ve lived in their house because these are all on the credit applications. We’ve never ever been challenged on how we use that. And that’s the leverage we got here with the data.”

Data could be what Ford sells next as it looks for new revenue [Phoebe Wall Howard/Detroit Free Press]

(via @KevinBankston)

(Image: Scary Peeper)

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InShaneee
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sirshannon
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Thousands of sleep apnea sufferers rely on a lone Australian CPAP hacker to stay healthy

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An Australian developer named Mark Watkins painstakingly reverse-engineered the proprietary data generated by Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines and created Sleepyhead, a free/open piece of software that has become the go-to tool for thousands of sleep apnea sufferers around the world who want to tune their machines to stay healthy.

CPAP machines can require extensive tinkering to deliver exactly the right amount of air to their users; too little air and the patient can become chronically oxygen-deprived, leading to very serious health risks including early mortality. Too much air pressure can also kill you.

CPAP machine manufacturers like Resmed scramble the data generated by the machines and expect patients to physically transport the data on SD cards to their doctors' offices, which doctors use to tune the machines. This process is slow, expensive, and cumbersome, and time-starved docs are unreliable CPAP mechanics (there is a real shortage of sleep specialists).

Enter Mark Watkins and Sleepytime, whose existence is spread by word of mouth on forums for apnea sufferers, and these communities help one another interpret the data generated by the machines and make small adjustments to dial in the right settings.

However, Sleepytime may be illegal. CPAP machines -- like many other medical devices -- use digital rights management (DRM) to restrict access to their internals, which are a mix of copyrighted software and uncopyrightable data. Section 1201 of the DMCA bans bypassing access controls for copyrighted works, for any purpose, on penalty of 5 year prison sentences and $500,000 fines (for a first offense!). Watkins is Australia, but unluckily for him, the US government insisted on similar copyright laws as a condition of the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement in 2004.

In 2015, the US Copyright Office granted an exemption to the DMCA that permits bypassing DRM in medical devices, including CPAP systems (the FDA filed comments in the docket saying they didn't oppose the exemption).

But appearances are deceiving. The DMCA is an exceptionally poorly drafted rule: not only does it allow medical device manufacturers to abuse copyright to limit patients' access to their own data, but the exemptions that might act to correct these abuses are extremely limited and don't mean what you might think they mean.

The Copyright Office takes the view that it can only grant "use" exemptions to DMCA 1201, but not "tools" exemptions. That means that if you somehow get ahold of Sleepytime, the Copyright Office generously allows you to use Sleepytime. But the Copyright Office can't make distributing or contributing to Sleepytime legal. By hosting Sleepytime, Github is exposed to both criminal and civil liability, and anyone who contributed bug-fixes to Sleepytime is likewise at risk. Giving a copy of Sleepytime to a friend is an offense, and charging them for it (for example, as part of home nursing services) is a felony.

Sleepytime is a perfect parable of the problems of late-stage capitalism: overworked doctors under commercial pressures contribute to an epidemic of underserved patients with potentially life-threatening conditions; the manufacturers who profit off of those patients spend engineering dollars to ensure that they can't help themselves (and that doctors have to pay for site licenses for their decoding software), and so tens of thousands of people around the world have to rely on the willingness of a single person to risk his freedom and finances to write public-spirited software to jailbreak them out of the manufacturer's walled garden.

Watkins started the SleepyHead project seven years ago because he was interested in the “forbidden secrets” of his CPAP machine’s SD card. Since he first got started, SleepyHead has become a lifeline for the sleep apnea community.

“As time progressed, I became increasingly disgusted at how the CPAP industry is using and abusing people, and it became apparent there was a serious need for a freely available, data focused, all-in-one CPAP analysis tool,” he said.

Why Sleep Apnea Patients Rely on a CPAP Machine Hacker [Jason Koebler/Motherboard]

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InShaneee
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Companies keep losing your data because it doesn't cost them anything

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Data breaches keep happening, they keep getting worse, and yet companies keep collecting our data in ever-more-invasive ways, subjecting it to ever-longer retention, and systematically underinvesting in security.

Why does this keep happening? Because it's affordable. In 2014, Home Depot breached more than 50,000,000 credit-cards; in 2016, they paid less than $0.34/customer in restitution.

There are longer-term reputational costs associated with breaches, but these are not generally factored into the quarterly-earnings-focused mindsets of corporate execs and strategists.

An awful lot of change could be made simply by adjusting the law, and it needn't even be something as far reaching as the European General Data Protection Regulation: even establishing a set of statutory damages that people caught in breaches were entitled to collect, and banning the use of binding arbitration clauses to escape these liabilities would go a long way.

The statutory damages should reflect the cumulative nature of breaches: how a breached dataset can be combined with other breached datasets to build up devastatingly effective attacks -- the kind of thing that can cost you your whole house, even.

If companies were paying out damages commensurate with the social costs their data recklessness imposes on the rest of us, it would have a very clarifying effect on their behavior -- insurers would get involved, refusing to write E&O policies for board members without massive premium hikes, etc. A little would go a long way, here.

If you live in the United States, there's almost a 50 percent chance your personal data was lost in the giant Equifax data breach a year ago of 143 million records. Google had its own data breach in October this year that exposed data on as many as 500,000 accounts. Or the most recent Facebook breach of data from 29 million users. Or, over the last five years alone, major breaches at Anthem, eBay, JPMorgan Chase, Home Depot, Yahoo, Target, Adobe … but you get the point. If it's day that ends in “day,” there must have been another major data breach that keeps criminal hackers gainfully employed by selling your information.

Bad guys keep getting smarter, experts say. Why not corporations? The short answer is, because it's not worth their trouble.

Erik Sherman/Motherboard]

(Image: Roman Oleinik, CC-BY-SA)

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InShaneee
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Texas Just Voted to Teach a New Generation of Kids That Moses Was Basically a Founding Father

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The Texas Board of Education met this week to update the social studies curriculum for K-12 students in the Lone Star State—among the major changes they’ve made so far is the reversal of their decision two months ago to axe Hillary Clinton and Helen Keller from the history books. Oh, also, Moses is a basically a…

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InShaneee
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fxer
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"and Moses came down from the Mount, rough-hewn stone pressed close to his face, and spoketh unto the idolators; 'this is what an ass should look like!'"
Bend, Oregon

How Stan Lee, Creator of Black Panther, Taught a Generation of Black Nerds About Race, Art and Activism

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When I was a kid, I didn’t live close enough to a comic book shop to get there on my bike. My parents would have to take me to Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax, Va., and I’d get my comics off the old spinner racks at Waldenbooks. As the years went on and specialty comic shops opened, my friends and I had a comic book ritual…

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InShaneee
6 days ago
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Kansas City Health Department Pours Bleach on Food Meant for Homeless While Volunteers Resolve to Fight Back

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On November 4th, the Kansas City, MO Health Department sent police to confiscate food that was to be distributed to homeless people, throwing it in trash bags and pouring bleach on it to make it inedible, Fox 32 reports. The food, including homemade chili, sandwiches, and soup, was being distributed by the…

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InShaneee
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