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Last Week Online #53 – If you can use it for evil, someone will build it

Anna Loverus
Anna Loverus
3 min read

A Saudi prince and a billionaire chatting on WhatsApp; Some stories sound entirely made up.

Jeff Bezos phone was hacked by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia using WhatsApp

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post, received a WhatsApp message from the personal account of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia in May 2018. A forensic report found with "medium to high confidence" that the message contained a video file that infiltrated Bezos phone with the Pegasus malware, built by the NSO Group.

Right after Bezos got the video on WhatsApp, his phone started sending unusually large data volumes. In late 2018 Bezos received a message from the crown prince that suggested he had detailed knowledge of Bezos private life. And when Bezos was later targeted by the tabloid National Enquirer, who had gathered and published private text messages and photos from his phone, he started an investigation into the leak.

The report also said several other people had their phones infected with the same malware around the time of the Bezos phone breach. Some of them were close to Jamal Khashoggi, a leading Saudi critic and columnist for The Washington Post (the paper Bezos owns) who was murdered five months after the breach.

Dubious facial recognition app Clearview AI had a rough week

Clearview AI is a facial recognition app that has licensed its technology to more than 600 hundred law enforcement agencies. Last week it became known that the app uses a database holding more than three billion photos collected from social media sites, such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, as well as from other places online.

This week, Twitter told Clearview to stop using its photos, claiming it violates its policies. Several members of Congress have reacted and Senator Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, wants the company to provide a list of all entities using the app, private as well as public. Also, the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General has refused the state's police departments from using the app after finding out that Clearview's website falsely claimed that the police department had used their product when solving a case from 2019.

The vast number of images in the database is why Clearview is so popular among law enforcement agencies. The apps facial recognition technology can then match people to the pictures in the database and get comprehensive coverage of peoples online lives. However, other companies capable of building something similar, have decided not to. In 2011, Google's chairman (at the time) said it was the one technology it held back because of the potential to use it "in a very bad way."

Workers moderating content on YouTube informed of PTSD risks

Late last year, the Verge reported that many people working as YouTube moderators had developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the job. Now everyone working as a content moderator for YouTube are being ordered to sign a document acknowledging that the job can cause PTSD.

Accenture operates one moderation site for YouTube in Austin. Before the Holidays, they distributed a document reading "I understand the content I will be reviewing may be disturbing." And, "it is possible that reviewing such content may impact my mental health, and it could even lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)." Employees who notice differences in their psychological wellbeing are encouraged to contact the HR department.

This document is possibly the first time a company acknowledges that content moderation – a job done by tens of thousands of people all over the world – might generate severe mental health consequences. However, the document also reads "no job is worth sacrificing my mental or emotional health" and that "this job is not for everyone," suggesting that employees who get impacted negatively by the content moderation job do not belong at Accenture.

Tool of the week: LifeWork Calendar

Have you ever wished there was a quick way to shield private events in your work calendar without disclosing too much of your private life? LifeWork Calendar protects time in your work calendar for personal happenings, makes it easier to manage your schedule, and defends your work-life balance.

Just connect your personal calendar to your work calendar, and you are good to go. Manual blocking time for private stuff in your work calendar is soon a distant memory.

Last Week Online

Anna Loverus Twitter

Thinker and doer. Loves running, wine, and human behaviour.


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