I don't normally post about politics (I'm not particularly savvy about polling, which is where data science has had the largest impact on politics). But this weekend I saw a hypothesis about Donald Trump's twitter account that simply begged to be investigated with data: Every non-hyperbolic tweet is from iPhone (his staff). Every hyperbolic tweet is from Android (from him). When Trump wishes the Olympic team good luck, he's tweeting from his iPhone. Is this an artifact showing which tweets are Trump's own and which are by some handler?
Over the last two years, academic researchers have identified various methods that they can transmit hidden commands that are undetectable by the human ear to Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa, and Google's Assistant. According to a new report from The New York Times, scientific researchers have been able "to secretly activate the artificial intelligence systems on smartphones and smart speakers, making them dial phone numbers or open websites." This could, perhaps, allow cybercriminals to unlock smart-home doors, control a Tesla car via the App, access users' online bank accounts, load malicious browser-based cryptocurrency mining websites, and or access all sort of personal information. In 2017, Statista projected around 223 million people in the U.S. would be using a smartphone device, which accounts for roughly 84 percent of all mobile users. Of these 223 million smartphones users, around 108 million Americans are using the Android Operating System, and some 90 million are using Apple's iOS (operating system).
Lawmakers, child development experts, and privacy advocates are expressing concerns about two new Amazon products targeting children, questioning whether they prod kids to be too dependent on technology and potentially jeopardize their privacy. In a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on Friday, two members of the bipartisan Congressional Privacy Caucus raised concerns about Amazon's smart speaker Echo Dot Kids and a companion service called FreeTime Unlimited that lets kids access a children's version of Alexa, Amazon's voice-controlled digital assistant. "While these types of artificial intelligence and voice recognition technology offer potentially new educational and entertainment opportunities, Americans' privacy, particularly children's privacy, must be paramount," wrote Senator Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Representative Joe Barton (R-Texas), both cofounders of the privacy caucus. The letter includes a dozen questions, including requests for details about how audio of children's interactions is recorded and saved, parental control over deleting recordings, a list of third parties with access to the data, whether data will be used for marketing purposes, and Amazon's intentions on maintaining a profile on kids who use these products. Echo Dot Kids is the latest in a wave of products from dominant tech players targeting children, including Facebook's communications app Messenger Kids and Google's YouTube Kids, both of which have been criticized by child health experts concerned about privacy and developmental issues.
It has been, to be quite honest, a fairly bad week, as far as weeks go. But despite the sustained downbeat news, a few good things managed to happen as well. California has passed the strongest digital privacy law in the United States, for starters, which as of 2020 will give customers the right to know what data companies use, and to disallow those companies from selling it. It's just the latest in a string of uncommonly good bits of privacy news, which included last week's landmark Supreme Court decision in Carpenter v. US. That ruling will require law enforcement to get a warrant before accessing cell tower location data.