Mother Jones


Health Insurers Are Using Your Online Shopping Cart and Zip Code to Determine Your Rates

Mother Jones

Insurers and data brokers are predicting your health costs based on data about things like race, marital status, how much TV you watch, whether you pay your bills on time or even buy plus-size clothing.Scanrail/Getty Images This story was originally co-published by ProPublica and NPR. But dig deeper and the implications of what they're selling might give many patients pause: A future in which everything you do--the things you buy, the food you eat, the time you spend watching TV--may help determine how much you pay for health insurance. With little public scrutiny, the health insurance industry has joined forces with data brokers to vacuum up personal details about hundreds of millions of Americans, including, odds are, many readers of this story. The companies are tracking your race, education level, TV habits, marital status, net worth. Then they feed this information into complicated computer algorithms that spit out predictions about how much your health care could cost them. Are you a woman who recently changed your name? You could be newly married and have a pricey pregnancy pending. Or maybe you're stressed and anxious from a recent divorce.


Donald Trump, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and the Danger of Not Learning From America's Anti-Immigrant Past

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Women detainees at Angel Island, where immigrants were processed before being allowed into the country.Courtesy of the California Historical Society. For about two hours at Oakland Technical High School last winter, Jah-Yee Woo worked with her 11th grade honors US history students to assemble a timeline. On its surface, the activity seemed simple--with students placing small, colorful pieces of paper on a poster. But each piece of paper marked a different immigration policy throughout history, placed above or below the line following student debate over whether the entry was inclusive or exclusive. Inclusive polices fell above the line, exclusionary ones below.


Tech Employees Are Rallying Against Their Companies' Work With ICE

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On June 17th, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff retweeted images from a CBS reporter of a detention facility in McAllen, Texas where children slept on the floor, covered in emergency blankets. Just a few days later, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella sent an all-staff email calling President Donald Trump's immigration policy "cruel and abusive." In March, Beinoff's company signed a contract with US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to provide cloud services in order to boost the agency's hiring efforts, something that CBP has long struggled with. And at Microsoft, employees have organized to demand that Microsoft cancel its $19.4 million contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for data processing and, potentially, facial recognition software. An NBC investigation also identified active contracts between ICE and a host of prominent tech companies--Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Thomson Reuters, Motorola Solutions, and Palantir--each worth tens of millions.


Ignorance is Strength: The Trump Administration's Creepy War on Language

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This article first appeared at TomDispatch.com. Consider us officially in an Orwellian world, though we only half realize it. While we were barely looking, significant parts of an American language long familiar to us quite literally, and in a remarkably coherent way, went down the equivalent of George Orwell's infamous Memory Hole. This hit me in a personal way recently. I was asked to give a talk at an annual national security conference held in downtown Manhattan and aimed largely at an audience of college students.


An Amazon Echo Recorded a Family's Private Conversation and Sent it to Some Random Person

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In case you needed another reminder that Amazon's Echo, an internet-connected recording device designed to listen and respond to verbal commands, can pose security and privacy risks for you and your loved ones, here you go. A family in Portland, Oregon contacted the company recently to ask it to investigate why the device had recorded private conversations in their home and sent the audio to a person in another state. The family did as told, after the employee told them about receiving an audio file containing what seemed like a private conversation. At first the family did not believe the employee, but then the employee was able to relay details of the private conversation. "My husband and I would joke and say I'd be these devices are listening to what we're saying," a woman named Danielle, who didn't want her last name used, told KIRO-TV in Portland.


Facebook Admits Millions More People Were Impacted by Cambridge Analytica Breach Than Previously Known

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Facebook said Wednesday that personal data for up to 87 million people--tens of millions more than originally thought--may have been "improperly shared" with Cambridge Analytica, the data analytics firm that worked for Donald Trump's 2016 campaign. Most of those affected were in the United States, the company said. Facebook included the disclosure in the second-to-last paragraph of a company statement that also described new measures to restrict third-party access to user data. Recent stories in the New York Times and the British Observer cited a former Cambridge Analytica employee, Christopher Wylie, who said that the Facebook data of more than 50 million people had been harvested and provided to Cambridge Analytica in 2014. The data was acquired, Wylie said, in the hopes of building personality-based models to target and influence voters in US elections.


How 5 Large Mega-Gyres Helped Create a "Galaxy of Garbage" in the Pacific

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This story was originally published by CityLab and appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. What's 1.6 million square kilometers, weighs 80,000 metric tons, and is three times the size of continental France? That would be the Great Pacific Garbage Patch--the enormous collection of detritus that floats in the Pacific Ocean, halfway between Hawaii and California. Also known as the "GPGP," the patch's sprawl has made it notoriously difficult to measure. But a new study in the journal Scientific Reports has gathered the most comprehensive measurement yet.


"We Made Mistakes": Zuckerberg Finally Weighs In On Facebook Data Scandal

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Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday issued a statement on the growing controversy around Cambridge Analytica's acquisition and use of tens of millions of people's personal Facebook data. In the 935-word statement, Zuckerberg reassures users that "the good news is that most important actions to prevent this from happening again" were already taken in 2014, when the company limited the amount of data that could be acquired by third-party apps on the social media platform. While the statement acknowledged the company "made mistakes," it avoided an explicit apology or the word "sorry." Zuckerberg's move comes four days after the New York Times reported that Cambridge Analytica, a company that provides political operators detailed information on millions of voters, obtained data on more than 50 million American Facebook users from a University of Cambridge researcher named Aleksandr Kogan. Cambridge Analytica's connections to Republican megadonor Robert Mercer and Steve Bannon, an ex Trump campaign chairman and a senior White House adviser, may have allowed the Trump campaign to access and use the data to target potential voters, according to the Times.


Climate Change Pushes Ticks Into Canada, Bringing Lyme Disease (and Confusion) With Them

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This story was originally published by Undark and appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. Joanne Seiff, a resident of Manitoba, contracted Lyme disease a couple of years ago but didn't remember pulling off the tick that bit her; nor did she have the telltale bullseye rash of a tick bite. Her husband Jeff Marcus, who grew up in New York's Hudson Valley, about an hour and a half from the eponymous town of Lyme, Connecticut, recognized her symptoms immediately because Lyme disease was common there. Canadian doctors, however, were not convinced. "Even though we had been telling people for months that she had Lyme disease and that all she needed was about four weeks of antibiotics, we were seeing specialist after specialist, and getting the same run-around," Marcus says.


Using Data From Fracking Country, Scientists Train a Neural Network to Detect Earthquakes

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As earthquakes grow more frequent in the central United States--driven at least in part by the fracking boom--researchers have been working on sophisticated new tools, including satellites, underwater seismic sensors, and software to detect temblors and hopefully even predict them.