Pluralistic: 06 May 2021

Today's links

A gloved hand administers a nasal swab to a medical training dummy; behind the scene is the red-and-white flag of Indonesia.

Scammers recycled covid nose-swabs (permalink)

Indonesia has experienced one of the worst covid outbreaks in Asia, with 1.6m cases and 46,000 deaths. Early on, the country took prevent measures so travelers wouldn't carry infection domestically and abroad, requiring fliers to get an antigen nasal swab before boarding.

It turns out that this might have actually led to further spread of the disease, because corrupt employees of the Indonesian pharma giant Kimia Farma were enriching themselves by repackaging and reusing nasal swabs.


The practice of re-using swabs is thought to have begun on Dec 17, 2020 at Kualanamu International Airport in Medan, North Sumatra, and is believed to have affected at least 10,000 passengers.

Five Kimia employees including the regional business manager face criminal charges, and two lawyers among the affected fliers are bringing a class action against the corporation seeking 1b rupiah per passenger in damages.

A laptop on a home desk, its screen filled with the red eye of HAL9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Ed-tech apps spy on kids (permalink)

When schools switched to distance learning amid the lockdown, it represented a chance to rethink education and ed-tech, from lessons to schedules to evaluation.

For the most part, we have squandered that chance, doubling down on the most destructive educational practices.

This is true across the board, not just in ed-tech. Take the bizarre start-times for classes – as early as 7AM for students enrolled in "period 0" classes. This timing has nothing to do with best practices in pedagogy or our understanding of adolescent brain-development.

Instead, it's a least-worst option arising from the US's unwillingness to treat high-quality child-care as a public good that benefits both kids and working parents. We open our schools at o-dark-hundred because parents need to get to work.

This, despite the fact that the majority of teens' body-clocks shift nocturnally as they go through puberty. We know that waking kids up early hurts their learning outcomes, but we accept that tradeoff because the alternative (kids whose parents can't earn a living) is worse.

Virtual schools represented an opportunity to shift education to more humane hours, but we blew it. And that's the least of our failures, barely registering in comparison with the way that we failed to fix ed-tech even as it grew to eclipse all other pedagogical questions.

Exhibit A, of course, is "remote invigilation," the spyware that we force students to install on their computers in the name of preventing cheating on the pedagogically bankrupt high-stakes tests we cling to.

These tools are force-multipliers for the destructive power of high-stakes testing: their junk-science "sentiment analysis" facial recognition algorithms can't recognize dark-skinned faces, forcing Black kids to sit tests with multiple lamps shining directly in their eyes.

Students forced to use tools like Proctorio are expected to rotate their webcams 360 degrees to prove they're alone in a room at home – which means that poor kids who share a room (or can only get wifi in the parking lot of a Taco Bell) are penalized for poverty.

Unsurprisingly, a company that would knowingly torment children in this way is run by terrible people and behaves terribly. It's not just that the CEO doxed a child who complained about his products on Reddit:

The company has also abused copyright law to sue and intimidate its critics, including a student security researcher who revealed defects in the company's products:

The fact that businesses that profit by spying on children are run by awful, awful people is no surprise.

One of the most established ed-tech categories is censorware, which schools are required to install as a condition of receiving federal funds, under 1997's CDA.

This software captures every student's click and search-term, and often their chats and emails, and spies on all of it, using arbitrary word-matches and human classifications to block kids (and teachers) from seeing materials deemed "inappropriate."

The premise of this exercise is that somewhere there is a boiler-room full of prudes so large that it can look at billions and billions of webpages and decide which ones are and aren't "child-safe" and that an "AI" can pass judgment on the pages they haven't got to.

Even if you accept that bizarre premise, remember: this isn't an editorial process, it's a surveillance system. It's one thing for a school librarian to make decisions about which books to shelve, but this doesn't require them to spy on everything every kid tries to read.

For censorware companies to block your kids' data-requests, they have to intercept and examine them. Censorware is spyware. Given that, it's worth asking, "Who are we allowing to spy on our kids?

Terrible people, as it turns out.

The school censorware industry is a subsidiary of the global censorware industry, and its largest clients aren't schools – their bread and butter is the tyrants of the Middle East and former Soviet Union, dictators who buy their products to keep their citizens in line.

These are the depraved human-rights abusers we get to spy on our kids (they also provide censorware for corporate, hotel and airport wifi!), and you know what? They've got terrible judgment.

Independent audits of their blocklists show that they're blocking about a third of the top search results for terms related to the common curriculum, with overblocking skewed heavily to women's health, reproductive health, and LGBTQ (no surprises there).

And, like Proctorio, these censorware companies have a long history of intimidating and harassing their critics, abusing copyright law to prevent independent analysis of their blocklists in a bid to make it impossible to test whether they are any good at their jobs.

We've been spying on schoolkids' online activities since 1997, and the pandemic only accelerated that process, and not just through test proctoring, either, as a new report from the Me2B Alliance shows.

The report analyzed 73 mobile apps that 38 schools in 14 US states were using as part of their administration and instruction and found that 60% of them transmit student data to commercial data-mining companies.

The apps were built using "free" SDKs from Facebook, Google and other surveillance companies; these SDKs make it easy to build apps quickly, but they also harvest the app users' data at scale and subject it to long-term retention and analysis.

Me2B found that the apps were sucking up "identifiers (IDFA, MAID, etc), Calendar, Contacts, Photos/Media Files, Location, Network Data (IP address), permissions related to Camera, Microphone, Device ID, and Calls."

Ios devices were far less likely to harvest user data than Android apps, but 1 in 4 still spied on users, and on both platforms, "95% of third-party data channels… are active even when the user is not signed in and that these apps send data as soon as the app is loaded."

(Image: Cryteria, CC BY, modified)

The X-Files 'I want to believe' graphic' surmounted by the disembodied, floating, grinning head of Trump FCC Chair Ajit Pai.

NY AG attributes Net Neutrality fraud to telcos (permalink)

Trump made a lot of terrible senior appointments, but few so bad as Ajit Pai, the Verizon lawyer turned FCC Chairman who presided over a grossly, lavishly fraudulent repeal of his predecessor's Net Neutrality order.

The public comments docket for the 2017 Net Neutrality repeal attracted a record number of responses – 22 million! – and the vast majority of them were obviously fraudulent.

Millions of them were attributed to name/email address pairs from publicly available breach data. Millions more were random strings with followed by "" Almost without exception, they supported the telecoms industry's position that Net Neutrality should be killed.

Among Big Telcos' most ardent supporters were many dead people:

And multiple sitting US senators who said their identities had been stolen:

When millions of real people wrote in support of Net Neutrality (in response to John Oliver's call to arms) Pai fraudulently claimed the FCC had been compromised by a DDoS attack, not wanting to admit how popular Net Neutrality really was.

Pai took no action to investigate the fraudulent comments supporting his neutrality repeal, not even in response to bipartisan letters from Congress:

Instead, Pai announced that he was going to treat every comment as real:

The New York Attorney General's office was moved to open an investigation into the fraud, which Pai personally obstructed:

But the investigation went on, and today, the NY AG released its findings:

Unsurprisingly – but importantly – the NY AG found that 18 million of the 22 million comments the FCC received were fake, that the fake comments favored the Net Neutrality repeal, and that the fraud was a paid operation on behalf of telcos.

The AG's made the attribution after it flipped the companies that engaged in the fraud – Fluent, React2Media, and Opt-Intelligence – and let them off with a $4m settlement in exchange for ratting on their Big Telco clients.

Pai claimed repealing Net Neutrality would spur broadband deployment, ending America high priced, slow broadband, among the worst in the OECD. Instead, investment was cut as telcos raised prices and paid billions to shareholders.

Pai left millions of Americans with slow broadband (or no broadband at all) even as the pandemic moved all education, employment, healthcare, and family life online. He is one of history's great monsters.

Naturally, he's just been given a cushy private equity job at Searchlight Capital Partners.

Thankfully, his successor, Jessica Rosenworcel is a hard-fighting public advocate who has signalled her intention to rein in America's lavishly fraudulent broadband profiteers and wants you broadband measurements to help her do so:

This day in history (permalink)

#10yrsago Syria’s man-in-the-middle attack on Facebook

#5yrsago America’s prisons are replacing vital in-person visits with expensive, nonfunctional video calling

#5yrsago Data-driven look at America’s brutal, racist debt-collection machine

#5yrsago Community college evicts daycare center to make room for Goldman Sachs

#5yrsago 2,000 US doctors endorse Sanders’ single-payer healthcare proposal

#5yrsago FBI has been harassing a Tor developer since 2015, won’t tell her or her lawyer why

#5yrsago Weird porn author who was dragged into Hugo Awards mess pulls off epic troll

#1yrago Ohio's got snitchline for bosses whose workers who won't go back

#1yrago Sacrifice banks to save businesses

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Slashdot (

Currently writing:

  • A Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. RESEARCH PHASE

  • A short story about consumer data co-ops. PLANNING

  • A Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. PLANNING

  • A nonfiction book about excessive buyer-power in the arts, co-written with Rebecca Giblin, "The Shakedown." FINAL EDITS

  • A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause." FINISHED

  • A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues." FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: How To Destroy Surveillance Capitalism (Part 05)
Upcoming appearances:

Recent appearances:

Latest book:

Upcoming books:

  • The Shakedown, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics, Beacon Press 2022

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