This week, the Online Safety Bill reached the House of Lords, which will consider 300 amendments. There are lots of problems with this bill, but the one that continues to have the most campaigning focus is the age-old threat to require access to end-to-end encrypted messaging services.
At his blog, security consultant Alec Muffett predicts the bill will fail in implementation if it passes. For one thing, he cites the argument made by Richard Allan, Baron of Hallam that the UK government wants the power to order decryption but will likely only ever use it as a threat to force the technology companies to provide other useful data. Meanwhile, the technology companies have pushed back with an open letter saying they will withdraw their encrypted products from the UK market rather than weaken them.
In addition, Muffett believes the legally required secrecy when a service provider is issued with a Technical Capability Notice to provide access to communications, which was devised for the legacy telecommunications world, is impossible in today’s world of computers and smartphones. Secrecy is no longer possible, given the many researchers and hackers who make it their job to study changes to apps, and who would surely notice and publicize new decryption capabilities. The government will be left with the choice of alienating the public or failing to deliver its stated objectives.
At Computer Weekly, Bill Goodwin points out that undermining encryption will affect anyone communicating with anyone in Britain, including the Ukrainian military communicating with the UK’s Ministry of Defence.
Meanwhile, this week Ed Caesar reports at The New Yorker on law enforcement’s successful efforts to penetrate communications networks protected by Encrochat and Sky ECC. It’s a reminder that there are other choices besides opening up an entire nation’s communications to attack.
This week also saw the disappointing damp-squib settlement of the lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems against Fox News. Disappointing, because it leaves Fox and its hosts free to go on wreaking daily havoc across America by selling their audience rage-enhanced lies without even an apology. The payment that Fox has agreed to – $787 million – sounds like a lot, but a) the company can afford it given the size of its cash pile, and b) most of it will likely be covered by insurance.
If Fox’s major source of revenues were advertising, these defamation cases – still to come is a similar case brought by Smartmatic – might make their mark by alienating advertisers, as has been happening with Twitter. But it’s not; instead, Fox is supported by the fees cable companies pay to carry the channel. Even subscribers who never watch it are paying monthly for Fox News to go on fomenting discord and spreading disinformation. And Fox is seeking a raise to $3 per subscriber, which would mean more than $1,8 billion a year just from affiliate revenue.
All of that insulates the company from boycotts, alienated advertisers, and even the next tranche of lawsuits. The only feedback loop in play is ratings – and Fox News remains the most-watched basic cable network.
This system could not be more broken.
Meanwhile, an era is ending: Netflix will mail out its last rental DVD in September. As Chris Stokel-Walker writes at Wired, the result will be to shrink the range of content available by tens of thousands of titles because the streaming library is a fraction of the size of the rental library.
This reality seems backwards. Surely streaming services ought to have the most complete libraries. But licensing and lockups mean that Netflix can only host for streaming what content owners decree it may, whereas with the mail rental service once Netflix had paid the commercial rental rate to buy the DVD it could stay in the catalogue until the disk wore out.
The upshot is yet another data point that makes pirate services more attractive: no ads, easy access to the widest range of content, and no licensing deals to get in the way.
In all the professions people have been suggesting are threatened by large language model-based text generation – journalism, in particular – no one to date has listed fraudulent spiritualist mediums. And yet…
The family of Michael Schumacher is preparing legal action against the German weekly Die Aktuelle for publishing an interview with the seven-time Formula 1 champion. Schumacher has been out of the public eye since suffering a brain injury while skiing in 2013. The “interview” is wholly fictitious, the quotes created by prompting an “AI” chat bot.
Given my history as a skeptic, my instinctive reaction was to flash on articles in which mediums produced supposed quotes from dead people, all of which tended to be anodyne representations bereft of personality. Dressing this up in the trappings of “AI” makes such fakery no less reprehensible.
An article in the Washington Post examines Google’s C4 data set scraped from 15 million websites and used to train several of the highest profile large language models. The Post has provided a search engine, which tells us that my own pelicancrossing.net, which was first set up in 1996, has contributed 160,000 words or phrases (“tokens”), or 0.0001% of the total. The obvious implication is that LLM-generated fake interviews with famous people can draw on things they’ve actually said in the past, mixing falsity and truth into a wasteland that will be difficult to parse.
Illustrations: The House of Lords in 2011 (via Wikimedia).
Wendy M. Grossman is the 2013 winner of the Enigma Award. Her Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of earlier columns in this series. Follow on Twitter.