[ExI] The Cambridge Analytica scandal

Adrian Tymes atymes at gmail.com
Wed Apr 4 18:56:31 UTC 2018

Starting off by comparing a (massive, granted) invasion of privacy
with nuclear weapons and poison gas, or even dynamite?

This article is a rather pure form of distasterbation/hype-mongering.
Its predictions are bunk, of course, and everything this article is
arguing for, this article causes those who could actually implement
these changes to take less seriously, not more.  (Which leads to
friction when the general public takes these things seriously and gets
irritated when those who can do something roll their eyes or laugh off
the public's concerns.)

In other words, this article is the opposite of helpful, towards its
stated ends.

On Fri, Mar 30, 2018 at 8:32 PM, Keith Henson <hkeithhenson at gmail.com> wrote:
> Bit long, but our brush with our computer overlords did not work out so well.
> Keiht
> Computer science faces an ethics crisis. The Cambridge Analytica scandal
> proves it.
> March 22, 2018
> Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg speaks at a conference in San Jose,
> Calif., in 2017. Cambridge Analytica scraped up Facebook data from more
> than 50 million people.
> Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg speaks at a conference in San Jose,
> Calif., in 2017. Cambridge Analytica scraped up Facebook data from more
> than 50 million people.
> Cambridge Analytica built a weapon. They did so understanding what uses
> its buyers had for it, and it worked exactly as intended. To help
> clients manipulate voters, the company built psychological profiles from
> data that it surreptitiously harvested from the accounts of 50 million
> Facebook users. But what Cambridge Analytica did was hardly unique or
> unusual in recent years: a week rarely goes by when some part of the
> Internet, working as intended, doesn=E2=80=99t cause appreciable harm.
> I didn=E2=80=99t come up in computer science; I began my career as a
> physicist.
> That transition gave me a specific perspective on this situation. That
> the field of computer science, unlike other sciences, has not yet faced
> serious negative consequences for the work its practitioners do.
> Chemistry had its first reckoning with dynamite; horror at its
> consequences led its inventor, Alfred Nobel, to give his fortune to the
> prize that bears his name. Only a few years later, its second reckoning
> began when chemist Clara Immerwahr committed suicide the night before
> her husband and fellow chemist, Fritz Haber, went to stage the first
> poison gas attack on the Eastern Front. Physics had its reckoning when
> nuclear bombs destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and so many physicists
> became political activists =E2=80=94 some for arms control, some for weapons
> development. Human biology had eugenics. Medicine had Tuskegee and
> thalidomide. Civil engineering, a series of building, bridge, and dam
> collapses. (My thanks to many Twitter readers for these examples.)
> These events profoundly changed their respective fields, and the way
> people come up in them. Before these crises, each field was dominated by
> visions of how it could make the world a better place. New dyes, new
> materials, new sources of energy, new modes of transport =E2=80=94 everyone
> could see the beauty. Afterward, everyone became painfully aware of how
> their work could be turned against their dreams.
> Get Truth and Consequences in your inbox:
> Michael A. Cohen tekes on the absurdities and hypocrisies of the current
> political moment.
> Each field dealt with its reckoning in its own way. Physics and
> chemistry rarely teach dedicated courses on ethics, but the discussion
> is woven into every aspect of daily life, from the first days of one=E2=80=99s
> education. As a graduate student, one of the two professors I was
> closest to would share stories of the House Un-American Activities
> Committee and the anti-war movement; the other would talk obliquely
> about his classified work on nuclear weapons. Engineering, like
> medicine, developed codes of ethics and systems of licensure. Human
> biology, like psychology, developed strong institutional review boards
> and processes.
> None of these processes, of course, prevent all ethical lapses, and they
> neither require nor create agreement about which choices are right. Many
> physicists, for example, began avoiding working on problems with
> military applications in the years after the McCarthy hearings and the
> Vietnam War. But many others do such research, and the issue is
> frequently and hotly debated.
> Computer science is a field of engineering. Its purpose is to build
> systems to be used by others. But even though it has had its share of
> events which could have prompted a deeper reckoning =E2=80=94 from the
> Therac-25
> accidents, in which misprogrammed radiation therapy machines killed
> three people, up to IBM=E2=80=99s role in the Holocaust =E2=80=94 and even
> though the
> things it builds are becoming as central to our lives as roads and
> bridges, computer science has not yet come to terms with the
> responsibility that comes with building things which so profoundly
> affect people=E2=80=99s lives.
> Software engineers continue to treat safety and ethics as specialities,
> rather than the foundations of all design; young engineers believe they
> just need to learn to code, change the world, disrupt something.
> Business leaders focus on getting a product out fast, confident that
> they will not be held to account if that product fails catastrophically.
> Simultaneously imagining their products as changing the world and not
> being important enough to require safety precautions, they behave like
> kids in a shop full of loaded AK-47=E2=80=99s.
> * * *
> What would a higher standard of care look like? First of all, safety
> would be treated as a principal concern at all stages, even when =E2=80=9Cjust
> trying to get something out the door,=E2=80=9D and engineers=E2=80=99
> education would
> equip them to do so. If safety came first, the Facebook Graph API used
> by Cambridge Analytica, which raised widespread alarm among engineers
> from the moment it first launched in 2010, would likely never have seen
> the light of day.
> Tech companies focus intensely on preventing crashes. A rigorous effort
> to anticipate what could go wrong is already standard practice for
> specialists in system reliability, which deals with =E2=80=9Cwhat-ifs=E2=80=9D
> around
> computer failures. A higher standard for safety would simply do the same
> for =E2=80=9Cwhat-ifs=E2=80=9D around human consequences. This would not imply
> that all
> systems should be built to the same safety standards; nobody expects a
> tent to be built like a skyscraper. But the civil engineer=E2=80=99s approach
> would require a substantial shift of priorities.
> Such a shift would sometimes be resisted for business reasons, but
> working codes of ethics give engineers (and others) more power to say
> =E2=80=9Cno.=E2=80=9D If breaking ethics rules would mean the end of
> someone=E2=80=99s career,
> an employer couldn=E2=80=99t easily replace someone who refuses to cheat. If
> the
> systems for enforcement are well-built, a competitor couldn=E2=80=99t easily
> work around those standards. Uniform codes of ethics give engineers more
> of a voice in protecting the public.
> Underpinning all of these need to be systems for deciding on what
> computer science ethics should be, and how they should be enforced.
> These will need to be built by a consensus among the stakeholders in the
> field, from industry, to academia, to capital, and most importantly,
> among the engineers and the public, who are ultimately most affected. It
> must be done with particular attention to diversity of representation.
> In computer science, more than any other field, system failures tend to
> affect people in different social contexts (race, gender, class,
> geography, disability) differently. Familiarity with the details of real
> life in these different contexts is required to prevent disaster.
> There are many methods by which different fields enforce their ethics,
> from the institutional review boards that screen life-sciences
> experiments on humans and animals, to the mid-career certification of
> professional engineers who then oversee projects used by the
> unsuspecting public, to the across-the-board licensure of doctors and
> lawyers. Each of these approaches has advantages, and computer science
> would need to combine ideas and innovate on them to build something
> suited to its specific needs. What would not be acceptable is the
> consequence of inaction. The public would lose trust in technology, and
> computer scientists would face a host of practical, commercial, and
> regulatory consequences.
> Computers have made having friends on the other side of the world as
> normal as having them next door, have put the sum of human knowledge in
> our pockets, and have made nearly every object we encounter more
> reliable and less expensive. Yet their failure, whether by accident or
> by unthinking design, can have catastrophic consequences for individuals
> and society alike.
> What stands between these is attention to the core questions of
> engineering: to what uses might a system be put? How might it fail? And
> how will it behave when it does? Computer science must step up to the
> bar set by its sister fields, before its own bridge collapse =E2=80=94 or
> worse,
> its own Hiroshima.
> Yonatan Zunger, now at the startup Humu, is a former distinguished
> engineer in security and privacy at Google. Follow him on Twitter
> @yonatanzunger.
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
> End of hackers-l Digest - Monday, March 26, 2018
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