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De-anonymization Story

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This is important:

Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill was general secretary of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), effectively the highest-ranking priest in the US who is not a bishop, before records of Grindr usage obtained from data brokers was correlated with his apartment, place of work, vacation home, family members’ addresses, and more.

[…]

The data that resulted in Burrill’s ouster was reportedly obtained through legal means. Mobile carriers sold­ — and still sell — ­location data to brokers who aggregate it and sell it to a range of buyers, including advertisers, law enforcement, roadside services, and even bounty hunters. Carriers were caught in 2018 selling real-time location data to brokers, drawing the ire of Congress. But after carriers issued public mea culpas and promises to reform the practice, investigations have revealed that phone location data is still popping up in places it shouldn’t. This year, T-Mobile even broadened its offerings, selling customers’ web and app usage data to third parties unless people opt out.

The publication that revealed Burrill’s private app usage, The Pillar, a newsletter covering the Catholic Church, did not say exactly where or how it obtained Burrill’s data. But it did say how it de-anonymized aggregated data to correlate Grindr app usage with a device that appears to be Burrill’s phone.

The Pillar says it obtained 24 months’ worth of “commercially available records of app signal data” covering portions of 2018, 2019, and 2020, which included records of Grindr usage and locations where the app was used. The publication zeroed in on addresses where Burrill was known to frequent and singled out a device identifier that appeared at those locations. Key locations included Burrill’s office at the USCCB, his USCCB-owned residence, and USCCB meetings and events in other cities where he was in attendance. The analysis also looked at other locations farther afield, including his family lake house, his family members’ residences, and an apartment in his Wisconsin hometown where he reportedly has lived.

Location data is not anonymous. It cannot be made anonymous. I hope stories like these will teach people that.

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freeAgent
19 hours ago
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Of course location data isn't anonymous. Only one person goes to every place you go at the exact times you go there. That's why Google (and others) absolutely love to know about your whereabouts 24/7.
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Techdirt Is Now Entirely Without Any Google Ads Or Tracking Code

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First things first: if you are interested in advertising on Techdirt in a non-intrusive, non-obnoxious way, please contact us. We'd love to work with you on cool, innovative advertising and sponsorship that engages, instead of annoys, our community. As some of you may recall, last summer, we had to pull all ads off of Techdirt, after we kept running into problems with Google, and its overly aggressive, overly sensitive (if somewhat arbitrary) advertising morality police (such as telling us all our stories about Google were "dangerous or derogatory").

After announcing that, we had a few different companies approach us with possible alternatives, and earlier this year, we tried to put ads back on the site briefly, with a promise from a provider that they could both serve better quality ads as well as "deal with" Google if it started complaining again. Here's the unfortunate secret underpinning nearly all of the internet advertising space: there are hundreds, if not thousands, of companies which will purport to put ads on your website. And all of them will promise "quality" ads and better rates. But the unfortunate reality is that they're all just backstopped by Google, and the ads are all the same crappy ads in the end. Only the largest websites (or highly, highly specialized ones) can really pull their own weight on advertising. And, tragically, wonky tech/legal/policy blogs don't cut it (unless we wanted to just start running reviews of every silly tech product out there, and that's not our thing).

So, we worked with a new partner, with promises of higher quality... and it all turned out to just be the same awful Google ads again, and with it, the same automated emails every damn day from Google threatening to cut us off for our "dangerous and derogatory" content. This time around, we just ignored those threats, because at this point, we're so damn sick of it that if Google cuts us off, so be it.

But, there was a larger issue. In our wrapup of the 2020 stats for Techdirt, I mentioned in passing that this would be the last year we used Google Analytics for tracking how people use the site. We've used a few different analytics systems in the life of Techdirt, and I think we used MeasureMap before Google bought it and wrapped it into Google Analytics. And, to be clear, Google Analytics worked decently well, had a nice interface (much nicer than most competitors) and, of course, was free for our use case. But that freedom came with a different kind of price -- which is that Google was tracking users on our site. And that was becoming both more and more problematic, and more of a nuisance.

After becoming increasingly uncomfortable with that, we switched over to a different analytics package, and are now using both Plausible and Matomo (self-hosted), to make sure that we're much more protective of the privacy of Techdirt's readers. We actually pulled Google Analytics off the site in late January. But then we noticed something odd. In February, Google Analytics was still showing up even though we had pulled the tags. It turned out that, via the new ad partner we had, as soon as ads via Google show up on our site Google Analytics code showed up along with it. And that really sucks.

After going through a variety of options, we eventually realized that none of this was worth it. We ended our contract with our ad provider, and then had to scrub through all our code to make sure Google Analytics was truly gone (it's amazing how it pops up in unexpected places). We didn't post about this immediately, in part because we were busy with other stuff, but also because I wanted to make sure Google Analytics was really gone. And it is.

Of course, that also means we're once again without any advertising on Techdirt, which is a hit to our revenue and our ability to keep going -- at a time when that's under threat from other things as well. We are hoping to try some more creative (less intrusive, less annoying) sponsorship and advertising methods in the near future, but at the very least we're increasingly going to rely on you, our community, to help Techdirt stick around. If you are able to, and interested, the easiest way to directly support Techdirt is via the Friend of Techdirt option (basically a way to tip us however much you'd like), but we have a wide variety of ways to support us, and any one you choose is greatly appreciated.

Techdirt is one of the very, very, very few truly independent media brands around. Almost none of the independent media brands that existed when we started remain. Some have been sucked up into larger companies or shut down entirely. Others have decided to go behind expensive paywalls. We've had to adapt and change over the years in many ways just to stick around, but in the end the reason we do this is because of the community we've built up here. For us to stick around, I need to ask the community to help support us as well. We have some cool experiments and projects in the works, so stay tuned for that, but in the meantime, if you can help us out, it would be hugely appreciated.

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freeAgent
19 hours ago
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The End of Free Speech in Hong Kong

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Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times.

For 15 days this month, prosecutors and defense lawyers in a Hong Kong courtroom wrangled over the history and parsed words in this phrase. The back-and-forth included numerous forays into the obscure in an attempt to pinpoint the exact meaning of the slogan, created five years ago and popularized during 2019’s pro-democracy protests. There were diversions into ancient Chinese history and poetry; the former nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek made a cameo, as did the American civil-rights leader Malcolm X. The crux of the argument: Could these seven words transform a dangerous-driving incident more than a year ago into an act of terrorism and secession?

Today, a panel of judges said emphatically that they could and they had. It found Tong Ying-kit, the first person to face trial under the national-security law imposed by Beijing last year, guilty of terrorism and inciting secession. The motorcycle that Tong, a 24-year-old former waiter, was driving crashed into riot police on July 1, 2020, during a demonstration against the national-security law. A black flag bearing the popular protest mantra flew off the back of his bike when the crash occurred. Tong’s actions caused “great harm to society,” Esther Toh, one of the judges hearing the case, told the court. The protest banner attached to his motorcycle was intended “to incite others to commit secession by separating” Hong Kong from mainland China, according to the judges’ ruling. Tong will be sentenced at a later date. He faces the possibility of life in prison.

[Read: The permanent colony]

The ruling is one of the most significant in Hong Kong’s recent history, criminalizing one of the most popular slogans from the pro-democracy protests that swept across the city in 2019. It sets a precedent that the mere uttering of any phrase or singing of any song that irks the government can now be deemed as among the most grievous of crimes in Hong Kong—a precedent that can, and most likely will, be used against the dozens of government critics sitting in the city’s jails, awaiting their day in court for allegedly violating the security law. The verdict “simply marks the end of free speech in Hong Kong, as a pure expression of politically dissenting opinion can be punished for inciting secession,” Eric Yan-ho Lai, the Hong Kong law fellow at the Georgetown Center for Asian Law, told me shortly after the verdict was announced. “Undoubtedly, the verdict aligns with the government narratives on the slogan and thus criminalized anti-government speech.”

Tong’s conviction is just the latest development, and one of the most serious, in an unrelenting campaign by Beijing and its loyalists in Hong Kong to stamp out the faintest inkling of dissent in the city. Even before the verdict was handed down, “Tong’s case set a dangerous precedent,” Lai said. He pointed to the fact that the case was heard not by a jury but by a panel of three judges handpicked by the city’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, and that Tong was held in pretrial detention for more than a year.

Lam has made national security the primary focus of her government’s work, and she mentions it in nearly all of her remarks. At times, this obsessiveness bleeds into the absurd. Days before Tong was sentenced, five speech therapists were arrested on sedition charges. Their alleged crime: publishing children’s books featuring cartoon wolves and sheep to tell the story of the city’s 2019 protests. (Cute, anthropomorphic illustrations are, apparently, a persistent threat to Hong Kong’s stability. National-security police separately swarmed a store known for its products with cartoon animal prints that contain nods to the pro-democracy movement, but made no arrests after searching the premises.)

The Hong Kong Police Force, largely allowed to act with impunity during the sometimes violent protests, has been granted seemingly unlimited and unchecked power. The former police commissioner who oversaw the crackdown on demonstrators in 2019 was promoted to secretary of home affairs last month. The home-affairs secretary, also a former police officer, rose to the rank of chief secretary, the second-highest-ranking official in Hong Kong’s government. Under sweeping electoral changes implemented earlier this year, the two will have a role in vetting candidates who wish to stand in future elections to ensure that they are patriotic enough, giving them unprecedented control over who can enter the political establishment. After these promotions were met with concern from some quarters, Alice Mak, a pro-Beijing lawmaker, wondered aloud why anyone was concerned. “If it’s a police state, why not?” she asked last month. “I don’t think there’s any problem with a police state.”

Much of Tong’s trial focused on the phrase “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” which was used by the political activist Edward Leung during his 2016 campaign for a seat in the Hong Kong legislature. Leung, who was jailed in 2018, became a symbol for many young protesters during the 2019 demonstrations. He was hailed by his followers as having predicted Beijing’s crackdown and for advocating for more radical protest tactics. Prosecutors relied heavily on the expertise of Lau Chi-pang, a pro-Beijing history professor at Lingnan University, in Hong Kong, who drew on Chinese history to argue that the meaning of some words within the slogan had remained unchanged for more than 1,000 years and advocated for overthrowing the government. The defense called two professors; Francis Lee, of the journalism school at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, who carried out research during the protests, said that the slogan could have numerous meanings. The three judges, however, wrote that this argument did not rule out that secession could be one of the meanings.

Baggio Leung, a former pro-democracy lawmaker who helped create the slogan, told me it was hatched late at night during a brainstorming session on the balcony of Edward Leung’s office in January 2016. Edward’s original idea was too wordy and complicated for a campaign, so four young activists set about coming up with something snappier and less erudite that would catch people’s attention. Fueled by cigarettes and Chardonnay, Baggio said, the four settled on “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times.” In 2019, as protests that began in opposition to a proposed extradition bill morphed into far larger calls for democracy and universal suffrage, the slogan became ubiquitous. It was chanted at demonstrations and printed on banners and stickers. Edward Leung’s image was stenciled onto streets and emblazoned on flags.

[Read: How history gets rewritten]

Baggio Leung, who now lives in exile in the United States and is not related to Edward, told me he was amused by expert witnesses called by both the prosecution and defense, as well as lawyers attempting to dissect words thought up late at night by a group of friends. The slogan was meant to be eye-catching and had nothing to do with separating Hong Kong from China, he said. “They keep asking other people to interpret what it means, but to do this is meaningless,” Leung told me. “Everyone in their heart has their own understanding of it. Who are they to make a comment on how others think about this slogan?”

Tong’s terrorism charge centered on the driving of his red-, orange-, and white-striped sportsbike. His lawyer argued that Tong’s dangerous driving did not amount to terrorism, but the judges were unconvinced. His actions, they wrote, were a “deliberate challenge mounted against the police, a symbol of Hong Kong’s law and order,” and he “carried out those acts with a view to intimidating the public in order to pursue [a] political agenda.”

The verdict will no doubt be welcomed by Beijing and its Hong Kong loyalists, who have unquestioningly fallen in line with their new marching orders and repeat unwaveringly that the national-security law has greatly improved the city. At the same time, they have attempted to spin the law’s impact, saying that freedom of speech remains unharmed in Hong Kong and that there is room for an opposition camp, even though the majority of its most popular figures are in jail or exile. That the rule of law in the city remains solid is their popular refrain, but their critics say rule by law is now more apt.

Lau Siu-kai, the vice president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, a semiofficial advisory body set up by Beijing, struck a triumphant tone earlier this month in the state-backed China Daily newspaper. The national-security law “has devastated the political opposition in Hong Kong,” he wrote. “The space of operation of the opposition has shrunken drastically, putting their long-term survival at serious risk.”

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freeAgent
19 hours ago
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Huntington Beach Restaurant Tells Vaccinated Diners to Stay Away

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An anti-mask billboard along La Cienega Boulevard from the Huntington Beach restaurant Basilicos Pasta e Vino
An anti-mask billboard along La Cienega Boulevard from the Huntington Beach restaurant Basilicos Pasta e Vino. | Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Plus, a new Mexicali-style taco spot near USC, and a pretty new rooftop hangout in Beverly Hills

A local restaurant reaches for worldwide infamy by having a “zero-tolerance policy against treasonous anti-American stupidity” and requiring diners to be unvaccinated to enter the restaurant, which is already a “mask-free” zone. Huntington Beach restaurant Basilico’s Pasta e Vino has been trying to gain publicity with this stunt since last year, when it posted a billboard all the way up on La Cienega Boulevard, dozens of miles from its location with a sign that said “leave the mask, take the cannoli,” a reference to the Godfather movie. The question is ... how does one prove they’re unvaccinated?

Owner Tony Roman was quoted in the LA Times as saying his policy was to defend American liberty and freedom. He says this, of course, as cases and hospitalizations in Orange and Los Angeles County have risen sharply due to the delta variant and unvaccinated people. Roman’s stance comes amid bars that have said they will not allow patrons to enter unless they have proof of vaccination.

In other news:

Umbrella Club at Sixty BH. Sixty BH
Umbrella Club at Sixty BH.
  • Uovo in Marina del Rey is open as of yesterday and while the pastas produced by hand in Italy — like the off-menu tagliatelle with truffle sauce, or the incredible ricotta-filled ravioli with pomodoro — are as delicious as ever, this newest location comes with a great view of the waterfront from its bar and outdoor patio. And on the part of the restaurant facing the parking lot, there’s a very cool word search wall.
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freeAgent
20 hours ago
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Defend Americans' liberty and freedom by forbidding them from doing something you dislike, but which has no effect on you! It makes perfect sense.
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"Judge Overturns SF School Board Decision To Cover Up Controversial Mural"

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CBS San Francisco reports:

A Superior Court judge ruled Monday to overturn the San Francisco Unified School District's decision to remove a controversial mural from a local high school.

Judge Anne-Christine Massullo sided with the alumni association of George Washington High School, who sued the SFUSD's Board of Directors back in 2019 over its decision to cover up the 1936 mural by Victor Arnautoff, titled "Life of Washington."

The massive mural drew controversy for its depictions of native Americans and slaves, and students at the school petitioned the board to remove it.

The George Washington High School Alumni Association sued the board over its failure to conduct an environmental review for removing the mural, despite it being required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)….

"The Board and SFUSD failed in their primary duty to follow the requirements of the law," Massullo wrote in her decision. "California, as a matter of long-standing public policy, places enormous value on its environmental and historical resources and the People are entitled to expect public officials to give more than lip-service to the laws designed to protect those resources."

You can read the opinion here.

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freeAgent
20 hours ago
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What? California requires an "environmental review" before a mural can be covered up?
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‘Tether Cafe’ serves USDT coffee as DoJ probes execs for bank fraud

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The Department of Justice (DoJ) has launched a criminal investigation into Tether over potential bank fraud, Bloomberg reports citing sources familiar, capping off a weird week for the abstruse stablecoin.

To start, Tether general counsel Stuart Hoegner and chief tech guy Paolo Ardoino fielded a disastrous CNBC interview with Deirdre Bosa.

The dynamic duo failed to build confidence and seemed off-kilter during the exchange — Ardoino and Hoegner rarely appear outside of Twitter and puffy YouTube podcasts.

Having run out of marketing script to read, the pair were forced to address why chief exec JL van der Verle and finance officer Giancarlo Devasini were more-or-less unaccounted for (Hoegner calls their media absentia a “matter of style.”)

But in the days following, Devasini showed up in a photo with non-practicing (but well-known) Argentinian lawyer Carlos Maslatón in Milan.

“Spectacular meeting analyzing markets, regulations, and government policies,” said Maslatón (automatically translated).

“Con” means “with” in Spanish.

“USDT is now $62 billion and has been essential since 2017 to save [Bitcoin] from banks,” he said.

Maslatón also tweeted to say that he found it quite easy to redeem USDT for US dollars.

CNBC’s Bosa had asked Ardoino and Hoegner whether their stablecoin could indeed be exchanged for real currency.

Last Thursday, Ardoino heaped further praise on Devasini and van der Velde for avoiding the media.

Tether coffee, DoJ dessert

Strangest of all, Tether celebrated what it claims is a “Tether Cafe” in Zhuhai, China: a suspicious outpost that supposedly serves USDT-branded coffee.

Just hours after the Tether lattes had cooled came a far more important disclosure by way of Bloomberg: a DoJ criminal probe into Tether’s executive leadership.

The DoJ’s investigation reportedly centers around Tether’s early years, mostly on possible bank fraud (misleading banks by failing to disclose their business was crypto-related), and potentially additional charges.

Tether responded to the article shortly after with a blog post, calling the story a “repackaging” of “stale claims” and “patently designed to generate clicks.” 

Tether Cafe looks a little… jailey (also, no cookie?)

[Read more: Tether execs stumble through CNBC interview, say audit ‘months’ away]

Noticeably absent denial of the criminal probe or an explanation for the bank fraud claims. Eerily silent is CEO van der Verle.

“It is business as usual at Tether, and we remain focused on how to best serve the needs of our customers,” said the company.

So, while this week was a weird one for Tether, odds are we’re in for weirder still.

The post ‘Tether Cafe’ serves USDT coffee as DoJ probes execs for bank fraud appeared first on Protos.

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freeAgent
20 hours ago
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