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Mattel Scrappes Smart Home Device Designed For Children

Mattel scrapped a “smart home” device designed with kids in mind after awful reviews and privacy concerns.

“Aristotle” was first shown off at CES earlier this year. The red-and-white device is meant to be kept in a child’s room where its WiFi-enabled camera acts primarily as a voice-controlled baby monitor. It can adjust lighting levels, noting when babies wake up and then playing a lullaby or turning on a nightlight.

The device also claimed to be able to extensively interact with a young child. It can recognize and answer questions, play games, do singalongs, and teach the ABCs. Aristotle’s voice-interaction capabilities are intended to be like a kid-centric version of Amazon’s Alexa.

Last week, two members of Congress sent a letter (PDF) to Mattel about the device.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass wrote “Never before has a device had the capability to so intimately look into the life of a child,” consumers should know how this product will work and what measures Mattel will take to protect families’ privacy and secure their data.” Instead of answering those questions, Mattel has withdrawn the product.


Fake Black Activist Accounts Linked To Russian Government

A social media campaign calling itself “Blacktivist” and linked to the Russian government used both Facebook and Twitter in an apparent attempt The accounts, which used the moniker “Blacktivist,”  to fuel the outrage of their audiences, including videos of police violence against African Americans to amplify racial tensions during the U.S. presidential election

Both Blacktivist accounts, each of which used the handle Blacktivists, wrote messages such as “Black people should wake up as soon as possible,” one post on the Twitter account read. “Black families are divided and destroyed by mass incarceration and death of black men,” another read. The accounts also posted videos of police violence against African Americans to provoke outrage.

The Blacktivist accounts provide further evidence that Russian-linked social media accounts saw racial tensions as something to be exploited in order to achieve the broader Russian goal of dividing Americans and creating chaos in U.S. politics during a campaign in which race repeatedly became an issue.

The Blacktivist account on Facebook had more than 360,000 likes.

Both Twitter & Facebook accounts will be handed over to Congress.

The banner image for the Blacktivist page on Facebook.


Open Source Vs Commercial Source For Upcoming Election In The U.S.


San Francisco in January 2018 could become the first U.S. city to adopt open source software to run its voting machines.

City officials last month authorized consulting group Slalom to prepare a report on the benefits and challenges involved in using an open source voting machine platform. The city voted to pay Slalom US$150,000 for its research

The city will also this year pay Dominion Voting Systems $2.3 million to renew its contract for the company’s proprietary voting machine software. That system is nearing the end of its life cycle.

Officials hope a move to open source will make San Francisco’s voting software more transparent and secure, as well as less costly. The expectation is that an open source voting machine program would offer more security against hack attacks. If the city should develop its own system, it then could provide the code to other cities.

Unlike proprietary software, open source code is available to anyone to vet potential security breaches. Users would not incur purchasing or subscription and licensing fees.


The Pros & Cons

California has begun to adopt open source in other areas. For example, state agencies already have used open source software to redesign California’s child welfare management system.

Regarding voting machines, there have been indications that California legislators are not opposed in principle to using open source.

Open source technologies offer the organizations involved in managing elections and vote tallying complete transparency into whatever is happening in voting machines and systems.

Those who oppose are mainly owners of proprietary voting systems and software who suggest that open source is inherently less secure and prone to hacking.

Open source software brings cost reductions, local control, increased security and transparency, all of which could boost voter trust in the election process, according to its advocates.

Nonproprietary voting software also could allow local governments to understand and adjust how votes are counted more quickly. Commercial vendors often consider those details trade secrets. The largest benefit in open source is that it can be vetted by anyone

Whoever finds a problem in open source does not have to contribute to the solution or even report it. Instead, it would be possible to keep the vulnerability secret and exploit it at will.

Going open source for transparency on voting systems could be a double-edged sword, warned Lamar Bailey, director of security research and development at Tripwire.

If San Francisco — or any locale — should pick an open source system, disclosing its choice before the election would allow attackers to review the code and craft attacks before the election, he said.

“If San Francisco decides to announce the name of the software after the election, that could cause issues too if someone finds a vulnerability in the code used at the time of the election.

Voting is an area in which there is distrust in results and the systems used to gather them. This is especially true for those on the losing side, he pointed out.

“We have seen everything from hanging chads to Russian hackers being blamed for results, as well as documented vulnerabilities in voting machines,” Bailey said.

Alternative View

Going open source would be a bold move. Instead, the government should employ multiple security companies to review and pen test existing systems to ensure that they are secure, Bailey recommended.

Open source would provide little benefit, given that the systems are air-gapped, said Philip Lieberman, president of Lieberman Software.

Open source carries few real benefits — but it comes with quite a few risks, according to Byron Rashed, vice president of global marketing, advanced threat intelligence at InfoArmor.

Moving to open source for voting machines would not help prevent hacking or other forms of election tampering, he maintained.

“It would definitely weaken it, since some vulnerabilities can be present for years. In addition, threat actors or highly organized cybercriminal gangs have members that are highly skilled in finding and exploiting vulnerabilities,” Rashed told LinuxInsider.

Impact on the Bottom Line


Open source would allow localities to own their elections more fully and be less beholden to outsiders, whether they happen to be hackers or vendors of proprietary voting systems, he noted.

On the other hand, proprietary voting solution vendors have argued that they are better positioned to understand the inherent dangers of vote tampering and to protect systems from hackers.



Homeland Security Suspects 21 States Were Targeted By Hackers


The Department of Homeland Security told Congress this summer that it suspected that 21 states were targeted, by hackers.

In June, DHS Acting Deputy Undersecretary for Cybersecurity and Communications Jeanette Manfra told a US Senate Intelligence Committee that “internet-connected election-related networks, including websites, in 21 states were potentially targeted by Russian government cyber actors,” but didn’t disclose which states were impacted.

DHS officially contacted election officials in each state and six territories on Friday to “fill them in on what information the agency has about election hacking attempts in their state last year,” according to NPR. State officials from Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin say that they were among those contacted. NPR reports that officials in Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Mexico, and North Carolina say that they were not amongst those contacted.

Should There Be Another Constitutional Convention in New York?

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New Yorkers have the chance to vote whether they want to hold a constitutional convention to amend, tweak or otherwise improve the founding document of the state every twenty years. Voters have demuurred for the past 50 years. Come November, however, academics, good-government groups and others believe the outcome of the ballot question may be different. But before voters confront the ballot question, they will no doubt be barraged by aka “Con-Con”,  campaigns for and against a constitutional convention. Nonprofit groups interested in issues including campaign finance reform, redistricting, term limits and the legalization of marijuana have come out in favor of a convention. At the same time, unions like the United Federation of Teachers and state legislative leaders have argued against a convention, saying it could repeal hallowed protections.

Speakers waiting their turn at the opening session of the New York State Constitutional Convention in 1967 included, seated from left, Senator Jacob K. Javits, Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller, Chief Justice Earl Warren and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Credit Bettmann, via Getty Images

Delegates assembled for the opening session of the 1938 constitutional convention in Albany. Credit The New York Times

If voters approve a convention, delegates would be elected in 2018, with the convention held the next year. It remains to be seen.

Researchers Study Inequality & Twitter


Johnnatan Messias at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil and a few pals began the study began by filtering the Twitter stream during the three months to September 2016. In total, they collected 341,457,982 tweets posted by 50,270,310 users.

They filtered this by time zone, geolocation, and those with a profile picture to leave them with 1.6 million users based in the U.S. They then fed the pictures through a state-of-the-art face recognition application called Face++, which reports the sex and race (black, white, or Asian) of each user. The overall makeup  of the group revealed that  53 percent were women and 47 percent men. It also revealed the race breakdown, which was 18 percent Asian, 14 percent black, and 68 percent white. Messias and co began by looking at the ratios of men and women who had the most followers on Twitter. Of the top 1 percent of Twitter users with the most followers, 57 percent were male and 43 percent female. Researchers say inequalities surfaced when the group studied the distribution of races among the most popular Twitter users. “At the highest levels of [Twitter] visibility, users perceived to be White come out on top position.”

The most privileged group turns out to be white males, who are overrepresented by 20 percent among popular Twitter users. White females are also more privileged albeit to much lesser extent, just 3 percent. The most underprivileged groups are Asian females and black females, who are underrepresented by 31 percent.

Moreover, The study reveals that there are significant biases in the way genders and races link to each other. This is an effect known as “homophily”—the tendency of people to seek out others like themselves.  White people tend to follow more white people than expected by a margin of 16 percent. Black people tend to follow more black people than expected by a very significant margin of over 200 percent. However, Asian people tend to follow fewer Asian people than expected by a margin of 10 percent.

The Obamas at their luxury $2,500-a-night Indonesian resort enjoy some rafting with the whole family


Making a splash: The Obamas enjoy whitewater rafting down the Ayung River- although Malia (front) looks a bit surprised

Ever no drama Obama, the former president looked typically relaxed as he enjoyed some family time on the island of Bali 

Ever no drama Obama, the former president looked typically relaxed as he enjoyed some family time on the island of Bali

Michele also kept it casual during their rafting expeditionYesterday the family had visited the Jatiluwih rice fieldsThe Obamas were spotted at the UNESCO World Heritage site during their luxury vacation to Indonesia on Sunday

Michelle (left), Barack (second from left) and their daughter Sasha (behind them, in yellow cap) took a walk through the fields, accompanied by their entourage

Barack - who used to live in Indonesia in the 1970s - kept things pretty casual in a blue polo top as he looked out over the fields

The Obamas like to keep active on their many vacations since Barack left the office. Michelle kept it casual in a baseball cap and vest, with her jacket tied round her waist

Obama appears to be chatting to Michelle (right) during the trip to the rice fields

Former US president Barack Obama (C) and his entourage take a break after a walk through the field while visiting Jatiluwih tourist site in Tabanan on Bali island on June 25 

The family arrived at a military airport via Guam on Friday evening, with Ngurah Rai Military Air Base commander Col. I Wayan Superman enforcing security measures along with scores of soldiers and police officers.

Prior to their landing, the commander told the Jakarta Post the Obamas’ private jet would have priority, although they would try to minimize any disruptions to the other flights.

Bump! The Obama's white water raft reaches land, as two guides help them dock  

The lush tropics of Bali and rich cultural heritage of Bali gives the Obamas plenty to do before their break

After leaving the White House Obama has enjoyed vacations in Hawaii, Polynesia, Scotland and Tuscany 

Soldiers fell into formation in Bali, Indonesia, on Friday in preparation for the Obamas' five-day vacation

Soldiers fell into formation in Bali, Indonesia, on Friday in preparation for the Obamas’ five-day vacation

The Obamas are enjoying some rest and relaxation at the Four Seasons, where freestanding villas come with a private pool and a spacious sun terrace overlooking the lush rice fields surrounding the Ayung River. Pictured, the Four Seasons spa

The Obamas are enjoying some rest and relaxation at the Four Seasons, where freestanding villas come with a private pool and a spacious sun terrace overlooking the lush rice fields surrounding the Ayung River. Pictured, the Four Seasons spa

With anti-gravity yoga classes, spa sessions and river rafting, the Obamas will have plenty to do for five days before the former president heads to the island of Java

With anti-gravity yoga classes, spa sessions and river rafting, the Obamas will have plenty to do for five days before the former president heads to the island of Java

Pictured, a pool overlooking tiered rice fields in the Ayung valley sanctuary, where villas can cost upwards of $2,500 a night

Obama's stepfather was from Indonesia, and he spent a few years living in the country in the late 1960s before he returned to Hawaii to live with his maternal grandparents


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