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    The Terrorist Threat of Dark Data

    Media have largely ignored an incredibly important issue – dark data.

    Dark data is not, by its nature, as ominous as the title implies. “Dark” or “dusty” data is simply a byproduct of the mass quantities companies collect from users over the web.

    Whether you realize it or not, with each click to your favorite department store’s online shop, every time you order takeout from that app on your cellphone, every time you search, every time you text, or add ebooks to the library on your tablet, someone is collecting digital bytes on your habits, your thoughts, your maladies, and more. This information, known as “big data” is rounded up in bulk and processed by companies like Trendsource, Siwell, and Rackspace. That is only to name a few. What they do is perfectly legal, and not necessarily disconcerting.

    Interestingly, companies are collecting so much information that they often forget about much of it. Sometimes over half of their curated data. On average, 52% of the data collected by companies is unprocessed and untagged.

    Dark data can be a goldmine of statistics useful to better inform companies on consumer habits.  Accessing it may enable them to better serve their customers. The data also holds intrinsic value. This information can be sold to other organizations looking for inside perspective on certain groups or demographics. Dark data can also be the key to influencing unconscious behaviors. Much like big data already has, for example, in our last election. But it might also be completely useless. One never knows until it is processed – that generally only happens when that processing can be monetized by the databank owner.

    Since companies and consumers are often unaware of this accumulated data held outside their immediate control, they might not notice it was stolen or repurposed dishonestly.

    It is indisputable that a real goldmine in dark data is found by hackers. Groups looking to advance an agenda sneak in through blind spots in data management and find what triggers certain users to action. So-called “bots” already have slipped through social media algorithms to share false news articles.

    Could these instances become more frequent, and more subtle, if the hackers behind them can micro-target users with dark data? We know that non-human traffic in the form of bots mine the Internet and siphon off billions in dollars spent by advertisers. Some say part of that money goes to terrorists.  Terrorists who may be motivating impressionable misfits to engage in unthinkable acts.

    Remember that next time you choose to share your life on the Internet.

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    Keep Politics Out of Our Schools

    Inspired by an intelligent 16-year-old named Greta Thunberg, grade school students across America were allowed to skip classes on September 20 to participate in marches and demonstrations expressing fears of climate change. The media coverage was global and no doubt helped bring about much needed discussions about climate change. The importance of those discussions cannot be overstated.

    Such discussions are often hampered by individuals on the extreme ends of the debate – left or right – generally refusing to have a constructive conversation. Those who deny climate change have their heads in the sand. Alternately, those who preach Armageddon within ten years if we don’t make drastic changes have their heads just as deeply embedded in the sand. The Washington Post reported that Al Gore “believes humanity may have only 10 years left to save the planet from turning into a total frying pan.” That was in 2006. I guess we dodged that bullet.

    Israeli astrophysicist Nir Shaviv, a scientist who has allegedly studied the issue for years, concluded in 2007, “[T]here is no concrete evidence – only speculation – that man-made greenhouse gases cause global warming.”

    Little has changed in the rhetoric of these two extremes since then. Unfortunately, those extremes get the press. Moderate views or those who simply want to understand the truth are rarely heard. That doesn’t sell papers or raise TV ratings. Whether we will ever know the reality we face is ill served by the partisan approach taken by too many.

    But letting grade school students off from school to protest or march is a huge mistake for two important reasons.

    First, we send our children to school for the purpose of learning in a calm and considerate environment. This is particularly true of our youngest, when their brains are not yet fully wired and need the kind of special nurturing only great teachers provide. That is not to say classrooms should ignore issues like climate change. Quite to the contrary. It is a teacher’s job to provide  balanced analysis and lead discussions. To teach. It is inappropriate to substitute teaching for shouting crowds who have no interest in hearing any balanced debate. Such public displays of emotion – on either side of any issue – are for adults, not children.

    There is an even more insidious mistake in this exercise in recess from school. If you adopt grade school strikes as part of the learning experience of our children, where do you draw the line on issues that warrant an official dismissal from much-needed schooling? You can’t discriminate on the choice of issues that warrant a march or demonstration. Doing so would be pure hypocrisy.

    Considering the above example, it is not farfetched to see movements wanting recess for marches on the right of choice to abort pregnancy, provided there is also one supporting the right to life. Or a march on ending gun sales, provided there is one in support of the NRA. The list is as endless as is the politics surrounding them. The truly important debate is this – do we want to foster an atmosphere that interrupts the time our children spend in school? Should grade schoolers become pawns for liberal and conservative politics? I think the answer is obvious, at least for moderates who are still capable of seeing two sides to an argument.

    I’m all for teaching our kids about these topical issues. But in a classroom, not on the streets. If parents want their kids to participate in demonstrations or marches, that’s fine. That is their choice to make. Equally, it is a parent’s choice that their children not participate in public demonstrations. Let those who want their kids to march do so on weekends or holidays. Schools are here to teach in a safe and controlled environment without being interrupted by politicians and pundits bent on advancing their partisan initiatives.

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    Does North Korea’s Progressing Arsenal Violate the UN?

    Suspicions are rising among the United States and their Asian allies as reports further hint at an advancing North Korean arsenal (Council on Foreign Relations).

    While this development could be in danger of violating the United Nations Charter, President Trump has commented that “any concerns are overblown.” (New York Times)

    Intelligence officials offer information that presents a stark contrast the President’s comments. According to the New York Times, experts believe that the missiles Kim Jong-un is testing have “greater range and maneuverability that could overwhelm American defenses in the region.” Furthermore, reports claim there is evidence of a North Korean program that has the potential to defeat Japanese defenses. It is also worth noting that North Korea is using American technology to do so, much of which they stole.

    What do these developments mean for diplomatic relations?  Korea’s most recent test of the Hwasong-15 missile peaked at an estimated altitude of 4,500km – 10 times higher than the International Space Station (BBC). The improved short-range missiles could potentially reach Japan and South Korea, and at least eight American bases in those two countries.

    Those bases house over 300,000 US troops.

    The debate on whether or not America should be concerned continues. The Defense Intelligence Agency estimates North Korea has enough fuel for roughly a dozen new nuclear weapons. These newly uncovered resources beg the question of where this impoverished country got the funding for arsenal expansion.

    Given our checkered history with North Korea, we can only assume their intentions are questionable at best. Stay tuned for further updates.

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    Facebook’s Hidden Likes

    Both social scientists and media bigwigs are beginning to explore the influence of social media on human behavior. Starting with the whispers of Instagram’s hidden follower and like-count experimentation, Facebook has now thrown its digital hat into the ring – they, too, are prototyping hidden likes privately. Instagram is already testing the function publicly in seven countries (TechCrunch).

    Facebook confirmed this testing September 2nd when Jane Manchun Wong, an enthusiast in uncovering app features pre-launch, discovered code for the feature in its Android version.

    Beta testing of hidden like counts makes sense in the context of this generation’s outcry to address mental health and well-being. Research studying how social media affects the mental health and self- esteem of target groups (teens and young adults) is mixed, however.

    Pew Research Center’s 2018 study found that teens yield benefits like inclusion, deeper friendships, and help understanding different points of view from interacting with social media. The same study also says teens often feel overwhelmed by the drama of social media and tend to unfriend those causing it, or those espousing political views they disagree with.

    An article by the National Center for Health Research compared the increase of mental health issues in those target groups with the high usage of smartphones and social media in the same group. Among other discouraging facts cited, one study mentioned in the article found that greater Instagram usage is associated with greater self-objectification and concern about body image.

    Facebook (also owners of WhatsApp and Instagram) refuses to disclose the results of their Instagram testing or explain why they’ve expanded to other social media. One would hope their intention is to meet the demands of their negatively impacted users. Though, such a change would certainly impact ad revenue and the general marketing platform these outlets have come to depend on. It appears there would have to be very compelling reason(s), positive or negative, to risk a sizeable income hit.

    We’ve seen Facebook and its collective apps in and out of the hotseat recently for the alleged misuse of personal information leading to an influence on user buying habits, and even their perceptions of current events. Could this new development be a preventative measure? Or is it an answer to the requests of the app’s user base?