Category Archives: Usa

The Many Tactics Used By The Secret Service 2 VIDEOS

VIDEOS SHOW THE SECRET SERVICE AT WORK IN THE USA

PRESIDENTS-WEAPONS-COUNTERFEITING & MORE

USA SECRET SERVICE HAS SECRET PROTECTION TACTICS

Henry Sapiecha

Amazon gives record amount of client data to US law enforcement

The company’s fifth transparency report reveals more customer data was handed to US law enforcement in the first-half of last year than ever before.

Law enforcement requests for Amazon’s cloud customers has gone up, but the company still won’t say if Echo has been wiretapped. (Image: CNET/CBS Interactive)

Amazon has turned over a record amount of customer data to the US government in the first-half of last year in response to demands by law enforcement.

The retail and cloud giant quietly posted its latest transparency report on Dec. 29 without notice — as it has with previous reports — detailing the latest figures for the first six months of 2017.

The report, which focuses solely on its Amazon Web Services cloud business, revealed 1,936 different requests between January and June 2017, a rise from the previous bi-annual report.

The company received:

  • 1,618 subpoenas, of which the company fully complied with 42 percent;
  • 229 search warrants, of which the company fully complied with 44 percent;
  • 89 other court orders, of which the company fully complied with 52 percent.

It’s not clear why there was a spike in requests during the half-year period. An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment.

Amazon also confirmed it had 75 requests from outside the US through a mutual legal assistance process, in which it partially complied with two cases. The remaining cases were rejected. But the company didn’t say which countries made the requests.

Amazon said it did not receive any content removal orders during the period.

As in previous reports, the company refused to say if it had received a national security brief during the period. Tech companies are barred from disclosing exactly how many of these letters they receive, but companies can under their First Amendment right to freedom of speech say if they have not received one.

Amazon instead preferred to say it had received between zero and 249 national security requests.

The company’s transparency reports do not take into account any other data-related business units, such as if authorities have obtained data wiretapped or submitted through its Amazon’s Echo products.

Law enforcement has, since Echo’s inception, looked at ways to obtain data from the voice-activated assistant. Amazon has largely resisted efforts by police to obtain data from the always-listening product, but acquiesced in one homicide investigation after the suspect did not object to the turning over of his Echo data.

Henry Sapiecha

Five Eyes, Nine Eyes & 14-Eyes Countries and VPNs Important to know when using (or planning to use) a VPN

The content herein is part of an article published in a VPN site where at the end of this short introduction there will be a link to take you to a lot more viewpoints & info. ENJOY.

This article will discuss available VPNs in relation to the 5 Eyes, the 9 Eyes and the 14 Eyes government surveillance alliances.

Encryption is the only way to protect private communications. While there are encrypted messaging systems that can be used for direct correspondence, virtual private networks (VPNs, also based on encryption) are the best tools for hiding internet activity, such as which websites are visited. Again, there are valid reasons to do so: to protect the privacy of religion, sexual orientation and sensitive medical conditions; all of which can be inferred from visited websites.

Background

During the second world war, US and UK intelligence agencies worked closely on code-breaking. After the war, the UK center at Bletchley Park evolved into the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). The American service evolved into the National Security Agency (NSA). In 1946, the working relationship between the two countries was formalized in the UKUSA agreement. It worked on signals intelligence (SIGINT); that is, the interception and analysis of adversarial telecommunications.

In order to provide global coverage for communications interception, Australia, New Zealand and Australia joined the UK and the USA – and became known as the Five Eyes.

However, such is the NSA’s global dominance of intelligence gathering, other countries have sought to cooperate in return for specific ‘threat’ information from the NSA. This has led to other SIGINT groupings: the 9 Eyes and the 14 Eyes.

The operation of these intelligence agencies was long kept secret. As global communications have increased – and as perceived threats have grown (first in the Cold War between east and west and more recently in the ‘war on terror’), the 5 Eyes in particular began to secretly use technology to gather everything for later analysis. GCHQ, for example, had a secret project called Mastering the Internet. None of this was publicly known.

In 2013, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked thousands of top secret NSA and GCHQ documents showing, for the first time, the extent to which national governments spy on everybody. It is always done in the name of ‘national security’, and both the relevant agencies and their governments insist on their right to do so.

MORE HERE

Henry Sapiecha

FBI Couldn’t Access Almost 7K Devices Because Of Encryption

The FBI hasn’t been able to retrieve data from more than half of the mobile devices it tried to access in less than a year, FBI Director Christopher Wray said Sunday, turning up the heat on a debate between technology companies and law enforcement officials trying to recover encrypted communications.

In the first 11 months of the fiscal year, federal agents were unable to access the content of more than 6,900 mobile devices, Wray said in a speech at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Philadelphia.

“To put it mildly, this is a huge, huge problem,” Wray said. “It impacts investigations across the board—narcotics, human trafficking, counterterrorism, counterintelligence, gangs, organized crime, child exploitation.”

The FBI and other  have long complained about being unable to unlock and recover evidence from cellphones and other devices seized from suspects even if they have a warrant, while technology companies have insisted they must protect customers’ digital privacy.

The long-simmering debate was on display in 2016, when the Justice Department tried to force Apple to unlock an encrypted cellphone used by a gunman in a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California. The department eventually relented after the FBI said it paid an unidentified vendor who provided a tool to unlock the phone and no longer needed Apple’s assistance, avoiding a court showdown.

The Justice Department under President Donald Trump has suggested it will be aggressive in seeking access to encrypted information from . But in a recent speech, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein stopped short of saying exactly what action it might take.

“I get it, there’s a balance that needs to be struck between encryption and the importance of giving us the tools we need to keep the public safe,” Wray said.

In a wide-ranging speech to hundreds of police leaders from across the globe, Wray also touted the FBI’s partnerships with local and federal law enforcement agencies to combat terrorism and violent crime.

“The threats that we face keep accumulating, they are complex, they are varied,” Wray said, describing threats from foreign terror organizations and homegrown extremists.

Wray also decried a potential “blind spot” for intelligence gathering if Congress doesn’t reauthorize an intelligence surveillance law set to expire at the end of the year. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allows the government to collect information about militants, people suspected of cybercrimes or proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and other foreign targets outside the United States. Intelligence and law enforcement officials say the act is vital to national security.

A section of the act permits the government, under the oversight of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, to target non-Americans outside the United States.

“If it doesn’t get renewed or reauthorized, essentially in the form that it already is, we’re about to get another blind spot,” Wray said

Henry Sapiecha

USA Air Force’s Mini Crypto Chip Keeps Data Out Of Enemy Hands

When Airmen are active in the field, securing a line of communication is essential to keep sensitive intelligence away from enemy forces. To help navigate this digital world, the U.S. Air Force has created the new Mini Crypto chip to fortify communications and data between military systems.

“We think (Mini Crypto chip) will really help forward-deployed warfighters secure sensors, or communications devices, in areas where risk of interception is high, and still protect sensitive data, without burdening folks on the front lines with extra equipment or steps to safeguard the encryption device,” says Heidi Beason, the Mini Crypto program manager at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Cryptologic and Cyber System Division, Joint Base-San Antonio, Texas.

At its core, the chip is an independent encryption engine that is small, lightweight, and creates its own session-based “key.” It has a power requirement of 400 milliwatts, “meaning it can be installed on equipment carried by one-person parties operating as scouts and forward air controllers.”

Once a session key is established between the sender and receiver, the key is used to read messages after the encryption process. The key management system boosts data protection and ticks off the National Security Agency check list, which is the highest standards for encryption.

“Communications devices all have a processor, where a message is formatted for transmission,” says Mini Crypto Deputy Program Manager Christopher Edsall.

“In the case of a computer, it’s the (central processing unit). Mini Crypto is located after the processing center, but before the transmission center, which is usually a radio. Another Mini Crypto chip is installed at the receiver end, after the receiving antennae, but before the CPU. The second Mini Crypto chip decrypts the received message as it comes through the radio where the unencrypted message is processed, and then it is displayed or heard,” Edsall adds.

The chip’s encryption creates a resource-intensive decryption process, according to Edsall. If the enemy does manage to make the data readable, the amount of time taken forfeits the information’s usefulness.

According to Beason, two years of program development led to the Mini Crypto chip design we see today. After a quick turnaround of concept, development, and testing, the device is now ready for production.

WannaCry researcher denies in court about creating banking malware

The security researcher rose to fame for curbing the spread of the WannaCry ransomware recently

A security researcher who helped curb a global outbreak of the WannaCry ransomware earlier this year has told a court he is not guilty of charges of allegedly creating a notorious banking malware.

Marcus Hutchins, 22, said he was not guilty during a hearing at a Las Vegas court after he was arrested and detained earlier this week.

The news was confirmed by his attorney Adrian Lobo, speaking on Facebook Live to local reporter Christy Wilcox, at the court house.

Hutchins was granted bail on a bond of $30,000 during a hearing at a Las Vegas court.

But he will “not be released today lawyers says could not get bail in time,” according to Wilcox in a tweet.

He will not be allowed access to devices with an internet connection, said Wilcox, and he will be tagged to be monitored at all times.

Hutchins, also known as @MalwareTechBlog, stormed to fame earlier this year after he found a kill switch in the malware, known as WannaCry, amid a global epidemic of ransomware in May.

By registering a domain found in the code, he stopped the spread of the malware.

The Justice Department announced Thursday that it was charging Hutchins with malicious activity, unrelated to the WannaCry cyberattack.

The security researcher, a British native, was arrested shortly before boarding a flight home. He had been attending the Def Con security conference late last month. He was briefly detained in a federal detention facility in Nevada, then later questioned by the FBI at its field office in Las Vegas.

Hutchins was later indicted, along with an unnamed defendant, on six charges relating to allegations that he created the Kronos malware, a trojan that can steal banking usernames and passwords from victims’ computers.

He was also charged with five other counts, including wiretapping — thought to relate to the interception of passwords; and violating the controversial Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which serve as the basis of US hacking laws.

Hutchins will appear at a court in Wisconsin, where the case was filed, on August 8.

Developing… more soon. www.crimefiles.net

Henry Sapiecha

With just one wiretap order, US authorities listened in on 3.3 million phone calls

The order was carried out in 2016 as part of a federal narcotics investigation.

NEW YORK, NY — US authorities intercepted and recorded millions of phone calls last year under a single wiretap order, authorized as part of a narcotics investigation.

The wiretap order authorized an unknown government agency to carry out real-time intercepts of 3.29 million cell phone conversations over a two-month period at some point during 2016, after the order was applied for in late 2015.

The order was signed to help authorities track 26 individuals suspected of involvement with illegal drug and narcotic-related activities in Pennsylvania.

The wiretap cost the authorities $335,000 to conduct and led to a dozen arrests.

But the authorities noted that the surveillance effort led to no incriminating intercepts, and none of the handful of those arrested have been brought to trial or convicted.

The revelation was buried in the US Courts’ annual wiretap report, published earlier this week but largely overlooked.

“The federal wiretap with the most intercepts occurred during a narcotics investigation in the Middle District of Pennsylvania and resulted in the interception of 3,292,385 cell phone conversations or messages over 60 days,” said the report.

Details of the case remain largely unknown, likely in part because the wiretap order and several motions that have been filed in relation to the case are thought to be under seal.

It’s understood to be one of the largest number of calls intercepted by a single wiretap in years, though it’s not known the exact number of Americans whose communications were caught up by the order.

We contacted the US Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, where the wiretap application was filed, but did not hear back.

Albert Gidari, a former privacy lawyer who now serves as director of privacy at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, criticized the investigation.

“They spent a fortune tracking 26 people and recording three million conversations and apparently got nothing,” said Gidari. “I’d love to see the probable cause affidavit for that one and wonder what the court thought on its 10 day reviews when zip came in.”

“I’m not surprised by the results because on average, a very very low percentage of conversations are incriminating, and a very very low percent results in conviction,” he added.

When reached, a spokesperson for the Justice Department did not comment

Contact me securely

Zack Whittaker can be reached securely on Signal and WhatsApp at 646-755–8849, and his PGP fingerprint for email is: 4D0E 92F2 E36A EC51 DAAE 5D97 CB8C 15FA EB6C EEA5.

If you see something, leak something. Telling the world holds people in office accountable, no matter how big or small it may be.

There are a number of ways to contact me securely, in ranking order.

Encrypted calls and texts

I use both Signal and WhatsApp for end-to-end encrypted calling and messaging. The apps are available for iPhones and Android devices.

You can reach me at +1 646-755–8849 on Signal or WhatsApp.

I will get back to you as soon as possible if I don’t immediately respond.

Encrypted instant messaging

You can also contact me using “Off The Record” messaging, which allows you to talk to me in real time on your computer. It’s easy to use once you get started. This helpful guide will show you how to get set up.

You will need a Jabber instant messaging account. There are many options to choose from. For anonymity, you should create an account through the Tor browser.

You can reach me at: zackwhittaker@jabber.at during working hours.

When you verify my fingerprint, it’s this: 914F503C 03771A5F A9E2AC91 95861FDA 9B3A7EAD.

Send me PGP email

My email address is zack.whittaker@gmail.com (remove the dot for PGP).

PGP, or “Pretty Good Privacy,” is a great (but tricky-to-use) way of emailing someone encrypted files or messages. PGP works on almost every email account and computer, but using it on your work or home email address won’t hide who you are, or the fact that you sent a reporter an email.

If you want to remain anonymous, go somewhere that isn’t your home or work network. Then, you should use the Tor browser, which hides your location, to access a free email service (like this one or this one).

The EFF has a set of easy-to-use tutorials on how to get started.

You will need my public PGP key to email me securely, available here.

You can also verify my PGP fingerprint to be sure it’s me: 4D0E 92F2 E36A EC51 DAAE 5D97 CB8C 15FA EB6C EEA5.

You can also get this information on my Keybase profile.

When all else fails…

You can always send me things through the mail. My work address is:

Zack Whittaker c/o CBS,
28 E. 28th Street,
New York, NY 10016,
United States of America.

(Updated: January 14 with additional Keybase details.)
(Updated: April 30 with new Jabber fingerprint.)

Henry Sapiecha

The 20 people who USA President Donald Trump turns to & are not in the White House

Washington: Relationships have always been President Donald Trump’s currency and comfort, helping him talk his way into real estate deals over three decades in New York.

Those who know him best say that his outer confidence has always belied an inner uncertainty, and that he needs to test ideas with a wide range of people.

As Trump’s White House advisers jostle for position, the president has turned to another group of advisers – from family, real estate, media, finance and politics, and all outside the White House gates – many of whom he consults at least once a week.

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch is on the phone every week, encouraging Trump when he’s low and arguing that he should focus on the economy rather than detouring to other issues.

Developer Richard LeFrak is a soothing voice who listens to Trump’s complaints that cost estimates for the border wall with Mexico are too high. Sean Hannity tells the president that keeping promises on core Republican issues is crucial.

Trump’s West Wing aides, like President Bill Clinton’s staff two decades before, say they sometimes cringe at the input from people they can’t control, with consequences they can’t predict. Knowing these advisers – who are mostly white, male and older – is a key to figuring out the words coming from Trump’s mouth and his Twitter feed.

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Here, based on interviews with more than a dozen friends, top aides and advisers inside and outside the White House, are 20 of Trump’s outside touchstones:

The Mogul

Rupert Murdoch

Trump’s relationships depend on two crucial measures: Personal success and loyalty to him. Murdoch excels in both categories. His New York Post vaulted Trump from local housing developer to gossip-page royalty, and his Fox News Channel was pro-Trump in the 2016 general election.

The two share preferences for transactional tabloid journalism and never giving in to critics. (Trump said fallen Fox star Bill O’Reilly should not have settled sexual harassment complaints.)

The president’s relationship with Murdoch is deeper and more enduring than most in his life, and in their calls they commiserate and plot strategy, according to people close to both.

Murdoch even called the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, to buck him up after Spicer was savaged for a remark about Adolf Hitler.

Media baron Rupert Murdoch, pictured with Ivanka Trump

The Media

Sean Hannity

Presidents always deploy surrogates to appear on television to spout their talking points, but Trump has expanded on that by developing relationships with sympathetic media figures like Hannity who also serve as advisers.

Hannity, the Fox News host, defends Trump’s most controversial behaviour in public, but privately, according to people close to Trump, he urges the president not to get distracted, and advises him to focus on keeping pledges such as repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Chris Ruddy

The chief executive of Newsmax Media is a longtime Mar-a-Lago member and was a Trump cheerleader among conservative media well before the website Breitbart joined the parade. He employs writers and editors who tracked Trump’s career when they were at The New York Post. He recently visited the Oval Office, and he and Trump kibitz in Florida and by phone.

The Lawyer

Sheri Dillon

Dillon seemed out of place when she spoke at a too-large lectern in the lobby of Trump Tower on January 11, describing the steps Trump planned to take to separate himself from his business.

But Dillon, an ethics lawyer who worked out a highly criticised plan for Trump to retain ownership of his company but step back from running it, has repeatedly counseled the president about the business and made at least one White House visit. (Michael Cohen, a veteran Trump aide, has been serving as his personal lawyer.)

Campaign Advisers

Corey Lewandowski

Despite his “you’re fired” slogan, the president dislikes dismissing people. Lewandowski, Trump’s hot-tempered first campaign manager, was fired last June but never really went away.

A New England-bred operative whose working-class roots and clenched-teeth loyalty earned him Trump’s trust, he continued to be in frequent phone contact with Trump until the election and beyond.

Friends of Lewandowski say that he can see the windows of the White House residence from his lobbying office on Pennsylvania Avenue, and that the view is even better during his visits to the West Wing, including when the New England Patriots were at the White House in the past week.

Newt Gingrich

The former House speaker talks more with Trump’s top advisers than he does with the president, but his presence permeates the administration. Gingrich’s former spokesman is at the State Department, and two former advisers work in the West Wing.

Gingrich has relentlessly promoted Trump’s policy adviser, Stephen Miller, as the West Wing conservative ballast as the chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, has been under fire.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich. Photo: AP

Childhood Friend

Richard LeFrak

Their fathers were developers together in New York, and the two men have been friends for decades. LeFrak is a Mar-a-Lago member, and he agreed to be part of an infrastructure effort that Trump hopes to put forward. Trump has turned to him to vent frustrations about the slow pace of bureaucracy.

The Peers

Thomas Barrack

Trump divides the people around him into broad categories: family, paid staff and wealthy men like Barrack whom he considers peers.

A sunny and loyal near-billionaire who has socialised with the president for years, Barrack is less a strategic adviser than a trusted moneyman, fixer and sounding board who often punctuated his emails to Trump with exhortations like “YOU ROCK!” He has urged Trump to avoid needless, distracting fights.

Under Barrack’s leadership, Trump’s inaugural committee raised a record $US106.7 million ($141.4 million), much of it from big corporations, banks and Republican megadonors like Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson.

Barrack also helped usher Paul Manafort, the international political operative under scrutiny for his ties to Russia, into the Trump fold last year. The velvet-voiced Barrack does not seek out attention for himself, one of the most important and elusive qualities by which the president judges people.

Stephen Schwarzman

The chairman and chief executive of the Blackstone Group, Schwarzman is the head of Trump’s economic advisory council. He and the president don’t speak daily, West Wing aides said, but do talk frequently.

Schwarzman has counselled him on a number of topics, including advising him to leave in place President Barack Obama’s executive order shielding young undocumented immigrants, known as “Dreamers,” from deportation.

Steve Roth

A good way to get on Trump’s side is to do a deal with him, particularly if it means rescuing him from his own financial crisis. That’s what real estate tycoon Steve Roth did a decade ago when he bought out Trump’s share in a New York City real estate deal that went sour.

Roth, head of Vornado Realty Trust and a longtime Democratic donor, also helped Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, when he injected $80 million into 666 Fifth Avenue, a Kushner family property in danger of defaulting on $US1.1 billion in loans. Trump speaks with Roth frequently, and is leaning on him to help develop a trillion-dollar infrastructure package expected this year.

Phil Ruffin

Trump has 20-odd business partners, but none is closer to him than Ruffin, 82, a Texas billionaire who has lent his ear and private jet.

The president was best man at the 2008 wedding of Ruffin to his third wife, a 26-year-old model and former Miss Ukraine. Ruffin has a knack for showing up when Trump needs him most and remains a die-hard defender.

“This stuff about him having financial investments all over Russia – that’s just pure crap,” Ruffin told Forbes. “I went to Russia with him. We took my airplane. We were having lunch with one of the oligarchs there. No business was discussed.”

Carl Icahn

Rounding out Trump’s roster of wealthy octogenarians is this 81-year-old corporate raider and real estate mogul who occupies perhaps the most respected perch in the president’s circle of businessmen buddies.

The affection is long-standing: The New York-bred Icahn has known Trump and his family for decades.

It’s also numerical: Icahn is worth an estimated $16 billion, a major plus in the eyes of a president who keeps score. Icahn serves as a free-roving economic counsellor and head of Trump’s effort to reduce government regulations on business.

Man of Mystery

Roger Stone

Few alliances in politics are as complicated as the 40-year relationship between the Nixon-tattooed Stone and Trump. Stone won’t say how frequently they speak these days, but he shares the president’s tear-down-the-system impulses and is ubiquitous on cable, on radio and on the website InfoWarsnews defending Trump.

The Clubgoers

Ike Perlmutter

Perlmutter, the chief executive of Marvel Comics who is so reclusive that few public photographs exist of him, has been informally advising Trump on veterans issues. The two men are old friends, and Perlmutter has been a presence at Mar-a-Lago club.

Robert Kraft

The owner of the Patriots is a Democrat but his loyalty to Trump, Kraft once said, dates partly to the president’s thoughtfulness when Kraft’s father died. Trump loved talking about the Patriots during the campaign, and Kraft has been a Mar-a-Lago presence since the transition.

The First Lady

Melania Trump

Melania Trump is uninterested in the limelight, but she has remained a powerful adviser by telephone from New York. Among her roles: giving the president feedback on media coverage, counselling him on staff choices and urging him, repeatedly, to tone down his Twitter feed. Lately, he has listened closely and has a more disciplined Twitter finger.

US first lady Melania Trump. Photo: AP

The Governor

Chris Christie

Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and palace gatekeeper, has shown a capacity to hobble his rivals, but few have been finished off. The most durable has been Christie, whose transition planning, several West Wing aides now concede, should not have been discarded. He has been a frequent Oval Office visitor and has worked with the White House on the opioid addiction crisis.

The Speaker

Paul Ryan

Trump and the clean-cut and wonky Wisconsinite aren’t exactly best friends forever. But their relationship is closer than in the bad old days of the 2016 campaign when Ryan delayed a hold-my-nose endorsement of Trump, whose morality he had long questioned. But as the president’s agenda passes through the razor-blade gantlet of the House, where Ryan faces the constant threat of opposition and overthrow, the two men have become foxhole buddies.

The Sons

Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump

The two sons and the president insist they no longer discuss company business. But the family is close and Trump still speaks to his sons frequently, inquiring about their lives and searching for gut-checks on his own.

– The New York Times

Henry Sapiecha

Tech giants circle over big data as antitrust regulators take note

Wealth and influence in the technology business have always been about gaining the upper hand in software or the machines that software ran on.

Now data – gathered in those immense pools of information that are at the heart of everything from artificial intelligence to online shopping recommendations – is increasingly a focus of technology competition. And academics and some policymakers, especially in Europe, are considering whether big internet companies like Google and Facebook might use their data resources as a barrier to new entrants and innovation.

Google data centre in Oklahoma. image www.intelagencies.com

In recent years, Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft have all been targets of tax evasion, privacy or antitrust investigations. But in the coming years, who controls what data could be the next worldwide regulatory focus as governments strain to understand and sometimes rein in US tech giants.

The European Commission and the British House of Lords both issued reports last year on digital “platform” companies that highlighted the essential role that data collection, analysis and distribution play in creating and shaping markets. And the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development held a meeting in November to explore the subject, “Big Data: Bringing Competition Policy to the Digital Era.”

As government regulators dig into this new era of data competition, they may find that standard antitrust arguments are not so easy to make. Using more and more data to improve a service for users and more accurately target ads for merchants is a clear benefit, for example. And higher prices for consumers are not present with free internet services.

“You certainly don’t want to punish companies because of what they might do,” said Annabelle Gawer, a professor of the digital economy at the University of Surrey in England, who made a presentation at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development meeting. “But you do need to be vigilant. It’s clear that enormous power is in the hands of a few companies.”

Maurice Stucke, a former Justice Department antitrust official and a professor at the University of Tennessee College of Law, who also spoke at the gathering, said one danger was that consumers might be afforded less privacy than they would choose in a more competitive market.

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The competition concerns echo those that gradually emerged in the 1990s about software and Microsoft. The worry is that as the big internet companies attract more users and advertisers, and gather more data, a powerful “network effect” effectively prevents users and advertisers from moving away from a dominant digital platform, like Google in search or Facebook in consumer social networks.

Evidence of the rising importance of data can be seen from the frontiers of artificial intelligence to mainstream business software. And certain data sets can be remarkably valuable for companies working on those technologies.

A prime example is Microsoft’s purchase of LinkedIn, the business social network, for $US26.2 billion last year. LinkedIn has about 467 million members, and it houses their profiles and maps their connections.

Microsoft is betting LinkedIn, combined with data on how hundreds of millions of workers use its Office 365 online software, and consumer data from search behaviour on Bing, will “power a set of insights that we think is unprecedented,” said James Phillips, vice president for business applications at Microsoft.

In an email to employees, Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive, described the LinkedIn deal as a linchpin in the company’s long-term goal to “reinvent productivity and business processes” and to become the digital marketplace that defines “how people find jobs, build skills, sell, market and get work done.”

IBM has also bet heavily on data for its future. Its acquisitions have tended to be in specific industries, like its $US2.6 billion purchase last year of Truven Health, which has data on the cost and treatment of more than 200 million patients, or in specialised data sets useful across several industries, like its $US2 billion acquisition of the digital assets of Weather Co.

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IBM estimates that 70 per cent of the world’s data is not out on the public web, but in private databases, often to protect privacy or trade secrets. IBM’s strategy is to take the data it has acquired, add customer data and use that to train its Watson artificial intelligence software to pursue such tasks as helping medical researchers discover novel disease therapies, or flagging suspect financial transactions for independent auditors.

“Our focus is mainly on non-public data sets and extending that advantage for clients in business and science,” said David Kenny, senior vice president for IBM’s Watson and cloud businesses.

At Google, the company’s drive into cloud-delivered business software is fuelled by data, building on years of work done on its search and other consumer services, and its recent advances in image identification, speech recognition and language translation.

For example, a new Google business offering – still in the test, or alpha, stage – is a software service to improve job finding and recruiting. Its data includes more than 17 million online job postings and the public profiles and résumés of more than 200 million people.

Its machine-learning algorithms distilled that to about 4 million unique job titles, ranked the most common ones and identified specific skills. The job sites CareerBuilder and Dice are using the Google technology to show job seekers more relevant openings. And FedEx, the giant package shipper, is adding the service to its recruiting site.

That is just one case, said Diane Greene, senior vice president for Google’s cloud business, of what is becoming increasingly possible – using the tools of artificial intelligence, notably machine learning, to sift through huge quantities of data to provide machine-curated data services.

“You can turn this technology to whatever field you want, from manufacturing to medicine,” Greene said.

Fei-Fei Li, director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, is taking a sabbatical to become chief scientist for artificial intelligence at Google’s cloud unit. She sees working at Google as one path to pursue her career ambition to “democratise AI,” now that the software and data ingredients are ripe.

“We wouldn’t have the current era of AI without the big data revolution,” Li said. “It’s the digital gold.”

In the AI race, better software algorithms can put you ahead for a year or so, but probably no more, said Andrew Ng, a former Google scientist and adjunct professor at Stanford. He is now chief scientist at Baidu, the Chinese internet search giant, and a leading figure in artificial intelligence research.

Rivals, he added, cannot unlock or simulate your data. “Data is the defensible barrier, not algorithms,” Ng said.

New York Times

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Henry Sapiecha

Donald Trump speech at CIA memorial risks fueling intelligence feud

In first official act, Trump pledges support for agency he has attacked

  • Former director ‘angered’ by political speech at wall for dead officers

Trump makes first speech as president to CIA audience in Virginia.

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Henry Sapiecha