Why did/does this blog provide a service? Because back in 2007, I labeled claiming terrorists were using on-line games to train national security threat inflation and quack work.
But the US cyberwar machine has always overdone things. Enemies are always everywhere. And even though they’ve been wrong about everything in the last decade, nothing impedes their manias.
From the New York Times, again courtesy of Edward Snowden:
Not limiting their activities to the earthly realm, American and British spies have infiltrated the fantasy worlds of World of Warcraft and Second Life, conducting surveillance and scooping up data in the online games played by millions of people across the globe, according to newly disclosed classified documents.
Fearing that terrorist or criminal networks could use the games to communicate secretly, move money or plot attacks, the documents show, intelligence operatives have entered terrain populated by digital avatars that include elves, gnomes and supermodels.
The spies have created make-believe characters to snoop and to try to recruit informers, while also collecting data and contents of communications between players, according to the documents, disclosed by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden. Because militants often rely on features common to video games — fake identities, voice and text chats, a way to conduct financial transactions — American and British intelligence agencies worried that they might be operating there, according to the papers.
Online games might seem innocuous, a top-secret 2008 N.S.A. document warned, but they had the potential to be a “target-rich communication network” allowing intelligence suspects “a way to hide in plain sight.” Virtual games “are an opportunity!” another 2008 N.S.A. document declared.
But for all their enthusiasm — so many C.I.A., F.B.I. and Pentagon spies were hunting around in Second Life, the document noted, that a “deconfliction” group was needed to avoid collisions — the intelligence agencies may have inflated the threat.
May have inflated the threat. Get rewrite and go for historical accuracy. They always inflated the threat.
Why where so many “hunting around” in Second Life?
Cue Internet and dog joke, paraphrased: “In cyberspace nobody knows you’re just another asshole from the US national security megaplex.”
Anyway, from 2007 — why, here, of course:
“One radical group, called Second Life Liberation Army, has been responsible for some computer-coded atomic bombings of virtual world stores [in the on-line fantasy game called Second Life] in the past six months,” wrote a reporter for the Australian, today.
“On screen these blasts look like an explosion of hazy white balls as buildings explode, landscapes are razed and residents are wounded or killed.
“With the game taking such a sinister turn, terrorism experts are warning that [Second Life] attacks have ramifications for the real world. Just as September 11 terrorists practised flying planes on simulators in preparation for their deadly assault on US buildings, law enforcement agencies believe some of those behind the Second Life attacks are home-grown Australian jihadists who are rehearsing for strikes against real targets…”
Entitled “Virtual Terrorists,” alert reader Cubic Archon tipped your friendly neighborhood GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow to this bit of titillating terror infotainment dressed up as real news.
Of course, it is not good scary terror infotainment unless experts are on hand to inform you that it has been a subject of quiet concern for some time. But now the danger has become too great, the threat impending, and they must speak!
“Terrorist organisations al-Qa’ida and Jemaah Islamiah traditionally sent potential jihadists to train in military camps in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Southeast Asia,” continues the Australian. “But due to increased surveillance and intelligence-gathering, they are swapping some military training to online camps to evade detection and avoid prosecution.”
“Rohan Gunaratna, author of Inside al-Qa’ida, says it is a new phenomena that, until now, has not been openly discussed outside the intelligence community.
“But he says security agencies are extremely concerned about what home-grown terrorists are up to in cyberspace. He believes the dismantling and disruption of military training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan after September 11 forced terrorists to turn to the virtual world.”
” ‘They are rehearsing their operations in Second Life because they don’t have the opportunity to rehearse in the real world.’”
“Intelligence and law enforcement agencies in the US and Australia are so concerned they have established their own reality world games in a bid to gain the same experiences as the virtual terrorists.
“Monash University academic and former Office of National Assessments intelligence officer David Wright-Neville agrees that online games and virtual worlds are being used by potential terrorists to hone their knowledge base … Intelligence analyst Roderick Jones, who is investigating the potential use of the games by terrorists, says [Second Life] could easily become a terror classroom.”
Are you ready to your local anti-terror forces stamp out the on-line game? Or are your eyes rolling over yet another ad hoc squad of experts ready to say anything to a news organization in the process of concocting another exciting fraud from the terror wars?
“Basically, we have a succession of inaccuracies about Second Life in the first place (e.g. you can’t leave ‘a trail of dead and injured’ there, even virtually, given that there’s no permanent death or injury built in; the ‘Second Life Liberation Army’ was a media publicity stunt,” writes Cubic Archon in e-mail.
He added that the news piece offers “ridiculous sourceless commentary.”
Archon finds the next claim laughable.
“Kevin Zuccato, head of the Australian High Tech Crime Centre in Canberra, says terrorists can gain training in games such as World of Warcraft in a simulated environment, using weapons that are identical to real-world armaments.”
“World of Warcraft is a fantasy game,” the e-mailer points out. “So, in the real world, terrorists are going to be attacking with magic swords and fireball spells?”
Since Archon makes good points about the meretriciousness of claims that terrorists can use Second Life as a way to plan attacks, DD turns the real estate over to him:
“I am a fairly long-term user of Second Life and, while it has some great potential for certain types of teaching and real-world modeling – it’s used increasingly by architects, for instance – this is about as credible a threat as the one about school shooters building models of their school in Counterstrike and using them to rehearse attacks. Bouncing about in an online simulation isn’t combat training.
“And the idea that it is being used by al Qaeda to recruit, any more than, say, Myspace, is sourceless nonsense. There are all sorts of ‘comedy’ names and groups in Second Life, and it would surprise me immensely if people hadn’t started up al Qaeda type groups, perhaps with virtual explosive belts, to satirise the media obsession with them. To be honest, this sort of article almost makes me want to do that myself – or maybe build a replica of Pearl Harbour and start bombing it from virtual aeroplanes.
“You know, it would be terrific if Second Life was really as good and realistic as it is portrayed here, that you could actually learn how to do something as complex as build explosives or field-strip a rifle from the comfort of your own bedroom, but unfortunately it isn’t.”
Supplying related URL’s, Archon writes: “Another past example came from Threatswatch.org here. [This] was quite roundly panned by Second Life users in comments and on various blogs.”
Continues the Australian: “US terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman, from think tank RAND Corporation, says … ‘We have to contest this virtual battle space in much the same manner as we are very successfully doing in other traditional forms.’”
The item on terrorists and Second Life, from Threatswatch, back in 2007:
A Daily Brief item today pointed out some disturbing developments in the virtual world of Second Life. While at first glance one might be dismissive of developments in the “fake” world, a closer look indicates that Second Life has the potential to enhance the terrorist threat.
The FBI and others recently began pointing out their shift in thinking that terrorist threats to the homeland will come from al-Qaeda sleeper cells such as the 9/11 hijackers and instead will come from self-radicalized individuals and groups. The so-called “Ft. Dix Six” are such a group, having allegedly used (at least in part) various terrorist resources online for motivation and training. Anti-terror raids in the UK and elsewhere note that those arrested are often in possession of computers that contain radical Islamic literature as well as information on how to perform pre-operational planning, use small arms, and conduct small unit tactics.
There are those who dismiss self-radicalized, self-trained groups as amateurs who are unlikely to ever conduct a successful terrorist operation, though events of so-called “sudden Jihad syndrome” over the past five years suggest that even self-taught sad-sacks can kill or maim. Still, there is a big difference between someone who has actually trained to fight an armed conflict or conduct intelligence operations and someone who has merely read about how it is done.
Second Life bridges that gap.
In Second Life you can practice intelligence tradecraft; you can test your elicitation skills, pass off (hopefully unnoticed) notes and packages, and meet in private with co-conspirators. You can sit down in a classroom and learn how to field-strip a rifle or pistol, conduct fire-and-maneuver drills, or run through an urban combat scenario. You can send and receive money to help fund your operation and you can conduct “legitimate” business that ends up funding terrorism. Static online training materials or even interactive-but-text-based Jihadist discussion forums cannot match the rich and substantial – if one may be excused for adopting a marketer’s language – content.
Second Life has the potential to elevate the professionalism of terrorism training. It is not real-life, but it isn’t reading comic books either.
Bottom line: You could have predicted US cyberwarriors and terrorist hunters were going to charge into on-line gaming undercover. Seeing threats everywhere, even when virtually none exist, has always been their business.
What many people didn’t realize, or refused to recognize at the time, was that the national threat assessment apparatus, from the private sector to the intelligence agencies, feeds on itself.
It recites its little stories and has always actively worked to put them into the news. And when their rumors, half-baked suppositions and crazed paranoid mutterings are published and made respectable they become a citation in someone’s pitch to start terrorist-hunting operations, in this case in on-line gaming.
From 2007 to Edward Snowden’s papers in 2013.
Krugman in “The Punishment Cure:”
“[It’s] part of a general pattern of afflicting the afflicted while comforting the comfortable … So the odds, I’m sorry to say, are that the long-term unemployed will be cut off, thanks to a perfect marriage of callousness — a complete lack of empathy for the unfortunate and bad economics.”
“Rich Man’s Burden,” then, is our perfect national song for 2013. Art perfectly illustrating life, pithy, catchy and lots of other good things, all of it just right for the holiday season in America.
Throw a $1.25 in the cup. It would be the same I can make, on average, per day through Mechanical Turk. If it makes enough I might even be able to pay the bribe iTunes requires to stock it.
The poor don’t pay enough it, they spend it all on liquor/If we stopped it all right now, we’d get rich a whole lot quicker.
Hello: Your interesting Column One — Mappers Spot all the Pools in LA Basin — informed that 43,123 pools in the Los Angeles basin were counted by the digital sweatshop house, Mechanical Turk. And it cost researchers Benedikt Gross and Joseph Lee $350.
I thought you might like to know what that came out to so I ran the arithmetic. Each swimming pool was counted on MTurk for eight tenths of a cent. If you counted 1000 pools for the research project, you made $8.11.
That’s a lot of swimming pools to count, even for someone working in a digital sweat shop. But if you only counted a much more reasonable 50 Los Angeles swimming pools in Google pictures, you made 40 cents for your work.
The newspaper informed it cost $3700 to publish Gross and Lee’s swimming pool research. That’s over ten times what the researchers paid Mechanical Turk workers, most of whom are American.
Along with loss of privacy, the digital world seems to be taking away quite a bit of earning power, too. How much would it have cost to count the swimming pools at a minimum wage, or using hand’s-on grad student labor?
Just saying, low wage jobs being in the news these days and all.
LA pool researcher Joseph Lee.
If you spend any time suffering with Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing jobs, the first thing you realize is that you’re not qualified for the majority of them, even “human intelligence tasks” that only pay a penny.
Here’s a breakdown of the total jobs advertised on Mechanical Turk today and those available to me with a 98 percent job completion rating in my profile.
40 cents: 179 of 412,672 (.04 percent of total)
30 cents: 214 of 412,672 (.052 percent of total)
20 cents: 307 of 412,672 (.07 percent of total)
10 cents: 394 of 412,672 (.095 percent of total)
5 cents: 548 of 412,672 (.13 percent of total)
1 cent : 921 of 412,672 (.22 percent of total)
These are minute percentages of the advertised body of work on Mechanical Turk. And they indicate high obstacles for qualifications for even work that pays as low as a penny a job.
If one sets the bar at a nickel job, one could do one hundred of the jobs
for which you were qualified (a totally unreachable goal) and still earn only five dollars.
If one looks into the technical document Amazon makes available to its “requesters” on qualifications, it lists only a few. There is the Master Worker qualification, defined only by Amazon Mechanical Turk, criteria unknown, except that it is given only to workers who exhibit high acceptance rate over “thousands” of “human intelligence tasks.
To even get close to thousands of hits takes a very long investment in time on the service as there really are no “human intelligence tasks” on Mechanical Turk that don’t take at least five to ten minutes to just find, read and accept.
In fact, it’s difficult to ascribe an average time to finding hits because it varies for every one while also being affected by return rates (in which the job is either not doable because of requester error or unacceptable as work for any number of reasons) or failure rates determined by requester rejection of work or simple requester acceptance but non-payment for work, neither of which are uncommon.
Not really unbelievably, on Amazon Mechanical Turk there are many clients who accept work and simply never pay for it. There is very little one can do about them as Amazon’s system is set up entirely in favor of its employer requesters.
One can find high-paying human intelligence task on Mechanical Turk (that is relative to the service), like making “movie reviews” of specified titles or transcribing hour long office conversations for anywhere from eight to 12 dollars, sometimes more. However, these all come with completely opaque qualification requirements and the average worker on Mechanical Turk cannot take advantage of them.
What Jeff Bezos’ Mechanical Turk tells us that in the future of the networked gig/free-lance economy, most of us aren’t qualified for work that pays even a cent. This is what awaits in a globally networked world where there are zero labor protections, only digital mechanisms which pit all against all for the sake of corporate America.
The future of work: Unqualified for 99 percent of it. Don’t kept paid for the rest.
The Strip — on Jeff Bezos’ concept of work – at the New York Times.
From the wire:
A guitar once owned by music legend Bob Dylan sold for $965,000 Friday at Christie’s, setting a new world auction record for any guitar, according to a statement from the auction house.
The 1964 Fender Stratocaster was purchased by an unidentified bidder, said a Christie’s spokesperson.
Dylan, now 72, played the electric guitar in his famous performance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, during which he was backed by an electric band for the first time, according to the statement. He was 24 years [old]…
Wouldn’t it be great if it has been bought by one of the Koch brothers?
They don’t seem like guitar guys, though, even as investments. Who do you think it could be?
The answers, my friends, are not blowin’ in the wind, the answers are not blowin’ in the wind.
John Carpenter’s They Live, from 1988, was the best art describing where we are in 2013. Just take the spotted aliens as the 1 percent and their servant class.
No remake could do justice to the original. But it would certainly be great for an enthusiastic revival on movie channels.
Would you like an MP3 for your devices? Sure you would. Click here!
It even includes the thuds and grunts from the longest fight scene.
You can even tip for it, if you like. Suggested — $1.25, more than twice what one is usually compensated on Mechanical Turk.
Fiore, perfectly, on material with which readers are dreadfully familiar. Drink deep of the phogiston and mentufactury .
As a side note, the Fiore cartoon illustrates the hype of the tech giants now occurring almost weekly. When anyone gets to do overdoing things so frequently, you know they’re your enemies.
Whatever world they’re in, it bears no relationship to yours.
Actually, it’s not the various technologies and innovations themselves, but the hype that accompanies each shiny new technology that really gets my cartoon gears turning. I’m a huge fan of 60 Minutes, but their piece on Jeff Bezos and his drones made the days of Mike Wallace selling cigarettes look dignified.
 mentufactury: A kind of pompous term for bullshitting, especially the variety associated with flacking for your information business, hardware, software or the Internet. — Crypt Newsletter, 1995
How many swimming pools are in the Los Angeles basin? A UCLA/MIT student and a German graphic designer wanted to know. They employed digital sweat shop labor to find out.
From the Los Angeles Times:
German graphic designer Benedikt Gross was flying into Los Angeles for the first time when he gazed out the jetliner’s window and was mesmerized by the hundreds of shimmering blue swimming pools tiling the landscape below.
The image of all those backyard oases visible only from the sky stuck with him, but he didn’t make much of it until a few months later, when he bumped into Joseph Lee at a Massachusetts Institute of Technology research lab that deals with urban dwellers’ relationship with technology.
“I wonder how many pools there are,” said Gross, 33, who was working at the Senseable City Lab as part of his master’s degree studies at London’s Royal College of Art.
Lee, a UCLA graduate who was at MIT as a research assistant, responded quickly:
“L.A. is endless from the air. The turquoise pools you see are beautiful.”
So they decided to count the pools using Google maps and digital sweat-shopping, first through a crowd-sourcing house in India and then Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, to double-check the work.
The Times story prints the figure — 43,123 pools, although that might not have been all of them.
The duo spent $350 dollars on Mechanical Turk to do the final count check. And that comes to eight tenths of a penny a pool.
Theoretically, if you counted 1000 pools on the Amazon workplace, you earned $8.11. Could you count 1000 pools in an hour, two hours, 20 hours?
Or maybe you just wanted to count 50. In which case you made forty cents. That’s a lot less than what it cost to buy a copy of the LA Times newspaper, where you could read of their accomplishment, published in the paper’s Column One feature.
“When their analysis of the pools was complete, Lee and Gross spent $3,700 to publish the 74 volumes [of LA backyard pool research],” reads the times. “So far, only one complete set has been printed; Gross has it in London.”
That’s ten times what they paid Mechanical Turk workers to do part of the identification and counting task.
The work, Joseph Lee told the newspaper, showed how easy it was to look into masses of data covering people’s not-so-private backyards. Privacy is a growing concern, they conceded. Digital sweat shopping, maybe not so much.
Theoretically, there’s nothing wrong with the idea of using human eyeball crowd-sourcing to count swimming pools. However, if you had to pay a more reasonable amount for it, much much more than the rate of 40 cents for 50 pools, would they have done it?
What would it have cost to pay a minimum wage to count 43 thousand swimming pools from digital mapping?
Maybe a task for a graduate student, a really smart one.
At a time of great unemployment, poverty wages and increasing inequality, the Food and Drug Association has committed to employing Mechanical Turk digital sweat-shop labor through a private sector sub-contractor. Pure and simple, it is the use of taxpayer money in the nullification of people for the siphoning of the money to corporate America. Think of it as anti-stimulus. (What percentage of Mechanical Turk workers are in the food stamp program? Rhetorical. There are no statistics as the service and the businesses that use it are non-transparent.)
Plus human beings working for twenty or thirty cents a job are more reliable and so much cheaper than crappy optical character recognition software.
The pertinent details:
The Food And Drug Administration is trying something new to tackle a massive paper backlog: Amazon Mechanical Turk, a popular marketplace for low-cost freelance digital piecework. At the Amazon Web Services re:Invent Conference in Las Vegas, the FDA announced they’re partnering with OCR firm Captricity–which uses Mechanical Turk–to take care of months of unprocessed drug accident safety reports. Even before the government shutdown, the FDA publicly complained about “unforeseen issues in data entry operations” slowing the processing of drug safety reports …
According to Captricity, the company’s solution in proof of concept testing was just as accurate as manual data entry for the FDA, but eight times cheaper and 50 times faster.
Here’s the answer. At a time when the economy is not producing jobs or a living for many Americans, the government response should not be to fill a labor need by leveraging desperation digital sweat shop labor.
This is wrong. The US government, specifically the Food and Drug Association, should hire Americans and get the job done, not resort to machine-like digital chiseling through a third party because it is allegedly swamped by a work load. Alternatively, it can use tax dollars to buy more automation and keep the work within the agency.
There are many paper shuffling and data entry jobs in the US government, all performed by civil servants. And a lot of that work, without labor protections, could simply be turned over to digital crowd-sourcing in network sweat-shops.
The government must still pay workers according to some set of civilized standards. And in no cases can the federal government refuse to pay civil servants if it doesn’t like the cut or result of their work on any given day. Yet that is the model put in place when a federal agency transfers data transcription to labor on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. On Mechanical Turk, below subsistence pay workers can be denied mere dimes if their work is deemed sub-standard. And there are no appeals.
This isn’t where the government should be leading. And whoever came up with the idea at the FDA need some bad publicity and brush-back.
The dystopia that’s the Amazon Mechanical Turk digital sweat-shop.
WhiteManistan’s Minister of Best Practices in Fascism, Ted Nugent has the cure for ailing America.
He’ll use his NRA clout to make it law that everyone who buys a gun at a gun show go through a background check if the rest of us will campaign for and help enact law that takes the right to vote for presidential and congressional candidates in elections away from people who pay no income tax.
“The voting ‘loophole’ needs to be closed in order to restore fairness in federal elections,” reasons Nugent. It’s not necessarily permanent, he says. If you pay income tax for three consecutive years, your voting rights will be restored. “[Let's] get it on. We have a country to save.”
(He could also have tied disenfranchisement to enrollment in the Obamacare Medicaid expansion. This would have had the added benefit of preserving some of the votes of poor white people in red states where Tea Party governors have refused to take government money for it.)
This isn’t new, only more formally codified. During December of 2012 he also campaigned for disenfranchising “welfare leeches.”
It seems that during the holiday season, one of the things on Ted Nugent’s cheery mind is taking away the vote from all the bloodsuckers, er — not white people, who don’t pay income tax.
No link, obviously.
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