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How Much of the Internet Is Fake? Turns Out, a Lot of It, Actually.

By Max Read

In late November, the Justice Department unsealed indictments against eight people accused of fleecing advertisers of $36 million in two of the largest digital ad-fraud operations ever uncovered. Digital advertisers tend to want two things: people to look at their ads and “premium” websites — i.e., established and legitimate publications — on which to host them.
The two schemes at issue in the case, dubbed Methbot and 3ve by the security researchers who found them, faked both. Hucksters infected 1.7 million computers with malware that remotely directed traffic to “spoofed” websites — “empty websites designed for bot traffic” that served up a video ad purchased from one of the internet’s vast programmatic ad-exchanges, but that were designed, according to the indictments, “to fool advertisers into thinking that an impression of their ad was served on a premium publisher site,” like that of Vogue or The Economist. Views, meanwhile, were faked by malware-infected computers with marvelously sophisticated techniques to imitate humans: bots “faked clicks, mouse movements, and social network login information to masquerade as engaged human consumers.” Some were sent to browse the internet to gather tracking cookies from other websites, just as a human visitor would have done through regular behavior. Fake people with fake cookies and fake social-media accounts, fake-moving their fake cursors, fake-clicking on fake websites — the fraudsters had essentially created a simulacrum of the internet, where the only real things were the ads.

How much of the internet is fake? Studies generally suggest that, year after year, less than 60 percent of web traffic is human; some years, according to some researchers, a healthy majority of it is bot. For a period of time in 2013, the Times reported this year, a full half of YouTube traffic was “bots masquerading as people,” a portion so high that employees feared an inflection point after which YouTube’s systems for detecting fraudulent traffic would begin to regard bot traffic as real and human traffic as fake. They called this hypothetical event “the Inversion.”

In the future, when I look back from the high-tech gamer jail in which President PewDiePie will have imprisoned me, I will remember 2018 as the year the internet passed the Inversion, not in some strict numerical sense, since bots already outnumber humans online more years than not, but in the perceptual sense. The internet has always played host in its dark corners to schools of catfish and embassies of Nigerian princes, but that darkness now pervades its every aspect: Everything that once seemed definitively and unquestionably real now seems slightly fake; everything that once seemed slightly fake now has the power and presence of the real. The “fakeness” of the post-Inversion internet is less a calculable falsehood and more a particular quality of experience — the uncanny sense that what you encounter online is not “real” but is also undeniably not “fake,” and indeed may be both at once, or in succession, as you turn it over in your head.



We ourselves are fake.

Which, well. Everywhere I went online this year, I was asked to prove I’m a human. Can you retype this distorted word? Can you transcribe this house number? Can you select the images that contain a motorcycle? I found myself prostrate daily at the feet of robot bouncers, frantically showing off my highly developed pattern-matching skills — does a Vespa count as a motorcycle, even? — so I could get into nightclubs I’m not even sure I want to enter. Once inside, I was directed by dopamine-feedback loops to scroll well past any healthy point, manipulated by emotionally charged headlines and posts to click on things I didn’t care about, and harried and hectored and sweet-talked into arguments and purchases and relationships so algorithmically determined it was hard to describe them as real.

Where does that leave us? I’m not sure the solution is to seek out some pre-Inversion authenticity — to red-pill ourselves back to “reality.” What’s gone from the internet, after all, isn’t “truth,” but trust: the sense that the people and things we encounter are what they represent themselves to be. Years of metrics-driven growth, lucrative manipulative systems, and unregulated platform marketplaces, have created an environment where it makes more sense to be fake online — to be disingenuous and cynical, to lie and cheat, to misrepresent and distort — than it does to be real. Fixing that would require cultural and political reform in Silicon Valley and around the world, but it’s our only choice. Otherwise we’ll all end up on the bot internet of fake people, fake clicks, fake sites, and fake computers, where the only real thing is the ads.

On Democrats' wish list: Tech help for a clueless Congress

Advocates say reviving the Office of Technology Assessment would be one way to help Congress get a grip on the complex topics it is trying to tackle.

By NANCY SCOLA 12/29/2018 07:05 AM EST

Lawmakers' cluelessness at regulating the powerful yet controversy-plagued technology industry is fueling a new push by Democrats to bring back the squad of congressional tech advisers that Newt Gingrich abolished in the 1990s.

Advocates say reviving the Office of Technology Assessment would be one way to help Congress get a grip on the complex topics it is trying to tackle, ranging from digital privacy, encryption and quantum computing to online election interference and allegations of social media political bias. In the past year, lawmakers have appeared perplexed by the basics of modern technology — as shown by their struggles to piece together coherent questions during hearings with the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Google.

“I use your apparatus often,” Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) told Google CEO Sundar Pichai at a hearing this month, referring to the company’s search engine. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who has been in office since 1976, offered the most rudimentary of questions to Facebook CEO Zuckerberg in April: How does his multibillion dollar company make money? (“Senator, we run ads,” Zuckerberg said, failing to suppress a grin.)

The displays of tech illiteracy drew a lot of mockery at the time. But the months since then have brought new revelations about Facebook’s business practices, including its sharing of users’ data with other tech companies, as well as questions on issues such as the way Google’s search algorithms give more or less prominence to certain kinds of content.


'A giant waste of money': Ex-FBI agent explains the biggest problem with Trump's border wall

29 DEC 2018 AT 09:42 ET

President Donald Trump is attempting to waste a pile of money on his signature border wall, a former FBI special agent on MSNBC on Saturday.

Clint Watts was a FBI special agent who served on the Joint Terrorism Task Force and joined guest host Baratunde Thurston on Saturday.

“There are much better ways to do this, for a couple different reasons,” Watts explained. “One, any wall without overwatch — we would say in the military — is not a defense. You’re just blinding yourself to what’s happening on the other side of the wall — they never really talked about that. “

“What we’ve been looking at even over the last decade, especially with counterterrorism and what was done in Iraq and Afghanistan, we’ve advanced technology dramatically,” he continued. “This is something we could invest in — tighter, improved border security without putting up a wall, much more effective investing in our technological advances in the United States.”


'A giant waste of money': Ex-FBI agent explains the biggest problem with Trump's border wall

Union official destroys Trump and GOP for forcing unpaid federal employees to go begging to their

landlords for help

29 DEC 2018 AT 09:21 ET

The president of the National Treasury Employees Union unloaded on Donald Trump and the Republican Party on Saturday morning in a scalding attack for holding federal employees hostage to the president’s demand to build a wall on the U.S./Mexico border.

Appearing on CNN’s New Day with hosts Victor Blackwell and Christi Paul, Tony Reardon had few good things to say about the president or Republicans.

After host Blackwell noted that some federal employees who are no longer receiving paychecks are returning Christmas presents for the cash to help pay the rent, Reardon was asked to weigh in.

“I’m hearing a great deal from our members who have a great deal of anxiety, fear and candidly they have a great deal of anger and that’s certainly to be understood,” Reardon explained. “You know what I’m also hearing is that folks are very upset that they have been kind of cast in the middle of a fight not of their creation and that they do not have the power to resolve. They want Congress to do their job.”


North Carolina dissolves state elections board amid ongoing 9th District dispute

This is pure chaos.

DEC 28, 2018, 4:01 PM

On Friday at noon, the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement officially dissolved under a court order, just two weeks before the evidentiary hearing over possible absentee ballot fraud in the November election for the Ninth District’s congressional seat.

Last month in the 2018 midterm elections, Mark Harris, the Republican nominee in the district, appeared to defeat Dan McCready, the Democratic candidate, by 905 votes. However, the elections board refused to certify the results after allegations surfaced that a contractor for Harris’s campaign illegally paid workers to go to voters’ homes and pick up their absentee ballots in Bladen and Robeson Counties. The board launched an investigation into the matter, which has already involved 100 interviews and at least 182,000 pages of records.

Due to the dissolution of the board, there’s a possibility that this highly-anticipated January 11 hearing about the lone remaining undecided seat in the U.S. House of Representatives will have to be postponed.

It’s important to note that the board is not being dissolved because of the allegations of election fraud. Earlier this year, a three-judge panel ordered that the current make-up of the board — a combined nine-person election and ethics board — is unconstitutional, and ordered that the board must revert to a five-person election board and an eight-person ethics board.



It is highly unlikely that any representative from North Carolina’s Ninth District will be sworn in along with the rest of Congress on January 3. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), vying for the speakership once more, has already said she won’t seat Harris unless his victory is certified by North Carolina.

If the election remains un-certified next week, and the board of elections is still vacant, the new Democrat-led House could launch its own investigation into the matter, via the House Administration Committee. According to The New York Times, that committee has the authority to investigate the election, issue subpoenas, determine a winner, or even call for a new election, if deemed necessary.

North Carolina dissolves state elections board amid ongoing 9th District dispute



DECEMBER 28, 2018 09:31 AM,


A surprise court order triggered a last-minute move Friday by Gov. Roy Cooper to continue the state election board’s probe of fraud allegations in the 9th District congressional race, even as Charlotte Republican Mark Harris demanded to be named its winner.

With legal issues far from resolved, the skirmish could delay by weeks the final outcome of Harris’ race with Democrat Dan McCready, who on election night appeared to have lost by 905 votes. Also Friday, the incoming House Majority Leader, Steny Hoyer, said the House won’t seat Harris on Jan. 3 because of the allegations.

“In this instance, the integrity of our democratic process outweighs concerns about the seat being vacant at the start of the new Congress,” Hoyer said in a statement to the Observer.

Both sides, Democrats and Republicans, accused the other of trying to corrupt the process. Between them is the state elections staff, which is deep into an investigation of whether Harris benefited from an alleged illegal get-out-the-vote campaign but found its board abruptly dissolved.

A three-judge panel in October ruled the board’s makeup unconstitutional, but had delayed disbanding it while the election and fraud investigations were underway. On Thursday, the panel accused the board of ignoring the court’s directions and dissolved it effective at noon Friday.


Trevor Noah remembers 2018. He really does!

NASA opens the floodgates for firms with planetary ambitions

by Debra Werner — December 27, 2018

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 17, 2018 issue of SpaceNews magazine.

When NASA revealed the names of nine companies eligible for contracts to deliver payloads to the moon on robotic landers, it set off a flurry of activity among firms with related technology.

“Going back to the moon with commercial technology opens the floodgates,” said Grant Anderson, president, chief executive and co-founder of Paragon Space Development Corp., a thermal control technology specialist and Moon Express teammate for NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program.

NASA’s recent moon missions have been few and far between, Anderson said. Companies competed for roles in a multibillion-dollar lunar exploration campaigns and if not chosen waited many years for another opportunity. Instead, CLPS offers firms a chance to bid for firm fixed-price task orders worth as much as $2.6 billion over a decade. Tasks include integration of NASA payloads onto commercial vehicles, transportation of payloads to the moon, delivery of scientific data obtained by commercial instruments and return of lunar samples to Earth.


A NASA space probe is about to snap pictures of a mystery object beyond Pluto

Source: NASA

By Chase Purdy 10 minutes ago

It gave earthlings our first close-up images of Pluto. Now, just three-and-a-half years later, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is closing in on a mysterious hunk of reddish rock and ice that’s inspired much fascination within the astronomy community.

Even the object’s name—Ultima Thule—reveals just how little we know about the floating mass. It literally translates to “beyond the known world.”

“This is pure exploration,” said Alan Stern, the mission’s principal investigator in a statement. “We are really flying toward something completely unknown, unlike any other object we’ve studied in the past.”

According to NASA, the hunk stretches about 20 miles (32 kilometers) across, and it’s significant to space scientists because it is potentially the most primitive object ever encountered by a spacecraft. Astronomers see this as an opportunity to check out something that scientists say could be as as old as the moments when the solar system’s planets were first forming.

Read more: https://qz.com/1509257/a-nasa-spacecraft-is-about-to-snap-pictures-of-an-object-beyond-pluto/


Ultima Thule is located in a region of space at the edge of the solar system called the Kuiper Belt. It’s mostly home to hundreds of thousands of asteroids and comet-like objects.

The New Horizons spacecraft, which is about the size of a baby grand piano, is set to reach Ultima Thule on Jan. 1 at 12:30am EST. Images are expected to transmit 4 billion miles back to earth by 10am.

The images of Ultima Thule are really just an encore performance from the New Horizons spacecraft, which was dispatched from Earth to snap images of Pluto. But scientists say the craft still has enough power to keep it traveling through space through the mid-2030s. So they intend to send it further into the Kuiper Belt, where it’ll give new close-up insights into regions of space we’ve never seen before.

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