The Knowledge Dynasty

Instagram thinks sharing your friend’s rape threat will get you back on the app

An Instagram post of friends walking through the crystal-clear waves of Ibiza might get someone to check in with the photo-sharing app, but a screenshot of a rape threat? Not so much.

On Thursday, Guardian reporter Olivia Solon shared on Twitter that Instagram had tried to do such a thing with one of her posts—it shared a rape and death threat that she’d received with an undisclosed number of her Facebook friends, including her sister.

“Olivia Solon and 155 other friends are using Instagram,” the Facebook post depicted in an ad to Solon’s sister. “See Olivia Solon’s photo and posts from friends on Instagram.”


According to the Guardian, Instagram did not reveal the parameters for why Solon’s threatening post was chosen for sharing with her Facebook friends. It only has five likes, two of which it received in recent history, but the 20 comments of sympathetic and consoling followers may have flagged the post for high engagement.

The ad, too, wasn’t part of a paid promotion, but was instead used to “motivate” people who aren’t on the app or haven’t been in some time to look at content from their friends. Instagram didn’t reveal who the post was shared with, but said it would have been “some” of Solon’s Facebook friends.

Instagram’s rape threat flub appears to be another instance of artificial intelligence or algorithms for advertising failing consumers. Last week, ProPublica revealed that Facebook allowed ad buyers to target consumers who were interested in topics such as “Jew hater,” “How to burn Jews,” and “History of ‘why Jews ruin the world.'”

A day later, BuzzFeed reported that Google allowed targeted ads for racist keywords such as “Jewish parasite,” and “Black people ruin everything.” The Daily Beast, too, found that Twitter allowed targeted ads for users who responded to terms such as “Nazi” and “wetback.”

“We are sorry this happened—it’s not the experience we want someone to have,” an Instagram spokesperson said in a statement regarding Solon’s post. “This notification post was surfaced as part of an effort to encourage engagement on Instagram. Posts are generally received by a small percentage of a person’s Facebook friends.”

H/T the Guardian

Read more:

How secure is Apple’s Face ID, really?

In its latest product event, Apple confidently moved to convince consumers that face recognition is the most convenient way to secure your phone and the sensitive information you store in it. Face ID, the company’s face recognition technology, which will be replacing its fingerprint scanner in the new iPhone X, requires you to only show your face to your phone in order to unlock it, to confirm ApplePay payments, in iTunes and App Store.

According to Phil Schiller, senior vice president of marketing at Apple, “With the iPhone X, your iPhone is locked until you look at it and it recognizes you. Nothing has ever been more simple, natural, and effortless. This is the future of how we’ll unlock our smartphones and protect our sensitive information.”

To be sure, showing your face to your phone is easier than typing a passcode or pressing your finger against a scanner. It saves you a few seconds, you obviously can’t forget it, and it won’t be affected by moisture and oil.

But is it more secure?

Here are the key things you should consider about facial recognition before you enroll in the latest fad that is overcoming the iPhone and other major smartphones.

Can Face ID be spoofed?

Face recognition authentication has existed for several years, but it has become notoriously renowned for its security flaws. Researchers and cybercriminals have been able to easily circumvent face locks on various devices by using hi-res pictures and videos of the owners. And as opposed to passwords, your face is not a secret. It’s available to anyone who Googles your name or gets close enough to snap a picture of you. Even Samsung’s S8 face lock was proven to be fooled by a photo.

However, Face ID has incorporated a technology to make it exponentially harder to bypass the lock. During setup, Face ID projects 30 thousand infrared dots to create a 3D depth map of its owner’s face. It subsequently uses that map during authentication to make sure that it’s a real face standing before the camera and the physical features correspond to those of the owner.


Getting around depth maps will be much more difficult than using flat images. Apple says not even professionally made masks will work. Some experts believe it’s not impossible to fool, however, and it’s only a matter of time and “enough external data” before the technology can be sidestepped. And per Apple, if you have an identical twin, Face ID may be fooled to mistake them for you.

Further, depth sensors like the ones used in the iPhone X do have their own technical challenges. They might fail under distinct conditions such as intense light or when you’re wearing a hat or scarf. Apple says that it works under various conditions, but we’ll have to certify when the device actually ships.

Can Face ID be forcibly activated?

This is a question that regards all biometric authentication mechanisms, including fingerprint scanners. If you’re captured by criminals or taken into the custody of law enforcement, can they unlock your phone by holding it up to your face?

Unfortunately, they can. The technology doesn’t work if you’re not staring at it or if you close your eyes but is not yet smart enough to understand the difference between a real unlock attempt and a forced one (maybe someday it will). In the case of police, at least, they would legally be required to obtain a warrant before forcing you to unlock the device, according to legal experts.

Apparently, Apple recognizes this as a possible flaw in its technology. In iOS 11, users have to enter the iPhone’s passcode when connecting it to a new computer. This will make it harder to siphon data from a phone unlocked forcibly. Apple has also made it possible to disable Face ID and Touch ID, its fingerprint-scanning technology, by pressing the Home or Power button (depending on the device model) five times in rapid succession.

Where does Apple store your face data?

Your mug is not the most private part of your body. Governments have huge databases of citizens pictures, the internet may be flooded with pictures of you and your friends if you’ve been on social media in the past years, and facial recognition is already a serious privacy concern.

Nonetheless, you should be concerned about where your data is stored and how secure it is, especially the depth map of your face, which is still somewhat private. Most facial recognition software relies on machine learning algorithms, programs that work with huge data sets that are stored on cloud servers. Companies running these types of software need to collect more and more data samples to improve their performance. They might also mine the data for other commercial purposes or share it with third parties.

For the moment, Apple has made it clear that no face data will be leaving your phone, the same approach it has used on Touch ID. Everything will be computed on the device thanks to its powerhouse A11 processor, and sensitive data will be stored on the Secure Enclave, the most secure component of the iPhone.

Screenshot via Apple

Apple’s Phil Schiller shows off Face ID on the iPhone X.

How much data does Face ID collect?

This is perhaps the creepiest side of Face ID. The technology has no manual trigger on iPhone X. You only need to hold it in front of your face to activate it, which means it’s always watching, waiting for your face to show up. How much data it stores is an open question.

But we’ve seen similar functionality cause privacy controversies in the Echo, Amazon’s smart home system. And unlike the Echo, your iPhone doesn’t remain in your home. You take it with you wherever you go.

Moreover, there’s the question of what Apple will do with the technology once it has access to millions of people’s faces. The company didn’t have much incentive to collect fingerprint data. But face and gaze information is a totally different matter and can be used for things such as tracking attention and reaction to ads. We’ll have to see if Apple will resist the urge to make use of the technology in other potentially profitable endeavors.

For most users, Face ID will provide a secure and reliable way to protect your iPhone, with decent workaround against most of its flaws. Apple says it has 1/1,000,000 chance of getting unlocked by someone other than you, as opposed to TouchID, which stood at 1/50,000.

However, if you prefer privacy over convenience (as I do), remembering and typing a passcode is a small price to pay for higher security.

Ben Dickson is a software engineer and the founder of TechTalks. Follow his tweets at @bendee983 and his updates on Facebook.

Read more:

Should we ban sex robots while we have the chance? | Jenny Kleeman

“AI sex dolls are on their way, with potentially sinister social consequences. So before they hit the market, we must ask whether they should,” writes robotics expert Jenny Kleeman.

sex robots


People are blowing a fuse about sex robots or rather, rape robots. Journalists from the New Statesman and the New York Times among others have all reported on the sex robot Roxxxy TrueCompanions controversial Frigid Farrah setting: a mode in which she has been programmed to resist sexual advances and which will allow men to act out rape fantasies.

Women’s rights activists have lined up to condemn Roxxxy. Everyday Sexism’s Laura Bates describes her as the sex robot that’s yours to rape for just $9,995. Writing in the Times on Thursday, the barrister Kate Parker called for sex robots like Roxxxy to be criminalised. “The sophistication of the technology behind Roxxxy marks a step forward for robotics. For human society, it’s an unquestionable regression,” she says.

Rise of the sex robots
Theres a problem with this story: the robot doesnt exist. Douglas Hines, the man behind Roxxxy TrueCompanion, has been drumming up publicity for his creation ever since he unveiled her to the public at the 2010 AVN Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas. Even though his website pulsates with throbbing Order Her Now! buttons, no journalist has seen or photographed Roxxxy since 2010, and no one in the surprisingly extensive robot enthusiast community has ever reported owning one.

I tried to meet Hines in person many times over the past year while researching a documentary and article on sex robots, and although he was happy to talk over the phone he avoided meeting me when I asked to see Roxxxy in the flesh. Roxxxy, much like the replicants and Stepford Wives of science fiction, seems to be nothing more than fantasy.

But while Roxxxy may not be available to buy, models like her will be very soon. Abyss Creations are due to ship the first talking, animatronic, AI-enabled heads for their hyper-realistic silicone sex dolls by the end of the year. And while the sex robots on offer from China and Japan may currently have more in common with push-button talking baby dolls than Ava from Ex Machina, theres commercial pressure to get sophisticated models with AI on sale as soon as possible.

The sex tech industry is worth $30bn a year, and with two thirds of heterosexual men in a recent survey saying they could imagine buying a sex robot for themselves, the race is on to make the fantasy a reality. But before sex robots hit the market, we have the space to ask whether they should.

The issue with sex robots in general not just hypothetical ones programmed to have a resist function is how their existence will affect how human beings interact with each other. Sex robots are different from sex dolls and sex toys because they have AI. More than just a mechanism for giving you an orgasm, a sex robot is designed to be a substitute partner: a vibrator doesnt laugh at your jokes and remember your birthday, but Abyss Creations Harmony model can.

If men (and it will be men even the few male sex dolls produced by Abyss Creations every year are generally shipped to male customers) become used to having sex with synthetic companions that are programmed to meet their most precise specifications, how will they then interact with real women who have the inconvenience of having their own idiosyncrasies and free will? If you are used to having sex with ultra-life-like humanoids whenever and however you want, will you be more likely to expect complete dominance in your relationships with other humans?

Young people who have grown up in the age of online porn might consider shaved pubic hair and double penetration to be completely normal. Similarly, the generation growing up when sex robots are commonplace might see brutally selfish sex as both desirable and achievable.

Sex robots exist purely to satisfy their owners. Is any sexual relationship healthy if its only ever about one persons pleasure? Can sex with a robot ever be consensual? This isnt about robot rights its about the kind of sex that will become normal within human societies if we start having sex with robots.

Child sex dolls have been banned in the UK because of fears they will encourage the desire to abuse among paedophiles, rather than simply sate it. Parker is calling for a similar ban for all sex robots. But while we might be able to stop them being imported or manufactured here, we cant stop them being developed overseas.

Perhaps the most important question to ask is why there is a market for sex robots in the first place. Why do some people find the idea of a partner without autonomy so attractive? Until we have the answer to that, well need to prepare ourselves for the inevitable rise of the sex robots.

Jenny Kleeman is a freelance journalist


Read more:

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.



New Skills, New You: Transform your career in 2016 with Coursera

Follow us on Twitter