Category Archives: Organizational behavior and reputation

Censorship about censorship

In further news on a story I posted about in late September, it has now surfaced that Zoom has cancelled academic events scheduled to discuss its previous cancellation. Beyond the political merits of the issue, from a business standpoint I suspect that the company’s position will quickly become untenable and that if it persists in its current interpretation of its ToS its competitors will crowd it out of the academic market (already, one of the cancelled events was able to migrate to Google Meets). Telling universities to refrain from discussion is like telling a rivet factory to refrain from metalworking; the fact that in this situation it has become impossible to draw a frame around an issue, so as to modify the sociolinguistic norms that preside over it, has produced a surreal outcome: this is not an equilibrium, and is destined to change.

Official compliance with curbs on surveillance

A new court case has been brought against the City and County of San Francisco for the use of surveillance cameras by the San Francisco Police Department, in violation of a 2019 city ordinance, to control protests in early June following the killing of George Floyd. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California are representing the three plaintiffs in the suit, community activists who participated in the demonstrations, alleging a chilling effect on freedom of speech and assembly. The surveillance apparatus belonged to a third party, the Union Square Business Improvement Distric, and its use was granted voluntarily to law enforcement, following a request.

Use of surveillance and facial recognition technology is widespread among California law enforcement, but such policies are often opaque and unacknowledged. Police Departments have been able to evade legislative and regulatory curbs on their surveillance activities through third-party arrangements. Such potential for non-compliance strengthens the case for approaches such as that taken in Portland, OR, where facial recognition technology is banned for all, not simply for the public sector.

Disinformation and hacking the power grid

Interesting study (via Schneier) on how to use disinformation to attack the power grid. In essence, one is trying to game the profit-maximizing behavior of consumers (in this case, through fake information on discounts in electricity used during peak times), nudging them in precisely the opposite direction of market signals, hence overloading the grid. The general obscurity of electricity pricing for the consumer (much of which may be by design) is an important enabler of this hack.

Schools as digital front lines

Politico‘s Andrew Atterbury reports a DDoS attack against the Miami-Dade public school system in Florida today, disrupting the beginning of the Fall semester. Although no sensitive data was stolen, hundreds of thousands of students were prevented from attending class. Of course, the problem with schools as an institution is that its own “customers” are not always committed to the integrity of the service