FBI sting 'unmasks' US cyber-extortionist targeting girls

People use Tor to browse the internet and communicate in privateImage copyright Thinkstock Image caption Many people use Tor to browse the internet and communicate in private

The FBI has charged an American man officers believe to be behind an online extortion campaign to make young girls share explicit pictures of themselves.

Facebook messages in the name of "Brian Kil" were sent to the girls, using the Tor anonymising network, from 2012.

They threatened to kill them and their families or blow up their schools if they did not share explicit images.

The FBI says it tricked "Brian Kil" into viewing a video bearing virus-like code that logged his real net address.

Pipe bombs

Buster Hernandez has been charged with several counts of sexual exploitation of a child, threatening to use explosives and threatening to injure.

Mr Hernandez has yet to enter a plea.

If convicted, he faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in jail.

The Facebook messages claimed "Brian Kil" had already accessed explicit pictures the girls had previously shared, which he would publish unless they sent him more.

Taunting investigators

In at least three cases, the messages claimed the sender would also visit the girl's school and use pipe bombs and guns to kill her and her friends.

Two schools were closed for 24 hours while police investigated these threats.

The Tor anonymising network hides a person's identity by bouncing requests for data through many different computers.

And messages excerpted in the court documents show "Brian Kil" taunting investigators for their inability to track him down.

'Reign of terror'

But after local police in Indiana called on the FBI for help investigating the case of two victims who lived in the state, agents added extra code to one video file uploaded along with other images to a private Dropbox account.

And when this video was viewed, the code grabbed the IP address of Mr Hernandez's computer, the FBI alleges.

"Mr Hernandez's reign of terror is over," said US Attorney Josh Minkler in a statement[1].

"Those who think they can outwit law enforcement and are above being caught should think again."...

References

  1. ^ Attorney Josh Minkler in a statement (www.justice.gov)

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India blocks the Internet Archive

Wayback MachineImage copyright Internet Archive Image caption The Internet Archive began creating a historical record of the web two decades ago

The Internet Archive's Wayback Machine is being blocked by many of India's net providers.

The online tool allows the public to see old versions of websites and contains more than 302 billion saved web pages.

Affected users are being shown a message saying that access has been restricted under the orders of the government's Department of Telecommunications.

However, no explanation has been given.

"Courts and security agencies do block certain websites and the reasons are sometimes not disclosed," Shambhu Choudhary, the director of the government's Press Information Bureau told the BBC.

"These are based on directives from security agencies."

Although the blockage is reportedly widespread, some locals have reported still being able to access the archive[1].

The San Francisco-based Internet Archive project told the Medianama news site[2] that it was also at a loss to explain the situation.

"Obviously, we are disappointed and concerned by this situation and are very eager to understand why it's happening and see full access restored," said office manager Chris Butler[3].

India had 462.1 million internet users out of a general population of 1.3 billion people in mid-2016, according to the Internet and Mobile Association of India.

That makes its online audience the second largest in the world after China.

In 2014, the country ordered local internet service providers (ISPs) to block the Internet Archive, along with Vimeo, the Daily Motion and 29 other popular sites, over concerns they provided access[4] to "Jihadi propaganda"....

References

  1. ^ still being able to access the archive (twitter.com)
  2. ^ Medianama news site (www.medianama.com)
  3. ^ said office manager Chris Butler (www.medianama.com)
  4. ^ over concerns they provided access (pib.nic.in)

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Was Google wrong to fire anti-diversity memo author?

Google sign, Mountain ViewImage copyright Getty Images Image caption Mr Damore worked at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, California

Google has fired an employee who wrote a controversial memo opposed to diversity programmes and hiring practices.The company's chief executive said the "offensive" text advanced "harmful gender stereotypes".Did Google do the right thing?

First things first:What did the memo say?

A senior Google employee, named in US media as James Damore, argued in an internal memo that perhaps tech companies that try diversity programmes to get more women in to the industry are looking at things the wrong way.

It's not just because of recruitment practices or education or discrimination that more men than women work in the tech industry, he argued, but because of biological differences.

Women are "on average more interested in people" as opposed to things, he said, "more co-operative" and "more prone to anxiety" - all things that stop them going in to the tech industry or rising to the top of it.

And he said this couldn't usually be said by people who worked for Google, because of an "ideological echo chamber" and a "shaming culture and the possibility of being fired".

You can read the full memo here[1].

After the memo received a few days of international attention, Mr Damore was fired[2].He is reported to be considering legal action.

The memo and now his sacking have been much discussed on social media, with some agreeing with him, some offering him jobs, and others aghast at his views.

Google was wrong to fire him, say some

"I think it's wrong for a company to fire someone for simply expressing their opinion," said Jodie Ginsberg of the Index on Censorship pressure group.

Asked whether Mr Damore being fired was censorship, she said yes.

"Yes, in that the message it's sending is that people are not free to express their beliefs and opinions.The message is we should just shut down the views with which we disagree.

"A much better way is to discuss those opinions openly."

Image copyright @IndexCensorship

Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of New Mexico, said Google had gone down in his estimation when it fired Mr Damore.

"It was reasonable of this author to expect that his argument would be respected, that he would be able to air it with some safety," he said.

"It's just embarrassing for Google," he continued."I used to think Google was one of the coolest companies on earth.I use a lot of their software of all kinds and now I just feel like I'm supporting this ideological juggernaut.

"If the reaction to being told that you are an ideological echo chamber is that kind of defensiveness to me it's pretty strong evidence that it probably is biased."

Google was right to fire him, say others

On the other hand, says technology writer and broadcaster Kate Bevan, the memo created a hostile environment for female staff.

"I'm not very keen on the mob going for people to get the sack," she said."But in this case he was acting in a way that was detrimental to his colleagues.

"If you stand up and declare in public that you think a large number of your colleagues are unfit to do the job because of their chromosomes, you're telling your colleagues 'I don't think you're good enough'."

That echoes the argument made by Google's CEO Sundar Pichai in a letter to staff:"To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK."

Ms Bevan continued:"The best engineers are not necessarily male.If you continue to restrict your hiring pool to one type of people you're going to get some mediocre people in there."

She argued that a more diverse workplace would be better for business, too, saying:"If you've got a limited workforce you're going to limit the products you make."

So the science he cited - was it legit?

Geoffrey Miller, the evolutionary psychologist, told the BBC that Mr Damore got "most of the science right" and showed "pretty good judgment about what we know and what we don't know".

He wrote[5] that the memo "would get at least an A- in any Masters psychology course".

But Gina Rippon, the chair of cognitive brain imaging at Aston University in Birmingham, England, disagreed.

She told the BBC:"The key thing for me is that he's got quite a lot of the science wrong.

"The basis of his argument is wrong.I don't know who he's been reading."

In fact the author of a study mentioned in the memo has responded[6] to the furore, saying that using someone's sex to work out what you think their personality will be like is "like surgically operating with an axe".

Professor Rippon said:"It's one of those areas where science moves on perhaps more quickly than the communication of it.

"He seems to be suggesting that because something is biological it can't be changed."

She said ability at spatial tasks - often cited as a way in which men and women's brains work differently - can be affected by how many videogames the people being studied have played.And playing more videogames or getting a different environment can influence an individual's brain.

She continued:"But even if you accepted the idea that there are some biological differences, all researchers would assert that they're so tiny that there's no way that they can explain the kind of gender gap that's apparent at Google."

Just 20% of Google's technical roles[9] are filled by women, according to the company's own figures.Nearly half of non-technical staff are female.

Angela Sain, author of Inferior:How Science got Women Wrong, agreed:"The differences aren't as big as we think they are and the gender gap as it exists in society is not explained by biological differences."

But the fact remains that there are many more men than women working in tech companies like Google.

And a 2016 study[10] of women in Silicon Valley found that half of the women asked had repeatedly been told they were too aggressive, and nearly half had been asked to do low-level jobs their male colleagues weren't asked to do, like taking notes or ordering food.

These are issues that Google will undoubtedly turn its attention back to once it has come down from walking the PR tightrope in the wake of the anti-diversity memo....

References

  1. ^ here (diversitymemo.com)
  2. ^ Mr Damore was fired (www.bbc.co.uk)
  3. ^ Does Silicon Valley have a sexism problem? (www.bbc.co.uk)
  4. ^ The women challenging sexism in e-sports (www.bbc.co.uk)
  5. ^ wrote (web.archive.org)
  6. ^ has responded (www.psychologytoday.com)
  7. ^ Is my brain male or female? (www.bbc.co.uk)
  8. ^ Do men and women really have different personalities? (www.bbc.com)
  9. ^ 20% of Google's technical roles (www.google.com)
  10. ^ 2016 study (www.elephantinthevalley.com)

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'Hate speech' tweets painted at Twitter HQ in protest

A man takes pictures of "hate tweets", a part of the art project "#HEYTWITTER" created by Shahak Shapira, outside Twitter office in Hamburg, Germany August 4, 2017Image copyright Youtube via Reuters Image caption A man takes pictures of "hate tweets" reproduced by Shahak Shapira outside Twitter's Hamburg headquarters

A German satirist who claims Twitter is failing to delete hate speech has captured the firm's attention offline - by stencilling the offending messages outside its Hamburg office.

Shahak Shapira, who is Jewish, said he had reported 300 incidents of hate speech in six months, but Twitter had responded to just nine.

A YouTube video has emerged[1] showing Mr Shapira stencilling 30 tweets.

"Germany needs a final solution to Islam," reads one.

"Let's gas the Jews," says another, in reference to the Nazis' murder of six million Jews during World War Two.

"If Twitter forces me to see these things, then they'll have to see them too," the artist said in the video, posted on Monday.

He described the comments as "not just plain insults or jokes, but absolutely serious threats of violence".

They include statements that are homophobic, xenophobic, or involve holocaust denial.

Image copyright YouTube/Shahak Shapira Image caption Shahak Shapira made stencils of the unpleasant tweets

He said the nine responses he got from Twitter said the tweets did not violate the site's rules.

"I haven't received a single mail telling me a tweet was actually removed," he said.

Mr Shapira explained in the video, titled #HeyTwitter, that he had made stencils of the hate-filled messages, then travelled to Hamburg to paint them in front of the platform's headquarters.

"Tomorrow," he said, "they will have to look at all the beautiful tweets their company loves to ignore so much."

Hate speech is an especially sensitive subject in Germany due to the crimes committed by the Nazi regime in World War Two.

In June, the country passed a law which could force social media companies to delete racist or slanderous posts within 24 hours[2] or face a fine of up to €50m ($58m;£45m).

image

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionHuman rights groups are concerned by Germany's plan to fine social media companies

Mr Shapira said he had reported 150 comments to Facebook during the same six-month period, and 80% were removed within one to three days.

Twitter's head of public policy for Europe, Karen White, told Reuters:"Over the past six months, we've introduced a host of new tools and features to improve Twitter for everyone.We've also improved the in-app reporting process for our users and we continue to review and iterate on our policies and their enforcement."

The site is said to be acting against 10 times as many abusive accounts as it did this time last year.

Mr Shapira previously made headlines after taking a controversial stand against selfie-taking at Berlin's Holocaust memorial[3].

He copied 12 selfies snapped at the memorial from social media, and published them on a website called "Yolocaust" - a combination of the popular social media hashtag Yolo - "you only live once" - and Holocaust.

Each image was altered so that hovering over it stripped away the background of the memorial and replaced it with scenes from concentration camps.

He said at the time:"Lets see what happens, let's see how many stupid, inappropriate pictures I have to see on the internet.

"And if you're asking me is this right or wrong, then that's a good thing.It doesn't have to be one or the other, just having the debate is good."...

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