Around the Web

Issue No. 005

The joy of unionisation, the catastrophe in Tigray, the PR bullshit of Facebook, and Saturn losing its rings.

Greetings. This issue is a bit too late because I tried to rebuild my build process only to realise that it will not work. So I undid a Saturday’s work (note to self: working on Saturday is always stupid), and nothing has changed.

Here’s what I read last week. Let’s start with a reason to celebrate.


Amazon tried for months to stop what happened in the end: Workers at Amazon’s JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island, New York City voted to unionise.

Amazon has been criticised repeatedly for unsafe working conditions, and pushing workers to brink of exhaustion, and past that.

Over the last months Amazon turned every page in the large book of union busting, reportedly spending 4.3 million $ in the process.

Amazon called police officers to arrest union organizers, taking Smalls to court over accusations of trespassing on their property. Amazon hired a Trump Hotel union buster to crush the union drive and hired influential pro-union Democratic Pollster Global Strategy Group to help produce anti-union materials, all part of its failed bid to launch a comprehensive union-busting campaign.

To no avail. With 2.654 votes, Amazon Labor Union won the vote. And with it a grassroots organisation beats one of the world’s largest companies. Meanwhile, the 9th Starbucks café voted to unionise, too. The current drive for unionisation happens against the backdrop of the ultra-wealthy getting even more wealthy by the day.

The discourse about unions and work councils is reaching the German tech industry as well. After successful organising attempts at companies like N26 and Zalando, and the ongoing struggle at delivery company Gorillas, it seems like unions are here to stay. junge Welt published an excerpt of Nina Scholz’s new book Die wunden Punkte von Google, Amazon, Deutsche Wohnen & Co..

There is power in a union.

The war we don’t talk about

After the truce in Tigray declared last week, humanitarian aid is slow to trickle into the region.

The situation in the region stays dire. So is information getting out of the region. Tech companies are heavily under-investing in moderation, their language processing tools not even able to detect Tigrinya reliably.

Turkey continues drone attacks in Kurdish territories, deliberately targeting civilians. Which of course does not stop German politicians to court the Erdoğan government and deporting people to Kurdistan.

What are you looking at?

Getty Images introduced a new licence which includes signing away the rights to your biometric data.

Data predators Clearview AI announced version 2 of their product, claiming that it consists of twenty billion images.

Schools in the USA have adopted «smart» camera systems, and utilised them during the pandemic to sport maskless pupils. The systems weren’t good at that in he first place, but now that they are installed, they are likely to stay.

While the cameras are intruding every aspect of our lives, we might be looking at non-persons. Computer-generated faces are nothing new, but the technology becomes ever more pervasive. NPR published a story about computer generated «recruiters».

It will probably not surprise you that deepfakes are utilised in Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Germany’s federal police, Bundeskriminalamt, seems to have realised that Google’s vast data trove can be utilised for state surveillance. Using the location history Google Maps stores on its users is an increasingly popular form, as it is trumps traditional location tracking methods in accuracy. In the USA, requests for stored location data jumped from 982 requests in 2018 to 11.554 in 2020.

Can I talk to you about e-mails?

Thanks for making it this far. Maybe you are interested in getting Around the Web as an e-mail whenever a new issue is published?

There’s also an RSS feed. It’s like e-mail, but better (imho).

Powered by Buttondown.

This ain’t intelligence

The Verge explained how an algorithm helps to monitor hospitalised patients for sepsis. Keep in mind though that medical AI, in the grand scheme of things, is largely useless.

Waymo is expanding fully driverless cars to San Fransisco, the second city in the USA . AI is taking over! No, it isn’t. Every city requires immense amounts of training. Remember, AI is only half-decent at analysing the path. We are still a long way of any form of AI, which would enable going driverless by itself.

Google’s «responsible» AI team, is doing what it can do best, leaving its team in a torrent of hate and abuse.

Social, they said

Facebook has been caught smearing TikTok, hiring a public relation firm to push a non-existent viral challenge to newspaper editorials. This is, of course, not the first time, that Facebook has decided to produce disinformation, rather than just building the platform to spread it. It’s a remarkable stupid idea, but I guess that fits Facebook’s brand.

Casey Newton comments on the cynicism of it:

There’s the cynicism of planting op-eds and letters to the editor in local newspapers, with their internet-decimated staffs and diminished investigative powers, knowing they need the content and likely won’t ask too many questions about where it came from.

There’s the cynicism of borrowing credibility from local politicians, handing them a few paragraphs of someone else’s ideas and encouraging them to pass the talking points off as their own.

There’s the cynicism of assuming no one will ever find out.

The lesson Facebook won't learn

Welcome to the metaverse.

It’s not that TikTok has been without its problems. Late in March content moderators filed a lawsuit against the app, citing the extreme emotional toll of reviewing graphic material.

The suit says TikTok and ByteDance controlled the day-to-day work of Young and Velez by directly tying their pay to how well they moderated content in TikTok's system and by pushing them to hit aggressive quota targets. Before they could start work, moderators had to sign non-disclosure agreements, the suit said, preventing them from discussing what they saw with even their families.

As Russia’s forces get pushed back from the region of Kyiv, atrocities committed by the Russian army get documented and amplified into our social media feeds. This is your reminder that you don’t need to look at the footage. And further, you don’t need to push this content into people’s timeline. I recommend Shoshana Wodinsky’s thread on the matter.

if u force obscene amounts of violence into ppl’s TL’s without a heads up, ur not “creating a historical record.” ur being an asshole

If you decide to share information, you need to make sure that you don’t amplify dis- and misinformation. Mozilla wrote a handy guide on how to make sure you aren’t spreading misinformation. The NYT detailed the steps their visual investigations team takes to make sure shared imagery is valid.

KrebsOnSecurity on a scheme, where hackers take over government email accounts to issue emergency data requests. It is nigh impossible to know if the request is from a hacked account, leaving companies really no choice but to hand over the data.

Saturn is loosing it rings. Which, of course, will take a lot longer than humankind burning the planet to dust. Somehow, the cosmic timescale has lost its calming qualities.

When you take a picture with an iPhone you are not so much taking a picture as letting a robot create an approximation of the picture that you wanted. Have iPhone cameras become too smart? I cannot help but to think of the picturebox in Terry Pratchett’s The Colour of Magic.

Let’s end this issue on a colourful note.

That's it for this week. Stay sane, hug your friends, and donate to Mission Lifeline.