Tuesday 24 March, 2020

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Update: the link to yesterday’s Quarantine Diary was duff. It should have been https://memex.naughtons.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Day-2-edited.mp3 Humble apologies to anyone who tried to follow it.

What tech companies are doing to tackle CV mis/disinformation

From a newsletter I get from article19.org

The gist: AI is doing some good, but making lots of errors too.

Last week, Twitter announced that it will temporarily start relying more on technology and that its automated systems will start removing some content without human review. However, it would not be permanently suspending accounts based solely on the automated enforcement systems. They would also be broadening their definition of ‘harm to address content that goes directly against guidance from authoritative sources of global and local public health information”.

YouTube has said that it will increase its use of automated content takedowns as there will be less staff available to review content, and that this may lead to “increased video removals, including some videos that may not violate policies”. While the company says that users can appeal content takedowns, it admits that “workforce precautions will also result in delayed appeal reviews”.

Facebook has said that with “a reduced and remote workforce, we will now rely more on our automated systems to detect and remove violating content and disable accounts”. Last Tuesday, Facebook incorrectly removed a large number of posts, many of which were reported to have been about the coronavirus. Guy Rosen, Vice President of Integrity, later tweeted: “We’ve restored all the posts that were incorrectly removed, which included posts on all topics – not just those related to coronavirus. This was an issue with an automated system that removes links to abusive websites, but incorrectly removed a lot of other posts too.”

How to correctly use a computer

Lovely spoof from Apple.


I notice, though, that the new keyboard for the iPad Pro isn’t going to be available until May. That might turn out to be an ambitious forecast.

Taiwan’s new ‘electronic fence’ for quarantines

Graphic Reuters report illustrating the quandary we’re in. Smartphones can provide useful tools for managing the CV crisis. But using them for this purpose creates a surveillance and privacy nightmare further down the line. Taiwan is deploying the technology to enforce quarantines that require people who have been exposed to the virus.

The system monitors phone signals to alert police and local officials if those in home quarantine move away from their address or turn off their phones. Jyan said authorities will contact or visit those who trigger an alert within 15 minutes. Officials also call twice a day to ensure people don’t avoid tracking by leaving their phones at home.

The technology is being deployed all over the place. In Hong Kong, location-tracking wristbands are given to those put under quarantine. In Singapore, the government uses text messages to contact people, who must click on a link to prove they are at home. Thailand has rolled out a mobile app that anyone arriving at an airport must download to help monitor where they have been in the event that they test positive for the virus. Other countries, including South Korea and Israel, are using satellite-based phone tracking for so-called contact tracing to see where infected individuals might have passed SARS-CoV-2 to others.to stay in their homes. And so on.

“In emergencies”, wrote John Thornhill in yesterday’s Financial Times,

it is always tempting for security officials to argue that the ends justify the means, but such logic is often self-defeating. As the writer Aldous Huxley once said: “The end cannot justify the means, for the simple and obvious reason that the means employed determine the nature of the ends produced.”

Yep. Besides, history tells us that states which have acquired such surveillance powers are often reluctant to let them lapse, even when the crisis which originally justified them has passed. That is one of the lessons of 9/11 — as Edward Snowden eventually revealed.

Awkward questions that are impolitic to ask just now

Like: how are states going to pay for the colossal support they are promising to companies and workers?

According to Politico.eu, there is one European politician who is willing to go where none of his peers will yet venture.

“It is French President Emmanuel Macron who has most starkly expressed the challenges of balancing measures like self-isolation and social distancing against the imperative to keep the economy running.

“It is impossible to live — even in self-isolation — and to cure people, if we do not continue the economic activity that, quite simply, permits us to live in this country,” he said while chairing an “economy task force” dealing with the outbreak.

Macron is also the most prominent voice to warn people that a vaccine is not imminent, and probably won’t arrive until the end of 2021. The message is clear: It won’t be possible for people to stay at home until then.”

What’s likely to happen,I suspect, is that the epidemic will continue in waves after the first big attempt at supression (via the major lockdown we have at the moment). In each wave, some elements of ‘normal’ economic life will be resumed once the load on intensive care units (ICU) becomes manageable; and when the caseload starts to rise again, lockdown will be resumed. This, at any rate, is my reading of the critical diagram in the Imperial College study which changed the government’s mind.

This represents a way of trying to balance some restoration of economic life with keeping the ICU load within manageable limits.

Quarantine Diary – Day 3