Welcome to onfocus—a weblog by Paul Bausch where I post recommended links, my photos, and occasional thoughts. Subscribe here if you like RSS.
Rolling Stone
Thomas, in a financial disclosure made public on Friday, acknowledged that conservative billionaire Harlan Crow paid for Thomas to join him on trips to Bali and California in 2019. Thomas wrote in the filing that he “inadvertently omitted” the gifts from Crow in previous filings and that his inclusion of the gifts on this year’s filing came after he “sought and received guidance from his accountant and ethics counsel.”
LOL, fingers crossed that he has a chat with his ethics counsel about recusal for conflict of interest. Also after all the scandal might be time to shop around for a new ethics counsel?
Wired
Hagenah⁩ says that in cases of employers with “bring your own devices” policies, there’s a risk of someone leaving with huge volumes of company data saved on their laptops. That’s a particular risk if they’re disgruntled or leave on bad terms, he says.
Or how about when a company is sued and must turn over all related employee Recall data? Seems like much more information than texts and emails contain. Companies might want to run this feature by their general counsel before deploying.
doublepulsar.com
I think they are probably going to set fire to the entire Copilot brand due to how poorly this has been implemented and rolled out. It’s an act of self harm at Microsoft in the name of AI, and by proxy real customer harm.
AI has really obliterated the idea of getting consent from users. Big companies are just enabling data theft on a grand scale now. It's like people who build houses working for thieves rather than homeowners.
Medium
What is AI? In fact this is a marketing term. It’s a way to make certain kinds of automation sound sophisticated, powerful, or magical and as such it’s a way to dodge accountability by making the machines sound like autonomous thinking entities rather than tools that are created and used by people and companies.
Emily Bender has a great clarifying way of thinking about AI. I found her breakdown of the kinds of systems that are being called AI today very helpful.
washingtonmonthly.com
A president should be of decent character. A president should be entrusted to faithfully execute the law. The trial made clear that Trump is not of decent character and has no fealty to the law.
It’s so rare for someone in the media to state the obvious.
Slate
In Alito’s telling, he not only won’t recuse but in fact can’t recuse himself from the insurrection cases. Why? Because, he suggests, the nonbinding and entirely subjective ethics code to which the nine justices half-heartedly committed themselves this past fall requires that they remain on cases when they personally decide there’s no legitimate reason to recuse. Alito therefore asserts an “obligation” to hear the Trump-related cases.
This brazen corruption would be comical if it wasn't a Supreme Court that’s taking away fundamental human rights and enabling authoritarianism in America.
Tedium
Forget AI. Google just created a version of its search engine free of the extra junk it has added over the past decade-plus. You just need one URL parameter.
I still use Duck Duck Go as my primary search engine. (Which is technically a more-privacy-focused version of Microsoft Bing.) But Google is better for some types of queries—especially code examples—and this simplified search view is an improvement. A good shortcut to kick off a Google web-only search (seems redundant but sadly isn't) is udm14.com.
helmut-schmidt.de
By narrating their products and services as the apex of “human progress” and “scientific advancement,” these companies and their boosters are extending their reach and control into nearly all sectors of life, across nearly every region on earth. Providing the infrastructure for governments, corporations, media, and militaries. They are selling the derivatives of the toxic surveillance business model as the product of scientific innovation.
Interesting talk by Meredith Whittaker (President of the Signal Foundation) looking at big tech's surveillance business model and how we might imagine a different way.
Washington Post
Return-to-office mandates at some of the most powerful tech companies — Apple, Microsoft and SpaceX — were followed by a spike in departures among the most senior, tough-to-replace talent, according to a case study published last week by researchers at the University of Chicago and the University of Michigan.
Turns out!
New York Times
Since 2015, there has been this strong desire to make Trump more complicated than he is, as if his power and influence mean that he must have depth and substance. But he doesn’t. Trump is a glorified bully. And like all bullies, he wilts in the face of anyone willing to stand up and say no.
This is a rare good reminder in the NYT. The media needs this invincibility narrative but it doesn’t match reality.
The Atlantic
The fundamental flaw of Apple’s commercial is that it is a display of force that reminds us about this sleight of hand. We are not the powerful entity in this relationship. The creative potential we feel when we pick up one of their shiny devices is actually on loan. At the end of the day, it belongs to Apple, the destroyer.
Now that Apple is also an entertainment company they would prefer that everyone else stop creating things. What a bleak vision of the world these tech companies have. Matt makes this message explicit in his parody: Dream On.
tomshardware.com
Ben continues in his thread, "[The moderator crackdown is] just a reminder that anything you post on any of these platforms can and will be used for profit. It's just a matter of time until all your messages on Discord, Twitter etc. are scraped, fed into a model and sold back to you."
These user conflicts highlight the way site owners extract monetary value from the community in ways that aren’t shared back. Now some 3rd party will be making money from their time and energy. So disappointing to see companies being bad stewards of good impulses like the desire to pitch in and help share knowledge.
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