Books in General

Next Step in Disinformation: How a Dating App Becomes a Weapon

21 March 2019

Not exactly to do with books, but PG is reading dystopian science fiction at the moment (Winter World by A.G. Riddle) and enjoying it, so, inasmuch as the OP felt a bit dystopian, it piqued PG’s interest and he thought it might also be a writing prompt.

From Just Security:

While the world grapples with Russia’s use of Twitter and Facebook to spread disinformation, a former NATO secretary-general recently voiced concerns that Russia was using Ukraine’s upcoming elections as a laboratory for new forms of interference. A troubling case may signal that disruptive innovation is already underway in the post-Soviet space, whether by Russia or by others: ruthless operatives in Ukraine have weaponized the dating application Tinder for political purposes.

The new case involves character assassination by means of fake digital avatars. This inexpensive and efficient disinformation strategy not only destroys reputations, but also threatens to cause social and political disruption on a national scale.

. . . .

On Nov. 7, 2018, a Facebook account belonging to Ukrainian university student Natalia Bureiko published a post accusing a top police official of sexual harassment. Her post included screenshots of a purported Tinder conversation with Officer Oleksandr Varchenko. In the screen shots, “Varchenko” threatens Bureiko when she turns down his demand for a sexual relationship.

Bureiko’s Facebook post claimed that Varchenko mailed her flowers with a box of raw chicken legs, and that he also had harassed her family and friends. In addition to posting the information on Facebook, Bureiko filed a formal complaint with the Prosecutor’s Office (the Ukrainian equivalent of a district attorney).

Her post became an overnight media sensation. It racked up several thousand comments and shares in just a few days. Almost all of the comments expressed outrage, not just at Varchenko, but at the police and government as a whole.

The only problem: The Tinder account and conversations were fake.

Varchenko denied the allegations, writing on Facebook that he had never corresponded with Bureiko and that “this information attack is related to the fact that my wife, Olha Varchenko, is the first Deputy Director of the State Bureau of Investigations, and for many it was a bone in the throat.”

Two days later, Bureiko posted a retraction on Facebook and then disappeared from the public eye for three weeks. When she resurfaced in an interview with, Bureiko claimed that someone she knew had offered to pay her roughly 50 U.S. dollars in exchange for access to her Facebook account. That same individual, Bureiko said, forced her to file the complaint at the prosecutor’s office, saying that would be the only way she could get her normal life back. Bureiko never named the person who allegedly did this. In this bombshell interview, Bureiko expressed regret at being used to facilitate a fake news campaign.

Shortly thereafter, Bureiko turned herself in to the Ukrainian police, reported the scheme to the police, and started living in an undisclosed location under the protection of Ukrainian law enforcement.

On Dec. 10, 2018, the Chief Military Prosecutor in the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine said he had identified 11 people involved in recent information attacks, including the Tinder scandal. The two suspects most closely tied to the Tinder attack are the infamous Ukrainian “political technologist” Volodymyr Petrov, and his friend, a blogger and former advisor to the minister of information policy, Oleksandr Baraboshko.

. . . .

Tinder may be a testing ground for developing the technology that combines “kompromat” (the Russian term for compromising information) and digital platforms. The Tinder attack clearly follows the pattern of Russian kompromat, a sabotage technique favored by the KGB and its successor agency, the FSB.

. . . .

Kompromat has never been easier or cheaper to manufacture. Creating a fake Tinder conversation does not require sophisticated technological capabilities. Anyone can do it. It is also cheap.

“In the 1990s, an individual seeking to discredit a rival could place a compromising news article in the most popular Russian daily newspaper, paying between $8,000 and $30,000 for it,” according to University of Washington Associate Professor Katy Pearce. “A television story to disgrace someone could cost between $20,000 and $100,000.”

Creating a dating app account, however, is free. So is posting on social media. Anyone can invent kompromat and then deploy it to the world.

The media environment in Ukraine was ripe for promoting the fake Tinder exchange via Facebook. In 2017, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko banned the country’s two most popular Russian social networks, Vkontakte (VK) and Odnoklassniki. Since that time, Facebook’s Ukrainian audience has grown dramatically, by about 3 million in the past year alone. Nowadays, Facebook is the predominant social media platform in the country and therefore a powerful tool for shaping public opinion.

. . . .

First, this type of digital campaign creates fake digital personalities, avatars that live forever online. Once disinformation is released, it persists on the internet. Even today, if one enters the Cyrillic spelling of Oleksandr Varchenko’s name into a search engine, his name appears amid a cloud of words like “harassment,” “scandal,” and “Tinder.” Controversial headlines are followed by images of the “Varchenko” Tinder account’s conversation with “Natalia Bureiko” and the photo of a gift-wrapped box of chicken legs. Oleksandr Varchenko’s public image is forever tarnished by a digital avatar that was created and managed by someone else.

. . . .

Third, and most sinister, the Varchenko-Bureiko Tinder scandal could be the beginning of a new phase of disinformation emanating from the former Soviet Union.

The social media environment makes it easy for people to represent themselves online, but also makes it easy for people to fraudulently misrepresent others in the digital world. As digital avatars proliferate across platforms, verifying account ownership without compromising personal privacy becomes a challenge. This case demonstrates the frightening ease of using dating apps and social media to create social disruption and political turmoil.

Link to the rest at Just Security

In the old days of the Cold War between the Soviets and their Eastern European satellites and the West, the conflict provided lots of fodder for riveting books – think Tom Clancy and John le Carré – but lately, a much-shrunken Russia, with an economy based on selling oil to the West seems more like a Middle-Eastern fiefdom than an existential threat to a great many readers.

But, social media is free and credulous journalists are never in short supply, so perhaps some sort of online Cold War can be fashioned for the benefit of those who miss the old days.

James Bond as a suave computer engineering genius will take some serious creative work (“A Kombucha. Shaken, not stirred.”), but PG suspects the Ian Fleming estate might be interested in a discussion.

The Psychiatrist Who Believed People Could Tell the Future

18 March 2019

From The New Yorker, perhaps a writing prompt:

For many years, Kathleen Lorna Middleton lived at 69 Carlton Terrace, in the North London suburb of Edmonton. The house, which faced one of the main roads leading out of the city, had a small plaque to the left of the front door: “Miss Lorna Middleton, Teacher of Pianoforte and Ballet.” Middleton was born in Brockton, Massachusetts, in 1914. She was a talented dancer as a child and had friends who went to Hollywood, but, during the Depression, Middleton’s parents, who were English, lost everything and moved back to London. Middleton, who had small hands, buck teeth, and a pronounced New England accent, opened a school for dance and music in the front room of No. 69 and called her students the Merrie Carltons.

Middleton played the piano, swivelling on her stool, while six girls at a time practiced port de bras using the bookcases for balance. The next class waited on the stairs. The house was crowded with dark furniture and programs from Middleton’s childhood performances with the dates erased. “There was always something—not exactly exotic, but she was totally different,” Christine Williams, who started taking classes with Middleton when she was four, told me recently. “Whatever she did, she posed. She never just stood.”

. . . .

“I cannot say what I really felt or indeed what I feel now,” Middleton wrote. She experienced premonitions, in one form or another, throughout her life. A headache would precede an earthquake. Names and numbers would appear to her. “I am drawn to these events by what appears to be a blaze of light,” she wrote. “An electric light bulb.” Middleton never worked as a psychic or seemed unduly bothered by her sensations. Williams took lessons with Middleton into adulthood, and the piano teacher would bring out sketches of recent visions and occasionally complain about all the information reaching her. “She would say sometimes, ‘I just turn it off. I am too busy. I am too busy,’ ” Williams recalled. “And she would wave her hand.”

At around 4 a.m. on October 21, 1966, when Middleton was fifty-two, she had a powerful feeling of foreboding. “I awoke choking and gasping and with the sense of the walls caving in,” she wrote soon afterward. She told Alexander Bacciarelli, her lodger, about the ominous feeling when he came home from a night shift. At 8 a.m., Middleton accepted a cup of tea from Bacciarelli, although she didn’t usually drink tea in the morning.

A little more than an hour later, a group of laborers, who were working on an enormous heap of coal waste in South Wales, also paused to make a cup of tea. The pile stood on a steep hillside, and had shifted because of weeks of heavy rain. As the water boiled over a small fire, the waste began to move. Tall black waves crawled up the slope before a hundred and fifty thousand tons of slurry rushed into the valley below, overwhelming Pantglas Junior School, in the village of Aberfan. Children and staff heard what sounded like a jet plane, and then were buried.

A hundred and forty-four people—including a hundred and sixteen children—were killed in Aberfan. Eighteen houses were destroyed. In places, the slurry lay thirty feet deep. Within hours, the village, an isolated place off the road to Merthyr Tydfil, was clogged with press trucks, ambulances, and earthmoving machinery. Miners, volunteers, and sightseers descended on Aberfan. Phone lines were jammed with offers of help. When a call went out for rubber gloves, six thousand pairs were sent. The Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, arrived at nightfall, as children’s bodies were being laid out for identification by their parents. The Duke of Edinburgh came the next morning. “There was a greyness everywhere,” the Merthyr Express reported. “Faces from the tiredness and anguish, houses and roads from the oozing slurry of the tips.”

. . . .

John Barker was among those who reached Aberfan that day. Large and somewhat brusque, Barker was a forty-two-year-old psychiatrist with a keen interest in esoteric mental conditions. “A lot of his thinking was a bit futuristic,” Harry Sheehan, a former nurse at Shelton Hospital, near Shrewsbury, where Barker worked, told me. At the time, Barker was researching a book about what he called psychic death—what happens when people come to believe that they are about to die. In the early reports from Aberfan, he had heard that a boy had escaped from the school unharmed but had died of fright. When Barker arrived at the scene, victims were still being dug out. “The experience sickened me,” he wrote. The devastation reminded him of the Blitz, in London, where he had grown up. “Parents who had lost their children were standing in the street, looking stunned and hopeless and many were still weeping.”

In the hours that he spent in Aberfan, Barker was struck by “several strange and pathetic incidents” connected with the coal slip. Bereaved families spoke of dreams and portents. On the eve of the disaster, an eight-year-old boy named Paul Davies had drawn massed figures digging in the hillside under the words “the end.” Davies died in the school. Barker heard the story of Eryl Mai Jones, a ten-year-old girl, “not given to imagination,” who had told her mother two weeks before the collapse that she was not afraid to die. Then, according to an account written by Glannant Jones, a local minister, signed by Eryl Mai’s parents and later published by Barker:

The day before the disaster she said to her mother, “Mummy, let me tell you about my dream last night.” Her mother answered gently, “Darling, I’ve no time. Tell me again later.” The child replied, “No Mummy, you must listen. I dreamt I went to school and there was no school there. Something black had come down all over it!”

Barker was a member of Britain’s Society for Psychical Research, which was founded in 1882 to investigate the paranormal. In a paper for the S.P.R.’s journal, he wrote that, even if people had experienced a plausible prophecy of what happened in Aberfan, there had been no way to report a warning, let alone for it to be believed: “Firstly because their premonitions would probably have been insufficiently clear, and secondly because no means existed for them to communicate them to the proper authorities.”

Given the singular nature of the disaster, Barker decided to collect premonitions of Aberfan from across the country. He asked Peter Fairley, the science correspondent of London’s Evening Standard, to publicize the experiment.

. . . .

On October 28th, a week after the disaster, Fairley carried Barker’s appeal in his “World of Science” column. “Did anyone have a genuine premonition before the coal tip fell on Aberfan? That is what a senior British psychiatrist would like to know,” Fairley wrote. The Evening Standard had a circulation of almost six hundred thousand; Middleton would read it in bed in the afternoon. She mailed an account of her premonition on November 1st.

. . . .

Barker received seventy-six replies to his Aberfan appeal. Two nights before the disaster, a sixty-three-year-old man from Bacup, in Lancashire, had dreamed that he was trying to buy a book. He faced a large machine with buttons, which he thought might be a computer. White letters spelled “aberfan” on the screen, a word he had not heard before. In Plymouth, the evening before the coal slide, a woman had a vision at a Spiritualist meeting. She told six witnesses that she saw a schoolhouse, a Welsh miner, and “an avalanche of coal hurtling down a mountainside” toward a boy with long bangs. Within minutes of the disaster, a thirty-year-old film technician from Middlesex jumped up from her chair complaining of an earthy, decaying smell, which she recognized as that of death.

Barker was particularly drawn to a group of seven correspondents, including Kathleen Middleton, whose premonitions were accompanied by physical as well as mental symptoms. In the manner of Enoch’s uncommon syndromes, Barker posited the existence of a “pre-disaster syndrome” experienced by a small subset of the population. These “human seismographs” have bodily sensations ahead of important or emotional events, not unlike twins who say that they feel each other’s pain even when they are hundreds of miles apart.

In the weeks after the Aberfan disaster, Barker replied to sixty “percipients,” as he called them, and travelled to meet several. The material he gathered convinced him that precognition was not unusual—he speculated that it might be as common as left-handedness—and he wondered how to broaden the experiment.

. . . .

In the weeks that followed, Fairley and Barker persuaded Charles Wintour, the editor of the Evening Standard, to open a premonitions bureau. For a year, readers would be invited to send in their dreams and forebodings, which would be compared with actual events. Fairley had a date stamp made. The experiment began on January 4, 1967. Fairley devised an eleven-point scoring system for the predictions: five points for unusualness, five points for accuracy, and one point for timing.

. . . .

The bureau got its first major hit in the spring of 1967. Alan Hencher, one of the Aberfan seers, telephoned Barker to predict a plane crash “over mountains.” “There are one hundred and twenty-three people, possibly one hundred and twenty-four,” he told Barker, who made notes during the call, which was at 6 a.m. on March 21st.

Thirty days later, a turboprop Britannia passenger aircraft, carrying a hundred and thirty people, attempted to land in Nicosia, Cyprus, during bad weather. The plane, which was on its way from Bangkok to Basel, made a low circuit of the airport, its lights visible through the clouds, before crashing into a hill, breaking into pieces, and catching fire. “124 die in airliner,” the Evening Standard reported on its front page. (Two more people later died.)

. . . .

Middleton had been worried about Senator Robert Kennedy for months. She had sent her first warning on March 11th. Four days later, she wrote to Barker again: “The word assassination continues. I cannot disconnect it from Robert Kennedy.” In early June, Middleton became frantic. She called the Premonitions Bureau three times on June 4th; Kennedy was killed shortly after midnight.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Can a Facebook Post Make Your Insurance Cost More?

18 March 2019

Not exactly about books, but an interesting point about unintended consequences of social media.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Did you document your hair-raising rock-climbing trip on Instagram? Post happy-hour photos on Facebook ? Or chime in on Twitter about riding a motorcycle with no helmet? One day, such sharing could push up your life insurance premiums.

In January, New York became the first state to provide guidance for how life insurers may use algorithms to comb through social media posts—as well as data such as credit scores and home-ownership records—to size up an applicant’s risk. The guidance comes amid expectations that within years, social media may be among the data reviewed before issuing life insurance as well as policies for cars and property.

. . . .

“We’re going through a period now where most life insurers are exploring using all types of data, not just data they get directly from the customer proactively, but other external sources of data—social media being a big one,” said Ari Libarikian, a senior partner at McKinsey & Co. in New York.

He anticipates that some day, underwriters will assess potential customers with automated reports based in part on their social media use. “It’s here to some degree and it’s coming in the next couple of years,” Mr. Libarikian said.

. . . .

What should I avoid posting on social media?

Given how digital histories can linger, people should go easy on photos of risky behavior such as smoking and instead play up boasts about healthy activities, like recent cycling trips or marathons, said Mike Vogt. He is executive director of data and analytics for SPR, a firm whose services include using artificial intelligence and social media accounts to help insurers process claims.

“Paragliding, ice-climbing, riding a motorcycle while drinking a beer: They are a little over the top, but honestly, I’ve been surprised at what people post,” he said. “That history never goes away, even if you remove the post a few hours later.”

. . . .

How are insurers using social-media data right now?

Some insurers are using social media in handling claims. Insurers can check explanations of auto claims against Facebook testimonials about an accident. And they could challenge disability claims if posted photos from a ski trip, for example, contradict an impairment or illness.

What is holding back the use of social media in underwriting?
The technology to study individuals’ social media accounts to make underwriting decisions is underdeveloped but likely inevitable, consultants and data scientists say. “We know that underwriting is the next big thing” to mine online postings, SPR’s Mr. Vogt said.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

As PG has mentioned before, he is extraordinarily thankful that social media didn’t exist during his college years. Suffice to say, he has changed quite a bit since then.

Golden Age of the Grift

16 March 2019

From The Times Literary Supplement:

Just as one would expect a profile of a skilled illusionist to open with a colourful retelling of his most famous sleight of hand, the most natural way to begin a multi-book review about con artists would be with the tale of a particularly egregious swindle. It would start by presenting a situation exactly as the con artist would want his or her audience to view it, that is, at face value. The exotic prince who desperately needed help to secure his vast fortune. The successful doctor who held the promise of a fairy-tale relationship. The financial mastermind with a foolproof moneymaking opportunity.

That, of course, would constitute the all- important setup, a fundamental component of the con proper. Then would come the equally important reveal. The so-called prince was in fact the itinerant oddball son of Midwest factory workers. The doctor was a college drop-out with a history of domestic violence. The financial mastermind was perched atop a precarious multimillion-dollar pyramid scheme. Justice would not always feature in the coda, but various manifestations of shock, anger and suffering would be all but guaranteed.

Clearly, the con – the bunco, the gyp, the sting – lends itself to anecdote. It’s no accident that Hustlers and Con Men (1976), Jay Robert Nash’s thick compendium of 200 years’ worth of cheats and hucksters of all kinds, used that pithy narrative form as its sole vehicle. But a more fruitful jumping-off point might be to peer behind the anecdote and try to locate the source of its appeal, a kind of “Cons and Their Relation to the Unconscious” . What exactly is it that we find so compelling about con artists, even if their hustles are variations on a timeworn theme and their success depends entirely on things ending badly for someone? Maybe it’s that the tales of their exploits rarely fail to provide us with many of the classic elements of a riveting story: mystery, suspense, oversized personalities, moral (and indeed mortal) conflict, adventure, romance. The brazen flouting of rules and convention, often facilitated by spring-loaded wit and a gilded tongue, evokes a powerful mixture of admiration and resentment.

. . . .

The term “confidence man” appears to have been coined in 1849 during the trial of one William Thompson in New York. A debonair thief, Thompson had a knack for ingratiating himself with complete strangers on the street and then asking, “Have you confidence in me to trust me with your watch until tomorrow?” Many did, which cost them their expensive timepieces. The much-publicized trial and the odd crime at its heart piqued the interest of Herman Melville, who reworked it eight years later for his under-appreciated high-concept final novel, The Confidence-Man. After boarding a Mississippi steamboat on April Fool’s Day, its Mephistophelean titular character adopts a succession of guises with evocative backstories and surnames (Goodman, Truman, Noble) with the aim of getting one over on fellow passengers. Spurred by self-interest and reflective of society at large, the dupes place unquestioning trust in tokens such as attire and profession, making them as complicit in the con as the perpetrator. In The Adman’s Dilemma (reviewed in the TLS, January 25), which used literary and cultural waypoints to chart the evolution of the common snake-oil salesman into the modern man of advertising, Paul Rutherford bleakly described Melville’s novel as “a study in deception and even a self-deception so complete that there was no possibility of redemption”.

Link to the rest at The Times Literary Supplement

The Tip, the Yale Coach and the Wire: How the College Admissions Scam Unraveled

14 March 2019

Nothing to do with books, but while PG was light blogging, he was visiting family and following this story when offspring were otherwise engaged.

Unfortunately for the academic institutions involved, these allegations are in line with a great many rumors and suppositions about how the college admissions process really works for those with the money to game the system.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Federal authorities were pursuing a securities fraud case last spring when a person involved, a financial executive hoping for leniency, said he had information of great interest on another matter, according to people familiar with the investigation.

The executive told investigators that the head women’s soccer coach at Yale University had sought a bribe in return for getting his daughter admitted to the Ivy League school, a person familiar with the investigation said.

Authorities zeroed on the coach who began cooperating in what federal investigators said was the biggest college-admissions fraud ever prosecuted.

From 2011 to 2018, prosecutors say, parents paid a total of $25 million to William Singer, a college-admissions consultant, to bribe coaches and administrators to designate their children as top recruits in such sports as football, water polo, soccer, track and volleyball at universities including the University of Southern California, Georgetown and Wake Forest. Some parents also allegedly paid Mr. Singer as much as $75,000 for test-cheating services.

Authorities have charged 33 parents who allegedly paid for illegal services to get their children into colleges; three people who were allegedly paid to fraudulently raise scores on SAT and ACT college-entrance exams, as well as nine college coaches and five others.

. . . .

A day after charges were unveiled, the new details revealed more about the origins and breadth of an investigation that snared families at the highest economic echelons, accused of pushing their way ahead of other college applicants with lies, bribes and cheating.

The case immediately became a national conversation, touching on class, merit and a hint of comeuppance. Most of the accused parents didn’t reveal to the children the lengths they would go to land a seat at a big-name university.

. . . .

Some of the most brazen deceptions weren’t easy to hide. A school counselor, for instance, wanted to know why one student was being recruited by a college water polo team when their high school didn’t even offer the sport.

Prosecutors said the plot attracted parents from affluent communities in California: Del Mar, Newport Beach, Beverly Hills, San Francisco, Atherton, Mill Valley and Palo Alto; and in the east, Greenwich, Conn., and New York City. The families spanned Silicon Valley to Hollywood to Wall Street.

“What we do is help the wealthiest families in the U.S. get their kids into school.” Mr. Singer told parent Gordon Caplan last June in a recorded call transcribed in a government affidavit released in Boston this week. “They want guarantees. They want this thing done.”

The response from Mr. Caplan, co-chairman of New York law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher, echoed other calls with parents, according to the affidavit transcripts: “To be honest, it feels a little weird. But…What do I need to do?”

. . . .

The initial tip led investigators to Rudy Meredith, the head coach of women’s soccer at Yale. He had worked with Mr. Singer in January 2018 to get the daughter of a California family into Yale by pretending she was a soccer player, according to prosecutors. The family paid Mr. Singer $1.2 million, according to the affidavit; Mr. Meredith’s share was $400,000.

. . . .

In April, Mr. Meredith met with the tipster parent, who was wearing a wire, at a hotel room in Boston, the person familiar with the matter said. During that meeting, Mr. Meredith offered a place at Yale for the parent’s daughter in exchange for $450,000, according to the person and court documents.

. . . .

Mr. Singer allegedly offered two services: Fraudulently boost children’s entrance-exam scores, or pay to have them falsely identified as a recruited athlete, a more expensive but guaranteed path.

Defendants recorded on calls include actress Felicity Huffman, former Pacific Investment Management Co. CEO Douglas Hodge, vintner Agustin Huneeus Jr. and private-equity investor John Wilson.

. . . .

Mr. Singer had long assured worried clients that hundreds of other families had taken advantage of his clandestine services. Yet, as more families engaged Mr. Singer’s Edge College & Career Network, LLC, the secret seemed harder and harder to keep.

In late 2017, a guidance counselor at the Buckley School in Sherman Oaks, a suburb of Los Angeles, wanted to know why USC was recruiting Matteo Sloane as a water polo player. The high school didn’t even have a team.

. . . .

The boy’s father, Devin Sloane, founder and chief executive of aquaTECTURE, a Los Angeles-based company that invests in water-treatment systems, had hired Mr. Singer to bribe a USC official to identify Matteo as an athletic recruit, the affidavit said.

One of the campus officials accused of working with Mr. Singer, Donna Heinel, then the senior associate athletic director at USC, sent an email to the university’s admissions director to explain the discrepancy, according to the affidavit. “He plays at LA Water Polo Club during the year and travels international during the summer with the youth junior team in Italy,” she wrote on April 11. “I don’t know if the people at [his high school] are unaware.”

She added, “He is small but he has a long torso but short strong legs plus he is fast which helps him win the draws to start play after goals are scored.”

. . . .

Thomas Kimmel, the son of defendant Elisabeth Kimmel, expressed confusion when he was asked about being a track athlete. Mr. Kimmel allegedly didn’t know it, according to the affidavit, but he had been admitted to USC last year after his mother, who owns a media company, used Mr. Singer to bribe Ms. Heinel. Thomas, according to his paperwork, was a pole vaulter.

Mr. Singer and his associates had crafted a profile of the boy as an elite athlete that included a photo of an actual vaulter. The boy’s high school, the Bishop’s School in La Jolla, Calif., had no record of his track-and-field feats, prosecutors said.

. . . .

In a conversation recorded by authorities, Mr. McGlashan was quoted a fee of $250,000 by Mr. Singer, who started his company, Edge College & Career Network.

“I would do that in a heartbeat,” said Mr. McGlashan, of Mill Valley, Calif., the managing partner of private-equity firm TPG Growth. He had already paid Mr. Singer $50,000 for an expert to surreptitiously correct his son’s college-entrance exam, according to government allegations. He would pay even more to have his son photoshopped into a star kicker for the USC football team.

Late last summer, Mr. McGlashan sent Mr. Singer sports photos of his son for an admissions package, intended to cast the teen as a recruit to the football team.The boy’s school, Marin Academy in Northern California, had no football team. But, Mr. McGlashan said, “He does have really strong legs…Pretty funny. The way the world works these days is unbelievable.”

. . . .

Mr. Huneeus allegedly paid Mr. Singer $50,000 to have someone sit with his daughter and correct answers while she took the SAT at a Los Angeles-area test center in March.

. . . .

Ms. Huffman, the actress, had allegedly paid $15,000 for Mr. Singer’s services to help her older daughter score well on a college entrance exam and was in talks with him for help with her second daughter. In a call recorded in December, her husband—actor William H. Macy, who hasn’t been charged—said the girl was interested in Georgetown, among other colleges.

In February while making arrangements for Ms. Huffman’s daughter to take the test in March, Mr. Singer said for the girl to get into Georgetown, she would have to score in the 1400-plus range.

Ms. Huffman told Mr. Singer that her daughter had scored around a 1200 in a practice SAT test with a tutor.

“I just didn’t know if it’d be odd for [the tutor] if we go, ‘Oh, she did this in— in March 9th, but she did so much better in May,’” Ms. Huffman said.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Another Light Blogging Day

13 March 2019

PG and Mrs. PG are doing a  tad more traveling today, so blogging will be a bit light.

Firefox Send Is an Easy Way to Share Large Files Securely

13 March 2019

From Wired:

You’ve got no shortage of ways to send encrypted messages, and at least as many cloud services for sending large files. But the Venn diagram for the two remains surprisingly, inconveniently small. That’s the beauty of Mozilla’s Firefox Send, a free, intuitive, web-based service that lets you share large encrypted files, no strings attached.

Send began in 2017 as an experiment, part of Firefox’s since-discontinued Test Pilot program. Since then, it has languished in beta, gaining a few features along the way, but mostly in the shadows. Tuesday marks its public launch.

What sets Send apart is its ease of use. It works in any browser; just go to Upload or drag and drop files, and Send will generate a link that you can set to expire after a certain number of downloads—up to 100—or a certain amount of time, ranging from five minutes to seven days. You can send up to 1 gigabyte, or up to 2.5GB if you sign in with a Firefox account. For comparison sake, SMS generally maxes out at 600 kilobytes. The biggest Gmail attachment you can send is 25 megabytes. Firefox Send offers orders of magnitude more room, enough to send a high-definition episode of Game of Thrones.

There are already ways to share large files, of course, whether it’s with a Google Drive link or through a service like Hightail. But doing so securely—with end-to-end encryption, without stashing files in the cloud—is another story.

. . . .

“There’s something weird about the idea of keeping all this [personal] stuff in a persistent cloud storage solution to me. I just don’t really want to have to remember to clean up my tracks. Even if I delete a file from some cloud storage somewhere, I don’t even know if it’s actually gone for good, or just gone from the user interface.”

Because Firefox Send is end-to-end encrypted, not even Mozilla can see the contents of what you’re sharing. You can also add a password to a given file, so that even if someone intercepts that URL—by compromising the recipient’s email, say—you can keep it secure.

As for the encryption itself, Firefox Send uses the Web Crypto API. “They generate a key and then encrypt the file, putting the key into the URL that you share with your friend,” says Matthew Green, a cryptographer at Johns Hopkins University. “It looks elegant and a nice way to do things.”

Link to the rest at Wired

PG immediately thought of drafts of cover designs going from the cover artist to the indie author for review. Also, pre-release review copies of an ebook.

PG has used Dropbox approximately forever, but it’s not terribly simple to understand and use for someone who doesn’t have a Dropbox account and isn’t terribly interested in signing up for a trial account. Ditto for Google Drive to transfer encrypted files.

PG also likes the automatic encryption that doesn’t require the recipient to install any decryption software programs.

It’s not that you can’t accomplish the same thing as Firefox Send using other programs, it’s that it’s encrypted file transport as a service, not as a software function.


12 March 2019

PG was using an unfamiliar computer to sign in to TPV yesterday.

The computer had been working fine, then PG entered what he thought was a perfectly normal password and the TPV security plugin decided he was an alien invader and locked him out for six hours.

PG thought he had fixed the problem but was then locked out for an additional six hours.

Before he was locked out for the remainder of 2019, he decided to stop for the day.

This morning, all was forgiven and PG was once again allowed to enter the hallowed halls of TPV.

Lest anyone think PG is overly concerned, OCD, paranoid, etc., TPV’s security plugin regularly reports hacking attempts from various third world countries and locks those folks out, so it does serve a purpose.

That doesn’t mean PG is free from OCD, paranoia, etc., however.

For some reason, an apt Latin phrase drifted into his mind, post hoc ergo propter hoc.

The meaning of the phrase did not drift into PG’s mind, however, so he looked it up:

Post hoc ergo propter hoc (Latin: “after this, therefore because of this”) is a logical fallacy that states “Since event Y followed event X, event Y must have been caused by event X.” It is often shortened simply to post hoc fallacy.

A logical fallacy of the questionable cause variety, it is subtly different from the fallacy cum hoc ergo propter hoc (“with this, therefore because of this”), in which two events occur simultaneously or the chronological ordering is insignificant or unknown.

Post hoc is a particularly tempting error because correlation appears to suggest causality. The fallacy lies in a conclusion based solely on the order of events, rather than taking into account other factors potentially responsible for the result that might rule out the connection.

A simple example is “the rooster crows immediately before sunrise; therefore the rooster causes the sun to rise.”

Perhaps PG needs a Latin password for TPV. Sounds logical.

Incidentally, the Latin term for locked out is clausus ab.

PG just heard a rooster crow, so he’ll sign off for now.

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