Curating the Internet: Science and technology digest for December 31, 2019 (End of the decade edition)

in rsslog •  25 days ago 

Colleges using students' own phones for on-campus tracking; A hacktivist responds to reports of student surveillance; An argument against octopus farming for ethical and environmental reasons; A new study counters claims from 2013 that alligators use sticks as tools to lore birds; and a Steem post with an embedded video demonstrating life at 50° below



Happy New Year to all readers!


May tomorrow bring the "Roaring 20s" to all of us and to the Steem blockchain


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  1. Colleges are turning students’ phones into surveillance machines, tracking the locations of hundreds of thousands - Colleges are increasingly turning to applications like SpotterEDU to gather information about the students. Using this system, professors can give extra credit points for attendance or identify students with attendance problems. Instead of using GPS, these apps often make use of wifi and bluetooth sensors to gather their data, so students can't escape notice by turning off location services. One company says that its service gathers as many as 6,000 data points per student per day. Critics say that this kind of constant supervision interferes with the students' growth towards becoming an independent adult, and it renders them docile to additional surveillance after graduation, and even "cradle to grave profiling". Critics also worry that the surveillance could be targeted towards minorities or other disadvantaged groups. Administrators feel justified, however, because it helps them protect their scholarship investments, their reputations, and their overall statistics. SpotterEDU's Rick Carter launched the app in order to help schools make sure that scholarship athletes maintain eligibility and points out that many schools are already paying "class checkers" to monitor athletes and help them stay eligible. Syracuse University professor, Jeff Rubin notes that the use of SpotterEDU has boosted once sparse class attendance to the 90% level. As-of now, these sorts of programs have been adopted by 60 or more schools that account for hundreds of thousands of students. This comes at the same time that many colleges are also installing listening devices into the students' dorm rooms, as covered in Curating the Internet: Science and technology digest for December 28, 2019. h/t Schneier on Security

  2. How to (Hypothetically) Hack Your School's Surveillance System - In response to the above article, hacktivist Lance R. Vick has offered hypothetical assistance to students who want to dismantle such a system. The article points out that the SpotterEDU app has the capability to categorize groups of students, such as "students of color" or "out of state students". It also observes that incoming freshman, who are reluctant to make waves, are not clearly advised that participation is optional, and that students are instructed to set location services to "always on" before getting the chance to opt out of monitoring during the installation process. Another service, Degree Analytics makes use of campus wifi networks to track students' every move. Against this backdrop, and subject to legal restrictions, Vick suggests that - hypothetically - as a college student, potential responses might have included reverse engineering the app and sending a beacon to register 100% attendance. In some jurisdictions, where the technology is legal, he might also have used a device that could interfere with short-range signalling like bluetooth. Vick also suggests checking state, federal and local laws before implementing any countermeasures. h/t Schneier on Security

  3. The Case Against Octopus Farming - Human demand for octopus as food is growing, and domestication of aquatic species is one of the fastest growing areas of food production. At the same time, Octopuses have a number of traits that point to the sophistication of their nervous systems. These include playful behavior, the ability to blend in with their surroundings in seconds, and using cooperative signals from fish for hunting. Against this background, the authors argue that for ethical and ecological reasons, octopuses are not well-suited for farming. Ecologically, the authors argue that aquafarming is harmful to other species of fish, since it leads to water pollution and wild fish must be killed at scale in order to feed domesticated fish. Additionally, past attempts to farm octopus have been met with cannibalism, failure to reproduce, and other technical challenges. According to the authors, the amount of food needed to sustain an octopus is three times its own weight, which leads to concerns that growing octopuses at scale would put additional pressure on already strained fisheries. Ethically, the authors go on to argue that octopuses demonstrate behavioral and cognitive sophistication, which implies that they would suffer from conditions like boredom and frustration, and there has been little research into the species' welfare needs. Further, they argue that "factory farming is a key part of a highly industrialized food system that is both cruel to individual animals and environmentally unsustainable". The authors are Jennifer Jacquet, Becca Franks, Peter Godfrey Smith, and Walter Sánchez-Suárez. h/t RealClear Science and Nature Science Alert

  4. Alligators Don’t Play Pick-Up Sticks to Lure Lunch - In 2013, a paper suggested that alligators living near birds would intentionally balance sticks on their snouts as a lore to bait the birds into biting distance. A new study, however, observed that the technique has never actually been observed leading to a successful predation. It also looked at "stick balancing behavior" among alligators that lived near birds and those that didn't, and they found no apparent difference. It now seems that alligators do like to balance sticks on their snouts, but the behavior doesn't have anything to do with hunting or tool use.

  5. STEEM What does -50°C look like? - Not much to say. This is a video from Yakutsk, in Russia, that shows what it's like when it's minus 50° Celsius (-58° Fahrenheit) outside. It's hard to imagine being out and about town in conditions like that.

(A 10% beneficiary setting has been applied to this post for @rt-international.)



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