The Smoke Eater For Jan. 15, 2020

A debate date, the power of war, and a big thing on Grindr.

Good afternoon, this is The Smoke Eater for Wednesday, January 15, 2020, and I use apps.


Quick Hit

* Debating debates on debate night is a bad date * The U.S. wants to downshift its war machine * Iran has a new relationship status: "it's complicated" * Facebook's new rules * A boss lady on Youtube * Dudes send more than dickpics on Grindr and Tinder * Taking a page from Nords *

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A Math Problem

By now you've probably sucked up enough information about the 2020 Democratic debate last night, so I'm only going to mention it briefly. Sen. Elizabeth Warren seemed to have a good night by most accounts, her first in several debates. The he-said-she-said spat with Sen. Bernie Sanders resulted in an elementary math problem, and I'm a little sad Andrew Yang wasn't there to make a joke out of it. Other than questioning Joe Biden's motive for repeatedly cutting himself off, I have to wonder if anyone on that stage remembers Robert's Rules of Order?

Quick Point: While social media was setting itself on fire about Warren's rejection of Sanders towards the end of the debate, debate photos from the AP and Getty show both Warren and Sanders seem to have snubbed one another during the course of evening.

War, Huh? Good God!

Senate Democrats say they've got support to force a vote on a resolution to limit Donald Trump's war powers after Republican senators Susan Collins and Todd Young decided to hop off the fence and join fellow Republicans Rand Paul and Mike Lee. A similar measure already passed in House, but Roll Call says the timing of the vote remains uncertain since everyone is a little busy impeaching Trump. Since this is a resolution on war powers, passage would only require 51 votes. But don't get your hopes up, writes Steve Vladeck in The Washington Post, courts have a history letting Executive Branch blow up whomever and whatever (for freedom).

New video footage obtained by the New York Times shows two ballistic missiles striking Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 in Iran on Jan 8. The first strike, according to The Times, disabled the IFF system. One of the people who filmed the the downing of has been arrested, along with up to 30 others.

In an attempt to rationalize the growing political unrest since the downing of Flight 752, Iran's foreign minister Javad Zariff admitted the country "lied," and blamed the "crisis" on the U.S. An op-ed in the fabulously pink and pay-walled Financial Times declares Iran lost the "battle for public opinion" with the downing of the Flight 752, and draws tortured allusion to the 1979 revolution. CNN's Eliza Mackintosh asks a similar question in wondering if this is a "Chernobyl moment" that signals "the beginning of the end for the current regime." However, Erin Cunnigham and Reza Akbari caution that these rushed analyses are rather ignorant, with Akbari writing, "Iranians are more than capable of condemning foreign threats against their sovereignty as well as the regime’s domestic repression."

Just to stir the pot, Zariff tells Reuters that the JCPOA "is not dead," but Iranian President Hassan Rouhani threatened that European soldiers stationed in the Middle East "could be in danger" if Britain, France and Germany launched a "dispute mechanism" to address Iran's violations the 2015 nuclear deal. "Today, the American soldier is in danger, tomorrow the European soldier could be in danger,” Rouhani said. ”We want you to leave this region but not with war. We want you to go wisely. It is to your own benefit."

In a potentially related story, another volley of Katyusha rockets were launched at an Iraqi military base housing U.S. forces north of Baghdad. In a tweet, coalition military spokesman Colonel Myles Caggins III said, "No Coalition troops were affected by this small attack at Taji base."

President For Life

During Russian President Vladimir Putin's state of the nation address, Putin said he wanted to give Russia's lower house of parliament the ability to choose Russia's prime minister, and reassign presidential responsibilities to the prime minister. Shortly thereafter, Russian Prime Minister Dimtry Medvedev offered his resignation, and the encouraged rest of the government to resign. Nerds who study this sort of thing speculate Putin is setting the table for his next gig.

Look At This Photograph

The eruption of the Tagaytay's Taal volcano in the Philippines' Batangas province has blanketed everything in toxic mud and ash, grinding life in the tropical paradise to a halt. With thousands evacuated, those who've stayed behind are left with a desolate and grey wasteland. During a televised emergency meeting, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said, "I strongly believe ... that Taal island will be declared a no man’s land." [Photo Essay]

Ctrl+Alt+Del Your Bullshit

ICYMI: Facebook updated a bunch of standards on hate speech immediately after Donald Trump was impeached back in December. The new rules to include more stringent protections for black people, Jewish people, Muslims, Mexicans, women, trans and non-binary people. In addition, Facebook quietly added to its list of bannable offenses: livestreaming and/or pictures of capital punishment; the harassing survivors of sexual abuse; Census fraud; animal cruelty; human exploitation; upskirts; "forced stripping;" and expanded its policies on "Violence and Incitement" and "Fraud and Deception" to include more forms of disinfo; tweaked rules surrounding "Memorialization" to include protections for suicide and murder victims. The new rules constitute a blanket ban, and show some of the unsettling holes being exploited by garbage monsters.

FACT CHECK: Anti-vaxers are spreading disinfo about Japanese vaccine laws in English and French. The posts claim Japanese children are the healthiest booger eaters as a result of Japan not having laws requiring their brats to get vaccinated. Japanese culture treats vaccinations as a civic duty, and has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Nikkie de Jager, a Yotuuber with a very popular channel on makeup tutorials, revealed she is trans to her over 12 million subscribers. De Jager says she was blackmailed by people who threatened to out her for money. Staring into the camera, the Dutch artist says, "I always wanted to live in a world where I saw myself as me, as Nikkie, as a woman, as a girl, as a boss lady." [Video]

A privacy study from the Norwegian Consumer Council (NCC) has found that a bunch of popular apps, including Grindr, OKCupid, Tinder, Clue, MyDays, and My Talking Tom 2 are quietly sharing user data with third-parties. In order to cover their asses, the apps ask users to read the privacy policy of the third-party with whom they share user data, like the Twitter-owned MoPub, which regularly sells/shares user data with even more parties. The study calls this "an impossible task for anyone," and the NCC argues data protections are not enabled by default, a key part of Europe's General Data Protection Regulation law. The study goes on to say the privacy policies are "incomprehensible" with "questionable legal basis." The New York Times notes this could also put the apps in uncertain legal territory with the GDPR, as well as California's new data privacy laws,  and put people in countries where same-sex acts/relationships are illegal in serious jeopardy. [Complaint]

One More Thing...

It's good Democratic presidential candidates at least acting like they're taking cyber security seriously. That I (and others) can write daily about such a critical component of modern life is proof that it's no longer just a niche realm for nerds. This is now a matter of domestic and international policy that's being mentioned at presidential debates (albeit in passing) and at the U.N. While only the big, sexy hacking stories seem to get discussed on the nightly news, it's better than letting anchors ask truly stupid questions and create memes.

With reports that Russia is already targeting specific 2020 candidates making headlines, I was not very enthused to see another leading candidate say they don't use apps, brag about having "more social media followers" than their opponents, and then call themselves "old fashioned" in the same breath. Just to be clear, I don't believe candidates dodging questions their campaign's cyber security is an acceptable response either. You don't need Diplo's Insta game, but you either understand and use multi-factor authentication, or you don't. 

More than one defense nerd has called the cyber realm a "battlespace" in recent years. In November 2019 the DNI issued a joint statement with DOJ, DOD, DHS, FBI, NSA, and CISA warning about malicious actors from Russia, China, Iran, and as random basement dwellers posing a threat to U.S. election security. In the most recent episode of the Talking Feds podcast, a panel of defense experts agreed that cyberspace is one of the most critical threat areas the U.S. faces in 2020. The panel even lays out unconventional methods a hostile actor could use to disrupt daily life, or an election. Simply screwing with traffic signals in urban areas, according to Juliette Kayyem, could easily depress voter turn out among young and minority voters.

However, it's not just breaches people need to be concerned with anymore. There are now apps capable of creating deepfakes while you sit on the toilet. Politicians are sending out (poorly) doctored images intended to rile up their constituents because they think it's funny. It's bad enough the aggressive state-sponsored disinformation campaigns the DHS warned about are already happening. The last thing we need is more shitposting for lulz, especially when those shitposters are public servants and/or elected officials.

Maybe we could take an example from the Nordic countries who've increased the scope of their media literacy programs to teach children, adults, and the elderly about identifying propaganda. According to Trump, they're not "shithole countries,"so they must be doing something right.

OK, now here's a warm and fuzzy critter video! IT'S SHANI!

She's a gerenuk calf, a type of east Africa antelope. In Swahili, her name means "wonder!" I'm smitten, y'all!

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