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one of the key things that set SIGNAL MESSENGER apart—that it collects almost no information about its users, appears to be changing.

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/pkyzek/signal-new-pin-feature-worries-cybersecurity-experts

Signal’s New PIN Feature Worries Cybersecurity Experts

The popular encrypted app is now going to store your contacts in the cloud. Experts are worried this compromises users’ privacy.

by Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai
July 10, 2020, 2:33pm

Ever since NSA leaker Edward Snowden said “use Signal, use Tor,” the end-to-end encrypted chat app has been a favorite of people—including Motherboard—who care about privacy and need a chat and calling app that is hard to spy on.

One of the reasons security experts recommended Signal is because the app’s developers collected—and thus retained—almost no information about its users. This means that, if subpoenaed by law enforcement, Signal would have essentially nothing to turn over. Signal demonstrated this in 2016, when it was subpoenaed by a court in Virginia. „We’ve designed the Signal service to minimize the data we retain about Signal users, so the only information we can produce in response to a request like this is the date and time a user registered with Signal and the last date of a user’s connectivity to the Signal service,“ Signal wrote at the time.

But a newly added feature that allows users to recover certain data, such as contacts, profile information, settings, and blocked users, has led some high-profile security experts to criticize the app’s developers and threaten to stop using it. Signal will store that data on servers the company owns, protected by a PIN that the app has initially been asking users to add, and then forced them to.

The purpose of using a PIN is, in the near future, to allow Signal users to be identified by a username, as opposed to their phone number, as Signal founder Moxie Marlinspike explained on Twitter (as we’ve written before, this is a laudable goal; tying Signal to a phone number has its own privacy and security implications).

”Make the networks dumb and the clients smart.”
But this also means that unlike in the past, Signal now retains certain user data, something that many cybersecurity and cryptography experts see as too dangerous.

Matthew Green, a cryptographer and computer science professor at Johns Hopkins University, said that this was “the wrong decision,” and that forcing users to create a PIN and use this feature would force him to stop using the app.

“The problem with that is that most people pick weak PIN codes. To harden this and make the system more secure, Signal has a system that uses Intel SGX enclaves on their server,”Green said in an email to Motherboard, referring to a technology made by Intel to encrypt and isolate certain data on a cloud server. “SGX seems like a good choice, but it really can’t stand up against a serious attacker. This means anyone with the right resources (at least as good as, say, Daniel Genkin’s group and U. Mich) could potentially compromise those servers and get most of this information.”

“I don’t care that much about my contact lists, honestly. But I also don’t like the idea that I’m going to be forced into uploading them to a server, when the whole reason I use Signal is because it’s designed not to do things like this. Also, I’m scared that in the future, Moxie will design a feature to upload message content, and that won’t be ‚opt in‘ either,“ Green said.

Have you ever tried to hack Signal or look for vulnerabilities in the app? We’d love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai securely on Signal at +1 917 257 1382, OTR chat at lorenzofb@jabber.ccc.de, or email lorenzofb@vice.com
The Grugq, a well-known cybersecurity expert, agreed that this approach isn’t secure, because SGX enclaves are “a sort of wet paper bag for clustering sensitive info.”

Technical issues aside, it’s the philosophy behind it that bothers people like Green and The Grugq. Before this new feature, Signal claimed—and had proved—to provide a communication app that was designed not to store almost any information about its users.

„Notably, things we don’t have stored include anything about a user’s contacts (such as the contacts themselves, a hash of the contacts, any other derivative contact information), anything about a user’s groups (such as how many groups a user is in, which groups a user is in, the membership lists of a user’s groups), or any records of who a user has been communicating with,“ Signal wrote in 2016.

That, according to critics, has now changed.

“They should have a dumb network that knows nothing because it can’t be compromised then,” The Grugq told Motherboard. “[Having contacts] is a lot. It isn’t messages, sure. But I don’t like it. I don’t want them to have anything. Make the networks dumb and the clients smart.”

Marlinspike defended the decision to enable PINs and give users a way to migrate to a new device and keep certain data, and will increase the security of users’ metadata, “new features Signal users have been asking for.”

“The purpose of PINs is to enable upcoming features like communicating without sharing your phone number. When that is released, your Signal contacts won’t be able to live in the address book on your phone anymore, since they may not have phone numbers associated with them,” Marlinspike told Motherboard. “For most users, this also increases the security of their metadata. Most people’s address book is syncing with Google or Apple, so this change will prevent Google and Apple from having access to your Signal contacts.”

Following Green’s and others critiques, Marlinspike said on Twitter, and then confirmed with us, that Signal will add the ability to disable PINs “for some advanced users.’ Marlinspike warned that doing that “would mean that every time you re-install Signal you will lose all your Signal contacts.”

In recent weeks, Signal has introduced more features that make it more user friendly to people who may not have extremely paranoid threat models. For example, it’s now possible to migrate all Signal data, including message history, from one phone to another, using a feature that does not rely on cloud servers and is also encrypted, according to Signal. This is a different feature than the one that relies on PINs, but both of these are likely aimed at people who may be reluctant to use Signal, and prefer other apps such as WhatsApp.

The changes Signal has made show how there can be a tension between messenger usability and feature set and security. It’s too early to say whether you should stop using the messenger. For most users‘ threat models, it’s still one of the best options. But one of the key things that set Signal apart—that it collects almost no information about its users, appears to be changing.

Jeff Bezos’s vision comes true, here’s how you’ll shop in 2020: The vast bulk of store-bought goods – food staples, paper products, cleaning supplies, and the like – you will order electronically. Some physical storefronts will survive, but they’ll have to offer at least one of two things: entertainment value or immediate convenience.

If Jeff Bezos’s vision comes true, here’s how you’ll shop in 2020:

The vast bulk of store-bought goods – food staples, paper products, cleaning supplies, and the like – you will order electronically. Some physical storefronts will survive, but they’ll have to offer at least one of two things: entertainment value or immediate convenience.

 

Source: https://www.wired.com/1999/03/bezos-3/

 

The Inner Bezos

Amazon.com’s founder figured out how to sell books on the Web, and now he wants to sell you everything else. Simple, right? So why is he so far ahead of the pack?

The counter clerks at Amelia Island’s Flash Foods convenience store never saw it coming. Around Christmas 1997, a rented white Chevrolet Suburban pulled into the parking lot and disgorged three members of a commando squad on a mission. The team was disguised in the tourist garb common to the Florida resort island, and the only hint that it might be a military operation was the way the squad members whispered code words like „Whiskey, Bravo, Tango“ into their Motorola walkie-talkies. While the driver sat in the car and timed the exercise, a second soldier stood guard at the door. Another quickly grabbed a spot in line for the cashier. The fourth rushed toward the dairy case in quest of the squad’s ultimate goal: a quart of milk.

Within two minutes, the purchase was completed and the car was roaring back onto the streets.

One of these odd customers bore the code name Ffej Sozeb. If the clerks had heard this nom de guerre, they still might not have figured out that they’d been hit by a pioneering Internet entrepreneur who one year later would be worth north of $9 billion. The slightly built, 5′ 8″, brown-eyed faux Navy SEAL with thinning hair was, in reality, Jeff Bezos, founder, chair, and CEO of Amazon.com. His comrades on this mission of breakfast necessity were members of his immediate family: father Mike, brother Mark. Behind the wheel: his mother Jackie.

That Jeff Bezos is almost innately programmed to turn something as mundane as a milk run into a fantasy game should serve him well during the next few years, as he attempts to drive Amazon.com beyond its phenomenal, if so far unprofitable, early success as a book, music, and video seller. The 35-year-old Bezos must make Amazon.com, to this point little more than a convenient place to shop for a limited range of goods, the kind of environment that lures men, women, and children in from vast distances, then seduces them into acts of acquisition. As Internet commerce matures from the exotic to the everyday, as it becomes less about exploiting a position on the frontiers of technology and more about mastering the art of sales and merchandising, the challenges Bezos faces have become exactly those that confronted the great retailers who invented the mass market for consumer goods in the United States a century ago.

To reach historical heights – to become as important to 21st-century culture as Richard W. Sears, Macy’s Isidor Straus, and John Wanamaker were to the culture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when they fundamentally changed not only the experience of shopping but also the essential nature of American life – Bezos will need to deliver on the second promise in the oft-repeated goal he sets for his staff: „to build a valuable and lasting company.“

„It’s a question,“ says Stanley Marcus, chair emeritus of Neiman Marcus, with the simplicity of an expert in long distance seduction, „of how you get the merchandise you’re infatuated with into the hands of the people you like.“

The goal is within reach. Bezos’s vision has always been about taking advantage of a new platform and new tools to change shopping itself. Long before he launched the company, he had dreams of making Amazon.com „broader than books and music“ – a point reinforced this past Christmas season by his move into gift sales and by his December move to offer Amazon.com customers goods from other retailers. Analysts who had projected $190 million in revenue for the company during the fourth-quarter holiday period were flabbergasted when Amazon.com registered sales of approximately $250 million, news that helped send the company’s stock as high as $350 per share by early January (shortly before a three-for-one stock split) – just shy of the $400 per share CIBC Oppenheimer foresees by 2002.

If Jeff Bezos’s vision comes true, here’s how you’ll shop in 2020:

The vast bulk of store-bought goods – food staples, paper products, cleaning supplies, and the like – you will order electronically. Some physical storefronts will survive, but they’ll have to offer at least one of two things: entertainment value or immediate convenience.

Successful „shoptainers“ will be like the Gap, with its environment of music and youth culture, or Nordstrom, with its tinkling pianist and distinctive face-to-face service. They may be even more amplified, with personal service and showmanship turning every shopping trip into a Super Bowl-style destination event. „That experience is what you get when you go to movie theaters, and why you don’t always rent movies, right?“ Bezos notes.

As Internet commerce matures, Bezos faces the same challenges that confronted the great retailers who invented the mass market for consumer goods a century ago.

Convenience specialists will also have contemporary antecedents – the 7-Eleven chain, say, or Walgreen’s, where you can get a quart of milk or NyQuil geltabs at 10 p.m. – but these, too, will evolve: open 24/7, for example, so that you can take care of the last mile of delivery yourself at any time. The consultants at the Global Business Network even sketch out a scenario where, within a generation or two, vans carrying inventories of more popular necessities, such as toilet paper or diapers, may be constantly circling neighborhoods, ready to drop off an order within moments of receiving it.

The United States – whose culture has been defined by consumption since at least the 1840s, when the British consul in Boston was appalled to see servant girls „strongly infected with the national bad taste for being overdressed“ – will be utterly transformed, Bezos believes, by this bifurcation of shopping and consumer desire into shoptainment and just-in-time components. The urban downtowns, which just a few years ago planners and politicians gave up for dead, will continue to renew and thrive, thanks to the inherent entertainment value in the great retail districts like Times Square or Pine Street in Seattle. Yet within a generation’s time the kitschy and cluttered landscape of today’s suburbia will disappear, because the new retail environment won’t support „the sort of bad stores that people go to because they don’t have any alternative.“

„Strip malls,“ Bezos predicts, „are history.“

Bezos reserves an evangelical passion for the changes he expects in the most manipulative aspects of today’s consumer culture.

„What consumerism really is, at its worst,“ he adds, „is getting people to buy things that don’t actually improve their lives. The one thing that offends me the most is when I walk by a bank and see ads trying to convince people to take out second mortgages on their home so they can go on vacation. That’s approaching evil.“

When Bezos describes his primary goals for the Amazon.com interface, he becomes a whistle-stop campaigner for a new politics of consumerism. „We want to turn visitors into customers, and we want to make the experience as welcoming as possible,“ he says. He insists that the lures and aids Amazon.com provides for its online shoppers – the one-click ordering system that stores credit card and shipping information; the variety of helpful suggestions and information that seem configured to exploit a customer’s most impulsive tendencies – are far removed from the world’s entrenched consumerist come-ons.

The new merchant, he suggests, volubly and unstoppably, is a community builder, a facilitator, a networker. He cites Amazon.com’s willingness to post negative book reviews as an example of harnessing the antimanipulative truths the Internet allows consumers to root out. The Net’s famously decentralized, open flow of information, he goes on, inevitably deflates the most extravagant hype of traditional retailing. And that shifts the balance of power – which since the origins of department stores and mass merchandising has favored the merchant – back into the hands of consumers. Amazon.com’s scheme is, in effect, to form a strategic alliance with all that newly unleashed power.

„This doesn’t mean that you can’t build a valuable, lasting enterprise in the online environment,“ Bezos says, „but it does mean you better recognize the environment you’re in, and not try to build an airplane to fly underwater. Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!“ The laugh, which frequently interrupts conversation, comes out as a long, extended bray, startling the uninitiated. The laugh has become famous, too, yet it only underscores Bezos’s ardor. Almost since the beginning of Amazon.com’s remarkable rise, Bezos has been characterized as yet another fuzzy-cheeked geek who lucked into an IPO, an uninspired financial technician with a good but not very original idea about distributing goods over the Internet, who would soon be, in the ill-fated phrase of Forrester Research president George Colony, „Amazon.toast.“ It’s a characterization Bezos’s competitors have found costly. They may also have missed that, in focusing on the consumer in a way few Web entrepreneurs can match, he is actually trying to transform the world.

„Jeff always wanted to make a lot of money,“ says his high school girlfriend, Ursula „Uschi“ Werner. She herself was an overachiever – valedictorian of the Miami Palmetto Senior High School class a year ahead of Bezos, winner of a full scholarship to Duke University, and a Rhodes Scholar – but she remains awed by Bezos’s commitment. „It wasn’t about money itself. It was about what he was going to do with the money, about changing the future.“

Family is important. The Bezos family is extremely close; they actually enjoy spending the holidays together. Reflecting on the source of Jeff Bezos’s drive, his closest friends turn inevitably to the legion of family stories, all of which seem to revolve around the theme of hard work and equally hard play.

But within the well-known Bezos family story lies a remarkable story of collective strength.

Mike Bezos is not Jeff’s biological father. „I’ve never met him,“ Jeff says of the man who is. „But the reality, as far as I’m concerned, is that my Dad is my natural father. The only time I ever think about it, genuinely, is when a doctor asks me to fill out a form.“ While it’s easy enough to theorize that the circumstance of Bezos’s birth has had profound psychological repercussions, he responds to questions about it with complete equanimity – if some surprise; his family rarely discusses the matter and even close friends don’t know the truth. „It’s a fine truth to have out there,“ he says. „I’m not embarrassed by it.“

He recalls that his parents sat him down and told him when he was 10. Whatever their concerns about the possible consequences, they needn’t have worried. Jeff describes the moment as not nearly as important or memorable as learning, at around the same time, that he would need to wear glasses. „That made me cry,“ he says.

Mike Bezos (pronounced BAY-zoes) had arrived in the United States, alone, in 1962, at the age of 15. He came under the auspices of Operation Pedro Pan, an education/rescue program crafted by a south Florida Catholic priest that spirited thousands of teenagers out of Castro’s régime during the early ’60s. After learning English and graduating from high school in Delaware, where he lived in a Catholic mission with 15 other refugees, Mike Bezos moved to New Mexico to attend what was then the University of Albuquerque.

There, he met Jackie Gise, in a local bank where the two worked. In his freshman year of college – he was 18, she was 17 – they married.

Jeff was born soon after, in January 1964, and Mike Bezos legally adopted him.

With a young family – Jeff’s sister Christina and brother Mark are five and six years younger than him, respectively – Mike Bezos still managed to finish his education, then joined Exxon as a petroleum engineer. The family moved several times during Jeff’s childhood, from Albuquerque to Houston, then briefly to Pensacola, Florida.

Bezos remembers he always had the youngest parents around. But his friend Joshua Weinstein says that even during their high school years, when she was in her early 30s, Jackie Bezos commanded as much if not more authority and respect than any other mother. She says her values came from her own father, who offered another strong role model for Jeff.

Jeff spent summers working at his maternal grandfather’s ranch in Cotulla, Texas, fixing windmills, castrating cattle, laying pipes, and repairing pumps. Lawrence Preston „Pop“ Gise had held jobs that a young boy couldn’t help but find cool. Gise worked on space technology and missile defense systems at Darpa in the late 1950s; in 1964, Congress appointed him manager of the Atomic Energy Commission’s Albuquerque operations office, where he supervised 26,000 employees in the AEC’s western region, including the Sandia, Los Alamos, and Lawrence Livermore laboratories. He retired to his southwest Texas spread in 1968, and he doted on Jeff from the time his grandson was an infant. „Mr. Gise was a towering figure in Jeff’s life,“ says Weinstein.

His grandfather sparked and indulged Jeff’s fascination with educational games and toys, assisting him with the Heathkits and the other paraphernalia he constantly hauled home to the family garage. (Picture the scattered components of a robot; an open umbrella spine clad in aluminum foil for a solar cooking experiment; an ancient Hoover vacuum cleaner being transformed into a primitive hovercraft.)

Jackie Bezos’s challenge as a parent was to stay a step ahead of, or at least next to, her prodigy. „I think single-handedly we kept many Radio Shacks in business,“ she jokes. During his late grade school years, Jeff became fixated on a device called an Infinity Cube, which uses a set of motorized mirrors to allow one to stare into „infinity.“ But at $20 it was too expensive to buy, she told him. Jeff figured out that the pieces of the cube could be bought cheaply, so he did – and built it himself. „The way the world is, you know, someone could tell you to press the Button,“ he said at the time. „You have to be able to think … for yourself.“

The story of Bezos and the Infinity Cube is documented in Turning on Bright Minds: A Parent Looks at Gifted Education in Texas. Written by Julie Ray and published locally in the Houston area in 1977 – and, incidentally, not available via Amazon.com – the book follows 12-year-old Jeff (renamed Tim) through a typical day in the Vanguard program at Houston’s River Oaks Elementary School, a magnet school that was part of a voluntary integration effort in the city’s public school system. Jeff endured a 40-mile round-trip commute each day to attend. The author describes him as „friendly but serious,“ even „courtly,“ and possessed of „general intellectual excellence,“ though, according to teachers, „not particularly gifted in leadership.“

He used his brain to compensate. Jackie and Mike, concerned that Jeff wasn’t always comfortable with kids his own age, enrolled him in the high-pressure world of Texas youth football. „He barely made the weight limit, and I thought he was going to get creamed out there,“ Jackie recalls, laughing. Within two weeks, however, the coach had named him defensive captain, because Jeff was one of the few kids on the team who could remember all the plays – not only where he was supposed to be but also the assignments for the other 10 players on his squad.

He completed his personal immersion in the shared world of every American geek growing up in the ’70s and early ’80s by diving into the deep end of the sci-fi and fantasy pool. When the River Oaks school gained access to a mainframe computer in downtown Houston via a timeshare system, he and his friends spent hours on it playing a primitive Star Trek game, searching for cloaked Klingon ships in a three-by-three matrix.

By the time he reached high school in Dade County, Jeff had focused on space travel as his future. It wasn’t just that he wanted to be an astronaut, like thousands of other kids; as he told friends and acquaintances, he intended to be a space entrepreneur. „Oh, he had ideas about space promotion!“ says Bill McCreary, a Miami Palmetto science teacher. Some were drawn from real-life experiences in a high school space initiative he attended at NASA’s Huntsville, Alabama, center. But behind the young Bezos’s space-station plans was serious intent. „He said the future of mankind is not on this planet, because we might be struck by something, and we better have a spaceship out there,“ recalls Rudolf Werner, the father of Jeff’s high school girlfriend. Uschi Werner still jokes that Bezos’s real goal for Amazon.com is to amass enough of a personal fortune to build his own space station. Reminded of those concerns today, Bezos laughs but quickly turns serious. „I wouldn’t mind helping in some way,“ he says. „I do think we have all our eggs in one basket.“

Achieving his astronaut goals meant succeeding at school, and Bezos would show as a teenager that behind the easygoing façade and booming laugh was a relentless, even intimidating, work ethic, one that has become his hallmark at Amazon.com. „He was always a formidable presence,“ says Joshua Weinstein. When Bezos made clear his intention to become class valedictorian, for example, Weinstein says everyone else understood they were working for second place. Besides securing the valedictorian’s title, Bezos was also one of three members of his graduating class awarded a Silver Knight Award, a prestigious academic honor in south Florida high schools, sponsored by Knight Ridder’s Miami Herald. (Pilgrimage note: One of the few remaining talismans of Jeff Bezos’s presence at Miami Palmetto is an oak board, in a glass display case cluttered with sports memorabilia just inside the school’s front door, that holds the names of Silver Knight winners.)

Bezos got his first taste for retail during this time, spending one summer as a fry cook at McDonald’s, studying the company’s automation improvements even while he responded to the Pavlovian cues of the many and often simultaneously sounding buzzers that told him when to scramble his eggs, flip his burgers, and pull his fries out of the boiling vat. „Now, actually, the french fries raise themselves up out of the oil,“ he says, „which let me tell you is a major technological innovation! Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!“

In an attempt to avoid a second summer in the grease pit, Bezos, with Uschi Werner, embarked on his first serious entrepreneurial effort: a summer-education camp for fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders that the two labeled the DREAM Institute. (DREAM stood for Directed REAsoning Methods.) Six students signed up for the $600 camp; two of them were Jeff’s own brother and sister.

The program, prophetically, emphasized a mix of science and literature, the future and the past. Required reading included The Once and Future King, Stranger in a Strange Land, The Lord of the Rings, Dune, Watership Down, Black Beauty, Gulliver’s Travels, Treasure Island, and David Copperfield, along with the plays Our Town and The Matchmaker. The science curriculum ranged from fossil fuels and fission to space colonies and interstellar travel – with a dollop of television and advertising study thrown in for good measure. „Our program,“ the budding entrepreneurs wrote in a „Dear parent“ flyer generated on Jeff’s Apple II and a dot-matrix printer, „emphasizes the use of new ways of thinking in old areas.“

„When I’m 80,“ he asked himself, „am I going to regret leaving Wall Street? No. Will I regret missing the beginning of the Internet? Yes.“

Jeff and Uschi’s long distance relationship didn’t survive his matriculation at Princeton, but their entrepreneurial exploits nonetheless helped Bezos overcome his first serious intellectual disappointment. Intent on becoming a theoretical physicist and following the likes of Einstein and Hawking, he discovered that although he was one of the top 25 students in his honors physics program, he wasn’t smart enough to compete with the handful of real geniuses around him. „I looked around the room,“ Bezos recalls, „and it was clear to me that there were three people in the class who were much, much better at it than I was, and it was much, much easier for them. It was really sort of a startling insight, that there were these people whose brains were wired differently.“ The pragmatic Bezos switched his major to computer science and committed himself to starting and running his own business.

In his senior year, Bezos turned down job offers from Intel, Bell Labs, and Andersen Consulting to join a start-up called Fitel, which had run a full-page ad in The Daily Princetonian soliciting the school’s „best computer science graduates.“ The company, launched by two Columbia professors in the days when VANs and EDI were hot topics, was attempting to build an ambitious worldwide telecommunications network for trading firms that would help them clear and settle cross-border equity transactions – piggybacking atop General Electric Information Service’s network alongside GEnie, GE’s early consumer online service.

Bezos was employee number 11. His success at debugging spaghetti code earned him rapid promotion to head of development and director of customer service, which entailed a weekly commute between New York and London, where his divisions were located, aboard discount airline People’s Express. „This is not,“ he says, „the right way to organize a start-up company, just for the record. Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!“

After nearly two years of failed attempts to grow Fitel, Bezos bailed out for a more stable job as a product manager at Bankers Trust. There, he sold software tools to the company’s pension-fund clients, but he also explored outside projects. At one point, he collaborated briefly with a Merrill Lynch consultant named Halsey Minor (who would later become well known as the founder of CNET) on an abortive plan to start a company that would use then-fledgling software agents to create a personalized news fax for financial professionals. By 1990, however, after only two years at Bankers Trust, Bezos was circulating his résumé to headhunters with the express goal of escaping financial services for a technology company, where he could pursue what he had decided was his „real passion,“ using computers and so-called second-wave automation to revolutionize business.

Then a headhunter called, telling Bezos, „I know you said you would kill me if I even proposed the finance thing, but there’s this special opportunity that’s actually a very unusual financial company.“ It was the two-and-a-half-year-old hedge fund firm D. E. Shaw.

David Shaw, like Bezos, was a computer scientist. His specialty was devising new trading strategies for particular financial instruments. The two clicked immediately, with Bezos finding Shaw „one of those people who has a completely developed left brain and a completely developed right brain. He’s artistic, articulate, and analytical. It’s just a pleasure to talk to someone like that.“ Shaw, in turn, thought his 26-year-old hire „fantastic,“ a „pleasurable person to talk to“ who was „also very entrepreneurial.“

Four years later, Bezos had worked his way up to senior vice president, one of four at the firm. He’d also devised a plan for his personal life.

„At a certain point I was sort of a professional dater,“ he explains about his years in New York. His systematic approach to the quest for a permanent relationship was to develop what he labeled „women flow,“ a play on the „deal flow“ Wall Streeters try to generate to locate worthwhile investments. In managing their deal flow, bankers will set limits like „I won’t look at anything under a $10 million equity investment.“ The limitation Bezos set for friends producing candidates for his „women flow“ was more esoteric. „The number-one criterion was that I wanted a woman who could get me out of a Third World prison,“ he says.

„What I really wanted was someone resourceful. But nobody knows what you mean when you say, ‚I’m looking for a resourceful woman.‘ If I tell somebody I’m looking for a woman who can get me out of a Third World prison, they start thinking Ross Perot – Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! – they have something they can hang their hat on! Life’s too short to hang out with people who aren’t resourceful.“

His self-deprecatory explanation for asking friends to set him up on blind dates is that „I’m not the kind of person where women say, ‚Oh, look how great he is,‘ a half hour after meeting me. I’m kind of goofy, and I’m not – Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! – it’s not the kind of thing where people are going to say about me, ‚Oh my God, this is what I’ve been looking for!'“

As it happened, women flow did not produce the desired result. Instead, he fell in love with a member of his own staff. The future MacKenzie Bezos was a research associate who had been an assistant to novelist Toni Morrison while studying at Princeton. MacKenzie – whose first novel will be published by Random House later this year – and Jeff were married in 1993. A year later, Shaw put Bezos in charge of exploring new business opportunities in the burgeoning world of the Internet.

It was while brainstorming ideas in the then-unfamiliar area of electronic commerce that Bezos came to his deceptively simple conclusion: The most logical thing to sell over the Internet was books, largely because two of the country’s largest book distributors already had exhaustive electronic lists.

As Amazon.com has long since established, no single bookstore, even a superstore, can carry a comprehensive inventory of the books in print. The distributors, carrying thousands of titles, in effect act as the warehouse for most stores, particularly smaller independent booksellers. When customers ask a store for a book it doesn’t have, the first place many of them will turn to fill the customer’s order is Ingram or Baker & Taylor, the two largest distributors. These companies‘ inventory lists, once regularly circulated to bookstores on packs of microfiche, went digital in the late 1980s along with others in the book trade – an unheralded benchmark that would enable Bezos to offer books online through the virtual retailer he envisioned creating.

But David Shaw and others at the firm weren’t ready to make books a priority. After consulting initially with another partner, Bezos approached Shaw to tell him he had been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug and wanted to leave. Bezos says he kept staring at the Net’s 2,300 percent annual growth figure and placing his thoughts within what he calls a „regret-minimization framework.“ „When I’m 80,“ he asked himself, „am I going to regret leaving Wall Street? No. Will I regret missing a chance to be there at the beginning of the Internet? Yes.“

„Let’s take a walk,“ he recalls Shaw saying, and the two of them set off for Central Park. Shaw, while acknowledging that he himself had left an established business to pursue entrepreneurial dreams, tried to impress on Bezos what he would be giving up by leaving; not just financial security but a pivotal role at D. E. Shaw. „I did tell him that we might be competing with him, too,“ Shaw says. Bezos was willing to accept that risk.

When MacKenzie and Jeff Bezos made their now semifamous cross-country road trip to the Seattle area, Jeff tapping out a business plan on his computer along the way, he had already spent months laying the groundwork for Amazon.com, beginning with his Internet investigations at D. E. Shaw. Bezos had also made at least one recruiting trip to California to meet with three programmers he’d learned about through a D. E. Shaw partner. Over blueberry pancakes at the Sash Mill Cafe in Santa Cruz, Bezos managed to convince one of them, Shel Kaphan, to become employee number one.

Kaphan has a reputation among the engineering staff at Amazon.com as the prototypical pessimist, a geek convinced that the company’s systems are always on the verge of implosion. He came by his doomsaying honestly – he had worked for at least a dozen companies before Amazon.com, including failed start-ups and bureaucratically inept monsters. Shortly before he and Bezos met he had left Kaleida Labs, an ill-fated Apple spin-off, which makes it all the more remarkable that he almost immediately found Bezos trustworthy – so trustworthy, in fact, that Kaphan agreed in short order to relocate to Seattle.

Bezos returned in principle to the setting of his childhood experiments, building the prototype for Amazon.com with Kaphan and a contractor named Paul Barton-Davis in the cramped, poorly insulated converted garage of a rented home in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue. A potbellied stove commanded the middle of the room, and extension cords ran everywhere because there weren’t enough electrical outlets to power the trio’s Sun SPARCstations. Eventually the stove was ejected in a space-saving flurry and replaced by a set of ceramic space heaters, which further taxed the overburdened power supply.

Bezos has profited directly from his Amazon.com stock only once, selling 180,000 shares last November for $23 million.

In their quest to revolutionize retailing, the threesome made ample use of the unsuspecting competition’s physical resources. One can never tire of the delicious irony that Kaphan and Bezos would frequently repair to the Barnes & Noble store in downtown Bellevue to drink coffee and toss around ideas in the relative calm of the in-house Starbucks café. The superstore also served as a venue for business meetings with outsiders. MacKenzie Bezos even negotiated the company’s first freight contracts there.

The first million dollars of seed capital came from a group of 15 angel investors Bezos had persuaded to help him, including Wall Street chums, friends of his parents, buddies from Princeton, and a small group of local investors. Tom Alberg, onetime president of Lin Broadcasting, a subsidiary of McCaw Cellular, was part of the group and became Amazon.com’s first board member.

At one point, a single venture capital firm in the Seattle area wanted to take the whole million-dollar round but demanded a 50 percent discount on the valuation Bezos had offered. He refused and the VCs passed, in part because they believed Barnes & Noble would crush Amazon.com as soon as it turned its attention in Bezos’s direction. Watching that decision, Alberg says, taught him that „you need to do due diligence in this world, but at some point you need to make a judgment about the people.“

Bezos and Kaphan rigged the SPARCstations to sound a bell’s ring every time the servers recorded a sale. Amazon.com launched in July 1995, and the bell started ringing – so often that within a few weeks the noise had become unbearable and they disabled it. „Every week, the revenues went up,“ says Alberg. „By the second or third week, there was $6,000 or $10,000, and by the end of early September there was $20,000 a week. It was clear there was a trend here.“ It also helped that even in the earliest days sales were coming from around the country. „He could say, ‚I had a sale in New Hampshire,‘ and we were all impressed,“ Alberg recalls.

It wasn’t that Bezos was first out of the box with an idea for shopping, or that he had discovered some magic elixir unknown to other merchants. But he had made a series of small, smart choices that added up.

It starts with the realization that in fact not everything should be virtual – that Amazon.com should own its own warehouses, so that it can maintain quality control over the packaging and shipping of orders, which Bezos sees as an essential opportunity to enhance the Amazon.com customer experience. This allows the company to combine orders for books from multiple publishers – or orders that include a book, a CD, and a video – into single packages. It also gives Amazon.com employees who pack orders a chance to check for defective goods. In its music department, for example, the company will replace cracked or broken CD jewel cases. Locating in Seattle, therefore, wasn’t about being near a technology hub as much as it was about being near one of Ingram’s distribution facilities, which allowed for quicker turnaround on deliveries from that key supplier. And Washington had a relatively small population, which limited the pool of potential customers from whom Amazon.com would be forced to collect sales tax. (It’s no accident that the company’s second warehouse is in Delaware, which not only has no sales tax but is also an ideal base for serving East Coast customers; its third and latest warehouse is near Reno, Nevada – which lets Amazon.com originate deliveries close to the huge California population, but just outside that state’s tax-collection borders.)

Bezos combined those pragmatic choices with a relentless focus on the customer experience: tweaking the interface to make it ever easier to understand, streamlining the ordering process at every turn, responding immediately to every customer query. „We want people to feel like they’re visiting a place,“ he says, „rather than a software application.“

He also turned hiring staff into a Socratic test. „Jeff was very, very picky,“ says Nicholas Lovejoy, who joined Amazon.com as its fifth employee in June 1995. In endless hiring meetings, Bezos, after interviewing the candidate himself, would grill every other interviewer, occasionally constructing elaborate charts on a whiteboard detailing the job seeker’s qualifications. If he ferreted out the slightest doubt, rejection usually followed. „One of his mottos was that every time we hired someone, he or she should raise the bar for the next hire, so that the overall talent pool was always improving,“ Lovejoy says.

With its potential $250 million in revenues in the fourth quarter of 1998, Amazon.com is on track for at least $1 billion in annual sales this year. The company has moved its headquarters three times since starting in the Bellevue garage, and its staff is spread out in four buildings in downtown Seattle, in addition to its Northwest warehouse location, in an industrial area near the port facilities that stretch along the harbor south of downtown. This summer, the company will consolidate all but the warehouse operation in the old Pacific Medical Center building, which sits on a bluff near the intersection of I-5 and I-90 southeast of central Seattle.

But nothing about the company’s physical or revenue growth can compare to the astonishing rise in its stock price in recent months – on January 19 Amazon.com’s $22.1 billion market value exceeded that of Kmart and JCPenney combined – and the concurrent growth in Bezos’s personal net worth, over $9 billion by mid-January 1999. (A few other billionaires, including his parents, and dozens of multimillionaires have been created during the two short years of Amazon.com’s public existence.)

Bezos is thus far facing down stratospheric wealth with a modesty that outsiders to tech culture often find odd (and maybe even unnatural) but which is surprisingly common in the industry, where twentysomethings worth millions routinely rent along the freeway. When Joshua Weinstein teased Bezos about being listed on the Forbes 400 roster of the richest Americans, for example, „Jeff said the only real difference was that he doesn’t have to look at the prices on a menu anymore.“

„One thing to keep in mind,“ Bezos says, about not only his own gains but those of any Amazon.com employee who holds unvested options or hasn’t sold their stock, „is for many of these people the wealth that they have is paper wealth, and it will exist at that level only for as long as we continue to serve our customers well.“ Securities and Exchange Commission records show that Bezos himself has profited directly from his Amazon.com stock only once, when, last November, he sold 180,000 shares (of the more than 19 million he held at the time) for approximately $23 million.

Like a lot of other newly minted tech barons, Bezos’s splurges tend to involve having a good time with friends. In August, to celebrate Shel Kaphan’s fourth anniversary at Amazon.com, Bezos organized „the Shelebration,“ a four-day surprise weekend excursion to Maui. He chartered a jet to carry himself and MacKenzie, Kaphan, and members of the Amazon.com engineering staff and their spouses from Seattle to Hawaii. When the group arrived at the house Bezos had rented, Kaphan discovered a second surprise: An even larger group of Shel’s old friends from the San Francisco Bay Area had arrived there first, aboard a second plane Bezos had chartered for them from San Jose.

MacKenzie and Jeff, who’ve lived till now in a one-bedroom rental in downtown Seattle, also recently went shopping for a house, spending a reported $10 million for a rustic mansion alongside Lake Washington in a neighborhood littered with Microsoft millionaires.

It’s often forgotten how recently the mass American consumer market has evolved, how profoundly it has changed the way people shop, and how dramatically it has altered the very structure of society. Little more than 100 years ago, most Americans bought their goods – including clothes, food, furniture, even at times books – directly from the people who created them. But as the Industrial Revolution penetrated industry after industry, a gap began to open between producers and consumers until the one had little or no direct contact with the other. A new breed of middlemen arose to act as brokers between them (creating legendary opportunities for what sociologist Thorstein Veblen, in his Theory of the Leisure Class, derided as „conspicuous consumption“). In turn, routine, public display of manufactured, store-bought wares enabled the development of virtual societies (or „consumption communities,“ as historian Daniel Boorstin labeled them) in which membership and status were based not on an inborn class hierarchy but on the ownership of specific types of goods.

The most successful of the new retailing middlemen were the salesmen and magnates who understood that Americans, particularly in the rapidly urbanizing society of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, wanted their status anxieties satisfied by the shopping experience, and who built the modern department store for this express purpose. Among the most flamboyant was John Wanamaker, who sounds like a latter-day Internet entrepreneur with his boast 89 years ago that he had „revolutionized the retail business in America.“ Among the innovations Wanamaker could claim credit for developing or popularizing were escalators, the glass display cabinet, the street-level store entrance, the revolving door, free delivery anywhere in the world, and charge accounts. Wanamaker’s landmark Philadelphia store still operates at the corner of Broad and Market streets, and his New York store at Broadway and Astor Place was that city’s premier shopping destination from the 1890s until the 1920s, when it was finally surpassed by Macy’s, „The World’s Largest Store.“

But perhaps the most significant innovation by Wanamaker and his peers – who included Marshall Field, Boston’s Filene family, and Isidor Straus, who ran Macy’s – was their decision to display their mass-produced goods artfully behind plate glass, which new technologies had made easier to produce in ever larger sheets.

Before 1885, most merchants, if they chose to display anything, simply piled goods haphazardly in their front windows. It took an impresario named L. Frank Baum – who later indulged another kind of American fairy tale when he wrote The Wizard of Oz – to change that. In 1897 Baum began publishing a trade journal called The Show Window and a year later founded the National Association of Window Trimmers.

„You know, the potential exists in a broadband world for every author to have a five-minute video snippet explaining the intended audience.“

The goal of any good store-display designer, according to Baum, was to „arouse in the observer the cupidity and longing to possess the goods.“ Under his example, department store merchants began to use glass, light, and color to create street-corner crowds and stimulate their audiences in ways previously unknown. „What a stinging, quivering zest they display,“ novelist Theodore Dreiser said in 1902 about the newfangled „show windows“ he had encountered, „stirring up in onlookers a desire to secure but a part of what they see, the taste of a vibrating presence, and the pictures that it makes.“

A century later, the „show window“ is alive and well, now transferred to the modern video display, whether it’s connected to the Internet or receiving a television signal. Bezos and crew have focused as intently on trimming their video windows as Baum and Wanamaker concentrated on theirs.

Certainly, his backers insist, Amazon.com’s founder has the necessary talents. Board member Patty Stonesifer, a former Microsoft executive, points to last year’s annual meeting of Amazon.com shareholders, at the Seattle Art Museum, where Bezos held the audience spellbound in a way that reminded her of the best Hollywood executives she has met. „I don’t think he’s a showman,“ says Stonesifer, „but people are drawn to him because he seems unbelievably like a winner. And they want to help him win.“

Translating that ability from the annual meeting to the screen is, of course, another matter. Up to this point, the focus has been on minimizing flash in favor of speed, and on accepting the limitations of what it’s possible to do within the 640 x 480 pixels available inside a browser window on a computer screen. „Every business has to deal with some scarcity, and in our case it’s screen real estate,“ Bezos observes.

But even amid the tiny graphics and fast-loading pages, the entertainment value built intentionally into Amazon.com shows through. Rankings, for example – updated in real time for the company’s best-sellers – tell shoppers exactly how well each book is selling. (It’s not unheard-of for authors to purchase copies of their own books just so they can see the ticker bump up.) And dedicated collectors of rarities – the most notoriously exacting crowd around, with significant cultural trickle-down – can readily appreciate Amazon.com’s attention to detail. Using the music keyword-search function, for example, you can pull up a listing of the six CDs offered by Amazon.com that feature the oud, the traditional Middle Eastern stringed instrument. (Oud by George Mgrdichian was number 14 on Amazon.com’s Middle East music chart in early January.)

As bandwidth and speed increase, making it ever easier for consumers to browse through goods online, Bezos expects e-catalogs to finally drive their paper counterparts into extinction. The bulletin-board discussions and review areas on Amazon.com will also grow more sophisticated, he promises. „You know, the potential exists in a broadband world for every author to have a five-minute video snippet explaining who the intended audience is, why they should buy that book, or that music CD, or that video, and you’ll be able to show the trailers from the videos.“ (Asked, however, to name the one missing technology that, if it existed, would dramatically improve Amazon.com’s business prospects, he says simply, „Windows instant on“ – meaning a personal computer that boots up as quickly as a TV or a PalmPilot. „At home it’s a real pain,“ he says, „because in the 90 seconds or two minutes that it takes, I’ve forgotten what I was going to do!“)

Bezos spends hours at a time thinking about the future: trawling for ideas, exploring his own site, sometimes just surfing the Web, particularly on Mondays and Thursdays, which he tries to keep unscheduled. „I catch up on email, I wander around and talk to people, or I set up my own meetings – ones that are not part of the regular calendar.“ His surfing isn’t always confined to retail: Let the record note that on a Thursday in January he spent five hours on the Web using MacKenzie’s MSN account, plumbing the depths of his space fascination and learning more about „roton“ rockets.

He also gathers new ideas from other wanderers in the company. Amazon.com’s purchase last August of Junglee, then a Silicon Valley-based company that produces product comparison software for Web shoppers, came about when Amazon.com treasurer Randy Tinsley approached Bezos sometime in late April 1998 and lobbied for the acquisition. After a half-hour debate during which Tinsley allowed that Junglee might resist a sale, Bezos’s final word was, „We have a million other things to do – drop it.“ Two hours later, Tinsley called Bezos back to say he had called Junglee anyway and the management there was actually interested. „It shows you how much people listen to me!“ Bezos jokes.

Like an investor checking his portfolio, every three months Bezos sits down with his assistant Kim Christenson to examine and analyze his calendar for the quarter just past. He wants to know, among other things, how much time he has devoted to each of the dozen or so categories to which Christenson has assigned every meeting, phone call, or trip. (The categories include standards like recruiting, as well as onetime items like the launch plans for Amazon.com’s UK and German sites.)

Although he won’t disclose all the projects currently occupying those 12 categories, one that surely colors all of them is the need to fend off the renewed challenge by Barnes & Noble to Amazon.com’s book business – in particular, the potential threat to his supply chain in Barnes & Noble’s recent purchase of Ingram, the book distributor that has been an essential source of Amazon.com inventory. Asked whether B&N’s bid for Ingram took him by surprise, Bezos implies that he knew Ingram was for sale and passed on it, adding, „We don’t talk about what we might have looked at and not done.“ Given that getting items into customers‘ hands as quickly as possible is a key part of the Amazon.com experience, he admits that distributors are also key, at least currently. But he insists they aren’t a necessity long term. „There are so many ways to solve that problem,“ he says, one of which appears to lie in Amazon.com initiatives to build direct relationships with publishers. As for Barnes & Noble, „I bet you a year from now they will not consider us direct competitors,“ Bezos predicts. „Clearly they do today, but we’re on different paths … we’re trying to invent the future of ecommerce, and they’re just defending their turf.“

Jeff Bezos is shopping in meatspace. „I want to get a pair of cargo pants,“ he says, „although my wife says she hates them.“

We’re striding up Pine Street toward the new Nordstrom store in Seattle’s downtown shopping district, next door to the Pacific Place mall and only a couple of blocks from Amazon.com headquarters. Bezos wants cargo pants, he says, because he has too much stuff to carry in his pockets. Today he’s packing a gizmo he calls his World Trade Center Escape Kit, a combination flashlight, penknife, and key chain that he began to carry after the New York landmark was bombed. (For Christmas, he bought every member of his family their own survival kit, an off-the-shelf postmodern version of the Swiss Army knife, from Brookstone, called the Tool Logic Tool Lite Deluxe. Bezos, who has given the matter a good deal of thought, insists that the people trapped for hours in the smoky darkness of the World Trade Center’s fire escapes would have reached safety faster if they had had these simple tools.) Toy shopping, online and off, captivates him. Jeff and MacKenzie’s Christmas gift to everyone a year ago was laser-tag guns and vests, which, combined with the walkie-talkies his parents offered up, served as weapons in a nighttime game of laser-enhanced Capture the Flag on Amelia Island. The entire Bezos clan raced around in the dark zapping each other. „I never realized my mom was such a good shot!“ he says. But Jeff, as his mother recounts with a hint of disapproval, used a secret weapon to stack the deck in his favor: a pair of night-vision goggles MacKenzie had given him. „It’s not clear,“ Bezos counters, „that you’re supposed to have a level playing field when you’re marching into battle. Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!“

In Nordstrom we pick up lattes and stand in the middle of the main floor. Bezos comments idly on the down escalator: „Look, you turn immediately and go down, instead of walking from one end to the other and circulating through the merchandise.“ He pauses to consider whether the utility in facilitating quick passage from the main floor to the basement would outweigh the retail imperative.

For the kind of shopper Bezos represents, utility is, of course, a mantra. His wardrobe consists of white or blue dress shirts and a pair of khaki pants. Back in the late ’80s in New York, when he had to wear a suit every day to the office, he gained a preference for shirts with hidden snaps under the collar points for easy tie removal. He has trouble locating this style in the Pacific Northwest, so now he buys a pack of standard snapless shirts and has the snaps sewn on. When he discovers a pair of shoes he likes, he’ll buy four pairs at once and wear them in regular rotation for years.

Bezos has a full-steam-ahead, leaning-into-the-wind style of walking when he’s in a hurry, and in the Pacific Place mall he is continually veering off on some new quest for knowledge. He marches into an upscale pen shop and asks the first salesperson we encounter to show us the most expensive model in stock, which turns out to be a $975 Mont Blanc fountain pen. „That was a very good salesman,“ he announces when we leave, pleased with the young man’s knowledge of nib and ink arcana. As we pass Victoria’s Secret he says slyly, „You know, they charge you for the catalog in the stores,“ and whisks me through racks of bras and panties to a cash register in the back, where he asks the clerk to show him the goods. It turns out two catalogs are for sale, one for $5 and another for $3. „It’s the rare store that gets to charge for the catalog,“ he notes admiringly.

We bomb out of the mall and across the street to Old Navy. („You know, they treat jaywalking as seriously here as they do in Los Angeles,“ Bezos says before leaping bravely into mid-block traffic.) Once inside, he tries on a pair of light khaki cargos, size 33R. He deliberates. He decides to buy the pants. „I’m only going to buy one pair,“ he says, „because my wife hasn’t seen them yet.“

Back out in the street, the shopping throng envelopes us. Bezos waves an arm across the scene. „You see, none of this is going away,“ he says. „The Net can’t replace this experience.“

Not that it matters. Back in his office, he’s once again enumerating Amazon.com’s unlimited upside and its not insignificant advantages over the places we’ve just been – small, centralized inventory, low-cost warehouse space, one-to-one knowledge of consumer preferences. „There’s no comparison between the two models,“ he says gleefully, leaning forward and clasping his hands. „Online is so much cheaper.“

It remains to be seen what the long-term costs for Amazon.com will be. In business, of course, the conventional wisdom is that being an innovator costs a lot more than being an imitator, a fact Bezos acknowledges. But the pioneering quality of his business model is as much an aspect of his personality as the personality of Amazon.com. „You cannot,“ he says, „make a business case that you should be who you’re not.

„One of the things that I hope will distinguish Amazon.com is that we continue to be a company that defies easy analogy,“ he goes on. „This requires a lot of innovation, and innovation requires a lot of random walk“ – that is, spontaneous, open-ended search.

„There’s a strong case to be made for being a copier. It’s just not as satisfying, or as fun!“ Rule number one on how to succeed in business, from the new master of the game.

PLUS

Count the Change: All $22.1 Billion of It*

Mall of America 2010

How Apple and Google Are Enabling Covid-19 Contact-Tracing

Source: https://www.wired.com/story/apple-google-bluetooth-contact-tracing-covid-19/

The tech giants have teamed up to use a Bluetooth-based framework to keep track of the spread of infections without compromising location privacy.
a man walking in the street in boston
The companies chose to skirt privacy pitfalls and implement a system that collects no location data.Photograph: Craig F. Walker/Boston Globe/Getty Images

Since Covid-19 began its spread across the world, technologists have proposed using so-called contact-tracing apps to track infections via smartphones. Now, Google and Apple are teaming up to give contact-tracers the ingredients to make that system possible—while in theory still preserving the privacy of those who use it.

On Friday, the two companies announced a rare joint project to create the groundwork for Bluetooth-based contact-tracing apps that can work across both iOS and Android phones. In mid-May, they plan to release an application programming interface that apps from public health organizations can tap into. The API will let those apps use a phone’s Bluetooth radios—which have a range of about 30 feet—to keep track of whether a smartphone’s owner has come into contact with someone who later turns out to have been infected with Covid-19. Once alerted, that user can then self-isolate or get tested themselves.

Crucially, Google and Apple say the system won’t involve tracking user locations or even collecting any identifying data that would be stored on a server. „This is a very unprecedented situation for the world,“ said one of the joint project’s spokespeople in a phone call with WIRED. „As platform companies we’ve both been thinking hard about what we can do to help get people back to normal life and back to work effectively. We think in bringing the two platforms together we can solve digital contact tracing at scale in partnership with public health authorities and do it in a privacy-preserving way.“

Unlike Apple, which has complete control over its software and hardware and can push system-wide changes with relative ease, Google faces a fragmented Android ecosystem. The company will still make the framework available to all devices running Android 6.0 or higher by delivering the update through Google Play Services, which does not require hardware partners to sign off.

Several projects, including ones led by developers at MIT, Stanford, and the governments of Singapore and Germany, have already proposed, and in some cases implemented, similar Bluetooth-based contact-tracing systems. Google and Apple declined to say which specific groups or government agencies they’ve been working with. But they argue that by building operating-level functions those applications can tap into, the apps will be far more effective and energy efficient. Most importantly, they’ll be interoperable between the two dominant smartphone platforms.

In the version of the system set to roll out next month, the operating-system-level Bluetooth tracing would allow users to opt in to a Bluetooth-based proximity-detection scheme when they download a contact-tracing app. Their phone would then constantly ping out Bluetooth signals to others nearby while also listening for communications from nearby phones.

If two phones spend more than a few minutes within range of one another, they would each record contact with the other phone, exchanging unique, rotating identifier “beacon” numbers that are based on keys stored on each device. Public heath app developers would be able to „tune“ both the proximity and the amount of time necessary to qualify as a contact based on current information about how Covid-19 spreads.

If a user is later diagnosed with Covid-19, they would alert their app with a tap. The app would then upload their last two weeks of keys to a server, which would then generate their recent “beacon” numbers and send them out to other phones in the system. If someone else’s phone finds that one of these beacon numbers matches one stored on their phone, they would be notified that they’ve been in contact with a potentially infected person and given information about how to help prevent further spread.

graph with illustrations of phones and humans
Courtesy of Google
graph with illustrations of phones and humans
Courtesy of Google

The advantage of that system, in terms of privacy, is that it doesn’t depend on collecting location data. „People’s identities aren’t tied to any contact events,“ said Cristina White, a Stanford computer scientist who described a very similar Bluetooth-based contact tracing project known as Covid-Watch to WIRED last week. „What the app uploads instead of any identifying information is just this random number that the two phones would be able to track down later but that nobody else would, because it’s stored locally on their phones.“

Until now, however, Bluetooth-based schemes like the one White described suffered from how Apple limits access to Bluetooth when apps run in the background of iOS, a privacy and power-saving safeguard. It will lift that restriction specifically for contact-tracing apps. And Apple and Google say that the protocol they’re releasing will be designed to use minimal power to save phones‘ battery lives. „This thing has to run 24-7, so it has to really only sip the battery life,“ said one of the project’s spokespeople.

In a second iteration of the system rolling out in June, Apple and Google say they’ll allow users to enable Bluetooth-based contact-tracing even without an app installed, building the system into the operating systems themselves. This would be opt-in as well. But while the phones would exchange „beacon“ numbers via Bluetooth, users would still need to download a contact-tracing app to either declare themselves as Covid-19 positive or to learn if someone they’ve come into contact with was diagnosed.

Google and Apple’s Bluetooth-based system has some significant privacy advantages over GPS-based location-tracking systems that have been proposed by other researchers including at MIT, the University of Toronto, McGill, and Harvard. Since those systems collect location data, they would require complex cryptographic systems to avoid collecting information about users‘ movements that could potentially expose highly personal information, from political dissent to extramarital affairs.

With Google and Apple’s announcement, it’s clear that the companies chose to skirt those privacy pitfalls and implement a system that collects no location data. „It looks like we won,“ says Stanford’s White, whose Covid-Watch project, part of a consortium of projects using a Bluetooth-based system, had advocated for the Bluetooth-only approach. „It’s clear from the API that it was influenced by our work. It’s following the exact suggestions from our engineers about how implement it.“

Sticking to Bluetooth alone doesn’t guarantee the system won’t violate users’ privacy, White notes. Although Google and Apple say they’ll only upload anonymous identifiers from users’ phones, a server could nonetheless identify Covid-19 users in other ways, such as based on their IP address. The organization running a given app still needs to act responsibly. “Exactly what they’re proposing for the backend still isn’t clear, and that’s really important,” White says. “We need to keep advocating to make sure this is done properly and the server isn’t collecting information it shouldn’t.”

Even with Bluetooth tracing, the app still faces some practical challenges. First, it would need significant adoption and broad willingness to share Covid-19 infection information to work. And it will also require a safeguard that only allows users to declare themselves Covid-19 positive after a healthcare provider has officially diagnosed them, so that the system isn’t overrun with false positives. Covid-Watch, for instance, would require the user to get a confirmation code from a health care provider.

Bluetooth-based systems, in contrast with location-based systems, also have some problems of their own. If someone leaves behind traces of the novel coronavirus on a surface, for instance, someone can be infected by it without their phones ever being in proximity.

A spokesperson for the Google and Apple project didn’t deny that possibility, but argued that those cases of „environmental transmission“ are relatively rare compared to direct transmission from people in proximity of each other. „This won’t cut every chain of every transmission,“ the spokesperson said. „But if you cut enough of them, you modulate the transmission enough to flatten the curve.“

 

Astronaut Mike Massimino on How to Make the Most of the COVIT19 / Corona Isolation

We’re all feeling a little cooped up right now. So why not shelter in place like you’re in a space shuttle, orbiting above the Earth?

Mike Massimino has experienced the greatest isolation a human being could ever know: the solitude of space, hundreds of miles above humanity. A NASA astronaut for 18 years, Massimino spent about a month total sheltering in place—or, more accurately, sheltering in space—aboard two separate missions on the space shuttle, donning a suit and stepping out into the ether to repair the Hubble telescope, and taking in the greatest view a human could ever know.

But it was isolation, nonetheless. “Like many of you, I’m sheltering in place right now,” says Massimino, who is currently back on Earth. “I’m inside my home, and it’s kind of like being inside of a spaceship again.” We Earthlings may have the luxury of gravity and grocery stores and fresh air, but you might be feeling more like an astronaut right now than you know. So take it from Massimino: You’re more in control of your isolation than you know.

First of all, he advises, reach out to “mission control,” and be a mission control for someone else. In other words, let others know if you need help, and be available to help them as well. On one spacewalk to fix the Hubble Space Telescope, Massimino recalls, he ended up stripping a bolt on a science instrument while trying to remove a handle. “I thought it was game over,” he says. “I felt like we’re never going to solve this. I’ve created this horrible problem and we’re never going to find out if there’s life anywhere else in the universe and everyone will blame me.” But Massimino took his problem to mission control down on Earth, and they suggested a … blunt solution: Just give the handle a good yank. And indeed, it snapped off. Problem solved.

Read all of our coronavirus coverage here.

“Reach out, be the person that people can call for help,” Massimino says. “Be their mission control. And don’t forget that your mission control is there to help you as well.” If astronauts can email their loved ones from space (fun fact: Massimino was the first to tweet from space), you can certainly call Grandma.

Also, like astronauts, you need exercise right now—badly. Up in space, microgravity doesn’t give the astronauts opportunities to work their muscles, so they use special treadmills and weight machines. If you’re stuck in your house, you need exercise to keep your body and mind in order. And while you’re out there, take in the scenery. (Six feet away from any other human, of course.) It can’t compare to the view from orbit, but it’ll shake you out of the mundanity of looking at the same walls and furniture all day.

For more tips from Massimino about how to make the most of isolation, including the importance of pursuing meaningful distractions (emphasis on meaningful), check out our video above.

Why outbreaks like coronavirus spread exponentially, and how to “flatten the curve”

FREE-FOR-ALL VS. ATTEMPTED QUARANTINE

MODERATE SOCIAL DISTANCING vs. EXTENSIVE SOCIAL DISTANCING

This so-called exponential curve has experts worried. If the number of cases were to continue to double every three days, there would be about a hundred million cases in the United States by May.

That is math, not prophecy. The spread can be slowed, public health professionals say, if people practice “social distancing” by avoiding public spaces and generally limiting their movement.

Still, without any measures to slow it down, covid-19 will continue to spread exponentially for months. To understand why, it is instructive to simulate the spread of a fake disease through a population.

We will call our fake disease simulitis. It spreads even more easily than covid-19: whenever a healthy person comes into contact with a sick person, the healthy person becomes sick, too.

In a population of just five people, it did not take long for everyone to catch simulitis.

In real life, of course, people eventually recover. A recovered person can neither transmit simulitis to a healthy person nor become sick again after coming in contact with a sick person.

Let’s see what happens when simulitis spreads in a town of 200 people. We will start everyone in town at a random position, moving at a random angle, and we will make one person sick.

Notice how the slope of the red curve, which represents the number of sick people, rises rapidly as the disease spreads and then tapers off as people recover.

Our simulation town is small — about the size of Whittier, Alaska — so simulitis was able to spread quickly across the entire population. In a country like the United States, with its 330 million people, the curve could steepen for a long time before it started to slow.

[Mapping the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S. and worldwide]

When it comes to the real covid-19, we would prefer to slow the spread of the virus before it infects a large portion of the U.S. population. To slow simulitis, let’s try to create a forced quarantine, such as the one the Chinese government imposed on Hubei province, covid-19’s ground zero.

Whoops! As health experts would expect, it proved impossible to completely seal off the sick population from the healthy.

Leana Wen, the former health commissioner for the city of Baltimore, explained the impracticalities of forced quarantines to The Washington Post in January. “Many people work in the city and live in neighboring counties, and vice versa,“ Wen said. “Would people be separated from their families? How would every road be blocked? How would supplies reach residents?”

As Lawrence O. Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University, put it: “The truth is those kinds of lockdowns are very rare and never effective.”

Fortunately, there are other ways to slow an outbreak. Above all, health officials have encouraged people to avoid public gatherings, to stay home more often and to keep their distance from others. If people are less mobile and interact with each other less, the virus has fewer opportunities to spread.

Some people will still go out. Maybe they cannot stay home because of their work or other obligations, or maybe they simply refuse to heed public health warnings. Those people are not only more likely to get sick themselves, they are more likely to spread simulitis, too.

Let’s see what happens when a quarter of our population continues to move around while the other three quarters adopt a strategy of what health experts call “social distancing.”

More social distancing keeps even more people healthy, and people can be nudged away from public places by removing their allure.

“We control the desire to be in public spaces by closing down public spaces. Italy is closing all of its restaurants. China is closing everything, and we are closing things now, too,” said Drew Harris, a population health researcher and assistant professor at The Thomas Jefferson University College of Public Health. “Reducing the opportunities for gathering helps folks social distance.”

To simulate more social distancing, instead of allowing a quarter of the population to move, we will see what happens when we let just one of every eight people move.

The four simulations you just watched — a free-for-all, an attempted quarantine, moderate social distancing and extensive social distancing — were random. That means the results of each one were unique to your reading of this article; if you scroll up and rerun the simulations, or if you revisit this page later, your results will change.

Even with different results, moderate social distancing will usually outperform the attempted quarantine, and extensive social distancing usually works best of all. Below is a comparison of your results.

Finishing simulations…

Simulitis is not covid-19, and these simulations vastly oversimplify the complexity of real life. Yet just as simulitis spread through the networks of bouncing balls on your screen, covid-19 is spreading through our human networks — through our countries, our towns, our workplaces, our families. And, like a ball bouncing across the screen, a single person’s behavior can cause ripple effects that touch faraway people.

[What you need to know about coronavirus]

In one crucial respect, though, these simulations are nothing like reality: Unlike simulitis, covid-19 can kill. Though the fatality rate is not precisely known, it is clear that the elderly members of our community are most at risk of dying from covid-19.

“If you want this to be more realistic,” Harris said after seeing a preview of this story, “some of the dots should disappear.”

What China’s coronavirus response can teach the rest of the world

Researchers are studying the effects of China’s lockdowns to glean insights about controlling the viral pandemic.
A man wearing a mask sells breakfast to nurses behind a makeshift barricade wall in Wuhan, China.

Social distancing has been used to halt the transmission of the coronavirus in China.Credit: Getty

As the new coronavirus marches around the globe, countries with escalating outbreaks are eager to learn whether China’s extreme lockdowns were responsible for bringing the crisis there under control. Other nations are now following China’s lead and limiting movement within their borders, while dozens of countries have restricted international visitors.

In mid-January, Chinese authorities introduced unprecedented measures to contain the virus, stopping movement in and out of Wuhan, the centre of the epidemic, and 15 other cities in Hubei province — home to more than 60 million people. Flights and trains were suspended, and roads were blocked.

Soon after, people in many Chinese cities were told to stay at home and venture out only to get food or medical help. Some 760 million people, roughly half the country’s population, were confined to their homes, according to The New York Times.

It’s now two months since the lockdowns began — some of which are still in place — and the number of new cases there is around a couple of dozen per day, down from thousands per day at the peak. “These extreme limitations on population movement have been quite successful,” says Michael Osterholm, an infectious-disease scientist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

In a report released late last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) congratulated China on a “unique and unprecedented public health response [that] reversed the escalating cases”.

But the crucial question is which interventions in China were the most important in driving down the spread of the virus, says Gabriel Leung, an infectious-disease researcher at the University of Hong Kong. “The countries now facing their first wave [of infections] need to know this,” he says.

Nature talked to epidemiologists about whether the lockdowns really worked, if encouraging people to avoid large gatherings would have been enough and what other countries can learn from China’s experience.

What happened after the lockdowns?

Before the interventions, scientists estimated that each infected person passed on the coronavirus to more than two others, giving it the potential to spread rapidly. Early models of the disease’s spread, which did not factor in containment efforts, suggested that the virus, called SARS-CoV-2, would infect 40% of China’s population — some 500 million people.

But between 16 and 30 January, a period that included the first 7 days of the lockdown, the number of people each infected individual gave the virus to dropped to 1.05, estimates Adam Kucharski, who models infectious-disease spread at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “That was amazing,” he says.

The number of new daily infections in China seems to have peaked on 25 January — just two days after Wuhan was locked down.

As of 16 March, roughly 81,000 cases have been reported in China, according to the WHO. Some scientists think that many cases there were unreported — either because symptoms were not severe enough for people to seek medical care, or because tests were not carried out. But it seems clear that measures implemented during this time did work, says Christopher Dye, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford, UK. “Even if there were 20 or 40 times more cases, which seems unlikely, the control measures worked,” says Dye.

Could China’s response have worked better?

Epidemiologists say China’s mammoth response had one glaring flaw: it started too late. In the initial weeks of the outbreak in December and January, Wuhan authorities were slow to report cases of the mysterious infection, which delayed measures to contain it, says Howard Markel, a public-health researcher at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “The delay of China to act is probably responsible for this world event,” says Markel.

A model simulation by Lai Shengjie and Andrew Tatem, emerging-disease researchers at the University of Southampton, UK, shows that if China had implemented its control measures a week earlier, it could have prevented 67% of all cases there. Implementing the measures 3 weeks earlier, from the beginning of January, would have cut the number of infections to 5% of the total.

A volunteer disinfects a Christian church in Wuhan

A church in Wuhan is sprayed with disinfectant. Credit: Feature China/Barcroft Media/Getty

Data from other cities also show the benefits of speed. Cities that suspended public transport, closed entertainment venues and banned public gatherings before their first COVID-19 case had 37% fewer cases than cities that didn’t implement such measures, according to a preprint1 by Dye on the containment measures used in 296 Chinese cities.

Did China’s travel bans specifically work?

Multiple analyses of air travel suggest that the Hubei travel bans, which stopped people leaving the province on planes, trains or in cars, slowed the virus’ spread, but not for long2. A 6 March study3 published in Science by scientists in Italy, China and the United States found that cutting off Wuhan delayed disease spread to other cities in China by roughly four days.

The bans had a more lasting effect internationally, stopping four of five cases from being exported from China to other countries for two to three weeks, the team found. But after that, travellers from other cities transported the virus to other international cities, seeding new outbreaks. The team’s model suggests that even blocking 90% of travel slows the virus’s spread only moderately unless other measures are introduced.

Since travel bans can only slow the spread of this type of disease, it’s important that bans be implemented in a way that encourages trust, says Justin Lessler, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “If you encourage people to lie or try to circumvent the ban, it is destined to fail,” he says.

Dozens of countries across Europe, the Americas and Africa and Asia have now introduced travel restrictions.

Although the WHO warns against them, saying they aren’t usually effective in preventing an infection’s spread, and they could divert resources from other more helpful measures and block aid and technical support, in addition to harming many industries.

What are the lessons for other countries?

Tatem and Lai’s model assesses the combined effect of China’s early detection and isolation, the resulting drop in contact between people and the country’s intercity travel bans on reducing the virus’s spread. Together, these measures prevented cases from increasing by 67-fold — otherwise, there would have been nearly 8 million cases by the end of February.

The effect of the drop in contact between people was significant on its own. Using mobile-phone location data from Chinese Internet giant Baidu, the team found a dramatic reduction in people’s movements, which they say represents a huge drop in person-to-person contact. Without this decrease, there would have been about 2.6 times as many people infected at the end of February, the pair says.

But early detection and isolation was the most important factor in reducing COVID-19 cases. In the absence of those efforts, China would have had five times as many infections as it did at the end of February. “If you are to prioritize, early detection and isolation are the most important,” says Tatem.

Early detection paid off for Singapore. The country was one of the quickest to identify cases, because doctors had been warned to look out for a ‘mysterious pneumonia’, says Vernon Lee, who heads the communicable-disease response team for Singapore’s health ministry. As the first cases popped up in Singapore, doctors promptly identified and isolated those people and started contact tracing, says Lee.

The country still has under 250 COVID-19 cases, and it didn’t need to introduce the drastic movement restrictions used in China. Some events have been cancelled, people with COVID-19 are being quarantined and temperature screening and other community measures are in place, says Lee. “But life is still going on,” he says.

The impact of school closures in China is unknown. A preprint study4 of the spread of COVID-19 in Shenzhen has found that although children are just as likely to be infected as adults, it is still not clear whether children, many of whom don’t show symptoms, can transmit the virus. “This will be critical in evaluating the impact of school closures,” says Lessler, the co-author of the study.

Are COVID cases coming to an end in China?

New cases of COVID-19 have slowed dramatically in China, but some fear that once the country fully eases its control measures, the virus could start circulating again. It could even be reintroduced into China from the countries now experiencing outbreaks. Because China’s measures protected so many people from infection, a large pool of people have no immunity against the virus, says Leung.

China is suppressing the virus, not eradicating it, says Osterholm. The world will need to wait until about eight weeks after China resumes to some form of normality to know what it did or didn’t accomplish with its population-movement limitations, he says .

There is probably a fierce debate going on in China about when to relax the lockdown measures, says Roy Anderson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London. He suggests there could be a second wave of new infections when they are lifted.

Lockdowns have to end at some point, and governments should remind people to maintain social distancing and good hygiene, says Anderson. “It’s our actions more than government measures that will matter,” he says.

Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00741-x

Tech industry discussing ways to use smartphone location data to combat coronavirus

The U.S. government is in active talks with Facebook, Google and a wide array of tech companies and health experts about how they can use location data gleaned from Americans’ phones to combat the novel coronavirus, including tracking whether people are keeping one another at safe distances to stem the outbreak.

Public-health experts are interested in the possibility that private-sector companies could compile the data in anonymous, aggregated form, which they could then use to map the spread of the infection, according to three people familiar with the effort, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the project is in its early stages.

Analyzing trends in smartphone owners’ whereabouts could prove to be a powerful tool for health authorities looking to track coronavirus, which has infected more than 180,000 people globally. But it’s also an approach that could leave some Americans uncomfortable, depending on how it’s implemented, given the sensitivity when it comes to details of their daily whereabouts. Multiple sources stressed that — if they proceed — they are not building a government database.

In recent interviews, Facebook executives said the U.S. government is particularly interested in understanding patterns of people’s movements, which can be derived through data the company collects from users who allow it. The tech giant in the past has provided this information to researchers in the form of statistics, which in the case of coronavirus, could help officials predict the next hotspot or decide where to allocate overstretched health resources.

Google also confirmed late Tuesday it had been in conversations with government officials, tech giants and health experts. The company says it is working on its own to tap its trove of location data, particularly any insights it can derive from its popular maps app.

“We’re exploring ways that aggregated anonymized location information could help in the fight against COVID-19. One example could be helping health authorities determine the impact of social distancing, similar to the way we show popular restaurant times and traffic patterns in Google Maps,” spokesman Johnny Luu said in a statement, stressing any such partnership “would not involve sharing data about any individual’s location, movement, or contacts.”

At the White House, an official at the Office of Science and Technology Policy, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the government is “encouraged by American technology companies looking to leverage aggregated, anonymized data to glean key insights for covid-19 modeling efforts.”

The official added those insights might “help public health officials, researchers, and scientists improve their understanding of the spread of covid-19 and transmission of the disease.”

A task force created by tech executives, entrepreneurs and investors presented a range of ideas around disease mapping and telehealth to the White House during a private meeting Sunday. The discussions included representatives from tech giants, including Apple and Google; investors led by the New York-based firm Hangar and well-known Silicon Valley venture capitalist Ron Conway; public-health leaders from Harvard University; and smaller telehealth start-ups like Ro, two people said.

“We are still in the process of collecting ideas, recommendations, and proposed actions from task-force members, which we intend to present to the White House in the coming days,” said Josh Mendelsohn, the managing partner at Hangar, who helped organize the effort.

Many of those involved either did not respond or declined to comment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not respond to a request for comment. Apple said Tuesday it has only worked on issues related to telehealth and distance learning, stressing it doesn’t collect iPhone users’ locations.

The early, unprecedented collaboration between Washington and Silicon Valley reflects the urgent, nationwide scramble to stop a deadly malady that has shuttered businesses, skewered the stock market, sent students home from school and now threatens to overwhelm the U.S. medical system with patients in need of critical care.

Over the past week, White House officials led by Michael Kratsios, the country’s chief technology officer, have convened meetings to leverage the tech expertise of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, IBM and other technology leaders. The government has encouraged social-media sites to take a more aggressive approach to thwart coronavirus conspiracy theories, The Washington Post has reported, responding to concerns that foreign misinformation might be stoking panic about the outbreak. And the Trump administration has explored partnering with the tech industry to improve telework and telehealth offerings for millions of Americans.

The relationship hasn’t been without its hiccups: On Friday, President Trump announced Google would be developing a website so Americans could learn how to get tested for coronavirus, which causes the disease covid-19. That differed from the initial statements from Google’s parent company, Alphabet, which had indicated it planned a more limited offering targeting residents of California. Ultimately, though, Google said soon after it would unveil a website to provide information for U.S. patients nationwide.

On Monday, White House leaders, tech experts and health officials struck a more unified note, unveiling a portal for roughly 29,000 research papers on coronavirus. The portal allows the tech industry’s artificial-intelligence tools — which can scan and analyze data en masse — to process the papers rapidly to uncover new insights about the global malady.

“Decisive action from America’s science and technology enterprise is critical to prevent, detect, treat, and develop solutions to COVID-19,” Kratsios said in a statement.

The new efforts by Washington and Silicon Valley arrived the same week that dozens of engineers, executives and epidemiologists issued an open letter, calling on companies to take a greater stand against coronavirus. Specifically, they encouraged Apple and Google to adopt “privacy preserving” features that might enable authorities to help doctors determine people who were in contact with a patient that later tested positive for coronavirus.

“Technology companies have taken important steps already, such as closing offices in affected areas or showing custom search results in place of user generated content. But we believe there is a lot more that Silicon Valley can do to assist with large scale mitigation,” they wrote.

Smartphones regularly transmit their locations to wireless carriers and often to major tech companies as well, including Google and Facebook, to make some of their services work. The makers of apps that deliver weather reports, hail rides or help people find a coffee shop also frequently collect location information, and some sell it to firms that mine the data for business insights and opportunities.

Privacy advocates typically look skeptically on such commercial uses of location data, calling for stricter laws governing its use. Recent news about Israel’s plans to use location data to help track the coronavirus similarly sparked intense discussions about the legal and ethical implications of deploying such data to thwart the spread of disease and get medical help to infected people.

“The balance between privacy and pandemic policy is a delicate one,” Al Gidari, director of privacy at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, tweeted last week. “The problem here is that this is not a law school exam. Technology can save lives, but if the implementation unreasonably threatens privacy, more lives may be at risk.”

The issues are all the more sensitive for Silicon Valley because the companies faced a severe backlash in 2013, following disclosures about the role of tech company data in surveillance by the National Security Agency, made public by agency contractor Edward Snowden. Relations between tech companies and government officials were severely strained for years after and have improved only gradually.

“Privacy is the first to go when there are national security issues,” said Ashkan Soltani, a former Federal Trade Commission chief technologist who covered the Snowden revelations as a journalist.

In seeking to battle the coronavirus, the U.S. government is not seeking to collect and maintain a database of Americans’ whereabouts, sources cautioned. Rather, U.S. officials have asked whether companies’ vast stores of geolocation data might help epidemiologists spot trends, including vulnerable populations, or identify areas at risk, such as hospitals under strain, two people said.

Facebook is already working with health researchers and nonprofits in several countries to provide anonymized and aggregated statistics about people’s movements through a project called disease-prevention maps.

Facebook populates its maps with the aid of its users, who have given the company permission to collect their location — harnessed via their smartphones — while its app runs in the background. Those locations are then aggregated and anonymized by Facebook engineers, who can calculate the likelihood people in one city or town are likely to visit another area, potentially spreading the outbreak there.

The most granular data Facebook provides to outsiders can locate a person to within about a third of a mile, Facebook officials say. The tech giant does not provide any data about individuals’ movement, aggregated or otherwise, to governments for disease tracking, the company says.

“You’re trying to predict the probability that a group of people in Prince George’s County might interact with a group of people from D.C.,” said Laura McGorman, who leads the project, referring to the Maryland county in suburban Washington. Such a prediction could offer clues for how infections might travel.

McGorman said government officials, including those in California, are also interested in seeing whether people are practicing social distancing and whether it is an effective strategy. She said engineers had labored over the past 48 hours to help authorities with their requests.

She said the project is in the early phases because it is challenging to map real-time location streaming in from smartphones against analog information coming in from hospitals and cities. “It is very humbling because we have one piece of the puzzle that we can offer but there are so many other inputs in understanding how disease will spread.”

For its part, Google said Tuesday it had not shared any aggregated, anonymized data, stressing the project is still in its early stages — and that it was still considering whether to participate. The company added it did not plan to tap its cache of users’ location information to help in so-called “contact tracing” efforts to find people at risk of contracting coronavirus, explaining the data could not be adapted to help in that manner.

Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/03/17/white-house-location-data-coronavirus/

Israeli Spyware Firm NSO Wants to Track Data to Stop Coronavirus Spreading

An Israeli technology company, which has gained notoriety for the spyware it sells, has developed a new product it says has the ability to track the spread of the coronavirus.

NSO Group Ltd.’s product analyzes huge volumes of data to map people’s movements to identify who they’ve come in contact with, which can then be used to stop the spread of infection, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Global Curbs Tighten; Mnuchin Seeks $850 Billion: Virus Update

About a dozen countries are testing the NSO technology, the person familiar said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a private matter. The software takes two weeks of mobile-phone tracking information from the infected person — the incubation time of the virus — then matches with location data collected by national mobile phone companies that pinpoints citizens who were in the patient’s vicinity for more than 15 minutes and are vulnerable to contagion, the person said.

NSO’s new product is being tested just as Israel approves the use of a tracking technology developed to combat terrorism to retrace the movements of coronavirus patients and people they’ve encountered. The step has proved controversial, with critics saying it constitutes an invasion of Israeli citizens’ privacy.

NSO itself has a history fraught with privacy and human rights controversy. Its spyware has been suspected of helping Saudi Arabia spy on murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, an accusation the company has denied. Speculation its software may have been used to hack the phone of Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos was also denied by the company. WhatsApp has filed a lawsuit against NSO, alleging that it violated the messaging platform’s terms of service by using it as a delivery mechanism for its spyware.

Why You Don’t Need to Be Bezos to Worry About Spyware: QuickTake

Civilian Product

The data analysis tool is the company’s first civilian product. Unlike NSO’s better-known Pegasus spyware, the big-data software doesn’t track mobile phones or conduct surveillance, the person said. It’s a civilian product sold to national health ministries and doesn’t need special export permission from Israel’s Ministry of Defense, the person said.

Should the software determine a possible case of contagion, a text message is sent to the SIM number, without revealing the owner’s identity to authorities, the person familiar said. Only when citizens test positive for the virus — and give permission — can officials correlate their SIM cards with their identities, the person said.

An NSO spokesman confirmed that the company developed a new data-analysis product with the ability to map the spread of the epidemic and help contain it. He declined further comment.

NSO has said it sells its surveillance technology to law enforcement and intelligence agencies to help catch criminals and terrorists. It can tap into a phone’s microphone and camera, view email and messages and collect location data on the user.

‘Surveillance Democracy?’

On Monday, the Israeli government authorized the country’s Shin Bet internal security agency to deploy a similar technology to track the virus among its citizens, which was originally developed to monitor the movement of militants.

Critics raised concerns about putting such technology in governments’ hands.

“We can use any technology to fight this horrible disease,” said Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, head of the democracy in the information age program at the Israel Democracy Institute research center. “The question is, who will do it? And who will supervise it? And who will promise that after this is over, we won’t become a surveillance democracy?”

In Taiwan, Singapore and all of Europe, governments hired private companies that send the data they collect to health ministries, Altshuler noted.

“Nowhere have they involved the secret services,” she said.

The disease, which originated in China late last year, has spread to 141 countries and regions, infecting more than 180,000 people, killing more than 7,000 and sending economies cratering. Israel has 304 confirmed cases, with no deaths.

Israel’s Internal Security Agency to Track Coronavirus Patients

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the technology “will greatly assist us in locating patients and thereby stop the spread of the virus” and stressed “strict oversight” of the tools “to ensure they would not be abused.”

source: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-03-17/surveillance-company-nso-supplying-data-analysis-to-stop-virus

Top 15 Most Secure Linux Distros

The number of Linux users is increasing immensely day by day. Their specialty is that they are less common than the other operating systems out there. And still, they are working to be more technical in the upcoming days.

Here is the list of the Most Secure Linux Distros which are ’Specially Focused on Linux security.’ That means this article is done especially by focusing on Sharp Security that a Linux user is more concern about.

1. Qubes OS


If you are looking for the most secure Linux distro for your desktop here, Qubes comes up at the top. Why am I saying that? Well, Qubes is a Fedora-based operating system which focused on desktop security. This OS will secure you by isolating and virtualizing various VM separately.

Qubes isolate your personal files from the malware without being affected. It’s cool. Note that this OS is best for advanced users. So if you are new, then it will be a bit tough for you to manage this system.

Download Qubes OS

2. Tails


Tails is one of the best most Secure Linux Distros out there after Parrot Security OS. Tails first released in 2009. This Operating System developed especially targeting on personal computers. If you are looking for an OS which will keep you safe while browsing the internet, then Tails will take the first place.

tails

It’s a live CD and a pre-installed Operating System with the Tor browser bundle using the onion circuit. Since all the outgoing connection goes through the Tor so it allows you to use the internet anonymously and whatever you do it never leaves any trace behind.

Tails OS doesn’t use any space of hard disk; instead, it only uses the required space in your RAM, but it will be erased automatically when you shut down your system. It can be used as a live DVD or live USB. It will be more convenient to boot from a USB stick rather a DVD. However, there are some issues with this OS. Recently most of the users are claiming that Tails requires 2 USB stick while installing which is boring.

Download Tails

3. Parrot Security OS


FrozenBox develops parrot Security OS and released in 2013. This software is a game-changer when it comes about security & privacy concern of a Computer’s Operating System. Parrot Security OS is specially designed to test an authorized simulated attack on your computer system, which helps to assess the vulnerabilities of your system, whether it is strong enough or not.

It comes with a full portable laboratory which protects your system from any unwanted disease while working on the internet, browsing anything and playing a game, etc. Again if you are a forensic expert, then this operating system is the best, and nothing can go beyond this.

Download Parrot Security OS

4. Kali Linux


Kali Linux is a pre-installed Debian derived Linux distro, which is developed especially focusing on Pen Testing and Forensic Experts. Kali comes along with a package of tools such as-Aircrack-ng, Ettercap, Foremost, Wireshark, Kismet, Maltigo and many others which helps you in many ways like exploiting a victim network or application, performing network discovery, or surveying a target IP address.

Not only that Kali includes a graphical cyber attacking tool name Armitage which allows you to lunch and exploits, get exploits recommendation and advanced features of the Metasploit Framework’s meterpreter. Kali Linux has considered one of top-ranked most secure Linux distros out there for developers.

Like Tails, this OS also can be booted as a live DVD or USB stick, and it is easy to use than the other OS available out there. Whether you run 32 or 62 operating systems, Kali Linux can be used on both. This OS requires minimum 512mb RAM & 10GB hard disk space to be installed.

Download Kali Linux

5. Whonix


If you want to private your IP address, then Whonix is the perfect one you can have. Whonix is a Debian based operating system that focused specifically on anonymity privacy and security. Whonix provides security by isolation. It’s an operating system which uses explicitly the principle of isolation to enable security, privacy, and anonymity.

This operating system is developed by two major programs. One is a workstation, and the other one is Gateway. The gateway acts as a middleman here, and it forces all the connection to go through the Tor network. So there is no opportunity for the IP address to be leaked, and this is how the Whonix OS keeps you secured.

Download Whonix

6. Discreete Linux


Maybe you are trying to keep your data safe and yet to find out any better security distro for your Linux Operating System. Let your scare fly away. Here you have Discreete Linux OS called one of the most secure Linux distros to protect your valuable data.

This OS doesn’t make any connection with the internet while working, which separates the Data & cryptographic keys to be protected from the non-trusted network. Another exciting thing is that this OS is a pure live system, so you don’t need to install it on your computer; instead, you can quickly run it with a USB stick.

Download Discreete Linux

7. Linux Kodachi


Do you love to stay fully anonymous while surfing the internet? Then Kodachi Linux is one of the best most secure Linux distros that you would love to have. Many users are saying that this is the most secure Linux distro that they have ever had. Personally, I have never tested, though. This Operating System comes with Tor, a VPN, and DNSCrypt and can be booted easily from a DVD or USB drive.

kodachi Linux

You can choose the exit routes country whenever you surf the internet. This operating contains many other useful application like Pidgin internet messenger, Transmission, VirtualBox, Geany, FileZilla, and many more. Finally, I must say, this Operating System comes with everything that a user needs to be secured.

Download Linux Kodachi

8. BlackArch Linux


BlackArck Linux is a new Linux security distro which is designed especially focusing on Pen Testing and Security research. It comes up with a vast number of tools that is twice even thrice as more as Kali Linux has.

This is straight Out Of The Box. They can be installed separately or if you want you can install in a group as well. This operating system is straightforward to use. This OS is lightweight enough so you can run it in any hardware.

Download BlackArch Linux

9. Heads OS


Heads is a GNU/Linux based free security distro. This OS is significantly smaller than the other OS out there and pretty easier to manage. Heads use only free software that means this OS gives more value on users freedom and community.

heads OS

Like the other OS above, Heads also uses Tor so that you can be anonymized while surfing online. All of your traffics are enforced to go through Tor by default, but they give the option to make it stop if you want. Heads always give priority to their users.

Download Heads OS

10. Subgraph OS


Like Tails, Subgraph Operating system is also a Debian based operating system which prevents the surveillance and interference by sophisticated adversaries from the Internet. This OS is designed for everyone. Its GNOME-based desktop environment is incredibly user-friendly.

While talking about security & privacy, this security distro prevents the attack through intelligent access control; memory corruption-based exploit prevention with a package of patchset (grsecurity patchset and Pax). Grsecurity patchset provides a package of security, such as addressing space protection, enhanced auditing, and process control.

Download Subgraph OS

11. IprediaOS


This security distro is good to use to browse the web, emailing, chat, and sharing any files through the internet anonymously. All of the connections are routed to go through I2P software.

Unlike some other distro out there, IprediaOS supports TORRENTS. This Operating System is competitively fast then Tor even you are going to use it on your older computer this OS will work well on that as well.

Download IprediaOS

12. PureOS


If you are looking for a user-friendly security distro that will allow you the freedom to modify it. Then PureOS is that one. PureOS is a free software which delivers a security package including “Duck Duck Go” search engine.

pureosIt will protect your privacy by avoiding personal search results as it’s free software so you can download it without purchasing anything. You can ask for its source code even you are allowed to modify it as well.

Download PureOS

13. Openwall GNU/*/Linux


Openwall is a security-enhanced Linux distro based operating system which is specially designed for servers and Applications. Openwall provides security by reducing the flaws in its software components with the Openwall patch (Best known as a (non-exec stack patch). It’s a free intended server platform.

Download Openwall GNU/*/Linux

14. Alpine Linux


Alpine Linux is a mus libc, and BusyBox based most secure Linux distro. It is so lightweight that you can ever think. The size of its base system is around 5 MB which is smaller than the other systems available out there. And this is why this Linux distro is that much popular.

Its another component BusyBox includes a lot of tools, and very few of them are bunzip2,bzip2, less, lzma, unlzma, vi, wget. Those tools are in an Alpine base image that is not in Debian base image. It’s application manager APK is way faster than other and very easy to use.

Download Alpine Linux

15. Container Linux (Formerly CoreOS)


If you love to serve on various machines and update machines without any downtime, then Container Linux (Formerly CoreOS) will be your go-to Linux distro. Container Linux is a lightweight Linux Distro which is designed for clusters and server. This security distro is getting popular nowadays because it’s easy to deploy, manage, and run containers. In earlier CoreOS supported only Dockers platform but recently it supports rkt (Rocket) as an alternative of Docker. This software updates automatically when they need to be updated, which improves security.

The Last Words


Here I have reviewed the 15 Most Secure Linux Distros available out there, some of which I have tested personally and the rest I have ranked by exploring the best features from their website, researching on the internet, gathering reviews from the users.

So I hope you will find this article helpful in choosing the best one for yourself. If it does so, then please share it on your social media, with your friends and family who are also trying to have the best one for themselves. And also don’t forget to leave your valuable suggestion in the comment box.

Source: https://www.ubuntupit.com/15-most-secure-linux-distros-for-privacy-and-security-concern-users/

Bill Gates orders £500m hydrogen-powered superyacht

Microsoft billionaire’s innovative and eco-fuelled 112m Aqua vessel to launch after 2024

The ‘Aqua’ superyacht powered by liquid hydrogen
The ‘Aqua’ superyacht powered by liquid hydrogen – a snip at £500m. It can travel 3,750 miles before it needs to refuel. Photograph: Sinot/Cover Images

Bill Gates has ordered the world’s first hydrogen-powered superyacht, worth an estimated £500m ($644m) and featuring an infinity pool, helipad, spa and gym.

The billionaire co-founder of Microsoft has commissioned the Aqua ship – a 112-metre (370ft) luxury vessel completely powered by liquid hydrogen – which was publicised last year at the Monaco yacht show by the Dutch design firm Sinot.

Speaking about the project last year, the marine designer Sander Sinot said: “For the development of Aqua we took inspiration from the lifestyle of a discerning, forward-looking owner, the fluid versatility of water and cutting-edge technology, to combine this in a superyacht with truly innovative features.”

The boat has five decks and space to accommodate 14 guests and 31 crew members. In a further environmentally friendly feature, gel-fuelled fire bowls allow guests to stay warm outside without having to burn wood or coals.

But its most cutting-edge feature is tucked away below decks – two 28-tonne vacuum-sealed tanks that are cooled to -423F (-253C) and filled with liquid hydrogen, which powers the ship. The fuel will generate power for the two one-megawatt motors and propellors via on-board fuel cells, which combine hydrogen with oxygen to produce electricity. Water is a byproduct.

The vessel is unlikely to take to the seas before 2024, according to the Sunday Telegraph, which reported the Gates commission. When it does, it has the potential to reach speeds of 17 knots (about 20mph) and travel 3,750 miles (or roughly London to New York) before it needs to refuel. The Sunday Telegraph said the boat would have a “diesel back-up” due to the scarcity of hydrogen refuelling stations.

Gates, 64, who is currently ranked as the world’s second-richest man with a $118bn (£92bn) fortune, is a regular superyacht holidaymaker who has not previously owned his own vessel. Typically renting yachts for his own use, in the past he has holidayed off the coast of Sardinia onboard the $330m yacht Serene, which is owned by the Stolichnaya vodka magnate, Yuri Scheffler.

The investment underlines Gates’s long-standing interest in alternative fuels, and his enthusiasm for new technology that could tackle emissions from industry and transport that together make up 75% of the world’s carbon footprint.

He is an investor in Heliogen, a Californian startup that aims to turn sunlight into a source of heat exceeding 1,000C that could help replace fossil fuels. It is the first company in the world to concentrate sunlight to reach temperatures that are high enough to power heavy industry without carbon emissions.

Gates has also pledged to give most of his estimated $118bn fortune to good causes via The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This week he donated $100m to help tackle the coronavirus.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/feb/09/bill-gates-orders-500m-hydrogen-powered-superyacht