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ACLU Sues Federal Government Over Social Media Surveillance

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The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the federal government to gain information on its social media surveillance—specifically the Trump administration’s controversial “extreme vetting” immigration policy.

Filed under the Freedom of Information Act, the lawsuit accuses seven federal agencies—including the DoJ, FBI, Homeland Security, and several immigration services—of failing to produce records in response to a 2018 FOIA request.

The document, filed in May, seeks information on how the government collects and analyzes posts from Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks.

“Government surveillance of social media raises serious constitutional and privacy concerns,” according to the ACLU appeal. “Most online speech reflects no wrongdoing whatsoever and is fully protected by the First Amendment.

“When government agencies collect or share individuals’ online speech without any connection to investigation of actual criminal conduct,” it continued, “they foster suspicion about individuals and make it more likely that innocent people will be investigated, surveilled, or watchlisted.”

In response, the FBI claimed it “can neither confirm nor deny the existence of records responsive to [the ACLU’s] request.”

Simply acknowledging its use of social media surveillance would “risk circumvention of the law,” the Bureau said.

Except, the domestic intelligence and security service has repeatedly acknowledged—on official government websites—that it contracts with data analytics firms to obtain “the mission critical social media monitoring” and “software that parses and analyzes social media data.”

The six other agencies “haven’t produced a single document,” ACLU attorneys Hugh Handeyside and Matt Cagle wrote in a blog post.

“Based on what little information is publicly available, it’s clear that the federal government routinely tracks domestic social media users, with a particular focus on immigrants,” the blog said.

In May 2017, President Trump announced an “extreme vetting” initiative that includes seeking social media handles for those visa applicants deemed suspect by immigration agents.

The State Department followed up with plans to require most of the 14.7 million people who annually apply for work or tourist visas to submit social media identifiers used in the past five years in order to travel or immigrate to the US.

“It’s clear from already public information that all of the agencies we’re targeting in our FOIA lawsuit engage in manual and automated surveillance of social media users and their speech, and it’s unacceptable for the government to withhold details about this domestic spying,” Cagle and Handeyside said.

“The public needs to know how the government is watching us,” they added. “And we shouldn’t have to think about self-censoring what we say online.”

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Watch a Fleet of SpotMini Robo Dogs Haul a Box Truck

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Do you hear that? It’s the sound of the impending robot revolution.

Actually, it’s the sound of 10 SpotMini robo dogs hauling a truck across the Boston Dynamics parking lot.

Like I said: impending uprising.

Small and nimble, the 2.75-foot-tall, four-legged machine inherited the mobility of big brother Spot—with the added ability to pick up and handle objects using a claw-like arm and perception sensors.

Considered Boston Dynamics’ “quietest robot” yet, SpotMini can carry a 30-pound payload while operating for up to 90 minutes on a single charge.

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“These Spot robots are coming off the production line now,” the Massachusetts-based engineering firm said in a video caption, promising availability “for a range of applications.”

Company co-founder Marc Raibert last year tipped potential clients in four categories: construction, delivery, security, and home assistance. (And, now, roadside service.)

There is no word yet on pricing.

Anyone else get a sort of sinking feeling watching the robo dogs wake up and snap into position like a headless army?

Something about their asynchronous marching and stiff frames remind me equally of Santa’s reindeer and mechanized assassins.

Yet, when Boston Dynamics last year released a minute-long clip of its droid dog shimmying along to “Uptown Funk,” my heart melted; SpotMini side-steps, twerks, and does the best automated Running Man YouTube has ever seen.

That’s nothing, though, compared with dynamic humanoid Atlas.

Standing nearly five feet tall and weighing 165 lbs, the robot is an athlete and gymnast: In 2017, it landed a perfect backflip—completely unaided; last year, Boston Dynamics highlighted the droid’s ability to job comfortably over uneven natural terrain, jump gracefully over a log, and leap up steps without breaking its stride.

I can’t even jump onto the 18-inch plyo box at the gym.

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New Uber Initiative Boosts Rider Safety on College Campuses

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Uber is cracking down on fake rideshare drivers after a college student was murdered last month waiting for a pick up.

The transportation network, in partnership with the University of South Carolina, has launched the Campus Safety Initiative: a national effort to help students learn how to avoid fraudulent chauffeurs.

In March, 21-year-old USC student Samantha Josephson went missing after getting into a car outside a Columbia bar. Her body was later found on a secluded dirt road in nearby Clarendon County.

The Columbia Police Department announced that 24-year-old Nathaniel Rowland has been charged with murder and kidnapping, after matching large amounts of blood in the suspect’s car to the missing New Jersey woman, CBS reported.

It’s believed Rowland posed as an Uber driver to lure his victim into the car.

“We were heartbroken by the recent crime committed by a fake rideshare driver in South Carolina,” Andrew Macdonald, Uber VP of operations, wrote in a blog post. “While no words can alleviate the loss felt by the Josephson family, we are committed to continuing to take action to make our communities safer.”

Existing public awareness campaign Check Your Ride, introduced two years ago, encourages users to double check that the vehicle and driver match details in the app before entering a car.

But if you’re in a hurry or maybe a bit tipsy, safety precautions can often be thrown to the wind.

New in-app safety features—like push notifications and banners—are rolling out now to remind folks how to confirm the right car before it arrives.

“In addition to these steps, you can also ask the driver to confirm your name,” Macdonald suggested, echoing the #WhatsMyName mission by the Josephson family to educate the world on rideshare precautions.

Inspired by the University of South Carolina and its students, Uber is working with the Columbia Police Department to create dedicated pickup zones—well-lit areas with law enforcement on hand to help riders and drivers connect safely.

“Our goal is to make checking your ride before you get in the car synonymous with using Uber,” Macdonald said. “There is nothing more important than the safety of the people we serve and we’re constantly working to improve.”

Rival Lyft also announced enhancements to the safety and security of its platform, including continuous background checks and enhanced identity verification.

Neither of which will save an unsuspecting rider from getting into the wrong car. But every little bit helps, right?

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Samsung Galaxy Fold Keeps Breaking and It’s Hilarious

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Does anyone really want a smartphone that folds? Like, really? Shoving two phones together with a seemingly nifty hinge always just felt like a grift to just sell one phone for double the price. Give me a nice small screen and a headphone jack and I’m good.

But even if you’ve bought into the tech hype that foldable phones are the way of the future, you may want to hold back on spending $2,000 on the most high-profile example of this trend the Samsung Galaxy Fold. Tech journalists this week got their review units for the upcoming device and right now it’s looking pretty fragile.

Take a look.

Samsung can show as much footage of robots bending the phone hinge as they want, but something isn’t right if the bridge is breaking just after days of use by careful professionals. If two of your effectively three screens fizzle out so quickly, just buy a normal phone with one solid screen for way cheaper.

Even more concerning is that there are apparently multiple causes of this problem. The most common issue is reviewers accidentally a protective film that appears to be an optional screen protector but is actually extremely vital. So be careful about that if you still want to pick this up. But at The Verge their screen broke after a piece of debris somehow wedged itself in the hinge and basically cut the unfolded screen down the middle. So the solution is to basically treat the Samsung Galaxy Fold like a sick child, not a premium piece of tech.

As a consumer you always face risks being an early adopter of bleeding-edge technology. It takes time for manufacturers to work out little kinks in big innovations. Remember the last Samsung phone disaster when batteries kept blowing up? And I should say we also have a Samsung Galaxy Fold here at the PCMag office that seems okay… right now. Still, unless you absolutely positively need a folding phone as soon as possible, here are some other Android phones you may want to invest in instead of the Samsung Galaxy Fold.

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