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Friday briefing: Google is giving US law enforcement access to overseas data

Getty Images / Sean Gallup / Staff

Your WIRED daily briefing. Today, Google has reversed its policy of challenging US court warrants for data kept on its overseas servers, you can watch live as the Cassini spacecraft destroys itself in Saturn’s atmosphere, Facebook auto-generated antisemitic advertising categories and more.

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1. Google is giving US law enforcement access to overseas data

A filing to the US Supreme Court has revealed that Google has stopped challenging court warrants demanding access to data stored on the company’s overseas servers (Ars Technica). It’s a notable step down from the firm, which until recently stood with other tech companies such as Microsoft in maintaining that data kept in foreign countries was by definition outside US jurisdiction. Google wrote: “Google has reversed its previous stance and informed the government that it will comply with new Section 2703 warrants outside the 2nd Circuit (while suggesting that it will appeal the adverse decisions in one or more existing cases). Consequently, the government’s ability to use Section 2703 warrants to obtain communications stored abroad — which may contain evidence critical to criminal or national-security investigations — now varies depending on the jurisdiction and the identity of the provider”.

2. Watch live as Cassini makes its way into Saturn’s atmosphere

Nasa’s Cassini spacecraft will, in the coming hours, take its final dive into the atmosphere of gas giant Saturn, broadcast live on YouTube and on Nasa TV (Space.com). As the spacecraft approaches the planetary atmosphere, where it will disintegrate and burn up, it’s being switched to a live feed, bypassing its internal storage to broadcast directly to Earth so that no data is lost. Nasa predicts that it will lose contact with the craft at 7:55 am EDT (12:55 pm BST).

3. Facebook auto-generates “Jew hater” advertising demographic

Investigative reporters from ProPublica found that Facebook advertisers were being given the option of targeting their ads towards interest categories including “Jew hater”, “How to burn jews” and “History of ‘why jews ruin the world'”, which some 2,300 people express an interest in (TechCrunch). Facebook’s algorithms draw on users’ listed likes, interests and professions to automatically generate advertising categories that its advertising customers can target, and that’s what happened here. Although the company removed the categories when informed of their existence, it reveals a striking lack of any restriction over what the advertising algorithm is allowed to include as legitimate content. It has also been noted by the Harvard Neiman Journalism Lab’s Joshua Benton that the same applies to Google AdWords, which is informed by user searches.

4. Women sue Google over systematic discrimination

Three women are suing Google over claims of systematic discrimination that they say results in the company’s female employees being channelled into lower-paying career tracks and put on lower employee grade tiers than comparably qualified men (The Verge). The suit, filed by Kelly Ellis, Holly Pease, and Kelli Wisuri, has the potential to become a class action on behalf of all women who’ve worked at the company in the past four years. Google’s senior manager of corporate communications, Gina Scigliano, said in response: “In relation to this particular lawsuit, we’ll review it in detail, but we disagree with the central allegations,” and maintains that the company has “extensive systems in place to ensure that we pay fairly”.

5. How police can still fingerprint the plastic £10 and £5 notes

The introduction of the new £10 note poses a real problem for fingerprinting (WIRED). “If you’re doing a drugs deal it’s not two or three fivers you are handing over, it is a £10 or £20,” says Stephen Bleay, a government scientist at the Home Office’s Centre for Applied Science and Technology (Cast). So the team at Cast is testing a new method of pulling identifying information from the new polymer notes using a combination of magnetic powder, infrared imaging, and a gel. First, metallic fingerprinting powder – known simply as black powder – is applied to an iron bar with a magnet at the end and sticks like bristles, which creates a kind of “brush” (above). Then metallic particles are painted onto the note, so it can be viewed with an infrared imager. “The fingerprint’s adhesive nature makes the particles stick,” Bleay explains. Not all fingerprints leave the same level of traces. If the prints cannot be seen, a tacky gelatine material can be used to lift the powder from the note’s surface. Infrared is then used to view fingerprints on the gel. The entire process can be completed in less than an hour, Bleay says: “You could do it at a crime scene”.

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6. Kids these days: It’s time to stereotype Generation Z

Millennials are over: marketers are now hoping to sell stuff to kids born after 1995 – so-called Generation Z, and this latest demographic designation is just as reductive and removed from reality as any other (WIRED). This is how marketing firm FutureCast puts it: “They view their identity as a curated composition”. (So … selfies are a thing!) “All it takes to change their outward identity is a simple swipe and an upload to Instagram”. According to people in marketing, at any rate, members of Gen Z prefer YouTube influencers to Hollywood celebs, check social media 100 times per day and delete Instagram photos to optimize likes-per-photo ratio. Apparently.

7. Watch the second Blade Runner 2049 prequel short

The second of three short prequel films to director Denis Villeneuve’s forthcoming Blade Runner 2049 has been published on Twitter by iTunes Trailers (Polygon). Titled 2048: Nowhere to Run, the short follows the personal journey of Sapper, played by Dave Bautista, as he attempts to flee from the darker side of his own potentially violent nature. Blade Runner 2049, set 30 years after Ridley Scott’s original film, comes to cinemas on October 6.

8. Divinity: Original Sin 2 launches, heads straight to the top of the Steam charts

Larian Studios’ deep, turn-based indie RPG Divinity: Original Sin 2 has come out of early access and promptly leapt to the top of Steam’s Top Sellers chart (VG24/7). The game combines lush isometric graphics with a huge world, tactical combat, optional four-player co-op, and the ability to steal memories by killing and eating NPCs. It’s currently priced at £29.99 and has a massively positive rating, to the delight of its development team.

9. Psychonauts is free from Humble right now

Tim Schafer’s acclaimed action/puzzle/adventure Psychonauts is currently free from Humble for Windows, macOS, and Linux, to promote the company’s ongoing End of Summer Sale (PC Gamer). The game invites you to visit a summer camp for kids with psychic powers and free the minds of your fellow campers. The offer lasts until Saturday, and the sale continues until September 21.

10. The new – and final? – episode of Futurama is an audio play

Matt Groening has reunited the cast and writers of Futurama for just one more episode, in the form of an audio drama co-created with Chris Hardwick of The Nerdist (Ars Technica). Available to hear now via your preferred podcatcher or on YouTube, the episode, Radiorama takes full advantage of its new medium with a wealth of sound gags. The plot sees Hardwick take on the role of villain as a technological catastrophe has unleashed an unstoppable flood of 21st century podcast audio clips on a helpless future.

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