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Taking control of online data

GDPR ushers in a new era of data protection right after the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal shows us why it’s needed.

Celebrating 20 years of Silicon Republic, 2001-2021

On 20 August 2018, a 15-year-old girl in Sweden decided not to go to school. Instead, she protested outside the Swedish parliament building, demanding the country take action on the climate crisis.

Greta Thunberg was right to be concerned. Her school strike, which eventually evolved into the FridaysForFuture movement, began less than two months before a UN report warned that drastic action would be required to keep global heating below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Maynooth University climatologist Prof Peter Thorne was among the report’s 91 authors who, along with 133 contributors, compiled a comprehensive assessment for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). As if on cue, scientists released audio of Antarctic ice ‘singing’ a haunting song shortly after the IPCC report.

While Ireland made some effort on climate action by divesting from fossil fuels in 2018, overall data showed the country to be a ‘laggard’ on the issue and, according to the Climate Change Advisory Council, “completely off course” on emissions targets.

Missing these goals would have immediate as well as long-term consequences with the country expecting to be fined as much as €500m. Micheál Martin, TD, then leader of the opposition, described it as an “extraordinary story of failure”.

Before the year’s end, Ireland pledged €4.5m to six climate initiatives at COP24 and almost 200 nations agreed rules on implementing the Paris Agreement. It sounded like more empty promises, though, as environmental groups criticised the lack of progress on the issue to date. “People expected action, and that is what governments did not deliver. This is morally unacceptable,” said Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International.

Facebook under fire

Mark Zuckerberg’s 2018 New Year’s resolution was to fix Facebook. What followed was possibly the platform’s most hellish year.

On St Patrick’s Day, joint reports in The New York Times and The Observer revealed a huge scandal involving the harvesting of the Facebook data of about 87m people for the purpose of mass manipulation through misinformation and targeted advertising.

Having been caught on camera boasting about his company’s powers of political interference, Andrew Nix, CEO of UK consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, was suspended. Facebook’s stocks took a tumble and there was a user exodus.

Zuckerberg later admitted Facebook made mistakes and new privacy features were introduced to give users’ control of their data. But he still had to face US Senate judiciary and commerce committees and EU MEPs. Later, the company would appeal a £500,000 fine in the UK.

In Ireland, Facebook’s content moderation policies were the subject of scrutiny by an Oireachtas Committee and politicians called for an end to self-regulation.

And Facebook’s woes didn’t end there. In September, the platform suffered the biggest data breach in its 14-year history, with 30m accounts affected by an access token-harvesting attack – though it was initially thought to have affected as many as 50m accounts.

There’s a new sheriff in town (it’s GDPR)

This is the world into which the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) arrived. As the deadline for compliance with the massive 261-page piece of EU legislation approached, inboxes were stuffed with countless privacy update requests.

On 25 May, the very day that GDPR became law, data privacy activist Max Schrems wasted no time, launching legal broadsides at tech giants worth €7bn. Some US websites were so panicked by the risk of fines that they blocked access in the EU.

Even with years of advance notice, only 20pc of organisations surveyed believed they were GDPR-compliant two months after it came into effect.

Then came the investigations. In October, the Irish Data Protection Commission began investigating a Facebook data breach. Shortly after, it was Twitter’s turn for alleged user tracking.

As well as transforming data retention practices, GDPR ushered in a noticeable decline in third-party cookies. It also set an example for the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), due to bring similar rules to Silicon Valley in 2020. Apple CEO Tim Cook believed the whole US should adopt GDPR-like rules to deal with the growing “data industrial complex”.

Deepfake dangers

The expression ‘deepfake’ was first used in print in 2018, referring to the face-mapping technology used by internet hobbyists to rework existing videos.

Lots of early deepfakes were made in jest, but as this fabricated video footage became easier to make and spotting them became harder, the implications for misinformation became apparent.

To demonstrate the case, comedian Jordan Peele made a deepfake of former US president Barack Obama. Obama may never have really called then president Donald Trump “a total and complete dipshit”, but Peele made it look scarily convincing.

People were also using deepfake technology to make pornographic videos. Gfycat deleted them and Reddit banned them, but a heinous genie was out of the bottle. Social media players became concerned over the negative impacts of deepfakes on their platforms and, in September, Sheryl Sandberg and Jack Dorsey faced a grilling at US congress over their plans to tackle deepfakes and bots.

5G foundations are laid

Fifth-generation wireless technology, better known as 5G, promised speeds up to 100 times faster than its 4G predecessor and networks were getting ready for the leap forward.

Early February saw the first live demo of pre-standard 5G in Ireland by Vodafone and Ericsson. Later, Three, Imagine and Eir laid out their 5G plans.

The standalone international 5G standard was passed in June and companies such as Nokia, Qualcomm and Ericsson were set for a windfall as they owned standard patents integral to its deployment. Nokia, for example, estimated that it would make €3 for every 5G smartphone sold.

Intel and Ericsson made a breakthrough when they achieved the first end-to-end 5G data call in July. In November, Vodafone went live with the first 5G trial site in Dublin’s Docklands. And by December, Qualcomm was ready with a new generation of chips for the first wave of 5G-enabled devices.

National Broadband Plan in jeopardy

And while 5G was taking shape, Ireland’s National Broadband Plan (NBP) was falling apart.

The €1bn State-backed plan to bring connectivity to about 540,000 people was off to a rocky start when Eir sensationally walked away from the procurement process in January. Added to the departure of Vodafone-ESB joint venture Siro the previous year, this left just one bidder: a consortium led by US telecoms mogul David McCourt involving Enet and SSE.

Then February delivered another shock when Enet CEO Conal Henry stepped down. Five months later, SSE exited the consortium.

By September, now called National Broadband Ireland, the consortium submitted its final bid for the tender. The group, led by McCourt’s investment firm, Granahan McCourt, included Enet, Nokia, Kelly Group, KN Group and Actavo, Denis O’Brien’s engineering services firm.

But the drama wasn’t over. In October, communications minister Denis Naughten, TD, resigned amid growing controversy over his contacts with McCourt.

In November, an audit of the procurement process concluded that there was no evidence the process was tainted by these meetings or that any sensitive or beneficial information was shared with final NBP bidder.

Chipocalypse now

2018 sent the tech world into meltdown as the spectre of a CPU vulnerability affected millions of devices.

Known as Meltdown and Spectre, the bugs affected nearly all chip-enabled devices and could potentially give hackers access to parts of the computer’s memory. Initially thought to stem from a flaw exclusive to Intel chips, the bugs turned out to have affected other major chipmakers, including AMD and ARM, impacting Microsoft and Apple devices alike.

Patches issued by Intel slowed down computers, especially the ones using older processors such as Broadwell and Haswell. but CEO Brian Krzanich promised that new chips with built-in protections were in the pipeline.

A new variant called Spectre 4, discovered by Microsoft and Google later in the year, could leave any chip on any 21st-century computer open to attack. Months later, scientists uncovered a whole new vulnerability dubbed Foreshadow which they had, ironically, not expected.

By the end of the year, however, no malware related to the flaws was reported on the prowl even though new variants of the original bugs continued to crop up.

In other news

13 January: The second Payment Services Directive (PSD2) becomes law across Europe, potentially unleashing a new world of open banking.

20 February: Carolan Lennon is named as the next CEO of Eir.

20 February: Security researchers report that Tesla’s Amazon Web Services environment was hacked in order to mine cryptocurrency.

28 February: GitHub is hit by the most powerful DDoS attack on record.

18 March: The death of Elaine Herzberg in Arizona is the first recorded case of a pedestrian fatality involving an experimental autonomous car.

14 April: Mark Pollock and Simone George close TED2018 with “the most powerful, moving talk” ever seen at the conference.

27 April: Prof Stephen Hawking’s last theory is published following his death in March.

30 April: WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum leaves Facebook in a clash over privacy.

16 May: The Irish Government is narrowly defeated in its effort to keep the age of digital consent at 13, as Dáil Éireann votes to raise it to 16.

4 June: Microsoft acquires GitHub for $7.5bn.

5 June: Microsoft sinks a small data centre off the coast of the Orkney archipelago in Scotland.

14 June: AT&T completes its $85.4bn takeover of Time Warner.

12 July: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle meet Silicon Republic CEO Ann O’Dea and other leaders in diversity and inclusion, along with a number of young coders from the CoderDojo movement, at a round table in Dublin’s Dogpatch Labs.

12 July: Trinity reveals plans to build a €1bn campus known as the Grand Canal Innovation District.

18 July: The European Commission hits Google with a €4.34bn fine, finding that it abused its market dominance with Android.

2 August: Apple becomes the first public company to reach $1trn in value.

4 September: Amazon joins Apple in the $1trn club.

6 September: Prof Jocelyn Bell Burnell is awarded a $3m Breakthrough Prize for her discovery of pulsars, for which her PhD supervisor was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1974.

10 September: Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma announces his plans to step down.

24 September: Instagram founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger leave Facebook to explore their “curiosity and creativity”.

10 October: Microsoft joins the Open Invention Network, an open-source patent consortium that provides a licence platform for Linux.

15 October: Science Foundation Ireland launches VistaMilk to research the entire dairy production chain.

28 October: IBM announces plans for a $34bn acquisition of Red Hat, its biggest ever.

1 November: Google employees stage a walk-out to protest the handling of sexual harassment cases at the company.

26 November: NASA’s InSight lander touches down on the surface of Mars, capturing snaps of its new home.

13 December: Revolut is granted a European banking licence.

17 December: Google is reported to have shuttered Project Dragonfly, an effort to bring a censored search engine to China which had drawn employee protests.

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Congratulations, Privacy Just Took A Great Leap Out the Window!

Your Data Is Being Used Without Your Permission And Knowledge

The Voice Of EU | In the heart of technological innovation, the collision between intellectual property rights and the development of cutting-edge AI technologies has sparked a significant legal battle. The New York Times has taken legal action against OpenAI and Microsoft, filing a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court. This legal maneuver aims to address concerns surrounding the unauthorized use of the Times’ content for the training of AI models, alleging copyright infringements that could potentially result in billions of dollars in damages.


This legal tussle underlines the escalating tension between technological advancements and the protection of intellectual property. The crux of the lawsuit revolves around OpenAI and Microsoft allegedly utilizing the Times’ proprietary content to advance their own AI technology, directly competing with the publication’s services. The lawsuit suggests that this unauthorized utilization threatens the Times’ ability to offer its distinctive service and impacts its AI innovation, creating a competitive landscape that challenges the publication’s proprietary content.

Amidst the growing digital landscape, media organizations like the Times are confronting a myriad of challenges. The migration of readers to online platforms has significantly impacted traditional media, and the advent of artificial intelligence technology has added another layer of complexity. The legal dispute brings to the forefront the contentious practice of AI companies scraping copyrighted information from online sources, including articles from media organizations, to train their generative AI chatbots. This strategy has attracted substantial investments, rapidly transforming the AI landscape.

Exhibit presented by the New York Times’ legal team of ChatGPT replicating a article after being prompted

The lawsuit highlights instances where OpenAI’s technology, specifically GPT-4, replicated significant portions of Times articles, including in-depth investigative reports. These outputs, alleged by the Times to contain verbatim excerpts from their content, raise concerns about the ethical and legal boundaries of using copyrighted material for AI model training without proper authorization or compensation.

The legal action taken by the Times follows attempts to engage in discussions with Microsoft and OpenAI, aiming to address concerns about the use of its intellectual property. Despite these efforts, negotiations failed to reach a resolution that would ensure fair compensation for the use of the Times’ content while promoting responsible AI development that benefits society.

In the midst of this legal battle, the broader questions surrounding the responsible and ethical utilization of copyrighted material in advancing technological innovations come to the forefront.

The dispute between the Times, OpenAI, and Microsoft serves as a significant case study in navigating the intricate intersection of technological progress and safeguarding intellectual property rights in the digital age.

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‘The Bill Gates Problem’ – The Case Against World’s Richest Man

The Case Against World’s Richest Man

When Clinton assumed the presidency of the United States, there was eager anticipation from the Chinese, not for Clinton himself, but for Bill Gates. This was during the late 1990s, a period when the internet was still in its nascent stages, and the digital boom of the early 2000s had not yet reached its peak. The enigmatic persona that captivated the attention of the burgeoning Asian powerhouse is now portrayed in “The Bill Gates Problem” as a “domineering, brusque figure” whose demeanor is likened to “a cauldron of passions that freely erupts.” According to a former employee cited in the book, Gates was perceived as “a complete and utter jerk to people 70% of the time,” while the remaining 30% saw him as a “harmless, enjoyable, exceptionally intelligent nerd.”

The 1990s were also the decade of the conflict between Microsoft and the now defunct Netscape browser, which challenged what was already being openly described as the former’s monopolistic practices. Gates was investigated and accused in Congress for such practices; he ultimately won the battle, but the case harmed his reputation, and in 2000 he resigned as CEO of his company. From there he undertook an expansion of the foundation that he had established with his wife and to which he has dedicated his main efforts in the last two decades. In 2006, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation received the Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation.

With a personal fortune of $100 billion and tens of billions more in his private foundation, Gates has been one of the richest men in the world for decades, and the foundation has been the most generous organization of its kind, specializing above all in health aid, education and child nutrition, with a large presence in Africa and India among other regions of what was formerly known as the Third World. Tim Schwab, a contributor to the weekly left-wing newspaper The Nation, undertook a detailed investigation to denounce something that in truth was already known: that American foundations are largely a way for billionaires to avoid taxes.

To prove this, he thoroughly looked into the accounts and procedures of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the failures and occasional successes of its philanthropic policies, and came to the conclusion that behind this facade of help to the needy hides an operation of power. He is ruthless in his criticism, although accurate in his analysis of the growing inequality in the world. Absorbed by the revolutionary rhetoric, he laments that the Gates Foundation has remained “deadly silent” regarding movements such as Occupy Wall Street or Black Lives Matter, which demand social change in the face of the “excess wealth and ‘white savior’ mentality that drives Bill Gates’ philanthropic work.” He does attribute some good intentions, but his criticism is merciless, sometimes even coarse, while the absence of solutions for the problems he denounces — other than the calls for do-goodism — is frustrating.

His abilities as an investigative journalist are thus overshadowed by a somewhat naive militancy against the creative capitalism that Gates promotes and an evident intention to discredit not only his work but, above all, him. The demands he makes for transparency and the accusations of obscurity are dulled by the author himself in the pages he dedicates to Gates’ relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, the famous corruptor of minors at the service of the international jet set. Gates has explained his meetings and interviews with him on countless occasions, and in no case has any type of relationship, other than their commercial relations or some confusing efforts to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, been proved. Still, Schwab raises, with no evidence whatsoever, the possibility that their relationship “could have had something to do with Epstein’s principal activities in life: sexual gratification and the exercise of power.” The book is full of this kind of opinions and speculations, to the detriment of a more serious analysis of Gates’ mistakes in the management of his foundation, the problems of shielding the intellectual property of vaccines in the hands of the pharmaceutical industries and, ultimately, the objective power that big technology companies have in global society.

He signed a collaboration agreement with the RAE to improve Microsoft’s grammar checker and was interested in the substantial unity of the Spanish language in all the countries where almost 600 million people speak it. That man was very far from the sexist, arrogant, miserable predator that Schwab portrays. Nor did we deduce — and this can be applied to the personal adventure of Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Zuckerberg, Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos — that his life’s goal was world domination, as suggested by this book. If they have achieved it, or may achieve it, it is due to the dynamics of digital civilization and the objective difficulties in governing it. The deregulation of financial capitalism, which has increased inequality among humankind, is due to the incompetence of obsolete political institutions and to leaders who care more about their own fates than those of their people. The criticism against “lame and wasteful government bureaucracies” might be part of the propaganda promoted by the world’s wealthy, but lately we have also heard it from small-scale farmers across Europe.

In conclusion, we found the book to be more entertaining than interesting. It provides a lot of information — we’re not sure if it’s entirely verified — and plenty of cheap ideology. Above all, one can see the personal crusade of the author, determined to prove that Bill Gates is a problem for democracy and that millionaire philanthropists are a bunch of swindlers. The world needs their money; maybe managed by party bureaucracies, that much is not clear. Bill Gates’ money, that is, but not Bill Gates himself.

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Conflicted History: ‘Oppenheimer’ And Its Impact On Los Alamos And New Mexico Downwinders

‘Oppenheimer’ And Its Impact On Los Alamos And New Mexico Downwinders

The Voice Of EU | In the highly anticipated blockbuster movie, “Oppenheimer,” the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man behind the first atomic bomb, is portrayed as a riveting tale of triumph and tragedy.

As the film takes center stage, it also brings to light the often-overlooked impacts on a community living downwind from the top-secret Manhattan Project testing site in southern New Mexico.

A Forgotten Legacy

While the film industry and critics praise “Oppenheimer,” a sense of frustration prevails among the residents of New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin, who continue to grapple with the consequences of the Manhattan Project. Tina Cordova, a cancer survivor and founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, expresses their feelings, stating, “They invaded our lives and our lands and then they left,” referring to the scientists and military personnel who conducted secret experiments over 200 miles away from their community.

The Consortium, alongside organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists, has been striving to raise awareness about the impact of the Manhattan Project on New Mexico’s population. Advocates emphasize the necessity of acknowledging the human cost of the Trinity Test, the first atomic blast, and other nuclear weapons activities that have affected countless lives in the state.

The Ongoing Struggle for Recognition

As film enthusiasts celebrate the drama and brilliance of “Oppenheimer,” New Mexico downwinders feel overlooked by both the U.S. government and movie producers. The federal government’s compensation program for radiation exposure still does not include these affected individuals. The government’s selection of the remote and flat Trinity Test Site, without warning residents in the surrounding areas, further added to the controversy.

Living off the land, the rural population in the Tularosa Basin had no idea that the fine ash settling on their homes and fields was a result of the world’s first atomic explosion.

The government initially attempted to cover up the incident, attributing the bright light and rumble to an explosion at a munitions dump. It was only after the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Japan weeks later that New Mexico residents realized the magnitude of what they had witnessed.

Tracing the Fallout

According to the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, large amounts of radiation were released into the atmosphere during the Trinity Test, with fallout descending over a vast area. Some of the fallout reached as far as the Atlantic Ocean, but the greatest concentration settled approximately 30 miles from the test site.

Now I Am Become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds.

J. Robert Oppenheimer

The consequences of this catastrophic event have affected generations of New Mexicans, who still await recognition and justice for the harm caused by nuclear weapons.

A Tale of Contrasts: Los Alamos and the Legacy of Oppenheimer

As the film’s spotlight shines on the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, a contrasting narrative unfolds in Los Alamos, more than 200 miles north of the Tularosa Basin. Los Alamos stands as a symbol of Oppenheimer’s legacy, housing one of the nation’s premier national laboratories and boasting the highest percentage of people with doctorate degrees in the U.S.

Oppenheimer’s influence is evident throughout Los Alamos, with a street bearing his name and an IPA named in his honor at a local brewery. The city embraces its scientific legacy, showcasing his handwritten notes and ID card in a museum exhibit. Los Alamos National Laboratory employees played a significant role in the film, contributing as extras and engaging in enlightening discussions during breaks.

The “Oppenheimer” Movie

Director Christopher Nolan’s perspective on the Trinity Test and its profound impact is evident in his approach to “Oppenheimer.” He has described the event as an extraordinary moment in human history and expressed his desire to immerse the audience in the pivotal moment when the button was pushed. Nolan’s dedication to bringing historical accuracy and emotional depth to the screen is evident as he draws inspiration from Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer.

For Nolan, Oppenheimer’s story is a potent blend of dreams and nightmares, capturing the complexity and consequences of the Manhattan Project. As the film reaches global audiences, it also offers a unique opportunity to raise awareness about the downwinders in New Mexico, whose lives were forever altered by the legacy of nuclear weapons testing.

The Oppenheimer Festival and Beyond

Los Alamos is determined to use the Oppenheimer Festival as an opportunity to educate visitors about the true stories behind the film’s events. The county’s “Project Oppenheimer” initiative, launched in early 2023, encompasses forums, documentaries, art installations, and exhibits that delve into the scientific contributions of the laboratory and the social implications of the Manhattan Project.

A special area during the festival will facilitate discussions about the movie, fostering a deeper understanding of the community’s history. The county aims to continue revisiting and discussing the legacy of the Manhattan Project, ensuring that the impact of this pivotal moment in history is never forgotten.

As “Oppenheimer” takes audiences on an emotional journey, it serves as a reminder that every historical event carries with it complex and multifaceted implications. The movie may celebrate the scientific achievements of the past, but it also illuminates the urgent need to recognize and address the human cost that persists to this day.

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