Polisis AI Developed to Help People Understand Privacy Policies

It looks as though this AI development could be quite useful in helping people avoid the exploitation of their personal information. Someone reading this may also want to look into a resource called Terms of Service; Didn’t Read, which “aims at creating a transparent and peer-reviewed process to rate and analyse Terms of Service and Privacy Policies in order to create a rating from Class A to Class E.”

But one group of academics has proposed a way to make those virtually illegible privacy policies into the actual tool of consumer protection they pretend to be: an artificial intelligence that’s fluent in fine print. Today, researchers at Switzerland’s Federal Institute of Technology at Lausanne (EPFL), the University of Wisconsin and the University of Michigan announced the release of Polisis—short for “privacy policy analysis”—a new website and browser extension that uses their machine-learning-trained app to automatically read and make sense of any online service’s privacy policy, so you don’t have to.

In about 30 seconds, Polisis can read a privacy policy it’s never seen before and extract a readable summary, displayed in a graphic flow chart, of what kind of data a service collects, where that data could be sent, and whether a user can opt out of that collection or sharing. Polisis’ creators have also built a chat interface they call Pribot that’s designed to answer questions about any privacy policy, intended as a sort of privacy-focused paralegal advisor. Together, the researchers hope those tools can unlock the secrets of how tech firms use your data that have long been hidden in plain sight.

[…]

Polisis isn’t actually the first attempt to use machine learning to pull human-readable information out of privacy policies. Both Carnegie Mellon University and Columbia have made their own attempts at similar projects in recent years, points out NYU Law Professor Florencia Marotta-Wurgler, who has focused her own research on user interactions with terms of service contracts online. (One of her own studies showed that only .07 percent of users actually click on a terms of service link before clicking “agree.”) The Usable Privacy Policy Project, a collaboration that includes both Columbia and CMU, released its own automated tool to annotate privacy policies just last month. But Marotta-Wurgler notes that Polisis’ visual and chat-bot interfaces haven’t been tried before, and says the latest project is also more detailed in how it defines different kinds of data. “The granularity is really nice,” Marotta-Wurgler says. “It’s a way of communicating this information that’s more interactive.”

[…]

The researchers’ legalese-interpretation apps do still have some kinks to work out. Their conversational bot, in particular, seemed to misinterpret plenty of questions in WIRED’s testing. And for the moment, that bot still answers queries by flagging an intimidatingly large chunk of the original privacy policy; a feature to automatically simplify that excerpt into a short sentence or two remains “experimental,” the researchers warn.

But the researchers see their AI engine in part as the groundwork for future tools. They suggest that future apps could use their trained AI to automatically flag data practices that a user asks to be warned about, or to automate comparisons between different services’ policies that rank how aggressively each one siphons up and share your sensitive data.

“Caring about your privacy shouldn’t mean you have to read paragraphs and paragraphs of text,” says Michigan’s Schaub. But with more eyes on companies’ privacy practices—even automated ones—perhaps those information stewards will think twice before trying to bury their data collection bad habits under a mountain of legal minutiae.

The Visionless Society

The writing of Chris Hedges tends to have too much doom and gloom in my view, and I usually prefer the more pedantic approach to the more hyperbolic approach in describing reality, but there’s a lot of quality analysis in this interview/essay Hedges conducted/wrote. I don’t agree with all of it, but then again, I don’t always agree with all the work of others that I post. I do usually try to post about what I see as the truth to this website, however.

I will say that other countries should learn from the mistakes of America though, and there are definitely a lot of mistakes to learn from.

Imagine yourself in early 2019. The Democrats, despite never articulating a political vision other than not being Donald Trump and refusing to roll back Republican legislation such as the 2017 tax bill, have regained the House of Representatives by a slim majority. They vote articles of impeachment. The Senate Republicans, pressured by many within their own party to abandon Trump because of his ineptitude, increasingly erratic behavior and corruption, call on the president to resign. Trump refuses. He uses the megaphone of his office to incite violence by his small, fanatic base. The military, whose deployment as a domestic police force is authorized by Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, is called into the streets to quell unrest. The United States, by the time the violence is snuffed out, is a de facto military dictatorship.

That such a scenario is plausible to public figures such as Ralph Nader is a sign of the deep decay of democratic institutions. The two major political parties lack a coherent vision. They are subservient to corporate power. They have abandoned the common good. They have turned politics into burlesque. They have rendered the citizenry impotent. The press, especially the electronic press, has transformed news into a grotesque reality show filled with trivia, gossip and conjecture. The elites in both parties, along with the rich and corporations, profit from a naked kleptocracy. Everything is for sale, from public lands to public education. And the juggernaut of corporate power impoverishes the people as it willfully destroys the facade of the hollowed-out democratic state.

“There is no democracy,” Nader said when I reached him by phone in Connecticut. “The only democracy left in this country is they don’t haul you to jail for speaking out. What’s left of democracy is a significant due process, habeas corpus, freedom of speech and probable cause, and that’s violated when there’s a terrorist attack and people are rounded up, like Muslim Americans.”

“Can there be a democracy when you don’t have a competitive electoral system?” he asked. “No. Can there be a democracy when people who come in second win the election? No. Can there be a democracy when it’s tougher to get on the ballot than in any other Western country in the world by an order of magnitude? No. Can there be a democracy when money rules? And not just the money that politicians raise, but the third-party money. No. Can there be a democracy when people have no influence on the military budget? No. It’s not subjected to hearings. It’s ratified on the floor of the House and Senate, but it doesn’t go through the appropriations process. It’s subject to the most anemic, pathetic, servile questioning you can imagine. The Congress has destroyed any kind of democratic participation … in the military and foreign policy. The Congress is [supposed to be] invested in the sovereignty of the people. They [those in Congress] do not comply with the Constitution and the declaration of war authority. They don’t comply with the appropriations process. They have increasingly less public hearings. They are cocooned on Capitol Hill with a force field of money, militarism and materialism. Self-interests block the American people, who can hardly call their member of Congress [because the calls are diverted to voicemail]. This is the latest racket.”

“Trump is playing rope-a-dope with the Democrats,” Nader continued. “He’s such an inviting target—all the lies, the stupidity, the outrage, the racism, the misogyny—they can’t resist. As a result, they’re weakening themselves by not having an affirmative agenda. They’re still talking about how they can learn how to connect with the average person. Can you imagine? It’s now the end of 2017. They’re trying to figure out a message.”

House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Nader noted, has adopted the mantra “money, message, and mobilization” for the party. “If you start with money, what kind of a message are you going to have?” he asked. “If you don’t have a message, what are you going to mobilize around? So here it is. They still haven’t learned because they will never learn. The party will always be weak, flabby, indentured and dialing for the same commercial dollars as long as the four-time losers continue to run the party. … The country is spinning into the abyss.”

The Democrats have never called for an audit of the Pentagon’s massive and bloated military budget. They do not address corporate crime, champion consumer protection, promote the rights of workers or demand a living wage or full Medicare for all. And because they stand for nothing other than the politesse of identity politics and high-blown liberal rhetoric they have been unable to protect the country from the worst generation of the Republican Party in the nation’s history.

“They don’t even know how to have sonorous political language,” Nader said. “They’re stealing from you—my fellow Americans. A handful of corporate, greedy bosses controlling your government on this national stage and local level, gouging out whole communities, sending industries to fascist communist regimes abroad. They have no loyalties to this country. They have no allegiance to communities other than to exploit them, abandon them. They rose to power on the backs of you, the workers. They were subsidized by Washington and state capitals, by you the taxpayer. The Marines bailed them out when they got into hot water, palling around with dictators and monarchs. Why do you allow them to rule you?”

Nader said the ruling elites have “lost the fear of the people.” This has given rise to “a multifaceted dictatorial government indentured to the plutocratic class symbolized by Wall Street.”

Corporations, enjoying a new tax code that reduces corporate income taxes to 21 percent while individuals pay up to 37 percent, have been awarded the constitutional rights of individuals while individuals have been stripped of their rights.

“The Constitution is increasingly a dead letter,” Nader said.

Corporate media companies view the news division as a revenue stream. They collude with Trump in the daily Gong Show that masquerades as news.

“Trump took the press from profanity to obscenity,” Nader said. “He learned some lessons from ‘The Apprentice.’ He realized the media, with a few exceptions, will do anything for ratings and money. What does he do? He goes down the sensuality ladder. He starts talking openly about racism, rapists and sex, grab them wherever you want and get away with it. They [the media] go wild. That destroyed all the opponents in the Republican primary. Knocked them out day after day, as the press went after sensuality. The coarseness, the brutishness. There’s always a novel attack. He kept them catching up with him. One day he goes after [Sen. Marco] Rubio. Another day, he goes after Hillary. Another day, a veteran family.”

“When The New York Times has two pages of tiny print of Trump’s lies, what impact does it have unless there are remedies and mobilizations that use that material to strengthen the opposition to replace him?” Nader asked. “After a while, people just shrug their shoulders and go back to playing video games. The margin for the defeat of the Democrats by the Republicans can be attributed sufficiently to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage and all these creeps. They have a massive soliloquy, day after day after day with no rebuttal. And they’ve got the blue-collar worker that way. What kind of a population on the left of center would have allowed that to happen? Using our public airwaves for free.”

Nader said he feared that the population was so effectively anesthetized by mass culture that it might not rise up against the elites. “The U.S. has developed a society with an almost indeterminate absorptive capacity for injustice, abuse and degradation,” Nader said. “There is no civic education in the schools. They don’t know what the Constitution is. They don’t know what the law of torts is. They don’t know where the town hall is. They’re living in virtual reality, swinging between big screen TV and their cellphones. They’re wallowing in text messages. To an extent, they’re excited by the workings of the minds symbolized by Wall Street and Silicon Valley. That’s the young generation. Great changes start with people in their 20s. But look what you’ve got now. You’ve got 10 years of internet connection, cellphones available to any child. That’s one. The second is 24/7 entertainment. The third is the abandonment by the elderly generation. They’ve sort of given up. They don’t know the gadgetry. They don’t know the language. They have their own economic insecurity. They’re not extending any kind of historical experience to the young which contains severe warnings. Watch out. You don’t think it can happen again, [but] it can happen again and again. There’s no verbal, oral tradition between the generations. Less and less. Then you have the political system, which is deep-sinking the society. How are people going to mobilize themselves? Is there a strong union, a labor movement? No. A strong consumer movement? No. They’re losing their privacy. They’re losing their ability to use legal tender. The corporate coercion is, to a degree, now getting rid of cash. Marx never believed that could happen. Why do they want to get rid of cash? They want to drive everybody into an incarcerated penitentiary that is surrounded by mobile payments, credit cards, credit scores, credit ratings, debit cards, constant debt, invasion of privacy, and the ability to assess penalties, charges and unwanted purchases because they control people’s money. That’s Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo got away with 3 million forced, unknown and unwanted credit card sales, auto insurance sales, repairing their ratings. Some people lost their cars and their homes. They’re flipped over into bankruptcy. Nobody has been prosecuted yet.”

[…]

“The banks are making huge profits,” Nader said. “Therefore, they’re taking bigger risks. The consumer dollars are being transferred to corporate profits, which are now being transformed into stock buybacks in order to meet the criteria for higher compensation even if it’s against the interest of their own company.”

“From 2005 to 2014, you had $3.9 trillion of stock buybacks, 50 percent of all corporate net profits,” he said. “Fifty percent of the top 500 corporations profited in that decade with stock buybacks. Not to better salaries or shoring up pension plans, not to dividends, not to research and development, not to productive capital and job creation. It’s to stock buybacks. The biggest story untold, or minimally told, in the American economy today. With all this money repatriating from overseas and more corporate offices, they’re planning more stock buybacks. It’s like burning money.”

“Walmart, instead of raising wages for its wage-starved masses, has about $65 billion stock buybacks in the last seven years,” Nader said. “If you take a million Walmart workers and you give them a thousand dollars more a year, that’s $1 billion. Multiply that by 60 to 70 times.”

The speculation, which is trashing the country’s economy, will continue, Nader said, until the financial system collapses and the U.S. defaults on its bonds.

Nader worries that as long as “10 to 15 percent of the American people are well-off” the elites will have enough support to continue the assault.

“Societies have been repressed by far smaller members of well-instituted upper classes,” he said. “That’s what we forget. Eighteenth-, 19th-, 20th-century Europe. A tiny clique controlled them. When there’s any problem it flips over to dictatorship. As long as the contented classes are not upset, the system of control is in lock, like connecting gears.”

[…]

Resistance, Nader said, must be local. First we need to organize to take back our own communities, he said. Congressional seats have to be contested by grass-roots organizations that use the power of numbers to overwhelm mass media and corporate money. And we can expect the corporate state to attempt to shut out our message.

“Living wage, taxes, universal health insurance, that have 70 percent support or higher,” Nader said in listing campaign issues. “Breaking up big banks, 90 percent support. Cracking down on corporate crime, similar. People need to give corporate crime a face. This is what happens to your credit. This is what happens to your home. This is what happens to your job. This is what happens to you if you have cancer. This is what happens in the hospital. This is what happens when you’re denied health insurance; you can’t cover your kids. It’s pretty crazy when you can’t make this kind of a pitch to a large audience.”

The greed of the corporate state leaves us unprepared for the ravages of climate change, he warned. And by the time the elites respond it may be too late.

“It’s a race,” Nader said. “Once Miami gets inundated, especially Fisher Island, it might bring the wealthy class to their senses. The problem with solar is it needs a network. Solar panels are fine, but if you’re going to have solar electricity you need a different type of grid system. That requires infrastructure investment.”

“Justice needs money,” he concluded, calling on enlightened elites to spend a billion dollars to fund resistance movements outside the Democratic Party. “The abolition movement needed money. The suffrage movement needed money. They got it from wealthy people. Civil rights movement. The Curry family. The Stern family. The early 1950s, 1960s. Environmental movements got money from rich people. Don’t wait for the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is an instrument. On the first round you’ve got to use it and control it. On the third round, when you’re mobilized, you can throw it aside. It’s a hollowed feature that is a part of the duopoly. But it’s there. These parties are very vulnerable. They’re shells that rest on money and television ads that nobody likes. Unrebuttable right-wing talk radio. All these can be circumvented neighborhood by neighborhood, but you’ve got to have money. Labor halls are unoccupied. Veteran halls are unoccupied. Libraries are unoccupied. There are a lot of meeting places around. A lot of empty stores can be rented.”

Trump Regime Judges Set to Try to Worsen America for Years

The judges being appointed by the Trump regime may prove to be a substantially negative force for decades. The judiciary is too often overlooked when policy decisions are examined, and a lot of the horrible judges that have been appointed recently will lend credence to that truth in the months ahead.

If you want to know why Donald Trump’s appointments to the judiciary are so significant, have a look at these numbers.

In 2015, the US supreme court decided approximately 82 cases. In 2016, it was approximately 69. In contrast, the United States courts of appeals decided 52,000 cases in 2015 and 58,000 in 2016. The United States district courts decided 353,000 cases in 2015 and 355,000 in 2016.

While the supreme court is the court of last resort – and the one that attracts most attention – the judicial business of the United States is decided in what are called “the lower courts”. The judges appointed to these courts decide 99.9% of all cases.

Most cases never reach the supreme court. It is the so-called lower courts that play a critical role in deciding a wide range of issues. These judges have decided cases involving voting rights, contraception, privacy, sentencing, prisoner rights, gay rights, immigration, desegregation in schools and housing, employment discrimination, affirmative action, workplace rules, environmental impacts, and many others that shape US society. The impact of their decisions are felt daily by more than 300 million Americans.

This is the background needed to understand the importance of Trump’s judicial nominations during his first year in office. Much has been made of the administration’s legislative failures but Trump’s judicial appointments are calculated to have a more lasting impact on American life than many if not all of his proposed legislative initiatives.

Unlike legislation, these life-time appointments are not reversible. That is why it is so important to scrutinize who he is placing on these benches, and what impact they will have.

There are now approximately 144 vacancies in the federal courts, and Trump has already succeeded in appointing 14 judges, meaning that he began his term with more than 150 vacancies –10% of the federal judiciary.

There is a simple reason this president had so many vacancies to fill at the start of his term – it is called political obstruction. In the final year of the Obama administration, the Republican majority simply refused to confirm many of the president’s nominees.

[…]

When Obama took office, 10 of the 13 courts of appeals consisted of predominantly Republican-appointed judges. By the time he left office eight years later, only four of these courts were made up of predominantly Republican-appointed judges.

Trump and his close advisors see this as the principal reason these courts rejected his travel bans, or had earlier rejected efforts to enforce strict voter ID laws, transgender and gay rights, or to limit the availability of contraception coverage and abortion services.

If he can shift the balance of the appellate courts, he believes that he will be able to obtain more favourable rulings on all of these and other key social issues. These rulings could dramatically shape the course of American social and cultural life over the next 30 or 40 years.

As with what else the Trump/Republican government is doing to increase the plight of most people, the judicial appointments are unusually terrible. There’s a Trump judicial nominee that equates denying civil rights to African Americans to denying civil rights to aborted fetuses, and there’s another Trump nominee that supports “conversion therapy” for LGBTQ young people, for instance. That is off the spectrum of cruelly inappropriate in the modern era.

It’s possible for the Congress to remove the appointed judges, but that doesn’t have much historical precedent and it would require a really good Congress anyway. In all, it’s quite telling that the current Senate Majority Leader — a servant of Koch Industries and other grotesque major corporations — named his approval of right-wing judges his biggest “accomplishment.” Notably, the appointment of Neil Gorsuch — an obvious plagiarist — will soon probably show to have a devastating impact, as a Supreme Court case that could significantly damage public sector unions comes up.

Lots of bad news looks to continue in the near future then, but it’s important to remember that there is opportunity in every crisis.

Attorney General Rescinds Guidance Meant on Abolishing Debtors Prisons

Debtors prisons are horrific and should be abolished entirely. That an aspect of the Trump regime is supporting them is a sign of how regressive the current federal government is, and it’s also an unpleasant reminder of how the Justice Department reinstated corrupt police civil asset forfeiture earlier this year.

During the holiday season, many of us think about what we can do to help people struggling with poverty. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, on the other hand, decided just before Christmas to rescind a guidance meant to protect low-income Americans.

The 2016 guidance, issued by former President Obama’s Justice Department, urged state and local courts nationwide to abide by constitutional principles prohibiting the jailing of poor people who cannot afford to pay court fines and fees. Jeff Sessions’ action makes clear that he and his Justice Department are unconcerned by courts trampling on the rights of poor people.

The Obama Justice Department issued the 2016 letter after reports and lawsuits by the ACLU and other groups revealed how modern-day debtors’ prisons function in more than a dozen states, despite the fact that the U.S. two centuries ago formally outlawed jailing people simply because they have unpaid debts.

These efforts revealed that poor people were being locked up in GeorgiaWashingtonMississippi, and elsewhere without court hearings or legal representation when they could not pay fines and fees for traffic tickets or other civil infractions or criminal offenses. These efforts also show that modern-day debtors’ prisons result from state laws allowing or requiring the suspension of driver’s licenses for unpaid court fines or fees without first requiring confirmation that the person could actually pay.

[…]

There is no place in this country for a justice system that lets rich people buy their freedom while poor people are locked up or lose their driver’s licenses because they can’t afford to pay money to courts. The momentum for change will continue even as the current Justice Department declines to lead by encouraging fairness and equal treatment of rich and poor.

Ralph Nader at Harvard Law School

Particularly notable here is the story about the potentially corrupting effects of being in the law school, the facts that aren’t mentioned enough, and the indignance about how institutions are often functioning in modern society.

Nader is in one of his prime elements the law at HLS, delivering what is probably one of the best lecture sessions that he’s given in recent years. I would know, as I’ve seen most of them.

“You have to ask yourself, are you going to become a lucrative cog in a corporate wheel? Plenty of wheels! Plenty of opportunities. Do you really want to be part of the perpetrator class? Do you really want to be part of the class that covers up massive deaths and injuries, penury, fraud, and a enveloped corporate crime wave?”