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Panic and Criticism Spread on Chinese Social Media Over Coronavirus

HONG KONG — While China’s state-run media has urged calm and praised the official response to the coronavirus outbreak, a different story is playing out across the country’s tightly controlled social media networks.

In the digital world, China’s citizens are expressing panic and frustration. They are overcoming a lack of reporting in the official media by sharing their own videos and information — sometimes inaccurately.

Some are even evading censors, who commonly stifle criticism of the government, to register complaints about how officials have handled the crisis. They have criticized officials for failing to contain the initial outbreak in Wuhan, the capital of the central province of Hubei; for limiting residents to overcrowded facilities in the region; and for not visiting the affected areas.

“Let’s not interrupt the leaders while they listen to songs and go abroad for interviews,” one commenter wrote sarcastically.

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The outbreak of a dangerous respiratory virus in China is putting a strain on hospital staff and medical resources.CreditCredit…The Central Hospital of Wuhan, via Reuters

But residents are still using social networks and messaging platforms to offer on-the-ground accounts of the crisis that are difficult to find elsewhere.

Users have shared experiences of waiting in lines at hospitals for hours, shuttling sick loved ones from hospital to hospital, only to be sent home without being tested for the coronavirus. Some videos, like one taken on an unknown date at Wuhan No. 7 Hospital, have made their way from China’s closed-off internet onto networks like Twitter.

Several hospitals in affected cities have sent out pleas for donations online, saying they were running short of surgical masks, gloves and other supplies. Some health workers spoke of the challenge of getting to hospitals in cities where public transportation has been shut down and taxi services suspended.

Videos circulating in chat groups and social networks show patients in Wuhan being loaded into an ambulance by workers wearing full-body protective suits outside a primary school, or transported in a plastic tube in Huizhou, a city in the southeastern province of Guangdong. Several videos have emerged of a patient being wheeled through an airport in a sealed-off cage.

The videos often lack crucial identifying information, including when they were filmed, but many have spread rapidly in recent days among Chinese internet users in the absence of more official information. The state-run media has largely played down the crisis, focusing instead on the encouragement of government officials and the heroism of medical workers. Only a few news outlets have reported critically on the handling of the outbreak by the health care system and the government.

In the vacuum, misinformation has flourished. One article claimed to cite a health expert as recommending that people counter the virus by rinsing their mouths with salt water, but the expert never said it and the tactic is ineffective. Another widely read but completely false post claimed that setting off fireworks would sterilize germs in the air.

China’s National Health Commission even went so far as to debunk popular reports saying that drinking a traditional Chinese medicine herb known as indigowoad root, mixed with smoked vinegar, could prevent infection by the coronavirus.

Still, the digital networks have proven useful in conveying the human toll of the virus.

“Save my life, doctor, I have the fever too,” a woman in a mask wailed in a widely circulated video, as hospital workers in protective suits walked in and out of what appeared to be a crowded waiting room.

Tiffany May and Elaine Yu contributed reporting.

Fonte: New York Times – TECH

New Jersey Bars Police From Using Clearview Facial Recognition App

New Jersey police officers are now barred from using a facial recognition app made by a start-up that has licensed its groundbreaking technology to hundreds of law enforcement agencies around the country.

Gurbir S. Grewal, New Jersey’s attorney general, told state prosecutors in all 21 counties on Friday that police officers should stop using the Clearview AI app.

The New York Times reported last week that Clearview had amassed a database of more than three billion photos across the web — including sites like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Venmo. The vast database powers an app that can match people to their online photos and link back to the sites the images came from.

“Until this week, I had not heard of Clearview AI,” Mr. Grewal said in an interview. “I was troubled. The reporting raised questions about data privacy, about cybersecurity, about law enforcement security, about the integrity of our investigations.”

His order to prosecutors was reported earlier by NJ.com.

In a promotional video posted to its website this week, Clearview included images of Mr. Grewal because the company said its app had played a role last year in Operation Open Door, a New Jersey police sting that led to the arrest of 19 people accused of being child predators.

“I was surprised they used my image and the office to promote the product online,” said Mr. Grewal, who confirmed that Clearview’s app had been used to identify one of the people in the sting. “I was troubled they were sharing information about ongoing criminal prosecutions.”

Mr. Grewal’s office sent Clearview a cease-and-desist letter that asked the company to stop using the office and its investigations to promote its products.

“We’ve received the attorney general’s letter and are complying,” said Tor Ekeland, Clearview’s lawyer. “The video has been removed.”

The video also included a claim that the New York Police Department had used Clearview’s app to identify a man who was accused of planting rice cookers made to resemble bombs around the city. As reported by BuzzFeed, the Police Department said the app had played no role in the case.

“There is no institutional relationship between the N.Y.P.D. and Clearview,” said Devora Kaye, a spokeswoman for the department. “The N.Y.P.D. did not rely on Clearview technology to identify the suspect in the Aug. 16 rice cooker incident. The N.Y.P.D. identified the suspect using the department’s facial recognition practice, where a still image from a surveillance video was compared to a pool of lawfully possessed arrest photos.”

Some officers in the Police Department are said to be using the Clearview app without official authorization, The New York Post reported on Thursday.

In addition to placing a moratorium on the Clearview app, the New Jersey attorney general’s office has asked the state’s Division of Criminal Justice to look into how state law enforcement agencies have used the app. Mr. Grewal wants to know which ones are using “this product or products like it,” and what information those companies are tracking about police investigations and searches.

An earlier episode in which police officers received calls from the company after uploading a photo of a Times reporter to the app indicated that Clearview has the ability to monitor whom law enforcement is searching for.

Mr. Grewal said that his office would not have to preapprove use of a tool like Clearview AI by the police, but that maybe it should. His office reviews, for example, new forms of less-than-lethal ammunition to make sure that it’s a “safe tool to have out there.”

“I’m not categorically opposed to using any of these types of tools or technologies that make it easier for us to solve crimes, and to catch child predators or other dangerous criminals,” Mr. Grewal said. “But we need to have a full understanding of what is happening here and ensure there are appropriate safeguards.”

This week, Clearview also received questions from United States senators, as well as a letter from Twitter demanding that the start-up stop scraping photos from its site.

Fonte: New York Times – TECH

Have a Search Warrant for Data? Google Wants You to Pay

Facing an increasing number of requests for its users’ information, Google began charging law enforcement and other government agencies this month for legal demands seeking data such as emails, location tracking information and search queries.

Google’s fees range from $45 for a subpoena and $60 for a wiretap to $245 for a search warrant, according to a notice sent to law enforcement officials and reviewed by The New York Times. The notice also included fees for other legal requests.

A spokesman for Google said the fees were intended in part to help offset the costs of complying with warrants and subpoenas.

Federal law allows companies to charge the government reimbursement fees of this type, but Google’s decision is a major change in how it deals with legal requests.

Some Silicon Valley companies have for years forgone such charges, which can be difficult to enforce at a large scale and could give the impression that a company aims to profit from legal searches. But privacy experts support such fees as a deterrent to overbroad surveillance.

Google has tremendous amounts of information on billions of users, and law enforcement agencies in the United States and around the world routinely submit legal requests seeking that data. In the first half of 2019, the company received more than 75,000 requests for data on nearly 165,000 accounts worldwide; one in three of those requests came from the United States.

Google has previously charged for legal requests. A record from 2008 showed that the company sought reimbursement for a legal request for user data. But a spokesman said that for many years now, the tech firm had not systematically charged for standard legal processes.

The money brought in from the new fees would be inconsequential for Google. Just last week, the valuation of its parent company, Alphabet, topped $1 trillion for the first time. Alphabet is scheduled to report its latest financial results on Feb. 3.

The new fees could help recover some of the costs required to fill such a large volume of legal requests, said Al Gidari, a lawyer who for years represented Google and other technology and telecommunications companies. The requests have also grown more complicated as tech companies have acquired more data and law enforcement has become more technologically sophisticated.

“None of the services were designed with exfiltrating data for law enforcement in mind,” said Mr. Gidari, who is now the consulting privacy director at Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society.

Mr. Gidari also said it was good that the fees might result in fewer legal requests to the company. “The actual costs of doing wiretaps and responding to search warrants is high, and when you pass those costs on to the government, it deters from excessive surveillance,” he said.

In April, The Times reported that Google had been inundated with a new type of search warrant request, known as geofence searches. Drawing on an enormous Google database called Sensorvault, they provide law enforcement with the opportunity to find suspects and witnesses using location data gleaned from user devices. Those warrants often result in information on dozens or hundreds of devices, and require more extensive legal review than other requests.

A Google spokesman said that there was no specific reason the fees were announced this month and that they had been under consideration for some time. Reports put out by the company show a rise of just over 50 percent in the number of search warrants received in the first half of 2019 compared with a year earlier. The volume of subpoenas increased about 15 percent. From last January through June, the company received nearly 13,000 subpoenas and over 10,000 search warrants from American law enforcement.

Google will not ask for reimbursement in some cases, including child safety investigations and life-threatening emergencies, the spokesman said.

Law enforcement officials said it was too early to know the impact of the fees, which Google’s notice said would go into effect in mid-January.

Gary Ernsdorff, a senior prosecutor in Washington State, said he was concerned that the charges for search warrants would set a precedent that led more companies to charge for similar requests. That could hamper smaller law enforcement agencies, he said.

“Officers would have to make decisions when to issue warrants based on their budgets,” he said.

Mr. Ernsdorff said there was a potential silver lining, noting that the time it takes for Google to respond to warrants has significantly increased in the past year. Other law enforcement officers also said the time they had to wait for Google to fulfill legal requests had grown.

“If they are getting revenue from it, maybe this will improve their performance,” Mr. Ernsdorff said.

Other law enforcement officials said the effects of the reimbursement fees would be minimal.

“I don’t see it impacting us too much,” said Mark Bruley, a deputy police chief in Minnesota. “We are only using these warrants on major crimes, and their fees seem reasonable.”

Telecommunication companies such as Cox and Verizon have charged fees for similar services for years. At least one of Google’s biggest peers, Facebook, does not charge for such requests. Microsoft and Twitter said they were legally allowed to request reimbursement for costs but declined to explicitly address whether they charged law enforcement for such requests.

Michael H. Keller contributed reporting.

Fonte: New York Times – TECH

London Police Are Taking Surveillance to a Whole New Level

LONDON — London’s police department said on Friday that it would begin using facial recognition to spot criminal suspects with video cameras as they walk the streets, adopting a level of surveillance that is rare outside China.

The decision is a major development in the use of a technology that has set off a worldwide debate about the balance between security and privacy. Police departments contend that the software gives them a way to catch criminals who may otherwise avoid detection. Critics say the technology is an invasion of privacy, has spotty accuracy and is being introduced without adequate public discussion.

Britain has been at the forefront of the debate. In a country with a history of terrorist attacks, police surveillance has traditionally been more accepted than in other Western countries. Closed circuit television cameras line the streets.

The technology London will deploy goes beyond many of the facial recognition systems used elsewhere, which match a photo against a database to identify a person. The new tools use software that can immediately identify people on a police watch list as soon as they are filmed on a video camera.

The Metropolitan Police said in a statement that the technology would help quickly identify and apprehend suspects and help “tackle serious crime, including serious violence, gun and knife crime, child sexual exploitation and help protect the vulnerable.”

London has faced several terror attacks, and seen an increase in crime, in recent years. In November, the police shot and killed a man wearing a fake bomb on London Bridge, after two people were fatally stabbed. The police called the attack a terror incident. In 2017, another stabbing attack left eight dead and dozens wounded. Knife crime in England and Wales rose to a record high in the first nine months of last year, according to government statistics.

“Every day, our police officers are briefed about suspects they should look out for,” Nick Ephgrave, assistant commissioner of the police department, said in the statement. Live facial recognition, he said, “improves the effectiveness of this tactic.”

“As a modern police force, I believe that we have a duty to use new technologies to keep people safe in London,” he added.

Facial recognition, already widespread in China, is gaining traction in Western countries. Many cities and police departments, like the New York Police Department, use technology comparing photos and other static images against a database of mug shots. An investigation by The New York Times this month found that more than 600 law enforcement agencies are using a facial recognition system by the company Clearview AI.

Use of real-time facial recognition is less common. NEC, a Japanese company that makes biometric and facial recognition services, sold London the technology now being adopted. Other buyers of its real-time facial recognition technology include Surat, a city of about five million people in India, and the country of Georgia, according to the company’s website.

The technology is also used every few weeks in Cardiff, the capital of Wales, often at big events like rugby matches or a concert for the heavy metal band Slipknot this past week. As of September, police in Wales say, the technology had helped in the arrests of 58 people who had been wanted.

Representatives at NEC did not respond to a request for comment.

According to researchers at Georgetown University, several American cities have piloted the live facial recognition systems, often with mixed results. In Orlando, Fla., a pilot program that ended last year tried to match faces going past several cameras against individuals on a watch list. In Detroit, police purchased a face-identification system as part of a crime-prevention program. Last year, The Wall Street Journal reported on the failures of a New York pilot program to spot people as they drove past bridges and tunnels.

Use of facial recognition technology in the United States has generated a backlash. San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley in California, along with Somerville and Brookline in Massachusetts, have banned its use.

Privacy groups criticized London’s decision and vowed to take legal action to try to stop the deployment of the software.

“This decision represents an enormous expansion of the surveillance state and a serious threat to civil liberties in the U.K.,” said Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, a London-based group that has been fighting the use of facial recognition. “This is a breathtaking assault on our rights, and we will challenge it.”

Last year, a British judge said that police departments could use the technology without violating privacy or human rights, a case that is under appeal. The government’s top privacy regulator has raised concerns about the use of the technology, as did an independent report of a trial use by the Metropolitan Police.

Researchers have found problems with many facial recognition systems, including trouble accurately identifying people who are not white men. Civil liberties groups warn that as the technology improves, it will lead to constant surveillance, including an ability to track people as they move and watch whom they are speaking with.

“We can look to how London is using this technology as a sign of things to come,” said Clare Garvie, a researcher at Georgetown’s Center on Privacy and Technology who studies government use of facial recognition.

Britain has tested real-time facial recognition for a few years. In the trials, officers were often stationed in a control center monitoring a real-time feed of what was being recorded by nearby cameras. The system sent an alert when it had identified a person who matched someone on the watch list. If officers agreed it was a match, they would radio to other officers positioned on the street to pick up that person.

Last year, an independent review of a police trial found many problems, including its accuracy. Of 42 identifications made by the system, only eight were correct.

“It was incredibly inaccurate,” said Daragh Murray, a senior lecturer at the University of Essex who conducted the report. “Most times they didn’t actually find the people they were looking for. From just a technological perspective, you have to question the utility.”

Without clear laws about how the technology is used, police departments everywhere have wide latitude to put the camera systems in place, Mr. Murray said. Particularly concerning, he said, is the lack of transparency about how police decide when somebody is placed on a watch list.

“Too much leeway is given to the police,” he said. “What is needed is proper safeguards around its use.”

Tony Porter, Britain’s surveillance camera commissioner, has called for a moratorium on the use of live facial recognition systems until a fuller review can be conducted.

The Metropolitan Police said it would be transparent about deploying the technology. Officers will post signs and hand out leaflets when the cameras are in use.

Britain’s Information Commissioner’s Office, the country’s top privacy regulator, said it would monitor how the system was deployed in London. It said the police gave assurances that the department would take steps to reduce privacy and data-protection risks.

“This is an important new technology with potentially significant privacy implications for U.K. citizens,” the privacy regulator said in a statement.

Fonte: New York Times – TECH

The Week in Tech: A Tech Mogul’s Phone and the Saudi Crown Prince

Each week, we review the week’s news, offering analysis about the most important developments in the tech industry.

Hello, Davey Alba here. I’m a fairly new member of the tech reporting team, and I cover online disinformation and the harm it does around the world.

I’m here to give you the tech news highlights of the week, starting with Kashmir Hill’s tour de force of a story on a facial recognition app used by law enforcement agencies across the country.

The app, Clearview AI, has been used to solve identity theft, credit card fraud, shoplifting and murder cases. It’s used by agencies like local police in Florida as well as the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security. And it has more than three billion images in its database, scraped from places like Facebook, LinkedIn and Venmo, according to the company.

The article is a pretty astonishing feat of reporting. A piece in BuzzFeed News soon followed, questioning Clearview’s marketing practices and noting that the company’s founders had previous connections to the far right.

I asked Kashmir what she thought the most important implication of her story was.

“I was shocked by how easy it is for law enforcement to just start using a tech tool in criminal investigations that was not vetted or independently tested in any way,” she told me. “It ties back into all that flawed science they used to use: blood spatter, hair analysis, etc., that was completely junk science. Now it could happen with tech.”

For more, read Kashmir’s take on how she nailed the story.

On Tuesday evening, The Guardian and The Financial Times reported that a forensic analysis of a phone belonging Amazon’s bajillionaire chief executive, Jeff Bezos, had concluded that the phone was hacked after Mr. Bezos received a video from a WhatsApp account belonging to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. (I believe “bajillionaire” is the technical term for a man with a net worth of well over $100 billion.) In response, the Saudi Embassy in Washington said the idea that the kingdom had hacked Mr. Bezos’ cellphone was “absurd.”

Our reporters unearthed more details. The forensic analysis report included two examples in which the crown prince appeared to send Mr. Bezos messages that suggested he could read the tech executive’s private communications. We also had a timeline of the events and more analysis from cybersecurity experts.

I talked with some of our reporters about the article. This is an edited version of those conversations.

What did you think when this story broke?

SHEERA FRENKEL: Last year started off with The National Enquirer publishing photos and texts from Mr. Bezos’ phone. It seemed like history repeating itself.

My first reaction was to get the forensic report. I wanted to see exactly what the investigators had found and why they seemed so confident in their assertion that the Saudi crown prince had personally been involved in the hacking.

MATTHEW ROSENBERG: That the malware came straight from M.B.S.’s WhatsApp account blew me away. It’s one thing to say the Saudis hacked a phone — intel services around the world hack phones. Lord knows the Americans do it all the time.

But it’s a whole other thing to say that the crown prince was personally involved. It’s amazing. He meets Mr. Bezos on a visit to the United States. They strike up a casual conversation over WhatsApp — and then he uses the “in” to plant spyware!

It really challenges the idea that the elite are a group apart. Until now, it’s always looked like the elite left it to their minions to battle it out in business or politics or espionage or whatever while they met up in places like Davos and, you know, kept it on the level with one another. I guess Mohammed bin Salman really does play by his own rules.

The exchange of the texts themselves happened in 2018. Why is this all coming out now?

KAREN WEISE: There is a documentary screening at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday about the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. According to The Post, one of the United Nations experts is on camera connecting M.B.S. to the hack of Mr. Bezos’ phone. Best I can tell, the United Nations experts wanted to make their statements public before the film screened.

So were Jeff Bezos and M.B.S. just intense texting pals?

FRENKEL: Not really. The communication seemed mostly one-sided and sporadic. When Mr. Bezos got some of those suspicious texts from M.B.S., it had been months since the two had spoken, and the report notes that Mr. Bezos thought it strange that M.B.S. was sending him seemingly random messages.

WEISE: Amazon was pursuing a major deal to build cloud-computing data centers in the kingdom, so they had reasons to be in touch. They had also met several times. The deal fell apart after Mr. Khashoggi’s murder.

Do you think the crown prince of Saudi Arabia is texting other high-profile public figures in the same way?

ROSENBERG: We know he has used WhatsApp with other high-profile pals. Jared Kushner was one of them. What did they text and how often? That we don’t know.

What is the implication, if any, of these texts being exchanged before we learned of the killing of Mr. Khashoggi?

WEISE: The U.N. experts painted the alleged hack as part of a pattern of “Saudi targeting of dissidents and perceived opponents,” which they say included Mr. Khashoggi. They pointed out that at the time M.B.S. sent Mr. Bezos the video, Mr. Khashoggi’s columns at The Post “increasingly raised concerns about the crown prince’s rule.”

Do you have any advice for our readers on how to practice good tech hygiene? Like, if you get a text from a foreign prince, be wary?

ROSENBERG: Definitely be wary of Saudi princes bearing GIFs. But I’d take it another step. If anyone sends you a link or a video or a file that you are not expecting and does not have a recognizable URL, ask them before you click on it. And by anyone, I mean your mother, your father, your husband, your wife. Anyone’s account can be compromised and used to get at you.

FRENKEL: It’s important for people to take basic steps to protect themselves. Use a password manager. Enable two-step verification. Don’t click on suspicious links you get in emails or in text messages.

The truth is that most of us aren’t Jeff Bezos. A Saudi crown prince is not going to hire a private cybersecurity company to use extremely rare and expensive malware to hack our phones. That’s not something that should keep people up at night.

But maybe the biggest takeaway from this is that anyone, anywhere, can be hacked if the person carrying out the attack has enough time, money and patience.

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Fonte: New York Times – TECH

Jeff Bezos’ Hack Inquiry Falls Short of Implicating National Enquirer

Almost a year ago, Jeff Bezos hinted that Saudi Arabia had played a role in The National Enquirer’s 11-page exposé of his affair with the Los Angeles television personality Lauren Sanchez. In making the case in a post on the website Medium, Mr. Bezos noted that his newspaper, The Washington Post, had published the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi and had also covered the kingdom’s suspected role in his murder.

In the post, Mr. Bezos said he had retained the security expert Gavin de Becker to investigate how the tabloid had obtained his text messages. This week, a forensic analysis commissioned by Mr. Bezos was made public, and it concluded with “medium to high confidence” that his iPhone X had been hacked after he received a video from a WhatsApp message sent to him from an account reportedly belonging to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, with whom the billionaire had swapped contacts at a dinner in Los Angeles.

The Bezos report, compiled under Mr. de Becker by the digital security firm FTI Consulting, was so juicy that it overwhelmed traditional journalistic skepticism at some news outlets. The details were hard to resist: an allegedly murderous crown prince, the world’s richest man and his intimate texts splashed across the pages of a supermarket tabloid that has ties to Prince Mohammed and a longtime Bezos detractor, President Trump.

In the swirl of coverage, Mr. Bezos’ allegations took on a life of their own, with some news coverage veering into speculation. “The report offers one explanation of how The National Enquirer, a tabloid, obtained and published text messages Bezos had sent to his mistress,” CNBC reported. The BBC asserted that information extracted from Mr. Bezos’ phone was “leaked to the American tabloid.”

In fact, the report did not definitively link the hacking to the Enquirer exposé. Months of reporting by The New York Times and other publications, including information that has emerged in recent days, appears to refute the notion that The Enquirer, owned by American Media Inc., received the information for the exposé from a foreign hack of Mr. Bezos’ phone.

The hacking of an American by a foreign leader would count as an affront to national sovereignty and security under normal protocols. It also has legal implications: American Media is under the watch of federal law enforcement officials in New York, who have agreed not to prosecute the company for its role in aiding President Trump’s 2016 campaign as long as it does not break the law.

The widespread coverage of the report also has personal implications for Mr. Bezos, who has achieved something of a coup in this latest bit of news.

On Feb. 7, weeks after The Enquirer’s exposé appeared in supermarket racks, Mr. Bezos published the Medium article suggesting a possible connection between Saudi Arabia and the tabloid scoop. He noted that The Post was energetically covering Mr. Khashoggi’s murder by Saudi assassins weeks after he wrote the last in a series of columns sharply critical of the crown prince, who the Central Intelligence Agency has concluded had ordered his death.

About two weeks after Mr. Bezos’ Medium post, Mr. de Becker hired FTI Consulting to do the forensic analysis of the billionaire’s iPhone. In March, Mr. de Becker said he had “high confidence” that Saudi Arabia had hacked Mr. Bezos’ phone. The FTI Consulting report that was made public this week did not offer evidence of a link between the hacking and the Enquirer story.

American Media has said that it obtained information about the affair from Ms. Sanchez’s brother, Michael Sanchez, a Hollywood talent agent whom people at The Enquirer have described as a longtime source of information and tips.

Mr. Sanchez and American Media executed a nondisclosure agreement on Oct. 18, 2018, “concerning certain information, photographs and text messages documenting an affair between Jeff Bezos and Lauren Sanchez,” according to a contract between the two parties reviewed by The New York Times.

Eight days later, Mr. Sanchez granted American Media the right to publish and license the text messages and photographs he had provided in exchange for $200,000, according to the contract and four people with knowledge of the arrangement.

“The single source of our reporting has been well documented,” American Media said in a statement. “In September of 2018, Michael Sanchez began providing all materials and information to our reporters. Any suggestion that a third party was involved in or in any way influenced our reporting is false.”

After federal agents and prosecutors examined allegations of wrongdoing by American Media in connection with the Bezos story last year, the company provided evidence showing them that Ms. Sanchez had provided text messages and compromising photos of Mr. Bezos to her brother, who passed them along to the tabloid, according to four people with knowledge of the situation.

That does not preclude the possibility that Saudi Arabia could have sent other useful information to The Enquirer. Nor were Mr. Bezos and his investigators off-base in suspecting a possible link between the tabloid and the kingdom. American Media and Saudi Arabia had both tried to build relationships with Mr. Trump, and one way to the president’s heart could have been an attack on Mr. Bezos, whom Mr. Trump once referred to as “Jeff Bozo” in a Twitter post.

At the same time, the American Media chairman David J. Pecker sought business opportunities and financing in Saudi Arabia. He met with Prince Mohammed in Saudi Arabia in 2017 after attending a White House dinner with a well-connected contact of the crown prince. In March 2018, American Media published a 97-page glossy magazine, “The New Kingdom,” essentially a promotional brochure for the crown prince and the nation.

Starting in September 2017, The Post had published columns by Mr. Khashoggi in which he excoriated Prince Mohammed for “unbearable repression,” “behaving like Putin” and “squeezing” the Saudi news media.

Mr. Bezos, who had sought to build data centers in the desert kingdom before Mr. Khashoggi’s murder, met Prince Mohammed in person at a dinner in Los Angeles in April 2018. The two chatted and exchanged contacts. Mr. Bezos’ forensic team said that Prince Mohammed sent Mr. Bezos the suspect video shortly afterward.

The relationship between Mr. Bezos and the Saudis deteriorated after Mr. Khashoggi was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018. The Post demanded answers amid a growing consensus in the intelligence community that Prince Mohammed was involved.

Mr. Sanchez has said that The Enquirer was already onto the story about the affair before he discussed it with the tabloid, suggesting there was another source. Saudi Arabia has said it had nothing to do with it and has also called suggestions it hacked Mr. Bezos’ phone “absurd.”

Two people with knowledge of The Enquirer’s reporting process said that its staff started trailing Mr. Bezos after one of its reporters received a tip on Sept. 10, 2018, from Mr. Sanchez that a well-known billionaire was having an affair with an actress. Mr. Sanchez didn’t disclose their identities, but the tabloid staff suspected he was referring to Mr. Bezos.

On Oct. 18, The Enquirer’s photographers snapped pictures of Mr. Bezos with Ms. Sanchez. That same day Mr. Sanchez and American Media executed their agreement to prevent him from shopping the story elsewhere.

The following month, according to the FTI Consulting report, which was reviewed by United Nations experts, Mr. Bezos received another message on his phone from the crown prince, this one featuring a photograph of a woman with a resemblance to Ms. Sanchez and a misogynistic joke: “Arguing with a woman is like reading the Software License agreement. In the end you have to ignore everything and click I agree.” FTI interpreted the message as a veiled suggestion that the crown prince knew about his relationship with Ms. Sanchez, which had not yet been made public, according to the report.

At the time, American Media had just emerged from a cloud of suspicion for its role in buying and burying information from the former Playboy model Karen McDougal about an affair she said she had with Mr. Trump. After American Media executives admitted that they had effectively paid her hush money to help Mr. Trump’s campaign — in violation of federal election law — they cooperated with an investigation into the payment. Federal prosecutors in New York agreed not to prosecute, at least as long as the company did not break the law again.

The Enquirer’s story about the Bezos affair, including intimate text messages sent by Mr. Bezos and photographs of the couple on the terrace of what the tabloid described as Ms. Sanchez’s “love nest,” upset the company’s majority investors, according to two people with knowledge of American Media.

In his Medium post, Mr. Bezos revealed that his team had received threatening emails from American Media’s chief content officer, Dylan Howard, that described revealing photos of Mr. Bezos that the tabloid had yet to publish.

In the letter from Mr. Howard and a second letter from an American Media lawyer that Mr. Bezos included in his account, the company said that it would not publish the compromising selfies if Mr. Bezos publicly stated that he did not believe that the tabloid publisher was politically motivated in publishing the exposé.

Mr. Bezos called the offer “extortion and blackmail” in his Medium post. He added that he was motivated “to stand up, roll this log over, and see what crawls out,” and Mr. de Becker went to work.

The evidence in the resulting report shows evidence of Saudi intrusions into his iPhone X. But a direct link from the kingdom to the tabloid tale remains elusive.

William K. Rashbaum contributed reporting.

Fonte: New York Times – TECH

Jeff Bezos, Tabloid Man

SEATTLE — When Jeff Bezos and his former wife, MacKenzie, celebrated what would be their last anniversary together around Labor Day 2018, they arrived at a Miami nightclub with no fanfare. His table was booked online, which is “totally what tourists do” and “totally dorky,” the club’s celebrity liaison said in an interview at the time.

Almost a year later, Mr. Bezos arrived at a hot Miami seafood restaurant in grander fashion, on a 90-foot-long Leopard superyacht in what The Miami Herald called “the most extravagant entrance ever.”

It was not his only superyacht of the summer. He lounged with his girlfriend on the media mogul David Geffen’s boat in the Mediterranean, along with the supermodel Karlie Kloss and the former Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein. Mr. Bezos, 56, was also spotted on a ship owned by Diane von Furstenberg and Barry Diller off the coast of Venice. After gossip sites gushed about the $260 purple octopus swim trunks he wore in many photographs, the swimwear quickly sold out.

At the beginning of 2019, Mr. Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, was widely regarded as a low-key guy — or at least about as low-key as the world’s richest man, and one of the country’s top executives, could be. He’d geek out over “Star Trek” and he publicly joked that washing dishes every night was “the sexiest thing I do.”

That image exploded by the end of January, when The National Enquirer reported about his affair with Lauren Sanchez, a former TV personality, including contents of intimate text messages between the two. After the Enquirer reporting, Mr. Bezos said he had opened up an investigation into how the paper acquired the messages, hinting that Saudi Arabia may have been involved because of his ownership of The Washington Post.

This week, the United Nations released a statement, based largely on a forensic report commissioned by Mr. Bezos’ investigators, that essentially accused Saudi Arabia’s crown prince of hacking Mr. Bezos’ phone to spy on him. The Saudi government called the claims “absurd.”

The report did not provide evidence that hacked material ended up in The Enquirer. But it did provide a potent reminder of how much has changed in a year. Mr. Bezos had become a tabloid fixture, with yacht appearances, evening strolls and romantic dinners captured in detail.

For people who know Mr. Bezos or have worked with him for years, the shift to the glare of The Daily Mail and Page Six is almost an out-of-body experience.

“It is a story that is pretty much irresistible to anyone,” said George Rush, who co-wrote a gossip column with Joanna Molloy in The Daily News for 15 years.

“It has changed the public perception of him,” Mr. Rush added.

Jay Carney, Amazon’s spokesman, said Mr. Bezos remained much the same.

“In the senior leadership here, which includes some of the people who have known and worked with Jeff the longest, there is a lot of empathy for what he’s had to deal with and a lot of admiration for his remarkable ability to tune it out and focus on what matters,” Mr. Carney said.

Mr. Bezos remains deeply engaged with his work at Amazon and committed to the mission of The Washington Post, Mr. Carney said. “None of that has changed.”

Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos worked together to start Amazon 25 years ago. He was the chief executive, and she was the first accountant and an influential adviser in its early years.

Ms. Bezos later focused on novel writing and studiously protected her family’s privacy. Mr. Bezos’ own employees used to tease him about his cargo pants. At one large staff meeting early in the company’s history, someone asked what exactly he had in all those pockets. Among other things, Mr. Bezos pulled out a Swiss Army knife, to everyone’s laughter, according to a longtime Amazon worker.

Even as the company grew, Mr. Bezos did relatively little press for a tech executive and was far from a jet-setter. In a 2014 interview, he said he didn’t like being on the road because it made him “feel disconnected from the office.” He estimated he traveled as little as 10 percent of the time.

As Amazon became ascendant and Mr. Bezos was on his way to becoming the world’s richest man, his profile rose. He put on Oscar parties, supporting the company’s investment in Hollywood, and bought The Washington Post. He began putting a billion dollars a year into his space company, Blue Origin.

But only rarely did he become a subject of celebrity news and tabloid publications. In the summer of 2017, he strutted through the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference, an event swarming with prominent executives, bulked up with muscle. “Swole Bezos” became a viral sensation. Soon after, The New York Times Style section said he had “steadily, and stealthily,” transformed into a “full-fledged style icon.”

Then came the Enquirer revelations about the affair a year ago, supported by publishing photos and texts. It was juicy gossip, but received little sustained mainstream news coverage until February, when Mr. Bezos snapped back.

He published a post on Medium, the online publishing platform, accusing The National Enquirer’s parent company, American Media, of blackmail and extortion. He said the publisher had threatened to print a “below-the-belt selfie” of Mr. Bezos and other embarrassing photos if he didn’t back off his claims that the paper’s reporting was politically motivated. His post said American Media had motivations to please President Trump and the Saudi government. American Media said it acted lawfully.

Suddenly the saga involved sex, wealth and politics. “That is the perfect cocktail for a tabloid story,” said Ryan Linkof, who wrote a history of the tabloid press.

The headlines have continued ever since, bouncing back between tabloids and mainstream news organizations, depending on the topic. The gossip columns showed the couple at Wimbledon, walking the streets of St. Tropez and holding a party in New York for one of Meghan Markle’s “BFFs.” They zoomed in close on Ms. Sanchez’s right hand, where she sported a large diamond ring.

There were less glamorous news moments, like the former couple’s divorce proceedings. After the split, Mr. Bezos retained 75 percent of their Amazon stock and all of their ownership of The Post and Blue Origin. And then this week, the United Nations experts released their statement, in advance of a documentary screening at the Sundance Film Festival about the murder of a Saudi critic who was a columnist at The Post.

Mr. Rush said in his long career covering the romps of the rich, he could not recall an affair where the political dimensions were as large as this story. “It is hard to humanize a multibillionaire,” he said.

But Mr. Bezos’ resistance to American Media and exposing the potential Saudi hack makes him “more heroic,” Mr. Rush said.

“Regardless of where his relationship with Ms. Sanchez goes,” he added, “people will be waiting for the next episode.”

Fonte: New York Times – TECH

The Making of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ Was as Far Out as the Movie

As it approaches its 52nd birthday, “2001: A Space Odyssey” remains one of the most inventive and enduring of all movies. But from the vantage point of 2020, it can be difficult to appreciate the sheer breadth of imagination involved in its making.

Enter “Envisioning 2001: Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey,” a new exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens, that runs through July 19. The show brings together original correspondence, sketches, storyboards, props, video clips and much more to illustrate how Kubrick, the film’s director, and Arthur C. Clarke, the science fiction author who collaborated with him on the screenplay, set about bringing the future to the screen. The museum will show “2001” on 70-millimeter film monthly while the exhibit runs, and several sidebar movie series — the first, on movies that inspired “2001,” runs through Feb. 2 — will complement the showcase.

The exhibition, previously presented at the Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum in Frankfurt, is technically an offshoot of the acclaimed traveling presentation that covered Kubrick’s entire career. It toured 19 cities beginning in 2004 but never made it to New York because there was no space big enough to house it, according to Kubrick’s daughter Katharina Kubrick at the press preview for the “2001” show this month. Those lucky enough to have caught the traveling show will recognize the same strengths (and perhaps a few of the same weaknesses).

“Envisioning 2001” shows Kubrick as a director in command of all aspects of filmmaking, and it suggests that he and Clarke were no small obsessives when it came to understanding their subject matter. One of the first items in the exhibit is a request form from 1964, with Clarke’s name and address, sent to the United States Air Force. He sought information on a sighting — which turned out to be a satellite — that he and Kubrick, then developing the story for the movie, had seen in the sky over New York.

The men’s range of influences included science, literature, engineering and even abstract art. The kaleidoscopic imagery and spinning colors in the experimental filmmaker Jordan Belson’s 1961 short “Allures,” for instance — which was part of Kubrick’s ample pre-“2001” viewing list — play like an antecedent to the Star Gate sequence. The rocket scientist Wernher von Braun is shown in a 1955 episode of a Disney television series explaining the centrifugal design of a space station much like the approximately 30-ton set built for Kubrick’s movie. That set, which necessitated novel engineering and camera techniques, is seen in a model, drawings and a short documentary promoting the film’s release, in which a narrator speaks of the “requirements of Kubrick’s bizarre and incisive imagination.”

Kubrick’s team included the scientist Frederick I. Ordway III and the production designer Harry Lange, who had worked with NASA and who can be seen in a clip describing their jobs as ensuring the film’s scientific integrity. The exhibit shows off correspondence in which ideas are vetted for accuracy. Concept art from Graphic Films, an organization that made movies for NASA, shows designs so detailed they indicated an outer part of a spaceship should look “pre-stressed.” Even the cutting edge of the technology world wasn’t always good enough for Kubrick. In a letter, the director describes drawings from IBM for the design of a computer as “useless” and totally irrelevant to his needs.

The planning for “2001” anticipated an “electronic edition” of The New York Times; it doesn’t appear in the film, but here you can browse a list of headlines from the year 2001 that were considered (“LAST GRIZZLY BEAR DIES IN CINCINNATI ZOO: SPECIES NOW EXTINCT — TENTH THIS YEAR”). Other brands, like Hilton, wanted to be cited in the film, humorously advertising that their products would still be around at the dawn of the new millennium. Near the fake Times, you can read a memo that Kubrick sent a vice president of his production company: “I thought you’d be amused: Esquire preparing cover for newsstand showing John Kennedy, Jr. as new President of United States” in 2001. (The junior Kennedy died in a plane crash in July 1999 — coincidentally on the same day that Kubrick’s final, posthumously released film, “Eyes Wide Shut,” opened in theaters.)

A portion of what can be seen in “Envisioning 2001” falls under the category of simple memorabilia — look, it’s the actual spaceflight coveralls worn by Keir Dullea, the actor who played the astronaut Dave Bowman — and the exhibit as a whole leans heavily on reproductions, even of letters. Using replicas is understandable from educational and preservationist standpoints, but it also strips the show of the magic of authenticity. That is not the original HAL 9000 exterior, for instance; it’s simply a good look-alike.

The exhibit is at its best not when simply showing off the Kubrick warehouse, but as it walks museumgoers through decision-making processes or groundbreaking approaches to technical problems. Diagrams explain the special photographic techniques that enabled the “Dawn of Man” segment to be filmed in a studio, instead of in Africa, or how Douglas Trumbull, the supervisor of special photographic effects, used a process called slit-scan photography to create the geometry and colors of the Star Gate sequence. One video monitor plays the film’s opening credits twice — first with the upbeat, Aaron Copland-esque score composed by Alex North that Kubrick rejected, then with Richard Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” which Kubrick had employed as temporary music and ended up becoming a part of one of the most famous openings in film history.

That “2001” was a revolutionary movie is not exactly news, but it is still hard to fathom filmmaking of this scale or level of creativity — let alone in a film that had its premiere 15 months before the moon landing. In light of such an artistic coup, the collection assembled at the museum can sometimes feel like a jumble.

But seeing “2001” broken down into these components is nevertheless instructive. The exhibit makes a great achievement in filmmaking look less like a cinematic U.F.O. and more like, well, an achievement — the product of ingenuity, talent and tenacity. It illuminates the artistry of a moviemaker whose genius has often seemed inseparable from the mystique surrounding it.


Envisioning 2001: Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey

Through July 19 at the Museum of the Moving Image, 36-01 35 Avenue, Astoria, Queens; 718-777-6888, movingimage.us.

Fonte: New York Times – TECH

We’re All in the Bathroom Filming Ourselves

Open up TikTok and there’s a good chance you’ll be confronted by a teenager in the bathroom.

Most home bathrooms are well lit and have nice, bright acoustics. Unlike the kitchen, living room or even bedroom, bathrooms are private spaces, where parents and siblings are trained to not barge in.

It’s almost inevitable that they would become the perfect stage set for the dramatic entrances, exits, skits, dances and story times of TikTok, the short-form social video app that has grown wildly popular in the last year.

Videos shot in the bathroom consistently outperform those shot elsewhere, many creators say. They call it “the bathroom effect.” Milli2nd, a 21-year-old music producer known for performing with a mirrored pyramid over his head, said he has shot the same video in multiple settings and the bathroom versions win. “Ones I’ve done in the bathroom get much more views,” he said.

Colby Schnacky, 23, said he has shot 12 bathroom videos, each of which has over 500,000 views. He tried other things, like shooting in selfie mode, but bathroom videos do so well that he continues to post from there.

Evan Alberto, 21, estimated that nearly half of his videos are filmed in a bathroom. “When you see someone walk into the bathroom, it’s like a cliffhanger but in the beginning,” he said. “You open the door, you point the camera at the mirror, it’s a hook.”

“I usually film in the bathroom instead of my room because the bathroom lighting works really well,” said Jalen Harris, 17.

Daniel Mitch, 20, said he thinks it’s the full body aspect of bathroom videos that make them appealing. “Being able to see how someone’s holding the phone or their full body language when they’re in the mirror, you can do a lot with that to make your video funnier in general,” he said. He estimated that half of his TikTok videos have been filmed in the bathroom.

“In typically quirky TikTok fashion, the bathroom mirror has been a consistent reflection of the community’s unique ability to make the ordinary, be it washing your hands or flipping on a light switch, low-key extraordinary,” said Gregory Justice, the head of content operations at TikTok.

Image
Credit…TikTok

While TikTok as a social media behemoth is fairly new — its start in the United States was in 2018 — people have been using the bathroom mirror to create internet content for years.

Cringey mirror selfies are all over Snapchat and Instagram; some of the most iconic Vines like “shower time and Diesel jeans” or “Hi welcome to Chili’s” were shot in bathrooms.

But if YouTube documented a generation of American bedrooms, TikTok makes the American bathroom inescapable. Tomisin Adeleye, 17, a TikTok creator who uses bathroom videos to discuss topics including racism, dating, Rihanna and why some guys get their ears pierced, estimated that about 30 percent of his recommended feed was bathroom videos. “It’s definitely a standard format,” he said.

Jacob Pace, the chief executive of Flighthouse, a marketing agency and media brand, said: “They’re everywhere.”

According to Vanessa Flaherty, the executive vice president of talent at Digital Brand Architects, a social influencer talent management agency, when selfies first cropped up, “the reason those were so appealing is that they appeared very off the cuff and not staged.”

“The videos in front of the bathroom mirror have that same quality,” she said. “They’re not staged, there isn’t production value.”

The bathroom mirror alone plays a key role in many of TikTok’s most popular memes. One recurring joke includes a person filming in the bathroom mirror over days or months, making some type of transformation (first day of school to last day of school, for instance).

Credit…@jalenceh1, via TikTok
Credit…@amandanunez48, via TikTok

“Spending a lot of time on TikTok, and it seems that knowing how to film yourself speaking with a cellphone in a bathroom mirror is a new skill to be mastered,” Jon-Stephen Stansel, a digital marketer, tweeted. “It’s like a stand-up learning to work a microphone, it’s part of the craft.”

Mr. Alberto sees a similarity with musicians. “How a nice guitar plays a big part in what they do,” he said. “The bathroom mirror is like that for me.”

The bathroom is simultaneously more personal but less revealing than the bedroom. If you film in your bedroom, people are going to judge you on what stuff you keep around or what posters you have on your walls, said Joshua King, 14. It can feel too revealing.

The bathroom is neutral, even uniform, but still feels intimate. “It’s quite awkward to film a TikTok, so the bathroom is an easier place to do that,” he said.

Even restaurant, hotel and high school bathrooms are common settings. Brian Feldman, a technology writer, noted that the high school bathroom serves as “a sterile, blank canvas onto which video makers can project themselves and share their private moments with the rest of the world.”

The most common bathroom portrayed on TikTok is the type found in millions of suburban middle-class homes. The aesthetic in general is Home Depot: a neutral colored sink and low countertop with a massive fixed mirror above, with composite doors and air-conditioning vents.

But not every bathroom makes a great TikTok bathroom. Bathrooms with busy wallpaper or yellow lights can be problematic.

And TikToks shot in messy bathrooms don’t perform as well. Ryan Ketelhut, 17, said that shooting TikToks has made him clean his bathroom at home more often.

“I keep it cleaner now because I am in there making TikToks,” he said. “You need to have all your stuff and all your candles and whatever else not strewn everywhere. I had to clean up a little bit before I filmed my last TikTok. I usually have clothes laying in the bathroom. I cleaned the sink out a little with a Clorox wipe and I sprayed down the mirror so it’s not as grimy.”

Some TikTokers said it’s the first thing they look for when choosing a place to live. “I should be moving to L.A. in the next month or so,” Mr. Alberto said. “A hundred percent I’m going to make sure that I like the setting of the bathroom. It’s a silly thing, but the videos on my channel that get the most views are in the bathroom.”

Finding the right bathroom, particularly one with light walls and a giant mirror, is also playing a role in Mr. Mitch’s Los Angeles apartment search. “I’m definitely going to check out the bathroom and see how it is, because the appearance can have a lot of impact on my videos,” he said.

Kids that are too young to live alone must work with the bathrooms they’ve got. “I see a lot of school restrooms, a lot of personal restrooms — it’s a thing to go into the gas station restroom and use the sound, like, ‘I’m in the ghetto,’” said Ethan Ramirez, 17. (He was referring to a popular meme on the app in which the phrase “I’m in the ghetto” is the refrain.)

“In my school it’s become a big problem that people are filming TikToks in the bathroom,” he said.

The bathroom is so often being used for filming that it can be awkward for kids who have to use it for its intended functions. Recently Mr. Ramirez was in one of the stalls when a group of kids came in and immediately began filming TikToks. “I was like, ‘I am in here,’” he said. They continued to film.

Fonte: New York Times – TECH

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