FOXTROT/ALFA: An Important Message from Samsung, Tesla Autopilot Tricked by Masking Tape, Trump Offered Pardon to Assange

Welcome to the 83rd issue of FOXTROT/ALFA, the last one for a while. Today is Thursday, 20 February 2020 and after this newsletter, I’m taking some time off in Offlineland. Don’t worry, I’ll be back in good time.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, here’s your tech and policy news of the day.

Weird Signalling from Samsung’s Find My Mobile

Somebody at Samsung seems to have tripped and landed on a button, which caused quite a stir on the internet today.

Thousands of Samsung Galaxy device owners in the past few hours have reported receiving a strange message from the Korean phone maker that displays a ‘1’ above another ‘1’.

The message arrived at Samsung’s Find My Mobile app a few hours ago. Galaxy owners from across the globe on Reddit are reporting having received the same message at the same time. User reports suggest the same message arrived on all Galaxy devices, regardless of the cellular network and device model.

Many people apparently weren’t even aware they had that app installed.

The unexpected ‘1’ rattled some users, especially since the message arrived on devices that had never enabled Samsung’s Find My Mobile app.

Samsung has now tweeted to say the notification about ‘Find My Mobile 1’ occurred on a “limited number” of Galaxy devices.

“This was sent unintentionally during an internal test and there is no effect on your device. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused our customers,” Samsung Help UK said on Twitter.

It’s almost as if all of this stuff is run by people like you or me…

Tesla’s Autopilot Fooled by Piece of Masking Tape

Those who’ve read my stuff for a while will know I’m extremely sceptical of so-called “self-driving cars”. Why’s that? Because they continue to exhibit very worrying technical issues. Once again, Tesla is at the forefront of things.

Steve Povolny, head of McAfee Advanced Threat Research, and Shivangee Trivedi, a data scientist working on the same team, discovered the attack when they probed the camera system aboard Tesla’s Model X and Model S vehicles, both built in 2016.

Both cars use a camera containing the EyeQ3 chip from MobilEye, a computer vision company based in Israel and owned by Intel, to survey the vehicle’s surroundings. Images are then fed as input to machine-learning algorithms to detect things like lane markings and signs so that Tesla’s autopilot software can automatically take over the steering to change lanes and keep up with the speed limit, if the driver sets that up.

When the researchers placed a bit of black electrical tape measuring about two inches (5cm) long on a road sign depicting a 35mph (56kph) speed limit, the MobilEye camera in a Model X misread the sign as 85mph (136kph) and began speeding up accordingly.

Try to explain this one to the traffic cop. “Actually, officer, you will find that there’s this vulnerability in the EyeQ3…”

Trump Offered to Pardon Assange in Exchange for Denying Russians Involved in the DNC Hack

According to Julian Assange’s lawyers, US President Trump offered to pardon him in exchange for publicly stating that the Russians did not hack the DNC in 2016.

The bombshell came on Wednesday in Westminster Magistrates' Court amid Assange’s attempt to block his extradition from the UK to the US – where he faces charges of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. Assange appeared in the central London court via video link from prison.

According to multiple reports quoting Assange’s lawyers, the super-leaker’s legal team was prepared to show evidence and testimony that former Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) visited Assange back in 2017 at the Ecuadorian embassy in the British capital, and made the offer: deny Russia was involved in obtaining the emails from DNC servers, and the Trump administration would provide a “pardon or some other way out” of criminal charges in America.

In a statement to the White House press corps, Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham denied that there was any quid pro quo offered to Assange: “The President barely knows Dana Rohrabacher other than he’s an ex-congressman. He’s never spoken to him on this subject or almost any subject. It is is a complete fabrication and a total lie. This is probably another never ending hoax and total lie from the DNC.”

Bear in mind, the president often claims to not know someone he has in the past known well.

The court declaration is a stunning about-face for Assange and WikiLeaks, which have to this point vehemently denied any coordination between its public release of the stolen DNC emails and the Russian government or its agents, which American intelligence said was behind the hack. Both Assange himself and backers of WikiLeaks were quick to attack journalists who suggested such ties existed.

Mozilla Wants More Regulation of the Web

Mozilla, self-acclaimed defender of the freedom of the web, is of the opinion that the internet today is characterised by “the prevalence of online, harmful and illegal content”. Mozilla therefore supports EU efforts to regulate big social media companies.

“A lot of these issues could be addressed if the GDPR was adequately enforced. We were strong proponents of the GDPR because we are a privacy-focused company. We don’t feel it has been effectively implemented. We’ve seen mostly superficial changes. Companies change their terms of service, have a couple of settings that they add, but it is not getting to the core of the issues around the surveillance economy, the prevalence of tracking, and the inability of individuals to protect their personal data online and in other contexts.”

Privacy-focused company? You make most of your money by sending people to Google, one of the worst offenders when it comes to infringing on people’s privacy on the web! And now you’re all about regulating these companies? How about not taking their money? Gah! I hate hypocrites.

I also wonder where this sudden fascination with the bad side of social media comes from. Everyone and their dog whinges about all the hate and horrible stuff on the internet, while completely ignoring all the good things. The stuff you learned, found out about, the friends you made, vacation spots you discovered, stories you read, great discussions you had… But I guess that’s people in general, we tend to focus on the negative stuff.

All of this wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t also massively endangering free speech. This stuff won’t only affect the big social network companies. It will affect the web as a whole. And everyone using it.

No Huawei in Sherwood Forest

And to round things out, another one from the Can’t-Make-This-Stuff-Up department:

The UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS, aka the Ministry of Fun) has barred Huawei gear from rural 5G trials. The department is funding nine pilots to the tune of £35m which aim to spread the benefits of 5G to rural communities. These range from a virtual-reality Robin Hood (and his Merrie Men) for visitors to Sherwood Forest to remote monitoring of woodland and livestock, and technology to reduce water pollution.

But the DCMS said today: “None of the winning projects, or future projects from 5G Create, will use equipment from high risk vendors.” 5G Create is a competition running till the end of June to find 5G applications to support TV and film production, gaming and other creative industries.

No spying on the Merry Men, China!!!

Get in Touch, Will Ya?

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Also Noteworthy

Here are some other stories from today that you might find interesting:

And with that, I’m going offline for a while. See you on the other end! If you speak German, here’s the song for the occasion:

This is an archived issue of my daily newsletter FOXTROT/ALFA. You can find more information about it, including how to subscribe via email, on this page.