“Reality mining” and spam… 8/

Reality mining and your cell phone – and people wonder why i am paranoid about cell phones and search engines… the only real advantage that i’ve been able to see to cell phones is that people no longer look at you as though you’re crazy when you walk down the street talking to yourself. 8/

SEATTLE SPAMMER INDICTED FOR MAIL AND WIRE FRAUD, AGGRAVATED IDENTITY THEFT AND MONEY LAUNDERING – i am a part of that lawsuit! and i hope he gets his balls ripped off, slowly, and fed to him in tiny bites! >8( really… even with the decrease in spam messages that i get in my inbox (which is around one or two a day, compared with the 75 to 100 messages i was getting last year), words cannot convey how intensely i despise the actions of this man. it’s getting to the point where i’m about ready to black-hole every IP address in asia, and about half of the IP addresses in europe, to prevent spammers from getting through. i have enough to worry about already without also having to deal with your noxious spew, and the fact that my name is a part of that lawsuit gives me a great deal of pride.

Reality mining and your cell phone
December 20, 2007
By Nicholas Carr

If you’d like to know why companies like Google and Yahoo are so intent on gaining access to your mobile phone, take a look at the research on “reality mining” that’s being undertaken by an MIT team led by Sandy Pentland. In an interview with Technology Review, Pentland explains how modern cell phones provide a uniquely rich record not only of people’s locations but of their actions, social behavior, and even social roles:

Just look at a cell phone. It knows where you are, and this is obviously sort of useful. But the generalization is that maybe it can know lots of things about you. Take your Facebook friends as an example. The phone could know which ones you socialize with in person, which ones are your work friends, and which friends you’ve never seen in your life. That’s an interesting distinction, and reality mining can make it automatic. It’s about making the “dumb” information-technology infrastructure know something about your social life. All this sort-of Web 2.0 stuff is nice, but you have to type stuff in …

Today’s cell phones are on us all the time, and they come with hardware that can act as sensors for your environment. For instance, if Bluetooth is turned on, then the phone can see and be seen by other Bluetooth devices. You can start to make a record of the Bluetooth-enabled devices you encounter throughout the day. Then you can figure out, based on the frequency [with which] you encounter other people’s Bluetooth phones, what sort of relationship you have with them.

The iPhone also has an accelerometer that could tell if you are sitting and walking. You don’t have to explicitly type stuff in; it’s just measured. And all phones have built-in microphones that can be used to analyze your tone of voice, how long you talk, how often you interrupt people. These patterns can tell you what roles people play in groups: you can figure out who the leader is and who the followers are.

Pentland argues that this kind of machine awareness may have useful applications, such as tracking the spread of epidemics or even monitoring the “social health of communities.” But, as the interviewer points out, it “all gets very creepy very fast.” Replies Pentland:

That’s not a trivial thing. Do you really want your government to know about you to that level? It could stop SARS, but there’s a big trade-off there. You could make this a much more transparent world where that’s available to everybody. But we definitely need to talk about it and figure out a new deal for privacy – to use this data and not be abused.

Beyond the potential use of cell phone data by governments, though, it’s easy to see the vast commercial value of automatically harvesting a continuous stream of data on a person’s location, activities, relationships, and social roles and using it to personalize services and advertisements or, in the extreme, manipulate behavior for profit-making ends.

In a paper entitled “Inferring Social Network Structure Using Mobile Phone Data,” Pentland and two coauthors explain that one of the great benefits of the cell phone as a data mining tool is that it provides raw, unfiltered information, which ends up being more reliable than information “self-reported” by people. People’s reports on their own behavior are subject to a great deal of distortion due to memory lapses, cognitive biases, embarrassment, and other factors. Cell-phone reality mining, by contrast, provides “a new method for precise measurements of large-scale human behavior.” Our cell phone know us better than we know ourselves.

To illustrate the power of the technique, the authors conducted a reality mining experiment that involved “ninety-four subjects using mobile phones pre-installed with several pieces of software that record and send the researcher data on call logs, Bluetooth devices in proximity, cell tower IDs, application usage, and phone status. These subjects were observed via mobile phones over the course of nine months, representing over 330,000 person-hours of data (about 35 years worth of observations).” The data provided a remarkably intimate view of the subjects’ lives. The researchers were, for instance, able to “identify characteristic behavioral signatures of relationships that allowed us to accurately predict 95% of the reciprocated friendships in the study. Using these behavioral signatures we can predict, in turn, individual-level outcomes such as job satisfaction.”

Reality mining, the authors write, could revolutionize social research. It provides “a new approach to studying collaboration and communication within organizations – allowing the examination of the evolution of relationships over time. More dramatically, these methods allow for an inspection of the dynamics of macro networks that were heretofore unobservable. There is no technical reason why data cannot be collected from hundreds of millions of people throughout the course of their lives.” But it’s unlikely that the data will only be analyzed in the aggregate by academic researchers. The commercial value of reality mining is far too great to restrict the technique to the ivory tower. The resulting intrusions into personal privacy could well be dramatic, and as Pentland notes in the interview, we can’t assume that our interests will be protected: “The people making policies don’t know what is [technologically] possible, and they don’t necessarily make policies that are in our best interest … These capabilities are coming, but we have to come to a new deal. It doesn’t do any good to stick your head in the sand about it.”

NOTE: Technology Review provides a link to the paper, but it no longer seems to work. I found a copy in Google’s cache. And if you’d like to do a little reality mining yourself, you can download all the data from the researchers’ experiment here.

Man Sold Spamming Software and Spamming Services Impacting Millions of Computers
May 30, 2007

ROBERT ALAN SOLOWAY, 27, the owner of NEWPORT INTERNET MARKETING CORPORATION of Seattle, Washington was arrested today after being indicted by a federal grand jury for Mail Fraud, Wire Fraud, Fraud in Connection with Electronic Mail, Aggravated Identity Theft, and Money Laundering. SOLOWAY will make his initial appearance on the indictment in U.S. District Court in Seattle at 2:30 today.

“Spam is a scourge of the Internet, and Robert Soloway is one of its most prolific practitioners,” said Jeffrey C. Sullivan, United States Attorney for the Western District of Washington. “Our investigators dubbed him the “Spam King” because he is responsible for millions of spam emails.”

According to the indictment, between November 2003, and May 2007, SOLOWAY operated NEWPORT INTERNET MARKETING CORPORATION (NIM) which offered a “broadcast email” software product and “broadcast email” services. These products and services constituted “spam” i.e. bulk high volume commercial email messages that contained false and forged headers and that were relayed using a network of proxy computers (also know as “botnets”). SOLOWAY and NIM made a number of false and fraudulent claims about the products and services on their website. Among them was a claim that the e-mail addresses used for the product and services were “opt-in” email addresses. The website promised a satisfaction guarantee with a full refund to customers who purchased the broadcast email product. However, customers who later complained about the goods and services they had purchased or who asked for refunds were threatened with additional financial charges and referral to a collection agency.

As part of the scheme, SOLOWAY spammed tens of millions of email messages to advertise the NIM websites from which he sold his product and services. Soloway constantly “moved” this website, which was hosted on at least 50 different domains. In at least one instance SOLOWAY used another person’s credit card to pay for the domain name used to host the NIM website. Since 2006, SOLOWAY registered the domain names through Chinese Internet Service Providers in an apparent effort to hide the true ownership of the domain names used to host the NIM website. The spammed messages used to advertise the NIM websites contained false and fraudulent header information, and were relayed using networks of proxy computers (“botnets”) to disguise the true originating IP addresses of the spam. Many of the false headers contained forged e-mail addresses or domain names that belonged to other real people, businesses, or organizations, causing these other innocent parties to mistakenly be blamed for spam transmitted by Soloway. Innocent parties whose email addresses and domain names were forged by SOLOWAY sometimes had their legitimate addresses “blacklisted” as spam sources, as a result. SOLOWAY refused to remove email addresses from his distribution lists, leaving some victims with no choice but to close their email accounts or cancel established domain names to stop the spamming. SOLOWAY and NIM have been the subject of hundreds of complaints to the Federal Trade Commission, Better Business Bureau and the Washington State Attorney General’s Office.

“This case demonstrates that even in this age of electronic mail, spam and botnets the US Mail and commercial carriers are still used, and at times misused, to convey items of value. It continues to be the job of US Postal Inspectors to protect the Postal Service, our customers, and the American public from such abuses. These multi-faceted fraud schemes are best worked by a task force of agencies and we thank our federal partners, the FBI, IRS-Criminal Investigations Division, the FTC and the US Attorney’s Office for their outstanding work on this case,” said Postal Inspection Service Acting Inspector in Charge R.C. Till.

As part of the indictment, the government is seeking $772,998 as proceeds of SOLOWAY’s unlawful activities.

The charges contained in the indictment are only allegations. A person is presumed innocent unless and until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Mail Fraud, Wire Fraud and Money Laundering are all punishable by up to twenty years in prison and three years of supervised release. Fraud in Connection with Electronic Mail is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. SOLOWAY is charged with five counts of Aggravated Identity Theft for using the electronic identification of another person (i.e. email address) in connection with fraud of electronic mail. If convicted, the Aggravated Identity Theft statute mandates a two year sentence to be served consecutive to any prison term for the underlying offense.

The case was investigated by the FBI, US Postal Inspection Service and Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations (IRS-CI) in conjunction with the Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property (CHIP) Task Force. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Kathryn Warma.

For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110.