South Carolina Hospital Prices, DuckDuckGo, Fake News, More: Saturday ResearchBuzz, January 5, 2019


The State: Hospital bills can vary by tens of thousands. Now you can compare prices in SC. “New federal rules mean hospitals nationwide now have to make cost information available online, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Since the data went public on the first of the year, the South Carolina Hospital Association released a new website… that gives people the ability to compare hospital prices across the state. A bone marrow biopsy costs between an average $2,776 and $9,170, depending on what hospital you go to in South Carolina for the procedure, according the site.”


Search Engine Land: DuckDuckGo broke 9 billion searches in 2018, and it’s growing. “DuckDuckGo, the privacy-focused search engine, posted on Twitter this week that in 2018 they surpassed 9 billion searches for the year. To give you a comparison, in 2016 they did 4 billion searches. Not too long ago, in October, they reported doing 30 million queries per day.”

The Verge: How an upstart hacker collective is fighting back against misinformation in 2019. “With fake stories a seemingly permanent fixture of life online — and the threat of convincing fake videos gaining steam — it can be easy to despair. But even as the viral threat evolves, new antibodies are emerging. Amid fears that the boundaries between reality and fiction are dissolving, researchers have begun sketching out proposals to prevent it from disseminating. Drawing on experts from a variety of fields, advocates are putting together an organized effort to protect the information sphere from scammers and state-sponsored trolls.”

CBR: The NSA to Release a Free Software Reverse Engineering Toolkit. “The US’s National Security Agency (NSA) is releasing a software reverse engineering tool for free public use in March, in an unusual step – although the tool had already been leaked by Wikileaks as part of its Vault 7 batch of CIA leaks.”


The Next Web: How to quietly ditch people you follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. “Ever wished you could discreetly filter certain people out of your social media feeds? We feel you, and we’re here to help you do just that in a matter of seconds on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, without letting your ‘friends’ know.” Quick hints but great for your mental health.


Gizmodo: How Ancient Religious Texts Went Digital. “Digitizing sacred texts, while sometimes viewed as a scandalous endeavor, is one that expands information beyond just an inner circle of scholars and the faithful. Justin Parrott, a research fellow at Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research, just finished his masters of research in Islamic studies last year using the search engines to analyze a particular idea across a whole genre of Islamic texts.”

CNET: China’s censors reportedly learn real history to stop it spreading online. “Chinese censors must reportedly learn a history previously unknown to them so they know which information the government wants them to stop from spreading. Employees of censorship companies like the Beijing-based Beyondsoft are taught about the government’s violent suppression of the 1989 student-led Tiananmen Square protests and late activist Liu Xiaobo, who was repeatedly imprisoned for his anti-government views, The New York Times reported Wednesday.”

TechCrunch: Singapore activist found guilty of hosting ‘illegal assembly’ via Skype . “An ongoing case in Singapore is testing the legal boundaries of virtual conferences. A court in the Southeast Asian city-state this week convicted human rights activist Jolovan Wham of organizing a public assembly via Skype without a permit and refusing to sign his statement when ordered by the police.”

Citizen: African leaders wake up to the potency of social media in politics. “When South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma, a proud traditionalist, joined Twitter recently, it was a vivid signal that politicians on the continent are slowly but surely waking up to the power of social media in modern-day political discourse. The response has been mixed.”


Daniel Miessler: It Appears China is Building a Massive Espionage Database on America. “I’ve mentioned this in numerous places for the last few years, so I decided it was time to finally put it into a formal piece. It seems obvious at this point that China is building a massive database of information on American individuals and companies, which they can then use for various purposes—including espionage, intellectual property theft, extortion, and other types of coercion.”

New York Times: Marriott Concedes 5 Million Passport Numbers Lost to Hackers Were Not Encrypted. “Marriott International said on Friday that the biggest hacking of personal information in history was not quite as big as first feared, but for the first time conceded that its Starwood hotel unit did not encrypt the passport numbers for roughly five million guests. Those passport numbers were lost in an attack that many outside experts believe was carried out by Chinese intelligence agencies.”


Hackaday: Cheating AI Caught Hiding Data Using Steganography. “A mapping system started to perform too well and it was found that the system was not only able to regenerate images from maps but also add details like exhaust vents and skylights that would be impossible to predict from just a map. Upon inspection, it was found that the algorithm had learned to satisfy its learning parameters by hiding the image data into the generated map. This was invisible to the naked eye since the data was in the form of small color changes that would only be detected by a machine. How cool is that?!”

The Atlantic: How a Feel-Good AI Story Went Wrong in Flint. “More than a thousand days after the water problems in Flint, Michigan, became national news, thousands of homes in the city still have lead pipes, from which the toxic metal can leach into the water supply. To remedy the problem, the lead pipes need to be replaced with safer, copper ones. That sounds straightforward, but it is a challenge to figure out which homes have lead pipes in the first place. The City’s records are incomplete and inaccurate. And digging up all the pipes would be costly and time-consuming. That’s just the kind of problem that automation is supposed to help solve.” Good morning, Internet…

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