Spillikins # 594. Facial recognition in the US – corporate refusal to work with the police


The world continues to go into protests, they have spread almost all over the planet, and the epidemic has not disappeared anywhere. On the other hand, in Moscow there is a complete feeling that the epidemic as an event has ceased to exist – the streets are filled with people, they walk, sit at the tables of “closed” cafes and restaurants. As if there was no quarantine and the disease no longer exists. This is a very dangerous behavior that will provoke a new increase in the number of cases, otherwise it simply cannot be. However, this is clearly seen in other countries, where all restrictions were abruptly removed. But we will not talk about this, but will focus on the protests and how they affected technology. Go!


  1. Facial recognition and corporate waiver of police work in the United States
  2. How Yandex offended Sberbank and it began to complicate the life of the IT giant
  3. Smart speakers are another front of the attack on Yandex
  4. Microsoft Surface Go 2 tablet – why do you need it?
  5. Books. Country of quality. Mark-Uwe Kling

Facial recognition and corporate waiver of police work in the United States

Before our eyes, an amazing phantasmagoria unfolds, in the United States they justify robbery of shops, vandalism of monuments, since this is considered a form of protest. Of course, it is impossible to say that such manifestations of aggression, lack of a minimum education are characteristic of the entire society, but judging by the news feeds, this is a noticeable part of the events taking place. The polarity of opinions is off the charts not only in America, but also in other countries, for example, in Great Britain there were judgments that Winston Churchill was a notorious racist and therefore a monument to him in the center of London was decorated with inscriptions. And the government hid it in an iron box so that they would not try to demolish it, as was done in several cities in America with the Columbus monument. It is not very clear what Christopher Columbus was guilty of, but there is a latent feeling that the struggle against racial prejudice and racism has gradually developed into a war for the uneducated part of society, which does not receive modern benefits, against those who can somehow join them. Under what slogans it goes is not so important, here rather how it happens comes to the fore.

The problem of the “protesters” and their open clashes with the police, robberies of shops and other illegal actions, is that today they end up on photographs, videos, and then it’s a matter of technology how to find these people and bring them to justice. Having succumbed to emotions and taking out clothes, electronics or something similar from the store, the protesters become defendants in criminal cases, and the very photos and videos, including those taken by security cameras, and not by other people, act as evidence. Therefore, having burst into shops, the “oppressed” demolish the cameras with such frenzy, they recognize them as a threat.

Mass demonstrations are somewhat reminiscent of a DDoS attack, the number of threats is so great that the police cannot be in a hundred places at the same time, and therefore robberies are carried out with such ease. But security systems record what is happening, moreover, the existing face recognition systems confidently show who was involved in the robberies. And not only in them, but also in attacks on the police, other citizens, and so on.

Spillikins # 594. Facial recognition in the US - corporate refusal to work with the police

Source: Matt Rourke / AP

And do you know what is happening in America against this background? What can be called a logical and understandable phenomenon is by no means possible. Corporations begin to publicly declare their refusal to work with police departments in various cities, they stop selling them facial recognition software. Sounds unlikely? But this is true, but far from all.

The first company that refused to work with the police in this area was IBM, their positions in this market, to put it mildly, are none. Accordingly, the corporation does not bear any noticeable losses, but this is far from the reason. There are currently no laws in the United States that govern the use of facial recognition. Moreover, the results of police operations, in which the initial data were obtained using facial recognition, are questioned in court, since the accuracy is rather low. Even more interesting is that the recognition accuracy drops for people with black or dark skin, which many have already dubbed racism. But the fact lies elsewhere, AI-algorithms were trained on a sample of different people, but there were clearly more whites in it. The fact that there is no problem in what kind of persons to train the systems for we see in China, there such tracking systems are effective and widespread, the country is a leader in such developments and their practical application. It is interesting that in Russia there are several teams that have achieved an extremely high level of face recognition, their technologies are among the most advanced in the world, but the general public does not know about this.

Immediately after IBM was followed by a statement from Amazon, they imposed a one-year moratorium and stopped providing their facial recognition systems to the police, just like IBM, they asked the government and the Senate to create a set of laws that would regulate the use of this technology.

Such a unanimous speech by such different companies to the protesters seems to be their support, but everything is much more prosaic. In the absence of government laws, these instruments are in a gray area. And in the courts, good lawyers can challenge their application as well as the recognition accuracy. As a result, each misidentification will result in millions of dollars worth of losses, which the victim may suffer. Until recently, this risk was negligible, as the number of arrests and arrests using only facial recognition was small. And while there was always other evidence that unambiguously pointed to a person. In protests that have engulfed the United States in a completely different approach, corporations are expecting mass arrests based only on photographs, videos, and subsequent facial recognition. The number of erroneous detentions can skyrocket, as can subsequent legal claims from detainees. There is no support for the protest, this is an assessment of their own risks and an attempt to avoid losses. Today, American corporations are not fighting the police, but forcing the latter to put pressure on the government to pass laws that will exempt them from any prosecution in court, protect them from the cost of payments to victims in case of erroneous operation of systems. Therefore, when you read articles about how some Americans extol the conscientiousness of the same Amazon, you are amazed at the naivety. Even just looking through the news about how Amazon conducts its business, you will have a clear understanding that there is no flirting with employees, this is the most tough sweatshop, where the safety of individuals does not play a big role. And suddenly this company is on the side of the protesters? Utopia.

Many people around the world do not want to believe in the real world, they are poisoned by Hollywood films and stories about equality, freedom of speech and the ability to speak openly about what is happening. The protests themselves have a lot to do with this, with the cognitive dissonance between what happens in reality and what propaganda shows. In past Spillikins, we touched on the topic of social networks and the fact that Donald Trump is openly lying in his tweets. As a result, Twitter has flagged such tweets, indicated that the information in them does not correspond to reality.

Spillikins # 594. Facial recognition in the US - corporate refusal to work with the police

On Facebook, where exactly the same information was posted, there were no overlays. This caused serious discussions within the company, some of the employees were outraged by the silence of the management. Zuckerberg met with some of the employees at the company’s office, tried to defuse the situation, but it didn’t work out very well. So, during the meeting, many asked the question why the company took a position in relation to Donald Trump that violates Facebook rules. Any other person would receive a warning or be permanently banned for speaking out by the President of the United States. Facebook did nothing of this, but simply kept silent and did not discuss this issue.

What happened next? One of the company’s engineers, Brandon Dail, has publicly criticized the company’s management and has done so many times. Moreover, he publicly accused his colleague of not including words of support for the Black Live Matters movement in a developer document he was working on. As a result, he was fired. Facebook, of course, did not comment on the reasons for the dismissal, but confirmed that it took place.

In my opinion, everything that is possible is again mixed here. Facebook employees often confuse company politics with big politics and believe that the statements from Facebook’s management should be unambiguous. But it so happened that Facebook simply does not separate them and therefore punishes those who become too active in the public field. Exactly the same thing happened last year at Google, this year it was also at Amazon. The punishment for those who violate the corporate foundations is quick and simple enough, it is a public flogging for everyone else to keep their mouths shut. This is the reality of our world, not what is shown in the movies. Moreover, all of these companies are focused on maximizing profits and have succeeded in doing so. Therefore, as long as states pay for their technologies and allow them to avoid problems, they will work with them and they do not care about the rights of certain groups of people. They are stopped by only one threat, the possibility of incurring losses. Rough? Yes. But this is the real world, not the invention of PR specialists for widespread use. Let’s look at another fiction that upsets protesters – the NYPD budget.

In New York, police spending is one of the most noticeable in the United States, while the New York Police Department is considered one of the most technologically advanced, systems are being introduced here that only then appear elsewhere. But the residents of the city do not know anything about most of them. A couple of years ago, New Yorkers approached the city council, they wanted the city to disclose information about what systems the police have, how the surveillance of citizens is carried out. The difference in approach is visible even on a verbal level – what residents call surveillance are considered by the city hall as security systems. And it’s like with scouts and spies, the assessment depends solely on whose side you are on. The Mayor of New York has repeatedly rejected all requests regarding the systems used and the disclosure of the principle of their work, the motivation sounds logical – the criminals do not understand how the police work is organized, which makes it possible to effectively prevent many offenses.

One of the main suppliers of software for security systems in New York is Microsoft, the company has tied together different sensors, cameras in a cloud system, access to which is regulated at the level of each service. The Domain Awareness System (DAS) is very complex in every sense, with cameras that read license plates on streets and tunnels, sensors that assess weather conditions and the content of chemicals in water / air, radiation sensors, and much more.

A very detailed list of the technologies used with a detailed description of each of them can be found here.

Of the above, I was surprised by trucks with “X-ray” installations (I think that the type of technology there is completely different, but this is rather a sonorous name), which allow you to see through cars and look behind the walls of houses, in search of something like that. Sound sensor system that focuses on the sounds of shooting in the city, and not only on them. Very advanced, diverse systems, the NYPD budget is so high precisely because of the technology saturation, and not for any other reason.

But the protesters believe that a huge budget goes to the police, to their salaries. Which of course is not at all the case. Their level of earnings corresponds to the standard of living in New York and, taking into account this, even lower than in many other cities in America. Another thing is that the technical equipment is much better, there are more technical specialists who service the equipment and software.

Do you know what is happening in America today with law enforcement agencies in terms of the riots, how the technical component is changing? The police and not only her unexpectedly needed large volumes of storage in data centers, they store all the information they can reach – posts on social networks, videos and photos. And in the future, they will simply look for signs of the participation of all detainees in the riots, in order to add troubles and problems to them, to increase their terms. During the first week of the riots in the United States, about 10 thousand people were detained, the police do not make any distinctions in what they were detained for, such statistics do not exist. These are both those who robbed shops and civilians who participated in the demonstrations. And in some ways, these detainees were lucky, because while the databases do not have all the information about the riots, their faces are not chased through the latest information about the crimes, it will appear later. But there is no doubt that the databases will be filled and used to find those who participated in the offenses. This will let the police blow off steam when the situation calms down a bit. For some reason, I have no doubts that the detentions will be rude, emphatically aggressive. It will be reality, not the movie world.

How Yandex offended Sberbank and it began to complicate the life of the IT giant

Sberbank, under the leadership of Gref and with his submission, sees itself as an IT company, and in many ways it is becoming. The hulking monster is gradually accelerating, in which it is helped by the fact that the resources of Sberbank within the perimeter of the Russian market can be considered conditionally endless. And for Yandex, this acceleration, coupled with the restructuring of many processes, threatens with a direct loss of the market in those niches where the company considered itself to be completely safe. The original strengths of Yandex will soon be tested for strength and it will be a serious struggle for the future.

In private conversations, many attribute the root of the spat between Sberbank and Yandex to the incompatibility of Herman Gref and Arkady Volozh, too different views on business and how to run it. An attempt to combine strengths turned into a total failure, Yandex.Market did not take off (including Beru), and Yandex.Money may disappear in the near future. Rumors claim that there is a personal grievance and a desire to drown Yandex. I didn’t hold a candle, but based on what is happening on the market, I can say that Sberbank is doing everything possible to weaken Yandex as much as possible, to make it impossible for it to live comfortably in Russia.

For example, Sberbank’s own projects related to topics that have already been developed within Yandex are eagerly recruiting employees of the latter. At the same time, they are offered a significantly higher salary, which has already created difficulties for Yandex, since they either need to pay the same amount to keep people, or look for new employees, which in theory will then go back to a direct competitor. Such price pressure with the help of salaries inflates the labor market in certain specialties, where there is already a shortage of personnel. By raising the cost of development at Sberbank, they hit the sickest, namely the price of projects. But this is only a part of a big story, a strategy in which Sberbank is consistently attacking Yandex, slowly and inevitably.

At the end of 2019, Sberbank and Yandex began considering buying 2GIS, a Russian mapping service from Novosibirsk. Interestingly, in the fall of 2019, on Echo of Moscow in the Tochka program, Grigory Bakunov from Yandex (Technology Distribution Director), together with the presenters, discussed the audience of this service. The presenter called the audience of the service at 20 million people, and then Bakunov commented on this, “Perhaps these are all people who, one way or another, in the entire history of this product have gone through the page. We do not know what is the actual audience of 2GIS. I suspect the 20 million figure is overstated. ”

Yandex’s level of understanding of the market has always been lame, the company lives in its own illusory world and this comment proves it well. 2GIS was not too lazy to answer Yandex and simply published statistics, for example, here is such an analytics on the number of active users in 2018 for different applications, 2GIS overtakes cartography from Yandex (later, the merger of two Yandex applications is an attempt to combat 2GIS, it looks like that).

Spillikins # 594. Facial recognition in the US - corporate refusal to work with the police

At the time of the comment, 2GIS had 39.1 million users in Russia (already more than 50 million), 20 million only through the Mediascope panel.

Spillikins # 594. Facial recognition in the US - corporate refusal to work with the police

Another quote from Bakunov: “As far as I saw, in recent years the 2GIS company, of course, has stagnated, because, let me remind you, most phones have preinstalled cards. And then there is, of course, the most popular service “Yandex.Maps”, here we are leading by a wide margin ”.

2GIS commented on this simply, the growth of the 2GIS audience in two years was 45%, while in Moscow the growth was 94%, in St. Petersburg 76%, these are traditionally strong markets for Yandex.Maps. In 2GIS, Yandex clicked on the nose very nicely and poked it into complete ignorance of the market in which the company operates. This is generally typical for Yandex in recent years, the company does not understand what they are doing, why and how (read below about the columns, it will also be curious how Yandex is preparing to love the market, which they began to develop first in Russia).

Both Sberbank and Yandex considered the purchase of 2GIS (the Russian Forbes writes about Yandex and their attempt to buy), but the prize went to Sberbank, since the company spares no money on development and is practically unlimited in investment opportunities. The 2GIS appraisal was 14.3 billion rubles, and Sberbank’s share will be 72% after the transaction is closed. O2O Holding will have 3% of 2GIS, a joint company of Sberbank and Mail.ru for the development of food and taxis).

So, what will happen to Yandex.Maps after 2GIS falls under the wing of Sberbank? Let’s start with the obvious – all Sberbank projects will acquire cards from 2GIS, exactly the same will happen for mail.ru projects, which are considered competitors for projects from Yandex. Whatever one may say, but only this will give a surge in the use of 2GIS in the Russian market. The advantage of 2GIS will be achieved in a very short time, which will create certain problems for Yandex.Maps.

But another point is even more interesting, Yandex has already lost the presets of maps on Samsung smartphones, where by default 2GIS is included in the Russian software package. Roughly the same thing happens for other manufacturers, they set 2GIS by default. Yandex. Due to the cooperation of Sberbank with Huawei / Honor, the appearance of preinstalled cards on these smartphones (and this is a third of the Russian market) is also a matter of near future. And here the business conditions for Yandex are greatly deteriorating, in addition to the presence of Google Maps, which are used by international companies in their applications, a strong competitor appears, which gives not only maps, but is able to give many other goodies from Sberbank. Competition is intensifying and Yandex was simply not ready for this. It was important for the company to buy 2GIS at any cost in order to stop Sberbank. Given the availability of resources like this bank, Yandex will not be able to win in the long term.

On my own behalf, I want to note that since about March this year I have been using 2GIS (maps were preinstalled on my smartphone) and for me they became a discovery, there are a lot of POIs, routes are perfectly laid out. In short, try it, it’s a great product.

In the future, 2GIS will receive many improvements, and for third-party developers, that is, maps will spread even faster than it was today. And this is very sad news for Yandex, since the competitor is not just the strongest, it will displace Yandex. Maps from their positions in a short time, it will take relatively little time. And the cost of promoting its cartography for Yandex will rise markedly, as will all other costs of doing business.

Of course, you can continue to rest on your laurels, consider your products the best, which is not the case for a long time. And in the end, to receive such greetings from direct competitors that they begin to attack on all fronts. It is difficult to underestimate the consequences of the deal with 2GIS for the entire market, a large redistribution has already begun and Yandex is the loser in it.

Smart speakers are another front of the attack on Yandex

There are already several players on the Russian market that offer smart speakers and their integration with smart home systems. Yandex was the first to enter this market, trying to get ahead of the arrival of Google Home, which never officially took place. After that, the people who worked on the speakers from Yandex switched to work at Mail.ru, Sberbank, MTS and not only, today only the lazy is not trying to create his own voice assistant. But the market development rate is rather low, in America such assistants evolve much faster. And the problem here is not so much the algorithms as the rather low user base, which does not allow training the algorithms. Vicious circle.

One of the players in 2020 will try to break this market and will do what Yandex was originally supposed to do – offer smart speakers for free, along with a subscription to services. Yandex’s subscription model did not take off, such columns are practically inaccessible.

Spillikins # 594. Facial recognition in the US - corporate refusal to work with the police

The new player will offer columns for free, with the number gradually increasing to three. The giveaway model will assume that a person uses the services of the company and the cost of the column pays off by what he does on it – orders a taxi, buys pizza, or something else. Moreover, the correctness of the approach is that you cannot sell a raw product without a good voice assistant (and no one except Google has such) at full price. You have to give it away for free in order to build a user base and then develop the product.

And here Yandex will only be forced to respond to this, to make the subscription model the main one. For the company, this will mean very high costs for hardware (and in fact they need somewhere to find money to buy Uber’s share in Yandex.Taxi, which is far from a penny). The year for Yandex is clearly unsuccessful, since the attack on various services, read the company’s businesses, begins on all fronts. And the company does not have a ready-made recipe for how to resist this, what to oppose to other players. The cost of doing business will increase as competition increases and it becomes fierce. Perhaps this characteristic most fully describes what is happening on the market.

In terms of Yandex’s financial performance, this year will not be overwhelming, in either positive or negative terms. But next year, we will see the consequences of the onset of other companies, how they eat off Yandex’s share, and also make the company’s business less profitable. In some ways Yandex could support the IPO of Yandex.Taxi, but this is clearly not the time when it can and should be carried out.

Microsoft Surface Go 2 tablet – why do you need it?

Microsoft continues to develop the Surface line, and now the second generation Surface Go has hit the shelves, in the US the price of this tablet starts at $ 399. The positioning hints at the fact that Microsoft created this device to compete on store shelves with the Apple iPad, a kind of response to Apple’s tablet. But this is a classic thoughtless approach, when your solution is created with an eye on the desired cost, and not on the opportunities that the buyer gets.

Spillikins # 594. Facial recognition in the US - corporate refusal to work with the policeSpillikins # 594. Facial recognition in the US - corporate refusal to work with the police

What’s the problem with Go 2? The answer lies in the processor, the Pentium Gold is a very slow processor for any version of Windows 10, even those trimmed down in applications (don’t upgrade to Windows 10 Home, it will hurt even more). In the basic version of 4/64 GB, everything is very slow, since 4 GB is barely enough for the system, and you will not run ordinary Windows applications here (the question is, of course, which ones you need – the browser will work slowly). Built-in eMMC memory is also a minus and horror-horror.

Spillikins # 594. Facial recognition in the US - corporate refusal to work with the policeSpillikins # 594. Facial recognition in the US - corporate refusal to work with the police

In a word, it turns out that as a tablet for watching movies, web pages, the device is so-so, for something more serious it is not suitable from the word at all. And it was released for show to compete with the iPad, but the competition itself is clearly not working.

Another thing, if we take a model based on Core m3, the processor, although quite old, but productive. But here it is already 8/128 GB, there is a regular SSD, and also visually everything works quickly. You can buy an external keyboard case ($ 100, will work from older models), a stylus from Microsoft if you plan to draw ($ 70).

Spillikins # 594. Facial recognition in the US - corporate refusal to work with the policeSpillikins # 594. Facial recognition in the US - corporate refusal to work with the policeSpillikins # 594. Facial recognition in the US - corporate refusal to work with the police

The initial cost of such a tablet for m3 starts from $ 630 for the WiFi version, and this is the option that can only be considered, all the younger versions of this model suffer greatly in performance.

Spillikins # 594. Facial recognition in the US - corporate refusal to work with the police

I absolutely do not like the approach of companies, when a model is built not from the needs of a person, not what he will receive, but from the need to fill a certain price line. This is exactly what happened in this case, the younger Surface Go 2 can be bought unknowingly, on the recommendation of the seller. And then be disappointed in him. And why Microsoft needs this is completely unclear, because with its own hands the company repels those who should buy new versions of Surface in the future. And those who receive such tablets or two-in-one devices in schools and other educational institutions will definitely not be particularly happy with them – they are too slow. And again we come to the conclusion that they will not become buyers of such devices, they will not recommend them. It is clear what task Microsoft is solving at the moment, but at the exit it greatly affects future sales.

Books. Country of quality. Mark-Uwe Kling

The bookstores are open, which means you can raid them and return with unexpected loot. Such a book became “Country of Quality”, I have not heard anything about it, it literally jumped into my hands. A mixture of Black Mirror and many other books about the future, which excites the mind and makes you think.

Spillikins # 594. Facial recognition in the US - corporate refusal to work with the police

What happens when algorithms begin to determine what you need and anticipate your desires to deliver goods to you. How your life will change if your social rating determines what you can afford. Why do people suddenly lose their emotions, and computer programs suddenly acquire them and become less confident in themselves?

This book is a satire about what kind of future we are heading for and what it can become. Satire is sharp on the tongue, our world is guessed in it. For example, work on creating hot headlines – “These ten megastars slept with children”. And then when they clicked on the headline, people saw the full text, “These ten megastars slept with children when the children were already adults.” I think many of you have come across these tempting headlines on various sites, but what happens when the whole internet becomes like this?

Books become personal, that is, the author’s work is taken as a basis, and then it is diluted with plots for every taste – pornography and detective stories, novels and something else. This is a book for personal reading, as “War and Peace” acquires millions of variations, written not by a living person, but by an algorithm. However, in the world of the future, books are written not by people, but by robots, they do it much better. They analyze everything that is possible and create the expected result.

I will try not to reveal the plot, but I will say that this satire is very close to the attitude of many of our contemporaries. It shows exactly what can become with us if we bring to the absurd what many are doing today and consider it normal. This book will be filmed on HBO in the coming years, which already says a lot about it. I don’t know how the series will turn out, but the book itself deserves attention, it definitely hits the mark and makes you think about the present. Four hundred pages are easily swallowed, the book is read in one breath. For anyone who cares about the future of technology, I recommend this book, it’s worth it!

PS Have a nice working week, weather and great mood. To be surrounded by smart people that give you interesting thoughts. Good luck in good deeds!

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