Weekend Roundup: How Bezos Got Hacked; Google’s Ethics in A.I.

We covered a lot this week (Mozilla layoffs! Cybersecurity issues related to the U.S.-Iran tensions! Goldman Sachs killing a programming language!) but there’s no rest for the weary: For this edition of the Weekend Roundup, we have two juicy stories for you: One involving a bigshot CEO getting hacked, and the other about ethics in games journalism artificial intelligence (A.I.). 

Let’s jump in!

With Friends Like These…

Picture for a moment that you’re Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon and (depending on how the stock market is doing that day) the world’s richest man. Your iPhone’s contacts are loaded with the world’s wealthiest and most powerful people, some of whom probably call you just to talk about Fortnite or whatever. Sounds pretty good, right?

Sure… until another of the world’s richest and most powerful men decides to hack your phone in order to steal all of your data and blow up your marriage. At least, that’s what a group of UN investigators say happened to Bezos. 

According to the report issued by those investigators, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent an attachment in a WhatsApp message to Bezos. When Bezos tapped on the attachment, it downloaded some spyware that proceeded to vacuum tons of information off his phone. “The information we have received suggests the possible involvement of the Crown Prince in surveillance of Mr. Bezos, in an effort to influence, if not silence, The Washington Post’s reporting on Saudi Arabia,” the investigators suggested. “The allegations reinforce other reporting pointing to a pattern of targeted surveillance of perceived opponents and those of broader strategic importance to the Saudi authorities, including nationals and non-nationals.” 

They tell you to never download attachments from people you don’t know, which makes sense. But getting intentional spyware from someone you do know? That’s pretty cold, and yet that’s the game played by billionaires, heads of state, and billionaire heads of state. We know this because we binge-watched HBO’s Succession last weekend.

In the meantime, the UN wants you to take a big lesson from this sorry tale: spyware is bad, and you should feel bad about using it. 

“This reported surveillance of Mr. Bezos, allegedly through software developed and marketed by a private company and transferred to a government without judicial control of its use, is, if true, a concrete example of the harms that result from the unconstrained marketing, sale and use of spyware,” the report mentioned. “Surveillance through digital means must be subjected to the most rigorous control, including by judicial authorities and national and international export control regimes, to protect against the ease of its abuse. It underscores the pressing need for a moratorium on the global sale and transfer of private surveillance technology.”

Yep, that’s totally going to get governments and private companies to change their behavior. In the meantime, we doubt that Bezos is downloading an attachment from anyone ever again, even one from his kids. 

Google: It’s About Ethics in A.I.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai is advocating for some ethics rules around artificial intelligence (A.I.). “Sensible regulation must also take a proportionate approach, balancing potential harms, especially in high-risk areas, with social opportunities,” he wrote in an op-ed for the Financial Times.

That position certainly makes sense. After all, Google is one of the world’s biggest investors in A.I. and machine learning research, which it views as integral to its future success. If A.I. is going to be regulated—and that’s certainly happening at some point—Google would no doubt prefer that it has a seat at that particular table. Otherwise, some government might pass a law or regulation that harms Google’s research as well as its bottom line.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is also advocating for global rules for A.I. Hopefully, these companies are genuinely trying to craft ethics that benefit the world, not just their own corporate strategies. Because otherwise, we’ll get Skynet! (This is the hundredth time we’ve made that Skynet joke in the past twelve months. Seriously, somebody stop us.)  

 Have a great weekend, everyone!