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Sci Tech    H4'ed 7/14/13

Jay-Z's App and Obama's Criminal Enterprise

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To gauge the real impact of a historic development like "the Snowden revelations", it's sometimes useful to examine how wide it's being felt. An illustration: Jay-Z's "Magna Carta Holy Grail" Samsung cellphone app. I've a feeling some may not know what I'm talking about because, up until this past Friday, neither did I. But my May First/People Link colleague and office buddy Hilary Goldstein (who has often been the source of ideas for my writings here) sent me an email with a link to a story about the controversy and it got me thinking about how our society has succumbed to a massive crime and how this might be a kind of "critical mass".

The story starts with a Tweet by a respected Hip Hop artist named Michael "Killer Mike" Render. The Atlanta, Georgia resident issued a tweet this week displaying a graphic of the registration screen for the Magna Carta Holy Grail App with the cryptic but powerful message: "Naw...I'm cool." The app (a term used to describe small applications often used on hand-held devices) lets the user download a new album (called "Magna Carta Holy Grail") by Hip Hop super-star Jay-Z.

The meaning of the message (a bit more dismissive than "Thanks but no thanks") is significant because over a half million people had already said "yes" to that App and had downloaded it to their phones. In the process, they gave Samsung their names, specific GPS location, approximate network location and the phone's precies id and status as well as permission to "modify or delete contents" from their USB storage, stop the phone from sleeping and get full access to their network communications.

The APP and the Artist
The APP and the Artist
(Image by Google Search)
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The APP and the Artist by Google Search

In other words, you give them a treasure trove of information about you in exchange for downloading a "pre-release" version of this album.

Why give in to such an intrusion? The most obvious answer is to get an advanced copy of the already critically acclaimed album by one of the greatest musical artists of all time.

Shawn Corey Carter, known as Jay-Z, grew up on tough streets in Brooklyn, New York (where he led what he himself terms a "gangsta life-style") and has risen to world-wide reknown as a musical genius. His evocative and innovative lyrics, run over brilliant instrumental mixes, touch on themes and topics touched on in "conceptual albums": tracks that are hung together under one theme. His legendary discipline and the sheer quantify of quality music he puts out make him singular in his industry. He's also a successful businessman (already reportedly worth over a half billion dollars) with a diverse array of businesses. Because of what he's done with his life and what he does with his music, it's hard not to admire Jay-Z.

Carter is, above all, an innovator and so it's probable that he saw the value in pre-releasing his album as a Samsung app to address a mostly young audience that uses that technology while departing from the competitive and even hostile attitude the recording industry has had towards the Internet. He probably hardly noticed that Samsung was gathering critical information on people for marketing and (given what we know) turning it over to the government. Not that he would necessarily care but Killer Mike does and so, apparently, do a striking number of other "fans".

Killer Mike Render has 69,000 followers on his Twitter account and when he dropped this little diss it was noticed enough to be the subject of a long litany of tweet responses about surveillance and several trade articles noting the protest. The album also caught the attention of hacktivists who took quick and brilliant action. As a result, some of the people trying to download the real app were actually downloading a hack app, a piece of "malware", software that  mimics real software but does "malicious" things. Of course, one person's "malicious" is sometimes another's act of protest.

"On the surface, the malware app functions identically to the legit app," writes Irfan Asrar on MacAfee's Blog Central. "But in in the background, the malware sends info about the infected device to an external server every time the phone restarts." The malware then tries to install additional software and, on July 4, it replaced wallpaper on the infected device with an image of President Obama and commentary on the recent spying scandals. In short, a political message hack.

Asrar, a worthy commentator on things technological, issued his blog as a warning to all who download such apps -- be careful what you download, it could be malware. But that admonition misses the point: the malware itself is a warning. It is reminding people that the information Samsung is demanding in exchange for this album is, effectively, surveillance and part of a gross violation by our government of the Constitution of the United States. Know it or not, Jay-Z is facilitating the criminal behavior of corporations and the government.

Those who think "criminal" might be too strong a word might start by looking at the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution because many people, perhaps most, don't really know what it says. In fact, top Security officials like former NSA chief Michael Hayden (who's been making the pundit rounds recently representing the Obama Administration) seem to have no idea.

Here then is the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, part of what is called The Bill of Rights, proposed by the Congress in 1789 and made law in 1791 after all State legislatures approved it.

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

This is the "privacy" amendment. In case after case for more than two centuries, it has been relied on to support the First Amendment's clause establishing "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances". It's the legal basis for our rights as a movement for progressive change.

Virtually every word of the amendment completely contradicts the surveillance the U.S. government is routinely conducting. So the question is pertinent: Is our government engaging in criminal behavior?

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Alfredo Lopez is a member of the This Can't Be Happening on-line publication collective where he covers technology and Co-Chair of the Leadership Committee of May First/People Link.
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