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Spooky: How NSA's Surveillance Algorithms See Into Your Life 211

Posted by timothy
from the spitzer's-the-expert-on-personal-intrusion dept.
SmartAboutThings writes "A quite scary talk show with former NSA employees — now whistle blowers — Thomas Drake, Kirk Wiebe, and William Binney reveals that the NSA has algorithms that go through data gathered about us and they can basically 'see into our lives.' And this seems to be going on especially since the Patriot Act has removed the statutory requirement that the government prove a surveillance target under FISA is a non-U.S. citizen and agent of a foreign power." Binney's HOPE keynote has more detail on how the NSA watches people.
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Spooky: How NSA's Surveillance Algorithms See Into Your Life

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  • It is quite certain that what we concider privacy has long been done away with, even in venues such as wiretapping which is still suppose to be done by court order only.
    • UK vs US who is more paranoid. Perfect /. poll topic I think. To give up your freedom to protect your freedom is the silliest and one of the most silly and expensive things government can spend money on. At least when you build a bridge to nowhere you have a bridge afterwords.Track everyone on the internet and 99.99% of what you got is lol cats and porn or equally useless info like "Do you think Cindy is fat?".

      • by Sperbels (1008585)
        Wrong. Once they the NSA super computer analyzes everything you say on the internet, it categorizes you, and you will either be given to the clear to go about your business, or sent to a reeducation camp
    • by BeanThere (28381)

      I don't get the point of your comment ... we're not complaining because it's surprising, but because it sucks, and we want to discuss what to do about it.

  • Maybe he would have vetoed the Patriot spying Act. (Though I doubt it.)

    • by na1led (1030470)
      Gore is a hypocrite! The only person who showed any concerned about our liberties was Ron Paul, but he will never get elected because he's not a puppet on strings.
      • by mcgrew (92797) * on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @10:52AM (#40749677) Homepage Journal

        The fact that Paul is against environmental regulations shows that he is in fact a corporate tool -- he's old enough to know how incredibly BAD the environment was before the EPA he wants to abolish came along. Who benefits from pollution? Corporations, to the detriment of everyone else. A true libertarian would be FOR environmental regs, because "your right to swing your fist stops where my nose begins".

        And yes, Gore is a hypocrite too, preaching the dangers of global warming while having a personal carbon footprint bigger than a hundred 99%ers. If he'd get rid of the mansions and jet planes he'd have a lot more credibility, but as it is, he has none.

        • by moeinvt (851793) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @11:37AM (#40750383)

          Ron Paul is a corporate tool?

          Yeah, that explains why the corporate-owned MSM gave him so much positive coverage and why the PAC supporting him was awash in cash from corporations and other wealthy donors. Ron Paul was THE little guy's candidate and the sworn enemy of the banking cartel and the MIC.

          "your right to swing your fist stops where my nose begins".

          That's why we have a TORT system. Do you think BP and Exxon were forced to pay for all of the damage they caused with their oil spills, or did the government step in as middle man, "settle" for a flat fee and then distribute the funds based on some bureaucratic application and claims process?

          The government stands between you and the polluters for sure. But who's being protected from whom?

        • Fyi, Paul would urge states to make their own regulations.

          • by mcgrew (92797) *

            Pollution doesn't honor state lines. What Illinois and Missouri dump into the Mississippi, Kentucky and Arkansas suffer from. What Illinois dumps into the air, Indiana and Ohio suffer from. Living in Illinois, I would suffer from Iowa and Missouri pollution, and with Missouri's politics, it would be a certainty that Illinois air would be bad. Pollution is a national problem, not a statewide one.

        • by DarkOx (621550) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @12:34PM (#40751403) Journal

          A true libertarian would be FOR environmental regs, because "your right to swing your fist stops where my nose begins".

          No. A True Libertarian would argue the government should NOT have environmental regs. It should have courts, where you can sue someone whose activities are having spill over effects harming your person or property. That court should either force them stop or fairly compensate you.

        • by na1led (1030470)
          The fact that the media and Wall-street don't like Ron Paul speaks for itself.
        • by BeanThere (28381)

          The fact that Paul is against environmental regulations shows that he is in fact a corporate tool

          And the fact that you're a blatant liar shows that you do not care for the truth and lack morals. Paul's own website is clear that he is in favor of laws that protect against pollution. It's pretty rich you talking about who "is" and "is not" a hypocrite, given you blatantly lie in your post.

        • Yes, like all the limp-wristed, Sierra-clubbing, country club, arrogant, pseudo cognoscenti who talks with that "special inflection" and goes to lavish fund raisers in his/her $80,000 Mercedes SUV, and just loves living in his/her 9,000 Sq Ft house in Blackhawk or spending the weekend on their 80 foot yacht (the one with two marine Diesels that leak into the Bay).

          Phonies? Yeah, here in the SF Bay area there are more than anywhere else!

      • N'Sync for president then?

      • he's great at protecting the liberties of corporations.

    • What makes you think he would. Gore is just another politician grabbing for power with AGW as his bully pulpit. Most likely, he would use the Patriot spying act to track CO2 levels per citizen under the guise of national security.

      Like many other that came before and after Gore, he's not a pro-freedom kinda guy. Quite the opposite in fact.

    • by houstonbofh (602064) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @10:25AM (#40749183)
      You mean like Obama ended war? How about how he vetoed unlimited detention? When will people get that there is no substantive difference between the two parties? The slogans may be different, but the actions are the same.
      • by durdur (252098) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @10:44AM (#40749535)

        But it is true both parties have supported an unprecedented (at least outside of major wars) expansion of executive branch power and a consequent reduction in civil liberties. There isn't any significant push back from Congress, or from the Judiciary, despite publicized abuses and the fact that the domestic spying apparatus is probably illegal under current law.

        • ^^^THIS!!!^^^

          If we keep looking for a (D) or an (R) to save us, we are well and truly screwed.
          • by lgw (121541)

            If we keep looking for a (D) or an (R) to save us, we are well and truly screwed.

            American politics are (usually) pretty much over by the conclusion of the primaries. If you ant to change the kind of people who get elected, that has to happen in the parliamentary politicis within each party during primary season.

            Individual voters don't have a lot of say during that process, but people who get involved with the parties do: the political machine is made of peole who work personally to get candidates elected, and new ideas, values, and priorities can take over a party, but only if those id

      • by dkleinsc (563838) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @11:29AM (#40750205) Homepage

        Tell that to gay people in the military. Or to people getting unemployment that otherwise wouldn't. Or the people who got a job due to the stimulus package. Or the people who have health insurance now that couldn't get it a couple of years ago.

        I get that the differences between Democrats and Republicans are not as big as their similarities (FWIW, I'm voting for a third party candidate this year), but there are some real differences that change people's lives for better or worse.

        • by Hatta (162192)

          Good cop/bad cop. One may be slightly more tolerable than the other, but both have the same goal.

      • by jpapon (1877296)
        I'll agree that there's very little difference between the centrists in both parties, but there are certainly substantial differences between the far right and the centrists.

        There may be very few politicians further than a few inches left of center in the US, but there are certainly many who are miles to the right.

        • It is a common trap for people in both parties to think "the other side" is farther from the center than their own party is. The reality is there are nuts (and they are) on both sides who are far from the center, but they are the exception and there are thankfully not that many of them. Not having an affiliation to either major party it is a lot easier to cut out the hyperbole and rhetoric from both sides - I don't have a vested interest in either side being "right" or "wrong" on issues. I hardly see any ma
          • by jpapon (1877296)

            Minor style differences, but the train is on rails and always goes to the same station eventually, no matter who the conductor is.

            That's because the whole system is set up so that the centrists always dominate; the US government is set up primarily to be as stable as possible, which means that making radical changes is very difficult.

            Also, I get that I'm somewhat biased, but I think it's pretty clear that the right is more radical than the left in the US. Just compare it to any other Western democracy; the right of the USA is just as radical as (if not more than) a far right party in Europe (such as the Front-Nationale. On the othe

            • The problem is, if I ask someone with a conservative bias, they will say exactly the opposite of what you said. That the left is far more radical than the right. It turns out liberals think conservatives are farther from the center, and conservatives think liberals are farther from the center. The only ones who know all of this already are the ones actually closer to the center.

              The funny thing is the liberals I have this discussion with will generally acknowledge some bias, then go ahead and make a biased
      • by ffflala (793437)
        How many times must this disinformation get corrected? It's a false equivocation, and it's designed to suppress votes by making people feel there's no point. It's annoying to see it consistently modded "insightful." Let's go over it again.

        Yes, he pledged to close Guantanamo and hasn't. However, when he took office there were 242 detainees. He's already released 70, an scheduled an additional 87 for release... as soon as we can find some other country willing to accept them. (It's difficult to find takers.
    • by Hatta (162192)

      I wish Nader had won.

    • by deego (587575)

      >> Maybe he would have vetoed the Patriot spying Act. (Though I doubt it.)

      Really? Do you know that he actually had a chance to *not* sign its renewal. Instead, he signed it, and called it a good day for America.

      This from the same guy who promised to "revisit" the Patriot Act if elected President.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @10:17AM (#40749049)

    Back in the 90s pgp and widespread up public key crypto were going to be the next thing. Never caught on . But I am sure even the NSA doesn't have to power to decrypt the volume of a fraction of the populations communication if they were to use crypto regularly and even mundane communications

    • by BMOC (2478408)
      Well, I don't entirely disagree with AC... however please remember that not all implementations of AES are bulletproof. I'm sure the NSA has a gigantic database of vulnerabilities that they use regularly.
      • Probably true, but it doesn't matter. Instead of cracking AES, they crack the PKI used to exchange AES keys.
    • by houstonbofh (602064) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @10:28AM (#40749237)
      They do not even read it now. Just warehouse it for later. So with encryption, they would do the same, and only crack it to show what a bad person you were when they needed to.
      • by KhabaLox (1906148)

        To clarify and expand, it appears that what the NSA is doing is simply saving a copy of tons of data (they must have exabytes or more) and claiming that until they actually query the database they don't need a search warrant or probable cause. The problem is, of course, that saving a copy of our private communications should, in and of itself, require a warrant.

        A much better article than linked to in the summary. [theatlantic.com]

        On this complicated, opaque subject, Sanchez is among the most informed observers in America. His best guess at what's really going on: The NSA is collecting and saving vast amounts of private date, like phone calls, emails, and text messages; and rather than asking whether the Fourth Amendment permits them to put all of this information on a hard drive, they're postponing questions about whether a search is constitutional or not until they want to query the database.

    • by houstonbofh (602064) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @10:29AM (#40749269)
      Also, that would only hide what your were saying, and not who you were saying it to. Those connections are the more important data.
      • by Githaron (2462596)
        With throw away phones getting internet, your identity could fairly easily be masked. Of course, they would still have you location.
      • Also, that would only hide what your were saying, and not who you were saying it to. Those connections are the more important data.

        Only in the case you're a criminal/police/politician/someone else to whom it would be dangerous to be linked to someone of bad reputation. When it comes to your average citizen, however, there can be a lot of conversations with your friends and relatives regarding your relationships, work etc. that you'd rather not have anyone else hear. Especially if you are a well known figure. While I'm not, I certainly regret having a few VERY personal conversations via Facebook chat feature, which has roughly the same

    • even the NSA doesn't have to power to decrypt the volume of a fraction of the populations communication if they were to use crypto regularly

      You would be wrong on this one. The NSA has had access to quantum computation since about 1996. This allows it to cut through public key cryptography as if it's not there, quickly and with ease. AES generally uses public key cryptography to exchange session keys. See my other posts for details.

  • Aurora suspect. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Albert Schueller (143949) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @10:17AM (#40749055) Homepage

    The Aurora shooting suspect left a digital path a mile wide indicating he was up to something nefarious. NSA didn't see that coming. I don't thing their reach is as pervasive as people fear.

    • by BMOC (2478408) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @10:20AM (#40749109)

      ...but didn't think it worthy of revealing their abilities by spending time trying to arrest him. This is the inherent problem with government surveillance, it will ultimately just serve the government, not it's people.

      no, I don't wear a tinfoil hat, and no I do not believe 9/11 was an inside job.

      • by TWX (665546)
        A simple anonymous tip to a law enforcement agency with a burn-phone would have been enough to get the ball rolling, but wouldn't have tipped anyone to what they can actually do. I would think that someone intent on shooting up several dozen people would qualify for such a contact if anything at all would.
        • by BMOC (2478408)

          ...but wouldn't have tipped anyone to what they can actually do

          I disagree. Local law enforcement get a lot of our scorn, but they are not stupid people, they're trained both in classes and on the job to be suspicious of what they see. If they suddenly saw a pattern of "anonymous" tips showing them guys like this, it doesn't take some Sherlock Holmes type to figure it out. Besides which, I'm sure any group of individuals working on data mining algorithms like this get a lot of false positives, so a better us

        • I completely agreed with you when I read this....then I realized it made sense to me solely due to NCIS.

          More likely is that they just aren't(can't) looking at it that closely. Yet.
          • by TWX (665546)
            That's actually part of the point. Law enforcement was not tipped off to it, or if they were, took no actions. Given Colorado's previous experiences, my guess is that if they had known that this person was dangerous, they would have acted before he did.

            It makes me doubt the whole "mass surveillance" thing and its true functionality.
        • by TheCarp (96830)

          Yes, and if it only ever happened once or twice, a few times a year maybe...sure.

          However, what if it happens, then happens again...and again. What happens when the number of "anonymous tips" starts to rise?

          I would be dollars to donuts that, with enough gathered data, you could finger many many potential "future crimes", many more than you could investigate...or will ever happen.

          Its not a question of "do I phone this one in, or let a bunch of people die"....because you don't really know if the plan is real o

          • by TWX (665546)
            I think that we can safely say that terrorist mass murder would fall well above the threshold.
            • by TheCarp (96830)

              And to what standard? The stated threat of it? The stated fantasy of it? Or just the worry of it? At which point do you risk the secrecy of the scope of the program?

              remember we are talking about a crime, before it happens, without the benfit of hindsight.

              How many "tips" do you think such a program would produce before it caught one? Thats the real issue...a tip may save a life, it may do nothing at all. A tip on one person, chances are does nothing useful.... so at what certainty does it become enough?

    • Or ... they don't give a damn?
    • by TheCarp (96830)

      How do you know they didn't see it coming? What makes you think the lives of a few 10s of people are worth revealing the true breath of the surveillance system? Do you really think it would be so easy to get them to reveal their hand?

    • The Aurora shooting suspect left a digital path a mile wide indicating he was up to something nefarious.

      No, they've got nothing. He doesn't use facebook [cnet.com]

    • by moeinvt (851793)

      You actually think the Federal government gives a damn about a few dead Americans in CO?

      When you have intelligence sources that you don't want anyone to know about, it's necessary to be extremely cautious about how and when you use the data. In WW2, the Allies "allowed" a lot of death and destruction that could have been prevented because they didn't want to tip off the Germans that their code had been broken.

      There's no way the government would risk revealing any of their data gathering capabilities to pre

    • by BeanThere (28381)

      I don't think Aurora was a deliberate false flag, but there is at minimum *some* conflict of interest in that allowing the massacre to proceed actually raises public support for giving NSA still more far-reaching powers.

  • Their biggest problem is not fixable and is linked to what type of communication ultimately destroys a fraudulent society. Hint: It is the mundane stuff. http://dissention.wordpress.com/2012/02/19/spying-and-surveillance-is-rapidly-becoming-worthless/ [wordpress.com] and it also does not help that intelligence agencies are run by status hungry human beings. http://dissention.wordpress.com/2010/12/05/universal-organizational-flaws-in-intelligence-agencies-1/ [wordpress.com]
  • Who watches the watchers? Is already bad that "the government" knows, but is far worse that the people on it knows (that could use that information for personal gain or some private group interests). If this have to happen, then transparency is required. Wikileaks should not be necessary, the people, the ones ultimatelly paying their salary or at least that they should be working for, must really know what the government and the people working at it does.
    • And who watches the watchers watching the watchers? And if two witches were watching two watches, which witch was watching which watch?

      OK, I got a little off-topic with that one.

    • by BeanThere (28381)

      "Who watches the watchers" is a red herring question. You shouldn't even be asked such a question, because the more fundamental question is that of protecting the concept enshrined in the Bill of Rights that you should not be being watched at all unless there is some actual evidence that you are committing or planning a crime, and a warrant has been obtained via proper procedure. Merely having someone watch the watchers is irrelevant if they're just watching the Bill of Rights be violated.

  • by daveschroeder (516195) * on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @10:39AM (#40749459)

    It is prohibited to collect, store, analyze, or disseminate the contents of communications of US Persons anywhere on the globe without an individual, properly adjudicated warrant. This is as clear as it can possibly be spelled out.

    NSA may, however, target the communications of NON-US Persons, even on equipment and systems within the United States, without a warrant. Foreign intelligence surveillance has never required a warrant. The Constitution of the United States does not apply to non-US Persons.

    Foreign communications that used to be targeted via a remote listening post, on a Navy ship sitting off of a foreign coast, or via risky foreign wiretaps, now travel through networks and systems that sometimes exist within the United States.

    Tell me: how can NSA discern and identify targeted foreign traffic in the sea of all communications, including that of US Persons, traveling through US assets without being able to examine the metadata of said traffic? Therein likes the problem.

    Here is where some also say that the US sidesteps the law by "buying" data from commercial providers, or by getting it from allies. Sorry, both of those activities are prohibited: the content of communications of US Persons may not be collected, stored, analyzed, or disseminated without a warrant.

    Some people, apparently unaware of history or any semblance of reality, also can't accept that the United States has a legitimate interest in foreign intelligence, and that we need to conduct that mission. Why does NSA have the largest number of foreign linguists anywhere? To spy on Americans illegally?

    Does all of this mean the government has never done anything wrong, that there has never been any abuse, that citizens shouldn't be watchful? No. Even the decisions made after 9/11 resulted in the warrantless wiretapping of individuals in the hundreds, thought to have direct ties to terrorism, was justified under the guise of the President's Article II authority under the AUMF, and briefed to Congress every 45 days. Now someone who hasn't been at NSA in over a decade claims that there is a "dossier" on every American, with no proof...and completely ignores the primary function of NSA, which is foreign signals intelligence, and you swallow it as unvarnished fact?

    This is puzzling to me.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      It is prohibited to collect, store, analyze, or disseminate the contents of communications of US Persons anywhere on the globe without an individual, properly adjudicated warrant. This is as clear as it can possibly be spelled out.

      What's not clear is what sort of oversight there is to ensure that these people are held accountable when they overreach. If whistleblowers at the NSA can expect to be tried under the Espionage act, I rather doubt that there's any oversight at all. What reason is there to believ

      • The oversight of the Intelligence Community is, and always has been, accomplished via:

        — The Executive branch (the President, who is the ultimate consumer of US intelligence)
        — The Judicial branch (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court)
        — The Legislative branch (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Intelligence Committees of both houses of Congress)

        History tells us that this oversight is not perfect — it never has been, and it never will be. There have been times in o

        • by Hatta (162192)

          The oversight of the Intelligence Community is, and always has been, accomplished via:

          â" The Executive branch (the President, who is the ultimate consumer of US intelligence)
          â" The Judicial branch (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court)
          â" The Legislative branch (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Intelligence Committees of both houses of Congress)

          In other words, there is institutional oversight, and no direct oversight of surveillance activities.

          Tell me, who was the last

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Here's the situation, according to the whistleblowers:
      1. The law and the Constitution say they can only wiretap foreigners without a warrant.
      2. The law also says that they never have to prove that their targets are actually foreigners.
      3. According to the whisteblowers, what they do is target US citizens but claim they're foreigners.
      4. Everything is classified, so the NSA employees can't talk about it without risking serious jail time or worse for espionage.
      5. Because of the FISA Amendments Act, AT&T isn

      • > 1. The law and the Constitution say they can only wiretap foreigners without a warrant.

        True.

        > 2. The law also says that they never have to prove that their targets are actually foreigners.

        False. Completely, 100%, provably false. The law does not say this at all. Nothing like it. What the law does say is that an individualized warrant is required to target a US Person anywhere on the globe. You can't just ignore the fact that someone is a US Person.

        > 3. According to the whisteblowers, what they do

        • by Hatta (162192)

          > 2. The law also says that they never have to prove that their targets are actually foreigners.

          False. Completely, 100%, provably false. The law does not say this at all. Nothing like it.

          So what you're saying is that an NSA agent must prove that someone is a foreigner before collecting data on them? To whom do they have to prove it? What are the consequences if they fail to do so?

          What the law does say is that an individualized warrant is required to target a US Person anywhere on the globe. You can't j

          • I'm a few years out of the game myself, and from a different intel branch, but I'll take a stab at answering your questions:

            So what you're saying is that an NSA agent must prove that someone is a foreigner before collecting data on them? To whom do they have to prove it? What are the consequences if they fail to do so?

            To my understanding the check for whether a subject is a U.S. Person should happen before any intrusions on their privacy occur. In practice, though, the investigating team can do pretty much whatever they want provided that they don't care to press criminal charges. If a court case ever were to occur, the investigators would be asked by the judge to show evidence of their due dilige

            • by Hatta (162192)

              See above; probably nothing. Just like cops running a bad investigation don't get fired when they botch it on constitutional grounds, intel agents don't go to jail for violating U.S. citizens' rights.

              And this is why you are an honest and admirable public servant and Dave Schroeder is a no good spook. He doesn't have the integrity to admit this, or that this is a problem. Thanks for providing such sharp contrast.

              • I like how you have insulted me for something I haven't even done. I'd wonder if the person to whom you're replying would have even posted here when he was still active — that's not a dig on him, just the way things are. And I'm also telling you the way things are.

                The answer to your question is that when intelligence professionals or law enforcement officers are acting in good faith, but screw up or make a mistake, they don't get punished — and they shouldn't. You are assuming there is widesprea

    • by jpapon (1877296)
      It shouldn't be puzzling to you; Slashdot has really been derailed by certain types who are ready, no, eager, to buy into any bit of "information" which reinforces their belief that the government is spying on them, destroying society, or generally out to "get" its own citizens.
      • by Hatta (162192)

        The government isn't out to get its citizens, any more than an overbearing mother is out to harm her child. The desire for excessive control is harmful in either case, despite good intentions.

      • by BeanThere (28381)

        You're kidding, right? You clearly haven't been here long; the anti-government-spying culture here used to be much stronger, and if anything, it is being "derailed" by people who blindly trust the government, and who criticize the critics of government spying, like you.

        • by jpapon (1877296)
          I'll give you that I'm somewhat new, I've only been reading since 2006. I'm also critical of government spying, and many of the government's policies in general; I don't think anyone in their right mind would say that I blindly trust the government.

          All I'm saying is that in my opinion, in the time I've been reading, the comments have progressively gotten more radical. Maybe it's not that there are crazies arriving, but rather that many of the normal geeks have moved on to greener pastures.

          This is certai

  • by kmahan (80459) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @12:11PM (#40750963)

    I'm sure all their algorithms have a good laugh at how boring my life is.

  • ..they are unable to tell that when someone with no interest in guns suddenly buys automatic weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition that they are planning something big.

    I feel safer don't you?

  • Because i'm behind 7 proxies! .
  • ...what bothers me more is that they're mixing in incorrect information to make decisions.

    Case in point, I upgraded my insurance for my home and cars to a higher tier, higher coverage, less expensive plan that had a high application hurdle to jump..you had to be pretty squeaky clean.

    I got rejected at first, because they had me linked to an ex girlfriend I'd bought a house with almost ten years earlier, because it turns out that her ex husband from ten years prior to that got into some insurance fraud.

    So the connection was her ex that I never met from 20 years ago to her who I dated and lived with for 2 years and hadn't seen for 8, to me in current time. Enough incorrect influence to potentially cost me money. But after we went over the 'six degrees of cute fuzzy bunny', they let me in.

    Yet I wonder how often someone elses data or influence or the connections made cost me money or exclude me from opportunities.

    The other fun portion of this is when you point out to the aggregators and gatherers that they're doing it wrong and have some bad data. They don't want to fix it and admit the data was less than 100%. They hide it. The perception of data integrity is more important than the data integrity itself.

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