Breaking Down News: Show Me the Money

After the hassles of cash in India, there is news of the tumbling casino stocks in the US and Australia; in other news, the big boys of social media agree to share database of hashes of terrorist content.

Written by Pratik Kanjilal | Published:December 10, 2016 12:00 am

In adversity, it’s always a comfort to learn that you are not alone. Indians are not the only people being run ragged by peevish and niggardly ATMs. Yesterday morning, Bloomberg flashed news of casino stocks in the US and Australia tumbling after China imposed withdrawal limits on UnionPay cards. They are used by mainlanders who want to be flush with cash when they reach Macau’s gambling tables. This is part of a crackdown on the flight of Chinese money offshore, a phenomenon which has been bothering the party for several years. Even so, the daily limit set for the noble purpose of gambling in Macau is almost double of an Indian’s weekly limit for all expenses, including running a household.

Terrorist organisations have been among the leading beneficiaries of social media, as much as the forces of democracy which leveraged Twitter and Facebook to organise during Arab Spring. It’s funny, but it took the big boys of the sector so many years to come together and gang up on terrorist content. But Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Microsoft are finally on the same web page, so to speak, having agreed to share a database of hashes of violent terrorist images and videos.

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Hashes are alphanumeric strings which can uniquely identify any content on the internet, from software packages to a profile picture.

Traditionally, these fingerprints have been used to authenticate downloaded material. A hash confirms that the application you are about to install is the real thing, and not a copy that a hacker has loaded with malicious code. But equally, it can identify all copies of malicious content on a network. If the hash is shared, copies can be located and deleted across networks. This would mean that if a user finds an Islamic State promotional video on YouTube, copies on Twitter and Facebook can also be identified and deleted.

However, Facebook has clarified that no personal data will be collected through this exercise, and that while problem content will be identified across services, each service will decide whether to delete or not according to their own terms of service and free speech standards.

A Hyderabad data company has taken credit for the video of a beggar using a card swipe machine which the prime minister had alluded to in his speech in Moradabad, as an illustration of how easy it is to achieve his cashless utopia. It was promotional rather than illustrative and was made in 2013, but images of cashless beggars go back to the 1970s, when cartoons of panhandlers with swipe machines began to appear in satirical media in the UK and US. Plastic money had taken firm root in the Western economies by the time, so beggars accepting plastic was improbable but not impossible. But in India, where beggars have lost their life savings to demonetisation, it sounds like a cruel joke.

As in all other things, cash is always nicer in this sector. In January last year, the Daily Mail ran sensational disclosures about a man who commuted into London every day to beg from the rich and famous in Mayfair, sitting in the doorway of a restaurant. His terms were strictly cash, which he apparently used to rent an apartment, to buy gadgets like iPads, and to holiday in Ibiza. Funny sort of place for a panhandler to holiday. If he worked hard there, he would make a killing.

Nasa’s touching last goodbye to John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth, drew from Virgil: “Godspeed, John Glenn… Ad astra (to the stars).” Glenn’s 1962 mission turned him into an all-American hero, who salvaged national pride after the USSR took first mover advantage in space by putting Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin into orbit. So vicious was the space race that in 1957, when the US satellite launch vehicle Vanguard TV3 exploded on the launch pad, press headlines bitterly dubbed it ‘stayputnik’, ‘flopnik’ and ‘kaputnik’. And here, perhaps, is the origin of Dave Berg’s caricature alter ego in Mad magazine, Roger Kaputnik.

Glenn’s career featured dramatic public displays of affection — the Australian city of Perth switched on all its lights, including lamps in homes and car headlights, as Glenn flew overhead, and was known as the City of Light for decades. He will be remembered for his memorable quote as the Friendship 7 craft hurled him towards orbit: “As I hurtled through space, one thought kept crossing my mind: every part of this rocket was supplied by the lowest bidder.” Ad astra, John Glenn.

pratik.kanjilal@expressindia.com

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