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  1. Brooklyn-based artist Jason Isolini has inserted over 42 immersive pieces of art into Google Maps’s Street View tool. Image: Google Maps Elaine Herzberg was killed on March 18, 2018 after being struck by an self-driving car that was being developed by Uber. The car detected her six seconds before the collision, but for reasons that are still unknown, the car did not apply the emergency brakes. Herzberg was 49 years old. If you go to the site of the crash on Google Maps—Mill Avenue and Washington Street in Temple, Arizona—you’ll notice that the location is registered as a bus station stop. But if you enter the map’s 360-degree "Street View" tool, you’re met with a chaotic, immersive mishmash of stock art and photography that appear to be encasing the viewer. A crumpled up "THANK YOU" plastic bag overlain with a computer arrow and the text "Click Forward to your Perk." "Users also bought" in a semi-transparent box. Uber patents. A gigantic can of corn. Image: Google Maps It’s a memorial to Herzberg and an experimental art piece that's hidden in plain sight in the largest mapping system in the world. Jason Isolini—a Brooklyn-based artist who has done work as a contracted photographer for Google Maps since 2017—inserted this art into Google Maps by uploading the 360-degree image file to Google Business View, a tool designed to give businesses a way to upload images and information to Google Maps. Anyone with a Gmail account can use Google Business View to insert a 360-degree image file into the Google Maps universe. As Google explains in a promotional video, a bar owner could use this feature to let potential customers see what the bar looks like inside before they visit it. As a Google contractor, Isolini worked as an intermediary between businesses and Google. At the request of businesses, he would capture 360-images inside business establishments and upload them to Google Maps. Now, Isolini is using the same method to create art on Google Maps. But instead of capturing true-to-live panorama images, he is uploading surreal collages that subvert the purpose of Google Maps: to be a tool that brings users from their current location to a business. In a phone call with Motherboard, Isolini said that he wanted to acknowledge the tragedy on Google Maps, which by intention, is a sanitized mapping system devoid of humanity or history. Hesitant to make something that directly used Herzberg’s images, life, and story, Isolini said that he created a visual parallel to the accident using ecommerce. “I made it about the sense of abandonment that maybe a user may feel, kind of like if you abandon your shopping cart online, then you have email blasts coming back at you,” Isolini said. “So it’s like a trajectory that a marketing company or commercial company doesn’t want you go through. I started to think about that as Elaine Herzberg’s trajectory, as she walks through the median that had a brick area. There was a crosswalk miles away from where she was, but obviously it was a place where people cross the street.” Since August 2017, Isolini has made 42 "contributions" to the Google Maps landscape and they've accumulated just shy of 200,000 views. In some of his earlier works, Isolini inserted collages of photos—like street signs, monopoly pieces, laundry detergent bottles—into spaces around Brooklyn. More recently, in addition to his memorial at the site of the accident at Mill Avenue and Washington Street, he’s superimposed his work onto 360-degree views of art buildings like the Simon Lee Gallery and inserted a images of abandonment and destruction over the entrance to the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. A cigarette, a broken glass screen, USB ports on a slab of stone, leading to nowhere. Image: Google Maps “I think it was really a big experiment when I started doing it—it was colliding images in a panoramic stitching software and seeing what happened,” Isolini said. “Now it’s like this 360 playground that I imagined. I really imagined this as how we could actually interact with the internet. How the internet could feel new again.” In June 2018, Isolini published a dystopian look at an aerial Amazon Fulfillment center based on a patent which went public in 2016. The art floats unassumingly in Google Maps above an intersection in Midtown, Manhattan. There's Amazon Fire TV Sticks, hot dogs, ketchup packets, and hamburgers flying out of the sky among drones and empty boxes. It looks like a mix of Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs and your worst nightmare. “USA Today was talking about how the Amazon Fulfillment center would fly over stadiums and deliver refreshments and food,” Isolini said. “And this is just hilarious. Every outlet, I’ve heard multiple times. The first thing people wanna do is receive food.” In his phone call with Motherboard, Isolini frequently described his piece as “interventions.” He explained that since ubiquitous Google Map street views have collapsed the distinction between private and public space, his work could be seen as performance art, a type of art where the defining trait is intervening with people’s experience in a public space. “It’s really interesting, [as a Google Contractor] you’re sort of going into people’s spaces and really making them completely visible online in a way that’s so past the point of their private spaces,” Isolini said. “You’re exploiting it. But some people want that. They want to be visible. And obviously, these garner a ton of views for businesses, so they can be really positive.” Google Maps would not be possible without the work of contract laborers like Isolini, who capture 360-degree panoramas, upload them, and make them public. But by the same token, this means that little bits of humanity will inevitably leak into the sanitized tool that Google originally had in mind. Source
  2. The top-tier piracy world known as The Scene is in turmoil after the unsealing of US indictments targeting key members of release group SPARKS and several linked affiliate groups including GECKOS, DRONES, ROVERS and SPLINTERS. Sources inform TF that there were several raids across Europe yesterday, mainly focused on Norway and Sweden. Yesterday morning, TorrentFreak began receiving reports from multiple sources that something big was happening in the shadowy world of top-tier piracy known as ‘The Scene’. From the volumes of information received, the majority of sources indicated that many so-called ‘topsites’ and their members had disappeared or gone into hiding. The word was that several major movie release groups – SPARKS, GECKOS and DRONES – had been targeted in a series of raids and as a result, people were running for cover. Precisely where these raids or actions took place still isn’t entirely clear. Multiple sources point to the Nordic region, particularly Norway and Sweden, but reports of disruption and/or action in the Netherlands and even Switzerland persisted across our confidential sources, all of whom demand anonymity. Importantly, one name kept cropping up – ‘Artist’ – someone who was identified by at least two individuals with inside knowledge as a central figure, not only in The Scene but also in the action that appeared to unfold yesterday. The reality, it now transpires, is that the events of Tuesday had their roots in an investigation that started months – maybe even years ago. US Govt Legal Action Launched in January 2020 – George Bridi On January 8, 2020, an indictment in the case United States v. BRIDI was filed and sealed in a New York district court. Yesterday, as the action in Europe was unfolding, Magistrate Judge Debra C. Freeman ordered the indictment to be unsealed, shining significant light on the events of Tuesday. The indictment and Grand Jury charges target George Bridi, a British national who, according to the US Government, resided in the Isle of Wight, a small island off the south coast of England. Bridi is identified, along with others “known and unknown”, as a member of a criminal conspiracy, aka release group SPARKS and its affiliates. His Scene nickname, if he has one, is not listed in the available documents. Nevertheless, the US Government claims to know much about his activities. “The primary objective of the Sparks Group was to fraudulently obtain DVDs and Blu-Ray discs for copyrighted movies and television shows prior to their retail release date, compromise the copyright protections on the discs, reproduce and upload the copyrighted content to servers controlled by the Sparks Group, and disseminate the copyrighted content on the Internet for public consumption before the DVDs and Blu-Ray discs were made available for sale by retailers to the public,” Bridi’s indictment reads. The ‘conspiracy’, at least in the case of Bridi, was alleged to taken place from around 2011 until January 2020. It’s claimed that members of SPARKS made various “material misrepresentations and omissions” to wholesale distributors in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and New Jersey in order to obtain copies of DVDs and Blu-Ray discs prior to their official release. The indictment indicates that Bridi was also involved in obtaining and reproducing TV show content. Once obtained, members of SPARKS allegedly used specialist software to “rip” the discs in order to remove their copyright protections and then encoded the content into a format easily consumed via the Internet. This content was then uploaded to servers controlled by SPARKS members, from where it’s alleged other members further distributed the content to streaming sites, torrent networks and other servers. Adding to the information received yesterday by TF indicating that SPARKS, GECKOS and DRONES were central to Tuesday’s turmoil, the indictment adds two other release groups to the list – ROVERS and SPRINTER – both claimed to be part of the ‘Sparks Conspiracy’. Bridi is charged with conspiracy to commit copyright infringement, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and conspiracy to transport stolen property interstate. Superseding Indictment – Umar Ahmad, aka ‘Artist’ In addition to information received early yesterday by TF, with multiple sources referencing someone called ‘Artist’ involved in a central role, unsealed court documents now put more flesh on the bones. Identified by the US Government as Oslo, Norway, resident ‘Umar Ahmad’, it’s alleged that from around 2011 up to January 2020, ‘Artist’ was also a member of the ‘Sparks Conspiracy’. In common with Bridi, he is alleged to have caused “tens of millions of dollars” in losses to film production studios by being part of the SPARKS group that obtained physical discs from wholesale distribution companies, ripped and encoded them, and placed the content on the Internet for public consumption. Along with Bridi, he faces charges of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement but charges of wire fraud and transporting stolen property are absent. Superseding Indictment – Jonatan Correa, aka ‘Raid’ Like Bridi and Ahmad, it’s alleged that Correa was involved in the ‘Sparks Conspiracy’ from around 2011 but his involvement is said to have stretched beyond the January 2020 dates listed in their Grand Jury charges by several months, to August 2020. For reasons that aren’t yet entirely clear, he appears to have carried on his alleged criminal activity until this month, unlike his peers who are only charged with offenses up to the first month of 2020. Correa’s charges read very much like Bridi’s and Ahmad’s, in that he stands accused of being part of the ‘Sparks Conspiracy’ that unlawfully obtained, ripped, encoded and uploaded video content to the Internet, including to various servers, streaming and torrent sites, all in advance of their official street date. “On numerous occasions between in or around 2011 and in or around May 2020 , a co-conspirator not named herein fraudulently arranged for discs containing copyrighted films and television shows to be picked up, mailed, or delivered from distributors located in Manhattan, Brooklyn, New Jersey, and British Columbia, Canada to other members of the Sparks Group, including JONATAN CORREA, a/k/a ‘Raid,’ the defendant, prior to their official release date…,” Correa’s indictment reads. It’s further alleged that around 2011 and in or around May 2020, Correa “remotely accessed” a computer located in Westchester County and belonging to another unnamed co-conspirator, in order to “illegally record and reproduce” copyrighted TV shows. While Bridi and Ahmad’s locations are revealed in court documents, Correa’s currently remains unknown. Like Bridi, he faces charges of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement but in common with Ahmad, charges of wire fraud and transporting stolen property are absent. Supporting Reports and Information TorrentFreak is currently liaising with a number of sources who for security reasons are demanding anonymity. However, it appears that the information detailed thus far is just the tip of a large iceberg that has much of The Scene in turmoil and/or in hiding. What we can say at this point is that the mention of Umar Ahmad, aka ‘Artist’, is causing considerable concern because of his alleged reach in The Scene that seems to go well beyond SPARKS and its affiliated groups. We’ll have more on this in a follow-up report but in the meantime the US court documents can be found here (1,2,3 pdf) Source: TorrentFreak
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