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Today โ€” September 18th 2018Weird&Strange

Macron-mania: ยฃ300k of presidential memorabilia sold in days

He may be slipping in the opinion polls, but Emmanuel Macron is still riding high with one important constituency - online shoppers.

  • September 18th 2018 at 11:34
Yesterday โ€” September 17th 2018Weird&Strange

Cat finds bag of 'cocaine and heroin' and brings it home

A cat has apparently found and brought home a bag of what are suspected to be class A drugs.

  • September 17th 2018 at 16:23

Squirrels caught in 'Gordian Knot' have tails freed

Five squirrels whose tails became tangled together in a "Gordian Knot" in their nest have been freed by a wildlife team in Wisconsin.

  • September 17th 2018 at 10:43
Before yesterdayWeird&Strange

Trust instead of algorithms

By DIRKMJK

A number of Dutch cities have contracted a company named Totta data lab to predict which welfare recipients may have committed fraud (the cities were somewhat secretive about this approach, but newspaper NRC wrote about it last spring). Totta has trained algorithms on a considerable amount of personal data: 2 to 3 hundred variables over a period of 25 years.

Such analyses carry the risk that existing biases are reproduced:

Luk [A Totta spokesperson] says that in some municipalities more fraud is found among people who have a partner (e.g., they don’t report income), whereas in others it is people without a partner (failing to report they live together). «But it’s quite possible that only that group has been investigated and we build our algorithms on that.»

Luk says they sometimes add ‘deviant’ citizens to the suspects, apparently in an attempt to look beyond the usual suspects.

Another problem is the lack of transparency regarding how this type of algorithms work. Totta doesn’t disclose its algorithms because it wants to protect its business interests; further, it can be difficult to interpret and explain how algorithms work. As a result, the government is unable to explain what criteria it uses to prepare decisions that affect citizens. Recently, the Dutch Council of State expressed concerns over digital decision-making by the government.

Proponents of algorithms argue that they help to detect more fraud while reducing the burden for innocent citizens. In fact, there may not be such a clear distinction. The organisation of welfare agencies said that alleged welfare frauds are often people who mean no harm, but who get into trouble as a result of complex and ambiguous welfare rules.

Still, Amsterdam city council member Anne Marttin (VVD) finds the approach interesting. She asked if Amsterdam uses algorithms and data mining to detect welfare fraude. The answer is no. This is why:

The city government is aware of the use by other municipalities of algorithms and/or data mining to fight welfare fraud. The city does not use such instruments to deal with or prevent welfare fraud. […]

Our services for welfare recipients are based on trust. Further, the city government attaches great importance to the privacy of citizens and the way in which their data is used by the government, for example to develop algorithms. The city government thinks it’s very important that the use of data mining and algorithms doesn’t have a negative impact on the privacy and the legal protection of citizens.

Source (pdf)

  • September 16th 2018 at 13:18

Soccer: Players rescue ambulance in Brazil league match

Players from Flamengo and Vasco da Gama came to the rescue of an ambulance on Saturday after the vehicle, which was transporting an injured player to hospital, refused to start.

Oz PM puts hands up over explicit song use

Australia's prime minister has apologised for posting a video on social media featuring a hip-hop song which has explicit and sexually charged lyrics.

  • September 14th 2018 at 12:11

Restaurant chain loses ยฃ145m after dead rat found in soup

A Chinese restaurant chain lost around £145m in market value after a pregnant woman found a dead rat in her soup.

  • September 13th 2018 at 19:46

Students 'binged on pizzas to avoid military service'

Twelve music students at a college in Seoul binged on pizza and hamburgers five times a day to deliberately gain weight and avoid military service, it has been claimed.

  • September 13th 2018 at 11:24

Bear saved after getting his head stuck in milk can

A bear has been freed after getting his head stuck in a milk can.

  • September 13th 2018 at 03:25

Mystery closure of observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico

An observatory in a small New Mexico town has been forced to close amid very suspicious circumstances.

  • September 12th 2018 at 19:52

Rumor has it Chinese 17-year-old wants to be a billionaire

China's crackdown on online rumor-mongers and fraud has snared a fresh target - a 17-year-old junior high school dropout who pretended to be a billionaire, gave himself fake titles and posted Photoshopped pictures of himself with world leaders.

Man walks into police station with wife's head

A man in India shocked police officers when he walked into a station with the head of his wife.

  • September 11th 2018 at 22:24

Two ferries and three bike rides quicker than train

A commuter who discovered that two ferry crossings and three bike rides were quicker than using the train has taken his bizarre route to work for the last time before retiring.

  • September 10th 2018 at 18:19

Young blood an elixir that prevents illness, study reveals

Blood taken from a young person could be the key to maintaining long-lasting health in old age, scientists claim.

  • September 8th 2018 at 16:25

Homeless vet to get all cash raised by New Jersey couple: GoFundMe

A homeless veteran who spent his last $20 to help a stranded New Jersey woman will receive the more than $400,000 which she and her boyfriend raised for him, online fundraiser GoFundMe and his lawyer said, after the couple was accused of spending most of the money on themselves.

Frank Lampard photoshopped into New York park ad

Ex-England star Frank Lampard has been superimposed onto a promotional image for a new state park in New York, sparking ridicule on social media.

  • September 7th 2018 at 12:01

Guinness World Records celebrates oldest trapeze artist, highest-jumping dog

An octogenarian flying trapeze artist, the owner of the world's fastest jet-propelled go-kart and a dog named Feather with a flair for jumping are among the record-breaking stars to win a place in the latest edition of Guinness World Records.

Woman pranks husband over lottery - then wins ยฃ1m

A woman who pranked her husband over a £250,000 lottery win last month has scooped £1m for real.

  • September 5th 2018 at 18:11

Anger over pole dancing at back-to-school day

Parents attending a back-to-school ceremony at a kindergarten in China were shocked when a pole dancer took to the stage and began to perform.

  • September 4th 2018 at 00:53

Baboons filmed flossing teeth at British zoo

Baboons have been filmed apparently flossing their teeth with broom bristles and hairs from others in their group at a British zoo.

  • September 3rd 2018 at 17:24
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