LIFT 11: Radical transparency and opaque algorithms

Posted by on February 8th, 2011

The LIFT 11 conference just concluded in Geneva, Switzerland. I’ve picked the two most interesting talks to post here, but there’s many others of course, and please feel free to post your favourites in the comments.

Hasan Elahi: Giving away your privacy to escape the US terrorist watch list

Hasan will tell us his incredible story: he was suspected of terrorism by the FBI by mistake, and ended up living totally in public to protect himself from surveillance. His talk will show how forfeiting your privacy can in fact become a new form of protection of your identity.

liftconference on Broadcast Live Free

Hasan concludes his talk by saying that if we all did what he does the intelligence community would be overwhelmed with information. Wrong; the NSA and others like it already do this. How? Algorithms running on incredibly powerful computer systems. Arguably a new lifeform, perhaps evolving to become the dominant one, if we believe the Singularitarians. Or is that already the case and we just haven’t realised it yet?

Kevin Slavin: Those algorithms that govern our lives

Digital technologies and on-line platforms are essential to the way we work and live. Interestingly, they are defined by algorithms which are not neutral. Kevin will discuss how they define new social norms and how our culture is affected by the possibilities embedded in the software we use.

liftconference on Broadcast Live Free

Thermo Mirror

Posted by on January 20th, 2011


NEC subsidiary NEC Avio has developed a thermometer [JP] that measures the user’s temperature without them having to touch the device. As the world’s first device of its kind, it captures your temperature via a built-in infrared sensor and integrates a desktop mirror (hence the name “Thermo Mirror”).

All you need to do is to look at the mirror and your temperature will be measured automatically, and when it detects someone who is feverish, an alarm goes off.

Via crunchgear.

Obligatory Wikileaks Post

Posted by on December 20th, 2010

Every time we witness an act that we feel to be unjust and do not act we become a party to injustice. Those who are repeatedly passive in the face of injustice soon find their character corroded into servility. Most witnessed acts of injustice are associated with bad governance, since when governance is good, unanswered injustice is rare. By the progressive diminution of a people’s character, the impact of reported, but unanswered injustice is far greater than it may initially seem. Modern communications states through their scale, homogeneity and excesses provide their populace with an unprecedented deluge of witnessed, but seemingly unanswerable injustices.  –Julian Assange

I’ve been putting off laying out my thoughts on Wikileaks, because, honestly; the situation evolves so often that It’s hard to really assay from a high altitude.  First of all, I believe it is absolutely imperative that, if you want to really have an idea of Assange’s likely agenda and why Wikileaks is releasing “unimportant things”…

…though be sure my blood boils every time I hear someone call something like the US warning Germany to not pursue the CIA kidnapping and torture of an innocent German citizen “unimportant” or “gossip”…

…and why the paranoid over-reaction of the US and their allies – especially their corporate allies is probably part of that agenda as well — then you need to read this: “State and Terrorist Conspiracies” and “Conspiracy as Governance”.    After that, you’ll probably want to just go ahead and read Aaron Bady’s excellent breakdown of those essays.  I really feel that these documents are they key to actually exploring the Wikileaks phenomenon with any accuracy.

The short version is that yes, Assange does seem to want to use Wikileaks’ form of journalism as a weapon.

Y’see, they say journalism is the art of controlling your environment, but that’s all wrong. I can’t control anything with this typewriter, all this is, is a gun. It’s only got one bullet in it, but if you aim right, that’s all you need. Aim it right, and you can blow a kneecap off the world… – Spider Jerusalem, Transmetropolitan

He is, by his own admission, using journalism as a tool to create systems disruption in conspiratorial forms of government in the style of 4G Warfare.  His conspiracies are not those of the Alex Jones and David Icke type, but the simple banal ones that drive what passes for government in many parts of the world.  The shameless collusion of corporate interests and governments, the systems and structures that rule by secrecy – quite often because the truth of how they move in the world would be horrifying to the people that they claim to represent or govern.   The goal, aside from exposing real crimes, is to disrupt the systems by which those conspiracies do business.  This is why the diplomatic cables leaked contain a high degree of innocuous fluff as well as seemingly TMZ-worthy gossip – not because those particular factoids in and of themselves have value, but because the availability of them causes systems disruption.

Or, as Bady put it:

In this sense, most of the media commentary on the latest round of leaks has totally missed the point. After all, why are diplomatic cables being leaked? These leaks are not specifically about the war(s) at all, and most seem to simply be a broad swath of the everyday normal secrets that a security state keeps from all but its most trusted hundreds of thousands of people who have the right clearance. Which is the point: Assange is completely right that our government has conspiratorial functions. What else would you call the fact that a small percentage of our governing class governs and acts in our name according to information which is freely shared amongst them but which cannot be shared amongst their constituency? And we all probably knew that this was more or less the case; anyone who was surprised that our embassies are doing dirty, secretive, and disingenuous political work as a matter of course is naïve. But Assange is not trying to produce a journalistic scandal which will then provoke red-faced government reforms or something, precisely because no one is all that scandalized by such things any more. Instead, he is trying to strangle the links that make the conspiracy possible, to expose the necessary porousness of the American state’s conspiratorial network in hopes that the security state will then try to shrink its computational network in response, thereby making itself dumber and slower and smaller.

And, as anyone can see from the news, so far the reaction of Wikileaks’ targets has been just that.  The US discusses new interpretations of the Espionage Act to cover more forms of journalism, introduces the information-protecting SHEILD act and bullies private companies to cease their tacit support of Wikileaks.  Meanwhile, credit card companies react to the leaking that they were in collusion with the US government in international affairs by removing avenues of fiscal support for Wikileaks and… colluding in government affairs!  The over-reaction and internalized self-inflicted systems disruption is the point.   In the face of the threat of real transparency, systems that thrive on secrecy will make their natures known and also make their own ability to operate more difficult.   It is, sadly, very similar to the reaction that Al Queada was attempting to – and did – provoke with their 9/11 attacks and the failed and threatened attempts thereafter.

However, wanting to provoke disruption in the kind of systems that interpret transparency/lack-of-secrecy/public action/journalism as some kind of damage or a threat to their existence isn’t Terrorism, unlike Al Queada’s own take on 4G war.   And if it is, then I find myself in the strange position of finding myself and most of the people I know and love, suddenly cast as terrorists.

No lives have been lost due to Wikilleaks (though the life of whistleblower Bradley Manning certainly hangs in the balance) and contrary to what a lot of media-wonks have stated they have redacted information with the cooperation of several newspapers – but not the US government whose aid they’ve solicited, repeatedly.  If anything the greatest flaw in Assange’s master plan is Assange himself — both in his highly questionable actions regarding Swedish rape charges but also in his apparent bouts of unchecked ego and the cult of personality that has formed up around him.   To quote anarchist writer Magpie:

The second reason I’m fine with Assange having been arrested is that no revolutionary organization should be so top-down structured that removing the head destroys the body. I can’t believe I would have to even worry about that in the internet era, when dealing with tech-savvy folks. Decentralization is clearly the only useful way to run an organization that will run into conflict with the state or capitalism. When I heard Assange was arrested, I was sad, but I figured it wouldn’t really affect Wikileaks at all. If Wikileaks is/was something worth supporting, it will function just as smoothly without its founder.

Assange, to the detriment of Wikileaks, has become a cause célèbre to the kind of folks who can’t wait to jump into a cult of personality with very little information, while Bradley Manning – the man who put the bullet in the gun for Assange and Company to aim at the world – sits in solitary confinement in a military prison with the very real specter of capital crimes and lethal injection hanging over his head.  Suddenly half the story of wikileaks has become the story of how various celebrities make fools of themselves when faced with the idea that someone they champion is also wanted for questioning regarding rape.

What good has wikileaks done?  It’s shown that government transparency is possible even if it’s not wanted.  They’ve shown that a small group of volunteers can fight a war against the most powerful forces on earth without ever firing a shot or raising a fist in violence.  They’ve given the tools to do the same to many, many other people and organizations.  They’ve forced governments and their allied entities to once again show their true nature and to damage their own ability to act.  They’ve given any number of people who “know” their masters do horrible crimes in their name more solid proof of those crimes and their weight in human lives, as well as the tools to actually do something about them.  They, like so many other journalists and whistleblowers before them, have put an actual price tag on the futures we’ve sold for a slick AT&T phone and no health care.

There are many problems with Assange’s master plan, however much I support it in theory.  It makes the (logical) assumption that the degradation of signal within a conspiracy to act, and its inability to function with anything resembling efficiency will be interpreted by the systems around it as damage.  What he’s not taking into account is the ability of these same systems  to spin “damage” as “efficiency and security”.  Look at the recent TSA regs, or almost any bit of Homeland Security legislation since the Patriot Act.  Look at the banking industry failure.  Look at how the “Transparency President” has upheld the Patriot Act and strengthened wiretap laws.  America in particular has a deeply ingrained tendency – thanks to the very systems Assange seeks to break down – to interpret cultural, societal, and infrastructural damage as “progress” and “security.”  His view of systems as wanting to embrace radical transparency fails on contact with the current state of the human element much in the way that  Mark Zuckerberg’s attempts to get Facebook users to embrace personal transparency have.

The irony there is that Assange, himself, exemplifies the tendencies that allow this to happen.  We, as people, tend to like Leaders.  Just as Assange, the current “leader” of a “leaderless network” has become the focus for a cult of personality that has made it easy for the Heihachi cybercrime ring to hijack Anonymous in his name, call down celebrity support that muddles the issue with rampant fan-worship and rape apologisim, and for detractors to write the whole event off as the machinations of a terrorist rapist – the American Culture of Fear allows ex-comedians, Australian billionaires, ex-war heroes, religious pundits, Muslim-hating IRA supporting Representatives, Secretaries of State, supposedly progressive Presidents, and charismatic soccer moms from Alaska to reassure vast swathes of people that institutional damage is not damage, or censorship – it’s normal and good.

The real problem is that the rest of the “work” of Wikileaks relies on us.  It relies on the concept of Wikileaks – no matter the name – still existing when their current directors are in obscurity or holes in the ground and Assange is just a punchline on next-month’s late night TV.  If people don’t act on what they reveal, or don’t continue to campaign for transparency, then Wikileaks will just be a 3 minute blip on some “I Love the Oughts” retrospective show and their sacrifices – especially Manning’s, a soldier who knowingly put his life on the line for an ideal – will be for naught.

CNN Video interview with Wafaa Bila, of the Third I project

Posted by on December 6th, 2010

I know Kevin posted about this last month, but I just found this video interview by CNN and.. well, you’ve got to see it.  (Just try and self-filter out the CNN lady)

The Internet, love it or leave it.

Posted by on November 10th, 2010

There is a piece by author Zadie Smith in The New York Review of Books that has been going around on the Internet the last few days.  It starts as a review of The Social Network and then becomes a critique of Facebook in general.  That it’s largely being spread by vocal quitters of the world’s most successful social networking system (SNS) gives you a clue to her conclusion.

It’s a very, very long piece (it’s taken me two days to wade through it) and while she frequently approaches some keen insights, she quickly gives in to hateful generationalism of GenYs instead.  It was my great fear that this would be the take Fincher and Sorkin would go with the film; instead they delivered a masterful origin tale.  So I was very surprised to find myself reading a piece like this.  Take this passage:

When a human being becomes a set of data on a website like Facebook, he or she is reduced. Everything shrinks. Individual character. Friendships. Language. Sensibility. In a way it’s a transcendent experience: we lose our bodies, our messy feelings, our desires, our fears. It reminds me that those of us who turn in disgust from what we consider an overinflated liberal-bourgeois sense of self should be careful what we wish for: our denuded networked selves don’t look more free, they just look more owned.With Facebook, Zuckerberg seems to be trying to create something like a Noosphere, an Internet with one mind, a uniform environment in which it genuinely doesn’t matter who you are, as long as you make “choices” (which means, finally, purchases). If the aim is to be liked by more and more people, whatever is unusual about a person gets flattened out. One nation under a format. To ourselves, we are special people, documented in wonderful photos, and it also happens that we sometimes buy things. This latter fact is an incidental matter, to us. However, the advertising money that will rain down on Facebook—if and when Zuckerberg succeeds in encouraging 500 million people to take their Facebook identities onto the Internet at large—this money thinks of us the other way around. To the advertisers, we are our capacity to buy, attached to a few personal, irrelevant photos.

Is it possible that we have begun to think of ourselves that way? It seemed significant to me that on the way to the movie theater, while doing a small mental calculation (how old I was when at Harvard; how old I am now), I had a Person 1.0 panic attack. Soon I will be forty, then fifty, then soon after dead; I broke out in a Zuckerberg sweat, my heart went crazy, I had to stop and lean against a trashcan. Can you have that feeling, on Facebook? I’ve noticed—and been ashamed of noticing—that when a teenager is murdered, at least in Britain, her Facebook wall will often fill with messages that seem to not quite comprehend the gravity of what has occurred. You know the type of thing: Sorry babes! Missin’ you!!! Hopin’ u iz with the Angles. I remember the jokes we used to have LOL! PEACE XXXXX

When I read something like that, I have a little argument with myself: “It’s only poor education. They feel the same way as anyone would, they just don’t have the language to express it.” But another part of me has a darker, more frightening thought. Do they genuinely believe, because the girl’s wall is still up, that she is still, in some sense, alive? What’s the difference, after all, if all your contact was virtual?4

She identifies as a superior “Person 1.0″, where Facebookian’s are “People 2.0″, the online generation. (Sidenote – I am so over this use of versioning.)  Continuing in the long tradition of the elders wanting the kids to get off her lawn.  OK, let’s grant the versioning..  Facebook is just a stepping stone; a sure to be primitive version of life online (that great Transhumanist dream), adopted by the masses.  En masse; one giant Eternal September.  It’s far from perfect.

As Cory Doctorow has frequently said, contemporary SNSs function like Autistics – requiring every bit of personal data to be explicitly stated, impossible to infer because they lack the onboard social software that provides this.  As the film so accurately protrays, right from the beginning, Zuckerberg himself appears to be a high-functioning autistic.  That this is what it took for a widely successful SNS, an outsider divining the workings of inter-personal relationships and capturing that with software, perhaps speaks more about it’s users, than it’s developer(s).  Maybe we get the SNS we deserve.

Now, I’ve advised caution with online personas many times here.  Using an alias, for instance, is a great idea.  If Facebook is a virtual nation, then as citizens we can protest for great rights and improvements to our conditions.  And they do appear to listen, and get the hint eventually.  After all, though Zuckerberg is an on-paper bazillionaire, that will fade to nothing once a better SNS comes along and everyone immigrates to that superior nation.  And that will happen.  This is just an initial step.

Again, Smith approaches this in her review section:

Watching this movie, even though you know Sorkin wants your disapproval, you can’t help feel a little swell of pride in this 2.0 generation. They’ve spent a decade being berated for not making the right sorts of paintings or novels or music or politics. Turns out the brightest 2.0 kids have been doing something else extraordinary. They’ve been making a world.

Now I don’t agree that Sorkin wanted our disapproval.  The strength of this movie is (like Facebook) that they’ve distilled the subject matter down to it’s key elements.  She’s drawn her own conclusions and it putting this forth as the one-true-fact.  Everyone I’ve spoken to about the film seems to find sympathy with different characters.  (Personally, the only character I liked was the internet rockstar take on Sean Parker.)

Software may reduce humans, but there are degrees. Fiction reduces humans, too, but bad fiction does it more than good fiction, and we have the option to read good fiction. Jaron Lanier’s point is that Web 2.0 “lock-in” happens soon; is happening; has to some degree already happened. And what has been “locked in”? It feels important to remind ourselves, at this point, that Facebook, our new beloved interface with reality, was designed by a Harvard sophomore with a Harvard sophomore’s preoccupations. What is your relationship status? (Choose one. There can be only one answer. People need to know.) Do you have a “life”? (Prove it. Post pictures.) Do you like the right sort of things? (Make a list. Things to like will include: movies, music, books and television, but not architecture, ideas, or plants.)

Here we witness Smith cherry-picking from Jaron Lanier’s book, You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto, to bolster her arguments. Again, note the dismissive tone – GenY is stupid and does not like The Right Stuff, unlike superior Zadie.  Frankly, how fucking dare she. Now, I have Laniers book still on my to-read list so I can’t comment on that, but..  BUT.. if Zadie had better researched her piece she’d know that, just for starters, blaming the blue’n'white layout on Zuckerberg’s colorblindness is insulting to anyone with a CompSci degree, or a modicum of knowledge;  blue and white is infact the best colour scheme on the eyes – perfect from keeping the attention glued on the screen without distracting strain pain.  So yes, Facebook is kinda a little bit evil like that.  No physical nation-state we live in so is far perfect either.

You can give up and go live in a cave or fight to make it better.  Blanketly dismissing an entire generation is no way to do either.  Shame on you Zadie Smith!

Futurama and Orkut – mind-swapping and projected identities

Posted by on August 24th, 2010

I was very disappointed with the recent Futurama ep Lethal Inspection, in which Bender learnt he was created without the online backup unit that made all other robots immortal. To me, this would’ve been the perfect opportunity to rip on mind-uploading; have Professor Farnsworth mocking Ray Kurzweil’s head-in-a-jar, asking him what happened to that Singularity of his.

So when this most recent episode of Futurama, The Prisoner of Benda, did some genuine SF for once, exploring the relationship between body and identity, I thought it deserved props. Also, because it was hilarious, and peaked with this insane scene (SPOILER):

Futurama Thursdays 10pm / 9c
Leela and Fry’s Mutual Attraction
Futurama New Episodes Big Lake A New Comedy from Will Ferrell and Adam McKay

This is what I want from my SF; crazy human, alien, robot body-swapping action. (Versus lame iPhone/Twitter satire.) See io9 for a more in-depth review.

In other Identity news, Orkut (the SNS that we are constantly told is “huge in India and Brazil”) are now letting you split your personality; or more accurately easily control what aspects of your life you share to different groups of ‘friends’.

YouTube Preview Image

Facebook have a clumsy implementation of this, but Orkut seems to be the first to tackle this big problem in Social Network design properly: do you want your boss, co-workers and friends getting the same information? More details over on Read Write Web.

Mexican city becomes test-bed for next-gen surveillance tech

Posted by on August 19th, 2010

As Fast Company report Leon, Mexico is about to become the test-bed for a Future; but it might not be the Future you’re looking for:

Biometrics R&D firm Global Rainmakers Inc. (GRI) announced today that it is rolling out its iris scanning technology to create what it calls “the most secure city in the world.” In a partnership with Leon — one of the largest cities in Mexico, with a population of more than a million — GRI will fill the city with eye-scanners. That will help law enforcement revolutionize the way we live — not to mention marketers.

“In the future, whether it’s entering your home, opening your car, entering your workspace, getting a pharmacy prescription refilled, or having your medical records pulled up, everything will come off that unique key that is your iris,” says Jeff Carter, CDO of Global Rainmakers. Before coming to GRI, Carter headed a think tank partnership between Bank of America, Harvard, and MIT. “Every person, place, and thing on this planet will be connected [to the iris system] within the next 10 years,” he says.

Leon is the first step. To implement the system, the city is creating a database of irises. Criminals will automatically be enrolled, their irises scanned once convicted. Law-abiding citizens will have the option to opt-in.

When these residents catch a train or bus, or take out money from an ATM, they will scan their irises, rather than swiping a metro or bank card. Police officers will monitor these scans and track the movements of watch-listed individuals. “Fraud, which is a $50 billion problem, will be completely eradicated,” says Carter.

This video, taken from GRI’s website, shows how the system works:

YouTube Preview Image

Touching on the rather obvious privacy issues, Fast Company write:

For such a Big Brother-esque system, why would any law-abiding resident ever volunteer to scan their irises into a public database, and sacrifice their privacy? GRI hopes that the immediate value the system creates will alleviate any concern. “There’s a lot of convenience to this–you’ll have nothing to carry except your eyes,” says Carter, claiming that consumers will no longer be carded at bars and liquor stores. And he has a warning for those thinking of opting out: “When you get masses of people opting-in, opting out does not help. Opting out actually puts more of a flag on you than just being part of the system. We believe everyone will opt-in.

When I asked Carter whether he felt the film was intended as a dystopian view of the future of privacy, he pointed out that much of our private life is already tracked by telecoms and banks, not to mention Facebook. “The banks already know more about what we do in our daily life–they know what we eat, where we go, what we purchase–our deepest secrets,” he says. “We’re not talking about anything different here–just a system that’s good for all of us.”

So there you have it. Facebook and all those loyalty cards are now being used as a precedent to create a complete panopticon.

via Gizmodo | thanks for the tip-off Cat Vincent!

Transhumanist Barbie

Posted by on August 11th, 2010

In a great victory for the SATANIC GLOBAL TRANSHUMANIST CONSPIRACY, Mattel have released the perfect gift for all the little Transhumanists in the house, Barbie Video Girl.

As this video shows, the camera quality is pretty decent, and the design is frankly hilarious:

I am hoping this could mean the return of the Barbie Liberation Organization.

thanks for the tip-off Seej500!

The Grim Facebook Future

Posted by on May 11th, 2010

I’ll make this quick, because honestly?  It’s about Facebook and we all have better things to be doing with our time than talking about Facebook – that’s what the rest of the internet is for.

Here’s the deal: Facebook – after the incredible success of their Facebook Connect program from a few years back – is now launching their Open Graph program.  They’re exposing pretty much all of their user information to third parties and making a lot of formerly “private” information “outward facing” by default. Why?  Well, the Open Graph system allows all sorts of sites to connect and interact with each other via Facebook.  It’s Facebook Connect on steroids.   Pandora will know via Yelp via Facebook (and Facebook Presence) what clubs you like to hang out at and will deliver content based on that.   Facebook kind-of already works like that, with you being able to use your FB login to access a wide range of websites and link a lot of content back to FB.  The Open Graph is like that, only a great deal more pervasive, and some say invasive.

Now, as a Facebook user, you’ve already agreed to all of this.  As they were keen to repeat at the recent f8: Hacking the Graph conference:

“So we’re absolutely clear: nothing we’re announcing today changes any of the existing privacy settings.”

If you use their service, then its Facebook’s world, you’re just posting in it.

Let’s be clear here, I’m not endorsing Facebook, their activities, or their business model.  This is a company that gladly rolled around in bed with Zynga – the wildly popular social game developer and admitted scammer and purveyor of viruses and malware.  This is also the company that tried to change its TOS to allow them to keep any of your information, be it personal or user generated content, even if you stopped using their service.

The current Facebook Terms of Service allow them to move your information around in the way that they’re currently implementing.  Just because years ago they said that they would never do it – but here, sign this thing we’ll never use that gives us the right to do it “just in case” – doesn’t make their turning around and finding new ways to use your digital footprint to generate revenue a surprise.

Privacy concerns for Facebook users aside, what does this all mean?

Well, as some of you may recall, back in 2009 the White House released the “Cyberspace Policy Review.” It was a strange little document that outlined the results of a 60-day review meant to “assess U.S. policies and structures for cybersecurity.”  The full text of the document can be found here. [PDF]

Without turning this into a long rant or a conspiracy-theory laden diatribe, let me hop to the point.  The policy review calls for:

…a cybersecurity-based identity management vision and strategy that addresses privacy and civil liberties interests, leveraging privacy-enhancing technologies for the Nation.

From here, rather than repeating myself, I’ll let io9′s Annalee Newitz do the talking:

Here is what a “cyber-security identity management vision” really is: A plan for how the government will establish and track your identity online.

And here’s where my not-so-wild speculation about Facebook identities comes in. Many companies have turned to Facebook as an “identity management” system (including Gawker Media), allowing people to log into their services using their Facebook identity. The reason is simple: Most people only have one Facebook identity, and they stick with it. There’s a general notion that your Facebook identity is your authentic identity, or at least an identity that you keep over time, and that its characteristics can be traced back to who you are in real life. Therefore, having you log into every web service, from io9 comments to Digg to (possibly in the future) Paypal, is a way of managing your identities. Instead of having a separate identity for each of those services, you have one. Easy to manage, easy to trace.

Why shouldn’t Obama’s cyberczar just cut a deal with Facebook (and maybe a few other social networks like LinkedIn) and turn those profiles into your authentic identities? So you can send mail and buy things using your Facebook ID, and that’s how you’ll be tracked. Hey, you’re already on Facebook right? And you can set your profile to “private.” So it’s easy and “privacy enhancing.” (Never mind how easy it is to get around those privacy settings – pay no attention to that black hat behind the curtain.)

You can read the rest of her breakdown of how pre-existing services can be used to impliment an identity management solution here @ io9.  Fast forward to now, almost a year later and Facebook has begun rolling out features that seem tailor made for use as an identity-verification scheme.  It’s easier than ever for your Facebook profile to be your default profile on a host of websites as well as for all sorts of fiscal transactions. The Open Graph, while still not providing a full-proof method for identity management does make it far easier to track the movements of your Facebook profile through the net and – as more and more features go live over the summer – through the embedded world as well.

The sky isn’t falling.  The mark of the beast isn’t being injected into you when you log into Facebook – well, unless you’re playing FarmVille, then your soul is pretty much forfeit.  It’s just that Facebook is taking advantage of the information you gave them in their quest to continue to monetize your personal information. However, even if these recent privacy concerns and their possible implications have you jumping ship, Facebook will still hold onto all of your information for data-mining anyway.

Is Facebook changing because they “decided that these would be the social norms now” or is it simply because they want to continue to answer the question that has plagued the social networking giant since it opened:  How do we make money off of this?   Obviously, I’d say that the money is, as always, the key –  and there are few better ways to monetize personal information than to use that personal information to provide a useful service to both the corporate world and the government.

My two cents?  Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t care about social norms of privacy, the participatory panopticon or the post-privacy world he’s helping to facilitate (for better or worse) – he just wants the kind of sustainable revenue stream that being a government sanctioned identity management solution could bring.

[See also: "What Does Obama's Identity Management Vision Mean" @ Grinding and "President Obama Welcomes the Cyber State" @ io9.]

Post-Privacy and the democratization of celebr1ty

Posted by on April 6th, 2010

It is with much interest that I have observed the rapid popularity of This is an extremely powerful service that simply let’s the user:

Create a box where friends can ask questions anonymously.

So not only are people microblogging their life, replying to each other and retweeting; now they can hold their own Press Conferences.

Now, to help understand this, let’s go back to danah boyd’s seminal piece on Super Publics:

A reporter recently asked me why kids today have no shame. I told her it was her fault. Media is obsessed with revealing the backstage of people in the public eye – celebrities, politicians, etc. More recently, they’ve created a public eye to put people into – Survivor, Real World, etc. Open digital expression systems coupled with global networks took it one step farther by saying that anyone could operate as media and expose anyone else. What’s juicy is what people want to hide and thus, the media (all media) goes after this like hawks. Add the post-9/11 attitude that if you hide something, you are clearly a terrorist. Should it surprise anyone that teenagers have responded by exposing everything with pride? What better way to react to a super public where everyone is working as paparazzi? There’s nothing juicy about exposing what’s already exposed. Do it yourself and you have nothing to worry about. These are the kinds of things that are emerging as people face life in super publics.

What’s the difference between micro-celebrity (let’s say anyone with a few thousand followers on Twitter) and the sub-lebrities Joan Collins is bitching about? Nothing! They are just two of the ways we are entertaining each other to death, waiting for the world to end. One is for Hipsters and the other is for Chavs; that’s the only difference.

In fact, can it be that the only reason celebrity biographies are so popular is that we are data-mining them for content and clues?

This is the democratization of celebr1ty.. a new Golden Age.. when anyone that is entertaining enough and has an internet connection can develop a Cult following.

In the spirit of this, Ask Us Anything!

The Facebook Tomorrow

Posted by on February 24th, 2010

At this year’s DICE 2010 Expo, Carnegie Mellon’s Jesse Schell gave a fantastic presentation that starts with why Facebook *shouldn’t* work in the way that it does and extrapolates forward into a half-creepy and half-inspiring vision for the embodied internet, the network of things, the culture of games and the SPIMEworld to come.

Xbox 360 GamesE3 2010Guitar Hero 5

4Chan founder speaks to CNN

Posted by on February 23rd, 2010

Chris Poole, founder of 4Chan, did a short interview with CNN.

He has some very interesting things to say about online identity and lifestreaming and, well, truth:

He also spoke at the TED 2010 conference. Can’t wait to check that out when it goes online.

AR may be built into future iPhones

Posted by on July 16th, 2009

From Mashable:

How would you like to be able to point your iPhone towards an object – the Eiffel Tower, for example – and instantly see the admission price, working hours, its height and other information

A patent called ID App does just that; it recognizes an object based on visuals (through the iPhone’s camera), a RFID reader or through GPS, and then fetches the data from related databases…in the beginning it’ll probably just take you to a related Wikipedia page.

Another patent focuses on facial recognition… It could bring you info about a person (scary, I know) just by pointing a camera at him; or it could be used for security, enabling only recognized users to use the device

Do you hear that sound? It’s the Augmented Reality Future knocking on your door…

spacebook – an interactive, post-privacy house

Posted by on July 15th, 2009

MIT’s Spacebook project looks to be a very interesting exploration of post-privacy:

Spacebook is a project to design an interactive house whose walls gradually change in transparency with changes in local environmental conditions and the presence or absence of people inside and outside the space. The projects uses a new type of glass that was recently patented at the SENSEable City Lab

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via Planet Damage

Augmented ID – a coming AR identity app for the phone

Posted by on July 11th, 2009

From PSFK:

Swedish software and design company The Astonishing Tribe are currently developing Augmented ID, an augmented reality concept for mobile phones. This utilizes facial recognition software (supplied by Polar Rose) to visualize the digital identities of those around you.

By simply aiming your mobile device at someone, you would be able to access that individual’s pre-selected information through floating icons that would appear around their image. These could contain anything from a phone number and email address to links to their favorite content or social networking platforms.

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What Does Obama’s Identity Management Vision Mean?

Posted by on May 29th, 2009

On the Internet, no one knows if your’re a dog, or so I’m told.  But does President Obama’s newly announced “Cyberspace strategy” herald a possible end to the days of anonymity (or for that matter Anonymous) on the internet?

The answer is, “Possibly”.

Along with his press conference, today listing Cyber-Security as a national security priority, the White House also released the 75 page “Cyberspace Policy Review”.  It all seems pretty straightforward, answering basic national security, infrastructure and financian concerns about various “cyber threats”.  (The validity of a lot of these threats is, of course, up for debate, but isn’t what I’m looking to address here.)   However, buried in the text is a somewhat scary bit of policy jargon:

10.  Build a cybersecurity-based identity management vision and strategy that addresses privacy and civil liberties interests, leveraging privacy-enhancing technologies for the Nation.

Now, to be frank, there’s a few scary bits throughout the document.  There’s a lot of wording that could support the growing of walled gardens in the private and public sector and the promise of more government regulation of the internet in the United States, but that bit sticks out to me.

An “identity management vision” is a means of regulating and more importantly authenticating your identity online.   This would mean the creation of some sort of regulatory agent that can assist in the establishment of authenticity standards in the hopes of allowing federal agencies the ability to tell if, Captain Swing on myspace, and chimplover35 who comments on Digg are all in fact the same individual.  It’s, theoreticaly, the end of anonnimity on the internet.  (At least the US bits.)  Obviously it’s not the first time the US Federal government has shown an interest in policing identity on the internet, and it probably won’t be last, but it doesn’t bode well.

Io9′s Annalee Newitz has an interesting (and likely) take on the likelyhood of indentity policing ending up in the hands of a private sector company:

And here’s where my not-so-wild speculation about Facebook identities comes in. Many companies have turned to Facebook as an “identity management” system (including Gawker Media), allowing people to log into their services using their Facebook identity. The reason is simple: Most people only have one Facebook identity, and they stick with it. There’s a general notion that your Facebook identity is your authentic identity, or at least an identity that you keep over time, and that its characteristics can be traced back to who you are in real life. Therefore, having you log into every web service, from io9 comments to Digg to (possibly in the future) Paypal, is a way of managing your identities. Instead of having a separate identity for each of those services, you have one. Easy to manage, easy to trace.

Why shouldn’t Obama’s cyberczar just cut a deal with Facebook (and maybe a few other social networks like LinkedIn) and turn those profiles into your authentic identities? So you can send mail and buy things using your Facebook ID, and that’s how you’ll be tracked. Hey, you’re already on Facebook right? And you can set your profile to “private.” So it’s easy and “privacy enhancing.” (Never mind how easy it is to get around those privacy settings – pay no attention to that black hat behind the curtain.)

The scenario I’m describing is, in essence, how the Social Security Card became the twentieth century’s identity management system starting in the 1930s. These cards were not originally intended as ID cards, or as a way to authenticate your true identity. They were just a way to manage government assistance to those who needed it. But they became an ID card simply because everyone in the US had been issued one. When the government and businesses needed a way to track people’s identities, it became the easy choice. Showing your social security card meant that you couldn’t just come up with random new names for yourself every time you signed a form or took a job.

Though people in the US now think of the Social Security Card as the “obvious” form of ID, it took years for it to evolve from a simple social assistance card to an “identity management vision.”

Just as the (currently, temporarily scrapped) National ID card system would have been carried on the backbone of private interests, it’s entirely likely that any form of identity policing on the internet would end up being, by and large, maintained by a pre-existing entity in the private sector.   At first glance, a Facebook/US Government partnership seems unlikely, but does it really?   Newitz is right in claiming that this is exactly what happened with the Social Security Card.  This little white and blue piece of paper that most Americans posess quickly became a universal form of ID even though it was never intended to act as such.  (And in fact the card insists that a SSN is not an ID.)     And there are many, many companies that are currently using Facebook as identity sourcing or are looking at doing so.

Why not link your email addresses and your paypal accounts and your amazon information and your bank information to your Facebook account.  It’s safe and private, right?   While you’re at it, why not link your biometric information to your email account to your facebook account?  (Here’s the fun part — a lot of people already do that, and expect to see more push for email-based biometric security in the next year.)

Facebook is just one likely candidate for an increasingly likely scenario, and that scenario is one in which the powerful anonymizing factor of the internet is slowly reduced via public-private partnerships.  Partnerships which will be based on “convienence” and public safety.

On the bright side, Obama claims that he still supports net neutrality:

“Our pursuit of cybersecurity will not include — I repeat, will not include — monitoring private sector networks or internet traffic,” he said. “We will preserve and protect the personal privacy and civil liberties that we cherish as Americans. Indeed, I remain firmly committed to net neutrality so we can keep the internet as it should be, open and free.”

But those aren’t very comforting words when they’re released next to a document that encourages us to look back to the cold war, and discussed the importance of selling the idea of a national security cyber-threat to the American People.  It’s easy to say “I remain firmly committed to net neutrality…” but harder to accomplish when your policy documents outline how to convince the Internet-using populace  to allow internet regulations and promotes solidifying “who is in charge” of the internet.  (Those are just a few of the gems I noticed on a quick skim.)

Am I being reactionary?  Maybe a little.  But while the Obama adminstration has talked a good game regarding electronic civil liberties, he certainly hasn’t actually backed up the talk with actions, yet.  In fact, he’s done just the opposite with his support of enhanced wireless wiretapping powers and his appointment of MPAA/RIAA and staunch anti-P2P advocate Joe Biden as his VP.    While I’m not quite ready to go down to my local teabaggers meeting just yet, It’s obvious that electronic privacy is going to be an interesting minefield to watch Obama walk through.

On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.  Except Facebook.  And Linkdin.  And the FTC and LexisNexis and the CIA and the NSA and SEC.  Oh, and 4Chan.

The Obama Administration, Your Information, and You

Posted by on March 19th, 2009

new world obamaThe Obama administration, while progressive in some areas, still appears to be on the same page as the Bush administration regarding warrentless servailance.

The Obama administration says the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures does not apply to cell-site information mobile phone carriers retain on their customers.

The position is being staked out in a little-noticed surveillance case pending before the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. The case has wide-ranging implications for Americans, as most citizens have or will carry a mobile phone in their lifespan.

At issue is whether the government can require federal judges to order mobile phone companies to release historical cell-tower information of a phone number without probable cause — the standard required for a search warrant. While judges have varied on the issue, the resulting evidence can be used in a criminal prosecution.

The sticky part about the cell phone records is that they include general location as well.  So not only can your phone records be pulled without a warrent, but so can your approximate location.

(Can anyone tell me if the location derived from cell-phone triangulation is admissiable in US or foreign courts?)

Also of note the White house has called “National Security” regarding the contents of the recently-proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement:

The White House this week declared (.pdf) the text of the proposed treaty a “properly classified” national security secret, in rejecting a Freedom of Information Act request by Knowledge Ecology International.

“Please be advised the documents you seek are being withheld in full,” wrote  Carmen Suro-Bredie, chief FOIA officer in the White House’s Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

The national security claim is stunning, given that the treaty negotiations have included the 27 member states of the European Union, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Switzerland and New Zealand, all of whom presumably have access to the “classified” information.

In early January, the Bush administration made the same claim in rejecting (.pdf) a similar FOIA request by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

If ratified, leaked documents posted on WikiLeaks and other comments suggest the proposed trade accord would criminalize peer-to-peer file sharing, subject iPods to border searches and allow internet service providers to monitor their customers’ communications.

Between this, and the recent developments in the Al-Haramain domestic spying case that may result in the same kind of evidence sequestering or destruction that led to the 2005 destruction of video tape evidence that was being used by the ACLU to prove government mistreatment of prisoners, it seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

To some degree, the current adminstration has been very true to their pledges of transparency, especially in regards to cleaning up past messes like Gitmo, but as the above links show, there are still some areas where the spectre of the Bush administration lives on in the House of Change.   At least for now.

But is that really all that shocking?  Electronic information, is still “the new threat” in many circles and policy regarding electronic and information freedoms are still in flux worldwide and across the US.  There are things that almost everyone can agree are “bad” — like torture.  But ask the person on the street about their electronic liberties and you’re likely to get a blank stare or a lecture about Chris Hanson and America’s Next Top Pedophile.

Linked from: Wired Threat Level and Even More Wired Threat Level

iScreener – Abstruse Goose on the future of dating

Posted by on February 18th, 2009

As cnawan tweeted:  “I’ll bet in a year or two this won’t qualify as a joke any more

iScreener *

Futuristic Security Checkpoints Know What You Do Before You Do It

Posted by on January 1st, 2009

    - image via

New security check points in 2020 will look just like something out of the futuristic movie, The Minority Report. The idea of the new checkpoints will allow high traffic to pass through just as you were walking at a normal pace. No more, waving a wand to get through checkpoints. The new checkpoint can detect if you have plans to set off a bomb before you even enter the building.

How does it work?

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is developing a system called Future Attribute Screening Technology, or FAST for short. The system uses cameras to detect slight alterations in pupil sizes, blink rate and even direction of gaze. A laser radar called BioLIDAR measures heart rate and changes between heartbeats. The BioLIDAR can even monitor a persons respiration and track movements in the face, neck, and cheeks. Stressed out? A thermal camera will pick up on this too by gauging changes in the skin temperature.

The protoypes’ initial tests results are showing over 75% accuracy for deception or mal-intent by test subjects. Given these numbers, it might show up even sooner than 2020.

See also:

Link via /., photo via

Japanese scientists develop tech to read images directly from your brain

Posted by on December 11th, 2008

From PinkTentacle:

brain image scanner

Researchers from Japan’s ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories have developed new brain analysis technology that can reconstruct the images inside a person’s mind and display them on a computer monitor, it was announced on December 11. According to the researchers, further development of the technology may soon make it possible to view other people’s dreams while they sleep.

The scientists were able to reconstruct various images viewed by a person by analyzing changes in their cerebral blood flow. Using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine, the researchers first mapped the blood flow changes that occurred in the cerebral visual cortex as subjects viewed various images held in front of their eyes. Subjects were shown 400 random 10 x 10 pixel black-and-white images for a period of 12 seconds each. While the fMRI machine monitored the changes in brain activity, a computer crunched the data and learned to associate the various changes in brain activity with the different image designs.

They predict that within “10 years, advances in this field of research may make it possible to read a person’s thoughts with some degree of accuracy.”

I don’t know about you, but that idea freaks me the fuck out. We’re looking at one messy future kids. Imagine police equipped with such a device, able to pull from your brain exactly what you’re thinking. All the more reason to start fixing the world now, before such a device can be abused by some totalitarian government. Mental discipline will ever more become a survival tool for the future.

The total flip-side being this is just the tool one needs to capture the genius thoughts one has just as they drift off to sleep.

thanks for the tip-off Marc Starecky!