August 26, 2010

Ramping Back Up… [7:54 am]

It’s been a busy summer, and the blog has suffered. It’s going to take a little time to get back up to speed, but you have to start somewhere. So, a collection of things.

Today’s Boston Globe profiles one of the many firms that one can hire to “sanitize” your online reputation: For a fee, digital dirt can be buried [pdf]. I’m sure that the “cat-bin woman,” Mary Bale, can’t afford what it would take to expunge her moment of insanity. Of course, she’s not alone in being singled out by a digital witch-hunt, but there’s a real question of how dangerous this sort of activity is getting. Of course, the Germans are going to police the use of Facebook in their effort to fight, but that looks just ridiculous — just as the US Government has learned to avoid strictures on privacy by hiring commercial firms to do the legwork, the Germans will simply find someone else to troll Facebook for them — Germany Plans Limits on Facebook Use in Hiring [pdf]

One might have hoped that, with the release of Common As Air, we might expect to get further along on the discussion of how the faulty application of the “property” metaphor to creative work carries real risks for us all, but all you have to do is read the comments to Dan Gillmor’s latest piece on the subject at Salon to see that we’re getting nowhere. Of course, a read of the opening of Hyde’s book (as far as I’ve had time for this week) points out that the constituencies that benefit from the perpetuation of the faulty metaphor are working overtime to maintain the confusion.

And today’s Globe also points out that Joel Tenenbaum and Charlie Nesson are continuing with their fight — Student appeals award of $67,000 [pdf]. You have to admire the tenacity: although, even my limited exposure to Charlie has shown me that he can be a pretty compelling guy. It would be fun (although, probably pretty expensive, in this case) to get into a fight with him on your side.

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November 23, 2009

Commensuration, Computing and Algorithms [9:09 am]

Currents - Are Metrics Blinding Our Perception? (pdf)

Computers have become an extension of us: that is a commonplace now. But in an important way we may be becoming an extension of them, in turn. Computers are digital — that is, they turn everything into numbers; that is their way of seeing. And in the computer age we may be living through the digitization of our minds, even when they are offline: a slow-burning quantification of human affairs that promises or threatens, depending on your outlook, to crowd out other categories of the imagination, other ways of perceiving.

Maybe, although the complexities of metrics go well beyond what this article discusses. For example, see this Clay Shirky speculation on authority: A Speculative Post on the Idea of Algorithmic Authority

The social characteristic of deciding who to trust is a key feature of authority — were you to say “I have it on good authority that Khotyn is a town in Moldova”, you’d be saying that you trust me to know and disclose that information accurately, not just because you trust me, but because some other group has vouched, formally or informally, for my trustworthiness.

This is a compressed telling, and swerves around many epistemological potholes, such as information that can’t be evaluated independently (”I love you”), information that is correct by definition (”The American Psychiatric Association says there is a mental disorder called psychosis”), or authorities making untestable propositions (”God hates it when you eat shrimp.”) Even accepting those limits, though, the assertion that Khotyn is in Moldova provides enough of an illustration here, because it’s false. Khotyn is in Ukraine.

And this is where authority begins to work its magic. If you told someone who knew better about the Moldovan town of Khotyn, and they asked where you got that incorrect bit of information, you’d have to say “Some guy on the internet said so.” See how silly you’d feel?

Now imagine answering that question “Well, Encyclopedia Britannica said so!” You wouldn’t be any less wrong, but you’d feel less silly. (Britannica did indeed wrongly assert, for years, that Khotyn was in Moldova, one of a collection of mistakes discovered in 2005 by a boy in London.) Why would you feel less silly getting the same wrong information from Britannica than from me? Because Britannica is an authoritative source.

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May 18, 2009

The e-Volution of Retail [8:53 am]

a couple of articles on the opportunities tying of digital data collection with aspects of retailing - some new, and some not so new:

  • Just Browsing? A Web Store May Follow You Out the Door (pdf)

    IF you try on a sweater in a department store dressing room, but choose not to buy it, a persistent sales clerk won’t pursue you into the street yelling, “Hey, are you sure?” Nor will you receive a call at your home the next day to check again if you want to complete the purchase.

    But in the online world, visitors to Web stores who touch the goods but leave without buying may be subjected instantaneously to “remarketing,” in the form of nagging e-mail messages or phone calls.

    A new Web service, called Abandonment Tracker Pro, is in beta testing and scheduled for formal release next month. [...]

  • What Does Your Credit-Card Company Know About You? (pdf)

    “I think I can do something for you, though,” [credit card bill collector Rudy] Santana continued, glancing at his screen. It was filled with information about the man, including the fact that he had recently sold his home at a loss. Some of this information had been sent by the man’s bank to Santana’s employer, Sunrise Credit Services, which collects delinquent debts for companies like Citigroup, Bank of America and HSBC. Santana’s company had added notes, too, including helpful tips — he is easier to reach in the mornings, for example — and new ways to contact him.

    “Look,” Santana said. “I know you’re angry at your wife. One step to ending that anger is putting this debt behind you. It will really help you find peace. You owe about $29,000. How much do you think you can pay?”

    “Well, how much are you gonna help me?” the man shot back. “These banks got all this taxpayer money from the government, and they’re the ones who ruined the market for my house! I helped bail them out. I think the banks should be paying me, instead of trying to suck all the life out of us they can!”

    [...] Luckily for the industry, small groups of executives at most of the large firms have spent the last decade studying cardholders from almost every angle, and collection agencies have developed more sophisticated dunning techniques. They have sought to draw psychological and behavioral lessons from the enormous amounts of data the credit-card companies collect every day. They’ve run thousands of tests and crunched the numbers on millions of accounts. One result of all that labor is the conversation between Santana — a former bouncer whose higher education consists solely of corporate-sponsored classes like “the Psychology of Collections” — and the man from Massachusetts. When Santana contacted the man last month, he was armed with detailed information about his life and trained in which psychological approaches were most likely to succeed.

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February 11, 2007

The Perils and Promise of Unsecured WiFi [2:42 pm]

And what solutions are the author of this article trying to promote? WiFi Turns Internet Into Hideout for Criminals - pdf

Detectives arrived last summer at a high-rise apartment building in Arlington County, warrant in hand, to nab a suspected pedophile who had traded child pornography online. It was to be a routine, mostly effortless arrest.

But when they pounded on the door, detectives found an elderly woman who, they quickly concluded, had nothing to do with the crime. The real problem was her computer’s wireless router, a device sending a signal through her 10-story building and allowing savvy neighbors a free path to the Internet from the privacy of their homes.

[...] “We’re not sure yet how to combat that,” said Kevin R. West, a federal agent who oversees the computer crimes unit in North Carolina’s State Bureau of Investigation. “Free wireless spots are everywhere, and it makes it easy for people . . . to sit there and do their nefarious acts. The fear is that if we talk about it, people will learn about it and say, ‘I can go to a parking lot, and no one will catch me.’ But we need to talk about it so that we can figure out how to solve it.”

If you think I’m overstating the problem, look at this terrible metaphor from the article:

Open wireless signals are akin to leaving your front door wide open all day — and returning home to find that someone has stolen your belongings and left a mess that needs cleaning.

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November 19, 2006

Social Mapping and Regulatory Failure [12:07 pm]

A little “thought experiment” from a recent workshop comes just a little bit closer — as well as the likely privacy train-wreck: Cellphone as Tracker: X Marks Your Doubts

Now, as more of the handsets are equipped to use the Global Positioning System, the satellite-based navigation network, we are on the verge of enjoying services made possible only when information is matched automatically to location. Maps on our phones will always know where we are. Our children can’t go missing. Movie listings will always be for the closest theaters; restaurant suggestions, organized by proximity. We will even have the option of choosing free cellphone service if we agree to accept ads focused on nearby businesses.

[...] Both Helio and Boost Mobile market exclusively and unapologetically to a young clientele. “We’re not going after soccer moms and businesspeople,” Helio’s C.E.O., the veteran entrepreneur Sky Dayton, said last week. Freedom — to be a hedonist — is the leitmotif in its materials. “Have a party,” Helio’s Web site says invitingly, “not a search party.”

The Buddy Beacon serves at your pleasure, for your pleasure. “Turn it on when you’re up for a party;” turn it off when you need “a night of privacy.” A press release anticipates your feeling the urge to “slip out the back of the club into the V.I.P. room.” (Yes! All the time!) In such instances, the beacon goes off.

Social mapping on cellphones is not all that new; it is just the next stage in social networking. [...]

[...] The tattered condition of the wireless industry’s reputation for privacy protection — which was not helped by the recent Hewlett-Packard pretexting scandal involving phone logs — is not entirely the industry’s doing. Not so long ago, industry players acted together to try to secure the Federal Communications Commission’s help to tighten — yes, tighten — rules governing the privacy of location information. It was the F.C.C. that let us all down, then and now.

[...] CTIA-The Wireless Association petitioned the F.C.C. to draft rules guaranteeing basic privacy protections, like requiring that customers give explicit consent before any information was disclosed to third parties and that all location information be protected from unauthorized access. When the F.C.C. considered the request in 2002, it declined to act, arguing that existing legislation was enough.

One commissioner, Michael J. Copps, dissented. [...]

Mr. Copps pleaded that the commission “put in some sweat now” to create the clarifying rules “before consumers make up their minds about whether they trust location practices.” His plea went unheeded; the F.C.C. has remained inert.

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September 7, 2006

Privacy in a Public Space (updated) [11:12 am]

Still interesting to see what triggers a reaction in this space, and what goes completely unremarked — in this case, a design decision that “breaks” the working metaphor, with unsurprising fallout: Web social site Facebook hit by privacy protests - pdf, the No. 2 U.S. social network site that is quickly expanding beyond its college student base, has been met with a sudden privacy backlash by users after it made design changes this week.

[...] [T]he Facebook reaction is fueled not because it revealed any new personal data about its users. Rather, the change simply makes it easier for friends to track one another. “Stalking is supposed to be hard,” a Facebook user complained.

“News Feed is just too creepy, too stalker-esque, and a feature that has to go,” reads the petition of the newly formed “Students against Facebook News Feed.”

Nonetheless, the outrage mingled with tongue-in-cheek humor as evidenced in the name of a related protest site: “The Coalition to Stop Facebook, Stalker Edition.” Both groups can be reached only by registered Facebook members at: (

From the Washington Post - In Online Social Club, Sharing Is the Point Until It Goes Too Far - pdf

“It’s really creepy,” said Jenny Myers, who graduated this year from American University and works in Washington. “I think it’s absolutely ridiculous, putting people’s information out there, even small things.”

That might be a shift in thinking among 18-to-25-year-olds, said Larry Ponemon, chairman of the Ponemon Institute, a Michigan research firm that studies privacy. “On the one hand, they’re complacent about posting photos but really active and protesting when their information gets posted in a news feed.”

Later: Saying It ‘Messed Up,’ Facebook Modifies Controversial Feature - pdf

Even later: When Information Becomes T.M.I.

Some Slashdot background: Patriot Act Bypasses Facebook Privacy (2006 Jul 11); Facebook Launches Developer API (2006 Aug 17); Facebook Changes Provoke Uproar Among Users (2006 Sep 05); Facebook Scrambles after Unexpected Privacy Fumble (2006 Sep 08); and Social Networking Goes Big Business (2006 Sep 11)

Later: Another object lesson — Few are laughing over sick online joke - pdf

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August 29, 2006

Ain’t Technology Wonderful? [7:19 am]

So, is this a good thing? Or a bad one? How do you feel about region “editing” of news content, and the laws that lead to the development of this sort of technology? What does this do to the notion that the NYTimes Online is not exactly the same thing as the NYTimes newspaper?

Essentially the NYTimes Online is continuing the conversion of its online outlet into something distinctly different from the newspaper. The real question is whether the online readership will understand that the Web version of the NYTimes is no longer the “paper of record” (although TimesSelect should have already put the end to that notion).

At least the Times reported it’s doing this. Times Withholds Web Article in Britain

If Web readers in Britain were intrigued by the headline “Details Emerge in British Terror Case,” which sat on top of The New York Times’s home page much of yesterday, they would have been disappointed with a click.

“On advice of legal counsel, this article is unavailable to readers of in Britain,” is the message they would have seen. “This arises from the requirement in British law that prohibits publication of prejudicial information about the defendants prior to trial.”

In adapting technology intended for targeted advertising to keep the article out of Britain, The Times addressed one of the concerns of news organizations publishing online: how to avoid running afoul of local publishing laws.

[...] Jonathan Zittrain, a professor of Internet governance and regulation at Oxford University, said restricting information fit with trends across the Internet. “There’s a been a sense that technology can create a form of geographic zoning on the Internet for many years now — that they might not be 100 percent effective, but effective enough,” Mr. Zittrain said. “And there’s even a sense that international courts might be willing to take into account these efforts.

I wonder what Jonathan really thinks about this development; the quote is carefully neutral, as one might expect from an attorney….

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