June 21, 2006

Community Action or a Lynch Mob? [3:21 pm]

And can one ensure that one does not become the other? Tale of a Lost Cellphone, and Untold Static

Three weeks ago, Mr. Guttman went on a quest to retrieve a friend’s lost cellphone, a quest that has now ended with the arrest of a 16-year-old on charges of possessing the missing gadget, a Sidekick model with a built-in camera that sells for as much as $350. But before the teenager was arrested, she was humiliated by Mr. Guttman in front of untold thousands of people on the Web, an updated version of the elaborate public shamings common in centuries past.

The tale began when Mr. Guttman’s best friend Ivanna left her cellphone in a taxicab, like thousands of others before her. After Ivanna got a new Sidekick, she logged on to her account — and was confronted by pictures of an unfamiliar young woman and her family, along with the young woman’s America Online screen name.

[...] Using instant messages, Mr. Guttman tracked down Sasha and asked her to return it. “Basically, she told me to get lost,” Mr. Guttman recalled. “That was it.”

So he set up a no-frills Web page with a brief account of what happened, and posted the pictures of the girl and her family. Within hours of putting up the Web page, Mr. Guttman was fielding hundreds of e-mail messages from those nursing their own bitter memories of a lost cellphone, a BlackBerry or a digital camera that went unreturned.

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Gearing Up For A Conference [12:08 pm]

But came across this gem: WARD-Generating Civil Society

Generating Civil Society (Music by Ward)

Director: David Meme

Generating Civil Society is a stopmotion animation that explores the meaning and form of commons based peer-production (See the work of Yocahi [sic] Benkler) through the use of intertextuality and interdiscursivity in the production of a music video. [...]

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When Is A Decision Not A Decision? [11:57 am]

When it’s not: Justices’ Rulings Called ‘Murky’ and ‘Confusing’ - pdf

The Supreme Court is, after all, a committee of nine lawyers.

And like other committees, the court sometimes does not come up with clear answers to the legal questions it is supposed to decide.

Instead, it makes more work for lawyers. [...]

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Privacy, Children and Chattels [11:50 am]

In some ways, the title says it all: Cellphones: Just a leash for children? - pdf

Sprint Family Locator, which debuted in April, is just one of many newly released cellular services that use global positioning satellites — originally developed for military use — to allow family members to keep tabs on each other via their phones. Disney Mobile, which opened for business earlier this month, includes child tracking among its basic features. Verizon Wireless’ Chaperone service lets parents enclose up to 10 areas in virtual fencing, and to receive a text message if their children breach a boundary.

This technology isn’t cutting-edge, exactly; similar location based services have been marketed with limited success over the last few years, notably Nextel’s Mobile Locator designed for companies to track employees. But cellular carriers are in a tizzy to fulfill a Federal Communications Commission mandate that 911 operators be able to pin down phone locations — and it stands to reason that they recoup their investment by offering that same capability to subscribers. Carriers make beaucoup bucks, parents like Fahrnow rest easier; everybody wins.

Everybody except the people being tracked, say teens and privacy advocates who peg this trend to an unhealthy desire for control. [...]

[...] Alan Phillips is an ardent proponent of this revolution. In 2002 he caught his 14-year-old son skateboarding when he was supposed to be at a friend’s house, and Phillips promptly founded uLocate Communications, in Massachusetts, to develop location-based services for mobile phones. These days the Phillips family can check each others’ locations via a cellphone click (or on the Web) and can even view the rate of speed at which family members are traveling.

“My son plays soccer,” Phillips says. “We set up ‘geofences’ so that when he’s coming back from games on the bus, every time his phone comes within five miles of the school, we are alerted. So that we know when to pick him up.”

Very convenient; but even Phillips admits that sometimes the ever-present eye is a little much. “I have intentionally turned off my phone to suppress data from my wife,” he says. “If I’m leaving late and had told her that I’d meet her somewhere….”

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Salon on Internet Spying [7:49 am]

Or not. Is the NSA spying on U.S. Internet traffic? A surpisingly weak story from Salon.

In a pivotal network operations center in metropolitan St. Louis, AT&T has maintained a secret, highly secured room since 2002 where government work is being conducted, according to two former AT&T workers once employed at the center.

In interviews with Salon, the former AT&T workers said that only government officials or AT&T employees with top-secret security clearance are admitted to the room, located inside AT&T’s facility in Bridgeton. The room’s tight security includes a biometric “mantrap” or highly sophisticated double door, secured with retinal and fingerprint scanners. The former workers say company supervisors told them that employees working inside the room were “monitoring network traffic” and that the room was being used by “a government agency.”

[...] The nature of the government operation using the Bridgeton room remains unknown, and could be legal. Aside from surveillance or data collection, the room could conceivably house a federal law enforcement operation, a classified research project, or some other unknown government operation.

Later: More Rumblings About Net Privacy

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