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Posts Tagged ‘privacy

“I never said, ‘I want to be alone.’ I only said ‘I want to be let alone!’ There is all the difference.”*…

 

moshed-1

 

Someone observing her could assemble in forensic detail her social and familial connections, her struggles and interests, and her beliefs and commitments. From Amazon purchases and Kindle highlights, from purchase records linked with her loyalty cards at the drugstore and the supermarket, from Gmail metadata and chat logs, from search history and checkout records from the public library, from Netflix-streamed movies, and from activity on Facebook and Twitter, dating sites, and other social networks, a very specific and personal narrative is clear.

If the apparatus of total surveillance that we have described here were deliberate, centralized, and explicit, a Big Brother machine toggling between cameras, it would demand revolt, and we could conceive of a life outside the totalitarian microscope. But if we are nearly as observed and documented as any person in history, our situation is a prison that, although it has no walls, bars, or wardens, is difficult to escape.

Which brings us back to the problem of “opting out.” For all the dramatic language about prisons and panopticons, the sorts of data collection we describe here are, in democratic countries, still theoretically voluntary. But the costs of refusal are high and getting higher: A life lived in social isolation means living far from centers of business and commerce, without access to many forms of credit, insurance, or other significant financial instruments, not to mention the minor inconveniences and disadvantages — long waits at road toll cash lines, higher prices at grocery stores, inferior seating on airline flights.

It isn’t possible for everyone to live on principle; as a practical matter, many of us must make compromises in asymmetrical relationships, without the control or consent for which we might wish. In those situations — everyday 21st-century life — there are still ways to carve out spaces of resistance, counterargument, and autonomy.

We are surrounded by examples of obfuscation that we do not yet think of under that name. Lawyers engage in overdisclosure, sending mountains of vaguely related client documents in hopes of burying a pertinent detail. Teenagers on social media — surveilled by their parents — will conceal a meaningful communication to a friend in a throwaway line or a song title surrounded by banal chatter. Literature and history provide many instances of “collective names,” where a population took a single identifier to make attributing any action or identity to a particular person impossible, from the fictional “I am Spartacus” to the real “Poor Conrad” and “Captain Swing” in prior centuries — and “Anonymous,” of course, in ours…

There is real utility in an obfuscation approach, whether that utility lies in bolstering an existing strong privacy system, in covering up some specific action, in making things marginally harder for an adversary, or even in the “mere gesture” of registering our discontent and refusal. After all, those who know about us have power over us. They can deny us employment, deprive us of credit, restrict our movements, refuse us shelter, membership, or education, manipulate our thinking, suppress our autonomy, and limit our access to the good life…

As Finn Brunton and Helen Nissenbaum argue in their new book Obfuscation: A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest, those who know about us have power over us; obfuscation may be our best digital weapon: “The Fantasy of Opting Out.”

* Greta Garbo

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As we ponder privacy, we might recall that it was on this date in 1536 that William Tyndale was strangled then burned at the stake for heresy in Antwerp.  An English scholar and leading Protestant reformer, Tyndale effectively replaced Wycliffe’s Old English translation of the Bible with a vernacular version in what we now call Early Modern English (as also used, for instance, by Shakespeare). Tyndale’s translation was first English Bible to take advantage of the printing press, and first of the new English Bibles of the Reformation. Consequently, when it first went on sale in London, authorities gathered up all the copies they could find and burned them.  But after England went Protestant, it received official approval and ultimately became the basis of the King James Version.

Ironically, Tyndale incurred Henry VIII’s wrath after the King’s “conversion” to Protestantism, by writing a pamphlet decrying Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon.  Tyndale moved to Europe, where he continued to advocate Protestant reform, ultimately running afoul of the Holy Roman Empire, which sentenced him to his death.

 source

 

Written by LW

October 6, 2019 at 1:01 am

“A better world won’t come about simply because we use data; data has its dark underside.”*…

 

Data

 

Data isn’t the new oil, it’s the new CO2. It’s a common trope in the data/tech field to say that “data is the new oil”. The basic idea being – it’s a new resource that is being extracted, it is valuable, and is a raw product that fuels other industries. But it also implies that data in inherently valuable in and of itself and that “my data” is valuable, a resource that I really should tap in to.

In reality, we are more impacted by other people’s data (with whom we are grouped) than we are by data about us. As I have written in the MIT Technology Review – “even if you deny consent to ‘your’ data being used, an organisation can use data about other people to make statistical extrapolations that affect you.” We are bound by other people’s consent. Our own consent (or lack thereof) is becoming increasingly irrelevant. We won’t solve the societal problems pervasive data surveillance is causing by rushing through online consent forms. If you see data as CO2, it becomes clearer that its impacts are societal not solely individual. My neighbour’s car emissions, the emissions from a factory on a different continent, impact me more than my own emissions or lack thereof. This isn’t to abdicate individual responsibility or harm. It’s adding a new lens that we too often miss entirely.

We should not endlessly be defending arguments along the lines that “people choose to willingly give up their freedom in exchange for free stuff online”. The argument is flawed for two reasons. First the reason that is usually given – people have no choice but to consent in order to access the service, so consent is manufactured.  We are not exercising choice in providing data but rather resigned to the fact that they have no choice in the matter.

The second, less well known but just as powerful, argument is that we are not only bound by other people’s data; we are bound by other people’s consent.  In an era of machine learning-driven group profiling, this effectively renders my denial of consent meaningless. Even if I withhold consent, say I refuse to use Facebook or Twitter or Amazon, the fact that everyone around me has joined means there are just as many data points about me to target and surveil. The issue is systemic, it is not one where a lone individual can make a choice and opt out of the system. We perpetuate this myth by talking about data as our own individual “oil”, ready to sell to the highest bidder. In reality I have little control over this supposed resource which acts more like an atmospheric pollutant, impacting me and others in myriads of indirect ways. There are more relations – direct and indirect – between data related to me, data about me, data inferred about me via others than I can possibly imagine, let alone control with the tools we have at our disposal today.

Because of this, we need a social, systemic approach to deal with our data emissions. An environmental approach to data rights as I’ve argued previously. But first let’s all admit that the line of inquiry defending pervasive surveillance in the name of “individual freedom” and individual consent gets us nowhere closer to understanding the threats we are facing.

Martin Tisné argues for an “environmental” approach to data rights: “Data isn’t the new oil, it’s the new CO2.”

Lest one think that we couldn’t/shouldn’t have seen this (and related issues like over dependence on algorithms, the digital divide, et al.) coming, see also Paul Baran‘s prescient 1968 essay, “On the Future Computer Era,” one of the last pieces he did at RAND, before co-leading the spin-off of The Institute for the Future.

* Mike Loukides, Ethics and Data Science

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As we ponder privacy, we might recall that it was on this date in 1981 that IBM released IBM model number 5150– AKA the IBM PC– the original version and progenitor of the IBM PC compatible hardware platform. Since the machine was based on open architecture, within a short time of its introduction, third-party suppliers of peripheral devices, expansion cards, and software proliferated; the influence of the IBM PC on the personal computer market was substantial in standardizing a platform for personal computers (and creating a market for Microsoft’s operating system– first PC DOS, then Windows– on which the PC platform ran).  “IBM compatible” became an important criterion for sales growth; after the 1980s, only the Apple Macintosh family kept a significant share of the microcomputer market without compatibility with the IBM personal computer.

IBM PC source

 

Written by LW

August 12, 2019 at 1:01 am

Sneaker Net Goes Global…

 

An art project that began three years ago by prompting people to embed USB thumb drives in structures has caught on like wildfire.

Dead Drops, as the project is called, now has more than 1,200 locations worldwide where anyone with a computer and a USB port can anonymously plug in and upload or download files — sharing who they are or what they care about or love.

The premise: cement a thumb drive into a wall with just the port protruding, and leave its location with photos in the Dead Drops central database.

According to its creator, German artist Aram Bartholl, the project is a way to “un-cloud” file sharing — that is, remove it from the Internet in a time when governments are spying on the online public.

“Dead Drops is an anonymous, offline, peer to peer file-sharing network in public space,” Dead Drops’ manifesto states…

Read the whole story at Computerworld.

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As we skulk toward Bethlehem, we might recall that it was on this date in 1983 that the last phone call was made in the U.S. on a hand-cranked (magneto) telephone system.  In 1981, the local telephone company in Bryant Pond — serving 440 customers (sharing 220 lines), and operating from a two-position magneto switchboard in the living room of owners Barbara and Elden Hathaway– was purchased by the Oxford County Telephone & Telegraph Company, a nearby larger independent company.  A movement called “Don’t Yank The Crank” was organized by David Perham and Brad Hooper in an effort to keep their beloved crank phones.  The effort stalled the transition for two years, but ultimately failed:  the last “crank” calls took place on October 11, 1983, when a modern dial exchange was put into service.  A memorial statue has become a local landmark…

 source

 

 

Written by LW

October 11, 2013 at 1:01 am

Now you don’t…

Adam Harvey is a graduate student in NYU’s fabled ITP Program who is putting his considerable talents to work in the service of privacy.  His thesis work, CV Dazzle, is aiming at finding ways to confound computer facial recognition systems. As The Register reports:

Concerned about the proliferation of face recognition systems in public places, a grad student in New York is developing privacy-enhancing hacks designed to thwart the futuristic surveillance technology.

Using off-the-shelf makeup and accessories such as glasses, veils, and artificial hair, Adam Harvey’s master’s thesis combines hipster fashion aesthetics with hardcore reverse engineering of face detection software. The goal: to give individuals a low-cost and visually stimulating means to prevent their likenesses from being detected and cataloged by face-recognition monitors.

“The number of sensors that are going into the public spaces has been increasing,” said Harvey, a student in New York University’s interactive telecommunications program. “There’s a lot of work to be done to catch up to where cameras are going because there have been so many advances in the last few years.”

Although still in its adolescence, face recognition technology is quickly being adopted by governments and corporations to identify individuals whose images are captured by surveillance cameras. At the 2001 Super Bowl, for instance, officials digitized the faces of everyone entering Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida and compared the results against photographic lists of known malefactors.

But Harvey has discovered that face detection can often be thrown off by using makeup to alter the contrasts the technology looks for. For example, dark patterns applied around eyes and cheek bones, as in the image below, are one such possibility.

[full article here]

[see more on Harvey’s blog here]

Harvey asks, “How can hats, sunglasses, makeup, earrings, necklaces or other accessories be modified to become functional and decorative?”; and he explains “The aim of my thesis is not to aid criminals, but since artists sometimes look like criminals and vice versa, it is important to protect individual privacy for everyone.”

As we rework our pick-up lines, we might take inspiration from the memory that it was on this date in 1810 that Beethoven wrote Bagatelle No. 25 in A minor (WoO 59 and Bia 515) for solo piano– better known as “Für Elise” (click to hear).

Some scholars have suggested that “Elise” was Beethoven’s mistress; but others have suggested that the discoverer of the piece, Ludwig Nohl, may have transcribed the title incorrectly and the original work may have been named “Für Therese”–  Therese being Therese Malfatti von Rohrenbach zu Dezza, a friend and student of Beethoven’s to whom he proposed in 1810… not actually so encouraging as an example, since though she turned him down to marry the Austrian nobleman and state official Wilhelm von Droßdik… still, a beautiful piece…

The famous opening bars

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