The Nature of Privacy

data privacyThe recent publications in the Guardian about NSA access to Google, Facebook, Yahoo and all the rest have been met with a flurry of leftist abhorrence and mutterings from the twittering, as opposed to the twitter, classes.  However, all reports refer to access to data, in such a way as to make people think that their personal emails and photos and so on are being read by the NSA, or their computers – this is not the case.  Because the media is governed by soundbites, polemic and an absence of nuance, the headline is that the security services have access to data.  The truth is, they don’t need or want access to the data.  They need the models. And this allows the internet companies to deny they are granting access to the data.

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Connections: sometimes closer to home than you think

It has been a while since I put pen to paper (keyboard to blog) but after too long a hiatus, here we go.

I have long been a big fan of “Connections” both the book by James Burke as well as the PBS series. His underlying premise “however carefully you plan for the future, someone else’s actions will inevitably modify the way your plans turn out.”or the way I like to think about it “sometimes things come together in unanticipated ways” is used to understand the forces behind major technological, scientific and cultural shifts.op-1

So a few months ago, my son of the band Superhumanoids  started using this amazing new  portable synthesizer, which is made by the Swedish firm Teenage Engineering. This thing really is a technological marvel in a very small package.

About a year or so ago, I wrote about the real 3D revolution and how additive manufacturing was going to change manufacturing as we know it. So imagine, my surprise when I read on the Wired blog that Teenage Engineering, were no longer going to sell spare parts (knobs etc.) but going to allow their customers or third parties to make their own by providing the software code to drive a 3D printer. It was just too expensive to ship single items from Sweden to musicians around the world. As the Wired post concludes:

Teenage Engineering’s intriguing move points to a near future where you can jam on your synth, fire up your 3-D printer, build an accessory, and snap it onto the device within hours. If the pattern continues, other electronics manufacturers — and all companies in general — will soon follow suit.



Isn’t interesting how sometimes the ducks do line up.

Google and the Art of Deception

The Australian Courts have found Google guilty of deceiving search users by placing ‘misleading’ results to searchers.  Essentially, someone looking for “Honda” would be shown an ad for “CarSales” which was competitive to Honda.  Several issues arise here.  There is no contract between Google and the searcher that their search will provide exactly what they are looking for.  Google is not a finder of truth.  Google is an advertising business, a customer-salesman matching business, and it continues to attract customers not because it is a purveyor of truth, but because it invariably helps people to find what they need, which is in many circumstances different from what they are looking for.  The implication of the ruling is that there is some contract that has been breached, or some duty that has been abrogated, in this ‘deception’.

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Why networks matter

The Week

The Week (UK edition) had the following snippet

The Daily Mail famously publicized the Stephen Lawrence case, branding six suspects “Murderers” on its front page and daring them to sue. What’s less well-known is the link between Neville Lawrence and the Mail’s editor, Paul Dacre. Lawrence, it turns out, once re-plastered Dacre’s bathroom.

So when he felt the Mail had unfairly blamed him and his wife for a protest riot, he rang Dacre to ask him: “How could you do that? You know me.” After that, the paper became dogged in its pursuit of justice.

It is amazing to think that a case that changed the course of British justice by exposing institutional racism in the police force and leading to the repeal of the “double jeopardy defense” in murder cases was in a certain way dependent on a chance relationship.

It really was a case of you never knowing when a relationship will make a real difference.

What are the British Telcos’ thinking?

The U.K. phone hacking scandal has been very much in the news this week. The hacking scandal, perpetrated at the News of the World, at first involved just celebrities but has expanded to now include families of murdered children.

Phone hacking is fairly easy and is usually accomplished by misrepresentation rather than code changes. New Scientist has a very good article on how voice mail systems have been compromised and how easy it is to accomplish.  While the motives and actions of the News of the World are deplorable, they were made so much easier by the lax safeguards typically in place at most mobile phone companies (this is not just a “British” problem).

Which brings us to the Guardian, which analyzed the advertising spend at the News of the World over the first 5 months of 2011 using the IBM Many Eyes program.

NoW Advertising

On examining this data further, 3 of the top 5 advertisers are mobile Telcos and all 4 major providers are in the top 10. So my question is, why would you continue to support and advertise in a newspaper that has abused your systems. They appear oblivious to the damage to their brands. I would of thought  that they could of used that money (over 4 million GBP) to put in better safeguards!!.

A Scientist – by any other name

A very disturbing piece from The Register, about the broad re-definition of who can be called a scientist. It is yet another example of words being hijacked to create an aura of unjustified respectably.

The U.K. advertising watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority, have just dismissed a claim that four employees of Neal’s Yard  (Natural Remedies) Ltd green_scientists had been misrepresented as scientists. Neal’s Yard is the UK’s foremost destination for organic natural health and beauty to quote from their website. Their ruling has redefined, as far as advertising in the U.K. goes, what makes a scientist. In getting the claim dismissed, Neal’s Yard made two arguments

  1. The term scientist has a much broader meaning than it did in the past (somebody that framed and tested hypotheses) and they quoted Carnegie Melon University’s Green Science program as an example. Now Carnegie Melon’s program is focused on pollution control and sustainable chemistry which seems to be a long way to me from organic natural remedies.
  2. Even if the ASA did not buy argument #1 they stood by their employees as being qualified as scientists stating“the women were all well qualified with considerable expertise in their fields. They provided biographies for all four women, which showed that Dr. Dhushyanthan and Dr. Hili had PhDs in traditional scientific disciplines while Ms. Curtis and Ms. Vilinac had undertaken study in Homeopathy and Medical Herbalism respectively.”Now to quote from the Register:

    ”In fact, Doctor Dhushyanthan – according to the catalogue in question (pdf) – holds a PhD in “Natural Preservatives in Toiletries” and Doctor Hili holds a PhD in “Essential Oils” “

    spade with XCall me stupid, but those are not in any way shape or form, traditional scientific disciplines. These four people are not scientists. By pretending to be so, they are acting as snake-oil saleswomen rather than scientists.

    The ASA has lost its way and instead of calling a not-a-spade, a not-a-spade, they have fallen prey to taking the arguments of Neal’s Yard at face value to the detriment of real scientists everywhere.

The digital divide starts early

George Bernard Shaw is watching youGeorge Bernard Shaw once said “Youth is wasted on the young”. I used to think he was spot on but now thanks to a fascinating piece of research from AVG, I am not so sure. AVG examined the take-up of technology of very young children ages 2 to 5. While their sample was worldwide, it did only focus on developed countries (U.S., Canada, the EU5 (U.K., France, Italy, Germany, Spain), Japan, Australia and New Zealand) who you would expect to be more tech savvy. They asked mothers of the 2-5 year olds to document their children’s technology and life skills.

Amongst the results they found:

  1. More small children can play a computer game than ride a bike.
  2. There is no tech gender divide between young boys and girls. As many boys (58 percent) as girls (59 percent) can play a computer game or make a mobile phone call (28 percent boys, 29 percent girls).
  3. The EU countries lead the US in terms of technology savvy for the 2-5 set.

While some of these results may be due to primarily copying (seeing your parents make a phone call) rather than learning (riding a bike for the first time is not intuitive), the research does show how much technology is influencing our lives and how it is trickling down to our young ones.

The power of the internet (and the technology that drives it) continues to amaze me. Maybe I should not have been so surprised that the Egyptian revolution came out of nowhere and was enabled by the internet.

As an aside, I found it fascinating that the Egyptian government closed down their ISPs (and hence the Internet) before they curtailed and restricted  the reporting of traditional media. Times they are a-changing.