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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Analytics Matters

Yesterday I watched a TED talk on Lessons from Death Row, where a death penalty lawyer talked about how death sentences were reducing in number because death penalty lawyers were intervening earlier and earlier in the process.  It was easier to avoid the sentence than to correct it, was the logic.  Mr Dow went a step further, however, and said that intervention should happen even sooner – before the murder was committed – because the stories of these guys on death row are 80% the same – broken homes, juvenile justice, and so on.  Appropriate, early intervention could save the lives of these people, and of course their future victims.  In essence, he was saying that everything was predictable.

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It is all in the name

I just love stories like this.

In a wonderful case of mistaken identity a young American woman, Ashley Kerekes, while minding her own business, has become 450px-Ashes_Urna darling of the cricket world. Known affectionately by her family and friends as Ashes, she chose the Twitter handle of theashes . Now as anyone who has ever been exposed to cricket knows, The Ashes also refers to  the international series of Test matches, played between Australia and England dating back to 1882 and is probably one of the most celebrated international rivalries in any sport.

It seems that quite a few Twitterers (people who tweet) made the assumption that someone with the handle of theashes must be associated with the game of cricket. The good thing though is what started out as an annoyance turned out to have a silver lining for Ashley as she was whisked off to Australia to see the final test.[BBC article]. If you have the time, listen to the wonderfully British BBC announcer interview Ashley, it is delightful.

Supporting the Cause

[In the interest of full disclosure, my son works for Creative Commons]

While WikiLeaks and the reaction to it has been getting all the publicity, it is opportune to also remember other groups that make the ‘open internet’ a reality, such as Creative Commons (CC).  While there are many many definitions for the ‘open internet’. To me, it means ”facilitating the sharing of ideas and content while allowing for the protection of the original authors and other contributors”. Creative Commons supplies the tools to make this possible, whether it is allowing anyone anywhere to freely build on and translate MIT course materials, run a course at the Peer 2 Peer University on anything from Web Development 101 to Digital Journalism, or contribute to the incredible sum of knowledge that is Wikipedia. DSC_0649_edited-2

I, like many others, extensively use CC licensed works (including this blog) and the reverse is also true, the accompanying photograph is appearing in an Israeli online text  book written in both Arabic and Hebrew, which I think is kind of cool. This type of sharing is made so much easier through the efforts of Creative Commons.

So the questions I am asking you to consider are: How do openness, creativity, and innovation impact your every day life? How much more interconnected is your world now that music is remixed, videos are shared online, and educational materials can be downloaded before they’re bound in paper?

Creative Commons provides the tools necessary to make sharing, adapting to new paradigms, and the expansion of creativity possible. Help them make the world bigger and better by supporting their 2010  fund drive. [link]

Friends – who loves ya baby?

I have been thinking a lot about friends lately and the real value of social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo etc. I came across an excellent (if long) presentation on slideshare by Paul Adams of the User Experience team at Google. It looks at relationships (friendships) and the differences between the way your online social networks (such as facebook) work and your real life social relationships and how they influence each other.kojak

Online, people are either your friends or they are not. There is some filtering at a very high level, Plaxo and LinkedIn for example are typically limited to business acquaintances not personal friends, but beyond that everyone is treated the same, from your best buddy to the guy you met yesterday. To paraphrase that wise TV philosopher Theo Kojak, “(online) Who love’s ya baby?” the answer is all your online friends. He uses the analogy of the time and trouble folks take on planning the seating at a wedding in real life and yet how on a social network they are all just lumped together.

Paul provides a view of your offline relationships that can be segmented by groups of people (family, college, neighbours, activities etc. (most people have 4 to 6 major groups)) and the strength of the relationship (strong (4 to 5 relationships), weak (up to 150 relationships) and temporary) and how they influence your decisions. As he points out,

Social Networking is a means to an end.

You need to understand what the end is.

So what does this mean? I think there really is a need to be able to segment friends on social networks to better reflect how life really works. Until then, I for one will continue to be just a casual user of facebook (social networks). As always comments welcome.

Be very careful in the coffee shop–someone is compromising your privacy.

I am not usually one to forward on emails describing the latest virus and what you need to do about it, but when I saw this snippet on our local ABC affiliate I was alarmed.  It describes a Firefox extension that allows anyone to capture and reuse cookies for unencrypted sessions such as facebook and twitter.  A short video of firesheep shows off its power and everyone’s exposure.

Now it should be noted that ‘cookie capture’ is nothing new but firesheep changes the game by making it available to virtually anyone. To see its potential for harm the video at the KOMO TV  link shows what happens when firesheep is used in a typical Seattle coffee house.

The motive behind this extension is to point out how vulnerable we are to having our privacy violated and not even know about it. The authors point out correctly that the major websites have known about this security hole for years, to really fix it websites HTTPS_Everywhere_new_logoneed to move to always on encryption and not just for the initial logon. One of the actions, you can take is to install an extension for Firefox distributed by the EFF called HTTPS Everywhere that forces all of your sessions to be encrypted. It works with the major web sites.

There are a number of other precautions that can also be taken to reduce your exposure to session hijacking a.k.a. side jacking. from the KOMO TV article.

    • Always log off sites not just close your browser. Cookies can have a life of their own unless you take steps to prevent it. (some sites are better than others in this regard)
    • Using a virtual private network will also prevent Firesheep from capturing your network traffic.
    • Look for an “https” in the address bar of the website you’re visiting. It should be there when you log into the website, but if it’s not there after you’ve logged in, anything you send could be easily hijacked by someone using Firesheep.
    • Sites that keep an “https” in the address bar during the entire session are using encryption and cannot be accessed with Firesheep. Banks and other financial institutions commonly use “https” for the user’s entire online session.
    • If you are on an open and unsecured Wi-Fi or wired network, do not go to sites that require a login to access your information. Looking at sites that require no action on your part should not compromise your privacy.
    • Beware that any communication you send over an unsecured Wi-Fi network has the potential of being viewed by anyone else on that network.

    So is there a silver lining to Firesheep?, I think so the publicity may force sites to follow GMAIL’S lead an institute encryption throughout the session and if you want to track your kids activities on facebook and twitter etc.  while they are on your home network, you now can.

    Some questions that have occurred to me that I have no idea about.

    1. What about Wi-Fi on airplanes?
    2. Firesheep has been downloaded over 750,000 times, how many of those are just curious and how many are nefarious?
    3. What do I do about Chrome and Internet Explorer?

    Music video of the future ??

    Came across this collaboration between Google, arcade fire and film maker Chris Milk. It is a mash-up of Arcade Fire’s song “We Used to Wait”, a location (where you grew up, went to school, etc.) and Google maps/earth. It is optimized for Google Chrome and is a multi-window experience.

    Here is an example, based on my old English grammar school. [link]. Check it out, put in your address. What I really like is how it makes something quite impersonal, the music video, relevant by basing what is shown on your input.

    Screen capture of [link]:

    arcade fire film