Is it time to get back to typing?

What we seem to have learned from the recent disclosures is what we mostly suspected. The online world is monitored and things of potential interest to governments are investigated where practical. Some of the recent debate seems to have included government officials explaining that they know best – how could a journalist or a civilian know best when it comes to matters of (potential) national security?

So here I am – an independent consultant – using the web to promote myself. I comment on a range of matters – from risk management to cloud technology to social media to reviews of novels I have read. I seek to draw attention to myself as someone who may be able to assist a company/ individual in solving a problem or exploiting an opportunity, because of my skills. I use the web to assist me in my research, in developing networks and, to some extent, in uncovering potential opportunities. I also use the web for personal purposes – planning holidays, buying online, staying in touch with friends (via email and social media), etc.

Does the fact that governments, who may claim to know best, can analyse all of this online data about me cause me a problem? Not sure – it does give me some cause for concern. The problem with anyone having a lot of access is what do they choose to do with it. But what’s the choice?

What if I were to withdraw from the online world? No email, no file storage, no mobile communications. Would I give up using a phone? Say I were to revert to a typewriter and post. Even potentially a standalone PC (with wordprocessing capability) to produce hardcopy documents for physical delivery (in person or by post/ courier). No access to online booking of flights, online banking, online revenue returns. And so on.

Could I do this and be an independent consultant advising people/ businesses on how to operate so as to meet the expectations of their investors and/or regulators? Possibly, so long as there were people/ businesses willing to engage me in this low/no tech way and who were interested in applying some of these concepts in their own circumstances. Not a lot of upside in this it would seem to me.

No – I do not think typewriting is the way forward. But it seems to me that we have created a new world without thinking through the implications and the required safeguards. Spying and surveillance have their place – in securing national interests. But in the absence of safeguards there will be abuses – in fact even when safeguards are in place there will be abuses. However none of this excuses not making an effort to agree frameworks of appropriate behaviour with real sanctions for operating outside the framework. Clearly we have sanctions in place for soldiers who share information with Wikileaks. But do we have appropriate sanctions in place for those who claim to know best but abuse their positions? I think not. And the general sense of unease in the public mind, arising as a result of recent developments, would indicate that whatever is in place is not sufficiently reassuring for the general public.

It would appear that technology companies have had to come to arrangements with governments to provide access when governments believe they know best and access is required. And I can relate to this. I do not want terrorist organisations using technology to enable them to bypass government security. But of course the challenge is to manage the all-powerful government agencies after you grant them this access.

Perhaps we are headed for smaller networks – on local and/or n national levels. This seems to fly in the face of globalisation and our 24*365 society. Of course the ultimate in this is withdraw from networks, internet etc completely. However seems to me quite logical that citizens of one country will seek not to be subject to surveillance by governments of other countries if they can avoid it – unless they can be satisfied about the bona fides of the activities of the other governments. Locking people up for 35 years is obviously designed to send a message – to potential divulgers of government data and processes. But it does not serve to address the concerns of ordinary citizens around the world that Big Brother is Watching You all the time. This is the challenge to government – sinning the confidence of users of Information Technology.

Do not track me

Well, looks like public concerns about being tracked, spied on and reported on are beginning to have some impact.

The IT industry is obviously hugely powerful and influential – but people are less and less comfortbale about what is going on.

I have read a lot of stuff suggesting that the f generation are happy to share lots more information – that effectively they are not worried about privacy.  Seems like a lot of tosh to me – given how offended many young people are when casual snaps of them are posted on social networks such as facebook.  Of course it suits MZ to push the line that none of this is an issue – the fact is that it is an issue.

Excellent piece from the Wall Street Journal updating on developments with the large technology companies.  Looks like Google on board to play ball.

 

 

 

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Change impacting privacy

Have finally gotten around to reading ‘Privacy in Context‘ – Helen’s Nissenbaum‘s excellent treatise on privacy.

Privacy, invasion of privacy, attacks on privacy – never seems to be out of the news.  Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook theme seems to be that privacy is a thing of the past.  Much of the behaviour of people in social networks would tend to suggest that attitudes to privacy have changed greatly.

Helen Nissenbaum provides some to the background – what we mean by privacy, why it may be a good thing for the individual, why it may be a good thing for society.  And she considers the impact of changes in technology:

  • ‘democratization of database technologies
  • information mobility
  • information aggregation
WRT social networks she considers three developments:
  • individuals publishing information about themselves
  • posting information about others on one’s web page
  • capacity to monitor and track others’ activities
I have to say that from a personal perspective I think the smart phone (with its close integration (in fact seamless) with social networking platforms e.g. picassa, google+, twitter, facebook has accelerated everything in the last 18-24 months.
I found the discussion about the benefits of privacy e.g. in people’s personal development very relevant – and reminded me of what society and individual may be losing through some of the so called advances.

Not all negative on privacy front

Good to read positive feedback from Electronic Frontier Foundation re browsersolution which will be incorporated in the new Amazon Fire device:

 

It is good that Amazon does not receive your encrypted traffic, and does not record any identifying information about your device. And there are other benefits to user privacy that can result from cloud acceleration mode. For one, the persistent SPDY connection between the user’s tablet and Amazon’s servers is always encrypted. Accordingly, if you are using your tablet on an open Wifi network, other users on that network will not be able to spy on your browsing behavior.

 

Who is afraid of who?

I hear plenty of discussion about people’s concerns over security of data in the cloud. We actually have lots of legislation about where personal data can be held.  And we, in Ireland, tend to think in terms of it’s being OK so long as within Ireland, then Europe and then US.

Interesting piece in today’s FT referencing concerns in US about potential purchase of Yahoo by a Chinese company. Seems they have also had concerns about Deutsche Telekom acquiring a carrier in the US.  And the final reference in the article to concerns re the volume of data now held by Google.

This is moving quickly.  Privacy is on the line.  Many of us are using all sorts of cloud based services to support us in our work and our personal lives.  To be honest most users have no idea(and less interest) in where the data is held.  At least until Facebook is so on our faces in changing the rules as they see fit.

I suspect Chinese and US authorities (and many others) already have very detailed profiles on many people based on online activity.

 

Why will facebook not just leave us alone?

I am a regular and active facebook participant.  I enjoy the platform and some of the interaction afforded me.  But I am becoming weary.  I am beginning to think that I need an independent advisor to monitor changes implemented by Facebook and determine how I should adapt to each new change.

The news appearing over the last few days suggesting that after you log off from facebook they continue to monitor your actvities is disturbing.  Hard to believe that any company would believe that people would want this to happen.

Not surprising to read of pending actions.

Also think the partnership with music companies whereby your friends on facebook would know what you are listening to (by default) is a little creepy.  Facebook seem to claim that since we all like things social this is the way we want to go.  I don’t think so.

Will be interesting to see whether the Irish Data Protection Commissioner reaches any interesting conclusions.

Is it time for more of us to abandon Facebook?

Using location based services – have I missed the point?

I have been making some use of foursquare for a number of months.  Previously also tried the google latitude solution. Not convinced that either has been of any real benefit to me.

Examples of my use of foursquare: checking in when attending a football match, a concert, a restaurant, a conference.  Apart from telling people that I am there what has been the benefit.  And has that in itself been a personal positive or personal negative?

Google Latitude I tried with a small number of colleages for a period of time.  However we generally found it intrusive and impacted far too negatively on our privacy – such as it is.

There was talk about using location based services to target me with offers in my location e.g. you are now in Dublin 4 and here is a coffee shop offering a free scone with every cup of coffee.  The value proposition is not standing up – am wasting too much time checking in, sharing too much information about my whereabouts – all for no real value.

According to the survey just released by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project:

28% of American adults use mobile and social locationbased services

This survey includes using solutions to get directions within ‘location based’.  I certainly make good use of ‘Navigation’ on my Android phone when trying to find various sportsgrounds all over the city for the first time at the weekend as we act as chauffeurs to various football and hurling teams.  And this is a location base service – in the sense that it is aware of where I am when I am trying to find a route to somewhere else.

So, overall, am disappointed with the benefits to date of location based services (other than navigation type services).  Perhaps it is also a generational thing e.g. perhaps other age-groups are using these services as an integral pert of their social lives.

Browser software to help manage privacy

Good to see Mozilla and Google following Microsoft in looking to assist us in managing our online privacy more effectively.

Looks like Firefox and Chrome should include functionality to assist in maintaining your ‘opt-out- option in dealing with online advertisers.  Good summary in this recent article from the Wall Street Journal.

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Depressingly sloppy attitude to privacy by facebook

Facebook logo
Image via Wikipedia

Pity to be kicking off 2011 blog by having to return to the subject of privacy.

Seems to be very little sign that in 2011 Facebook is intent on changing its attitude to respecting people’s privacy.  This report is depressingly in line with previous sloppy approaches to managing the security of members’ data.

One begins to wonder whether this is deliberate or a further manifestation of some level of incompetence.

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How we, the public, can help with linked open data

Tom Steinberg
Image by pdcawley via Flickr

Excellent piece by Tom Steinberg pointing out what we the potential consumers of data can do to encourage government to provide the data.  One of his key messages actually covers off the wikileaks type risks – that when we do see any government body about to release anything which may undermine privacy we should draw it to their attention.

Have some concerns that some of what I have seen in Ireland on this subject is effectively encouraging government departments to release data so that we can ‘bash’ them.  This is completely pointless.

I think the real point is that there are masses of potentially useful data – which cannot be exploited while buried in archives or in pdf files.  We have not even begun to imagine the value of some of this data – when cross linked, correlated with all sorts of other data.

Thanks for taking the time to put the piece together, Tom.

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