A Pet Of The Internet Of Things

In 2012 Bruce Sterling talked about web ‘stacks’, large companies based online that have built around themselves a self supporting network that mines and stores big data. As the value of personal information is increasing due to marketing and audience control, these stack companies are becoming increasingly creative with how they gather, access and use the information they draw from users on a daily basis. To this, I find myself thinking about our role in the process data mining and the idea of ‘the internet of things‘.

The Internet Of Things

The internet of things is an abstract idea slung around by companies to refer to the interconnected network between objects with sensors and other data producers. The internet of things isn’t exclusive to the internet and can be used without the internet altogether.

A Game Of Data

An example that relates to the idea of the internet of things is the Xbox One and it’s extension, the Xbox Kinect. When first announced, the Xbox One was going to require it’s infra-red camera and microphone device to be connected and always on. Of course having a camera that can always see and hear you in the dark stirred some controversy. I can’t imagine why…

HAL 9000 from Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘space odyssey’ series.

While Microsoft did assure us that spying was not an issue and that all channels will be encrypted and that did quell the fears of many, I would like to suggest that being spied on in the moment is not what we should be worried about. A device that monitors and tracks how we move, when we do so during the day and week and stores our voices in the form of phrases to better understand us has to store all this information somewhere. That kind of database could potentially map so many aspects of our behaviour. This data is extremely valuable as it can be used to know so much about a products user base. By knowing when we are available to play its games, Microsoft can know when is the best time to air its advertisements and announce new products. By analysing what physical movements we’re most likely to do, Microsoft can build games and advertisements around our very habits. Couple this with a fitness tracker (Which Xbox One has by the way) the potential to understand all about our personal lives is endless.

Where We Fit In

Before I wrote about Sterling’s stacks and our role as consumers to these stacks, we are the farm produce. We’re grown and nurtured and when we’ve accumulated enough data, it’s harvested to allow for more users. On the other hand, what makes humans unique is that we study ad understand things and we build from what we understand. When we start to build machines that can not only outperform us physically but also know everything we do plus more, we are no longer the superior race, we are the pets.


Cyber Warfare: All Aboard The Hack Train

In June 2011, The hacker group known as lulzsec (an offshoot of Anonymous) announced they were attacking governments, banks and large corporation and will leak all classified information, inviting anyone else to join them. Before and continuing after the announcements, several successfull attacks had been conducted against corporations including but not limited to, Fox.com and Sony’s Playstation Network. In a world where everything is increasingly online, especially our private details, Vigilante hackers hold an interesting position between heroic leaders in the push for freedom and self-righteous strangers risking innocent people to attack anyone who disagrees with their morals.

Doing Something Simply Because You Can

During an attack by lulzsec, Sony’s PlayStation network and SonyPictures.com was hacked wherein the personal data of all of its users were compromised including email addresses, dates of birth, bank details and any other opt in data given by users at signup. Hackers claimed the attacks were for laughs and to show how insecure our information is when given to large corporations. Is it not counter-intuitive to show how easily compromised our information is by compromising it yourself?

The Good, The Bad And The Alternative Measures

In her TED talk, Catherine Bracy describes how ‘good’ hacking can really be for the better. She describes civic hacking which involves hacking in collaboration with governments and businesses and how through civic hacking we can engage citizens to work with the government and how governmnents can crowd-source projects to work better and more citizen friendly. The key difference between groups such as Lulzsec and civic hacking is as Bracy identifies civic hackers as, “Citizens who saw things that could be working better and they decided to fix them. Instead of lurking in shadows and acting on principles of harm, vigilante hackers such as Lulzsec need to come to realise that governments, banks and large corporations are run by and comprised of other human beings that can be worked with instead of against where people can get hurt and in some cases livelihoods destroyed

Blowin’ A Whistle Digitally: The Collateral Murder Video

In 2010 (then) Private Bradley Manning copied and released thousands of classified documents to the website Wikileaks. Wikileaks, a website run by Julian Assange is notable for leaking all kinds of government cables (diplomatic messages) to the public despite the governments efforts to prevent it. Being the largest government leaks to date, the incident gained a lot of media attention and a large amount of backlash was generated by the content of the files including character reports on foreign politicians, details on government projects that were kept secret for many years and most notably a video involving U.S soldiers firing upon journalists in Baghdad.

A freedom of information act was filed in order to obtain the video prior to Bradley Manning’s leaks but was delayed. As a result, the U.S government was seen as hiding evidence of war crimes from the public amidst turmoil surrounding the legitimacy of the conflict in Baghdad.

The collateral murder video can be found here. Due to its graphic nature I must warn any viewers of its real violence and confronting themes.

Governments Are Like Glass, The Dirty Ones Are The Hardest To See Through

Following the release of the video investigations and much debate over the legality of wikileaks and the journalistic ethics of sourcing illegal content even for the sake of public freedom to information began.

Government officials claimed that privacy and the secrecy of the relevant documents is a necessity for the protection of people involved, the security of the nation. As George Liber states,  ” It is often too easy to oversimplify the contrast between the ‘righteousness of openness’ and the ‘evils of secrecy.’ “. The government holds so much power over its citizens largely in part because it also holds so much personal and critical information about said citizens. This information needs to be protected from abuse not just by foreign countries but also protected from other citizens.

Contrasting with this, others argue that governments need to be completely transparent to it’s citizens. Democracy fails if the population is unable to make an informed decision that the government can enact on its behalf if because the government is overstepping its power and influencing what we are informed of. The Obama administration is putting in significant effort to be more transparent to the public in order to be accountable to what the government does, garnering trust in the citizens of America but the extent to which the U.S government is really transparent is still under much scrutiny. especially after incidents such as Mannings’ leaks to Wikileaks.

A Line In The Sand

I find it difficult to argue that governments should be transparent and not keep anything secret. The Australian government surely knows a lot about me and my personal details and I know I would not like that information to be public domain even if I have nothing to hide simply because it’s objectively safer if no one knows. It seems a line must be drawn between what governments should and should not hide and it’s often agreed that this line exists between information crucial to a governments inner practices (i.e economic details and citizen information) and information relating to acts and details on behalf of the nations interests. If it’s in the nations interests to do something than shouldn’t it stand to reason that the nation should know exactly what’s being done?

Further reading

Al Jazeera analysis of the collateral murder video and interview with Julian Assange.

RT interview with U.S soldier present at the collateral murder incident in Baghdad and his experiences afterwards

Upvotes And Uprising: The role of Social Media in Activism

In his article in The Guardian, Evgeny Morozov backs Malcolm Gladwell in arguing that social media is not essential in modern activism, contrary to popular belief. Morozov suggests that social media invites people into clicktivism, the act of loosely engaging in activism via the internet with little to no effect and that when social media is used in the field it’s merely an organizational tool. On the other hand, people such as Maria Popova stand against Gladwell’s claims saying that we can’t trivialise the power of networking as a tool for activists to collaborate, organise and broadcast. Morozov seems to focus too much on what social media doesn’t do instead of what it does, he argues that during unrest in The Middle East, social media only served as a way to make ‘weak’ virtual connections between activists, but on must consider; Could these people form such connection without social media and would the relevant uprisings have been so powerful without these connections?.

Hong Kong citizens protest Beijing mandate for control

On 26 September, people of Hong Kong began protesting against a law that would allow Beijing to influence candidates for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, effectively gaining control of the area through political pressure of candidates having to be accepted by Beijing officials. The number of people protesting this violation of democracy reaches into the thousands.

China has been known for it’s strict media censorship and control of the flow of information and as such it’s quite interesting to see how the government is responding to the uprisings in Hong Kong. Newspapers in Hong Kong and Beijing tend to avoid the story entirely for fear that it will sow support for the protesters and newspapers with articles that do address it do so in a way that highlights how the protests are disrupting the day to day lives of regular citizens or suggest that the ‘majority’ disagree with the protesters.

In terms of social media, image sharing app, Instagram has been blocked, government run online newspapers are suggesting similar misleading information as mainstream media and the internet in China, especially Weibo (Chinese equivalent of Facebook) are being monitored for key words relating to the protests in order to censor communication and broadcasting of images and information. An Article by Emily Parker in The New Yorker looks at how social media is being used by protesters in Hong Kong and it appears to revolve around inviting people to engage through apps such as Whatsapp, organising movement and communication through more apps such as Firechat and sharing images and information through instagram (before it was blocked) and by anyone who has gotten around China’s great firewall.

What Does it Say?

Gladwell says that social Media doesn’t play an important role in revolution and that revolution is driven by its people, what Gladwell fails to see (Possibly because he doesn’t use social media) is that uprisings are where the populace is empowered and there is nary a better way to be empowered than the way people are empowered  by social media and the freedom of the internet. Considering the power of the Chinese Government, reform in Hong Kong will be extremely difficult but as we have previously seen in Egypt and during the Arab Spring, when people get together online, no amount of censorship and anti dissent propaganda can deter the voice of the people.

Social media amplifies that voice.