Category Archives: DIGC202

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.

#TinFoilHat

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.

The Citizen and The Journalist

In the last 5 years there has been a dramatic rise in online social media usage. Not just for mild posts on what someone had for lunch but also more important information such as details during political revolutions and crowd sourced information in criminal cases. The development of specifically non mainstream media based journalism specifically by non journalists has given rise to the term Citizen journalism, referring to regular people, not employed by newspapers or news programs to source stories, investigating and broadcasting information.

Citizen Journalists on the Backs of Blue Birds

Following the April 2013 Boston Bombings, a reported 8 million tweets relevant to the incident were generated by 3.7 million people. An incredible amount of user generated content towards citizen journalism but the question is how effective is it as a journalism practice? I terms of content aggregation, twitter works wonders. information was retweeted up to thirty thousand times, potentially reaching a great number of people, on the other hand a supposed 29% of the tweets surrounding the Boston Bombings were fake or mere rumors. Serena Carpenter points out “Controversy exists because it is assumed that some citizen journalists produce content without traditional journalistic values in mind“, This is a great comment as it explains how so many of the tweets around the Boston bombings were false. When so many people share content with little to no regard for journalistic ethics, inconsistency is to be expected.

regardless of it’s amateurism and unreliability, I argue that social media sites such as twitter still hold a vital role in today’s mass information spread not as a one stop news source for truth but instead solely as a crowd sourced information aggregation system. In 1947 The Hutchinson’s commission for free press identified five requirements for free and responsible press including, “The media should serve as a forum for the exchange of comment and criticism” and “The media should provide full access to the day’s intelligence” two aspects twitter handles well. Twitter thrives as a platform for the fair exchange of opinion and criticism and is accessible by anyone allowing for full access to the plethora of articles being shared and linked daily.

Bridges

This week I was introduced to the simile, “the sum total of those tweets added up to something truly substantive, like a suspension bridge made of pebbles” (Johnson, 2009), What I think Johnson is saying here is that twitter has power due to it’s sheer number of users and the volumes of content generated daily but I would like to add to this by saying the bridge may hold it’s own made of pebbles but I wouldn’t rely on any specific pebble especially when you don’t know where it came from or why it’s there. For information gathering crowd sourcing is effective quantitatively but fails when it comes to reliable quality.

References

Johnson, S 2009, ‘How Twitter will change the way we live’, Time Magazine, June 5

Robots And Fruit

Android and iOS, Google and Apple, open and closed. The differences seem almost black and white but what are they and why pick one or the other. The answer to this is not as black and white.

Enclosed Apples

During the development of Apple’s iPhone, they decided to implement a closed (proprietary) source policy with software and hardware. This means that both the internal and physical workings of the iPhone are locked down and not available to anyone but the main developers to change. The argument in support of this approach generally revolves around the idea of a ‘gatekeeper’. By not allowing third party software developers access to the iPhone, apple can ensure the reliability of their product and maintain a pure use of the iPhone, where a user can only do what apple allows them to in order to avoid viruses and wasteful apps. The same goes for hardware, by locking the physical components of the iPhone, only approved equipment such as chargers and other devices can connect maintaining a sort of reliability.

The closed source approach comes at the cost of innovation and accessibility. By closing the system from change, third party developers are incapable of developing inspired, potentially groundbreaking apps to the apple market, and hardware developers are unable to extend the usability of the product beyond what apple allows users to do,as Tim Lee puts it “The store is an unnecessary bottleneck in the app development process that limits the functionality of iPhone applications and discourages developers from adopting the platform”. By forcing users to pick from a shorter list of approved equipment such as chargers and other components, prices for these components can be and in this case are much more expensive. If someone wants to switch from a non apple device to an iPhone, they would also need to get new equipment to accompany the iPhone which raises the cost of iPhones meaning some people are incapable of affording it.

Wide open Androids

Around the same time that Apple released it’s closed source iPhone to the world, Google formed what’s known as the Open handset alliance, 84 technology and mobile companies that have come together to develop an open source mobile operating system platform called Android. Android is built around a free and open policy that supports innovation and accessibility. It’s a mobile operating system platform, meaning it’s not a whole package in itself, instead it’s a base for anyone to build the exact operating system they want or need around it, this concept by itself solves most of the problems in a closed software environment. By allowing anyone to freely access and use the source for android, operating systems and apps can be created for any reason allowing for a far greater variety and chance for serious innovation in the field of mobile software. A cheap budget version of an android operating system can be developed for anyone who needs it and hardware in the open handset alliance is shared and so they all utilize a more universally accepted micro usb port, meaning no more extra costs if changing or upgrading your phone to a different android device.

“Those hoping for a new gadget to rival the iPhone finally understood that Google had something radically different in mind. Apple’s device was an end in itself — a self-contained, jewel-like masterpiece locked in a sleek protective shell. Android was a means, a seed intended to grow an entire new wireless family tree. Google was never in the hardware business. There would be no gPhone — instead, there would be hundreds of gPhones.” (Roth, D 2008)

Unfortunately having your system wide open for the world to access means viruses and malware can be easily developed and shared among devices. While that is a genuine concern for android users, there is also a plethora of anti malware apps to oppose this abuse of an open source system.

Should I Close This or Leave it Open

“The locked down offerings may be better initially due to a benevolent dictator — and the open solutions may be quite messy at first due to the design-by-committee nature of the crowd, but over time the crowd gets better (or, more accurately, those who are better within the crowd begin to shine and take over), while the benevolent dictator has trouble keeping up.” (Masnick, M 2010)

What Masnick is saying here is that when considering the benefits and downsides to open and closed source systems, the defensive aspects of the closed source system allow it to thrive initially but means it is incapable of growing beyond it’s self imposed walls whereas an open source system is prone to chaos and disorganization but through crowd sourcing and innovation is able to go beyond any existing thresholds in technology.

IDC: Smartphone OS Market Share 2013, 2012, and 2011 Chart
IDC Statistics demonstrate increasing growth in Android shipments in terms of market share.

Stacks On, Stacks Off: Digital Feudalism And Data Farming

While the internet may not be specifically owned by any particular entity, it’s often misconstrued as being a scattered network of individual domains. In reality, this is not the case, large scales businesses such as the Google Corporation own, not only individual domains but also multiple media platforms. i.e Google Maps, Google Drive, Google Fibre and Google Glass. In the past on this blog, I have written about the issues associated with mass media ownership including one I will talk about in this post, information control, more specifically, the gathering of the information. This time, I’m going to take a more utopian approach and argue that there are significant benefits to data empires and digital feudalism.

How Does Google Help?

The term “Data Empires” refers to organizations that host a collection of media platforms capable of mining data from users. Examples would include Facebook, which through multiple apps is capable of farming location data, personal information (name, date of birth, etc.), emotional information and contact information. Amazon, through online stores and devices collects information on what you watch, read and listen to. Google, arguably the most popular site on the web, the one I’m going to talk about in most detail farms information through services, websites, apps and devices on our location, all about our personal details, everything we search for on google.com, chances are, if you put it online, Google will know it.

The reason for all this data collection is monetization. In today’s information age metaphysical goods are now just as valuable if not more. Our information can be sold to marketing companies for directed advertising or behavioral research groups. The more efficiently a company can mine information from us, the more the finer the data they can sell to marketers. Many people are against the idea of data mining because they have no control over where the information goes or what is done with it, there is a legitimate fear that this kind of mass information can be abused or simply misused at our expense and others argue that directed marketing is manipulative and treats us like numbers.

If you’re worried about where your information is going or what’s happening with it there are ways to prevent your information being collected including, not giving out unnecessary information, reading end user license agreements and keeping an eye on a websites cookie information.

The mass collection of information can benefit us in various ways. Directed marketing ties into last week’s post on niche markets, it allows us to receive advertisements to products and services that we’re interested in. Sure there are scumbag tactics companies such as airliners can use against you but if you take the necessary steps to prevent that sort of thins, directed marketing can help you find what you need and also allow business to offer cheaper niche products when they don’t have to advertise so extensively about it.

Do Good By Data

A significant example of the appropriate use of data collection is Google’s crisis response effort, through the use of its maps and location data as well as contact information collection, Google is capable of mass broadcasting warnings for potential disasters as well as distributing critical information.

Another case for data being used appropriately is the often documented potential health benefits of google glass. e.g helping sufferers of parkinsons disease. Google often collaborates with research teams and inventors to produce technologies and systems with the data google has stored to better society.

Ultimately, Mass data collection ‘can’ be used for good and not just for the exploitation of users as long as these data empires take note from Google’s corporate code of conduct, “Don’t be evil“.