If, in 1995, some cypherpunks had published a book about the upcoming “postmodern surveillance dystopia,” most commentators would have shrugged it off as just a wee bit paranoid and ushered them into the Philip K. Dick Reading Room. Now, it is more likely that people will shrug and say, “that ship has already sailed.”
Jon Evans at TechCrunch (one of my employers) on TrapWire:
Is it being used for “monitoring every single person via facial recognition“? Probably not. Doesn’t matter. Let’s not kid ourselves: the point is that as cameras get cheaper and more connected and more ubiquitous, facial recognition gets more accurate, and data-mining software gets better, something like conspiracy theorists’ worst nightmarish fantasies of Trapwire will come to pass. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: this is only a matter of time, and not all that much of it.
Little pieces of the panopticon are already being built all around you. [...]
Even relatively enlightened governments are becoming, if anything, more secretive than ever. Did you know that the Obama administration has persecuted more whistleblowers than every other presidency in history combined? Did you know that (PDF) government security classification activities alone cost more than $10 billion a year? These are not exactly statistics that fill me with hope for our panopticon future. In the name of so-called security, we’re charging headlong into a future filled with one-way mirrors behind which the rich spy on the poor, and the strong on the weak. It’s a disconcerting thought.
It’s long been said that “I agree to the terms of service” is the biggest lie on the internet. And even if you do read them, many TOS are so ridden with legalese that you practically need to be a lawyer to understand them. Also, as I wrote in a gloomy post last weekend, users have no choice but either agree to the terms offered by a web app or simply don’t the service at all.
But a new project called TOS;DR wants to change that. The site aims to give more power to users by summarizing terms of service, flagging potential issues and rating apps on a scale from A (the best) to E (the worst).
Project lead Hugo Roy tells me that he considers Wikipedia to be an exemplary service, though it hasn’t been rated by TOS;DR. He says both Wikipedia’s short, clear summary of its TOS and its practice of soliciting feedback from users before a change in terms should be widely adopted as best practices for the web.
Zuckerberg’s constant refrain about making the world more open place makes me retch. Example:
A lot of times, I run a thought experiment, “If I were not at Facebook, what would I be doing to make the world more open?” Because I think when I got started six years ago, building a social network was the best thing to do. Now, today, I’m not sure that’s the best thing to do. Now we exist and there is a big opportunity to build atop the platform. There are all these awesome, new technologies that didn’t exist back then, like EC2 and S3. [...]
So I don’t know, one thing that is personally a bit disheartening…. It bums me out that people immediately go to “You must be doing this to make money.” Because that’s just so different from the ethos of the company. It is so different from how we actually think about stuff that you feel so misunderstood.
-You Can Opt Out Of Applications
-You Can Hide Your Friends List
-You Can Hide Your Interests
-Much Information Is Still Public By Default
-Instant Personalization Is Still Opt-Out
-You Can Hide Information From The Past
-You Should Review Your Settings
-Privacy Now Only Takes One Click
-There Is Now A Single Directories Settings Page
-Settings Will Be Rolled Out Over The Next Few Weeks
There’s obviously a big opportunity for a start-up here – “PrivateBook”:
Setting up a decent system for controlling your privacy on a web service shouldn’t be hard. And if multiple blogs are writing posts explaining how to use your privacy system, you can take that as a sign you aren’t treating your users with respect, It means you are coercing them into choices they don’t want using design principles. That’s creepy.
Facebook could start with a very simple page of choices: I’m a private person, I like sharing some things, I like living my life in public. Each of those would have different settings for the myriad of choices, and all of those users could then later dive into the control panel to tweak their choices. That would be respectful design – but Facebook isn’t about respect — it’s about re-configuring the world’s notion of what’s public and private.
Facebook has been gradually boosting its profile in Washington D.C. over the past year and is on the hunt for a second senior lobbyist to add to its office of four. Disclosures released a few days ago show that, on top of lobbying the usual suspects Internet companies reach out to like the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. senators and representatives, the fast-growing social network has also been busy deepening ties to government intelligence and homeland security agencies. [...]
At the very top of Facebook’s agenda in D.C. is privacy, he said. There’s much at stake. The ease of data collection and sharing on the web is on a collision course with privacy. The suite of projects the company unveiled yesterday at its f8 conference in San Francisco may spark further privacy concerns about the mass of data it will now be tracking on users as they traverse the web. To head off concerns that it is too cavalier with pushing users to be more public, Facebook made a savvy move when it brought longtime privacy advocate Tim Sparapani from the American Civil Liberties Union on-board last year.
This is all a very big deal if it’s successful. Bigger than you think. And It makes Facebook a direct competitor to Google. Facebook has managed to succeed where Google has failed — turning your social behavior into actionable intelligence. Google’s major attempts at insights into web-wide consumer behavior (Orkut, FriendConnect, Checkout, Buzz) have not had anything close to the success that the Facebook platform has had. The intelligence collected from relationships with others, social micro-interactions (e.g., “likes,” “shares,” comments, updates), location (yup, Facebook’s working on that) and even transactions (see Facebook Credits) will be inherently more valuable to advertisers than click-through and search behavior (as advertisers get smarter themselves about what those kinds of behaviors mean to their bottom lines). And make no mistake, this data will be collected en masse. Facebook expects to serve 1 billion “likes” in just 24 hours. By applying this kind of statistically significant intelligence to its Engagement Ads, Facebook can deliver even more efficient, impression-generating advertising for its customers.
Howard Schmidt, the new cybersecurity czar for the Obama administration, has a short answer for the drumbeat of rhetoric claiming the United States is caught up in a cyberwar that it is losing.
“There is no cyberwar,” Schmidt told Wired.com in a sit-down interview Wednesday at the RSA Security Conference in San Francisco.
“I think that is a terrible metaphor and I think that is a terrible concept,” Schmidt said. “There are no winners in that environment.”
Instead, Schmidt said the government needs to focus its cybersecurity efforts to fight online crime and espionage.
His stance contradicts Michael McConnell, the former director of national intelligence who made headlines last week when he testified to Congress that the country was already in the midst of a cyberwar — and was losing it.
According to the filings in Blake J Robbins v Lower Merion School District (PA) et al, the laptops issued to high-school students in the well-heeled Philly suburb have webcams that can be covertly activated by the schools’ administrators, who have used this facility to spy on students and even their families. The issue came to light when the Robbins’s child was disciplined for “improper behavior in his home” and the Vice Principal used a photo taken by the webcam as evidence. The suit is a class action, brought on behalf of all students issued with these machines.
Last July TAT (“The Astonishing Tribe“) posted a concept video of their augmented social face-card system (okay, I made that term up, what else should we call it?). The video tickled the imagination with over 400,000 views.
TAT has since teamed up with Polar Rose, a leading computer vision services company, to turn that concept into a reality. The TAT Cascades system combined with Polar Rose’s FaceLib gives us this prototype called Recognizr.