Smoking Jacket

The Smoking Jacket by Fiona Carswell is part of a project “…exploring reflective design as it relates to the body, behavioral choices, and information displays.”

The idea is to remind the smoker about the consequences of smoking. The jacket “…has a built-in pair of lungs on the front. As the wearer smokes, the lungs fill up with the exhaled cigarette smoke and begin to gradually darken over time.”

Smoking Jacket

At first I thought this was kind of creepy but now I think the jacket is a bit cool – maybe too cool? Instead of acting as a deterrent it may even encourage users?
(via Art Threat)

Greener Apples

No need to be cynical or pessimistic about the effect of lobby campaigns or the power of collecting people online. Greenpeace launched an environmental campaign against Appleâ??s lack of environmental policy. On 2nd May Steve Jobs published a second public letter (the first was against DRM) listing environmental hazards connected with Apple computers and the steps Apple was taking to remedy the situation.

It is generally not Appleâ??s policy to trumpet our plans for the future; we tend to talk about the things we have just accomplished. Unfortunately this policy has left our customers, shareholders, employees and the industry in the dark about Appleâ??s desires and plans to become greener. Our stakeholders deserve and expect more from us, and theyâ??re right to do so. They want us to be a leader in this area, just as we are in the other areas of our business. So today weâ??re changing our policy.

This is a good first step towards taking Apple to the forefront of environmental concerns as well as its firm position as a design leader. This approach also shows that design and environmentalism are not incompatible.

Greenpeace has responded on their campaign site with the words “We are cheering!”…

It’s not everything we asked for.  Apple has declared a phase out of the worst chemicals in its product range, Brominated Fire Retardants (BFRs) and Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) by 2008. That beats Dell and other computer manufactures’ pledge to phase them out by 2009. Way to go Steve!

It’s nice to know that the machine of my choice has just made a little less guilty.

A howto for the Fascist Dictator

Naomi Wolf has written a provocative article entitled Fascist America, 10 Easy Steps in the Guardian Online.

  1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy
  2. Create a gulag
  3. Develop a thug caste
  4. Set up an internal surveillance system
  5. Harass citizens’ groups
  6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release
  7. Target key individuals
  8. Control the press
  9. Dissent equals treason
  10. Suspend the rule of law

Her motivations show that the ten easy steps are easily fulfilled by the US administration. It is also interesting that all this is done in the name of freedom and democracy. In other words in order to rescue freedom and democracy we must remove your freedoms and suspend the participatory democracy. This is doublespeak and spin at its best.


Rewards of Plagiarism

Back in May last year I wrote about a case of plagiarism from my university. The interesting thing about this plagiarism was that it was a teacher who had stolen part of a masters thesis written by two students whom she had supervised.

At the department of business studies two students wrote their masters thesis. Their supervisor then took parts of the text and included it word for word in an article she presented at an international conference. The students were not acknowledged in any way. The head of department defended the supervisorâ??s actions in the student press â?? which is sad, but in a sense an understandable defence. Still sad and it shows a definite lack of backbone. (this blog in May 2006)

The local newspaper reports that the case has been under review again and that this time the plagiarizing researcher is not being defended. She has, according to the experts, not followed good research practice and the case is clearly one of plagiarism.

The embarrassment must have been bad when the department defended the plagiarizing researcher, but now that the guilty opinion has been delivered it must be really bad. In addition the whole department that defended her actions as common practice really has egg on its face now.

Good. Stealing other peoples work is not acceptable. Stealing from students is unacceptable and really quite pathetic.

Technology Ethics Report

UNESCO has recently published a report entitled “Ethical Implications of Emerging Technologies” – The work was carried out by Mary Rundle and Chris Conley (Net Dialogue) at UNESCO’s request. Here is the text from the press release

In presenting results of this examination, the report first tells an introductory story of how the technologies covered relate to one another. Next, infoethics goals are presented. Then, for each technological trend surveyed, the report contains a short chapter drafted in lay terms to provide an overview of the relevant technology and to highlight ramifications and concerns. The report then summarizes this infoethics analysis and revisits the story of the emerging technologies. Finally, the report offers recommendations on ways to advance infoethics goals in anticipation of these oncoming technologies.

The ethical, legal and societal implications of ICTs are one of the three main priorities of UNESCOâ??s Information for All Programme and UNESCO was recently designated as the Facilitator for the implementation of Action Line C10 â??Ethical Dimensions of the Information Societyâ?? of the Geneva Action Plan adopted by the World Summit on the Information Society.

The full report is available here. At a first glance the 89 page report seems interesting and relevant. I am looking forward to  reading it.

(via Question Technology)

An Inconvenient Truth

The global warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth has not only got a powerful message but it has now also managed to win an Oscar. Naturally being a politician Al Gore must expect to see this bring new attacks. I came across this Gary Varvel cartoon which is a brilliant example of balancing ideology and strategy (more on this below but first the cartoon). Don’t get me wrong – An Inconvenient Truth is an important documentary and the recognition of an Oscar only helps to promote it’s important message on global warming.

On ideologies and strategies

A few days ago Stellan Vinthagen were discussing the problem of awareness, activism and the need to travel to meet people. The crunch of the dilemma is this:

Most activists are concerned about the environment (not only environmentalists). Yet to be able to carry out effective activism international cooperation is necessary. International cooperation requires travel (despite the Internet and its ilk). Therefore people who are concerned about the environment need to travel.

So how does one reconcile ones ideologies and strategies? In other words if the ideology is about making the world a better place (and travel has a negative impact on this – especially air travel), and the strategy requires international collaboration (which requires travel).

In addition to this is it worse to harm the environment intentionally or unintentionally? Causing intentional harm is most often seen as being far more wrong than unintentional harm (but not always).

Imagine two people (A and B) on a low-budget airplane bound for London. A is traveling to go shopping he/she is unaware of the effects of travel on the environment and is only vaguely aware of global warming. We do not know if A would care about the environment even if he/she was informed about the issues. B is traveling to an international meeting of environmental activists. He/she is greatly concerned about the effects of air travel on the environment but hopes that this meeting will provide an opportunity for more coordinated actions to bring about real changes to help the environment. A will also go shopping in his/her spare time in London.

A therefore is causing unintentional harm but traveling for frivolous reasons. B is causing intentional harm but hopes this is for a good cause. Is there a difference? Does the environment care about the intentions of its destroyers?

Stellan and I did not arrive at any real conclusions in our discussions we just recognized that it is a problem…

Technology and Human Rights

On Friday it’s time for me to give a lecture on Technology and Human Rights for the local masters course on human rights. The nice part about this lecture is that it gives me the opportunity to collect and explore different strands of my work and present them to a new audience. My interest in this area began some time ago and resulted in 2005 in the collected edition Human Rights in the Digital Age which I edited together with Andrew Murray.

Discussing technology and rights can at times feel a bit banal. Human rights activists struggle to free people from torture and death so isn’t technology a small waste of time? There is no way in which it would be fair to compare technology and rights to the work of activists against the death penalty. But there is a major problem if all issues must be resolved in the order of magnitude. Speech rights may be less important to someone facing the death penalty but this does not mean that we should ignore speech rights until we have managed to abolish the death penalty.

For the lecture on Friday I am planning to look at three different areas.

The first area is going to be the use of the Internet as a “place” for political participation. I want to discuss the Internet as an area of political discourse and in particular show its possibilities and its fundamental flaws and limitations. This area should include freedom of speech and freedom of association.

The second area is privacy. In particular I want to focus on the merging of online and offline data. Or to put it another way the combination of spatial information (where you are) with the information traces stored in databases (who you are) to show the advanced control mechanism being created.

The final area is the aggregate use of technology. In this section I want to show the audience that with each piece of technology we may implement for our comfort we also form and shape our lives. In particular we also shape the way in which our lives may be controlled by others. This incremental implementation of technology does not bring large protests since no large rights are threatened overall. However the net long term result is darker than anything Orwell would have dreamed about.

Eric Drooker

The overall goal is to make the audience a bit paranoid about technology – to make them question the choices we are all making in our rush towards a more convenient way of life. Not bad for a Friday…

Privacy Attitudes

One of the problems faced by researchers working with privacy is the fundamental question of why people do not care about privacy? It is easy to see either from studies or by simply looking at peopleâ??s behaviour that privacy is not a big thing for many people.

Oh course if you were to ask the question: Is you privacy important to you? Then most people would reply that their privacy was important. But if we look at the way in which people act with their privacy then we get the real picture. There is a radical difference between the way in which people want to be perceived (i.e. privacy conscious) and the way in which they act.

What does this mean? Well some of the discrepancy between the peopleâ??s theoretical and real standpoints can be explained by the lack of knowledge and awareness of the privacy threats. So for example, it is difficult to blame people for being unconcerned with their privacy simply because they us gmail or similar services.

A similar argument can be made to cover those who have no choice but to use less private alternatives. But wait! before you begin to argue that there is always a choice not to use the technology at all, I want to point out being a Luddite is not an option for many people and neither is it for you, considering where you got a hold of this text.

Why is peopleâ??s perception of privacy a problem? Well if we argue the right to privacy (and I often do) then the fact that people do not care about privacy makes this a problem. Can there be a human right if it is unwanted? For a long time I used the smoker analogy.

Smokers want to be healthy but still do not quit smoking despite all the information available. This is not meant to be understood as smokers do not want to be healthy, nor does it invalidate their right to healthcare. The problem with privacy however is that either you have it or you donâ??t.

Recently Paul Saffo wrote about the online habits of the young be warning them that they will come to regret their openness and online presences:

Which is why I pity teens today, for in a few decades their sophomoric musings will deliver a vast embarrassment utterly unknown to earlier generations. It is not that their words are any sillier than earlier generations; rather teens today have had the misfortune of being the first generation to record their thoughts in cyberspace where those thoughts will remain perfectly preserved until some wag drags them out at a school reunion or the authorâ??s children discover the IM affections that passed between mom and dad.

Saffo’s post seems to come as a reaction to (or proof of concept) the peice by Emily Nussbaum in the New Yorker “Kids, the Internet, and the End of Privacy: The Greatest Generation Gap Since Rock and Roll“.

Basically people (many of them young – but by no means all) are putting their lives online – innermost thoughts, bad poetry, homespun politics, private erotica and everything else that was previously covered by privacy. Add to this the number of cameras and videos that surround us – almost one in every pocket. We have a situation where every embarassing situation is recorded and transmitted to the rest of the disinterested world. The material is also stored away for no reason to resurface at a later date – even though I think most of it will be lost on trashed computers long before the future.

So the concern is: children doing things today with technology will live to regret it later.  And it will be a lot worse than when “we” were young since there will be texts and photos around to prove it.

I disagree.

The mass of material produced today will sink into obscurity. Yes some material (potentially embarassing) will remain to be found. But this change will not create the scandal that such material cuases today. Finding an embarrasing image from the teenage past of a prominent figure of today is hardly newsworthy – but it is considered to be news. In twenty years it will not even be news.

The self publication of ones teenage life and angst will not create a generation of people neurotic about the fact that someone may remember them or their thoughts, it will create a generation of people who can say that they were teenagers in much the same way as all other teenages were.

What about privacy?

This is not the death of privacy. Privacy is a “floating” value. Ideas of what is, and what should be, private change in culture, time and space. The only shock that we are seeing here is the death of the privacy concept as it has been understood by the “others” or “outsiders” – in other words it is the attempt of those outside the group to dictate norms on those inside the group.

Are torturers evil?

It is very difficult to break out of some of one’s gut instincts. Since I was raised in the west, spoon-fed Hollywoodisms from my youngest days and all in the shadow of the cold war east-west mentality it is difficult to really get past some of the “facts of life”.

One such fact is that only evil people torture. Evil torturers fall into different categories such as (1) medieval (e.g. Spanish inquisition), foreign despot (e.g. Idi Amin), (3) total raving nutter (e.g. Hitler). Now despite the fact that I know that these simplifications are not true. Works by people such as Hannah Arendt (Eichamnn in Jerusalem) and Stanley Milgram (Obedience to Authority Study) show that acts of evil are conducted without much passion and by ordinary people.

Reports of torture being carried out by ordinary people systematically appear – and I am shocked. In particular since the organisation carrying them out is bringing democracy and attempting to win the hearts and minds of the people.

Why am I shocked? If I know that people are capable of evil? The only explanation I can think of right now is the lame idea of them and us. Stated simply evil people are them, we are good even though sometimes in error. How depressing that in the face of all the evidence I still cannot get beyond this gut reaction that they are evil while we are good.

Oh and don’t try to explain the whole thing away by speaking of a few bad apples at the Abu Ghraib prison. That simplification does not work. See for example an editorial in the New York Times (Only the Jailers are Safe, 20 December 2006, via Battleangel)

Donald Vance, a 29-year-old Navy veteran from Chicago, was a whistle-blower who prompted the raid by tipping off the F.B.I. to suspicious activity at the company where he worked, including possible weapons trafficking. He was arrested and held for 97 days â?? shackled and blindfolded, prevented from sleeping by blaring music and round-the-clock lights. In other words, he was subjected to the same mistreatment that thousands of non-Americans have been subjected to since the 2003 invasion.

The culture of cruelty (i.e. the acceptance or tolerance for evil deeds among organisations and in society) is spreading and the more we hear the more we accept. We become (as a society) de-sensitized and tolerant to suffering.

What is the point of fighting for democracy, rights and freedom if the methods used are cruel, inhuman and against democracy, rights and freedom? If we win this fight (against whom?) is it a victory worth having? Or will we like King Pyrrhus declare, after beating the Romans at Asculum (279 BCE) declare that a victory at such a cost is not worth having?

Spineless Human Rights in Sweden

There was a time when the Swedish government dared to look any power straight in the eye and state loudly and clearly that crimes against humanity were wrong. Maybe our best time for this was when, in the Christmas of 1972, the Prime Minister Olof Palme spoke out against the US bombing of Hanoi comparing it with other great crimes against humanity. A position such as this led to a freeze in diplomatic relations. Since then the relations have been mended but not at the cost of our honour (a dangerous word, I know).

Today we sell whatever we can. And no matter whether the politicians are on the right or left the thought of taking a stand for that which is morally right is nowhere near the agenda.

On the 18 December 2001 Mohammed Alzery an Egyptian national seeking asylum in Sweden was picked up by Swedish Security Police and informed that his application for asylum had been rejected a few hours earlier. He was not allows to communicate with his lawyer or family, and within hours he was transported to Bromma airport. He was then handed over to some ten foreign (US and Egyptian) agents in civilian clothes and hoods and forcibly sent back to Egypt.

All this despite the fact that he had obviously been tortured and had reason to fear for his life.

How could the government do this? Well easy the asked the Egyptians to promise not to torture or kill him. When they agreed (all this in writing). The Swedes washed their hands of the affair.

The Swedes wrote: â??It is further the understanding of the Government of the Kingdom of Sweden that these persons will not be subjected to inhuman treatment or punishment of any kindâ?¦and further that they will not be sentenced to deathâ?¦â??The Egyptian Government responded in writing: â??We herewith assert our full understanding to all items of this memoire, concerning the way of treatment upon repatriate from your government, with full respect to their personal and human rights. This will be done according to what the Egyptian constitution and law stipulates.â??

How civilised. Its bullshit, everyone must have known it was bullshit, but so civilised. Which spineless Swedish civil servant typed this crap? Do you sleep at night? Or do you (I wish I could ask you – whoever you are – these questions in person one day) wake up screaming? You should you know…

Naturally he was tortured. He was then tortured again for telling the world he had been tortured. How can a state write the letter Sweden wrote? Simply by asking a state not to torture a specific individual is an admission that this kind of treatment occurs. Sweden played an active part in the torture – no Swedes actually did the dirty work, we simply outsourced it.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee says Sweden broke the international ban on torture for its actions. The Swedish government had already been criticised for the deportations, including the by the UNâ??s Torture Committee.

We have come a long, long way from when we looked superpowers in the eye armed only with our morality – and won.