Is user education a red herring?

The BBC podcast of The Media Show with Steve Hewlett is always interesting to listen to. The latest show I listened to (episode 28 September 2011) contained a segment on the recent changes to Facebook and what these may mean for privacy. Hewlett interviewed Facebook’s Christian Hernandez and attempted to get him to see the privacy effects of the new changes.

Basically the new changes will mean that your friends will see what you are doing online – unless you opt out of showing those specific pages. In other words Facebook will happily announce to your “friends” that you have been looking at pages on weight loss (or whatever) and naturally let them draw their own conclusions from what they see of what I saw.

Hernandez was quick to stress the elements of user control over his/her information. If you chose you may opt-out of showing friends the specific pages you are viewing right now. Additionally if you forget you can remove the pages after the fact.

My problem with the former is that I need to be aware that my Facebook friends will always be looking over my shoulder. I am easily going to forget this. As for the latter – well once my friends know what I have looked at, removing the links/pages/information is not effective… I have already outed myself.

When pressed for a reasoning to why the privacy encroaching changes were made Hernandez talked about Zuckerbergs vision of a social net. When pressed further he returned back to the concept of user control. Eventually he did accept that these changes will require user education.

In other words we, the users, need to learn new proactive, protective forms of behavior. The platform owner has washed their hands – its our problem that they have given us the gift of freedom and control. Wonderful terms like freedom and control become red herrings in the world of data harvesting.

But if we are in danger from social media shouldn’t we be able to expect that the state will somehow regulate to protect us from our own behavior. They did so in areas such as smoking, seat-belts and motorcycle helmets… Sure there is a lot of interest in attempting to update privacy regulation from the pre-social media age – but its tricky. Also not everyone is in favor of regulation.

An example of this is Jeff Jarvis’ recent book Private Parts – Gordon Crovitz reviewed it in the Wall Street Journal

“Congress is considering several privacy bills. But Mr. Jarvis calls it a ‘dire mistake to regulate and limit this new technology before we even know what it can do.’

“Privacy is notoriously difficult to define legally. Mr. Jarvis says we should think about privacy as a matter of ethics instead. We should respect what others intend to keep private, but publicness reflects the choices ‘made by the creator of one’s own information.’ The balance between privacy and publicness will differ from person to person in ways that laws applying to all can’t capture.”

Jarvis is right that it is complex to regulate what we do not fully understand but this means that in the meantime we are losing our integrity rights every time the platform owners make changes – nominally to increase our freedom and control – but in reality to increase their control and profits. Lets never forget what MetaFilter user blue_beetle wrote “if you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold”.

Profiteers may act to protect access to raw material – not the rights of raw material.


Is the age of integrity over?

Today I am doing something different – stepping out of my comfort zone (but not too far). I was invited to give a short presentation (10 minutes) to spark a debate among young people between 12-19. Most of them turned out to be around fifteen. So I know I can talk to adults but the question was whether I could be relevant to teenagers.

The question I put forward was whether the need to protect integrity was a thing of the past.

So I began by presenting the question and then started with a bit of integrity orientation. The position I presented was that previously the way in which we protected our integrity was not necessarily by keeping information secret but rather giving different pieces of information to different groups of people. I called this a strategy of compartmentalization.

What this basically means is that you present different images of yourself to different people. What you did on Saturday is a constant – but you may present different stories of Saturday to your mother, girlfriend, boss, sister, friend and a total stranger (indeed you may even attempt to tell yourself a different story).

In a world where compartmentalization strategy is implemented the greatest fear is that the different groups will share information or that a body from above has access to different versions and will be able to question the truth of your stories.

Then along comes Social Media and the constant sharing of masses of low level unimportant data about what we are doing, where we are doing it, with whom – and sometimes even why.

The problem is no longer that of different compartments knowing what you did but rather attempting to handle the fact that the compartments probably do know several versions of your truth. What we are forming here is a hive-mind. In a hive mind where everyone knows everything about you the question is no longer one of maintaining boundaries between groups. For examples of hive minds I showed them The Borg from Star Trek, The Protoss from Starcraft, The Agents from the Matrix films and The Warewolves from Twilight.

The question becomes one of handling total openness. The question becomes one of: what is the point of attempting to maintain integrity regulation? In a world were we know everything about each other the question of wanting integrity becomes suspicious. And the old idiot saying: You have nothing to fear, if you have nothing to hide becomes downright ominous.

The discussion that followed was interesting, exciting and creative. The kids touched upon the meaning of truth, the nature of evil, the importance of secrets and the meaning of life. I was very impressed.

Toilet brush covert surveillance camera

Via BoingBoing comes the story of a creepy man secretly filming women in a Starbucks restroom.

A 25-year-old man hid a video camera disguised as a plastic coat hook inside the women’s restroom of a Starbucks in Glendora, CA, and secretly recorded more than 40 women and children using the toilet over two days. The man “downloaded the device about every hour to his laptop computer while sitting in his car,” according to police. (LA Times)

Most of us would be in agreement that the actions of the man are creepy. But what I find interesting is the point that nowhere in the original story (LA Times) is the manufacturers responsibility discussed. What moral responsibility does a manufacturer/designer have for a camera, disguised as a plastic coat hook, that can be affixed to a wall?

The coat hook is – in this context – an almost a reasonable product. There is a whole range of hidden bathroom camera devices on the market. How about the toothbrush camera, toilet brush camera, shower radio camera, bathroom light camera, toothpaste camera, hair clipper camera, soap dish camera, shower mirror camera, shampoo bottle camera… (all from the same manufacturer)

There may be certain situations where invading someones privacy with the help of covert surveillance cameras is legitimate – maybe even necessary. But the mass market for goods to cover these situations is hard to envision. It is even more difficult for me to understand when it could be a legitimate need to covertly film people in the bathroom. And yet there are mass market cheap goods that cover this particular situation.

So when the creepy 25-year-old uses these products – he is being creepy. But when would the use of this stuff not be creepy?

Does the fact that these products exist and are easy to buy promote and encourage creepy behavior?

Privacy and plancenta

Judging from the number of cases where medical staff have been fired for posting images on Facebook it seems obvious that Facebook somehow manages to confuse professionals into forgetting the basic principles of privacy. Internet Cases reports on the interesting case where a student nurse was expelled for posting a picture of herself with a placenta. She has now sued the college and won.

Plaintiff nursing student and some of her classmates attended a clinical OB/GYN course at the local hospital in Olathe, Kansas last November. They got permission from their instructor to photograph themselves with a placenta. Plaintiff posted the photo on Facebook. She got expelled from school. Yes, I know you want to see the photo. Here it is. Byrnes v. Johnson County Community College, 2011 WL 166715 (D. Kan., January 19, 2011).

It is difficult to see how a picture of a placenta can be viewed as a privacy violation even if photographing body parts may be less than professional. The placenta has no rights in itself and identifying the owner of the placenta from an image of the organ seems impossible.

Sounds familiar… the end of privacy as norm

Mark Zuckerberg the the 25 year old founder and chief executive of Facebook says that privacy is no longer a social norm (eweekeurope):

…that people no longer have an expectation of privacy thanks to increasing uptake of social networking. Speaking at the Crunchie Awards in San Francisco this weekend, the 25 year-old web entrepreneur said: “People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people.”

“A lot of companies would be trapped by the conventions and their legacies of what they’ve built,” he said. “Doing a privacy change for 350 million users is not the kind of thing that a lot of companies would do.

“But we viewed that as a really important thing, to always keep a beginner’s mind and what would we do if we were starting the company now and we decided that these would be the social norms now and we just went for it.”

I would be a lot more impressed if someone who was a tad older than 25 and didnt have such a large stake in the commodification and commercialization of information decided what was a social norm. But the whole thing is also very familiar of the old quote (1999!!!) from Scott McNealy the CEO of Sun Microsystems (Wired)

You have zero privacy anyway… Get over it.

Is snitching a social good?

In 1984 one of the basic premises of state control was to be found in the dictum “He who controls the past, controls the future”. This can be seen as a version of the popular quote from the Spanish philosopher George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it“.

One of the themes in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four the way in which the repressive society encourages friends, neighbors and family to spy on one another. The informer was seen as a hero by the state. In particular Orwell writes that parents lived in fear of their children.

The family could not actually be abolished, and, indeed, people were encouraged to be fond of their children, in almost the old-fashioned way. The children, on the other hand, were systematically turned against their parents and taught to spy on them and report their deviations. The family had become in effect an extension of the Thought Police. It was a device by means of which everyone could be surrounded night and day by informers who knew him intimately.

This is based on the story of Pavlik Morozov, a child who denounced his father to the soviet state and became part of soviet mythology and naturally part of the the fear of the soviet state.

Now we could dismiss the whole thing as a fiction set in a far away place, in a far away time but this is not what Orwell wants. The same year Nineteen Eighty-Four was published he wrote in a letter*

My recent novel [Nineteen Eighty-Four] is NOT intended as an attack on Socialism or on the British Labour Party (of which I am a supporter), but as a show-up of the perversions . . . which have already been partly realized in Communism and Fascism. . . . The scene of the book is laid in Britain in order to emphasize that the English-speaking races are not innately better than anyone else, and that totalitarianism, if not fought against, could triumph anywhere.

Today we are again and again being actively encouraged to destroy not family but society. We are supposed to discover and report “suspicious behavior” for the good of us all – in the name of terrorism. The most reason slick version of the state asking us to denounce anything different comes (via BoingBoing: What to do if you smell a terrorist). It’s about a video released by the LA police department in a campaign called IwatchLA.

The video is slick, sleek and personal. It encourages people to denounce anything unusual – even an unusual smell – and let the authorities decide if its terrorism. This is what Orwell feared. The goal of terrorism prevention is a praiseworthy goal but the destruction of social trust by creating universal suspicion is not the way to go.

* The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell Volume 4 – In Front of Your Nose 1945–1950 p.546 (Penguin)

An experiment in integrity

I am looking to attempt an experiment during the course I am teaching right now. The idea is to give the course participants the opportunity to examine how much personal information is available online.

To do this, participants are divided into groups. Each group is then given the name of a person and then digs up any and all information they can about that person.

The teams will have to account for:

  1. The information they find
  2. How & where they found the information
  3. Make assessment of the details of credibility.

One of the major “problems” in conducting this experiment is the selection of the person to be examined. Choosing a public figure could be an option but it is difficult to assess the credibility of information acquired. Therefore what remains is to put oneself on the line and the students study their lecturer. Which leads to a question I must ask myself – Do I have something I do not want to find out about myself…

I would really appreciate comments on this idea….

Fifteen minutes

In 1968 Andy Warhol launched the idea that: “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Later in 1979 Warhol restated his idea with the words: “…my prediction from the sixties finally came true: In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.”

Yesterday my colleague Dr Dick posted this amazing quote on Facebook:

In the future, everyone will be anonymous for 15 minutes.

With a little googling I found the origins of the quote come from the great street artist Banksy – here is a picture from one of his exhibitions.

This was a brilliant twist on the classic Warhol idea. Today everyone is striving for fame in a way that has never been done before. If we then add the death of privacy both the voluntary and the semi-voluntary. We voluntarily give away our privacy through blogs, twitter and facebook (and tons of other web2.0 applications). Then we semi-voluntarily give away too much information through our dependence upon technology.

Through all this loss of privacy the question is no longer one of fame or recognition. The question is if we in the future can have any privacy at all. So in the same way as Warhol in the sixties surprised (or even shocked?) people by claiming people would have fame the question today is more relevant whether we will have privacy.

Fifteen minutes of privacy is an important question to be thought about considering the way in which or society is moving.

Locational Privacy

The EFF have released a new report on the dangers between locational information and privacy: On Locational Privacy, and How to Avoid Losing it Forever (PDF). The short report by Andrew J. Blumberg and Peter Eckersley takes up issues that need to be taken much more seriously than they have been.

Online Norwegian internet privacy protest

This post is in support of the Norwegian’s struggle for preserving internet freedom. The question concerns the choice to implement the Data Protection Directive (2006/24) into Norwegian law. Since Norway is not an EU member state they have the right to reserve themselves and not implement directives. The protest for digital privacy is an attempt by the Norwegians not to follow the same integrity-violating policies being adopted throughout Europe.  The protest action is an attempt to get the Norwegian government to state that they will not be adopting the directive.

Personvern er en grunnleggende verdi i et demokrati. Personvernet innebærer en rett til å være i fred fra andre, men også en rett til å ha kontroll over opplysninger om seg selv, særlig opplysninger som oppleves som personlige. Etter EMK artikkel 8 er personvern ansett som en menneskerettighet.

Med en mulig norsk implementering av Datalagringsdirektivet (direktiv 2006/24/EF), som pålegger tele- og nettselskap å lagre trafikkdata om borgernes elektroniske kommunikasjon (e-post, sms, telefon, internett) i inntil to år, vil nordmenns personvern bli krenket på det groveste.

Datalagringsdirektivet ble vedtatt av EU 15.mars 2006, men fremdeles har den norske regjeringen ikke offisielt tatt stilling til om direktivet skal gjøre til norsk lov eller ikke. Gjennom EØS-avtalen har Norge en reservasjonsrett. Denne har aldri før blitt brukt, men så har man heller aldri stått overfor et direktiv som representerer en så stor trussel mot demokratiets grunnleggende verdier som det datalagringsdirektivet gjør.

Vi krever at regjeringen sier ifra nå før valget om de vil gjøre datalagringsdirektivet til norsk lov eller ikke. Å ikke ta stilling, slik regjeringen har gjort i over tre år, er det samme som stilltiende aksept.

Regjeringen må ta stilling nå – si nei til datalagringsdirektivet!

Følgende støtter saken og har samme eller et lignende innlegg på sin blogg (denne listen oppdateres fortløpende):

Lars-Henrik Paarup Michelsen, 2.kandidat – Hordaland Venstre
Mads Munthe-Kaas, Bergen Venstre
Carl Christian Grøndahl, Bergen Venstre
Vox Populi; Blogger Knut Johannessen
Virrvarr; Blogger Ida Jackson
Per Aage Pleym Christensen, Liberaleren (også på VG-blogg)
Even Sandvold Roland, evensr/#drittunge
Torstein Dahle, Partileder Rødt
Robert Sørensen,
Boye Bjerkholt, Leder Skedsmo Venstre
Runar Mæland, ungdomskandidat Hordaland Venstre
Jonas Eilertsen, 1. nestleder Unge Venstre
Tanketom, Andreas H. Opsvik
Jon Lien, master på Politisk Økonomi
Svein Ølnes, It-forsker & bonde
Stian Skår Ludvigsen, Bergen Venstre
Vampus, Blogger Heidi Nordby Lunde
Bjørn Magne Solvik, høyremann i Nordkapp
Erlend Sand, Leder Europeisk Ungdom
Bjørn Stærk, Blogger
Bjørge Solli, Blogger
Bjørn Smestad, Lærer
Odd Bovim, Blogger & advokat
Unge Venstre/Den tredje vei
Pål Hivand, Blogger og kommunikasjonsrådgiver
Linn Beate Kaald Thoresen, Venstrepolitiker Oslo
Gisle Hannemyr, Forsker, informatikk/internett