Technology

Technology is a term that encompasses volumes. Think of it like food. A person who criticizes McDonald’s is not “anti-food;” and a person who criticizes Google is not “anti-technology.”

Many of us live our lives surrounded by a rich assortment of technologies, we undermine our ability to describe the world we live in and the world we want if we reserve the term “technology” for things containing microchips

Technological Resolutions for 2018, Librarian Shipwreck

 

 

 

 

Privacy with the devices we use

Oh, this is good. In November Mozilla released a guide to the privacy practices of various Internet connected devices that might be on people’s Christmas lists: privacy not included.

The Why We Made This Guide is also worth a read. It suggests a reason as to why it currently feels such a headache and a chore to think about what data and what privacy we give up when installing these devices:

Stop and think about that. To understand if a connected device you purchase is safe — can it spy on you, what does it know about you, can you control it — requires top privacy research skills as well as some high-level technical skills.

Some people will just not mind what’s collected. It’s a personal choice. As Bruce Schneier (whose blog directed me to this guide) says, Internet privacy is all about trade-offs, what you’re comfortable with. However, it’s only fair that everyone knows, in terms as plain as possible, what those trade-offs are. (A great example of east-to-read transparency was the recent WordPress privacy policy update). I guess this is why I like the guide so much as it goes towards doing exactly that.

The Glass Room

I’m recommending a visit to The Glass Room in London this weekend if you’re able. (It’s free but donations are welcomed.) I went yesterday late afternoon. It’s an impressive looking space. Walking around the exhibit, however, I couldn’t help thinking that the overriding sense visitors would come away with, after learning how our data is collected, stored and used, is one of powerlessness.

I brought this up with one of the Tactical Technology Collective who are dotted around and available to chat to. He recognised visitors do get a sense of being creeped out or not in control, but this is exactly why TTC had put together, and people could pick-up for free, their Data Detox Kit (now also available online). With this kit, he said, people not only left with a practical tool to enable them to take back some control, but they hoped these people also left with a sense of optimism.

 

Reading: The Driver’s Seat, Muriel Spark

The robots aren’t the problem, the bosses are

In every single one of these cases what has occurred is that those in control of a company have made an active choice to pick the machine over the human – and such machines were largely created to provide these owners with just this choice. The robots did not voice any opinion in the matter. To put it more plainly: the burger flipping robot does not want to replace any human workers (nor for that matter does it want to not replace human workers) because the burger flipping robot does not want anything. The robots aren’t the problem, the bosses are – Librarian Shipwreck

6 reasons to be (technologically) cheerful

No.1

In my experience – and occasionally to my slight disappointment – free e-books available online are of a poor quality. Standard Ebooks, a volunteer not-for-profit effort, are doing something about this.

No.2

Solid is a project, led by Tim Berners-Lee, which aims “to radically change the way Web applications work today, resulting in true data ownership as well as improved privacy.”

One of the issues it looks to negate is ‘vendor lock-in’; or what Jaron Lanier in his book Who Owns The Future calls less diplomatically ‘punishing lock-in’; this is where a user puts data valuable to them into a server but then cannot leave that server as access to their data will be lost.

No.3

DuckDuckGo is a search engine that doesn’t track you; Ecosia is a search engine which uses the ad revenue it produces from search ads to plant trees. Both seem a good idea because if you can’t (as yet – see no.2) own the data you create you might as well assert some control over the data you put out there, or put the data you do generate to some use.

No.4

OpenStreetCab is an app which lets you compare prices between black cabs, Lyft and Uber (London and New York only currently). While not able to address some fundamental issues with the sector, this app seems at the very least to (re)introduce some competition between the platforms.

No.5

The continuation of RSS readers. I use NewsBlur, but have used Feedly.

No.6

That you are able to own your digital presence:

It’s not yet been a year on from deciding to migrate (most of) my digital presence to WordPress, so I hope I’m not speaking prematurely, but overall I think my decision has been a good one. There have been drawbacks. And when I think of a particular drawback such as the loss of ease at which I can stay in touch with friends, I try to bear the following in mind from the writer Warren Ellis:

My social media are either deleted or shut off in some way, but it’s not hermitage, because friends and comrades know how to reach me. I’ve just turned the volume control down on the world, and I focus on other things, in other ways. It brings me peace, and peace brings me clarity, and clarity brings me energy. Good to go.

 

Reading: Delayed Gratification, Issue 27

Scheduling

I was just asked when a TV program I’d been recommending (W1A on the BBC) was on. I couldn’t tell them day or time: “It’s just on.”

Uber in London

People should be delighted by what happened yesterday. Not because it means the end of Uber, but because they’re actually answerable to something other than the greed of those who run it (13/13)

End of a thoroughly decent thread by Pete Paphides the other day.

Sold

What this means is that even more than it is in the advertising business, Facebook is in the surveillance business. Facebook, in fact, is the biggest surveillance-based enterprise in the history of mankind. It knows far, far more about you than the most intrusive government has ever known about its citizens. It’s amazing that people haven’t really understood this about the company. I’ve spent time thinking about Facebook, and the thing I keep coming back to is that its users don’t realise what it is the company does. What Facebook does is watch you, and then use what it knows about you and your behaviour to sell ads. I’m not sure there has ever been a more complete disconnect between what a company says it does – ‘connect’, ‘build communities’ – and the commercial reality. Note that the company’s knowledge about its users isn’t used merely to target ads but to shape the flow of news to them. Since there is so much content posted on the site, the algorithms used to filter and direct that content are the thing that determines what you see: people think their news feed is largely to do with their friends and interests, and it sort of is, with the crucial proviso that it is their friends and interests as mediated by the commercial interests of Facebook. Your eyes are directed towards the place where they are most valuable for Facebook.

I’m left wondering what will happen when and if this $450 billion penny drops.

John Lanchester, LRB

I’m not so sure people don’t realise. And of those that do perhaps it’s just they don’t care or, more like it, is they don’t mind, have learnt not to mind? So two billion monthly users is not only Facebook’s biggest achievement to date, that is too.

Rhetoric

Human beings and computers are going to be working together, more closely than ever, and we need to get the division of labor right. The “robots are taking over” rhetoric is a distraction from what’s most important about the second machine age – The robot paradox, continued