You Are Not An Individual, You Are A Data Cluster

The alternate reality game tie in app Digital Shadow is an app that you use by logging in via your Facebook and give it permission to access your profile.  The app then builds a profile on you based on your data as if you are a target for an assassination or kidnapping.
First the app views photos you are tagged in or have posted to your page and gives a percent accuracy for how easy it would be to recognize you again.  Then it goes through your friends list and tells you which of your connections are a liability that can be used to gain leverage on you or who are frenemies that can be used against you.  Next it builds a personality profile based on words you have used in recent posts, to show how you can be manipulated.  Then it shows your post history and when you are most active on your Facebook profile.  Then it shows the percent possibility of where you live based on where you post from the most.  Finally it shows based on yours and your family’s net worth your value as a target.

All in all pretty creepy for just a game tie in app.  There is no doubt in my mind that there is a better, more powerful version of this running on a mainframe in one alphabet agencies headquarters or another.  Based on what Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning have revealed about the size and scope of the spying apparatus in this country it is naive, and frankly dangerous, to think otherwise.

What this reveals is that online privacy is an oxymoron.  It is like unicorns, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, it doesn’t exist.  You don’t hear it on the news or people shouting it from the hills because there is much money to be made from it.  Not only could your digital shadow be used to do something bad to you, like kidnap or assassinate you, it IS being used to build profile for advertisers and marketers to shill you crap you don’t need and it IS being monitored for keyword to make sure you don’t step too far out of line.


Who Watches the Watchers?

The exploding trend of using social media may have unintended consequences.  Posting pictures online makes it easier for someone to research you and your friends.  There’s http://www.tineye.com a reverse image search engine, so if someone searches using a picture of you and that same picture is posted in more than one place online, tineye will show all of the sites in that the searched picture appears in.  Also, unless GPS data is turned off the phone the picture was taken from, the geographic location of where the picture was taken are in the EXIF data.  Not only could posting a picture online give someone access to other pictures and, through tineye, a list of social media sites you use, but the EXIF data can show where you live and what places you frequent. 

Rather than becoming a way to watch the watchers, I think wearable technology will lead to the crowdsourcing of surveillance.  Apple already has the ability to remotely disable your phone.  It won’t be too long before other companies follow suit. This, combined with the stigma of sousveillance leads me to believe that instead of being a way to police the police, a la Rodney King, wearable technology will lead to neighbors spying on each other like some authoritarian utopia.  All the revelations about government surveillance of our current electronic communications lead me to believe that if wearable technology becomes as popular as cell phones are today, that law enforcement could turn into a similar scenario to the precrime unit in Minority Report. 


Pros and Cons of Globalization

In his book The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman writes about how globalization is evening out the playing field in terms of global economics.  His main point is that the world is more interconnected now than ever before.  One of the benefits of globalizatio0n is that more countries are part of a global supply chain, and by being part of that supply chain it is less likely that any one country will try to bring the supply chain down.  Globalization is a way to stop major wars from breaking out.  Another  benefit he mentions is that as a genius in India, you can now export your talents anywhere in the world (Pink 2005).

What of the non geniuses though? It seems the rest of us are along for the ride.  We are more interconnected, so when the supply chain does fail like it did in 2008 it isn’t just one country that takes the fall.  It is the whole world.  It seems like it is turning every recession into a depression and every depression into a great one.  As the world competes for investment capital they are engaging in a race to the bottom with their currency.  Whoever has the least valuable currency has the biggest draw for investors, why pay an American $30, 000 a year to do a job that could be done by an Indian for less than a quarter of that?  Human rights, living wage, retirement and employee health benefits be damned.  Rather than passing the savings along to customers companies reinvest and move their corporate headquarters to locations with the lowest tax rates, leaving individuals to bear the lions share of the tax burden (Tverberg 2013). This is how multinational corporations have amassed as much wealth as small countries.

Instead of doing what Freidman recommended, making benefits portable, investing in science, giving more access to college educations, and creating a system of wage insurance, this country is instead increasing the costs to attend college and decimating employer benefits like sick time and pensions (Pink 2005).  It looks like globalization benefits the super rich and the very poor (if they are geniuses) and the rest of us just have to wait until we are one or the other.


Tverberg, Gail. 2013. “12 Negative Aspects of Globalization.”
Retrieved from http://oilprice.com/Finance/the-Economy/12-Negative-Aspects-of-Globalization.html

Pink, Daniel H. 2005. Wired. “Why the World is Flat.”
Retrieved from http://archive.wired.com/wired/archive/13.05/friedman.html


Ignorance is Bliss

(Edit: Originally posted 4/16/14 @ 7:45 PM  Reposting because WordPress keeps dropping my posts o.O)

There is no federal legislation that requires organizations or individuals to notify victims of online data breaches. (Tucker 2014) Something I found pretty cool considering the frequency of data breaches of major companies lately. It varies state to state. So when Target or TJX or the next company to lose your personal information waits months to let the victims know that their personal financial information has been stolen there is very little legal recourse for the victims. Especially if the company resides in a state in which the laws are lax or non existent.
This is definitely a case of technology outpacing legislation.

I don’t believe ANY digital security failure should require release to the public. If every site that found an insignificant breach released that information to the public we would be totally inundated by the information that when we actually needed to pay attention and take action the public would be too complacent. On the other hand though we should have a right to know whenever our ‘private’ information has been accessed. Mat Honan of Wired was social engineered out of a twitter account by someone else accessing his personal information and posing as the account holder. His apple and gmail accounts were just collateral damage. Luckily the hackers were just in it for his twitter account, had they wanted to cause serious damage they could have with all of the accounts they got access to. It wasn’t even from Apple that Honan found out his account was accessed by someone else, he was notified by one of the hackers. (Honan 2014) If the policy was to verify or notify whenever private information was accessed there may have been a chance to stop all or part of this hack.

It doesn’t make me that much more wary to shop online knowing how at any point our data could be accessed by a third party and there is no rush by the party that was breached to let me know about it. I was already wary of corporate online security so I don’t shop online much as it is and I certainly don’t bank or send financially sensitive information to my email(s). I use a third party site rather than give online retailers my credit card number, but heartbleed may have affected that site as well.
I wouldn’t say I am more or less likely to shop online. Definitely less likely to bank online. I am also one of the people that doesn’t tie all of their accounts to each other and then use the same password.



Honan, Mat. 2012. Wired. “How Apple and Amazon Security Flaws Led to My Epic Hacking.”
Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/2012/08/apple-amazon-mat-honan-hacking/all/

Tucker, Eric. 2014. Associated Press. “No Consensus on How to notify Data Breach Victims.”
Retrieved from http://www.nwitimes.com/business/local/no-consensus-on-how-to-notify-data-breach-victims/article_83f5e298-6443-5a2e-a06b-0eb22b4b9714.html


Torrents Killed the Radio Star

Is downloading music stealing?  The record industry seems to think so.  I think it is a resounding no.  Sebastian Anthony writes in his article “Why I Pirate”:

The RIAA, MPAA, and others continue to spin piracy as theft, but we know that’s not true: I’m not taking my game
from anyone. It’s not like Little Timmy arrives home to find out that he can’t play Lego Star Wars because Sebastian
has stolen the grubby disc.
” (Anthony 2012)

It isn’t like downloading music is depriving the CD’s owner of their property.  The music business gives songs away for free on the radio, and courts have found that recording songs from the radio is legal for private use. (Audio Home Recording Act) I fail to see how downloading  that same song from the internet is a crime.  It isn’t stealing it’s making a copy, which is legal to do with one medium but not another.
I can understand how the original person that rips the music off the CD and makes it available could be a criminal, or the person that resells copies of software.  At this point though reselling your copy of a CD falls into a grey area of legality.  Turns out you may not even own what you purchased.  This is only for music, it’s not like reselling cars or televisions that were purchased legally is even questionable.

Whether or not I believe it is a crime aside, in reality it is a crime and it isn’t a victimless crime. The artist doesn’t make money on the sale of that song.  Not that much money was made on digital sales by the artist anyway.   The record label  is getting over 500% more than the artist on a digital album download.  (Anthony 2012) I guess it is okay for the labels to rob artists.  Rather than pointing the finger at illegal downloading as the sole factor for lost revenues, maybe it is time to rethink the paradigm of the music business.  After all concert attendance has been at its lowest levels ever. (Sisario 2011)  It is unreasonable to think that illegal downloading has lowered concert attendance.  It seems to me that the tactics of the recording industry trying to stop piracy are indicative of the death throes of an obsolete industry.




Audio Home Recording Act. 1992. 17 C.F.R. section 1008.
Retrieved from http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/17/1008

Anthony, Sebastian. 2012. Extreme Tech. Why I Pirate.”
Retrieved from http://www.extremetech.com/computing/114493-why-i-pirate

Sisario, Ben. 2011. New York Times. “Lower Attendance Hurts Live Nation Revenue”.
Retrieved from http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/03/lower-attendance-hurts-live-nation-revenue/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0


If at First You Don’t Succeed . . .

I’m not sure MOOC’s can succeed as their first iteration.  Sebastian Thrun has much the same feelings.  A free Ivy League education does seem like a great idea, but in practice people seem to desire the motivation of a professor and a brick and mortar classroom.  Just like a gym membership attendance falls off shortly after signing up.  A poll of one million people who have signed up for MOOCs, half have even watched a lecture and only 4% complete the courses. (Lewin 2013)  Though this isn’t much different from some harder classes in brick and mortar colleges.  I took Programming and logic, a basic java programming course, and of the 28 people who started the course 8 were there to take the final.  My professor even stated at the beginning of the course that there was a 14% retention rate, which we beat that semester by 4 students.  Overall though a 4-7% graduation rate for MOOCs,  depending on the article, is dwarfed by the 17% graduation rate from University of Phoenix online and the 51% for SUNY Albany. (Chafkin 2013) (Forbes N.D.) (Lewin 2013)  Do note though that all three of these are big fat F’s.  It certainly does seem that higher education could use some updating and help with retention with graduation rates just above half.

Faced with the poor results of the first step in free online education, it seems that Udacity has changed it’s business model.  Their current plan is like a three-way partnership.  Students apply to classes from Georgia Tech, they get Georgia Tech professors, but the material is hosted by Udacity while the seed money was put up by AT&T in the hopes that they would get new engineers when all was said and done.  The 3 semester course leading to a Masters in Computer Science is substantially cheaper than actually attending Georgia Tech, but the class is largely experimental and the results remain to be seen. (Chafkin 2013) This signals a move from teaching solely college courses to vocational training in job skills that are needed by corporations that are willing to help foot the bill.  Though not the establishment shake up that Thrun had in mind when he started I believe that this kind of partnership is beneficial.  Having students spend $6,600 for graduate classes to obtain a masters in Computer Science seems like a bargain compared to spending over $24,000 to obtain a Master’s in liberal arts at a public university.  Especially when comparing the job prospects and earning potential of those two degrees and factoring in the cost of each.  I believe that this incarnation or something similar will be the success of MOOCs, despite the altruistic intentions of their inception free courses do not seem to bring the results desired for the amount of money spent.


Chafkin, Max. 2013. Fast Company. “Udacity’s Sebastian Thrun, Godfather of Free Online Education, Changes Course.”
Retrieved from http://www.fastcompany.com/3021473/udacity-sebastian-thrun-uphill-climb

Forbes. N.D. “America’s Best Colleges: #410 SUNY, Albany.”
Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/lists/2010/94/best-colleges-10_SUNY-Albany_94388.html

Lewin, Tamar. 2013. New York Times. “After Setbacks Online Courses are Rethought.”
Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/11/us/after-setbacks-online-courses-are-rethought.html


Wasted Potential

Aaron Swartz wan an open source advocate, helped write RSS and was a co founder of the site Reddit.  He released a “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto” in 2008 that called for resistance against academic papers and other information being held behind paywalls. (Schwartz 2011) Practicing what he preached got him in trouble.  Later that year he used a Python script to download over 20 million documents from PACER, an archive of federal judicial records.  Though what he did wasn’t illegal, which the FBI determined after an investigation, it did earn him the attention of federal authorities.   Swartz later filed a FOIA request for his FBI file, after it was granted he posted the contents of the file on his blog. (Amsden 2013)  In 2010 Swartz used similar scripts to download academic papers from the JSTOR archive using a laptop he hardwired to MIT’s network in an unlocked utility closet.  These downloads slowed and even overloaded some JSTOR servers causing JSTOR to shut down access from MIT.  Though the articles were free, access to JSTOR is not.  These downloads caused MIT to contact federal authorities and though Swartz turned over hardrives with the articles to JSTOR, federal prosecutors pursued felony charges and Swartz was faced with up to 35 years in prison.  (Amsden 2013) None of the plea deals offered offered by prosecutors carried anything less than felony charges and prison time, faced with this and battling depression Swartz ended his life January 11 2013.

The threat of nearly life in prison is a heavy weight for anyone to bear.  Though what he did is not on par with more violent crimes, the punishment is more severe than even that for murder.  Many believe he could have beaten the charges.  The network at MIT is extremely open, and agreements between MIT and JSTOR assured that this type of access was available.  Had either MIT or JSTOR wanted to limit the number of downloads a simple CAPTCHA could have been used, which makes it near impossible for scripts to continuously grab downloads.  The supposed hack that took place was using a guest account and hardwiring the laptop to an MIT terminal.  There was no firewall or password cracking or other security breach.  The network allowed for unlimited downloads and rather than sit there and manually access them Swartz wrote a script that essentially did the same thing. (Stamos 2013) The only real charges that should have stuck were unauthorized access to the utility closet, trespassing, which oddly enough did not appear in the federal indictment.

After getting away scott free with the PACER downloads and seemingly taunting the FBI posting his file on his blog it seems the authorities had it in for Swartz.  Also it seemed to serve as an example for other would be hackers.  If a millionaire, genius developer couldn’t beat these trumped up charges what chance would an average person have.  This dogged pursuit of a mass downloader seems to be part of what drove Swartz to suicide.

It seems to me that the government does not have it’s priorities in order.  It isn’t like Swartz was stealing credit card or bank info, or siphoning financial transactions.  He was downloading massive amounts of free information and posting it online without a paywall.  There was no money making scheme behind it.  The documents on question, both archived in PACER and JSTOR were partially funded by tax dollars.  Swartz was giving the public access to documents that their tax dollars helped pay to create.  It speaks to the ridiculousness of IP law in this country that people who didn’t author these documents were receiving money to access them.  The whole spirit behind IP law is that the creator can profit from their works, not some 3rd party aggregator.  It is mindboggling that Swartz was facing 35 years for stealing free information.  Sure accessing the utility closet may have been illegal but so are all those MP3s you have.


Amsden, David. 2013. The Brilliant Life and Tragic Death of Aaron Swartz. Rolling Stone.
Retrieved from http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/the-brilliant-life-and-tragic-death-of-aaron-swartz-20130215

Schwartz, John. 2011. Open-Access Avodcate Arrested for Huge Download. New York Times.
Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/20/us/20compute.html

Stamos, Alex. 2013. The Truth About Aaron Swartz’s “Crime”.
Retrieved from http://unhandled.com/2013/01/12/the-truth-about-aaron-swartzs-crime/