Friday, October 11. 2013
I wrote this on Friday, but forgot to hit "Post" from Draft" till Monday.
Anyway, it was just to note in passing the benefits of anonymity in the MumsNet Penis Beaker Episode . In summary, a poster on MumsNet wondered if her husband - sorry, "DH" - was odd in that he kept a beaker by the bedside to dip his wick in after action. The responses on the thread ranged from the horrified to the hilarious, but #penisbeaker went viral and hit all the news media (see link above), crashing MumsNets servers in the process.
But here is the real lesson. The poster was anonymous (her handle - saracrewe - is a character in a novel. I wonder how many tabloid journos were trying to find all the Sara Crewe's in the UK all day ) and that - so far anyway - has saved her (and especially her "DH"'s) blushes*. Imagine if that was said by a real identity. Or if she had admitted something far more serious. The race to "true" identities is great for advertisers, but does have real drawbacks for social network users.
*So far - I do hope the poster has removed her identity** and all her posts on the site, it is amazing what you can tell from people's posting back history.......
**Oh dear - she hasn't.
Wednesday, June 26. 2013
The misunderstanding between the law and new media gets more ridiculous - Part 437.
In the last few weeks, in the UK, there was a trial of a teacher who ran off with a pupil to France, eventually returned, and was put on trial and imprisoned. The case itself has been somewhat interesting, for a whole bunch of reasons (try this for starters), but that is not the point of this post.
What happened, when the Teacher and the Pupil fled to France, was that her name and photos were blazoned all over the papers, blogs and social media - to the extent that her name and image pops up instantly if you even start to Google the name of the teacher. When she returned to the UK, there was a similar papparazigasm.
Cometh the trial, and the Powers That Be decreed the media could not mention her name, as she is supposed to be un-named forevermore. So the Print Media have religiously avoided using her name, even though she had been on their front pages (and many others inside) just a few short months earlier. However, everyone in the whole country (and you, with the stroke of a keypad) knows:
(i) Who she is
In other words she is about as anonymous as the standard B list celebrity
And yet would you believe, dear reader, that some people mentioned her name on Twitter while discussing the case! Yes, and now it appears the Long Arm Of the Law may go after them - Grauniad:
When a sexual offence becomes apparent, anonymity applies to the victim, for their lifetime. In the days of print and broadcast media, this was reasonably easy to maintain. The only way a member of the public could ascertain a victim's identity would be by trawling newspaper archives. By this weekend, about 200 people had referred to Forrest's victim by name on social media, despite the fact that she has two forms of legal anonymity – that for victims of sexual offences, and also by way of a court-imposed order under section 39 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933.
That did not stop the tweets though. Some were clearly confused at what they saw as an illogical legal bar to naming her, when her identity had been known so widely at the time of her abduction. Others clearly knew the legal position, but were intent on defying it because it did not make sense to them, or somewhat disturbingly, they did not think the victim deserved anonymity in this case. One taunted the authorities to sue him for it if they dared (apparently unaware that this is not a civil matter, it is a criminal one; naming a victim of a sexual offence is itself a sexual offence). This is perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the behaviour of those on social media: not those who were confused, but those who decided that because the law did not make sense to them, they would identify the victim anyway.
So, to paraphrase the old Russian saw, we now have to pretend to not know who she is, so the law can still pretend that it works. And despite the Guardian's harrumphing above, at the end of the day laws can only work when the majority of the population agree to obey them - and in this space, we are getting to the point where the law risks becoming an ass.
And this matters for another more important reason, because if left unopposed the Powers that Be will try to use this sort of case to silence people who talk about things that really do need talking about, like people and companies hiding unpleasant activities behind legal threats.
Friday, June 14. 2013
Like many others I've been watching the whole PRISM issue unfurl with an increasing measure of amusement and amazement, mainly that people are surprised and shocked. There is so much BS being spouted in every direction, I thought it may help to remind everyone of the 10 Rules Of Social Data Mining:
1. "Data wants to be Free", and most people give it away as if it was. It may want to be free, but it is very valuable.
If, while reading all the hoo-ha, you keep all that in mind, you may not lose your head
And (again) be careful what you put online. Datamining algorithms can tell a hell of a lot even from 30 days worth of your "what I had for lunch" tweet data once it's cross correlated with all the others in your network and teh other data out there that can be cross referenced to you
*They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety will get neither liberty nor safety - Benjamin Franklin
Saturday, June 1. 2013
I'm liking Microsoft's Kate Crawford, she too is a Big Data sceptic - her "6 Myths of Big Data" in the NYT is exactly the sort of thing we would write, so we've copied it (expurgated) here, with a few comments [in brackets]. In essence she thinks that Big Data boosters (aka Fundamentalists) are labouring under the misapprehension that more data = more facts = more accuracy, and she has pointed out 6 myths around this:
In other words, Big Data behaves in much the same way as Not-So-Big Data really.
We'd also add a Coda - Statistics, and to an extent Operations Research (or Decision Maths or whatever the latest in-word is), is the science (or art, too often) of estimating what large data sets will contain from much smaller datasets, and once those sample datasets are above a certain size they are fairly indistinguishable from the overall dataset, so long as they are properly randomly sampled. A lot of the "insights" from Big Data - the "80/20" in my experience - are usually quite easy to glean from small datasets and "Big Maths". In fact, if I may be so bold, I do think a lot of the Big Data hoo-ha is from people whose main grasp of maths is spreadsheets with $ sign denominations.
We will definitely keep a closer eye on Ms Crawford's work. I suspect Microsoft may as well
Thursday, March 28. 2013
Rapid7 discovered the files by searching for storage 'buckets' - logical pool of storage capacity - whose access setting has been changed to 'public', from the default setting of 'private'. This means that a list of the contents of the bucket can be seen to anyone that knows or guesses the URL.
Goes right back to the absolute basics of Security theory, i.e. nothing f*cks up a secure system quite like the "Man in the Middle" giving it all away, whether by design or accident. If you are going to put data in the cloud, make certain the company security procedures are up to it.
Clouds. Caveat Emptor.
Monday, February 11. 2013
Story in the Grauniad on the Social Media Tracking Big Data system built by Raytheon, ample demonstration of what the art (if that is the word) of the possible (see Guardian video above):
It's called RIOT and is an an "extreme-scale analytics" (Extreme data?) system created by Raytheon, a large US defence contractor, and gathers vast amounts of information about people from Facebook, Twitter, Gowalla and Foursquare, i.e it used different Social Media devices to cross collate individuals with different data, including the latitude and longitude co-ords in smartphones, and mashes it with Google Earth. The Grauniad notes that:
The technology was shared with US government and industry as part of a joint research and development effort, in 2010, to help build a national security system capable of analysing "trillions of entities" from cyberspace.
Quite. And here is the future, imperfectly spread, in these vignettes of RIOT:
The Employee as Corporate property
Digital Stalking Made Easy
The video shows that Nick, who posts his location regularly on Foursquare, visits a gym frequently at 6am early each week. Urch quips: "So if you ever did want to try to get hold of Nick, or maybe get hold of his laptop, you might want to visit the gym at 6am on a Monday."
Mining from public websites for law enforcement is considered legal in most countries. In February last year, for instance, the FBI requested help to develop a social-media mining application for monitoring "bad actors or groups".
Underlying all this is the issue that most people don't have a clue about what is really possible with Big Data. Ginger McCall, an attorney at the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Centre:
"Social networking sites are often not transparent about what information is shared and how it is shared," McCall said. "Users may be posting information that they believe will be viewed only by their friends, but instead, it is being viewed by government officials or pulled in by data collection services like the Riot search."
Add to this the developents in automatic face recognition software, and you start to see Big Brother's face emerging from the matrix.
But, we have been consistently over-optimistic when we have predicted people will start to realise what these systems can do, but we seem to way over estimate user concern for privacy. Maybe it's one of these things that has a slow fuse, and then one particular episode ignites it (like Millie Dowler in the phone-hacking cases). In which case, can we predict a riot at that point?
Tuesday, February 5. 2013
Yesterday a UK Was-Once-Important Politico got found guilty for speeding, and transferring the penalty points to his wife (illegal, but lots of couples do it) to avoid a driving ban. Anyway, after he did the original speed deed, there was then a rather textbook affair/acrimonious divorce/etc etc, and the points swopping somehow ( ) got into the public arena, cue faux meedja outrage (as if no-one else does same...), cue the politico still lying about it in public, cue the Wheels of Justice finally grinding out a verdict - and he gets done (backround here - BBC).
So far, so good, I hear you say - justice was done, a speed cheat was punished, what's the issue? (apart from the nagging worry that the only way the British seem to be able to get the Great and Good-gone-Bad into the clink is by going after minor misdemeanors like speeding and expenses rather than oh, lying to parliament, crashing the economy, fiddling the global LIBOR rate etc etc. Mind you, as Sophia Bennet reminded me, it was ever thus - Al Capone would be smiling wryly....).
But the point of this post is that the issue for digital media watchers to note is this one. Some of Huhne's teenage son's anguished private texts to his father were presented as evidence in court, but in such away that the Press were then allowed to publish them. And that the Press did then publish them, all over the front pages, despite there being no public interest at all. There are two major lessons from this, to mark very well:
In the Olde Days of email, it used to be said that you should never write what you didn't want to be read out in a court of law. In Social Media days it needs upgrading to "you should never write what you don't want to be read out in a court of law, picked over by millions on social media, and stored forever on multiple databases". Episodes like this show that there clearly needs to be a far stronger discussion about the rights people need to have over their own data, especially if it is going to be stored and datamined into perpetuity. The new media tools are a wonderful thing, but there needs to be a new social contract, backed up legally, about how they handle private data. If the new technology becomes seen as Just More Big Brother, it won't be trusted, which will - eventually, one byte at a time - massively reduce if not kill its utility
*And I mean sundry - the poor kid is now being lambasted online for some of the words he chose in those private texts, in his anguish. O Tempora, O Mores...
Saturday, December 8. 2012
Very good summary of the fine art of datamining by the WSJ, all you ever need to know is contained in this sentence:
Consider Dataium LLC, the company that can track car shoppers like Mr. Morar. Dataium said that shoppers' Web browsing is still anonymous, even though it can be tied to their names.The reason: Dataium does not give dealers click-by-click details of people's Web surfing history but rather an analysis of their interests.
In other words, they know who you are, its just that Dataium haven't decided to sell that data on - yet. That "yet" is turning to "now" though:
The use of real identities across the Web is going mainstream at a rapid clip. A Wall Street Journal examination of nearly 1,000 top websites found that 75% now include code from social networks, such as Facebook's "Like" or Twitter's "Tweet" buttons. Such code can match people's identities with their Web-browsing activities on an unprecedented scale and can even track a user's arrival on a page if the button is never clicked.
To repeat "One major dating site passed along a person's self-reported sexual orientation and drug-use habits to advertising companies". All it takes is a decision by some company who has a bit of your datato cross the Rubicon of unique identity handoffs, and bingo - you're outed. No one will tell you, so you have no say.
Now this has been happening for a while - heck, we've been railing about it for 5 years - but I don't think most people realise how prevalent it is:
Today, a single Web page can contain computer code from dozens of different ad companies or tracking firms. These separate chunks of code often share information with each other. For example: If, like Mr. Morar the car-shopper, you give your name to a website, it can sometimes be seen by other companies with ads or special coding on the site.
And if you are on a Social Network, its worse:
The rise of social networks is also making it easier to tie people's real identities to their online behavior. The "Like" button, for instance, can send information back to Facebook whenever Facebook users visit pages that have the button, even if they don't click it.
We have been continually amazed at how little people seem to care about privacy, our experience in talking to people over the last few years is they don't seem to be able to conceive that these organisations could do this, sually don't believe they would, and seem to have very little grasp of what the outcome could mean.
Hopefully an article like this, in something like the WSJ, will help increase awareness among the sort of people who could change opinion.
Friday, August 10. 2012
Creating a Trusted Information Currency on the Web (via Joyoftech)
A few days ago I wrote about "Greshams Law of Information" where, given equal transaction values (ie Google links) then bad information drives out good. This is demonstrable on Google these days as it gets (i) gamed and (ii) all sorts of paid for or belief based sites garner far more links than the boring truth with their superior resources (and now, maybe (iii) allowing interested parties to pay for link manipulation).
I defined 2 types of "crap info" on the web:
Now, in economic theory, "Thiers law" enters the cycle later on into any new ecosystem, correcting this imbalance for crap currency as one currency becomes the "go to" trusted currency:
For money, the argument is that, in the absence of legal tender laws, Gresham's Law works in reverse. If given the choice of what money to accept, people will transact with money they believe to be of highest long-term value. If required to accept all money, good and bad, they will tend to keep the money of greater perceived value in their possession, and pass on the bad money to someone else. In short, in the absence of legal tender laws, the seller will not accept anything but money of certain value (good money)
In that previous discussion I could see how Thiers law for Information will work for avoiding Ad-crap (my Case 1 above), mainly via social nmediation (recommendation sites for example) but I didn't work out how the Truth would Out against Belief Based Dis-information (My Case 2). Except for a small bunch of people who would pay a premium for the facts, I could not see a viable dynamic that woulld reverse Gresham's Law as the wall of self-interested money and time promoting crap is far, far greater than that promoting truth.
I did, however, forget about looking more carefuly at Wikipedia as a possible solution, but meeting Jimmy Wales last week got me thinking about it. In essence, the only resource as freely available and as dedicated to Truth that can counter the vested interests of crap-spreaders is a very large voluntary effort of crowd-sourcing, that creates a "trusted currency" of truth - of which at the moment, Wikipedia is the best example (Though I did like the advice to Marrissa Meyer given in joyoftech - see comic strip at top).
Which makes it all the more imporatnt to ensure it stays that way, as the vested interests are way ahead of me and have have already sussed that it is the Trusted Currency of the web, and know their best bet is to subvert it
Wednesday, August 1. 2012
Quora have made an "interesting" decision - Liz Gannes on AllThingsD:
It seems - at first glance - to be an easy way to annoy a lot of people with no real benefit - so why are the doing it?. Quora has some fairly sensitive subject areas, I'm not sure everyone wants to be seen to be cruising those boards. Also, this doesn't tell you who actually read it, ony whose cookie it was. It's not just them by the way, quite a few of the Social Nets we love are al rying to put an end to "online lurking" (which sounds a bit weighted - can we use the word "anonymity" instead?). Apparently Quara don't like pseudonyms either, in common with Facebook.
Quora exec Marc Bodnick said that the Views project is part of a larger effort to help Quora content creators get broader distribution. Views gives the authors better insight into how their contributions are spread.
“People on Quora are writing to be read,” Bodnick said. “What we’re telling you is that Quora is a distribution mechanism that works.”
But you don't need to display who browsed a piece to all and sundry, merely so authors can see who read their stuff. You just make it visible to authors only, so that can't be the reason, surely? I can see why power-writers will like it, but they are a small minority on any social network.You can disable it, but I have in the past been amazed at how much inertia people show to opting out of privacy reducing tools, and how little care some people have for their own privacy. But I still can't see how this is a great leap forward, and the risks to me seem to outweigh the benefits.
One for us "Digital Lurkers" to watch....
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