mfioretti: algorithms* + surveillance*

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  1. Stratumseind in Eindhoven is one of the busiest nightlife streets in the Netherlands. On a Saturday night, bars are packed, music blares through the street, laughter and drunken shouting bounces off the walls. As the night progresses, the ground becomes littered with empty shot bottles, energy drink cans, cigarette butts and broken glass.

    It’s no surprise that the place is also known for its frequent fights. To change that image, Stratumseind has become one of the “smartest” streets in the Netherlands. Lamp-posts have been fitted with wifi-trackers, cameras and 64 microphones that can detect aggressive behaviour and alert police officers to altercations. There has been a failed experiment to change light intensity to alter the mood. The next plan, starting this spring, is to diffuse the smell of oranges to calm people down. The aim? To make Stratumseind a safer place.

    We get that comment a lot – ‘Big brother is watching you’. I prefer to say, ‘Big brother is helping you’
    Peter van de Crommert

    All the while, data is being collected and stored. “Visitors do not realise they are entering a living laboratory,” says Maša Galic, a researcher on privacy in the public space for the Tilburg Institute of Law, Technology and Society. Since the data on Stratumseind is used to profile, nudge or actively target people, this “smart city” experiment is subject to privacy law. According to the Dutch Personal Data Protection Act, people should be notified in advance of data collection and the purpose should be specified – but in Stratumseind, as in many other “smart cities”, this is not the case.

    Peter van de Crommert is involved at Stratumseind as project manager with the Dutch Institute for Technology, Safety and Security. He says visitors do not have to worry about their privacy: the data is about crowds, not individuals. “We often get that comment – ‘Big brother is watching you’ – but I prefer to say, ‘Big brother is helping you’. We want safe nightlife, but not a soldier on every street corner.”
    Revellers in Eindhoven’s Stratumseind celebrate King’s Day.
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    Revellers in Eindhoven’s Stratumseind celebrate King’s Day. Photograph: Filippo Manaresi/Moment Editorial/Getty Images

    When we think of smart cities, we usually think of big projects: Songdo in South Korea, the IBM control centre in Rio de Janeiro or the hundreds of new smart cities in India. More recent developments include Toronto, where Google will build an entirely new smart neighbourhood, and Arizona, where Bill Gates plans to build his own smart city. But the reality of the smart city is that it has stretched into the everyday fabric of urban life – particularly so in the Netherlands.
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    In the eastern city of Enschede, city traffic sensors pick up your phone’s wifi signal even if you are not connected to the wifi network. The trackers register your MAC address, the unique network card number in a smartphone. The city council wants to know how often people visit Enschede, and what their routes and preferred spots are. Dave Borghuis, an Enschede resident, was not impressed and filed an official complaint. “I don’t think it’s okay for the municipality to track its citizens in this way,” he said. “If you walk around the city, you have to be able to imagine yourself unwatched.”

    Enschede is enthusiastic about the advantages of the smart city. The municipality says it is saving €36m in infrastructure investments by launching a smart traffic app that rewards people for good behaviour like cycling, walking and using public transport. (Ironically, one of the rewards is a free day of private parking.) Only those who mine the small print will discover that the app creates “personal mobility profiles”, and that the collected personal data belongs to the company Mobidot.
    https://www.theguardian.com/cities/20...-privacy-eindhoven-utrecht?CMP=twt_gu
    Voting 0
  2. IoT will be able to take stock of your choices, moods, preferences and tastes, the same way Google Search does. With enough spreadsheets, many practical questions are rendered trivial. How hard will it be for the IoT — maybe through Alexa, maybe through your phone — to statistically study why, where and when you raise your voice at your child? If you can correlate people’s habits and physical attributes, it will be toddler-easy to correlate mood to environment. The digitally connected devices of tomorrow would be poor consumer products if they did not learn you well. Being a good and faithful servant means monitoring the master closely, and that is what IoT devices will do. They will analyze your feedback and automate their responses — and predict your needs. In the IoT, Big Data is weaponized, and can peer deeper into the seeds your life than the government has ever dreamed.
    https://www.salon.com/2018/02/19/why-...signed-for-corporations-not-consumers
    Voting 0
  3. Rome and London are two huge, sluggish beasts of cities that have outlived millennia of eager reformers. They share a world where half the people already live in cities and another couple billion are on their way into town. The population is aging quickly, the current infrastructure must crumble and be replaced by its very nature, and climate disaster is taking the place of the past’s great urban fires, wars, and epidemics. Those are the truly important, dull but worthy urban issues.

    However, the cities of the future won’t be “smart,” or well-engineered, cleverly designed, just, clean, fair, green, sustainable, safe, healthy, affordable, or resilient. They won’t have any particularly higher ethical values of liberty, equality, or fraternity, either. The future smart city will be the internet, the mobile cloud, and a lot of weird paste-on gadgetry, deployed by City Hall, mostly for the sake of making towns more attractive to capital.


    Whenever that’s done right, it will increase the soft power of the more alert and ambitious towns and make the mayors look more electable. When it’s done wrong, it’ll much resemble the ragged downsides of the previous waves of urban innovation, such as railways, electrification, freeways, and oil pipelines. There will also be a host of boozy side effects and toxic blowback that even the wisest urban planner could never possibly expect.

    “information about you wants to be free to us.”

    This year, a host of American cities vilely prostrated themselves to Amazon in the hopes of winning its promised, new second headquarters. They’d do anything for the scraps of Amazon’s shipping business (although, nobody knows what kind of jobs Amazon is really promising). This also made it clear, though, that the flat-world internet game was up, and it’s still about location, location, and location.

    Smart cities will use the techniques of “smartness” to leverage their regional competitive advantages. Instead of being speed-of-light flat-world platforms, all global and multicultural, they’ll be digitally gated communities, with “code as law” that is as crooked, complex, and deceitful as a Facebook privacy chart.


    You still see this upbeat notion remaining in the current smart-city rhetoric, mostly because it suits the institutional interests of the left.

    The “bad part of town” will be full of algorithms that shuffle you straight from high-school detention into the prison system. The rich part of town will get mirror-glassed limos that breeze through the smart red lights to seamlessly deliver the aristocracy from curb into penthouse.

    These aren’t the “best practices” beloved by software engineers; they’re just the standard urban practices, with software layered over. It’s urban design as the barbarian’s varnish on urbanism.

    If you look at where the money goes (always a good idea), it’s not clear that the “smart city” is really about digitizing cities. Smart cities are a generational civil war within an urban world that’s already digitized.

    It’s a land grab for the command and control systems that were mostly already there.
    https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/02/stupid-cities/553052
    Voting 0
  4. As problematic as Facebook has become, it represents only one component of a much broader shift into a new human connectivity that is both omnipresent (consider the smartphone) and hypermediated—passing through and massaged by layer upon layer of machinery carefully hidden from view. The upshot is that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to determine what in our interactions is simply human and what is machine-generated. It is becoming difficult to know what is real.

    Before the agents of this new unreality finish this first phase of their work and then disappear completely from view to complete it, we have a brief opportunity to identify and catalogue the processes shaping our drift to a new world in which reality is both relative and carefully constructed by others, for their ends. Any catalogue must include at least these four items:

    the monetisation of propaganda as ‘fake news’;
    the use of machine learning to develop user profiles accurately measuring and modelling our emotional states;
    the rise of neuromarketing, targeting highly tailored messages that nudge us to act in ways serving the ends of others;
    a new technology, ‘augmented reality’, which will push us to sever all links with the evidence of our senses.



    The fake news stories floated past as jetsam on Facebook’s ‘newsfeed’, that continuous stream of shared content drawn from a user’s Facebook’s contacts, a stream generated by everything everyone else posts or shares. A decade ago that newsfeed had a raw, unfiltered quality, the notion that everyone was doing everything, but as Facebook has matured it has engaged increasingly opaque ‘algorithms’ to curate (or censor) the newsfeed, producing something that feels much more comfortable and familiar.

    This seems like a useful feature to have, but the taming of the newsfeed comes with a consequence: Facebook’s billions of users compose their world view from what flows through their feeds. Consider the number of people on public transport—or any public place—staring into their smartphones, reviewing their feeds, marvelling at the doings of their friends, reading articles posted by family members, sharing video clips or the latest celebrity outrages. It’s an activity now so routine we ignore its omnipresence.

    Curating that newsfeed shapes what Facebook’s users learn about the world. Some of that content is controlled by the user’s ‘likes’, but a larger part is derived from Facebook’s deep analysis of a user’s behaviour. Facebook uses ‘cookies’ (invisible bits of data hidden within a user’s web browser) to track the behaviour of its users even when they’re not on the Facebook site—and even when they’re not users of Facebook. Facebook knows where its users spend time on the web, and how much time they spend there. All of that allows Facebook to tailor a newsfeed to echo the interests of each user. There’s no magic to it, beyond endless surveillance.

    What is clear is that Facebook has the power to sway the moods of billions of users. Feed people a steady diet of playful puppy videos and they’re likely to be in a happier mood than people fed images of war. Over the last two years, that capacity to manage mood has been monetised through the sharing of fake news and political feeds atuned to reader preference: you can also make people happy by confirming their biases.

    We all like to believe we’re in the right, and when we get some sign from the universe at large that we are correct, we feel better about ourselves. That’s how the curated newsfeed became wedded to the world of profitable propaganda.

    Adding a little art to brighten an other-wise dull wall seems like an unalloyed good, but only if one completely ignores bad actors. What if that blank canvas gets painted with hate speech? What if, perchance, the homes of ‘undesirables’ are singled out with graffiti that only bad actors can see? What happens when every gathering place for any oppressed community gets invisibly ‘tagged’? In short, what happens when bad actors use Facebook’s augmented reality to amplify their own capacity to act badly?

    But that’s Zuckerberg: he seems to believe his creations will only be used to bring out the best in people. He seems to believe his gigantic sharing network would never be used to incite mob violence. Just as he seems to claim that Facebook’s capacity to collect and profile the moods of its users should never be monetised—but, given that presentation unearthed by the Australian, Facebook tells a different story to advertisers.

    Regulating Facebook enshrines its position as the data-gathering and profile-building organisation, while keeping it plugged into and responsive to the needs of national powers. Before anyone takes steps that would cement Facebook in our social lives for the foreseeable future, it may be better to consider how this situation arose, and whether—given what we now know—there might be an opportunity to do things differently.
    https://meanjin.com.au/essays/the-last-days-of-reality
    Voting 0
  5. By using algorithms to "triage" the neediness of poor people, system designers can ensure that the people harmed by the system are the least sympathetic and least likely to provoke outrage among those with political clout.

    Algorithmically defined guilt is also a problem because of the real problems agencies are trying to solve. In Allegheny, your child's at-risk score is largely defined by your use of social services to deal with financial crises, health crises, addiction and mental health problems. If you deal with these problems privately -- by borrowing from relatives or getting private addiction treatment -- you aren't entered into the system, which means that if these factors are indeed predictors of risk to children, then the children of rich people are being systematically denied interventions by the same system that is over-policing poor children.
    https://boingboing.net/2018/01/31/empiricized-injustice.html
    Voting 0
  6. Similarly, GOOG in 2014 started reorganizing itself to focus on artificial intelligence only. In January 2014, GOOG bought DeepMind, and in September they shutdown Orkut (one of their few social products which had momentary success in some countries) forever. The Alphabet Inc restructuring was announced in August 2015 but it likely took many months of meetings and bureaucracy. The restructuring was important to focus the web-oriented departments at GOOG towards a simple mission. GOOG sees no future in the simple Search market, and announces to be migrating “From Search to Suggest” (in Eric Schmidt’s own words) and being an “AI first company” (in Sundar Pichai’s own words). GOOG is currently slightly behind FB in terms of how fast it is growing its dominance of the web, but due to their technical expertise, vast budget, influence and vision, in the long run its AI assets will play a massive role on the internet. They know what they are doing.

    These are no longer the same companies as 4 years ago. GOOG is not anymore an internet company, it’s the knowledge internet company. FB is not an internet company, it’s the social internet company. They used to attempt to compete, and this competition kept the internet market diverse. Today, however, they seem mostly satisfied with their orthogonal dominance of parts of the Web, and we are losing diversity of choices. Which leads us to another part of the internet: e-commerce and AMZN.

    AMZN does not focus on making profit.
    https://staltz.com/the-web-began-dying-in-2014-heres-how.html
    Voting 0
  7. "All of us, when we are uploading something, when we are tagging people, when we are commenting, we are basically working for Facebook," he says.

    The data our interactions provide feeds the complex algorithms that power the social media site, where, as Mr Joler puts it, our behaviour is transformed into a product.

    Trying to untangle that largely hidden process proved to be a mammoth task.

    "We tried to map all the inputs, the fields in which we interact with Facebook, and the outcome," he says.

    "We mapped likes, shares, search, update status, adding photos, friends, names, everything our devices are saying about us, all the permissions we are giving to Facebook via apps, such as phone status, wifi connection and the ability to record audio."

    All of this research provided only a fraction of the full picture. So the team looked into Facebook's acquisitions, and scoured its myriad patent filings.

    The results were astonishing.

    Visually arresting flow charts that take hours to absorb fully, but which show how the data we give Facebook is used to calculate our ethnic affinity (Facebook's term), sexual orientation, political affiliation, social class, travel schedule and much more.
    Image copyright Share Lab
    Image caption Share Lab presents its information in minutely detailed tables and flow charts

    One map shows how everything - from the links we post on Facebook, to the pages we like, to our online behaviour in many other corners of cyber-space that are owned or interact with the company (Instagram, WhatsApp or sites that merely use your Facebook log-in) - could all be entering a giant algorithmic process.

    And that process allows Facebook to target users with terrifying accuracy, with the ability to determine whether they like Korean food, the length of their commute to work, or their baby's age.

    Another map details the permissions many of us willingly give Facebook via its many smartphone apps, including the ability to read all text messages, download files without permission, and access our precise location.

    Individually, these are powerful tools; combined they amount to a data collection engine that, Mr Joler argues, is ripe for exploitation.

    "If you think just about cookies, just about mobile phone permissions, or just about the retention of metadata - each of those things, from the perspective of data analysis, are really intrusive."
    http://www.bbc.com/news/business-39947942
    Voting 0
  8. Facebook’s entire project, when it comes to news, rests on the assumption that people’s individual preferences ultimately coincide with the public good, and that if it doesn’t appear that way at first, you’re not delving deeply enough into the data. By contrast, decades of social-science research shows that most of us simply prefer stuff that feels true to our worldview even if it isn’t true at all and that the mining of all those preference signals is likely to lead us deeper into bubbles rather than out of them.

    What’s needed, he argues, is some global superstructure to advance humanity.

    This is not an especially controversial idea; Zuckerberg is arguing for a kind of digital-era version of the global institution-building that the Western world engaged in after World War II. But because he is a chief executive and not an elected president, there is something frightening about his project. He is positioning Facebook — and, considering that he commands absolute voting control of the company, he is positioning himself — as a critical enabler of the next generation of human society. A minor problem with his mission is that it drips with megalomania, albeit of a particularly sincere sort. With his wife, Priscilla Chan, Zuckerberg has pledged to give away nearly all of his wealth to a variety of charitable causes, including a long-term medical-research project to cure all disease. His desire to take on global social problems through digital connectivity, and specifically through Facebook, feels like part of the same impulse.

    Yet Zuckerberg is often blasé about the messiness of the transition between the world we’re in and the one he wants to create through software. Building new “social infrastructure” usually involves tearing older infrastructure down. If you manage the demolition poorly, you might undermine what comes next.
    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/25/ma...n-facebook-fix-its-own-worst-bug.html
    Voting 0
  9. non voglio farla lunga, ma in allora, come oggi, io non controllavo affatto il dato e l’informazione personale volontariamente o forzosamente appresa ad ogni mio movimento; ciò che in qualche modo mi salvava nella tribolata adolescenza (non sempre invero) era il controllo della situazione sociale e del contesto.

    Il controllo sul dato-informazione non l’avevo con il macellaio del paese e non posso pensare di averlo oggi sul web con Google, Facebook e soprattutto con le mille agenzie statuali affette, per svariate e talvolta encomiabili ragioni, da bulimia informativa. Ma in allora avevo contezza e in qualche modo governavo le banali regole tecniche (le vie del paese, gli orari della corriera) e quelle sociali di prossimità del mio territorio.

    Oggi non ci riesco più. E non è solo per la quantità dei dati captati e memorizzati ad ogni passo ma per la totale opacità del contesto e delle regole tecniche e sociali che governano la nostra vita digitale.

    Algoritmi ignoti, insondabili ai loro stessi creatori, ricostruiscono la nostra immagine, creano punteggi e giudicano rilevanze e congruità a nostra totale insaputa. Banche, assicurazioni, imprese di ogni risma e fattezza (a breve l’internet delle cose ci stupirà) ma soprattutto lo Stato, con le sue mille agenzie di verifica e controllo, accedono ad ogni informazione decontestualizzandola, creando relazioni e correlazioni di cui non abbiamo coscienza, ma di cui subiamo quotidianamente le conseguenze.

    Non possiamo impedire tutto questo, il big data e gli open-data salveranno il mondo, d’accordo. Ma possiamo e dobbiamo pretendere di sapere il chi, il come e il quando. Abbiamo bisogno di sapere qual è il contesto, e quali sono le regole; solo così troveremo strategie, non per delinquere o eludere la legge (come sostiene parte della magistratura), ma per esercitare i diritti fondamentali della persona.

    Nel mondo fisico sappiamo quando lo Stato ha il diritto di entrare in casa nostra, o a quali condizioni possa limitare le nostre libertà personali, di movimento, d’espressione; nel mondo digitale non sappiamo, e neppure ci chiediamo, chi, quando e a quali condizioni possa impossessarsi dei nostri dati, dei nostri dispositivi tramite software occulti, della nostra vita. Accettiamo supinamente un’intollerabile opacità.

    Io ho qualcosa da nascondere da quando ho ricordi: sono riservatezze variabili a seconda dell’interlocutore, del tempo, del luogo e del contesto. E non voglio per me e i miei figli una società stupidamente disciplinata da una costante sorveglianza e decerebrata dagli algoritmi. Vorrei una società in cui l’asimmetria dell’informazione sia l’esatto opposto dell’attuale, dove purtroppo il cittadino è totalmente trasparente e lo Stato e le sue regole sono opache e incerte.
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    Carlo Blengino
    Carlo Blengino

    Avvocato penalista, affronta nelle aule giudiziarie il diritto delle nuove tecnologie, le questioni di copyright e di data protection. È fellow del NEXA Center for Internet & Society del Politecnico di Torino. @CBlengio su Twitter
    http://www.ilpost.it/carloblengino/2016/11/02/ho-qualcosa-da-nascondere
    Voting 0
  10. Yours might be one of angst and despair, or celebrations and "I told you so's." It depends on the people you're friends with and the online community you've created with your clicks, likes and shares.

    Facebook's algorithm knows what you like based on the videos you watch, people you talk to, and content you interact with. It then shows you more of the same. This creates something called "filter bubbles." You begin to see only the content you like and agree with, while Facebook (FB, Tech30) hides dissenting points of view.

    This means news on Facebook comes with confirmation bias -- it reinforces what you already think is true -- and people are increasingly frustrated.

    Facebook denies it's a media company, yet almost half of U.S. adults get news from Facebook.

    When Facebook fired its human curators and began to rely on algorithms to surface popular stories earlier this year, fake news proliferated.

    Viral memes and propaganda spread among people with similar beliefs and interests. It's cheaper and easier to create and spread ideological disinformation than deeply-researched and reported news. And it comes from all over -- teens in Macedonia are responsible for a large portion of fake pro-Trump news, according to a BuzzFeed analysis.

    Related: The plague of fake news is getting worse -- here's how to protect yourself

    Filter bubbles became especially problematic during the presidential election.

    Hyperpartisan news sites and fake websites distributed false stories about voter fraud, election conspiracies, and the candidates' pasts that spread like wildfire on Facebook. It was more prevalent on right-leaning Facebook pages. As CNNMoney's Brian Stelter said in response to the growing number of false viral stories, people should have a "triple check before you share" rule.

    Today, many people are shocked by Trump's victory. Words of fear and sorrow fill their Facebook feeds, and even those with thousands of friends are probably only seeing posts that echo their feelings.

    But if you voted for Trump, chances are your feed reflects the opposite. You might see a cascade of #MakeAmericaGreatAgain hashtags and friends celebrating.
    http://money.cnn.com/2016/11/09/techn...2Fedition_us+%28RSS%3A+CNNi+-+U.S.%29
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