mfioretti: data ownership* + percloud*

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  1. The point is that Facebook has a strong, paternalistic view on what’s best for you, and it’s trying to transport you there. “To get people to this point where there’s more openness – that’s a big challenge. But I think we’ll do it,” Zuckerberg has said. He has reason to believe that he will achieve that goal. With its size, Facebook has amassed outsized powers. “In a lot of ways Facebook is more like a government than a traditional company,” Zuckerberg has said. “We have this large community of people, and more than other technology companies we’re really setting policies.”

    Without knowing it, Zuckerberg is the heir to a long political tradition. Over the last 200 years, the west has been unable to shake an abiding fantasy, a dream sequence in which we throw out the bum politicians and replace them with engineers – rule by slide rule. The French were the first to entertain this notion in the bloody, world-churning aftermath of their revolution. A coterie of the country’s most influential philosophers (notably, Henri de Saint-Simon and Auguste Comte) were genuinely torn about the course of the country. They hated all the old ancient bastions of parasitic power – the feudal lords, the priests and the warriors – but they also feared the chaos of the mob. To split the difference, they proposed a form of technocracy – engineers and assorted technicians would rule with beneficent disinterestedness. Engineers would strip the old order of its power, while governing in the spirit of science. They would impose rationality and order.

    This dream has captivated intellectuals ever since, especially Americans. The great sociologist Thorstein Veblen was obsessed with installing engineers in power and, in 1921, wrote a book making his case. His vision briefly became a reality. In the aftermath of the first world war, American elites were aghast at all the irrational impulses unleashed by that conflict – the xenophobia, the racism, the urge to lynch and riot. And when the realities of economic life had grown so complicated, how could politicians possibly manage them? Americans of all persuasions began yearning for the salvific ascendance of the most famous engineer of his time: Herbert Hoover. In 1920, Franklin D Roosevelt – who would, of course, go on to replace him in 1932 – organised a movement to draft Hoover for the presidency.

    The Hoover experiment, in the end, hardly realised the happy fantasies about the Engineer King. A very different version of this dream, however, has come to fruition, in the form of the CEOs of the big tech companies. We’re not ruled by engineers, not yet, but they have become the dominant force in American life – the highest, most influential tier of our elite.

    There’s another way to describe this historical progression. Automation has come in waves. During the industrial revolution, machinery replaced manual workers. At first, machines required human operators. Over time, machines came to function with hardly any human intervention. For centuries, engineers automated physical labour; our new engineering elite has automated thought. They have perfected technologies that take over intellectual processes, that render the brain redundant. Or, as the former Google and Yahoo executive Marissa Mayer once argued, “You have to make words less human and more a piece of the machine.” Indeed, we have begun to outsource our intellectual work to companies that suggest what we should learn, the topics we should consider, and the items we ought to buy. These companies can justify their incursions into our lives with the very arguments that Saint-Simon and Comte articulated: they are supplying us with efficiency; they are imposing order on human life.

    Nobody better articulates the modern faith in engineering’s power to transform society than Zuckerberg. He told a group of software developers, “You know, I’m an engineer, and I think a key part of the engineering mindset is this hope and this belief that you can take any system that’s out there and make it much, much better than it is today. Anything, whether it’s hardware or software, a company, a developer ecosystem – you can take anything and make it much, much better.” The world will improve, if only Zuckerberg’s reason can prevail – and it will.

    The precise source of Facebook’s power is algorithms. That’s a concept repeated dutifully in nearly every story about the tech giants, yet it remains fuzzy at best to users of those sites. From the moment of the algorithm’s invention, it was possible to see its power, its revolutionary potential. The algorithm was developed in order to automate thinking, to remove difficult decisions from the hands of humans, to settle contentious debates.

    The essence of the algorithm is entirely uncomplicated. The textbooks compare them to recipes – a series of precise steps that can be followed mindlessly. This is different from equations, which have one correct result. Algorithms merely capture the process for solving a problem and say nothing about where those steps ultimately lead.

    These recipes are the crucial building blocks of software. Programmers can’t simply order a computer to, say, search the internet. They must give the computer a set of specific instructions for accomplishing that task. These instructions must take the messy human activity of looking for information and transpose that into an orderly process that can be expressed in code. First do this … then do that. The process of translation, from concept to procedure to code, is inherently reductive. Complex processes must be subdivided into a series of binary choices. There’s no equation to suggest a dress to wear, but an algorithm could easily be written for that – it will work its way through a series of either/or questions (morning or night, winter or summer, sun or rain), with each choice pushing to the next.

    Facebook would never put it this way, but algorithms are meant to erode free will, to relieve humans of the burden of choosing, to nudge them in the right direction. Algorithms fuel a sense of omnipotence, the condescending belief that our behaviour can be altered, without our even being aware of the hand guiding us, in a superior direction. That’s always been a danger of the engineering mindset, as it moves beyond its roots in building inanimate stuff and begins to design a more perfect social world. We are the screws and rivets in the grand design.
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  2. "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."
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  3. earlier this month, The Australian uncovered something that felt like a breach in the social contract: a leaked confidential document prepared by Facebook that revealed the company had offered advertisers the opportunity to target 6.4 million younger users, some only 14 years old, during moments of psychological vulnerability, such as when they felt “worthless,” “insecure,” “stressed,” “defeated,” “anxious,” and like a “failure.”

    The 23-page document had been prepared for a potential advertiser and highlighted Facebook’s ability to micro-target ads down to “moments when young people need a confidence boost.” According to The Australian’s report, Facebook had been monitoring posts, photos, interactions, and internet activity in real time to track these emotional lows. (Facebook confirmed the existence of the report, but declined to respond to questions from WIRED about which types of posts were used to discern emotion.)

    The day the story broke, Facebook quickly issued a public statement arguing that the premise of the article was “misleading”
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  4. Facebook, which now owns WhatsApp, is fighting a challenge to its new privacy policy that it unveiled last year. According to the new privacy policy WhatsApp can share some user data with Facebook, which the Mark Zuckerberg-led company can then use in various ways. Although WhatsApp says that it will (still) not share all the information that users generate through their chats, India Today Tech noted earlier , Facebook only needs the phone number of a user to build a full WhatsApp profile for that user. The company most likely already has other details on users.

    Also Read: WhatsApp will ONLY share phone number but that is all Facebook needs

    The new WhatsApp privacy has been criticised worldwide. Just days ago, a court in Germany asked Facebook to stop harvesting user information from WhatsApp. After the court order, Facebook said that it was pausing the sharing of WhatsApp user data with Facebook in whole of Europe. The ruling came even as the European Union privacy watchdog continues to probe the new privacy policy.

    However, in India where privacy laws are non-existent, Facebook and WhatsApp have so far defended their new privacy policy. It is also important to note that India is one of the biggest markets for both Facebook and WhatsApp and that could also be one of the reasons why Facebook wants to enforce its new privacy policies here. Data from Indian users could be commercially very attractive for the company.
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  5. Key functions of an ecosystem of collaborative software tools:

    Here are a number of areas that we have decided are critical to this collaborative ecosystem.

    Notifications Dashboard: aggregated notifications of activity that is sourced from activity from tools in the ecosystem
    Chat and Direct Messaging: one-to-one and one-to-many messaging, with tunable privacy as appropriate to communication goals
    Representation of Group Membership and Group Auth: a tool that stores who is a member of which group, who can see the data that the group contains, and can invoke single-purpose tools through “group authentication”
    Representation of which groups are using which tools: this enables the community to understand which tools are part of the set of tools in use in a given environment
    Intent-casting + Collaborative discovery: discovery of aligned intentions + matching of available requests and offers. Can include bounties/price tags in a variety of currencies.
    Collaborative ideation & brainstorming: allows decentralized groups to ideate and brainstorm together
    Collaborative decision making: allows decentralized groups to come to decisions together
    Collaborative budgeting: allows decentralized groups to allocate common-pool resources
    Network visualization: allows users to interact with different types of visual representations of shared data and membership
    __Reputation: allows users to assess the past actions of network participants based on user tunable, context aware preferences
    Identity: allows users to be aware of the identity of other users over time tied to reputation
    Mutual Credit: allows users to create and track mutual credit exchanges
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  6. Movim
    When social network meets IM,
    you can expect some surprises…

    Our main motto? Don't reinvent the wheel. Since the beginning all the Movim communications are made using XMPP.
    Voting 0
  7. list of Free Software network services and web applications which can be hosted locally. Selfhosting is the process of locally hosting and managing applications instead of renting from SaaS providers.
    Voting 0
  8. DigiLocker is a key initiative under Digital India, Government of India’s flagship program aimed at transforming India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy.

    It is targeted at paperless governance. It is a platform to issue and verify certificates/documents digitally and thus eliminate the use of physical documents. Indian citizens who sign up for DigiLocker get free dedicated cloud storage space.

    Organizations that are registered with DigiLocker can push digital copies of documents/certificates (e.g. driving license, educational certificates) directly into citizens’ lockers. Citizens can also upload scanned copies of their legacy documents into their accounts. Citizens can share these documents with other departments while availing their services.

    How is DigiLocker connected to ownCloud? Is it built on ownCloud?

    Digital Locker ecosystem has three main components:

    Citizen Lockers: A dedicated storage space for registered users to upload and store their documents.
    Documents Repositories: These are document repositories of various issuers across India. DigiLocker connects to these repositories using a gateway. The documents from these repositories are made available in citizens’ lockers in the form of a link. These documents are referred as Issued Documents.
    Gateway: The gateway connects to all issuer repositories using a standard set of APIs and provides a uniform access mechanism for other organizations and departments who want to access the documents stored in these repositories.

    ownCloud is used to provide the Citizen Locker feature.

    Why did you decide to go with ownCloud as a platform? Were you looking for a free and open source tool or was ownCloud just the best tool for the job?

    For DigiLocker, we were looking for an enterprise scale open platform that is capable of leveraging upon other scalable technologies. This was critical for DigiLocker as we aimed at building a highly scalable product with minimal cost. We found that the ownCloud readily provides a lot of features that we were looking for. It provides a variety of option from traditional file system to distributed file system for file storage. It provides a rich set of APIs for a variety of clients. More importantly, it was available in PHP which was a language of our choice. ownCloud being an open source platform was also an important reason to selecting it. DigiLocker is built completely on open source and open stack technology. We want to showcase that a national system like this can be built using open source technologies.
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  9. Summary

    Decentralized thinking is hard. So hard that future generations might see the Internet as a historical abberation.

    In a Linux Journal piece entitled Giving Silos Their Due, Doc Searls laments that decentralized services, with a few notable exceptions, haven't become the preferred way of engineering new technologies. He says:

    In those days, many of us had full confidence that Jabber/XMPP would do for instant messaging (aka chat) what SMTP/POP3/IMAP did for e-mail and HTTP/HTML and its successors did for publishing and all the other things one can do on the World Wide Web. We would have a nice flat, distributed and universal standard that people could employ any way they wanted, including on their own personal hardware and software, with countless interoperable systems and no natural barriers to moving data easily from any one system to any other.

    Didn't happen.

    And in fact, Jabber/XMPP isn't the only place this didn't happen, as Doc goes on to point out. In fact, after Web 1.0, decentralized protocol-based systems have never become the preferred way to do something significant on the Internet.

    I remember telling Doc a while back that I'm often afraid that the Internet is an aberration. That is a gigantic accident brought on by special circumstances. That accident showed us that large-scale, decentralized systems can be built, but those circumstances are not normal.

    Jon Udell was visiting this week and we spoke in similar tones about blogging and how it turned from a vibrant, two-way conversation to a place for electronic magazines and think-pieces. Early blogging felt like a community. I met many of the people I now consider good friends through blogging. Now, blogging is just a way to market, even if all you're marketing is ideas. People understand posting on Facebook or Medium cause it's simple, fast, and gets immediate attention.

    Similarly, Jon's elmcity project, meant to demonstrate the network effects that emerge in physical communities from a decentralized system for calendar events, couldn't get traction because, as I understand it, people understand a Facebook Event page or sending a tweet more easily than they do publishing their calendar. Even when people got calendars, try getting them to understand why putting a PDF document online isn't good enough.

    I get that decentralized thinking is hard. Even harder is getting a decentralized ecosystem off the ground. The Internet was a fun little playground before 1994. Of course the first nodes on the Internet were put in place in 1969. When I was in grad school in the 80's there were so few public nodes in the Internet, we could FTP an entire list from Berkeley anytime we set up a new machine. That's a long incubation period for something we now consider a critical infrastructure of the modern world. Man-made, decentralized things are difficult to pull off.

    So, yeah, I'm a dinosaur. Like Doc, I'll "never believe silos are the best way to make the world work in the long run. And I'll always believe that the flat distributed world built on free and open stuff is the most supportive and fertile base on which to build the best and broadest range of goods and services." I'm pretty confident that the return of Online Service 2.0, what I call the The CompuServe of Things, will ultimately leave people flat. I hope that the IoT ultimately creates the right circumstances for a resurgence of decentralized thinking.
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  10. Smettero' di utilizzare Facebook, perche' mi sono convinto che e' una scelta indispensabile per continuare a considerarmi una persona decente. Era da tempo che mi ripromettevo di andarmene, con molteplici e valide motivazioni: tempo rubato alla lettura di libri, dispersione in un flusso superficiale di notizie privo di ogni approfondimento, convinzione sempre piu' radicata che Facebook sia l'equivalente moderno della televisione come strumento di massificazione, omologazione e devastazione culturale, dipendenza dalle interazioni con gli altri che ti spinge a collegarti ad ogni possibile occasione per seguire "cosa succede di la'" con la continua sensazione di perderti qualcosa di imperdibile.
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