mfioretti: privacy*

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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.
    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.

    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.
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  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.
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  3. Mark Zuckerberg also launched Facebook with a disdain for intrusive advertising, but it wasn’t long before the social network giant became Google’s biggest competitor for ad dollars. After going public with 845 million users in 2012, Facebook became a multibillion-dollar company and Zuckerberg one of the richest men on Earth, but with only a promise that the company would figure out how to monetize its platform.

    Facebook ultimately sold companies on its platform by promising “brand awareness” and the best possible data on what consumers actually liked. Brands could start their own Facebook pages, which people would actually “like” and interact with. This provided unparalleled information about what company each individual person wanted to interact with the most. By engaging with companies on Facebook, people gave corporate marketing departments more information than they could have ever dreamed of buying, but here it was offered up free.

    This was the “grand bargain,” as Columbia University law professor Tim Wu called it in his book, The Attention Merchants, that users struck with corporations. Wu wrote that Facebook’s “billions of users worldwide were simply handing over a treasure trove of detailed demographic data and exposing themselves to highly targeted advertising in return for what, exactly?”

    In other words: We will give you every detail of our lives and you will get rich by selling that information to advertisers.

    European regulators are now saying that bargain was a bad deal. The big question that remains is whether their counterparts in the U.S. will follow their lead.
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  4. Facebook's ability to figure out the "people we might know" is sometimes eerie. Many a Facebook user has been creeped out when a one-time Tinder date or an ex-boss from 10 years ago suddenly pops up as a friend recommendation. How does the big blue giant know?

    While some of these incredibly accurate friend suggestions are amusing, others are alarming, such as this story from Lisa*, a psychiatrist who is an infrequent Facebook user, mostly signing in to RSVP for events. Last summer, she noticed that the social network had started recommending her patients as friends—and she had no idea why.

    "I haven't shared my email or phone contacts with Facebook," she told me over the phone.

    The next week, things got weirder.

    Most of her patients are senior citizens or people with serious health or developmental issues, but she has one outlier: a 30-something snowboarder. Usually, Facebook would recommend he friend people his own age, who snowboard and jump out of planes. But Lisa told me that he had started seeing older and infirm people, such as a 70-year-old
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2018-01-28)
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  5. urope has propelled past the United States when it comes to constraining the abuses of Big Tech. In June, the European Union fined Google $2.7 billion for steering web users to its shopping site, and investigations remain active over similar treatment on Android phones. European regulators fined Facebook for lying about whether it could match user profiles with phone numbers on its messaging acquisition WhatsApp. They demanded Apple repay $15.3 billion in back taxes in Ireland. And they forced Amazon to change its e-book contracts, which they claimed inappropriately squeezed publishers.
    AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

    Trust-Busted: In 2002, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates had to testify at federal court in his company's antitrust case. The public trial led Microsoft to sfoten its aggressive strategy against rivals.

    Unfortunately, these actions were treated mainly as the cost of doing business. The Facebook fine totaled not even 1 percent of the $22 billion purchase price for WhatsApp, and it allowed the two companies to remain partnered. Government policy, in effect, has “told these companies that the smart thing to do is to lie to us and break the law,” said Scott Galloway in his presentation. Google’s remedy in the shopping case still forces rivals to bid for placement at the top of the page, with Google Shopping spun off as a stand-alone competitor. This does weaken Google’s power and solves the “equal treatment” problem, but it doesn’t protect consumers, who will ultimately pay for those costly bids. “The EU got a $2.7 billion fine to hold a party and bail out Greek banks,” said Gary Reback, an antitrust lawyer and critic of the EU’s actions. “No amount of money will make a difference.”

    However, one thing might: Europe’s increasing move toward data privacy. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), scheduled for implementation in May 2018, empowers European web users to affirmatively opt out of having their data collected, with high penalties for non-compliance. Consumers will be able to obtain their personal data and learn how it is used. They can request that their data be erased completely (known as the “right to be forgotten”) as well as prohibited from sale to third parties. Platforms could not condition use of their products on data collection. A separate, not-yet-finalized regulation called ePrivacy would forbid platforms from tracking users across separate apps, websites, and devices.
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  6. Since the earliest days of Facebook, social scientists have sent up warnings saying that the ability to maintain separate "contexts" (where you reveal different aspects of yourself to different people) was key to creating and maintaining meaningful relationships, but Mark Zuckerberg ignored this advice, insisting that everyone be identified only by their real names and present a single identity to everyone in their lives, because anything else was "two-faced."

    Zuck was following in the footsteps of other social network entrepreneurs who attempted to impose their own theories of social interaction on mass audiences -- danah boyd has written and presented extensively on the user rebellions of Friendster from people who wanted to form interest-based affinity groups and use pseudonymous identities for different activities, which Friendster rejected out of a mix of commercial concerns (it wanted users to arrange their social affairs to make it easier to monetize them) and fringe theories of social interaction.

    But while all the other social networks collapsed, Facebook thrived, and imposed the Zuckerberg model of "one identity, one context" on billions of users, who, research consistently finds, are made unhappy and angry by their use of the service, but are nevertheless psychologically compelled to continue using it, creating a vicious feedback loop that even Zuck has acknowledged as a risk to his business.

    In 2008, I found myself speaking with the big boss himself, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. I was in the second year of my Ph.D. research on Facebook at Curtin University. And I had questions.

    Why did Facebook make everyone be the same for all of their contacts? Was Facebook going to add features that would make managing this easier?

    To my surprise, Zuckerberg told me that he had designed the site to be that way on purpose. And, he added, it was "lying" to behave differently in different social situations.

    Up until this point, I had assumed Facebook's socially awkward design was unintentional. It was simply the result of computer nerds designing for the rest of humanity, without realising it was not how people actually want to interact.

    The realisation that Facebook's context collapse was intentional not only changed the whole direction of my research but provides the key to understanding why Facebook may not be so great for your mental health.

    The secret history of Facebook depression Dr Kate Raynes-Goldie/ »
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  7. Some entries are ambiguous. Take Microsoft, under the “operational services” category. PayPal apparently supplies the tech company with an image of a customer–a photo or video–or their image from an identity document for the purposes of “facial image comparison for fraud protection” and “research and testing as to appropriateness of new products.” The former sounds like some kind of facial recognition system that PayPal uses to look for fraud. But the latter is uneasily broad. What kind of research is Microsoft doing using pictures of PayPal users’ faces? PayPal did not comment on this specific question.
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  8. "Continueremo a lavorare con le autorità francesi per garantire che gli utenti comprendano quali informazioni vengono raccolte e come vengono utilizzate", ha affermato WhatsApp in una dichiarazione inviata per posta elettronica. "Ci impegniamo a risolvere le diverse e talvolta contraddittorie preoccupazioni che hanno sollevato le autorità per la protezione dei dati, con un approccio comune a livello europeo prima che nuove norme sulla protezione dei dati a livello di blocco entrino in vigore nel maggio 2018".

    I trasferimenti di dati da WhatsApp a Facebook avvengono in parte senza il consenso dell'utente, ha ribadito l'ente francese che ha anche respinto le argomentazioni di WhatsApp secondo le quali l'azienda sarebbe soggetta solo alla legge degli Stati Uniti. Il monito francese, è "un avviso formale, non una sanzione", ma il colosso dei messaggi rischierebbe di incorrere in multe in una fase successiva.
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  9. Most of Facebook’s uncanny guesswork is the result of a healthy percentage of users simply handing over their address books.

    But that doesn’t mean Facebook hasn’t thought about employing users’ metadata more strategically to make connections between them. Patents filed by Facebook that mention People You May Know show some ingenious methods that Facebook has devised for figuring out that seeming strangers on the network might know each other. One filed in 2015 describes a technique that would connect two people through the camera metadata associated with the photos they uploaded. It might assume two people knew each other if the images they uploaded looked like they were titled in the same series of photos—IMG_4605739.jpg and IMG_4605742, for example—or if lens scratches or dust were detectable in the same spots on the photos, revealing the photos were taken by the same camera.

    It would result in all the people you’ve sent photos to, who then uploaded them to Facebook, showing up in one another’s “People You May Know.” It’d be a great way to meet the other people who hired your wedding photographer.
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2018-01-13)
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  10. il consenso di uno dei genitori non potesse escludere l’illiceità della condotta di chi pubblica le foto del minore se la diffusione è dannosa. Il principio è condiviso dal Garante della privacy che, in più occasioni (e in linea con la Carta di Treviso del 1990), ha invitato a non pubblicare sui giornali i dati identificativi dei minori se non è essenziale per l’interesse pubblico della notizia.
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