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Archive for May, 2013

Google Glass: Wearable Surveillance

1411835_the_live_food_

OTHER than the fact that Google Glass is Linux-powered and partly Free/Open Source, I have never had interest in Google Glass. The fact that it is hackable — in the sense one can install one’s own system on the hardware — sure makes a difference, but most people will never practise this freedom. As long as Google, by default, hoovers in data from Google Glass (like it does on the Nexus series), the data is easily accessible to the Surveillance Industrial Complex. This ties into the previous post about peer-surveillance. There is no escaping it and there is reason to antagonise Google Glass as a concept, irrespective of whether one buys/uses it. A lot of people will have no choice as to whether their life(as dynamic imagery) is taken and then uploaded to a datacentre with weak data sharing/protection/retention policy. This is not the same as CCTV. Here we talk about videos that are captured in private spaces, too, more so than surveillance drones whose motion is limited to aerial and is still privacy-infringing, albeit they’re less ubiquitous due to cost, air traffic control, legislation and so on.

This is not about resisting a brand. It’s not hating advancement or fearing the future as Google likes to paint it. It is about telling the difference between marketing (the technology for Google Glass as an implementable concept has been around for decades) and societal effects. It’s like antagonising proprietary software for its effects on society, regardless of practical uses. Fog Computing (‘cloud’) should be rejected on similar grounds. Not everything that can be done should be done, at least or especially if it disregards the consent of non-participants.

To the user, the novelty here is the size of the hardware, the image resolution, and the wireless connection speeds (not related to Google at all).

To the Surveillance Industrial Complex, the novelty here is the ability to access a private (i.e. not accessible by us) database of videos for any given person queried (identity can be derived in a variety of ways, ranging from inter-personal connections to audio, video, and geographical location).

Facebook: Peer-Maintained Surveillance Network, Now With Prompting

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Graph theory is essential to the Surveillance Industrial Complex — the privatised branch which maps people and assigns risk levels to them, depending for example on who they meet/met and/or speak/spoke to. Facebook extracts an immeasurable amount of work previously carried out by the Surveillance Industrial Complex. It outsources the effort. The cost is being passed to the public in exchange for games and pseudo-status.

Recently, owing to a friend, I came to realise that Facebook no longer requires anything more than a person adding himself/herself to the site in order for surveillance to commence. Users are now prompted to inform on peers, even those whose accounts (profiles) are vacant or inactive. Family connections, geo-location, face recognition/tagging are all done by one’s peers now. The only thing more worrying than this degradation of privacy is people’s lack of awareness of the ramifications.

The prompting mechanisms add all sorts of relational metadata, adding to prompting for tagging of photos with names, even names of people who are not registered Facebook users.

I often hear arguments that go something along the lines of, “if you don’t like Facebook, then don’t use it.” Well, it’s not as simple as that. You may choose to leave Facebook alone, but Facebook will never — ever — leave you alone. The Surveillance Industrial Complex uses is to gather intelligence on everyone in civilisation. I can almost sympathise with countries that banned Facebook.

Identi.ca is Throwing Away Everybody’s Work That Made Identi.ca What it is

Identi.ca becomes part of the ‘Internet rot’ problem

Disc

“Wait, What? Identi.ca Doesn’t Care About My Data???”

Well, it just had to happen sooner or later. Face the facts. So-called ‘Cloud’ (or Fog as I prefer to call it) Computing is hype and it is dangerous not just in the security sense. Your data, or even your sentimentally-valued information, memories, etc. have no value to others, those who merely provide hosting for self gain or ego or whatever.

Over the years I have seen many so-called ‘clouds’ collapse, whereas with my stuff, almost everything is in tact, even what was online a decade ago (maybe IP addresses changed a little, but it is all still “up there”). This is because to oneself, data matters and data has value. It’s my data. To Fog Computing providers, your data is just mere “content”, something for other users to “consume”, potentially for “monetisation” by the managing party.

Even if the ‘cloud’ is built on Free/Open Source software, and even if that software is made available for download, there is no guarantee that data will be exportable from the database. Identi.ca is a good example of this point (more on that later). What a travesty!

“Why Are You Surprised?”

I previously wrote about my experience losing all my data and work at Digg and Netscape (see the posts “Digg Stabs All Users in the Back, Deletes All Their Content, EVERYTHING!” and “With ‘Cloud Computing’ You Can’t Keep Your Data Under Your Control“).

One could rename and do a rendition of “never fall in love again” as “never fall in cloud again”. Fog Computing is toxic, and the more years go by, the more people (and businesses) will recognise this. From losing access to new binary releases or newly-updated source code people are now losing access to actual data, which they never even retained on their own devices in the first place. What a suicidal decision that would have to be…

“Backup? Export? Where’s the Profit in That?”

Some days ago I made an effort to advise Identi.ca to preserve content and make old URLs accessible, for the sake of preservation. About a week earlier I enquired about the backup feature (experimental) being broken and not allowing me to export my data; this had been broken for years! I never receives a response Right now it says it “provides an incomplete backup” and finally I can actually export some data, but only the past month’s data (I have posted there for over 4 years).

Recently, having suffers another major ‘cloud’ data loss, I made a local copy of all my tweets. Twitter’s archive dump is well-formatted after Twitter announced the feature (months ago) and refined it over time, making it available to all users and not just select few, taking minutes to generate an archive and then sending a notification by E-mail, indicating an archive is ready for download (I have posted nearly 85,000 tweets). This is a commendable move by Twitter, but still, given that Twitter traffic declined 20% in the past 3 months alone (based on Alexa.com), how long will Twitter be hosting the tweets itself and thus keep URLs in tact?

“Sites Go Dark? Never!”

Well, actually it happens all the time, usually financial considerations being a major factor for the operator/s. Consider all the third-party image hosting services and link shorteners such as http://ping.fm/ that I used a lot in 2009-2010. These latter services are a nightmare even in the eyes of the founder of the World Wide Web as lacking any contextual information like link/page, the URLs are worthless; they are utterly dead and useless links, they cannot be recovered even through the Web Archive. Often enough this renders the tweets too rather useless. If people use shorteners in blogs, then they are truly misguided and they too will suffer the consequences.

“Didn’t Identi.ca PR Say it Was Just a Conversion

Identi.ca is trying to call this a “conversion”, but the only thing such sites seem to be planning to convert is user accounts, and not even many of them. Reading “Identi.ca conversion to pump.io” again, it seems clear all user data will be deleted (not left online, thrown away). As manual backup is trimmed/incomplete, this leaves users like myself unable to even pull the raw data while the site and the database are still online. What incompetence; what a betrayal!

“So New Software Platform Means Starting From Scratch?”

It sure seems to be the case. “The Identi.ca social network service will be moving to a new software platform on June 1, 2013,” says the announcement. This is a nice way of saying that the site is reassessing the way it operates and perhaps the business/operating model, neglecting all that was put into it by many users. It started by stating the migration would occur in one of the secondary domains and now this is coming to Identi.ca, as some people feared.

In a month-old post titled “Identi.ca conversion to pump.io” says:

Active accounts will be converted automatically to the new platform. Active users don’t have to do anything to continue using the service.

Accounts that have not been used since May 1, 2012 will not be converted. If you have friends or people you like on Identi.ca that you think should keep being users, please let them know. Just posting one notice will mean their account gets converted.

If you’re interested in seeing how pump.io works right now, you can set up an account by going to http://pump.io/ and clicking the “try it” button.

pump.io has a very different API than StatusNet. If you use a desktop or mobile client for Identi.ca, please check with the software developer to see if they’re planning to port to pump.io.

Backups of all public data will be available on archive.org after the switchover. You can also make a manual backup.

pump.io is under active development; some features you’re used to from StatusNet will be unavailable or will be implemented by third parties. There are a lot of things that pump.io does better, though. Social games, sharing pictures, and web-wide social buttons are just part of the new fun.

How hard would it have been to just keep the old CMS in tact, even for the sake of old URLs being accessible? Probably trivial bar space and CPU concerns, right? Identi.ca should reconsider its position on this. Maybe Evan (Identi.ca founder) can ‘kickstart’ a fund-raiser to help sponsor this; I would put my money in to preserve my data. Maybe others would, too.

New Identi.ca means the following: Heaps of broken URLs, disregard for people’s work which was posted online (essentially just like in the case of Digg, Netscape/Propeller, etc.), and elimination of many connections like “Followers”/”Following”. It was bad enough when theme-related information got dumped as part of the previous software upgrade. Not the same is being done with post data. Only user data is preserved (name, E-mail, etc.). Imagine if YouTube did the same thing, throwing people’s videos out with the bathwater… YouTube did throw away people’s theme-related information when it applied some updated, but these are often restorable with some effort. The same goes for Facebook with its layout tweaks. Imagine the outrage resulting from a Facebook announcement that it is dumping all old posts and photos…

“So It’s All Gone in a Few Days?”

Seems so, unless Identi.ca decides to keep the StatusNet setup in tact, as least for legacy purposes (I have thousands of links to Identi.ca URLs out there, and they are needed for context).

I have some mirroring of selected Identi.ca accounts in a IRC channel, which I back up and make available online for good. Alas, that is hardly a substitute.

“What Can I Learn From This Disaster?”

When your online work (including Facebook, Twitter, etc.) will no longer align with someone else‘s business model, say goodbye to it all. Yes, seriously. This is not a charity.

Yesterday I wrote about self-hosting one’s photographs. No guarantee of export options in Flickr, eh? Are you listening, Flickr MicroHoo! users? As my friend Tract put it in “Tracy’s photo album,” this is “better than flickr! I won’t lose all of my pics when flickr disappears.”

Recently, speaking to relatives or mine, I advised them to access Friendster to export or save their accounts’ contents before it’s too late to do so. A stampede to export would cost a site in the process of shutting down a lot in terms of bandwidth, reducing incentive to provide such an option, especially when there is no brand/reputation to protect anymore. And if you think Twitter and Facebook are any different, think again. The only difference is, those sites are probably quite a few years away from shutting down and throwing the content down the drain. Why else would the Library of Congress already amass tweets of everyone? Spying concerns aside (profiling people based on their posts from decades in the past), this shows that the US government too recognises that all Fog Computing ends up the same way — it ends up down. Not up, down. Offline, probably stored on some magnetic tape/disc in some warehouse owned by some company which had nothing to do with the data and not making accessible online, even to those who provided all this data. In due course this storage media too will erode, collect dust, and become inaccessible (incapable or getting salvaged), in essence destroying the data for good and not even giving data contributors a chance to preserve/curate the data themselves.

“What Should Identi.ca Do?”

It’s simple. Keep the data up. Keep the old URLS in tact. Make the privately-owned database accessible one way or another. If the backup feature permits complete download of all data for a given user, then it doesn’t resolve all the issues, but it may resolve some.

Gallery3 is Great

Logo of Gallery

GALLERY (see Wikipedia for background) was first installed in this Web site about 8 years ago. That was version 1. I installed version 2 a few years later (for security reasons and general exploration), but did not delve deep into it. It is still installed, but I chmoded it to 700. Recently, shortly after our wedding, I started experimenting with version 3, which is also known as Gallery3 (because the name “Gallery” is very generic, non-unique). Despite is being barebones by default, with additional modules it is highly extensible/configurable and I have added many modules that can be seen in the live site. For me, Gallery3 seems to be the best FOSS Web-based photo album software bar none. It is far better than Facebook’s proprietary ‘cloud’-based option, which I installed Gallery3 to replace (the wife was quitting Facebook for image hosting). I did experiment with some other options, but these were less well-suited. For those who may be curious (or those wanting to replicate some functionality), the latest Gallery3 album uses a slightly modified (by me) Clean Canvas Theme. along with the following modules (configured appropriately):

  • AddThis
  • Akismet
  • Album Carousel
  • Album Tree
  • Carousel
  • DownloadAlbum
  • Exif Data
  • Gallery Stats
  • Image Block
  • Local print
  • Notification
  • Search
  • Slideshow
  • Social Share
  • Tags

A few more modules are installed by default and additional languages got installed manually.

People should increasingly self-host their photos. The opposite trend is worrisome as there is no guarantee of albums preservation; it’s hinged on somebody else’s business model. Go to the Gallery Web site and learn how to reclaim your photos. It is a long-term investment of time and effort.

Schestowitz.com Statistics: Over 10% of Visitors Use GNU/Linux

4 days before the end of this month

schestowitz.com 2013 stats

chestowitz.com 2013 stats for OS

CCTV Not Effective

Surveillance camera

WITHOUT a doubt, there are circumstances where evidence extracted from CCTV is valuable. For instance, if there is a street/pub brawl, one can use footage to verify or falsify eyewitness accounts or the story told by those involved in a brawl.

For the most part, however, CCTV fails to justify its great cost, not just monetary cost but also the cost to our civil liberties. Today I got a good reminder of that.

Having spent nearly an hour speaking to security personnel and the local police, I found that CCTV did, in fact, capture the stealing of my hybrid bike (retails at around £500) roughly two hours ago. This was captured because I only ever park and chain my bike to solid objects like designated bike rails in front of cameras and in the presence of many people.

Not only did several cameras capture good footage of my bike being stolen but also the store manager (the store I was in for just 10 minutes) was at the parking lot witnessing the crime. Was that enough to prevent the crime? No. To capture the perpetrator? No. To return the stolen bike? No.

The perpetrator wore a hoodie, so it is hard to identify him (the footage only identifies him as a black man in his mid-twenties, to quote security personell who investigated it). It is too early to assume that the bike won’t be returned and the perpetrator caught, but the matter of fact is, CCTV, as I long argued (for many years), does not help prevention and rarely helps identification.

If the perpetrator is very naive, in which case he or she is removed from the scene early on, then it might work, but the hard cases cannot be resolved by CCTV. All that can be achieved is the confirmation that a certain crime occurred and in cases where an insurance agency is involved, it may help prevent insurance/benefit fraud. My bike was not insured. I don’t know any people who buy bike insurance.

Surveillance tools which are run and owned by the state (or law-enforcement agencies), as in CCTV, are not there to protect and arguably they do not serve as a deterrent either. They are probably not worth the investment. More people need to be on the ground, creating more jobs and adding to real security, not sci-fi pseudo-futuristic security theatre.

BT Support: Too Hard to Return a Call

Hours on the line and several days just waiting at home for promised calls, all in vain

Telephone

MY 2013 BT saga continues. At this stage, it’s not a technical fault, now it’s a support services failure. There is no excuse for being unable to call at a specified time several times in a row, especially when an automated caller dispatches formal reminders that those calls should be expected. It shows either arrogance or negligence.

For the uninitiated, my BT connection has been rocky since January of this year, leading not only to chaos with my professional and personal life (I am connection-dependent) but also to approximately a dozen hours on the phone (net total) with BT representatives overseas.

Diagnosis involved physical work from me too, all up to the point where actual engineers were sent to my house to address the issue by bypassing what might have been a faulty socket. It wasn’t conclusive. Why did it take BT so many months to send out engineers to the troubled site?

After the issue had been resolved I was promised that the supervisor (whose name I will omit) would discuss compensation with me. So I called up and spent a long time on the phone arranging for him to phone back (he was not working that day). I actually had to stay at home all morning and afternoon that day in expectation of that call. But he didn’t call. He must have ‘forgotten’. So then I had to call again — a call lasting about a quarter of an hour, with me addressing a person who never heard of my case at any time before and therefore had to spend time catching up. He said the supervisor would return a call but never said when. Apparently he phoned back when I was out (one cannot expect a person to be at home 24/7 by specifying no time, home is not a prison cell). Why did he not call at the specified time in the first place? This is becoming nonsensical, wasteful, and difficult for everyone.

So yesterday I had to spend another half an hour or so on the phone (a little less) only trying to get hold of the supervisor to get my compensation. So far I have spent nearly an hour just trying to get hold of the person who can issue the compensation. This is in addition to a dozen or so hours on the phone this year — hours spent in vain as they probably needed to send out an engineer to the house all along. Well, this is what it’s like being a BT customer. If your time has no value and your connections stability has no high priority, then BT might be fine. You will end up speaking to many different representatives, explaining your problem over and over again; solution can take weeks or months to be found, so satisfaction from the customer is clearly hard to attained.

The only reason I have not quit BT is that they kept making false promises that they would resolve the issue and changing ownership/management of the line to another company can take weeks in the UK (with wired connection being down). That’s the lock-in they have through landline. All I can do now is warn others that BT has very dysfunctional support services which fail to call back when they promise to call (this is not the first time they fail to phone back) and can’t send out engineers with equipment that can fix the problem because that may be ‘too expensive’ for BT (over the long run, not resolving the issue would prove even more expensive for both sides).

Update: the supervisor ‘forgot’ to phone again. This is at least the third time. It’s inexcusable. I called up with no anger but with a more assertive tone and got compensation, or so they claim (we shall see billing next month). I actually had to say that I would escalate this to their management in order to make real progress. It’s sad that being gentle and polite just doesn’t get things done. The supervisor, whose name I prefer not to share (for his own protection, which he may not deserve after repeated failure to call), tried to use the “I have been unwell” excuse for sympathy and mercy (fearing escalation to his superior), but why is he working then? Excuses for failures don’t make things any better, they make things worse. BT has a systemic issue in its hands and unless something is done about it, many other people will suffer the same way I suffered.

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