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Google Glass: Wearable Surveillance

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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).

Equal Versus Identical

Being on par without necessarily being the same

It recently occurred to me that I never wrote about feminism in 8 years of this blog running and almost 10 years of this Web site existing (I actually wrote the first page over 10 years ago, but it resided in a different domain). I thought I would address this subject, laying out my thoughts and perhaps compare them to my opinion a few decades later.

When I was young I was pretty disconnected from the debate about feminism, as I was merely a teenager. While I was respectful to women, I was not so tolerant of gay people (it was more fashionable to alienate them at the time), not that I said anything offensive to them though. When I got older and entered academia I identified myself as somewhat of a liberal, so I was naturally strong on the equality side; therefore I became very much in favour of women’s rights and gay rights. I saw them as somewhat parallel to my fight for software freedom and fair competition in IT. Slavery is another, but let’s leave that aside for now. It’s very different except for the reparation argument. Also, gender and sexual orientation are quite different from race, although all of them are not a person’s own choice, unlike religion for example.

Something happened as I grew older and saw how feminism is being used by the ultra-feminists, primarily in the situation where one wants special treatment, bashes men, portrays them as stupid on TV while at the same time resorting to antiquated women’s privileges like alimony when it suits a goal of convenience. I am still all in favour of equality, but where it becomes a two-dimensional strategy where ‘victimhood’ is used as well as claims of privilege, then it is becoming problematic for men.

But here is where my main dilemma now lies. Gender roles are being blurred out and claims of discrimination often lead to a state where guys are expected to act feminine (ultra-proud gay people play a role in this) and women become more masculine, which, in my humble opinion, also makes them less attractive and less likely to manage to sustain a marriage. It is that which I call the confusion between equality and identity, or the fight for equality resulting in the pretense that men are equal to women in every way, even strength, leading to a mismatch between activities and actual innate skills. For instance, a man is still better off doing physical chores because men are, in general or on average, stronger. They are not as well endowed as women in many other ways, including the ability to conceive and give labour. There is nothing derogatory in the latter role; in fact, in many ways it is more important because all men and women are raised through this process.

But anyway, just to quickly conclude, to take claims for equality too far can often do more damage than good. To make men act in a way their DNA is not programmed for is a bad idea and for women to get more aggressive is also a bad idea; it weakens the family unit, which in turn challenges the upbringing of future generations (discipline, example from parents, etc.). Single-parent families are fine, so that’s not the point.

Let’s keep the debate over equality civil and not try to impose our views on others. Let’s not let zeal exploit the existing movements and give them a bad name, either. All genders, races, etc. deserve equal rights, but let’s not pretend they are all identical in nature. People are attracted to opposites, not copies of themselves (which usually just lead to competition, not harmony and complementation).

IF you find this post offensive, please explain why. It’s not intended to offend anyone.

Google Apps Are Bad

Office surveillance, like in phones

Mobile phone

GOOGLE is sometimes said to have rescued us from Microsoft Office monopoly. But what has it really brought about? Now we are distracted enough to forget about Free software alternatives such as OpenOffice.org and instead we push some enterprises into using spyware — an office suite which tracks everything and keeps one’s data online for government to access upon will. Moreover, Google Apps (including Docs) does not properly support ODF, causing all sorts of issues, including on Android devices.

Google should not be treated as a solution to office suites lock-in. Google has become part of the problem.

Bringing Down Plutocrats

THE OTHER day I finally managed to catch up with news that I had missed whilst away in September. It was then that I resumed looking into plutocrats whom I understand enough to comment on. I am personally fed up with all that political ‘debate’ in the US — a debate that mostly seems to focus on two factions of the same party, the Business Party, controlled of course by business owners or plutocrats. Protesters often refer to them as the “one percent”.

Over the coming weeks or months I intend to spread and to share my understanding of scams such as the Gates Foundation, only one among many such ‘charities’ whose main function is PR, tax evasion, and many other things. It’s not unique, but understanding this one example often helps people understand the rest. It trains people’s critical faculties and helps realisation of loopholes, spin, and deception.

One by one we can eliminate the delusion that multi billionaires are somehow more hard working, more deserving of political power, and above all deserving of a lot of love, recognition, and admiration from the public. To love one’s looter is not just sad; it’s sick, and people ought to do something about it.

Thoughts on Privacy on the Web

Cookies and cross-site connections help track Internet users in ways far worse than most people realise. People assume that when they visit a particular site then it is this site alone which knows about them. Moreover, they assume that they are logged off and thus offer no identifying details. In reality, things are vastly different and it is much worse when public service sites act as “traps” that jeopardise privacy. A site that I recently looked at (as part of my job) does seem to comply with some of the basic rules, but new advisories are quite strict. To quote: “The UK government has revised the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, which came into force in the UK on 26 May, to address new EU requirements. The Regulations make clear that UK businesses and organisations running websites in the UK need to get consent from visitors to their websites in order to store cookies on users’ computers.”

The BBC coverage of this indicates that “[t]he law says that sites must provide “clear and comprehensive” information about the use of cookies…”

Regulating cookies is not enough. ISPs too can store data about the Web surfer and, as Phorm taught us, they sometimes do. They sell information about people.

In more and more public sites, HTTPS/SSL is supported and cookies remain within the domain that is “root” in the sense that the visitors intended to visit only this one domain (despite some external bits like Twitter timelines in the sidebars/front page. Loading up Twitter.com, even via an API, might help a third party track identities). Shown in the following image is the large number of cookies used when one accesses pages from Google/GMail (even without having a GMail account).

Cookies

Although SSL is now an integral part of this service (since the security breaches that Windows caused), privacy is not assured here. Although they don’t swap cookies across domain visitors, Google’s folks do track the user a great deal and they have many cookies in place (with distant expiry date) to work with.

Information on how Google will use cookies is hard to obtain, and the problem is of course not unique to Google cookies. Most web browsers automatically accept cookies, so it is safe to assume that about 99% of people (or more) will just accept this situation by default. If a site had provided visitors information about cookies, permitted secure connections (secure to a man in the middle) and not shared information about its visitors, contrary to the EU Commission which foolishly wanted to put spyware (Google Analytics) in pages, then there is at least indication of desire to adhere to best practices.

Cookies are not malicious by design as they are necessary for particular features, but to keep people in the dark about the impact of cookies on privacy is to merely assume that visitors don’t care and won’t care about the matter. And that would be arrogant.

To make some further recommendations, privacy should be preserved by limiting the number of direct connection to other sites. Recently, I have been checking the source of some pages to see if there’s any HotLinking that’s unnecessary in public sites, which would be a privacy offense in the sense that it leave visitors’ footprints on another site. Outbound links can help tracking, but only upon clicking. The bigger issues are things like embedded objects that invoke other sites like YouTube. HotLinking, unlike Adobe Trash, cannot result in quite the same degree of spying (Google knows about IP address and individual people). If all files can be copied locally, then the problem is resolved. Who operates linked sites anyway? If it’s a partner of a sister site, then storing files remotely might be fine, but with AWS growing in popularity, Amazon now tracks a lot of sites, e.g. through image hosting.

Sites like Google, Facebook (FB) and Twitter, if linked or embedded onto a Web page, can end up taking a look at who’s online at the site. All it takes from the visitor is the loading of a page, any page for that matter. FB is often criticised for the “like” button too (spyware). JavaScript (JS) has made the spying harder to keep track of; it would be best practice to perhaps offer JS-free pages by default, which limits viewing by a third party assuming those scripts invoke something external. Magpie RSS can help cache copies of remote data locally and then deliver that to the visitor without the visitor having to contact another server when loading up the primary target site. Some sites these days have you contact over 10 different domains per pageload. It’s the downside of mashup, and it extends to particular browser components too (those which “phone home”, but the user usually had more control over them than over known and unpredictable page source). Google and Microsoft uses their cookie to track people at both levels – browser and in-page (sometimes under the guise of “security”, babysitting and warning about “bad” sites you visit). Facebook and Twitter only do the latter and a lot of people don’t welcome that. Facebook, notoriously, profiles people (e.g. are they closeted gay? Is there fertility/erectile dysfunction? Any illnesses the person obsesses over?) and then sells this data to marketing firms and partners, reportedly Microsoft too.

Public sites have different regulations applied to them because many people are required to visit them (e.g. paying taxes), it is not a choice, not to mention the sovereignty principles (e.g. should Google know who and when and how European citizens access their government sites which they themselves paid for?).

In society there is a lot of ransom going on — a lot of ransom people do not regonise or will never be known or reported. This relies primarily in information, unless there is a physical hostage situation (where the prison is at danger of mortal harm). But the bottom line is, those who have the potential to embarrass others possess a lot of power, so there is a fundamental issue of civil liberties at stake. This is why, among several reasons, the TSA agents stripping off (literally or figuratively, or in scanner) is a way of dehumanising and thus weakening the population, normalising indecency and maybe returning us to memories of some human tragedies. The privacy people have is tied to their indignity, worth, and sense of self/mutual respect. Privacy is not a luxury; it is an important tenet of society. Society will suffer if privacy is altogether lost.

Trolls and Censorship

PEOPLE often fail to understand that a troll will strive to be inflammatory so as to push for censorship, then play the “victim” card. This is one of the most effective ways for the troll to discredit its target — to claim to be suppressed and then see how far it can be pushed. The solution to this is not easy; one is to let the troll do the trolling and another is to actually censor the troll. Does anyone have good advice on the matter?

The Days of Books Are Numbered

Stack of books

ANY book which does not get digitised (e.g. scanned or made available electronically) will most likely cease to be relevant some day in the near future. The way the young generation accesses information is changing, so libraries will provide no viable life line to printed literature. Moreover, what is not Open Access is likely to perish because the young generation gets accustomed to rapid access to a lot of information, free of charge. Any impediments to access will end up prioritising the competition. Those who still submit papers for publication ought to check that their papers are either made available free of charge (online) or can be legally made available online through one’s own homepage for example (some publishers use copyright to prevent the camera-ready copies from being made available anywhere outside the paywalls). For work to endure the test of time it will need to be readily available (and searchable) for all to not only access but also share with peers. Just tossing lots of papers into Lecture Notes in Computer Science (LNCS) won’t be enough to make research visible because there is lack of focus and PDFs do not get properly indexed. I quit writing papers in LATEX when I realised the people just wanted the HTML versions and not the PDFs, based on access/usage.

The reading habits, access habits, and publications habits rapidly evolve and we need to cope with change. It’s not just Wikipedia that shows us the impact of coherent texts that do not get printed to be “primed” as peer-reviewed and thus “authenticated”/”validated”. Eventually, physical books might become just a last resort/vocation (or platform) for those who are clever but don’t have a Web site in which to share ideas. They will become the equivalent of flyers or billboard protests for those who do physically what they are unable to do digitally, with a potentially broader audience.

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Original styles created by Ian Main (all acknowledgements) • PHP scripts and styles later modified by Roy Schestowitz • Help yourself to a GPL'd copy
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