Innovation first, then security

The internet of things: It can help us manage our energy use even when we’re away from home, it can help you let people into your house remotely or make receiving packages easier. It can help you monitor your own family, home security issues or grocery use.. and it can help others monitor you.

A recent Gizmodo investigation, for example, revealed that Amazon’s smart doorbell/home security system Ring had major security vulnerabilities even despite a company pledge to protect user privacy. Gizmodo was able to uncover the locations of thousands of ring devices within a random Washington DC area. While only the Ring users who chose to use the Neighbors app were revealed, this still represents a major vulnerability which is ripe for exploitation.

Reflecting the density of Ring cameras that have been used to share footage on Neighbors over the past 500 days. Screenshot: Gizmodo

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Innovation first, then security

It’s Not You, Or Me!

Pop quiz: What do climate change and social media privacy have in common?

“Stop Global Warming” by Piera Zuliani is licensed under CC BY-ND 4.0

If you said, “a distracting and inaccurate focus on individual actions” you’re correct! Congratulations! Pat yourself on the back and pour yourself a congratulatory beer, glass of wine, coffee, or soda.

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It’s Not You, Or Me!

AI in the Canadian Government: The Immigration Edition

Over the last two years or so, the Canadian Government has been openly exploring the issue of how some government processes, such as the processing of lower risk or routine immigration files can be made more efficient through the use of AI (machine learning) algorithmic processes.

The good news is that the adoption of these systems has so far been guided by a digital framework which includes making the processes and software open by default whenever possible. These guidelines hint at a transparency that is necessary to mitigate algorithmic bias.

Input Creativity
“Input Creativity” by Row Zero – Simon Williamson is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0

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AI in the Canadian Government: The Immigration Edition

AI security hits a Canadian University: Proceed with Caution

I usually only post to this blog once per week, but a news story caught my eye today since it concerns my sector (higher education), my country (Canada) and my passion (technology critique).

Mount Royal University: Image from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/mru-ai-security-1.5136407

Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta is going to be the first organization in Canada to install an AI system for the purposes of security. This system consists of a network of cameras and a machine learning algorithm that spends the first few weeks learning what “normal” movement looks like on campus, then uses that baseline to detect if there might be a security issue. Deviations from normal in this case, signal a potential “threat” or at least an event worth looking into. As described by the Vice-President, Securities management in a recent CBC article:

“when that pattern breaks, what it does, that screen comes to life and it shows the people in the security office where the pattern is now different and then it’s up to a human being to decide what to do about it,”

Continue reading “AI security hits a Canadian University: Proceed with Caution”

AI security hits a Canadian University: Proceed with Caution

The Data Divide: Who Gets to Know About You?

According to recent research at the Social Media Lab in Toronto, Canada, Canadians are somewhat comfortable with academic researchers accessing their social media data. 56% of Canadians indicate that they are ok with their data being used for academic research purposes. In contrast, only 34% of Canadians feel comfortable with marketers accessing their social media data, but this discomfort is unfortunately at odds with the way social media companies make money, meaning every day Canadians are exposing themselves to the groups which they don’t really (when asked) want to access their data.

A subway platform with the words "mind the gap" written on the floor
“Mind The Gap” by Allen Brewer is licensed under CC by 2.0

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The Data Divide: Who Gets to Know About You?

Social Media Mindfulness Is Not Enough

A group of virtual reality avatars sitting in a circle engaging in meditation
“VR Meditation Guided by Jeremy Nickel” posted to Flickr by Sansar VR. Available at https://flic.kr/p/GBrspR CC-BY 2.0

It used to be only a few voices on the margin: Ian Bogost, Sherry Turkle, Geert Lovink, or Evgeny Morozov, for example, who urged people to think a little more about the time they were spending on social media. But soon the whisper grew and now the movement may be reaching the mainstream. With the rise to prevalence of former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris and his Center for Humane Technology, and with the Facebook Privacy/Cambridge Analytical scandal all over congress and the world news, people are starting to have conversations that were considered almost laughable before. Continue reading “Social Media Mindfulness Is Not Enough”

Social Media Mindfulness Is Not Enough

(They)’ll be watching you

If I were to rewrite the iconic 1983 Police hit song “I’ll be watching you” for the information age, it might go something like this:

Black and white video image of a bass player from the music video for "Every Breath You Take" by the Police.
Sing it, Sting! Screen Capture from Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMOGaugKpzs

Every pic you take,
Every move you make,
Every post you make,
Every word you say,
They’ll be watching you.

Oh can’t you see,
They’re using more than cookies.
They’re with you on every road,
On every app you download.

You clicked “I agree”,
And now they see what you see,
They’re tracking you,
And all your pictures too,
They’re always watching you.

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(They)’ll be watching you

Because You’re a Media Company

Yesterday, Sandy Parakilas published an insightful op-ed in the NY Times. Titled We Can’t Trust Facebook to Regulate Itself. In this article, Parakilas,  a developer for Facebook leading up to the 2012 IPO, describes Facebook as “a company that prioritized data collection from its users over protecting them from abuse.” Parakilas writes:

Facebook knows what you look like, your location, who your friends are, your interests, if you’re in a relationship or not, and what other pages you look at on the web. This data allows advertisers to target the more than one billion Facebook visitors a day. It’s no wonder the company has ballooned in size to a $500 billion behemoth in the five years since its I.P.O.

The more data it has on offer, the more value it creates for advertisers. That means it has no incentive to police the collection or use of that data — except when negative press or regulators are involved. Facebook is free to do almost whatever it wants with your personal information, and has no reason to put safeguards in place.

In my PhD dissertation, completed in 2013, I made this very point from the outside, arguing for strong evidence that Facebook is in essence a media company rather than the technology provider that at that time they claimed to be. There is an important difference between a technology company and a media company of course. A technology company doesn’t tend to make money off of advertising whereas advertising is essential for media companies. What is particularly insidious about Facebook, as highlighted in Parakilas’ op-ed, is that beyond simply providing attention to advertisers, Facebook also mines and sells user data.

Continue reading “Because You’re a Media Company”

Because You’re a Media Company

Why I Don’t Use Facebook: Part 2

This is a follow up to my first post, which details why I think you can be an effective social media advisor, even if you are not personally on Facebook yourself. In this post, I’m going to briefly discuss some of the larger political and economic reasons why I do not engage on Facebook, and why I’m thinking about withdrawing my participation from social media completely, on a personal level that is.

A video camera pointed at a Facebook logo with barbed wire in the background
Facebook Video by Esther Vargas. Retrieved from Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/dC3AV4

Ahhhhh Facebook! The ubiquitous social network that allows us to freely cyber stalk each other, and live our FOMO best lives in the public eye! A platform that allows us to specify our likes and dislikes, to be collected for all to see! An online bazaar where marketers take all the information we have freely given and use it to sell us more stuff! Facebook how did we ever live without you?

Continue reading “Why I Don’t Use Facebook: Part 2”

Why I Don’t Use Facebook: Part 2