Entries Tagged "generations"

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Two Thoughtful Essays on the Future of Privacy

Paul Krugman argues that we’ll give up our privacy because we want to emulate the rich, who are surrounded by servants who know everything about them:

Consider the Varian rule, which says that you can forecast the future by looking at what the rich have today — that is, that what affluent people will want in the future is, in general, something like what only the truly rich can afford right now. Well, one thing that’s very clear if you spend any time around the rich — and one of the very few things that I, who by and large never worry about money, sometimes envy — is that rich people don’t wait in line. They have minions who ensure that there’s a car waiting at the curb, that the maitre-d escorts them straight to their table, that there’s a staff member to hand them their keys and their bags are already in the room.

And it’s fairly obvious how smart wristbands could replicate some of that for the merely affluent. Your reservation app provides the restaurant with the data it needs to recognize your wristband, and maybe causes your table to flash up on your watch, so you don’t mill around at the entrance, you just walk in and sit down (which already happens in Disney World.) You walk straight into the concert or movie you’ve bought tickets for, no need even to have your phone scanned. And I’m sure there’s much more — all kinds of context-specific services that you won’t even have to ask for, because systems that track you know what you’re up to and what you’re about to need.

Daniel C. Dennett and Deb Roy look at our loss of privacy in evolutionary terms, and see all sorts of adaptations coming:

The tremendous change in our world triggered by this media inundation can be summed up in a word: transparency. We can now see further, faster, and more cheaply and easily than ever before — and we can be seen. And you and I can see that everyone can see what we see, in a recursive hall of mirrors of mutual knowledge that both enables and hobbles. The age-old game of hide-and-seek that has shaped all life on the planet has suddenly shifted its playing field, its equipment and its rules. The players who cannot adjust will not last long.

The impact on our organizations and institutions will be profound. Governments, armies, churches, universities, banks and companies all evolved to thrive in a relatively murky epistemological environment, in which most knowledge was local, secrets were easily kept, and individuals were, if not blind, myopic. When these organizations suddenly find themselves exposed to daylight, they quickly discover that they can no longer rely on old methods; they must respond to the new transparency or go extinct. Just as a living cell needs an effective membrane to protect its internal machinery from the vicissitudes of the outside world, so human organizations need a protective interface between their internal affairs and the public world, and the old interfaces are losing their effectiveness.

Posted on April 14, 2015 at 6:32 AMView Comments

"Santa Claus and the Surveillance State"

He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake.

He’s everywhere.

And that’s the whole point of the Elf on the Shelf, the bright-eyed, Kewpie-esque doll that millions of parents display around their homes in December as a reminder to children to behave. The elf, the story goes, is an agent reporting back to Santa Claus, and he’s tasked with documenting any seasonal misdeeds for his jolly boss.

The elf also, a new paper argues, promotes acceptance of a surveillance state. An excerpt from co-authors Laura Pinto and Selena Nemorin:

Children…may not touch the doll, and they must accept that the doll watches them at all times with the purpose of reporting to Santa Claus. This is different from more conventional play with dolls, where children create play-worlds born of their imagination, moving dolls and determining interactions with other people and other dolls.

Instead, the elf encourages children “to accept or even seek out external observation of their actions outside of their caregivers and familial structures.”

Also, this.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Posted on December 25, 2014 at 6:21 AMView Comments

"Cooperating with the Future"

This is an interesting paper — the full version is behind a paywall — about how we as humans can motivate people to cooperate with future generations.

Abstract: Overexploitation of renewable resources today has a high cost on the welfare of future generations. Unlike in other public goods games, however, future generations cannot reciprocate actions made today. What mechanisms can maintain cooperation with the future? To answer this question, we devise a new experimental paradigm, the ‘Intergenerational Goods Game’. A line-up of successive groups (generations) can each either extract a resource to exhaustion or leave something for the next group. Exhausting the resource maximizes the payoff for the present generation, but leaves all future generations empty-handed. Here we show that the resource is almost always destroyed if extraction decisions are made individually. This failure to cooperate with the future is driven primarily by a minority of individuals who extract far more than what is sustainable. In contrast, when extractions are democratically decided by vote, the resource is consistently sustained. Voting is effective for two reasons. First, it allows a majority of cooperators to restrain defectors. Second, it reassures conditional cooperators that their efforts are not futile. Voting, however, only promotes sustainability if it is binding for all involved. Our results have implications for policy interventions designed to sustain intergenerational public goods.

Here’s a Q&A with and essay by the author. Article on the research.

EDITED TO ADD (12/10): A low-res version of the full article can be viewed here.

Posted on November 27, 2014 at 8:32 AMView Comments

Firechat

Firechat is a secure wireless peer-to-peer chat app:

Firechat is theoretically resistant to the kind of centralized surveillance that the Chinese government (as well as western states, especially the US and the UK) is infamous for. Phones connect directly to one another, establish encrypted connections, and transact without sending messages to servers where they can be sniffed and possibly decoded.

EDITED TO ADD (10/1): Firechat has security issues.

Posted on October 1, 2014 at 2:25 PMView Comments

Government Secrecy and the Generation Gap

Big-government secrets require a lot of secret-keepers. As of October 2012, almost 5m people in the US have security clearances, with 1.4m at the top-secret level or higher, according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Most of these people do not have access to as much information as Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor turned leaker, or even Chelsea Manning, the former US army soldier previously known as Bradley who was convicted for giving material to WikiLeaks. But a lot of them do — and that may prove the Achilles heel of government. Keeping secrets is an act of loyalty as much as anything else, and that sort of loyalty is becoming harder to find in the younger generations. If the NSA and other intelligence bodies are going to survive in their present form, they are going to have to figure out how to reduce the number of secrets.

As the writer Charles Stross has explained, the old way of keeping intelligence secrets was to make it part of a life-long culture. The intelligence world would recruit people early in their careers and give them jobs for life. It was a private club, one filled with code words and secret knowledge.

You can see part of this in Mr Snowden’s leaked documents. The NSA has its own lingo — the documents are riddled with codename — its own conferences, its own awards and recognitions. An intelligence career meant that you had access to a new world, one to which “normal” people on the outside were completely oblivious. Membership of the private club meant people were loyal to their organisations, which were in turn loyal back to them.

Those days are gone. Yes, there are still the codenames and the secret knowledge, but a lot of the loyalty is gone. Many jobs in intelligence are now outsourced, and there is no job-for-life culture in the corporate world any more. Workforces are flexible, jobs are interchangeable and people are expendable.

Sure, it is possible to build a career in the classified world of government contracting, but there are no guarantees. Younger people grew up knowing this: there are no employment guarantees anywhere. They see it in their friends. They see it all around them.

Many will also believe in openness, especially the hacker types the NSA needs to recruit. They believe that information wants to be free, and that security comes from public knowledge and debate. Yes, there are important reasons why some intelligence secrets need to be secret, and the NSA culture reinforces secrecy daily. But this is a crowd that is used to radical openness. They have been writing about themselves on the internet for years. They have said very personal things on Twitter; they have had embarrassing photographs of themselves posted on Facebook. They have been dumped by a lover in public. They have overshared in the most compromising ways — and they have got through it. It is a tougher sell convincing this crowd that government secrecy trumps the public’s right to know.

Psychologically, it is hard to be a whistleblower. There is an enormous amount of pressure to be loyal to our peer group: to conform to their beliefs, and not to let them down. Loyalty is a natural human trait; it is one of the social mechanisms we use to thrive in our complex social world. This is why good people sometimes do bad things at work.

When someone becomes a whistleblower, he or she is deliberately eschewing that loyalty. In essence, they are deciding that allegiance to society at large trumps that to peers at work. That is the difficult part. They know their work buddies by name, but “society at large” is amorphous and anonymous. Believing that your bosses ultimately do not care about you makes that switch easier.

Whistleblowing is the civil disobedience of the information age. It is a way that someone without power can make a difference. And in the information age — the fact that everything is stored on computers and potentially accessible with a few keystrokes and mouse clicks — whistleblowing is easier than ever.

Mr Snowden is 30 years old; Manning 25. They are members of the generation we taught not to expect anything long-term from their employers. As such, employers should not expect anything long-term from them. It is still hard to be a whistleblower, but for this generation it is a whole lot easier.

A lot has been written about the problem of over-classification in US government. It has long been thought of as anti-democratic and a barrier to government oversight. Now we know that it is also a security risk. Organizations such as the NSA need to change their culture of secrecy, and concentrate their security efforts on what truly needs to remain secret. Their default practice of classifying everything is not going to work any more.

Hey, NSA, you’ve got a problem.

This essay previously appeared in the Financial Times.

EDITED TO ADD (9/14): Blog comments on this essay are particularly interesting.

Posted on September 9, 2013 at 1:30 PMView Comments

Teens and Privacy

Not much surprising in this new survey.

Many teens ages 12-17 report that they usually figure out how to manage content sharing and privacy settings on their own. Focus group interviews with teens suggest that for their day-to-day privacy management, teens are guided through their choices in the app or platform when they sign up, or find answers through their own searching and use of their preferred platform.

At the same time, though, a nationally representative survey of teen internet users shows that, at some point, 70% of them have sought advice from someone else about how to manage their privacy online. When they do seek outside help, teens most often turn to friends, parents or other close family members.

Posted on August 20, 2013 at 7:10 AMView Comments

Security Analysis of Children

This is a really good paper describing the unique threat model of children in the home, and the sorts of security philosophies that are effective in dealing with them. Stuart Schechter, “The User IS the Enemy, and (S)he Keeps Reaching for that Bright Shiny Power Button!” Definitely worth reading.

Abstract: Children represent a unique challenge to the security and privacy considerations of the home and technology deployed within it. While these challenges posed by children have long been researched, there is a gaping chasm between the traditional approaches technologists apply to problems of security and privacy and the approaches used by those who deal with this adversary on a regular basis. Indeed, addressing adversarial threats from children via traditional approaches to computer and information security would be a recipe for disaster: it is rarely appropriate to remove a child’s access to the home or its essential systems; children require flexibility; children are often threats to themselves; and children may use the home as a theater of conflict with each other. Further, the goals of security and privacy must be adjusted to account for the needs of childhood development. A home with perfect security — one that prevented all inappropriate behavior or at least ensured that it was recorded so that the adversary could be held accountable — could severely stunt children’s moral and personal growth. We discuss the challenges posed by children and childhood on technologies for the home, the philosophical gap between parenting and security technologists, and design approaches that technology designers could borrow when building systems to be deployed within homes containing this special class of user/adversary.

Posted on July 2, 2013 at 12:08 PMView Comments

New Report on Teens, Social Media, and Privacy

Interesting report from the From the Pew Internet and American Life Project:

Teens are sharing more information about themselves on their social media profiles than they did when we last surveyed in 2006:

  • 91% post a photo of themselves, up from 79% in 2006.
  • 71% post their school name, up from 49%.
  • 71% post the city or town where they live, up from 61%.
  • 53% post their email address, up from 29%.
  • 20% post their cell phone number, up from 2%.

60% of teen Facebook users set their Facebook profiles to private (friends only), and most report high levels of confidence in their ability to manage their settings.

danah boyd points out something interesting in the data:

My favorite finding of Pew’s is that 58% of teens cloak their messages either through inside jokes or other obscure references, with more older teens (62%) engaging in this practice than younger teens (46%)….

While adults are often anxious about shared data that might be used by government agencies, advertisers, or evil older men, teens are much more attentive to those who hold immediate power over them — parents, teachers, college admissions officers, army recruiters, etc. To adults, services like Facebook that may seem “private” because you can use privacy tools, but they don’t feel that way to youth who feel like their privacy is invaded on a daily basis. (This, btw, is part of why teens feel like Twitter is more intimate than Facebook. And why you see data like Pew’s that show that teens on Facebook have, on average 300 friends while, on Twitter, they have 79 friends.) Most teens aren’t worried about strangers; they’re worried about getting in trouble.

Over the last few years, I’ve watched as teens have given up on controlling access to content. It’s too hard, too frustrating, and technology simply can’t fix the power issues. Instead, what they’ve been doing is focusing on controlling access to meaning. A comment might look like it means one thing, when in fact it means something quite different. By cloaking their accessible content, teens reclaim power over those who they know who are surveilling them. This practice is still only really emerging en masse, so I was delighted that Pew could put numbers to it. I should note that, as Instagram grows, I’m seeing more and more of this. A picture of a donut may not be about a donut. While adults worry about how teens’ demographic data might be used, teens are becoming much more savvy at finding ways to encode their content and achieve privacy in public.

Posted on May 24, 2013 at 8:40 AMView Comments

Teenagers and Privacy

Good article debunking the myth that young people don’t care about privacy on the Intenet.

Most kids are well aware of risks, and make “fairly sophisticated” decisions about privacy settings based on advice and information from their parents, teachers, and friends. They differentiate between people they don’t know out in the world (distant strangers) and those they don’t know in the community, such as high school students in their hometown (near strangers). Marisa, for example, a 10-year-old interviewed in the study (who technically is not allowed to use Facebook), “enjoys participating in virtual worlds and using instant messenger and Facebook to socialize with her friends”; is keenly aware of the risks — especially those related to privacy; and she doesn’t share highly sensitive personal information on her Facebook profile and actively blocks certain people.

[…]

Rather than fearing the unknown stranger, young adults are more wary of the “known other” — parents, school teachers, classmates, etc. — for fear of “the potential for the known others to share embarrassing information about them”; 83 percent of the sample group cited at least one known other they wanted to maintain their privacy from; 71 percent cited at least one known adult. Strikingly, seven out of the 10 participants who reported an incident when their privacy was breached said it was “perpetrated by known others.”

Posted on April 10, 2012 at 10:21 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.