A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘panopticon

[URBAN NOTE] Four Toronto links, from Toronto Island students to Ontario Place park to the TTC

  • Caroline Alphonso reports in The Globe and Mail about how Toronto Islands students have been displaced to school on the mainland, in Regent Park.
  • Robert Benzie and Victoria Gibson describe in the Toronto Star a new waterfront park in a revitalized part of Ontario Place.
  • Torontoist’s Keiran Delamont notes how Metrolinx’s sharing of data with the police fits into the broader concept of the modern surveillance state.
  • Steve Munro tracks the evolution, or perhaps more properly devolution, of streetcar service from 1980 to 2016.

[LINK] “Surveillance shouldn’t be the new normal”

Mathew Ingram makes the case against the emergent panopticon state.

As the Globe and Mail has reported — based on classified documents obtained from an anonymous source — U.S. intelligence officials appear to be mapping the communications traffic of several large Canadian corporations, including Rogers Communications Inc., one of the country’s largest internet and telecom providers. Perhaps the most depressing aspects of this news is how completely unsurprising it is.

By now, we have all been subjected to a veritable tsunami of surveillance-related leaks, courtesy of documents obtained by former U.S. intelligence analyst Edward Snowden, a trove from which this latest piece of information is also drawn. These files suggest the National Security Agency uses every method at its disposal — both legal and otherwise — to track every speck of web and voice traffic, including tapping directly into the undersea cables that make up the backbone of the internet.

In that context, the idea that intelligence agencies are snooping on the networks of Canadian corporations like Rogers seems totally believable, despite the fact that a 66-year-old agreement between Canada and the U.S. supposedly prevents either country from spying on the residents of its partner. While the document in question doesn’t say that any snooping is occurring, it seems clear that the behaviour it describes is designed to create a map of those networks in order to facilitate future surveillance activity.

The U.S. has repeatedly argued that this kind of monitoring is necessary in order to detect the activities of potential threats to U.S. security. The problem with this approach, of course, is that no one knows where those threats will appear, or how they will manifest themselves — thanks to the diverse nature of modern international terrorism — and so the inevitable result is a kind of ubiquitous surveillance, in which every word and photo and voice-mail message is collected, just in case it might be important.

One of the risks inherent in the steady flow of leaks from Mr. Snowden and others is that the new reality they portray eventually becomes accepted, if not outright banal. Of course we are being surveilled all the time; of course our location is being tracked thanks to the GPS chips in our phones; of course the NSA is installing “back door” software on our internet devices before we even buy them. At this point, it’s hard to imagine a surveillance revelation that would actually surprise anyone, no matter how Orwellian it might be.

Much more is available if you follow the link. Go, read.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 25, 2015 at 11:07 pm

[PHOTO] “Prepare for the New Cameras-Everywhere World”

Inspired by the recent shocking New York Post front page photo showing a man minutes from death, Slate‘s Dan Gillmor writes about the future of photography in a world where the ability to take and share photographic images at high speed will be ubiquitous. There’s a risk, Gillmor argues, that between the demand of mass audiences for all sorts of powerful images, the collapse of photography as an economically viable industry via free amateur images, and the development of panopticon-aiding photo recognition technologies, things might become rather unpleasant.

(Here in Toronto we’ve had just a taste of this sort of thing at work in relationship to the TTC, as some TTC riders who are angry at the performance of some TTC employees have taken and shared images (and video) of these employee performances.)

For example, the choices made by editors will still matter. Mass media are not going to disappear entirely. Even if we witness the demise of bottom-feeders (like the New York Post, which in this case put the subway picture on Page One with a lurid headline), we’ll still have media organizations with reach and clout. Interestingly, there’s been no outcry about the New York Times’ decision to post a surveillance-camera shot of a man who’s about to murder another man. The key differences are a) a passer-by didn’t take the picture; b) the police are trying to find the murderer; and c) the Times didn’t troll for readers with a seamy headline.

Over time, the more important choices will be made by the audience. Even if “mainstream media” (whatever that means) choose to behave with common decency, there will be no shortage of other outlets for gruesome pictures and videos that aren’t legally obscene or (like child porn) just plain criminal. Not long after the 2001 terrorist attacks, major media outlets made the lockstep decision to stop airing videos of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center or people jumping from the burning towers. But these are easy enough to find online. With more and more videos, it will increasingly be up to you and me to make our own decisions.

Meanwhile, the role of the professional spot-news photographer won’t merely change. It’ll just about end. People in that business should be looking for new ways to make a living. As I wrote in my book Mediactive several years ago, a cameras-everywhere world makes it much more likely that an “amateur” will get the most newsworthy images. But because tabloid-style media will always have an audience, probably a big one, new kinds of content marketplaces are sure to emerge, giving non-pros a way to sell and license the most newsworthy material. Look for bidding wars will erupt for items that are sufficiently interesting or ugly or titillating.

The more important implications of the cameras-everywhere world are about the surveillance society we’re creating. This isn’t a new idea, of course, as any reader of George Orwell or David Brin knows. But the degree to which pessimists’ fears are coming true is remarkable—and terrifying to anyone who cares in the least about liberty.

Online surveillance has gotten most of the recent attention, but it is also very likely that a variety of Big and Little Brothers will record us everywhere we go—eventually, with sound, too. Facial recognition and other techniques will mean that our every move will be trackable. The purveyors and adopters of this stuff like to say we have nothing to fear if we have nothing to hide. That’s police-state mentality, but it’s getting more common. Benjamin Franklin would be hooted down today for his famous and eternally right admonition, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

Written by Randy McDonald

December 13, 2012 at 11:48 pm

[LINK] “On the Leakiness of Surveillance Culture, the Corporate Gaze, and What That Has To Do With the New Aesthetic”

Quiet Babylon’s Tim Maly, after a long pause, has made another smart post about the panopticon. Too often, the assumption is made that the algorithms used to track my actions on the web and determine my innermost desires are accurate–I know I’ve made it. But what, Maly suggests, will come of the panopticon if it keeps getting things wrong?

The truth is illustrated by an infographic halfway through Wired’s scathing overview of Klout. It shows that Klout ranks Robert Scoble as more influential than RZA, Sarah Palin, and Craig Venter. (You can learn a lot about the blinkered nature of Klout by the fact that their official account proudly linked to the piece.)

Any sane marketing organization would look at these results and conclude that Klout’s metrics are utterly flawed. Instead, we learn that some companies are offering perks to people with high Klout scores in the hopes that they’ll spread the word about their VIP treatment. In turn, we learn about people (including the reporter) who find themselves altering their behaviour in the hopes of finding favour with this blind, demented judge.

[. . .]

I’m coming around to Eben Moglen’s view that social networking, as currently designed, is an ecological disaster for the social environment. This isn’t, like, a new insight or anything. We are the product and all that. But sometimes it takes a turn of phrase to drive a point home. Here’s the line that tipped me over the edge: “Every time you tag anything or respond to anything or link to anything, you’re informing on your friends.”

More to the point, you are informing on your friends so that a cadre of socially clueless dudes can get rich selling the output of broken algorithms to marketers, in the form of human lives sliced up in such a way as to make it easier to run database queries.

This is a situation that’s profoundly broken. It’s basically an open secret that it’s broken ethically, but it’s also broken emperically. To understand how broken, consider Alexis Madrigal’s attempt to work out how much user data is worth. The answer he comes up with is plus-or-minus 7 orders of magnitude. Half-a-penny or $1,200. You know. Depending.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 10, 2012 at 8:18 pm

[LINK] “On the Leakiness of Surveillance Culture, the Corporate Gaze, and What That Has To Do …”

Quiet Babylon’s Tim Maly, after a long pause, has made another smart post about the panopticon. Too often, the assumption is made that the algorithms used to track my actions on the web and determine my innermost desires are accurate–I know I’ve made it. But what, Maly suggests, will come of the panopticon if it keeps getting things wrong?

The truth is illustrated by an infographic halfway through Wired’s scathing overview of Klout. It shows that Klout ranks Robert Scoble as more influential than RZA, Sarah Palin, and Craig Venter. (You can learn a lot about the blinkered nature of Klout by the fact that their official account proudly linked to the piece.)

Any sane marketing organization would look at these results and conclude that Klout’s metrics are utterly flawed. Instead, we learn that some companies are offering perks to people with high Klout scores in the hopes that they’ll spread the word about their VIP treatment. In turn, we learn about people (including the reporter) who find themselves altering their behaviour in the hopes of finding favour with this blind, demented judge.

[. . .]

I’m coming around to Eben Moglen’s view that social networking, as currently designed, is an ecological disaster for the social environment. This isn’t, like, a new insight or anything. We are the product and all that. But sometimes it takes a turn of phrase to drive a point home. Here’s the line that tipped me over the edge: “Every time you tag anything or respond to anything or link to anything, you’re informing on your friends.”

More to the point, you are informing on your friends so that a cadre of socially clueless dudes can get rich selling the output of broken algorithms to marketers, in the form of human lives sliced up in such a way as to make it easier to run database queries.

This is a situation that’s profoundly broken. It’s basically an open secret that it’s broken ethically, but it’s also broken emperically. To understand how broken, consider Alexis Madrigal’s attempt to work out how much user data is worth. The answer he comes up with is plus-or-minus 7 orders of magnitude. Half-a-penny or $1,200. You know. Depending.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 10, 2012 at 4:18 pm

[LINK] “Photo ID”

This article, written by dan Falk for the University of Toronto Magazine, describes something amazing.

Computer science professor Aaron Hertzmann, PhD student Evangelos Kalogerakis and others have developed an algorithm that can analyze a series of photos and determine where they were taken. The program – the first of its kind, Hertzmann says – isn’t designed to identify individual images, although it can make a rough guess at one-off photos. Rather, its power lies in its ability to identify a whole series of images, if it knows the sequence in which they were taken.

Hertzmann’s program exploits the enormous image database of the popular photo-sharing website, Flickr.com. On Flickr, people have the option of “tagging” photos to indicate when and where they were taken. Hertzmann’s program uses these tags – mini-summaries of the photo-taking habits of thousands of Flickr users – to determine where photos were taken.

“If you take a picture of some city street, it could be anywhere in the world,” Hertzmann says. “But if half an hour later you take a picture of Big Ben or the Eiffel Tower, then it becomes much clearer where that first picture was taken.”

On a recent holiday, Hertzmann photographed the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, an ancient Greek amphitheatre in Athens. A day later he photographed a nearly featureless seascape off Santorini, with just a sliver of coastline showing. Taken individually, the program does just fine with the Odeon photo because many people have posted similar shots to Flickr; it puts a dot on a world map at Athens. But the seascape could be anywhere. Without any additional information, the program puts dots all over the world’s seas. Feed the program both photos – along with the time frame in which they were shot – and suddenly it recognizes the seascape as being from the Aegean and puts a dot near Santorini. (The program knows not only that Santorini is close to Athens, but also that it’s a popular target for Flickr photographers who have recently visited Athens.)

Written by Randy McDonald

October 30, 2009 at 9:18 am

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[LINK] “Google’s Creepy Social Search”

PC World’s Dan Costa seems both impressed and shocked.

One of my personal favorites is “What scary thing did Google do now?” And Google always delivers. Right on cue, Google released Social Search, which prioritizes results from your friends’ Twitter feeds, FriendFeed updates, Facebook pages, LinkedIn profiles, and Picasa libraries. Very cool. And very creepy.

In fairness, Social Search is still in Google Labs, and you have to actively opt-in to the program to participate. I signed up yesterday, but it can take a while for your profile—and those of your friends—to be indexed. Google defines your social circle as your Google contacts, plus anyone that you follow on a social networking service. Again, you have to manually add these to your Google profile, in order to have them to appear in your search results. This isn’t going to take anyone by surprise, but it is still a significant shift in the availability of what most people think of, however incorrectly, as private information.

And we’re not going to resist, not that we could, mind.

Of course, I can restrict my profile, keep people from tagging photos of me, and try to keep my home address off the Web entirely. Indeed, these measures are all but required for individuals living in a hyper-connected society. But please don’t pretend that “surfacing” has no effect. And I am not even going to address what Social Search will mean to the private sector data miners that sell personal profile information, such as your credit history, political affiliation, the number of kids you have, and even what car you drive, to the highest bidder. Suffice it to say, we will have to be a lot more careful about who we follow—and who follows us.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 29, 2009 at 12:27 pm