"Human rights activists are worried that new software mandated by Vietnamese authorities may lead to an Internet clampdown in the country's largest city. In April, local officials issued new regulations covering Internet cafes and service providers in Hanoi, ostensibly designed to crack down on hacking and other service abuses. Buried in the regulations is a mandate that service providers must add special software to their domain servers, used to authenticate systems on the network. Nobody quite knows what the software is, but activists in the US worry that it may be used to clamp down on Internet usage in a country that has seen more and more grassroots information-sharing on social networks over the past year. Last year China tried to force PC makers to ship Green Dam censorware with all computers sold in the country, saying the software would help crack down on online pornography. But Chinese authorities — already known for their notorious Great Firewall — eventually backed off from their plans after critics raised a host of privacy, security and system stability concerns, and Chinese Internet users showed no interest in installing the program."
Tim Berners-Lee began by explaining his excitement about the potential to maximize the value in data which currently sits unused. Data which is in itself uninteresting can become extremely useful and insightful when linked to other data. The UK and US government projects to make huge data sets available should be welcomed because they enable people to develop whatever data combinations they want, releasing untapped value to the economy.
Following yesterday's launch of Facebook's new privacy settings, Sheryl Sandberg has a column in today's Guardian, admitting that the company had not been clear enough, but denying that it had ever been cavalier with users' data.
Using the example of laws that accompanied the introduction of steam powered vehicles (that a man carrying a red flag had to walk in front of it), she argues that "initial responses to new technology often have to be adapted as usage patterns become clearer. That was true on 19th-century British roads; it is true on the internet today."
She also defends the company's approach to advertising:
"One thing that will not change is that Facebook never has and never will sell the private information of our users to anyone. We allow advertisers to target users by demographic; advertisers can, for example, target an advert for golf clubs at people who list golf as an interest in their profile. This makes advertising more targeted and more useful for people. But we do the targeting ourselves and pass no information about individuals to advertisers. Like a powered vehicle in a world used to horses, targeted advertising was once considered a terrible intrusion; it is now a dominant business model and widely accepted by consumers."
For those of us trying to get a handle on the Facebook/privacy debate, blogger Matt McKeon has created a useful infographic. This displays types of personal data on Facebook and how over time access to has been extended from friends to networks, to all Facebook users, through to the whole internet. You can click through and see the changes from 2005 through to April of this year. It's a neat way of presenting the issue.
Matt is a developer with the Visual Communications Lab at IBM's Research Center for Social Software. He believes the increasing permissiveness of Facebook's settings over the years "has largely been part of Facebook's effort to correlate, publish, and monetize their social graph: a massive database of entities and links that covers everything from where you live to the movies you like and the people you trust."
However, he's also keen to point out that "I like Facebook. It's helped me reconnect with dozens of people with whom I'd lost touch, and I admire the work their team does. I hope your takeaway from this infographic isn't 'I'm deleting my account'; rather, I hope it's 'I'm checking my privacy settings right now, and changing them to a level with which I'm comfortable'".
Jack Lerner and Lisa Borodkin, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, argue that Facebook has broken its promise to allow users to control what they share and who they share it with:
"The practices of these powerful and popular companies threaten to make us the serfs of a few technocrats, who blatantly disregard our expectations of privacy. They want to dictate our privacy expectations to us. Social media has turned into a gold rush - and we users are the gold."
Cecilia Kang from Post Tech at the The Washington Post writes that Google has deleted the private data the company inadvertently collected last week in Ireland off of unprotected, or unencrypted, Wi-Fi networks at homes, while compiling photos for its Street View Application location-based services. An independent third party corroborated the deletion. German officials blasted Google, saying the practice, even if in error, was illegal. Now, California-based Consumer Watchdog has filed a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) seeking an investigation on how the practice affected consumers. According to Google, the company has been proactive by searching for other potential instances of the practice in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Japan, Taiwan, and selected European countries, places where Street View is in most widespread usage.
Bernard Kouchner -- Minister of Foreign and European Affairs in the French government of François Fillon and co-founder of Doctors Without Borders and Doctors of the World has written an elegant opinion piece in Global Viewpoint/Tribune Media Services where he endorses the Internet as a liberation technology and encourages all of the world's citizens to work toward the technology's liberating potential to prevent it from falling prey to nefarious use. From the article:
"The battle of ideas has started between the advocates of a universal and open Internet — based on freedom of expression, tolerance and respect for privacy — against those who want to transform the Internet into a multitude of closed-off spaces that serve the purposes of repressive regimes, propaganda and fanaticism."
On the benefits of the Internet as a technology of liberation:
Tor is free software and an open network that helps you defend against a form of network surveillance that threatens personal freedom and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security known as traffic analysis.
Tor protects you by bouncing your communications around a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around the world: it prevents somebody watching your Internet connection from learning what sites you visit, and it prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location. Tor works with many of your existing applications, including web browsers, instant messaging clients, remote login, and other applications based on the TCP protocol.
Hundreds of thousands of people around the world use Tor for a wide variety of reasons: journalists and bloggers, human rights workers, law enforcement officers, soldiers, corporations, citizens of repressive regimes, and just ordinary citizens. See the Who Uses Tor? page for examples of typical Tor users. See the overview page for a more detailed explanation of what Tor does, and why this diversity of users is important.
Tor doesn't magically encrypt all of your Internet activities, though. You should understand what Tor does and does not do for you.
Douglas Schuler brought to our attention a National Science Foundation (NSF) article illustrating how easily one can turn technologies of liberation into technologies of maleficence. The article discusses how two Rutgers University researchers, Vinod Ganapathy and Liviu Iftode, were able install rootkits that could enable third parties to hijack smart phones:
"[They] tasked a group of graduate students with an intriguing challenge. Starting with the assumption that they had found a way to hack into a smart phone, the grad students were asked to take a smart phone platform commonly used by software developers and develop malicious applications... The team decided to inject software components known as rootkits into the phone's operating system. Once the rootkits were in place, the researchers were able to hijack a smart phone by simply sending it a text message. This allowed them to do things like quietly turn on the device's microphone, enabling them to hear what was going on in the room where the phone had been placed. Another attack trained the phone to use its GPS capabilities to report the phone's exact location without the user's knowledge. By turning on various high-energy functions, the team was even able to rapidly drain the phone's batteries, rendering it useless."
The researchers hope their research will be used to help keep smart phones safe and sound. One should, however. also heed the lesson that technologies that can be used for liberation can also be reconfigured to promote malevolence.
Jodi Schneider brings us an AP story about how Google has set up a new tool to show where it's facing the most government pressure to censor material and turn over personal information about its users. Jodi notes that some bloggers who in the past have been critical of Google now praise the decision. What do you think? Will Google improve its credibility after its recent missteps in China and with Google Buzz?