Surveillance Capitalism

Councils are sharing your data in the UK with whoever wants it, basically (” https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/feb/04/councils-let-firms-track-visits-to-webpages-on-benefits-and-disability “).

Wolfie Christl, a technologist and researcher who has been investigating the ad-tech industry, said: “Public sector websites and apps should not use invasive third-party tracking at all.”

Johnny Ryan, the chief policy officer at the anonymous web browser Brave, who analysed council websites and shared the findings with the Guardian, said: “Private companies embedded on council websites learn about you. This happens even on the most sensitive occasions, when you might be seeking help from your council.”

Imagine someone was standing outside a council office taking note of the people entering and leaving, maybe what they wear, which department they went to, we’d revolt at the intrusion. This cookie stuff is just less visible, it’s no different.

Brexit: At last the 2016 Show.

After three and a bit years of watching the UK take a nation-sized gap year finding yourself experience, finally, some sort of conclusion to Brexit. Or at least, a definitive that can be pointed at. Obviously, there’s the negotiations to start on the ‘future relationship’ as it’s being termed. And no country is an island, metaphorically speaking, even if it is an actual island.

At 11pm on 31st January (almost two hours ago as I write), the UK officially left the EU. Which means we finally have an answer about why they got into Europe in the first place. To get out again. Or maybe they were never in, and the last 47 years were just a very long drawn out argument about it. Like when you go somewhere and bring your mates, only to realise one of them hates the place and the other two just want a quiet life and keep dropping hints about getting home early because they can’t stand the moaning, so eventually you decide to leave, which is a relief because at least everyone might shut up about it.

But they won’t, will they? There’s no real escape from Brexit, it’s going to rumble on, affecting our lives, travel, trade, jobs, futures. I don’t even live there, just nearby. Close enough to feel the consequences though, and that’s the real reason I can’t just switch it off.

Gloriously alone at last, they say in parts of the UK. If only. No, we’re not going to hear the end of this one for a while yet I’m afraid.

Porn, unsurprisingly widely watched

It’s hard not to be sarcastic when these surveys come out – they’re often of the surprise! people watch porn variety. Or maybe, to be fair, that’s just they way they’re often presented. Anyway, this one by the UK’s BBFC which “combined a statistically representative survey of secondary school-age children with in-depth interviews and focus groups with parents” has some interesting results:

While 75% of parents did not believe their children would have watched pornography, the majority of these parents’ children told the researchers that they had viewed adult material.

The report also found that while parents thought that their sons would watch pornography for sexual pleasure, many erroneously believed that their daughters would primarily see pornography by accident. It said: “This is contrary to the qualitative research findings showing that many girls were also using pornography for sexual pleasure.”

The researchers also said that one side-effect of early exposure to online pornography is that gay, lesbian or bisexual respondents often understood their sexuality at a younger age. They said: “It was common for these respondents to start by watching heterosexual pornography, only to realise that they did not find this sexually gratifying and then gradually move to homosexual pornography.”

It seems that the old view of what porn is for, and who watches it and why is becoming a cliche.

American Caesars

My nomadic friend at work dropped this on my desk a while back before heading to catch a cargo ship out of Kiel. We’d been discussing the madness of Nixon over coffee one day in order to avoid any actual work, and he reckoned I’d enjoy this, and he was right. It’s a riveting overview of 12 American Presidents, from Roosevelt to ‘Dubya’ Bush, in the style of Suetonius’s Caesars (a classic, they say, of the ancient world).

Each president is presented in three sections – road to the presendency, their presidency, and their personal life. It works remarkably well, and the style allows you to view each one as a politician, a president, and a person. The result is a gripping read, although I did stop when I got to Kennedy to go and basically re-read Brothers to get more background on the Vietnam War era (I had intended to ready only the chapters on Vietnam, but that’s also such a good read I then re-read the whole book).

Some of the presidents were fairly well known to me, others not so much, in every case I found them illuminating. Often, it’s the personal that’s the most revealing I found, who they were outside of the public realm, with their families, partners, friends. Their personalities shaped their approach to the job, their relationships guided them through it, and events tested them all.

Fascinating.

Good News

For ex-smokers. A limited study has shown some evidence that your lungs can replace smoking-damaged cells over time.

The study’s joint senior author, Peter Campbell of the UK-based Wellcome Sanger Institute, said the results should give new hope to smokers who want to quit.

“People who have smoked heavily for 30, 40 or more years often say to me that it’s too late to stop smoking – the damage is already done,” he said in a statement issued by the institute.

“What is so exciting about our study is that it shows that it’s never too late to quit.”

Better or Worse?

Thought provoking:

While previously the public’s news consumption was shaped by powerful gatekeepers such as newspaper editors or the bosses of heavily regulated broadcast news channels, on their phones it is shaped more by the hands-off approach of companies such as Facebook. The social network has decided against taking a patrician approach of pushing straightforward reporting into newsfeeds alongside user-generated memes asking Was Enoch Powell Right?, or hyperpartisan posts spreading distorted information about Jeremy Corbyn.

With limited human involvement in choosing the news stories people are seeing, the researchers said the general public were being asked to take responsibility for their own news diet with the hope that they seek out accurate information without any intervention.

Revealing Reality’s analysis of the volunteers’ election news consumption concluded: “If everything that people are seeing is via social media – who is accountable? There is very little human intelligence or decision-making behind it, no attempt to give a balanced view. That seems to leave all responsibility on the reader.”

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/dec/05/uncovered-reality-of-how-smartphones-turned-election-news-into-chaos

The end of Economic Man

Very interesting article by Paul Collier – Greed is dead. Humans aren’t the rational, selfish ‘Economic Man’ as economists like to assume we are and base their models on. We’re a collaborative, social, altruistic animal.

Thankfully, we now know that Economic Man is a travesty. Blueprint: The evolutionary origins of a good society by Nicholas Christakis is the latest study to affirm this. It shows why, through the forces of evolution, Homo sapiens emerged as a uniquely social species. Far from being evolutionarily inevitable, Economic Man was culled almost to extinction, surviving only as the highly deviant behaviour we call psychopathic. In hunter-gatherer societies, hunters do not “eat what they kill”: such behaviour would bring social ostracism, so the hunters share their catch. The theorems derived from Economic Man explain the conditions under which a society of psychopaths would be able to function. In most contexts, those conditions turn out to be fanciful: the efficient paradise depicted in economics textbooks has never existed, and never will. Instead, in well-functioning societies, humans construct and abide by a vast web of kindness and mutual obligations of which Economic Man would be incapable.

Friday Music

I like to wind up my work week with some music listening if possible. Ideally while being left to work on some code or config changes in peace. To aid with this, I have the headphones in, volume up and distractions are ignored as much as possible. Today, it’s been my metal playlist on Spotify. I’m tempted to go see Ozzy next summer.