“We are in an abusive relationship with our phones”

This is an illuminating way of looking at what the relationship really is like between us and our smartphones, and more generally with the you-are-the-product companies that provide so many of the services we use on smartphones or other devices nowadays.

What our smartphones and relationship abusers share is that they both exert power over us in a world shaped to tip the balance in their favour, and they both work really, really hard to obscure this fact and keep us confused and blaming ourselves. Here are some of the ways our unequal relationship with our smartphones is like an abusive relationship:

– They isolate us from deeper, competing relationships in favour of superficial contact — ‘user engagement’ — that keeps their hold on us strong. Working with social media, they insidiously curate our social lives, manipulating us emotionally with dark patterns to keep us scrolling.

– They tell us the onus is on us to manage their behavior. It’s our job to tiptoe around them and limit their harms. Spending too much time on a literally-designed-to-be-behaviorally-addictive phone? They send company-approved messages about our online time, but ban from their stores the apps that would really cut our use. We just need to use willpower. We just need to be good enough to deserve them.

– They betray us, leaking data / spreading secrets. What we shared privately with them is suddenly public. Sometimes this destroys lives, but hey, we only have ourselves to blame. They fight nasty and under-handed, and are so, so sorry when they get caught that we’re meant to feel bad for them. But they never truly change, and each time we take them back, we grow weaker.

– They love-bomb us when we try to break away, piling on the free data or device upgrades, making us click through page after page of dark pattern, telling us no one understands us like they do, no one else sees everything we really are, no one else will want us.

– It’s impossible to just cut them off. They’ve wormed themselves into every part of our lives, making life without them unimaginable. And anyway, the relationship is complicated. There is love in it, or there once was. Surely we can get back to that if we just manage them the way they want us to?

Nope. Our devices are basically gaslighting us. They tell us they work for and care about us, and if we just treat them right then we can learn to trust them. But all the evidence shows the opposite is true.

Maria Farrell

You need to be able to see the box you’re in before you can start thinking outside it. It doesn’t have to be this way – “to get out of an abusive relationship you first have to see it for what it is”.

via Bruce Schneier & Memex

POD no longer compulsory

Good news:

As longstanding, longsuffering readers will be aware, for the past year and a bit, I have been arguing that the Primary Online Database (POD) was illegal.

Though that argument has not come to a conclusion (and I expect it to be successful) the Department of Education has been forced into a series of climbdowns along the way.

Now, I have learned from a Freedom of Information request that since 29th February 2016 the Department has permanently given up on its threat to defund the education of children whose parents didn’t consent to their data being hoovered up into the POD.

They just haven’t told the schools collecting the data yet, because they don’t want to.

In a letter to the Data Protection Commissioner’s office on foot of a complaint I had made, the Department made the following through-gritted-teeth acceptance that POD couldn’t be compulsory.

More: http://www.tuppenceworth.ie/blog/2016/04/08/department-throws-in-the-towel-on-a-compulsory-pod/

Big Data requires Big Laws

There’s no such thing as being ‘offline’ anymore. It’s almost impossible, I’d say, to live any sort of normal life without having your data on some machine somewhere. And if you engage in any way with other people, then you use at least email, and probably some sort of social network. There’s no escape now from having your personal and private information up there on the ‘net’ in some shape or form. The old retort of ‘if you don’t want people to see it, don’t go online’ has become a kind of joke.

Who has access to your data? Who’s administering the many sites and machines it resides on? Is there ‘adequate’ and ‘reasonable’ security procedures and processes in place? How can you tell anyway? And who in government can access that information and for what purpose?

We need strong and transparent laws, backed up with oversight, checks and balances, before this just gets completely out of hand. There’s still an attitude in some quarters that this is all irrelevant, that being online is somehow optional in this day and age, and worst of all, that if “you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear“. Which is bull. Privacy is a basic right, not an option.

Social networking forum reddit on Thursday removed a section from its site used to tacitly inform users it had never received a certain type of U.S. government surveillance request, suggesting the platform is now being asked to hand over customer data under a secretive law enforcement authority.

Source: Reddit deletes surveillance ‘warrant canary’ in transparency report

Post-Cyberspace

Danah Boyd has an interesting piece on the Reality Distortion Field that is modern tech. Viewed through the original call of Cyberspace from 20 years ago, during the halcyon early days of the ‘net, it’s a glimpse into the future that awaits, and its not pretty.

At first I thought I had just encountered the normal hype/fear dichotomy that I’m faced with on a daily basis. But as I listened to attendees talk, a nervous creeping feeling started to churn my stomach. Watching startups raise downrounds and watching valuation conversations moving from bubbalicious to nervousness, I started to sense that what the tech sector was doing at Davos was putting on the happy smiling blinky story that they’ve been telling for so long, exuding a narrative of progress: everything that is happening, everything that is coming, is good for society, at least in the long run.

Shifting from “big data,” because it’s become code for “big brother,” tech deployed the language of “artificial intelligence” to mean all things tech, knowing full well that decades of Hollywood hype would prompt critics to ask about killer robots. So, weirdly enough, it was usually the tech actors who brought up killer robots, if only to encourage attendees not to think about them. Don’t think of an elephant. Even as the demo robots at the venue revealed the limitations of humanoid robots, the conversation became frothy with concern, enabling many in tech to avoid talking about the complex and messy social dynamics that are underway, except to say that “ethics is important.” What about equality and fairness?

What indeed? To the new Kings of Cyberspace, that’s a minor detail. What matters is that they have the solution, if only us pesky normals would get out of their way and let them do it. Oh, and maybe provide a bit of funding. Crowdsource your nation.

There is a power shift underway and much of the tech sector is ill-equipped to understand its own actions and practices as part of the elite, the powerful. Worse, a collection of unicorns who see themselves as underdogs in a world where instability and inequality are rampant fail to realize that they have a moral responsibility.

They fight as though they are insurgents while they operate as though they are kings.

Worth reading on full: https://points.datasociety.net/it-s-not-cyberspace-anymore-55c659025e97#.qpdm0jv91

Police speak to boy, 10, due to spelling error

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/jan/20/i-live-in-a-terrorist-house-police-speak-to-muslim-boy-10-over-spelling-error

As a result, the child was interviewed on 7 December by police and the authorities examined a laptop found at his family home.

His family has since demanded the school and police apologise, according to the BBC.

A cousin of the boy, who has not been named to protect his identity, said his relatives initially thought it was a joke, but that the boy had been traumatised by the experience.

“You can imagine it happening to a 30-year-old man, but not to a young child,” she told the BBC. “If the teacher had any concerns it should have been about his spelling.”

“They shouldn’t be putting a child through this.”

“He’s now scared of writing, using his imagination.”

If you have nothing to hide, you still have everything to fear.

GCHQ does whatever the fuck it wants

According to the latest Snowden documents, it seems that GCHQ have stolen the master encryption keys for a large chunk of the world’s SIM cards. This essentially means that they can decrypt more or less any phone call content, text message etc. Your phone is not private.

AMERICAN AND BRITISH spies hacked into the internal computer network of the largest manufacturer of SIM cards in the world, stealing encryption keys used to protect the privacy of cellphone communications across the globe, according to top-secret documents provided to The Intercept by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The hack was perpetrated by a joint unit consisting of operatives from the NSA and its British counterpart Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ. The breach, detailed in a secret 2010 GCHQ document, gave the surveillance agencies the potential to secretly monitor a large portion of the world’s cellular communications, including both voice and data.

Read on: The Great SIM Heist: How Spies Stole the Keys to the Encryption Castle.

Nothing to hide? You still have everything to fear.

“It was early morning when the German police stormed the house of Andrej Holm and his family. Armed police searched the home for 15 hours and Holm spent three weeks in pre-trial detention. Andrej Holm is an urban sociologist. His crime? Well, he committed no crime, or no more than the rest of us. He was finally released after public pressure, and the discovery, presumably, that he wasn’t a terrorist after all.

At a time when we are flooded by government demands that social media yield more information to them, that encryption be open to government, when the UK government is increasing the already vast surveillance powers they took under RIPA with dire laws like DRIP, and when the internet is harvesting ever more of our data, this should give us pause for thought.

This is, in a way, a call to more thought, much more thought, than has previously been given to these issues in public discourse. It is shocking to witness the resignation or apathy at the vast amounts of data harvesting revealed by Edward Snowden.

Holm had been noted by the security services, perhaps initially by automatic systems, for using words like ‘marxist-leninist’ and ‘gentrification’. He fitted the profile of some bombers the security services were hunting down. Unknown to him, he and his entire family had been under close scrutiny for a year before the raid took place. The police had gathered large amounts of data on him, put it all together, and come up with an entirely erroneous conclusion: that Holm was a terrorist. The mistake resulted in serious trauma inflicted on himself and his family.”

The datachasm, the “gulf between our data and us” has arrived. It should give us all the datacreeps.

“Sleep safe.”

Banning the word ‘Internet’

Padraig Reidy over at Index on Censorship wonders when people will stop blaming the tool (e.g. facebook) as opposed to the behaviour (e.g. terror planning, crime).

Will this ever end? Hopefully. As time goes on, the distinction between the internet and THE INTERNET will become clearer. THE INTERNET is a culture; the place where the likes of Doge and Grumpycat come from, and all their predecessors (I still have a soft spot for Mahir “I Kiss You” Çağrı. Look it up, youngsters). The internet is simply a communications tool, like millions upon millions of tin cans joined with taut string. When we can get this a little clearer in our heads, then finding a web angle for every occasion will feel a bit silly, like blaming Bic for poison pen letters.

That is not to say that we should take the web for granted, or become blase about its use and abuse. But we must treat it as simply a part of the environment. Essentially, we have to stop thinking about things happening “on the internet”. There is no “internet freedom” — there is just freedom. There is no “internet privacy” — there is privacy. There are no “internet bullies” — there are bullies.

Put simply, we need to ban the word “internet”.

Well said. The internet is a tool that most of us use, even if indirectly, every day. Crime is crime, surely?