Published: Sunday | February 19, 2012 2 Comments 1 2 > Paul Golding, Contributor
Information communications technology (ICT) has transformed our lives in significant ways. The following anecdote gives an illustration of the transformation.
As a teenager in the 1970s, only the wealthy had a landline. So if we wanted to make a call to the USA, we would go down to Cable & Wireless on a Sunday evening, and join the line of persons wishing to do the same. We would listen to the conversation of the person on the phone to gauge when we thought the conversation would finish. In those days, we mainly made collect calls to the USA, so there was always the possibility of being embarrassed if the intended recipient of the call declined.
Fast-forward to 2012, the use of cellular phones is ubiquitous, with telephone plans that give you ‘free’ minutes to the USA and other countries. In addition, there are other means of communication: email, Facebook, Twitter, instant messaging, among others. Popular media and research articles extol the virtues of the digital age and the use of digital technology, while downplaying one of the major paradoxes of ICT, the increasingly invasive progression of these technologies and the invasion of privacy.
One author defined privacy as custody of the facts of one’s life, from strings of digits to tastes and preferences. The revenue strategy of Google, Facebook, Twitter and others is to generate income based on advertising. What this means is that the data we share on these sites: demographic information – names, addresses, views on issues, pictures of yourself or others, geospatial location information imbedded in our smartphones – are all collected, mined and a profile created. This information is either sold or used for target advertising.
The New York Times explains the strategy: “Facebook makes money by selling advertising space to companies that want to reach us. Advertisers choose key words – like relationship status, activities, favourite books and employment – and then Facebook runs the advertisement for the targeted subset of its 845 million users.”
Price to pay
Facebook made US$3.2 billion in 2011, which was dwarfed by Google, which made US$36.5 billion. In essence, what this means is that all the ‘free’ services you get from Google – Gmail, Google+, Google Search, Google Docs, Google Maps – there is a price to pay. This data from these different sources are combined and mined to determine trends and patterns in your behaviour, and they also create new knowledge about you that you that you may not know yourself.
The technology gives the capacity to store vast amounts of data permanently and it reduces the amount of space to store it and the labour and time to categorise it. There is a recent case of an Austrian law student who requested from Facebook all the information the company kept about him on his profile. The student, who has been on Facebook since 2008, received a disc from the company with 1,222 pages of information. This included photos, messages (some of which he had deleted) and information on his physical location which he had not consented to give.
These social-network sites encourage users to give as much information as possible, as information is their stock in trade. In September 2011, Facebook introduced a new type of profile called Timeline: this service encourages users to tell their whole life story online, highlighting milestones like birth, graduation, wedding, using pictures and otherwise. All this behavioural information is stored and used.
In the USA, behavioural information is big business. According to Forrester Research, companies spend up to US$2 billion a year for this kind of data. An interesting company offering behavioural information online is Spokeo. It is a data aggregator that gathers info from several different data sources, including white-page listings and online sources, including Facebook and Twitter.
According to its website, its mission is to help people find and connect with others more easily than ever. It offers services such as reverse phone look-up, which functions like a caller ID which allows you identify the name of the owner of a phone number.
Spokeo ‘user name search’ finds public profiles with similar user names on social networks, blogs, photo albums, dating sites, e-commerce stores, and other public web services. It offers a scary service in which it invites women to submit their boyfriends’ email address for an analysis of their online photographs and activities to determine if he is cheating on you. Seriously!
Spokeo also offers services to companies, recruiters, and human-resource professionals who need to screen persons based on their online profile. In fact, the obscure term ‘weblining’ is used to describe the practice of denying persons opportunities based on their online profile. One New York Times article indicated that 70 per cent of recruiters and HOUR professionals in the USA reject candidates based on their online profile.
Another aspect of ICT which gives rise to privacy concerns is global-positioning systems (GPS) and the use of location-based social networks. GPS is a worldwide satellite+navigation system that provides location and time information. These systems now come embedded in smartphones. There are location-based social networks that use GPS features to locate you and let you broadcast your location and other content from your smartphone. Foursquare and Whrrl are two of the premier websites offering this service; however, Facebook has Places and Google has Latitude.
Imagine your significant other requesting that you broadcast your location while you are out with ‘the boys’ or ‘the girls’. Location-based social networks provide additional tracking and monitoring information to add to your behavioural profile. In rich countries, and increasingly in developing countries, CCTV is widely used to monitor people’s behaviour. The surveillance society which George Orwell imagined is now here; others may even argue that this is the beginning of the fulfilment of Revelation 13.
What the foregoing indicates is that there is very little online privacy (or privacy in general) and that social-networking sites encourage you to give them content to sell to advertisers. With the speed of technology innovation, the globalisation of data flows and the growth of cloud computing, it becomes increasingly difficult to regulate online privacy.
However, for there to be trust in online services, new rules are required to put people in control of their personal data. Consequently, the European Union is proposing strengthening what it calls “the right to be forgotten”, so that if you no longer want your personal data to be processed, and there is no legitimate reason for an organisation to keep such, it must be removed from the company’s database.
The US is a little more reticent about changing online privacy laws; in fact, there is no US law that specifies the use and control of online data. This may be based on the fact that most of these social-networking sites are US based. In the meantime, users need to be aware of how their data are being used and to act accordingly.
Dr Paul Golding is associate professor, and dean of the College of Business and Management, University of Technology, Jamaica. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Paul Golding, Contributor
Social networking is what some information technology academics consider to be a disruptive technology or having disruptive impact, rendering existing products, services and business models obsolete.
Although social media have not yet made any product, service or business model obsolete, the phenomenon is certainly challenging many norms, and its current and future impact is and will be profound on all aspects of life. In particular, social media are supplanting traditional media as news and entertainment outlets. A number of recent events, locally and internationally, have highlighted the possible future legal and political impact and the difficulty that society is having with this particular technology.
The Friday, July 15 edition of The Gleaner, on its front page, questioned whether the widespread popularity of social-networking sites in Jamaica could undermine key elements of the justice system. Using the Khajeel Mais case as reference, legal experts wondered whether the widespread use of Facebook, Twitter and BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) could taint a potential jury pool and deny an accused person his constitutional right to a fair trial. In this case, the identity of the up-to-then-unnamed person of interest was widely circulated and discussed on Facebook and BBM.
The director of public prosecutions, Paula Llewellyn, commented that if the name of a suspect is released prior to an identification parade is held, the integrity of the process can be compromised and can “provide a legal basis to totally undermine” a prosecution. There were also rumours of other high-profile persons being involved in the unfortunate shooting. As we all know, rumours are not new; however, social networks add the viral effect to rumours, giving them a wider circulation. As it relates to legal considerations, another recent case further afield is worthy of discussion and contrast.
On June 15, Vancouver Canucks lost in the Stanley Cup finals to Boston Bruins. Vancouver is an intensely passionate ice hockey city; in fact, all of Canada is. As a result of the loss, a post-match riot ensued. Persons with smartphones took photos and videos of rioters looting and smashing cars and posted them on YouTube and Flickr. Many of these pictures and videos were posted with the express intention of identifying illegal or potentially illegal activity.
According to one commentator, this went beyond citizen journalism to engagement in citizen surveillance. The commentator continued: “I don’t think I want to live in a society that turns social media into a form of crowd-sourced surveillance. When social media users embrace Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs as channels, identifying and pursuing criminals, that is exactly what we are moving towards.”
This discussion was part of a blog and it elicited numerous comments both for and against the use of social networks for citizen surveillance. These two cases, one in Jamaica and the other in Canada, highlight the paradox of technology – social media or otherwise – some person will use and view the use of technology in laudable terms, while others will not.
The impact of social networks on politics is even more interesting and paradoxical. Facebook provides a forum where information can be quickly and efficiently published, and this feature takes on particular importance where these forums are absent from day-to-day political life or where individuals’ liberties are curtailed.
We have seen in Egypt and Tunisia where social media were used to circumvent government dominance of the media sector and the restrictive freedom of association laws. Governments in these and other countries, like Iran and China, have restricted or have made attempts to restrict the use of social networks in their domain. These attempts have been met with criticism and virtual self-righteous claims from the West of repression, restriction on freedom of speech, freedom of expression and being undemocratic. Now contrast these events and reactions with the recent riots in Britain.
Media reports have strongly suggested that participants in the recent British riots used social networks, particularly BBM, as their premier method of communicating. They outmanoeuvred the police by using BBM and other social media to tell protesters where the police were and where they should avoid.
Without making any attempt to determine the motivation for the riots, British Prime Minister David Cameron threatened to temporarily block social network platforms. Subsequently, on August 24, British officials met with representatives of Twitter, Facebook and BlackBerry to discuss ways to limit or restrict the use of social media to combat crime and periods of civil unrest. The governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other countries engulfed in the Arab Spring did characterise the protesters as rioters and the situation as civil unrest without making any attempt to determine the motivation for the ‘riots’.
Smacks of hypocrisy
Some will argue that the current position of the British government smacks of hypocrisy while others will argue that the government in a ‘democracy’ should use all means to protect civil liberties and prevent crime.
Jamaicans are expecting that there will be a general election next year, and the politicians from both parties have begun to exchange ‘pleasantries’ in anticipation. During the last general election, traditional media platforms such as television, radio and print, coupled with on-the-ground campaigns, were the main means of engaging potential voters. Not so this time around, both political parties will have to use YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and other social media in their political campaign.
The recent BBM campaign encouraging citizens to wear black to protest against the Jamaica Public Service Company’s billing system has provided sufficient proof of the power of social media to rally persons around a cause. If social media are referred to as Web 2.0, the use of social media in Jamaica’s general election will be Polytricks 2.0. This should be interesting from several perspectives, including the level of sophistication in the use of the media by the political parties, and the fact that the Broadcasting Commission has no regulatory powers against actual or perceived bias.
Dr Paul Golding is senior lecturer at the School of Computing and Information Technology, University of Technology, Jamaica. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
By Erica Lazare
Director of the International Relations Office and Chapter Relations Office of the American Library Association (ALA) said that it is
imperative for members of the Library Association of Barbados (LAB) to utilise all of the resources available to them as well as indulge in creativity to revive the roles of libraries in Barbados.
Speaking on the topic, “Campaign for the World’s Libraries”, during a LAB seminar at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus on Wednesday, Michael Dowling highlighted examples from around the world where library associations have used ingenious methods to reach their communities and create awareness of their services, many of which were adapted from the successful ALA’s “@ Your Library” campaign, which started in 2001.
He explained that many of these methods, implemented by the over 30 global library associations working with the ALA, centred on the forging of collaborative relationships with other entities.
“Work with other institutions like the Ministry of Transport, Education and Teachers Associations as well as private companies as they can also be interested in getting their information out to the public through your institutions.”
Stating that “branding of the library is important”, he said the use of popular figures, such as sportsmen and women, recording artists and politicians, have proven to work in permeating messages to the public. The ALA currently has Miami Heat basketball player Dwyane Wade as its spokesperson for its National Library Card Sign-up campaign, and used American national soccer team player Landon Donovan and former First Lady Laura Bush for previous reading initiatives.
“Why should you be doing this? Well simply it is because libraries are part of the 21st century and must know how to market their collection. The questions you should be asking yourselves is, ‘How is your library part of the solution? How does it impact your communities?’ I believe that what we all want is to let people know that the old way of thinking of libraries is no more.”
He then revealed that “seed money” will be available to the LAB to “kick-start” some of its programmes.
One highly successful ongoing relationship that has forged tight bonds with one of ALA’s partners using interactive avenues is with Women’s Day magazine. Every year the publication showcases how the library has helped with different aspects of people’s lives by encouraging readers to send in their experiences. Dowling said that such innovative concepts should be used here in Barbados to get the public to utilise the libraries on a greater level.
He then spoke of Jamaica’s Library Association’s great effort in a short space of time, whereby partnerships were made, memorandums signed, issue-focused weeks and a highly popular poster competition were implemented to great effect.
Finally, he invited members of the LAB to the ALA’s 2011 Annual Conference and Exhibition in New Orleans in June and also reminded them about the World Library and Information Congress: 77th International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) General Conference and Assembly, which is set to take place in San Juan, Puerto Rico next August under the theme, “Libraries beyond libraries: Integration, Innovation and Information for all”.
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In the tradition of IBM’s grand challenges such as Deep Blue with chess and Blue Gene with the human genome, Watson is the next scientific breakthrough with natural language processing on Jeopardy.
Published: August 23, 2011
Privacy worries have bedeviled Facebook since its early days, from the introduction of the endless scroll of data known as the news feedto, most recently, the use of facial recognition technology to identify people in photographs.
At the nub of all those worries, of course, is how much people share on Facebook, with whom and — perhaps most important — how well they understand the potential consequences.
The company has struggled to find a balance between giving users too little control over privacy and giving them too much, for fear they won’t share much at all. Seeking a happy medium, Facebook announced changes on Tuesday that it says will help users get a grip on what they share.
When the changes are introduced on Thursday, every time Facebook users add a picture, comment or any other content to their profile pages, they can specify who can see it: all of their so-called Facebook friends, a specific group of friends, or everyone who has access to the Internet. These will be indicated by icons that replace the current, more complicated padlock menu.
Similar controls will apply to information like users’ phone numbers and hometowns and whether they like, say, death metal bands, on their profile pages. Users will no longer have to seek out a separate privacy page to tweak who sees how much of that personal information. Nor will they have to bother to remember what those settings were.
Company officials say they hope the changes will simplify the process of establishing who knows what about your life on the Internet — and hopefully, save a few people the embarrassment of unwittingly sharing too much.
“We want to make this stuff unmistakably clear,” Chris Cox, vice president for product at Facebook, said in an interview. “It has to be clear that Facebook is a leader in how people control who sees what.”
Implicit in these changes is the challenge brought on by Facebook’s own success. It is used by 750 million people worldwide, with varying degrees of knowledge about what it means to have a life online. There is the looming prospect that the company will go public, along with the abiding concern about potential government regulation or litigation stemming from privacy issues.
Not least, there is the need for Facebook to cultivate the trust of its users, amid growing competition from Google’s nascent social networking service, Google Plus, which emphasizes more compartmentalized communications with different sets of friends and acquaintances.
Facebook dismissed the notion that the changes were fueled by competition. Company officials took pains to tell reporters that they had briefed privacy advocates on the changes — including those who have been critical of Facebook — and solicited their feedback.
It is too early to tell whether users will find the changes more inviting or simpler, or whether they will reduce what Kurt Opsahl, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, called “the amount of unintentional oversharing on Facebook.”
Privacy advocates warned that the new tools did not address a concern about sharing location. One Facebook user can publish information about another user’s whereabouts without his or her consent — whether it’s an employee at the beach on the day he or she called in sick or a husband at a strip club without his wife’s knowledge.
Other privacy experts say that if users believe they have control over who sees what, they are more likely to share.
“I think it’s part of an evolution to push back at the notion that Facebook is trying to trick you into sharing,” said Jules Polonetsky of the Future of Privacy Forum, which is based in Washington. “You’re more likely to do so when you know what you’re doing.”
The new tools represent a departure from Facebook’s more recent approach, in which users found much of what they posted — tags, photos and so on — to be widely accessible unless they explicitly specified otherwise. The default position, in other words, was to opt for sharing.
Mr. Cox said the new tools were meant to demystify privacy controls and ensure that Facebook users were never “surprised” by what others could see about them.
That includes pictures in which they have been “tagged.” No longer will an unflattering or compromising photograph appear on your profile page without your consent, though the publisher of the photograph can still keep it up on his or her own page. Users will be able to approve every picture in which they are tagged before it appears on their profile pages.
Additionally, the privacy option that is now called “everyone” will instead be called “public.” Facebook executives say they want to dispel any doubts about what the setting means. If you click “public,” that means anyone who is online can see what you are posting, including perfect strangers — or, worse, parents, prospective employers and your ex-wife’s divorce lawyers.
“We need to offer fine granularity in order to be a universally usable tool,” Mr. Cox said. With the new settings, “it’s more visual and prominent who the audience is.”
Indeed, company officials say feedback from users suggest that pictures work better than words. So now, icons guide the way. “Public” is represented by a globe; “friends” by a pair of heads.
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