Quotulatiousness

November 25, 2014

When was it exactly that “progress stopped”?

Filed under: Environment, Health, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:05

Scott Alexander wrote this back in July. I think it’s still relevant as a useful perspective-enhancer:

The year 1969 comes up to you and asks what sort of marvels you’ve got all the way in 2014.

You explain that cameras, which 1969 knows as bulky boxes full of film that takes several days to get developed in dark rooms, are now instant affairs of point-click-send-to-friend that are also much higher quality. Also they can take video.

Music used to be big expensive records, and now you can fit 3,000 songs on an iPod and get them all for free if you know how to pirate or scrape the audio off of YouTube.

Television not only has gone HDTV and plasma-screen, but your choices have gone from “whatever’s on now” and “whatever is in theaters” all the way to “nearly every show or movie that has ever been filmed, whenever you want it”.

Computers have gone from structures filling entire rooms with a few Kb memory and a punchcard-based interface, to small enough to carry in one hand with a few Tb memory and a touchscreen-based interface. And they now have peripherals like printers, mice, scanners, and flash drives.

Lasers have gone from only working in special cryogenic chambers to working at room temperature to fitting in your pocket to being ubiquitious in things as basic as supermarket checkout counters.

Telephones have gone from rotary-dial wire-connected phones that still sometimes connected to switchboards, to cell phones that fit in a pocket. But even better is bypassing them entirely and making video calls with anyone anywhere in the world for free.

Robots now vacuum houses, mow lawns, clean office buildings, perform surgery, participate in disaster relief efforts, and drive cars better than humans. Occasionally if you are a bad person a robot will swoop down out of the sky and kill you.

For better or worse, video games now exist.

Medicine has gained CAT scans, PET scans, MRIs, lithotripsy, liposuction, laser surgery, robot surgery, and telesurgery. Vaccines for pneumonia, meningitis, hepatitis, HPV, and chickenpox. Ceftriaxone, furosemide, clozapine, risperidone, fluoxetine, ondansetron, omeprazole, naloxone, suboxone, mefloquine, – and for that matter Viagra. Artificial hearts, artificial livers, artificial cochleae, and artificial legs so good that their users can compete in the Olympics. People with artificial eyes can only identify vague shapes at best, but they’re getting better every year.

World population has tripled, in large part due to new agricultural advantages. Catastrophic disasters have become much rarer, in large part due to architectural advances and satellites that can watch the weather from space.

We have a box which you can type something into and it will tell you everything anyone has ever written relevant to your query.

We have a place where you can log into from anywhere in the world and get access to approximately all human knowledge, from the scores of every game in the 1956 Roller Hockey World Cup to 85 different side effects of an obsolete antipsychotic medication. It is all searchable instantaneously. Its main problem is that people try to add so much information to it that its (volunteer) staff are constantly busy deleting information that might be extraneous.

We have the ability to translate nearly major human language to any other major human language instantaneously at no cost with relatively high accuracy.

We have navigation technology that over fifty years has gone from “map and compass” to “you can say the name of your destination and a small box will tell you step by step which way you should be going”.

We have the aforementioned camera, TV, music, videophone, video games, search engine, encyclopedia, universal translator, and navigation system all bundled together into a small black rectangle that fits in your pockets, responds to your spoken natural-language commands, and costs so little that Ethiopian subsistence farmers routinely use them to sell their cows.

But, you tell 1969, we have something more astonishing still. Something even more unimaginable.

“We have,” you say, “people who believe technology has stalled over the past forty-five years.”

1969’s head explodes.

Replica WW1 tanks at the Tank Museum

Filed under: Britain, History, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

While they’re not true replica vehicles, the British Mark IV and the German A7V tanks can be seen at the Tank Museum in Bovington:

Uploaded on 11 Jan 2012

The Tank Museum has obtained the tank used in Steven Spielberg’s new World War One blockbuster Warhorse.

The fully operational replica of a British Mk IV tank is set to go on display when the film is released next week, and will also be used in the Dorset based Museum’s tank displays later in the year.

The full sized replica was based on the Museum’s own Mark IV, which was built in 1917. OSCAR award-wining special effects company Neil Corbould Special Effects LTD, whose credits include Saving Private Ryan and Gladiator, visited The Tank Museum in 2010 to take measurements from the vehicle and copy original documents related to the MK IV tank held in the Museum’s Archive.

Published on 30 Nov 2012

The Tank Museum has acquired a working replica of a German First World War tank. See it in action here, alongside our British First World War replica from the film War Horse. For more information, visit www.tankmuseum.org.

November 24, 2014

Allow more competition in the broadband marketplace

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Technology, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

At Techdirt, Karl Bode points out the existing problem with lack of competition in the US broadband industry is largely due to various levels of government meddling with the market:

While Title II is the best net neutrality option available in the face of a lumbering broadband duopoly, it still doesn’t fix the fact that the vast majority of customers only have the choice of one or two broadband options. It’s this lack of competition that not only results in net neutrality violations (as customers can’t vote down stupid ISP behavior with their wallet), but the higher prices and abysmal customer service so many of us have come to know and love. Stripping away protectionist state laws can help a little, as can the slow rise of services like Google Fiber. But even these efforts can only go so far in blowing up a broadband duopoly, pampered through regulatory capture and built up over a generation of campaign contributions.

One solution is the return to the country’s barely-tried implementation of unbundling and network open access, or requiring that the nation’s subsidy-slathered monopolists open their networks to allow other competitors to come in and compete. There are many variations of this concept, and it’s something Google Fiber promised in its markets before backing away from it (much like their vocal support of net neutrality). Obviously being forced to compete is an immensely unpopular concept for the nation’s incumbent ISPs. Given that those companies dictate and often literally write the nation’s telecom laws, these requirements were eliminated in a number of policies moves starting in 2001 and culminating in the FCC’s Triennial Review Remand Order of 2004 (pdf).

This was amazingly presented at the time as a way to improve competition and spur investment, but primarily resulted in a bloodbath as dozens of consumer-friendly, smaller independent ISPs and CLECs were killed off, perpetuating and further cementing the noncompetitive duopoly we have today.

[…]

Despite the fact this model clearly works, it’s never considered in policy discussions as a serious possibility. Why? Quite simply because the incumbent providers don’t want it. Through the use of their various PR folk, astroturfers, think tankers, fauxcademics and assorted hired mouthpieces, they’ve successfully managed to utterly vilify the concept, painting it as the very worst sort of government meddling in (not actually) free markets. Instead, we’ve chosen to head down the path of letting the nation’s duopolists dictate telecom policy, and the end result should at this point be painfully obvious to everyone. Well, except the industry lobbyists who still somehow insist we’re all living in a competitive broadband Utopia.

November 23, 2014

ESR on how to learn hacking

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:59

Eric S. Raymond has been asked to write this document for years, and he’s finally given in to the demand:

What Is Hacking?

The “hacking” we’ll be talking about in this document is exploratory programming in an open-source environment. If you think “hacking” has anything to do with computer crime or security breaking and came here to learn that, you can go away now. There’s nothing for you here.

Hacking is a style of programming, and following the recommendations in this document can be an effective way to acquire general-purpose programming skills. This path is not guaranteed to work for everybody; it appears to work best for those who start with an above-average talent for programming and a fair degree of mental flexibility. People who successfully learn this style tend to become generalists with skills that are not strongly tied to a particular application domain or language.

Note that one can be doing hacking without being a hacker. “Hacking”, broadly speaking, is a description of a method and style; “hacker” implies that you hack, and are also attached to a particular culture or historical tradition that uses this method. Properly, “hacker” is an honorific bestowed by other hackers.

Hacking doesn’t have enough formal apparatus to be a full-fledged methodology in the way the term is used in software engineering, but it does have some characteristics that tend to set it apart from other styles of programming.

  • Hacking is done on open source. Today, hacking skills are the individual micro-level of what is called “open source development” at the social macrolevel. A programmer working in the hacking style expects and readily uses peer review of source code by others to supplement and amplify his or her individual ability.
  • Hacking is lightweight and exploratory. Rigid procedures and elaborate a-priori specifications have no place in hacking; instead, the tendency is try-it-and-find-out with a rapid release tempo.
  • Hacking places a high value on modularity and reuse. In the hacking style, you try hard never to write a piece of code that can only be used once. You bias towards making general tools or libraries that can be specialized into what you want by freezing some arguments/variables or supplying a context.
  • Hacking favors scrap-and-rebuild over patch-and-extend. An essential part of hacking is ruthlessly throwing away code that has become overcomplicated or crufty, no matter how much time you have invested in it.

The hacking style has been closely associated with the technical tradition of the Unix operating system.

Recently it has become evident that hacking blends well with the “agile programming” style. Agile techniques such as pair programming and feature stories adapt readily to hacking and vice-versa. In part this is because the early thought leaders of agile were influenced by the open source community. But there has since been traffic in the other direction as well, with open-source projects increasingly adopting techniques such as test-driven development.

November 21, 2014

Marsha Ivins talks about the reality of working in space

Filed under: Space, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:27

In Wired, former astronaut Marsha Ivins talks to Caitlin Roper about what it’s really like to work in space:

Everyone imagines that when you’re sitting on the launchpad atop 7 million pounds of explosive rocket fuel, you’re nervous and worried; but the truth is, there isn’t much to do for those two hours after you climb into the shuttle. Many astronauts just take a nap. You’re strapped in like a sack of potatoes while the system goes through thousands of prelaunch checks. Occasionally you have to wake up and say “Roger” or “Loud and clear.” But the launch itself is a whole other thing — from the pad to orbit in 8.5 minutes, accelerating the entire time until you reach the orbital velocity of 17,500 mph. That is a ride.

It turns out that once you’re actually in orbit, zero-g has some upsides. Without gravity, bodily fluids move toward your head. It’s a great face-lift. Your stomach gets flat. You feel long, because you grow an inch or two. (I thought, “Oh cool, I’ll be tall,” but of course everybody else was taller too.)

But zero-g also has some disadvantages. As that fluid shifts north, you get an enormous headache. Your body compensates and loses about a liter of fluid in the first couple of days — you essentially pee the headache away. And a lot of people get nauseated. The way to feel better is to “lose up,” to convince your visual system that “up” is wherever you point your head and “down” is where your feet are. When you can do that, and go headfirst or earlobe-first wherever you want, then you’re getting adapted to zero-g. On each flight this adaptation happens more quickly — your body remembers having been in space. But it can take a few days before your stomach finally settles down and says, “OK, what’s for lunch?”

I didn’t eat much on any of my flights. I don’t have a big appetite even on Earth, but between the lack of gravity and the shifting fluids, things can taste different in space. I’d bring great chocolate with me and it would taste like wax — it was very disappointing. But you don’t go to space for the gourmet dining. There’s no way to cook, on the shuttle or on the ISS. Space food is already cooked and then either freeze-dried and vacuum-packed — so you add water and put it in the oven to warm up — or it’s thermo-stabilized, like a military MRE. With no refrigerator on board, fresh food won’t keep. So on the shuttle we’d have to eat anything fresh — usually fruit like apples, oranges, and grapefruit — early in the mission.

Elon Musk’s constant nagging worry

Filed under: Business, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:14

In the Washington Post, Justin Moyer talks about Elon Musk’s concern about runaway artificial intelligence:

Elon Musk — the futurist behind PayPal, Tesla and SpaceX — has been caught criticizing artificial intelligence again.

“The risk of something seriously dangerous happening is in the five year timeframe,” Musk wrote in a comment since deleted from the Web site Edge.org, but confirmed to Re/Code by his representatives. “10 years at most.”

The very future of Earth, Musk said, was at risk.

“The leading AI companies have taken great steps to ensure safety,” he wrote. “The recognize the danger, but believe that they can shape and control the digital superintelligences and prevent bad ones from escaping into the Internet. That remains to be seen.”

Musk seemed to sense that these comments might seem a little weird coming from a Fortune 1000 chief executive officer.

“This is not a case of crying wolf about something I don’t understand,” he wrote. “I am not alone in thinking we should be worried.”

Unfortunately, Musk didn’t explain how humanity might be compromised by “digital superintelligences,” “Terminator”-style.

He never does. Yet Musk has been holding forth on-and-off about the apocalypse artificial intelligence might bring for much of the past year.

November 19, 2014

Net Neutrality is a good thing, right?

Net Neutrality is back in the news thanks to President Obama making a PR push to the regulators who may (or may not) be crafting regulations to bring the internet under government supervision:

Because this issue is still in the FCC’s hands, no one can know for sure what rules the agency will adopt. One important question, though, is: will neutrality apply to wireless services or only to cable-based ISPs, such as Comcast, Time Warner, and AT&T? In addition, will failure to preserve the status quo slow down the speed at which Internet connections and broadband capacity expand (because ISPs won’t be able to shift more of the expansion costs onto the “hogs”)? And what exactly is wrong with ISPs wanting to charge content providers higher prices for more bandwidth and faster, more reliable downloads?

More certain, however, is that regulations requiring “net neutrality” will end up benefiting the large, established ISPs. Incumbent firms have gained from “common carrier” regulation throughout U.S. history. As a matter of fact, the FCC predictably will be captured (if it has not already been) by the very companies President Obama wants to regulate “in the public interest.”

The president’s call to action sounds eerily similar to demands for federal railroad regulation that ultimately led to the creation of the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1887. Until it was put out of business in the early 1980s by President Jimmy Carter, the ICC allowed the railroads and, later, motor carriers and pipelines to charge prices exceeding competitive levels, thereby trying its best to protect the carriers’ profits at consumers’ expense.

William Shugart follows up on his original post:

The source of today’s online bottleneck can be traced back to local and regional government authorities, who quickly recognized the benefits (to them personally) of creating and granting exclusive franchises to one ISP that would, for the term of the contract, be a monopolist. (Government officials can extract more rents if they negotiate with only a handful of contestants.) Given that only one ISP would “win” the right to provide online content to local customers, the local monopolists also recognized a benefit of exclusive franchises: They would have the freedom to discriminate against some content suppliers by adding extra fees for privileged access.

So, a simple solution to the absence of net neutrality is readily available: Foster competition between ISPs.

Some people might raise the objection that, in this realm, robust competition for consumer dollars is unlikely because the suppliers of connections to the Internet are “natural monopolists”. In fact, ISPs are not “natural monopolists” as some commentators would have us believe. They are local government-granted monopolies. (Even Frederic Scherer, the author of the influential textbook Industrial Market Structure and Economic Performance, wrote that such claims of “natural monopoly” are “trumped up.”) Competition between ISPs nowadays is a contest for the favors of mayors and city councils who ultimately will determine who will win the exclusive franchise; it is not competition for the business of paying customers.

November 18, 2014

The Wikipedia editors circle the wagons

Filed under: Media, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 06:50

Virginia Postrel talks about the greatest danger to the long-term health of Wikipedia — the diminishing central group of editors who do the most to keep it going:

Few of the tens of millions of readers who rely on Wikipedia give much thought to where its content comes from or why the site, which is crowdsourced and open (at least in theory) for anyone to edit, doesn’t degenerate into gibberish and graffiti. Like Google or running water, it is simply there. Yet its very existence is something of a miracle. Despite its ocean of content, this vital piece of informational infrastructure is the work of a surprisingly small community of volunteers. Only about 3,000 editors contribute more than 100 changes a month to the English-language Wikipedia, down from a high of more than 4,700 in early 2007. Without any central direction or outside recognition, these dedicated amateurs create, refine, and maintain millions of content pages.

But they don’t really do it for you. Wikipedia “is operated by and for the benefit of the editors,” writes Richard Jensen, one of their number, in a 2012 article in the Journal of Military History. (Jensen, a retired history professor, is a credentialed scholar, which makes him unusual among Wikipedia’s editors.) Unlike open-source software contributions, working on Wikipedia provides few career advantages. It’s a hobby, offering a combination of intrinsic and social rewards. People edit Wikipedia because they enjoy it.

And that is both the genius and the vulnerability of the organization. Wikipedia’s continued improvement — indeed, its continued existence — depends on this self-selected group of obsessives and the organizational culture they’ve developed over time. But the open structure that enabled the creation of so many entries on so many topics also attracts a never-ending stream of attacks from outright vandals and other bad actors. Forced to defend the site’s integrity, incumbent editors become skeptical, even hostile, toward the newcomers who could ensure its future. If Wikipedia eventually fades away, the reasons will lie in a culture that worked brilliantly until it devolved from dynamism to sclerosis.

November 17, 2014

An online font specially designed to help dyslexics read more accurately

Filed under: Media, Technology — Tags: — Nicholas @ 00:02

On the LMB mailing list, Marc Wilson shared a link to a free downloadable Dyslexia Font:

Dyslexie font

November 13, 2014

Where’s the rimshot?

Filed under: Humour, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:37

Marc Wilson posted this to the Lois McMaster Bujold mailing list (off-topic, obviously):

Apparently the inventor of predictive text has died.

His funfair will be on Sundial.

November 12, 2014

An honest, unbiased review of the iPhone 6+ by a guy who owns Apple stock

Filed under: Humour, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Scott Adams relates his quasi-religious experience with the latest iPhone:

The experience of getting the iPhone 6 Plus was like getting a puppy. From my first touch of the sleek, sexy miracle of technology I was hooked. I loved it before I even charged it up.

It was large in my hand, and slippery to hold, but I didn’t mind. That would be like complaining that my newborn baby was too heavy. This phone is pure art and emotion frozen in a design genius so subtle that competitors probably can’t even duplicate it. It was pure beauty. Sometimes I found myself just staring at it on the desk because I loved it so. Oh, and it works well too.

But I needed a case. I tried to imagine my anguish if I accidentally dropped this new member of my family and cracked it. I needed protection.

So I went to the Verizon store and bought the only cover they had left that doesn’t look like a six-year old girl’s bedroom wall. The color of my new case could best be described as Colonoscopy Brown. It is deeply disturbing. But because I love my iPhone 6 Plus, and want to keep it safe, I put it on.

Now my phone is not so much a marvel of modern design. Nor would I say it is nourishing my soul with beauty and truth the way it did when naked.

Now it just looks like a Picasso that three hundred homeless people pooped on. You know there’s something good under there but it is hard to care. Now when I see my hideous phone on my desk I sometimes think I can hear Siri beg me “Look away! Look away!”

[…]

Beauty needs to be temporary to be appreciated. I think those magnificent bastards at Apple know that. I think they made the case slippery by design. They want you to know that if you keep your phone selfishly naked, and try to hoard the beauty that is designed to be temporary, that phone will respond by slipping out of your hand and flying to its crackly death on a sidewalk.

November 11, 2014

Slipping a few F-35s in through the back door

Filed under: Cancon, Military, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:13

Aviation Week has a fascinating tale of politico-military skulduggery involving the on-again, off-again purchase of F-35 fighters to replace the RCAF’s aging fleet of CF-18s:

A radical fast-track plan to jump-start Canada’s stalled effort to buy the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is revealed in a briefing document obtained by Aviation Week.

The Oct. 27 brief from JSF Program Executive Office director USAF Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan to Air Force secretary Deborah James calls for Canada to receive four F-35s next year, by diverting them from U.S. Air Force low-rate initial production (LRIP) Lot 7 orders. Canada would then buy four Lot 9 aircraft that would be delivered to the Air Force in 2017. According to the briefing, Canada would sign a letter of intent within days — “mid-November” — and Congress would be notified by the end of November.

Neither the JSF Program Office nor the Canadian Department of National Defense responded to repeated inquiries about the planned deal this week. The legal basis for such an exchange, absent an urgent operational need, is uncertain. The proposed LRIP 9 replacement aircraft are not on contract, and as far as is known, negotiations for them have not started.

Mark Collins thinks he sees the real motivation here:

1) The RCAF gets four darn expensive LRIP 7 F-35As in 2015 essentially for free (the “swap” and thus the need for Congressional notification); our government can say it’s not spending any money – but at the same time is effectively committing to the plane (the letter of intent and “beddown” – horny for the Lightning II?);

2) Canada pays for four, appreciably less costly, F-35As from LRIP 9 and gives them to the USAF as replacements (almost Lend-Lease!).

Hence: Canada decides slyly on the aircraft and the US, also on the sly, probably gets the largest current foreign F-35 commitment (still 65?) after the Aussies (72). Sweet, eh.

November 10, 2014

A critical view of the Zumwalt class of destroyers

Filed under: Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

James R. Holmes makes the case that the latest class of US Navy destroyers are already obsolete:

BATH, Maine (Oct. 28, 2013) The Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer DDG 1000 is floated out of dry dock at the General Dynamics Bath Iron Works shipyard. The ship, the first of three Zumwalt-class destroyers, will provide independent forward presence and deterrence, support special operations forces and operate as part of joint and combined expeditionary forces. The lead ship and class are named in honor of former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo R. "Bud" Zumwalt Jr., who served as chief of naval operations from 1970-1974. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of General Dynamics/Released)

BATH, Maine (Oct. 28, 2013) The Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer DDG 1000 is floated out of dry dock at the General Dynamics Bath Iron Works shipyard. The ship, the first of three Zumwalt-class destroyers, will provide independent forward presence and deterrence, support special operations forces and operate as part of joint and combined expeditionary forces. The lead ship and class are named in honor of former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo R. “Bud” Zumwalt Jr., who served as chief of naval operations from 1970-1974. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of General Dynamics/Released)

Hie thee hence, sea fighters, to peruse Information Dissemination‘s take on the U.S. Navy’s Zumwalt-class destroyer. Pseudo-pseudonymous pundit “Lazarus” gives a nifty profile of the newfangled vessel. That’s worth your time in itself. Though not in so many words, moreover, he depicts the attention-grabbing DDG-1000 stories of recent weeks and months as a red herring. Sure, Zumwalt features a “tumblehome” hull that makes the ship look like the second coming of USS Monitor. (This is not a compliment.) The hull tapers where it should flare and flares where it should taper. Zounds!

Yet more than cosmetics occasions commentary. Some navy-watchers voice concern about tumblehome hulls’ seakeeping ability in rough waters. Others question their ability to remain buoyant and stable after suffering mishaps or battle damage. That’s a worry in a “minimum manned” ship that relies on automated damage control. (The very idea of automated firefighting and flooding control, and sparsely populated fire parties, sits poorly with this former fire marshal.) In any event, time will tell whether the naval architects got it right.

Even if problems do come to light, Zumwalt would be far from the first fighting ship to undergo modifications to remedy problems baked into her design. The flattop USS Midway, for example, underwent repeated change over her long life — including to correct such maladies. Plus ça change.

Zumwalt‘s secondary armament has made headlines as well. The navy recently opted to substitute lesser-caliber 30-mm guns for the 57-mm guns originally envisioned to empower the ship to duel small boats and light surface combatants. The smaller mount evidently meets performance parameters for close-in engagements that its bigger counterpart misses. This too is a controversy that, in all likelihood, will be settled once sea trials put the ship through her paces. Tempest, meet teapot.

November 6, 2014

Apple is working really hard to keep their customers

Filed under: Business, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

… but not necessarily in a good way:

Here is what they never tell you — Apple has devised a very clever way to make leaving the iOS world really, really painful. Specifically, when you send a text message on an iPhone, unless you fiddled with the default settings, it gets sent through iMessage and the Apple servers. If it is going to another iPhone, it can actually bypass the carrier text messaging system altogether, a nice perk back when texts were not unlimited but useful today mainly for international travel.

But here is the rub — when you switch you phone line away from an iPhone to an Android device, the Apple servers refuse to recognize this. They will think you still have an iPhone and will still try to send you messages via the iMessage servers. What this means in practice is that you can send messages from the new phone to other iPhones, but their texts back to you will not reach you. They just sort of disappear into the ether, and will try forever to be delivered to your now non-existent iPhone.

November 4, 2014

The chilling future of TV ads

Filed under: Business, Liberty, Media, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 07:21

Think today’s ads on TV are irritating? You ain’t seen nothing yet:

I’ve discussed in the past how many people mistake privacy as some sort of absolute “thing” rather than a spectrum of trade-offs. Leaving your home to go to the store involves giving up a small amount of privacy, but it’s a trade-off most people feel is worth it (not so much for some uber-celebrities, and then they choose other options). Sharing information with a website is often seen as a reasonable trade-off for the services/information that website provides. The real problem is often just that the true trade-offs aren’t clear. What you’re giving up and what you’re getting back aren’t always done transparently, and that’s where people feel their privacy is being violated. When they make the decision consciously and the trade-off seems worth it, almost no one feels that their privacy is violated. Yet, when they don’t fully understand, or when the deal they made is unilaterally changed, that’s when the privacy is violated, because the deal someone thought they were striking is not what actually happened.

And, unfortunately, it often seems like people are increasingly being pressured into deals they don’t fully understand and don’t have full control over. Michael Price, over at the Brennan Center for Justice, took the time to actually read through the “privacy policy” on his new “smart” TV and it’s terrified him. Just the fact that a TV even has a privacy policy seems oddly terrifying, but it makes sense, given that at least some information goes outbound as part of the “smarts.” But how much? Potentially a lot more than people would expect:

    The amount of data this thing collects is staggering. It logs where, when, how, and for how long you use the TV. It sets tracking cookies and beacons designed to detect “when you have viewed particular content or a particular email message.” It records “the apps you use, the websites you visit, and how you interact with content.” It ignores “do-not-track” requests as a considered matter of policy.

To some extent, that’s not really all that different than a regular computer. But, then it begins to get creepier:

    It also has a built-in camera — with facial recognition. The purpose is to provide “gesture control” for the TV and enable you to log in to a personalized account using your face. On the upside, the images are saved on the TV instead of uploaded to a corporate server. On the downside, the Internet connection makes the whole TV vulnerable to hackers who have demonstrated the ability to take complete control of the machine.

    More troubling is the microphone. The TV boasts a “voice recognition” feature that allows viewers to control the screen with voice commands. But the service comes with a rather ominous warning: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party.” Got that? Don’t say personal or sensitive stuff in front of the TV.

    You may not be watching, but the telescreen is listening.

Older Posts »
« « Vizzini and the Man in Black – different kinds of planners| Alongside Nineteen Eighty-Four‘s “Freedom is Slavery”, we can now add “Censorship is Free Speech” » »

Powered by WordPress