privacy

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Surveillance facials.

Tl;dr the surveillance capitalism selfie boom is powering the facial-recognition surveillance state.

One of the closest encounters I’ve (knowingly) had with this was in the Conrad casinotel in Macau. The staff there always knew who we were, in particular always greeting us by name whenever we walked into the lounge.1 There was a long, narrow corridor between the elevator and the lounge with seemingly no purpose; I assumed it was basically just a very luxuriously appointed mantrap, long enough for the camera to match any approaching guest against the ID photo they’d had to provide during check-in. If you want to experience firsthand that uncomfortable intersection between “cutting-edge customer service” and “vaguely threatening surveillance state,” luxury casinos are pretty much your Ur-examples.

  1. At one point, I “snuck” a friend—who was traveling with us but staying at a neighboring hotel—into the lounge. The hotel clerks called my husband to let him know his “wife and son” had arrived for breakfast. []
2019-07-31T09:39:49+10:0025th September, 2019|Tags: privacy, tech|

New deprogramming.

I’m really… not sure what I feel about this story of an ex-Mormon using targeted Facebook ads to try and subtly de-convert other church members. I mean, on the one hand I always vaguely approve of all religious de-conversion but, on the other hand—and more strongly—I super-duper disapprove of targeted advertising, especially targeted advertising that’s being used covertly by individuals against their immediate friends and family. Which is… yeah. Welcome to our brave new dystopian future, I guess!

2019-02-20T10:35:38+11:0017th August, 2019|Tags: advertising, facebook, privacy, social media|

What we see here is evidence of the only real innovation 8chan has brought to global terrorism: the gamification of mass violence. We see this not just in the references to “high scores”, but in the very way the Christchurch shooting was carried out. Brenton Tarrant livestreamed his massacre from a helmet cam in a way that made the shooting look almost exactly like a First Person Shooter video game. This was a conscious choice, as was his decision to pick a sound-track for the spree that would entertain and inspire his viewers.

Robert Evans on thoughts and prayers.

EtA: Fredrick Brennan, i.e. 8chan’s founder (but not current owner), calls for the site’s closure. The most interesting this from the article, though, is the quote from Cloudflare’s executive Matthew Prince’s statement that Cloudflare won’t revoke 8chan’s customer status because, If we kicked 8chan off our network […] law enforcement would have less visibility into what’s going on. Which is, like. Uh. Way to admit to the world in The New York Times that your company effectively acts as a giant spying apparatus for law enforcement, I guess. (Full disclosure: I also use Cloudflare for most of my sites.)

EtAx2: Apparently Cloudflare has now revoked services and the text quoted above has been removed from the NYT article. I didn’t grab a cap of it but… it was there, I swear!

EtAx3: Cloudflare’s statement:

In the two years since the Daily Stormer what we have done to try and solve the Internet’s deeper problem is engage with law enforcement and civil society organizations to try and find solutions. Among other things, that resulted in us cooperating around monitoring potential hate sites on our network and notifying law enforcement when there was content that contained an indication of potential violence. We will continue to work within the legal process to share information when we can to hopefully prevent horrific acts of violence. We believe this is our responsibility and, given Cloudflare’s scale and reach, we are hopeful we will continue to make progress toward solving the deeper problem.

So-oo-oo… yeah. Cloudflare is spying on the traffic on its network. Whether you think this is justified and/or acceptable is another discussion but… they’re definitely doing it.

2019-08-05T15:48:06+10:005th August, 2019|Tags: culture, cw: mass shooting, politics, privacy, tech|

Bad targets.

Why do companies bother with user tracking and profiling for “targeted” ads when they’re so goddamn bad at that very targeting?

Most interesting, I think, is the discussion of exactly why Netflix’s recommendations “algorithm” seems to’ve gotten so garbage over the years… suspiciously coinciding with the changing of the company’s business model. I think a lot of people assume Netflix recommendations still work on the old model—I know I did—but… actually yeah actually this makes wa-aa-ay more sense. Huh.

2019-02-08T09:06:50+11:0029th July, 2019|Tags: privacy, tech|

Telescreen.

The take-home from this piece on “smart” TVs being cheap because they’re cross-subsidized by media people paying the TV manufacturers to stuff their devices with crapware is basically that being able to “trust” your devices not to be actively hostile to you is now a luxury consumer good.1 Which… is pretty much Peak Surveillance Capitalism, right there.

This also actually kind of answers question I had a while back, when I was thinking of buying a new computer monitor,2 of wondering why they were like ten times the price of a similarly sized television. Well… I guess this is (at least part of the reason) why.

  1. See also: Apple versus Android. []
  2. I’m still using an ancient 30″ Dell. There’s nothing “wrong” with it per se… except for the fact it has one of those old format DVI-D connectors and none of the new graphics cards do. As it turns out, most standard DVI-to-HDMI/-DisplayPort adapters can’t handle the 2560×1600 resolution of the Dell 30″, so tl;dr my options were either “buy new $1,000 monitor” or “buy special $200 adapter from Dell”. In the end, I chose the latter. []
2019-02-07T13:49:43+11:0025th July, 2019|Tags: privacy, tech|

Admazon.

Ads sold by Amazon, once a limited offering at the company, can now be considered a third major pillar of its business, along with e-commerce and cloud computing. Amazon’s advertising business is worth about $125 billion, more than Nike or IBM, Morgan Stanley estimates. At its core are ads placed on Amazon.com by makers of toilet paper or soap that want to appear near product search results on the site.

[…]

In addition to knowing what people buy, Amazon also knows where people live, because they provide delivery addresses, and which credit cards they use. It knows how old their children are from their baby registries, and who has a cold, right now, from cough syrup ordered for two-hour delivery. And the company has been expanding a self-service option for ad agencies and brands to take advantage of its data on shoppers.

Karen Weise on Amazon’s next product.

(Hint: the Product is You.)

2019-02-05T11:17:26+11:0014th July, 2019|Tags: advertising, privacy, tech|

God is the machine.

From [Brett Frischmann and Evan Selinger’s] perspective, the most serious threats digital technologies pose are not strictly personal concerns like identity theft or companies’ surreptitiously listening in on conversations but the emergence of a softly deterministic techno-social order designed chiefly to produce individuals that are its willing subjects. They note, for example, that when a school deploys fitness trackers as part of its physical education program, privacy concerns should extend not only to questions of students’ informed and meaningful consent. Even if consent is managed well, such a program, Frischmann and Selinger argue, “shapes the preferences of a generation of children to accept a 24/7 wearable surveillance device that collects and reports data.” This is to say that these programs contribute to “surveillance creep”: our gradual acquiescence to the expanding surveillance apparatus. Such an apparatus, in their view, appears pointed ultimately toward the goal of engineered determinism. Frischmann and Selinger conclude by advocating for legal, cultural, and design strategies that aim at securing our freedom from engineered determinism. And I would suggest that we would do well to reframe our understanding of privacy along similar lines.

L.M. Sacasas on the new panopticon.

2019-01-22T13:39:20+11:0017th June, 2019|Tags: privacy, tech|