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November 17, 2010

[defrag] Maggie Fox on privacy

Maggie Fox [twitter:maggiefox] says we think about privacy wrong.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

We can feel violated when what we thought was private goes into unwanted hands. “Violated” is a strong word, and originally meant someone crossing physical space, coming into your house. Our laws of privacy are all about physical place. “We suck at context. We think here and now is all there is.” Privacy is not universal, she says. The notion that you have a private space that no one else can come into is a Western concept. In fact, ours is an American concept. There is no Russian word for privacy. George Lowenstein’s study showed the cultural basis of privacy. He found that when guarantees of confidentiality were given and people were asked to disclosed things, disclosure dropped by 50%. And the more informal the disclosure statement on a site was, the more they disclosed. People don’t think about privacy unless they’re told to think about it.

Privacy is a new concept, relative to human history. It is not global. Rooted in 18th centure property law. And it’s very squishy (= contextual). And now we’re digital. But most people really aren’t all that interested in privacy. We leave breadcrumbs all the time. “In the digital revolution, that data is incredibly valuable, but not to Big Brother.” “If you’re a spy, you shouldn’t be on Twitter.” Worrying about that is a red herring.

We ought to be much more worried about advertisers’ use of data. Their business model is ending, Maggie says. They want to transition from trying to get all the eyeballs to getting the right eyeballs. There is a market for your data. Your privacy is no longer a place. It is a commodity — something people want to buy. You should worry more about Facebook than Big Brother.

So we need to approach privacy differently. Right now, we treat privacy as something that makes you feel weird when someone violates it, e.g., when your Mom refers to your FB page. But, the marketers aren’t just making you feel weird. They’re taking something from you: your data.

Your data has value, and you ought to extract that value. Advertising recognizes that with profit-sharing, discount, loyalty programs: you can trak me in exchange for something I want.

The big sites like Amazon have value because of the data we’ve given them. Our aggregated data is the information age’s natural resource.

We need to think about privacy differently, Maggie concludes.

Q: [esther dyson] What will a company that create a service that does represent the user?
A: Great question. I don’t have the answer.

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[defrag] Esther Dyson on personal health data

Esther Dyson is giving a talk at Defrag. It’s called “On exploration … of yourself.”

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing A LOT of artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

“Everyone wants to know themselves, but some people are afraid of their genome.” She tells such people that the question is not what you’re going to die of, but what you’re going to live with. She wants to show us some cool interfaces that make data about yourself more interesting. (Esther discloses that she’s on the board) shows you your disease risks [based on your genome?]. It presents some friendly screens and lets you drill down. You can compare your genome to your relatives’. Esther says she found a lump in her breast this summer. It was benign, but before she found out, she reassessed her odds, which led her to think that the risk of going into space had dropped in comparison to the cancer risk. We need numeracy, she says. also produces a friendly health profile, she says.

But what counts is motivation, she says. It’d be helpful if we could increase the status of health markers, e.g., that you run 20 miles a week, etc. How do you design systems, services and tools where your healthy behavior connotes status?

She points to one not very effective attempt: shows her status in various frequent flyer programs, but ought to show her good behaviors (exercise, flossing, etc.).

She suggest someone here create the game

There are three health markets now: The health care market (doctors, hospitals, insurance, etc.). Chocolate muffins, and indolence. And the third market is for health, which hasn’t been much of a market.

Q: How about privacy?
A: With universal healthcare, the data have less of an impact. The data can still affect employability, etc. Privacy remains an issue, although your financial data is much more interesting to thieves. We’ve managed to deal with financial data pretty well. If you’re worried about your health data’s privacy, then don’t use this stuff. It’s somewhat overblown as an issue. I’ve put my entire genome up on the Web — 20Mb, and it doesn’t have a lot of meaning about it yet. Your behavior is much more revealing than your genome right now.

Q: How about data sharing tools?
A: Here are two I’ve invested in: Contagion Health. Health Rally. Suppose your friends invest in your not smoking? That creates a positive community and you don’t want to disappopint them. Med Rewards. PatientsLikeMe and CuredTogether.

Q: There can be unintended consequences, such as BMW’s mileage game leading people to run red lights. How do you avoid that?
A: Yes, I can see one of those tools aggravating anorexia. This things need to be designed carefully.

Q: Are you going into space?
A: Yes, I’d love to. I’d even go to Mars one way. That’s what they did to America in 1942. The older you get, the less you have to lose.

Q: How about how humans take to 3D visualizations?
A: Some like it, some don’t. I do. I love 4D with things changing over time. But not everyone likes them. Remember not to confused the visualization with the meaning. Some are cool but don’t convey any info. Read Tufte.

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November 16, 2010

[berkman] Juliet Schor on sustainability and the Web

Juliet Schor, professor of sociology at Boston University, is giving a Berkman Tuesday lunch titled “Plenitude: Sustainability and the Web.” The tech and sustainability communities need a much closer relationship, she says as the talk begins.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

She begins by telling us about the urgency of the issue of environmental sustainability. A World Wildlife Foundation study shows the decline in biodiversity. “A massive extinction is underway.” A study of eco-footprints shows that the USA’s average is about five times the world average biocapacity per person. Countries with equivalent standards of living have about half our eco-footprint. And that’s not to mention the upward path of CO2 emissions. Although there’s been some good news recently, it’s largely due to the economic downturn, she says. To avoid climate catastrophe, we need a 90% reduction by 2050.

In the 1970s, a group of MIT modelers (associated with James Forester) showed that if industrial production continued to increase, the system would collapse right about now. It was a simplistic model and it focused too much on non-renewables. Oil did not behave the way they predicted. The economists thought we could continue to grow by de-materializing, i.e., getting more out of resources [I may not have gotten that right], but the growth of use per person has more than outweighed the decline in carbon intensity. There’s been a 45% increase in materials extraction worldwide, 1980-2005, i.e., de-materialization is not happening. North American extraction has increased by more than 66% over this period. Mainly we’re burning fossil fuels and using construction materials. A stiff price on carbon would help tremendously, but is unlikely, Juliet says.

Unfortunately, the downturn is likely to increase the damage to the environment, since the imperative is to get people back to work by growing the economy. She says this is a stupid approach since we are getting people back to work doing what they did before, with all of its inequalities and emphasis on consumption. It would be helpful to improve the equity of the distribution of assets and income. We need to create wealth and well-being. And we should avoid top-down, innefficient or elitist solutions. “I call this plenitutde,” a new type of economic model.

As an economic model, plenitude is about:

  • A move to closed loop/clean production and consumption systems.

  • Eco-knowledge: open source transmission and ecological skill diffusion. Innovation has been based too much on using (and wasting) Nature. We should be treating nature as a scarce good. Open source is crucial for the diffusion of ecological knowledge and skills

  • Reducing the hours in business-as-usual, and building time wealth for people.

  • We need a “growing green sector of small scale enterprises, and new property forms”

  • Invest more in social capital.

She’s going to talk about two principles of Plenitude; there are four in her book.

First, we should reduce the number of working hours. From 1870 until the 1970s in the industrialized world, we went from 3,000 hours of work per year to about 1,800. Without this, we would not have been able to absorb all the labor displaced by increased productivity. But from 1973 until now, the hours of work in the US have increased, and has created a gap between us and other industrialized countries. If we can’t keep increasing the size of our economy in dollar terms, we have to reduce the number of hours. “In Europe, people are beginning to understand this.” “Given the magnitude of the climate reductions we need, the wealthy countries of the world are probably going to have to stop growing.” As soon as we get serious about targets, Juliet says, we’ll see that. “Shorter hours of work is associated with lower ecological footprint.” We should create policies that make working fewer hours more attractive to individuals and to firms.

So, what are people going to do with their new leisure time? The second principle of Plenitude is that people should begin to do more “high tech self providing” — make and do more for themselves. (It’s a phrase from Fritjof Bergman.) This will lead to green entrepreneurship, Juliet says. E.g., permaculture (more advanced high productivity agriculture), micro-generation of energy, DIY home building (low cash, low footprint). Her Center for a New American Dream is looking at all of these.

Juliet points to Fab Labs for their lower barrier to entry. She talks about the rise of sharing — home-, tool, car-, couch-sharing. The Web has reduced the transaction costs for this type of sharing. Plus the recession has changed the calculus of time and money. Transition towns grapple with what will be happening with the climate; there are 80 in the US.

Q: How adaptable are these ideas to developing countries?
A: Many have been practiced for quite a while in developing countries.
Q: That’s not the mindset of those in developing countries.
A: It is for some development groups. Not for the World Bank. Look at some of the less mainstream, more alternative groups.

Q: To what extent does the increasing use of electronics contribute to the the eco problems?
A: That is an issue. It’s a big energy consumer. Google is thinking about its footprint and is moving to renewable energy. The mindset is generally better in that sector.

Q: Google searching can also save energy because I can avoid driving from store to store looking for something. Also, the most effective development tools are the small enablers, e.g., a sewing machine or chickens. Rather than being dependent on others, people can develop their own enterprises.
A: My model is similar to that, but it’s not money-driven. Financial constraints are not the issue in developed countries. We are constrained much more by time because we work long hours in formal jobs in order to get access to housing, health insurance, and education. Why would people want to become pose-industrial peasants? They get diversity of income streams. This is especially important because we’re coming into a time of increasing uncertainty — financial collapses and climactic uncertainties. New tech allows individuals and small firms to become highly productive because of their relationships to networks.

Q: Over the past two decades, networks have risen empowering individuals, yet capital has concentrated into fewer hands. Do you see that changing?
A: We need to develop a new economic model. Peer production can help create a new kind of economy. The increased concentration of wealth has to do with state policy. What’s happening on the Internet can be the basis of a new economic model.

Q: How do you see the politics behind this movement happening?
A: My book tries to avoid dealing with politics. We live in such a politically polarized moment. But you do need a politics to get you to this place. We lack a viable and credible economic alternative to global capitalism. We have to put it together — intellectual work. At the same time, we need people doing it and living it — real life models of alternatives. It’s happening at a very local level. In the Pacific Northwest we’re beginning to see a sustainable alternative. And there are some policy elements: A single payer health system would allow people to de-link from fulltime jobs. The recession provides us with a tremendous opportunity to explore alternatives.

Q: Are there numbers about what’s going on?
A: Not many. This movement started with people with a lot of education and social capital. That’s changing. Some of the most active areas are low-income people of color. We’re seeing less of it in the white working class. It’s beginning to become a more diverse movement.

Q: How about how the educational system could be helpful? All you hear is jobs, jobs, jobs. And how undergrad economics is taught is not on the same planet as what you’re talking about. We’re part of the problem here at Harvard.
A: How to make change in universities? Let’s just take economics. It’d be very useful if scientists actually began to take more of a role in the university in talking about what students should be taught about planets and its management, which includes economics. Humanists won’t be listened to on this. The disproportionate role of economists in running these universities…
Q: Half of the Harvard student body takes the party-line econ course.
A: Econ depts generally have one person working on environmental issues. This is a civilizational emergency, and we have depts of 70 people, 69 of whom pay no attention to this. And the one who does is probably funded by the energy industry.

Q: Do we have time to travel this path?
A: On the one hand, we can look at what’s happening and say it’s getting worse — e.g., Citizens United — and say it’s hopeless. Or we can step back and ask what we need to build. It’s going to be ugly. So we need to build a movement that will counter a corporatized, fascistic vision of green, or a scenario of non-green. We need to be constructing a much more humanistic, egalitarian world that will really be good for people, and will give people more freedom, more community, more safety, more security. That’s all we can do.

A: What’s happening in tech is not on the radar of the sustainability groups. They’re still trying to think about their web sites. The transformative power of tech has not struck them yet — transformative of knowledge transmission, how we live our lives, and the economic model. In the tech world, there are lots of people who care about sustainability. More institutional connections would help. In the tech world, people meet and things happen, and that’s part of how we’re going to get to where we need to. We need lots of innovation.

Q: Do you see the Admin’s regulations about moving MPG up as a model?
A: That’s taken decades. I’m more advocate of new techs that leapfrog over marginal change initiatives. And that’s part of how we shorten the timeline for reaching our Plenitude goal.

Q: You say mostly highly educated are involved in this movement now. How do we move ahead and expand the movement?
A: We could start out hiring people at 80% time.
Q: The Net makes knowledge more available, but how do you help people get formal education?
A: Policies could help … [Couldn't hear parts]

Q: I’m a Ph.D. student in econ. The politics of making the shift should not only be concerned with reducing the influence of big firms, but reducing the influence of some of the big economists.
A: Economists have started taking a lot more money from financial corporations. The field has been corrupted by money. Twenty years ago, a student of mine did a report on the boards of directors that Harvard’s faculty is on. That’s never revealed when they testify, etc.

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November 15, 2010

Without agenda?

Chris Johns, editor in chief of the National Geographic, praises Stephanie Sinclair’s photographs documenting the lives of women members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints:

…Stephanie has no agenda. She does not judge. There is nothing superficial or glib about her work. Her photographs are honest. They reflect her insatiable curiosity. They also reflect her compassion and sense of responsibility… Stephanie understands that others may want to pass judgment, but that is not her role. She photographs what she sees and provides the opportunity for insight. The rest is up to the reader.

In a world full of shrill voices and agendas, we at National Geographic are committed to an unbiased presentation of facts. Yes, we will cover controversial topics like the FLDS, and yes, we will devote time and resources to get the story right. It’s what we’ve been doing for more than 120 years. Our commitment is to show the world in all its complexity—and to publish the work of photographers, like Stephanie Sinclair, who can present that complexity with compassion and fairness.

Many of the adjectives praising the photos seem deserved, but not the “unbiased presentation of facts” and “she photographs what she sees” guff. Take a look at the photo that illustrates the blog post. It’s a terrific photo because it has such a strong point of view. Chris seems to have confused Stephanie with a camera.

Then, of course, there’s the inevitable fact that the editors at NatGeo decide which of her photographs make it in, culling based on which photos tell the story they want to tell.

Photography provides the clearest, and indeed most literal, example of Jay Rosen’s argument against “the view from nowhere.” Just try taking a photograph without having your camera point somewhere.

BTW, if the photograph illustrating Chris’ blog post isn’t proof enough for you, read the comments.

(Tip of the hat to Alan Mairson for the link.)


November 14, 2010

Remember when we had a sense of humor?

My daughter pointed out Nietzsche Family Circus, that pairs up the adorable comics with quotes from the ever more adorable Nietzsche.

That reminded me of some long, hilarious strings of reviews of Family Circus books at Amazon. So, I looked up an issue of my old newsletter (which I think I’m actually going to publish an issue of soon) where I mentioned them. They’re still there (here and here) and some are pretty funny, but I’m pretty sure Amazon cleaned up the list — it’s way shorter and tamer than I remember.

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November 13, 2010

Doc around the clock, and around the world

Doc Searls has a brief post about wandering his way around the world and across the decades thanks to librarians, archivists, and the good folks of New Zealand.

Btw, be sure to click on the link to what Doc calls his “favorite family photo of all time.” OMG, he looks exactly the same.

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November 12, 2010

Berkman Buzz

Here is this week’s Berkman Buzz, as compiled by Rebekah Heacock.

  • Doc Searls tackles targeted advertising: link

  • John Palfrey delivers his ‘chair lecture’ on the path of legal information: link

  • CMLP criticizes colleges that ban their athletes from Twitter: link

  • Dan Gillmor wonders if net neutrality is in a coma: link

  • Clay Shirky discusses paywalls and newsletter economics: link

  • The OpenNet Initiative covers the call for greater ACTA transparency: link

  • Weekly Global Voices: “Obama’s Indonesian Homecoming Charms Residents”

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November 11, 2010

Lessig backs Tea Party

Now for the de-sensationalizing of that headline.

Lawrence Lessig is indeed finding common cause with the Tea Party, but only with one part of its agenda: fighting earmarks — a position that has put the Tea Party at odds with many members of the Republican Congressional delegation.

If any of the Tea Partiers want to back the end of gerrymandering, I’d be happy to tip my liberal hat at them.


November 10, 2010

Jay Rosen’s view from somewhere

Jay Rosen expounds on his use of the phrase “the view from nowhere” and its application to journalism. It’s a self-interview, with an exceptionally smart interviewer.

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Jeremy Wagstaff on incomplete calls

Jeremy Wagstaffs weekly email send this time is a brilliant post about the use of incomplete calls as a signal where completed calls are a significant cost.

Heres a snippet:

…the missed call is not some reflection of not having enough credit. Its a medium of exchange of complex messages that has become surprisingly refined in a short period. Much of it is not communication at all, at least in terms of actual information. The interaction is the motivation, not the content of the message itself. Or, as a Filipino professor, Adrian Remodo put it to a language conference in Manila in 2007 at which they voted to make miscall, or miskol in Tagalog, the word of the year: A miskol is often used as “an alternative way to make someone’s presence felt.”

Indeed, the fact that the message itself has no content is part of its beauty

One bit of data. But, in its context — Jeremy points out that the message depends upon the time of day its sent, signaling perhaps that one is leaving work — so overflowing with human meaning.

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