Guest editor for a day

Maurits Martijn from the Dutch online news medium De Correspondent asked me to be a guest editor for his newsletter. He asked me which sources I wouldn’t want to miss and would recommend to others. Below my Dutch reply to his questions (without the mailing list tracking codes…):

1. Cory Doctorow op Boing Boing

Zoals ik nu voor jullie dit lijstje samenstel, zijn er mensen die dat al jaren voor mij doen. Een van mijn helden is de sciencefictionauteur en activist Cory Doctorow. Bijna elke dag plaatst link naar interessante artikelen op Boing Boing. Het is een meesterlijke mix van digitale rechten, internetcultuur en politiek commentaar. Hij weet daarbij zaken vaak fantastisch te framen. Als Bill Gates de FBI steunt in plaats van Apple dan zet hij daar ‘Bill Gates: Microsoft would backdoor its products in a heartbeat’ boven. Doctorow schrijft ongelooflijk veel. Lees hier hoe hij dat voor mekaar krijgt: Writing in the Age of Distraction.

2. Evgeny Morozov

Evgeny Morozov is een vlijmscherpe criticaster van het libertarische, publieke ruimte vretende, innovatie-über-alles gedachtegoed zoals dat vaak uit Silicon Valley komt. Vorige week fileerde hij bijvoorbeeld hun perspectief op het basisinkomen. Zijn stukken zijn niet altijd even vindbaar, maar hier vind je de stukken die hij voor The Guardian schrijft. Zin in meer? Lees dan vooral zijn boek To Save Everything, Click Here waarin hij de heilige huisjes van maakbaarheid 2.0 (denk aan open data, de Quantified Self, netwerkdemocratie, en natuurlijk Big Data) één voor één omver schopt.

3. Bruce Schneier

Als je snel een overzicht wilt hebben van wat er nu op het gebied van digitale rechten speelt, dan kun je het beste beginnen met het lezen van het boek Data and Goliath van Bruce Schneier. Ik ken niemand die zo helder kan schrijven over hoe technologie onze rechten kan beperken en wat wij daaraan kunnen doen als hij. In dit boek legt hij bijvoorbeeld uit waarom het feit dat terroristische aanvallen zo extreem weinig voorkomen ervoor zorgt dat je in het bestrijden van terreur vooral false positives tegenkomt én waarom bedrijven nooit hun eigen verzamelwoede zullen reguleren en dat dus is wat je als overheid moet doen. Schneier heeft ook een zeer lezenswaardig blog.

4. Ta-Nehisi Coates

In de afgelopen jaren heb ik geen boek gelezen dat mij harder heeft geraakt dan Between the World and Me van Ta-Nehisi Coates. Met de digitale wereld heeft het weinig te maken, maar met mensenrechten des te meer. Coates schrijft namelijk over wat het betekent om zwart te zijn in Amerika. Ik was na het lezen letterlijk ziek van mijn white privilege.

5. Mijn favoriete technologiepodcast

Ik ben een fervent podcastluisteraar. Al bijna tien jaar staat This Week in Tech bovenaan mijn playlist. Gastheer Leo Laporte bespreekt met zijn gasten in anderhalf uur (door mij afgeluisterd op anderhalve snelheid) het technologienieuws van de week. Ik kan de grote Amerikaanse technologieblogs met een gerust hart overslaan en blijf op de hoogte van wat er gebeurt met Google’s Alphabet, Apple versus de FBI, Virtual Reality of de Blockchain.

6. Meer lezen?

Tot slot, vier nieuwsbrieven die ook een abonnement waard zijn:

Wait but Why, omdat Tim Urban als geen ander in staat is om complexe vraagstukken met humor en inzicht terug te brengen naar hun essentie. Audrey Watters, voor een hyperkritische kijk op onderwijstechnologie en Stephen Downes voor een filosofische kijk op hetzelfde onderwerp.

En niet te vergeten de nieuwsbrief van Bits of Freedom!

A Personal Transfer: From Shell International to Bits of Freedom

Bits of Freedom

Bits of Freedom

About 4.5 years ago I wrote about me going to work for Shell. Now I am changing employer again. Starting today I will be the director of Bits of Freedom, a Dutch organization focusing on privacy and freedom of communication in the digital age.

I’ve had a wonderful time at Shell: a steep learning curve, many opportunities for doing interesting projects in the learning technology and disruptive innovation fields, smart colleagues and enough scale and budget to try out big things. I wasn’t looking to leave, but couldn’t let this chance pass by.

If you know me even a little, then you will understand that going to work for Bits of Freedom is very much a passionate choice. As somebody who understands and appreciates the positive potential of technology, I am deeply worried about the technology-mediated future we are currently creating for ourselves. I want to make an impact and change that for the better. I can’t imagine a place in the Netherlands that is more at the forefront on issues like surveillance, the EU privacy directive or net neutrality than Bits of Freedom. I am honoured that I get to work there for the next few years.

This will likely also mean a change in course for this blog. Future digital rights related posts will go up in Dutch on the Bits of Freedom blog (Creative Commons-licensed naturally). I will have less time to focus on the world of learning, but will put some thinking into privacy of learners, data ownership and learning analytics in the next few months. Let’s see what gets posted here going forward…

Panopticon and Why You Should Care About Your Privacy

Last night I watched the Dutch documentary Panopticon which explores our privacy in the Netherlands. Peter Vlemmix made an excellent film. Do take your time to watch it below or directly on Vimeo:

Vlemmix deftly shows that many people in the Netherlands think they have “nothing to hide”, while living in a society which is increasing the level of control and eroding their privacy. Even though I follow this topic actively, the film still managed to upset me. I didn’t know that the trams in Rotterdam do facial recognition or that psychiatrists have to list the diagnosis of their patients in a centralized repository (see this Dutch article, and these Dutch sites of psychiatrists battling this DBC).

Watching the film made me angry and worried. How much further before the police will start pro-actively arresting people for what they might do even before they do it, the infamous pre-crime?. The technology is already capable.

It was interesting to see how Germany, with its Nazi and Stasi history, has much more awareness of the dangers of storing too much data. They refuse to implement the EU’s data retention policy for example.

As you can see, there is ample need for a strong Dutch voice protecting your privacy. Bits of Freedom is doing a great job defending your digital rights.

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Privacy at Ars Electronica 2012

I attended Ars Electronica this year and noticed their was a lot of art about privacy. I’ve written a Dutch blog post for the civil rights activists Bits of Freedom about these art works. You can read it below or find the original here.

Ieder jaar wordt in Linz (Oostenrijk) Ars Electronica Festival for Art, Technology and Society gehouden. Dit jaar barstte het festival van de privacy gerelateerde kunst. Hieronder een aantal highlights.

Memopol-2 van de Estlandse kunstenaar Timo Toots was de winnaar van de Golden Nica voor interactieve kunst. Deze dystopisch aandoende kamergrote installatie scant paspoorten van bezoekers en verzamelt daarmee zoveel mogelijk informatie online. Deze informatie wordt met een donkere en enge esthetiek getoond aan de bezoekers. Door slim met gegevens om te gaan wordt bijvoorbeeld niet alleen je geboortejaar maar ook het jaar waarop je statistisch gezien gaat sterven getoond.

“Memopol-2 in KUMU Art Museum / Tallinn, Estonia”, foto van Timo Toots

“Memopol-2 in KUMU Art Museum / Tallinn, Estonia”, foto van Timo Toots

Kyle McDonald is bekend van het controversiele project People Staring at Computers waarin hij met webcams foto’s maakte van nietsvermoedende computer gebruikers in Apple winkels in New York. Hij wilde met dit sousveillance project de lege blikken laten zien van mensen die computers gebruiken. Omdat McDonald in een juridische strijd met Apple verwikkeld is heeft David Pierce aquarellen gemaakt van een aantal van zijn foto’s. Die werden op het festival getoond.

“applestore-employee”, copyright David Pierce

“applestore-employee”, copyright David Pierce

Het project qual.net won een beurs. Deze open source technologie maakt het mogelijk om compleet ad hoc een netwerk te maken tussen verschillende apparaten met een Wi-Fi antenne. De netwerkverbindingen worden niet centraal geregeld maar verspreiden zich als een virus. qual.net kan dus gebruikt worden om Internet blokkades te omzeilen en is ook een goed alternatief voor overbelaste netwerken.

Het Ars Electronica centrum heeft op dit moment een vaste tentoonstelling getiteld Out of Control – What the Internet Knows About You waarin de verschuivende grens tussen publiek en privé wordt onderzocht. Drie projecten maakten indruk:

Newstweek bestaat uit een klein kastje dat je op kunt hangen op een plek met een draadloos netwerk (bijvoorbeeld een Starbucks). Het kastje logt in op het netwerk en corrumpeert de ARP tabellen zodat al het netwerkverkeer via het kastje loopt. Met een simpele webinterface kun je daarna de tekst van bekende nieuws websites (onder andere het NRC) aanpassen en je eigen propaganda creeëren. Gebruikers van het netwerk zien dan bij een bezoek aan de nieuws site jouw aangepaste tekst in plats van de originele tekst:

Faceless is een wat ouder project van Manu Luksch. Zij heeft een film gemaakt door voor het oog van London’s surveillance camera’s een aantal scenes op te voeren. Door middel van recht op inzage verzoeken heeft zij vervolgens alle beelden van die scenes opgevraagd. Om de privacy van de ommestaanders te garanderen moeten al hun gezichten geanonimiseerd worden. Vandaar de titel Faceless.

De Oostenrijkse student Max Schrems heeft vorig jaar alle door Facebook opgeslagen informatie over hem opgevraagd. Na wat juridisch gesteggel heeft Facebook uiteindelijk een dossier van 1200 pagina’s opgeleverd. Een uitvoerige analyse van de gegevens laat zien wat voor soort gegevens allemaal door Facebook worden opgeslagen. Dit zijn niet alleen maar de connecties met je vrienden, je foto’s en je status updates, maar ook zaken als je laatst opgeslagen locatie, gegevens over alle apparaten waarme je Facebook gebruikt, de mensen waarmee je inmiddels geen vriend meer bent, en je complete log in geschiedenis (zie hier voor de ontnuchterende complete lijst). In het Ars Electronica centrum werden de 57 categorieën mooi verbeeld als verschillende puzzelstukjes die tezamen het lijf van Max Schrems legden.

Kunstwerk Europe Vs. Facebook, van website Ars Electronica

Kunstwerk Europe Vs. Facebook, van website Ars Electronica

Schrems is inmiddels een campagne gestart, Europe vs. Facebook, met vier eisen aan Facebook:

  1. Meer transparantie over de gegevens die door Facebook worden opgeslagen
  2. Opt-in in plaats van het nu gehanteerde opt-uit
  3. Echte controle over de eigen data door de gebruiker
  4. Data opslag minimalisatie

Daarnaast vindt Schrems het onacceptabel dat Facebook sommige gegevens voor eeuwig bewaard en gebruikers niet de mogelijkheid geeft om deze voorgoed te wissen.

Naast installaties over privacy was er aan de Donau nog veel meer interessante digitale kunst te zien. Ars Electronica is echt een aanrader.

Watching TED Global 2012 Streamed Live From Edinburgh

TED Global 2012

TED Global 2012

Today I attended a virtual TED session at Kennisnet in Zoetermeer. Kennisnet has a TED Live membership and hosted a few guests on their verdieping. I watched two sessions of about six talks each streamed straight from Edinburgh. Below my semi-live blog with the things that triggered me.

Shades of Openness

Chris Anderson kicked of this session on radical transparency (one of my favourite topics) by saying that transparency is a great driver of moral progress, but that it is also easy to get carried away by it. This session thus also presented some of the darker sides of openness.

Malte Spitz has a lot of courage: he has a significant stutter, but was still on stage talking about the power of mobile phones. He talked about the EU data detention directive which tells providers that they have to store the data of their customers for months on end. There have been a lot of protests against this. Spitz asked his telecome provider Deutsche Telecom multiple times to give him all the data that they stored about him. They wouldn’t send him the information, so he took them to court. The court case was settled and Deutsche Telecom gave him 35830 lines of information (basically six months of his life) on a CD. He decided to make this information public to show people what data retention truly means. He visualised it in a scary way:

Malte Spitz' data

Malte Spitz’ data

This shows that if you have access to this information you can control your society. He considers it a blueprint for countries like Iran and the future of a surveillance society. States love this type of information. Privacy is not an outdated concept and should continue to be a value in this 21s century. Spitz says we have to contineously remind ourselves and our friends to fight for our self-determination in this digital age.

Spitze’s talk reminded me that I still have not published the results of my Privacy Inzage Machine exercise that did a few months back. I should really make an effort to get this online.

Ivan Krastev is a political theorist from Bulgaria talking about the crisis of democracy. He wants to question the popular belief that transparency and openness will fix our democratic problems. He questioned the optimism of the “Church of TED” and contrasted it with “the most pessimistic country in the world”: Bulgaria. He wants to know how come we live in societies that are much free-er than before while at the same time having lost our faith in the democratic institutions and trust in politics. One issue he sees is the huge increase of unequality in our societies.

With a transparent government we might get into a situation where we have a “reverse 1984”: all of us monitoring the politicians. What would that mean? When we put all our politicians under the microscope will consistency become more important than common sense? Politics is about people changing their views. Will that become harder? We should also remember that any unveilling is also a veilling: there will always be things that people will hold back. Maybe the best way to shut people up is to publish everything they say on the Internet.

Gerard Senehi is an experimental mentalist. He performed a few relatively lame illusions around telekinesis and mind-reading. I guess this was the entertainment part of this session.

Gabriella Coleman is a digital anthropologist. She has been studying Anonymous for the last three years doing “ethnographic diplomacy”. According to her it is very hard to answer the simple question: Who/what is anonymous? One of their more famous campaigns was Operation Payback, but they also consist of smaller groups like LulzSec and Antisec. In general she would describe anonymous as irreverent. Slowly the movement has become more politicised which probably started with their “ultra-coordinated motherfuckery” around Scientology.

Anonymous scales and is participatory; it is not simply hackers. To become anonymous you only have to self-identify as being anonymous. Anonymous may seem chaotic, but most targets are not random. They put on a good performance, obvious even to their detractors. They are a formidable PR machine that becomes a PR nightmare for others. Their political art is that of the spectacle. They dramatize the importance of anonimity and pricavy in an era when both are rapidly eroding. There visible and invisible.

What is their future? They’ve been plagued with government crackdowns and brand fatigue, but she believes that there will continue to be a group of people who care to protect the Internet and who might fight back when some forces and institutions are trying to erode the power of the net. As an aside: Wired has just published a good article on Anonymous too.

Walid al-Saqaf a journalist and TED fellow has developed a program called Alkasir that is designed to map and circumvent censorship in countries that censor the Internet. He shared some stats from the usage of his program: around 90% is Facebook usage.

Leslie T. Chang is a journalist who has spend a great deal of time talking to the people who make the things we use everyday: the factory workers making our running shoes or our phones. She says that our usual narrative equating Western greed to Chinese suffering is way too simple. Chinese workers are not forced into factories because of our insatiable demand for iPads, they migrate away from the countryside towards the big cities looking for a larger life. We shouldn’t think that we can know what the individuals making up what we see as the labouring masses are really thinking. Very few of them want to go back to the way things used to be.

I thought Chang’s talk itself mainly showed her prejudices going into this assignment: of course each of these factory workers has their individual life consisting of dreams and ambitions. Why wouldn’t they have? And yes, of course there is upwards mobility. But is that really the most interesting thing you can say about globalisation after spending two years talking to these people?

Neil Harbisson cannot see color (he is totally color blind, everything he sees is grey). He wears a device he calls the eyeborg allowing him to hear color. He created an electronic eye in 2003 that transforms light frequencies into tones allowing him to hear those tones using bone conduction. After wearing it for a while it became a true extension of his brain. Life has changed a lot for him now that he sees color. Visiting a supermarket is like going to a nightclub. He now dresses in a way that “sounds good”. During the talk he was dressed in “C-major” and he goes to funerals dressed in “B-minor”. He can use food to create melodies so that he can “eat songs”. When he meets people he likes to create sound portraits of them, finding for example eyes that sound similar. An interesting secondary effect is that normal sounds started to sound like colors. So he has created paintings from songs or from speeches. He can differentiate 360 colors (all degrees from the colour wheel), but he can also hear infrared and ultraviolet which are frequencies that normal people can’t see. He has started the cyborg foundation trying to encourage people to extend their senses through devices like eyeborgs, noseborgs, earborgs and fingerborgs.

Wonderful talk! I would love to make “extending your sensory perception” an informal research theme going forward. It reminded me of the Wired story about the haptic compass. Is there anybody who is willing to lend me some extra-sensory perception gear? Maybe something to be made in the Amsterdam Hackerspace Technologia Incognita? Here is an interesting blog belonging to the Extra Senses, Extra Interference research group at the Interfaculty ArtScience in The Hague.

Misbehaving Beautifully

Sarah Caddick introduced the topic of the talks in this session: they all relate to the brain in some way.

Read Montague is a reformed computational neuroscientist. He talked about what we can now do with fMRI technology. It has allowed us to study human beings to isolate mental functions. His research uses economic games (like the ultimatum game) and measures the cognitive apparatus that people use when they play these games. He has created technology to synchronize multiple fMRI machines and link them together on the net. For the first time we can now measure interacting brains simultaneously.

Elyn Saks is an academic with chronic schizophrenia. She described a psychotic episode she had years ago. She had delusions, hallucinations and weird/loose associations and was hospitalized in a psychiatric institution where she was restrained for many hours on end on many days. She wrote a paper about physical restraints and now is pro-psychiatry and anti-force. She also described how she tried to get off medication and what negative effects this had. Why is she able to address us like this today:

  1. She has had excellent treatment
  2. She has many friends that know her and know her illnesses and support her
  3. She works at an accomodating and even supportive workplace

But even though she has these three things, the stigma against mental illness is still so strong that it took her a long time before she was willing to talk about her schizophrenia in public. She asks us to stop criminalizing mental ilness (with the LA County Jail being the US’ largest mental institution) and to know that there aren’t schizophrenics, instead there are people with schizophrenia.

Ruby Wax started by thanking the creators of the chemicals that allow her to function. Without them she doubts she would have been able to conquer her depression. She had a terrible bout of depression and was institutionalized with the “other inmates”. She got very little support from the outside world, just a few calls telling her to “perk up”. How come we don’t get sympathy when our brains aren’t working properly? According to her there is a mismatch between how we are hardwired biologically and what modern life is throwing at us. This is why our pets are happier than us. She started a project/website titled Black Dog Tribe with the motto: Mental illness does not discriminate, it does stigmatise.

Vikram Patel talked about a life expectancy gap between people with a mental ilness and people without one: in developed countries this is 20 years, in developing countries this is worse. Many people all over the world don’t get the treatment they need. There isn’t enough mental health professionals in the developing world. He found books on task-shifting in health (like this one) and on the basis of that created the concept of SUNDAR:

Simplify the message
UNpack the treatment
Deliver it where people are
Affordable and available human resources
Reallocation of specialists to train and supervise

With SUNDAR ordinary people are taught how to deliver health and psychiatric services. To help this end forward he started a movement for global mental health.

Wayne McGregor talked a bit about the body as a very literate entity and proprioception. He then live-choreographed a piece of dance inspired by the T from the TED logo and had two dancer interpret his movement into movement themselves. Fascinating to see a choreochrapher in action, I can’t remember seeing that before.