Dave Eggers’ The Circle: a book for our times…

Originally posted on Paul Bernal's Blog:

I was introduced to Dave Eggers’ novel, The Circle, by Professor Andrew Murray – one of the pre-eminent scholars in IT Law in the UK, and also on of my PhD supervisors. I know I’m very late to this game – the book came out in 2013, and all the cool people will already have read it or reviewed it, but in this case I think it’s worth it. And the fact that someone like Andrew Murray would recommend it should give pause for thought: this isn’t just an entertaining piece of science fiction, it’s a book that really makes you think. It’s not just a dystopian vision of the future, it’s one that is far, far closer to reality than almost any I’ve read – and dystopian novels and films are pretty much my favourite genre.

It’s a book that reminded me why, unlike most of my schoolmates, I…

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Shoshan Zuboff on “Big Data” as Surveillance Capitalism

Shoshan Zuboff on “Big Data” as Surveillance Capitalism.

A Digital Declaration

If the digital future is to be our home, then it is we who must make it so. Against the Surveillance Capitalism of „Big Data“.

15.09.2014, von Shoshana Zuboff

© Peter Adamik

I.  HOME

In the cove below our window a pair of loons returns each  spring from their distant travels. For many months we are lulled to sleep by their cries of homecoming, renewal, and protection. Green turtles hatch on the beach and go down to the sea where they travel thousands of miles for a decade or two before they retrace the path to that patch of beach and lay their eggs.

This theme of “nostos”, finding home, is at the root of all things human too. We  yearn for the place in which life has been known to flourish. Humans can choose the form of home , but it is always where we know and where we are known; where we love and are beloved. Home is voice and  sanctuary— part freedom, part solace.

(Link to German version)

When we look  to the digital future  there is one anxiety from which all others derive: What kind of home will it be?  Will we be masters in a community of masters,  or some-thing else—guests, fugitives, or perhaps  unwitting slaves subdued by  interests beyond our influence or understanding?  If the digital future is to be our home, then it is we who must make it so.

There are three points about this prospect that I want to explore. First, that we are at the very beginning of this journey.  Second, that the future is made in specific ways. If we understand these better, then perhaps we can step into the river more effectively and shape it to good purpose.  Third, that you, your colleagues and their colleagues, have a pivotal role, a  privilege of responsibility in this time of contest.

II. THE BEGINNING

When it comes to „big data“ and the digital future, we are at the very beginning. Despite the rapid pace of connection and the oceans of data it generates, our societies have yet to determine how all this will be used, to what purpose, and who decides.  The big tech companies want us to believe that the future will roll out according to their visions and the so-called  “objective requirements” of technological development as a driver of economic growth in a free market.  Their scenario is straight from the playbook of the neoliberal theorist Frederich Hayek—what he called a self -determining “extended order” that individuals cannot understand but to which they must submit.

I have suggested that the iPod is to the Internet era what the Model T was to the mass production era.  But what defines an era is far more than its technology.  For example, the mass production era was only partially about machines. First, mass production required employees and consumers. People mattered.  Second, the era was shaped by the gradual development of legislative, legal, and social institutions to amplify capitalism’s pro-social dynamics and tame its excesses.  This is what Karl Polanyi called the double movement.

Our new era will be ultimately be shaped by the ideas around which we mobilize for new market forms and new institutions.  Life in 2050 will depend on developments like these that have not yet occurred, and we will look back to see this time, our time, as the beginning.

III. HOW THE FUTURE IS MADE

How is the future made?  The philosopher John Searle answers this question in his re-markable book Making the Social World: The Structure of Human Civilization. I want to share a couple of his ideas— just enough to provide us with a few key tools.

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Posted in Big Data, Privacy, Social Media, Surveillance

How to Anonymize Everything You Do Online | Threat Level | WIRED

How to Anonymize Everything You Do Online | Threat Level | WIRED.

anon

One year after the first revelations of Edward Snowden, cryptography has shifted from an obscure branch of computer science to an almost mainstream notion: It’s possible, user privacy groups and a growing industry of crypto-focused companies tell us, to encrypt everything from emails to IMs to a gif of a motorcycle jumping over a plane.

But it’s also possible to go a step closer toward true privacy online. Mere encryption hides the content of messages, but not who’s communicating. Use cryptographic anonymity tools to hide your identity, on the other hand, and network eavesdroppers may not even know where to find your communications, let alone snoop on them. “Hide in the network,” security guru Bruce Schneier made his first tip for evading the NSA. “The less obvious you are, the safer you are.”

Though it’s hardly the sole means of achieving online anonymity, the software known as Tor has become the most vouchsafed and developer-friendly method for using the Internet incognito. The free and open source program triple-encrypts your traffic and bounces it through computers around the globe, making tracing it vastly more difficult. Most Tor users know the program as a way to anonymously browse the Web. But it’s much more. In fact, Tor’s software runs in the background of your operating system and creates a proxy connection that links with the Tor network. A growing number of apps and even operating systems provide the option to route data over that connection, allowing you to obscure your identity for practically any kind of online service.

Some users are even experimenting with using Tor in almost all their communications. “It’s like being a vegetarian or a vegan,” says Runa Sandvik, a privacy activist and former developer for Tor. “You don’t eat certain types of food, and for me I choose to use Tor only. I like the idea that when I log onto a website, it doesn’t know where I’m located, and it can’t track me.”

Here’s how you can use the growing array of anonymity tools to protect more of your life online.

Web Browsing

The core application distributed for free by the non-profit Tor Project is the Tor Browser, a hardened, security-focused version of Firefox that pushes all of your Web traffic through Tor’s anonymizing network. Given the three encrypted jumps that traffic takes between computers around the world, it may be the closest thing to true anonymity on the Web. It’s also rather slow. But the Tor browser is getting faster, says Micah Lee, a privacy-focused technologist who has worked with the Electronic Frontier Foundation—one of the organizations that funds the Tor Project—and First Look Media. For the past month or so, he’s tried to use it as his main browser and only switch back to traditional browsers occasionally, mostly for flash sites and others that require plugins.

After about a week, he says, the switch was hardly noticeable. “It may not be entirely necessary, but I haven’t found it that inconvenient either,” Lee says. “And it does have real privacy benefits. Everyone gets tracked everywhere they go on the Web. You can opt of out of that.”

Email

The simplest way to anonymously send email is to use a webmail service in the Tor Browser. Of course, that requires signing up for a new webmail account without revealing any personal information, a difficult task given that Gmail, Outlook, and Yahoo! Mail all require a phone number.

Runa Sandvik suggests Guerrilla Mail, a temporary, disposable email service. Guerrilla Mail lets you set up a new, random email address with only a click. Using it in the Tor Browser ensures that no one, not even Guerrilla Mail, can connect your IP address with that ephemeral email address.

Encrypting messages with webmail can be tough, however. It often requires the user to copy and paste messages into text windows and then use PGP to scramble and unscramble them. To avoid that problem, Lee instead suggests a different email setup, using a privacy-focused email host like Riseup.net, the Mozilla email app Thunderbird, the encryption plugin Enigmail, and another plugin called TorBirdy that routes its messages through Tor.

Instant Messaging

Adium and Pidgin, the most popular Mac and Windows instant messaging clients that support the encryption protocol OTR, also support Tor. (See how to enable Tor in Adium here and in Pidgin here.) But the Tor Project  is working to create an IM program specifically designed to be more secure and anonymous. That Tor IM client, based on a program called Instant Bird, was slated for release in March but is behind schedule. Expect an early version in mid-July.

Large File Transfers

Google Drive and Dropbox don’t promise much in the way of privacy. So Lee created Onionshare, open-source software that lets anyone directly send big files via Tor. When you use it to share a file, the program creates what’s known as a Tor Hidden Service—a temporary, anonymous website—hosted on your computer. Give the recipient of the file the .onion address for that site, and they can securely and anonymously download it through their Tor Browser.

Mobile Devices

Anonymity tools for phones and tablets are far behind the desktop but catching up fast. The Guardian Project created an app called Orbot that runs Tor on Android. Web browsing, email and IM on the phone can all be set to use Orbot’s implementation of Tor as a proxy.

Apple users don’t yet have anything that compares. But a 99-cent app called Onion Browser in the iOS app store offers anonymous web access from iPhones and iPads. An audit by Tor developers in April revealed and helped fix some of the program’s vulnerabilities. But Sandvik suggests that prudent users should still wait for more testing. In fact, she argues that the most sensitive users should stick with better-tested desktop Tor implementations. “If I were in a situation where I needed anonymity, mobile is not a platform I’d rely on,” she says.

Everything Else

Even if you run Tor to anonymize every individual Internet application you use, your computer might still be leaking identifying info online. The NSA has even used unencrypted Windows error messages sent to Microsoft to finger users and track their identities. And an attacker can compromise a web page you visit and use it to deliver an exploit that breaks out of your browser and sends an unprotected message revealing your location.

So for the truly paranoid, Lee and Sandvik recommend using entire operating systems designed to send every scrap of information they communicate over Tor. The most popular Tor OS is Tails, or The Amnesiac Incognito Live System. Tails can boot from a USB stick or DVD so no trace of the session remains on the machine, and anonymizes all information. Snowden associates have said the NSA whistleblower is himself a fan of the software.

For the even more paranoid, there is a lesser-known Tor-enabled OS called Whonix. Whonix creates multiple “virtual machines” on the user’s computer—software versions of full computer operating systems that are designed to be indistinguishable from a full computer. Any attacker trying to compromise the user’s computer will be confined to that virtual machine.

That virtualization trick underlines an important point for would-be anonymous Internet users, Lee says: If your computer gets hacked, the game is over. Creating a virtual sandbox around your online communications is one way to keep the rest of your system protected.

“Tor is awesome and can make you anonymous. But if your endpoint gets compromised, your anonymity is compromised too,” he says. “If you really need to be anonymous, you also need to be really secure.”

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Posted in Internet, Privacy, Security

Robin Williams (1951-2014)

O Captain! My Captain!

By Walt Whitman

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
                         But O heart! heart! heart!
                            O the bleeding drops of red,
                               Where on the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
                         Here Captain! dear father!
                            The arm beneath your head!
                               It is some dream that on the deck,
                                 You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
                         Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
                            But I with mournful tread,
                               Walk the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.

Source: Leaves of Grass (David McKay, 1891)

Robin Williams

Robin Williams (1951-2014)

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More than 900 authors unite against Amazon : T-Lounge : Tech Times

More than 900 authors unite against Amazon : T-Lounge : Tech Times.

By Kevin Ohannessian, Tech Times | August 8

Weapons have been drawn in the battle between Amazon and book publisher Hachette, but now a group of writers are betting that the pen is mightier than the sword.

A worship of writers, not unlike a pride of lions or a flock of seagulls, have banded together to take on Amazon. They have written a letter condemning Amazon for using books and their writers as part of a negotiation tactic against a publisher.

Posted at AuthorsUnited.net, the letter states, in part:

“As writers–most of us not published by Hachette–we feel strongly that no bookseller should block the sale of books or otherwise prevent or discourage customers from ordering or receiving the books they want. It is not right for Amazon to single out a group of authors, who are not involved in the dispute, for selective retaliation. Moreover, by inconveniencing and misleading its own customers with unfair pricing and delayed delivery, Amazon is contradicting its own written promise to be ‘Earth’s most customer-centric company.’

Without taking sides on the contractual dispute between Hachette and Amazon, we encourage Amazon in the strongest possible terms to stop harming the livelihood of the authors on whom it has built its business. None of us, neither readers nor authors, benefit when books are taken hostage.”

The letter also lists the actions that Amazon has taken against writers, including: refusing to accept pre-orders on Hachette authors’ books and eBooks; refusing to discount the prices of many of Hachette authors’ books; slowing the delivery of thousands of Hachette authors’ books to Amazon customers; suggesting on some Hachette authors’ pages that readers might prefer a book from a non-Hachette author instead.

The letter ends with a call to action, “We respectfully ask you, our loyal readers, to email Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder of Amazon, at jeff@amazon.com, and tell him what you think. He says he genuinely welcomes hearing from his customers and claims to read all emails at that account. We hope that, writers and readers together, we will be able to change his mind.”

Among the 900+ that signed the letter are such notable authors as Michael Chabon (“The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay”), Suzanne Collins (“The Hunger Games”), Malcolm Gladwell (“The Tipping Point”), John Grisham (“The Firm”), Joe Hill (“Horns”), Stephen King (“Under the Dome”), James Patterson (“Alex Cross”), Phillip Pullman (“The Golden Compass”), Kim Stanley Robinson (“Red Mars”) and Pat Rothfuss (“The Name of the Wind”).

Douglas Preston (“Relic”) is the writer that lead the effort by this group of authors, including plans to run the letter as a full-page ad in The New York Times this coming Sunday.

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No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the Surveillance State by Glenn Greenwald – review | Books | The Guardian

No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the Surveillance State by Glenn Greenwald – review | Books | The Guardian.

Greenwald’s often gripping account of his central involvement in the Snowden revelations also raises big political questions

 

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald writes that “privacy is a core condition of being a free person” in No Place to Hide. Photograph: Jimmy Chalk for the Guardian

 

At the outset of Glenn Greenwald’s communications with the “anonymous leaker” later identified as 29-year-old former NSA employee Edward Snowden, Greenwald – a journalist, blogger and former lawyer – and the film-maker Laura Poitras, with whom he is collaborating, are told to use a PGP (“pretty good privacy“) encryption package. Only then will materials be sent to him since, as Snowden puts it, encryption is “not just for spies and philanderers”. Eventually Greenwald receives word that a Federal Express package has been sent and will arrive in a couple of days. He doesn’t know what it will contain – a computer program or the secret and incriminating US government documents themselves – but nothing comes on the scheduled day of delivery. FedEx says that the package is being held in customs for “reasons unknown”. Ten days later it is finally delivered. “I tore open the envelope and found two USB thumb drives” and instructions for using the programs, Greenwald writes.

 

  1. No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the Surveillance State
  2. by Glenn Greenwald

His account reminded me of the time, nearly a decade ago, when I was researching Britain’s road to war in Iraq, and went through a similar experience. I was waiting for an overnight FedEx envelope to reach me in New York, sent from my London chambers; it contained materials that might relate to deliberations between George Bush and Tony Blair (materials of the kind that seem to be holding up the Chilcot inquiry). A day passed, then another, then two more. Eventually, I was told I could pick up the envelope at a FedEx office, but warned that it had been tampered with, which turned out to something of an understatement: there was no envelope for me to tear open, as the tearing had already occurred and all the contents had been removed. FedEx offered no explanation.

As Greenwald notes, experiences such as this, which signal that you may be being watched, can have a chilling effect, but you just find other ways to carry on. FedEx (and its like) are avoided, and steps are taken to make sure that anything significant or sensitive is communicated by other means. In any event, and no doubt like many others, I proceed on the basis that all my communications – personal and professional – are capable of being monitored by numerous governments, including my own. Whether they are is another matter, as is the question of what happens with material obtained by such surveillance – a point that this book touches on but never really addresses. Greenwald’s argument is that it’s not so much what happens with the material that matters, but the mere fact of its being gathered. Even so, his point is a powerful one.

This is the great importance of the astonishing revelations made by Snowden, as facilitated by Greenwald and Poitras, with help from various news media, including the Guardian. Not only does it confirm what many have suspected – that surveillance is happening – but it also makes clear that it’s happening on an almost unimaginably vast scale. One might have expected a certain targeting of individuals and groups, but we now know that data is hoovered up indisciminately. We have learned that over the last decade the NSA has collected records on every phone call made by every American (it gathers the who, what and when of the calls, known as metadata, but not the content), as well as email data. We have learned that this happens with the cooperation of the private sector, with all that implies for their future as consorts in global surveillance. We have learned, too, that the NSA reviews the contents of the emails and internet communications of people outside the US, and has tapped the phones of foreign leaders (such as German chancellor Angel Merkel), and that it works with foreign intelligence services (including Britain’s GCHQ), so as to be able to get around domestic legal difficulties. Our suspicions have been confirmed that the use of global surveillance is not limited to the “war on terror”, but is marshalled towards the diplomatic and even economic advantage of the US, a point Greenwald teases out using the PowerPoint materials relied on by the agencies themselves. Such actions have been made possible thanks to creative and dodgy interpretations of legislation (not least the Patriot Act implemented just after 9/11). These activities began under President Bush, and they have been taken forward by President Obama. It would be a generous understatement to refer to British “cooperation” in these matters, although Greenwald’s intended audience seems to be mostly in the US, and he goes light on the British until it comes to the treatment of his partner, David Miranda, who was detained in the UK under anti-terror legislation.

When the revelations first came out, in the summer of 2013, Snowden explained that he “had the capability without any warrant to search for, seize, and read your communications”. That meant “anyone’s communications at any time”, he added, justifying the public disclosure on the grounds that this “power to change people’s fates” was “a serious violation of the law”. Snowden’s actions, and the claims he has made, have catalysed an important debate in the US, within Congress (where views have not necessarily followed party lines) and among academics and commentators. Views are polarised among reasonable individuals, such as New Yorker legal writer Jeff Toobin (“no proof of any systematic, deliberate violations of law”), and the New York Review of Books’s David Cole (“secret and legally dubious activities at home and abroad”), and in the US federal courts. In Britain, by contrast, the debate has been more limited, with most newspapers avoiding serious engagement and leaving the Guardian to address the detail, scale and significance of the revelations. Media enterprises that one might have expected to rail at the powers of Big Government have remained conspicuously restrained – behaviour that is likely, over the long term, to increase the power of the surveillance state over that of the individual. With the arrival of secret courts in Britain, drawing on the experience of the US, it feels as if we may be at a tipping point. Such reluctance on the part of our fourth estate has given the UK parliament a relatively free rein, leaving the Intelligence and Security Committee to plod along, a somewhat pitiful contrast to its US counterparts.

The big issue at stake here is privacy, and the relationship between the individual and the state, and it goes far beyond issues of legality (although Snowden’s fear of arrest, and perhaps also Greenwald’s, seems rather real). It is in the nature of government that information will be collected, and that some of it should remain confidential. “Privacy is a core condition of being a free person,” Greenwald rightly proclaims, allowing us a realm “where we can act, think, speak, write, experiment and choose how to be away from the judgmental eyes of others”.

Snowden’s revelations challenge us to reflect on the ideal balance between the power of the state to know and the right of the individual to go about her or his business unencumbered, and this in turn raises fundamental questions about the power of the media, on which Greenwald has strong views, usually (but not always) fairly articulated. He makes the case for Snowden, and it’s a compelling one. One concern with WikiLeaks acting independently was the apparently random nature of its disclosures, without any obvious filtering on the basis of public interest or the possible exposure to risk of certain individuals. What is striking about this story, and the complex interplay between Snowden, Greenwald, Poitras and the Guardian, is that the approach was different, as the justification for the leaks seems to have been at the forefront of all their minds. In his recent book Secrets and Leaks Rahul Sagar identified a set of necessary conditions for leaks. Is there clear evidence of abuse of authority? Will the release threaten public safety? Is the scale of the release limited? Many people, though not all, see these as having been met in the Snowden case.

Britain needs a proper debate about the power of the state to collect information of the kind that Snowden has told us about, including its purpose and limits. The technological revolution of the past two decades has left UK law stranded, with parliament seemingly unable (and perhaps unwilling) to get a proper grip on the legal framework that is needed to restrain our political governors and the intelligence services, not least in their dance with the US. “The greatest threat is that we shall become like those who seek to destroy us”, the legendary US diplomat George Kennan warned in 1947. In response, revelations can be made, Greenwald’s book published, and a Pulitzer prize awarded. Long may it go on.

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Posted in Books, Politics, Reading, Society

Visual Storytelling: Tips from Photographer Laura Cook

Featured Image -- 737

Originally posted on The Daily Post:

There’s a difference between photography and visual storytelling. You can easily take a photograph, but not all photographs tell rich stories.

You’ve heard the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” many times, right? As a photographer, I believe this is true when we dedicate ourselves to seeking out images that really tell a story.

We often take images that are part of a set or portfolio, but it’s also important to seek out pictures that can stand alone — that invite you in and make you feel like part of one particular story. Our camera is a tool we use to tell that story, to capture not only a moment in time but also something bigger.

Laura Cook is a humanitarian and travel photographer who spends most of her year in Sierra Leone, West Africa. She loves meeting new people, and through her work, strives to highlight human dignity amid life’s struggles.

Laura blogs at The…

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Watson Wolf

Watson Wolf

It's all learning and teaching to me!!! I am a German tutor for German, English and French, who loves tutoring person to person!!! In addition I love writing, sports, social media and the Greek island Crete, my second home!!!

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Peak District linguist writes on books in English and German, on literary events and on translation.

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