Technology, Thoughts & Trinkets

Touring the digital through type

Year: 2008 (page 2 of 17)

Review: The Privacy Advocates

200812212124.jpgI’ll start this by being very forthright: Colin is my supervisor for my doctoral work. This said, the review that I offer is my own, and has not been influenced by Colin in any way. He has not read this review (or even made aware that I was preparing a review!) prior to my posting it.

The Privacy Advocates: Resisting the Spread of Surveillance is an interesting book, because it is the first of its kind where the agents who are on the ground fighting the fight for privacy are examined. Given Bennett’s extensive relationships with various data authorities and advocates, we get a very revealing glimpse into the lives, histories, and motivations of the major players in Canada, the US, and a handful of international advocacy groups. Bennett’s critical thrust in the book, which we get to in its last chapter, is this: “Should we understand privacy advocates as transforming their work into a movement, such as the environmental movement, and is such a transformation necessary for them to successfully engage privacy-infringing bodies in the future?”

To set the frame for his response to this question, Bennett identifies the history that has led privacy advocates to spring from the various areas of civil society that they emerge out of. He talks about how computers led to a perception that there is a greater potential for mass surveillance, but then rapidly turns to look at the groups who are actually engaging with issues of surveillance and privacy. He establishes a tripartite categorization of the groups that are involved in privacy and privacy-related issues:

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Review: Remix – Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy

200812181934.jpgRemix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy continues Professor Lessig’s discussion about the role of copyright in contemporary Western societies. This time he is focusing on how digital tools are used by children and adults alike to ‘remix’ pieces of culture. ‘Remixing’ involves taking images, music, speeches, and video (for example) and manipulating and arranging them to create entirely new cultural artifacts. You see this in homemade music videos, funny YouTube clips that use music to mock or praise politicians, and in blogs where people appropriate content from various locations to create the narrative of each posting. These amateur cultural artifacts are significant, both because they are creative expressions and because they leverage the weight of the symbols that are used in remixing to create the new cultural artifact. There is very real value in the referential elements of remix culture.

Lessig distinguishes between ‘Read Only’ (RO) and ‘Read Write’ (RW) cultures. RO culture has been the traditional realm of copyright – here intellectual property is carefully fenced off from the public commons, and individuals must ask permission to use it. RW culture, on the other hand, thrives off of sharing and creatively adapting (and re-adapting) media. Neither is necessarily better or worse than the other – they are each useful in particular domains. The problem, however, is that the laws governing RO culture are now preventing RW culture from legally thriving; digital technologies enable culture to be remixed, while the laws of the land outlaw creating remixed digital artifacts without first asking the permission of rights holders. Lessig associates the RO and RW ‘culture models’ with commercial and sharing economies, arguing that the advent of digital technologies and spaces can drive a wedge between commercial and sharing economies to create hybrid cultures and economies. He points to wikipedia, craigslist, YouTube, Slashdot, and last.fm as operating within a hybrid economy between RW and RO culture. This economy thrives off of individuals’ shared participation that can stimulate commercial profits. If a company upsets the balance that makes possible this hybridity – by paying people when payment would be an insult, or mishandling the sharing of people’s contributions – there is a risk that the financial success of a company that operates in the hybrid economy will be (financially) endangered.

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Comment: To RFID or not to RFID, that is the question

200812181131The Vancouver Sun has an article that was written by Phil Chicola, U.S. Consul General in Vancouver. Entitled “To RFID or not to RFID, that is the question,” it is yet another part of the ongoing propaganda war surrounding the embedding of RFID chips in regular consumer products. In the recently released Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) Privacy Impact Assessment of the Enhanced Drivers License (EDL) program, we find that,

An effective external communications strategy will be developed by the [Provinces and Territories] with the assistance of the CBSA to ensure that the Canadian public is made aware of the significant privacy safeguards that will be put in place and the constraints that will be imposed on any subsequent use of personal information, especially sharing with the U.S. in consideration of the U.S.A. Patriot Act (29).

What this has amounted to in Ontario has been a persistent insistence by government officials that because the Radio Identifier that EDLs emit is not tied to any *other* piece of government information (e.g. the RFID number is not generated from an association with your driver license number, birth certificate, etc.) that the identifier isn’t personal information. Thus, while you will be broadcasting a number from your drivers license to anyone with a reader, that isn’t ‘personal’. Let’s turn to the Vancouver Sun article, and see how it squares up with the Canadian propaganda, shall we?

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Comment: Virgin Takes Aim At BitTorrent

200812161441In the US, Comcast is presently using what is referred to as ‘protocol agnostic’ filtering‘ – effectively, if you use the full amount of bandwidth that you are paying for for more than a few minutes, they decrease your available bandwidth for a while. This was, in part, a reaction to their sending RST packets to BitTorrent users – these packets would ‘kill’ connections that individuals had with other P2P users, but were also catching some other programs in the crossfire. What’s more, they were using a technique referred to as ‘packet forging’, which is involves changing packets in-stream. After a substantial amount of public criticism and backlash, Comcast stopped using their DPI equipment for this purpose and instead shifted to using them for protocol agnostic filtering.

Let’s turn to Virgin, who is currently implementing protocol agnostic filtering, but there are rumblings that the way that they’ve deployed it may not be the best solution to combatting what is perceived as the real problem: BitTorrent traffic. From a DSLreports article:

[A] customer on Virgin’s 10Mbps/512kbps “L” tier loses 75% of his throughput for five hours should he download more than 1200MB between 4 and 9PM. (Source)

There are several issues with this kind of agnostic filtering.

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