MonthMay 2014

The Dark Side of the Internet of Things

Internet of Things

Another one from me at Wired:

The Internet of Things is coming. And the tech cognoscenti aren’t sure that’s a good thing.

For years, the prospect of an online world that extends beyond computers, phones, and tablets and into wearables, thermostats, and other devices has generated plenty of excitement and activity. But now, some of the brightest tech minds are expressing some doubts about the potential impact on everything from security and privacy to human dignity and social inequality.

That’s the conclusion of a new survey from the Pew Research Center. For ten years, the Washington, D.C. think tank has surveyed thousands of technology experts–like founding father Vint Cerf and Microsoft social media scholar danah boyd–about the future of the Internet. But while previous editions have mostly expressed optimism, this year people started expressing more concern. “We had a lot of warnings, a lot of people pushing back,” says Janna Anderson, co-author of the report.

Full Story: Wired: Why Tech’s Best Minds Are Very Worried About the Internet of Things

See also: Mindful Cyborgs: E-Waste in the Internet of Things, Enterprization of the Consumer, and More

Meet Briar, an Open Source “WhatsApp” for Activists

Briar diagram

My latest for Wired:

Private messaging apps like SnapChat and WhatsApp aren’t as private as you might think.

SnapChat settled with the Federal Trade Commission earlier this month over a complaint that its privacy claims were misleading, as reported by USA Today, and last week, the Electronic Frontier Foundation published a report listing the company as the least privacy-friendly tech outfit it reviewed, including Comcast, Facebook, and Google. Last year, WhatsApp faced privacy complaints from the Canadian and Dutch governments, and like Snapchat, its security has been an issue as well.

When you use messaging services like these, you’re depending on outside companies to properly encrypt your messages, store them safely, and protect them when the authorities come calling. And they may not be up to the task. The only way to ensure your messages are reasonably safe is to encrypt them yourself, using keys that no one has access to–including your messaging service provider. That way, even if hackers bust into your service provider or the authorities hit it with subpoenas, your messages are protected.

Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Encryption tools are notoriously hard to use. But several projects are working to change this, building a more polished breed of encryption software that can serve the everyday consumer. A new open source project called Briar is part of this crowd, but it puts a fresh twist on the idea. It doesn’t just encrypt your messages. It lets you jettison your messaging service provider altogether. Your messages travel straight to the person you’re sending them to, without passing through a central server of any sort. It’s what’s known as a “peer-to-peer” tool.

This has a few advantages. You and your contacts keep complete control your data, but you needn’t setup your own computer server in order to do so. Plus, you can send messages without even connecting to the internet. Using Briar, you can send messages over Bluetooth, a shared WiFi connection, or even a shared USB stick. That could be a big advantage for people in places where internet connections are unreliable, censored, or non-existent.

Full Story: Wired: Take Back Your Privacy With This Open Source WhatsApp

Briar is still in alpha and not ready for use for high-risk scenarios. If you’re looking for something immediately, OffTheRecord and TextSecure are worth considering, but of course nothing is perfectly secure.

Climate Change Deemed Growing Security Threat by Military Researchers

The New York Times reports:

The accelerating rate of climate change poses a severe risk to national security and acts as a catalyst for global political conflict, a report published Tuesday by a leading government-funded military research organization concluded.

The CNA Corporation Military Advisory Board found that climate change-induced drought in the Middle East and Africa is leading to conflicts over food and water and escalating longstanding regional and ethnic tensions into violent clashes. The report also found that rising sea levels are putting people and food supplies in vulnerable coastal regions like eastern India, Bangladesh and the Mekong Delta in Vietnam at risk and could lead to a new wave of refugees.

In addition, the report predicted that an increase in catastrophic weather events around the world will create more demand for American troops, even as flooding and extreme weather events at home could damage naval ports and military bases.

Full Story: The New York Times: Climate Change Deemed Growing Security Threat by Military Researchers

See also: Pentagon Bracing for Public Dissent Over Climate and Energy Shocks

Reminds me that Bruce Sterling wrote in 2009:

If I wanted to be politically effective, rather than visionary, I’d disguise myself as a right-wing Green, probably some kind of hunting-shooting NASCAR “conservationist,” and I’d infiltrate the Republicans this year. […]

So we publicly recognize the climate crisis: just as if we suddenly discovered it ourselves. And we don’t downplay the climate crisis: we OVERPLAY the crisis.

“Then we blame the crisis on foreigners. We’re not liberal weak sisters ‘negotiating Kyoto agreements.’ We’re assembling a Coalition of the Willing tp threaten polluters.

“We’re certainly not bowing the knee to the damn Chinese — they own our Treasury, unfortunately, but we completely change the terms of that debate. When the Chinese open a coal mine and threaten the world’s children with asthma, we will take out that threat with a cruise missile!

That’s our new negotiating position on the climate crisis: we’re the military, macho hard line.

How Did Democracy Become a Good Thing?

Interesting contrarian take on the rise of contemporary democracy:

The story of modern democracy is one in which democracy lost its social and economic content at the very moment it gained political ascendancy.

What happened was the separation of the “economic” and the “political” into separate spheres. It was only under the conditions of this separation that a widely dispersed political power, through the universal suffrage, began to appear possible. Power relations, which had hitherto been fundamentally political issues, of lordship and so on—like who owed what to whom, and who could do what to whom, and who could make whom do what they wanted—were transformed into fundamentally economic issues, having to to do with ownership and contract. So if you want to know why democracy—defined basically as a diffusion of formal political power among the people—went from being bad to good, from being not only impossible but undesirable to not only desirable but possible, one way of answering the question is actually extremely straightforward: the real power wasn’t in politics any more; it was somewhere else, in the newly separate sphere of the economy.

Full Story: The Junto: How Democracy Became a Good Thing

I don’t think it’s really fair to say that power shifted out of the political, but I think there’s a case to be made that capital has effectively insulated itself from the democratic process within liberal democracies, and has done so for a very long time.

Mutation Vectors 5/17/2014

online-abuse

Mutation Vectors is my weekly round-up of what media I’ve been consuming.

Journalism

One highlight of the week was this interview with Peggy McIntosh, the women’s studies scholar who popularized the term “privilege” in the context of social justice. This part was heartbreaking:

The right wing wanted to paint it as craziness. But there were so many people saying it wasn’t crazy that I was able to put them aside. David Horowitz named me one of America’s ten wackiest feminists; that used to get to me. Now I think, If you’re going to do work for racial justice, you’re going to get attacked.

Have those reactions changed much? It’s been more than twenty-five years.

The truth is that it hasn’t changed much, except in the universities.

I’d like to think this isn’t actually true, but I’m really afraid that it is.

Meanwhile:

Every so often I like to order my Pocket reading list by oldest-to-newest. I’m still working through articles I saved during the first half of 2011. Here’s a couple interesting things I read recently:

Also, this Washington Post story from about a year ago floated up into Pocket’s “highlights,” so I read it: “Maximizing shareholder value: The goal that changed corporate America“. Here’s the most important part:

Lynn Stout, a professor of corporate and business law at Cornell University Law School, traces the transformation to the rise of the “Chicago school” of free-market economists.

In 1970, Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman wrote an article in the New York Times Magazine in which he famously argued that the only “social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.”

Then in 1976, economists Michael Jensen and William Meckling published a paper saying that shareholders were “principals” who hired executives and board members as “agents.” In other words, when you are an executive or corporate director, you work for the shareholders.

Stout said these legal theories appealed to the media — the idea that shareholders were king simplified the confusing debate over the purpose of a corporation.

More powerfully, it helped spawn the rise of executive pay tied to share prices — and thus the huge rise in stock-option pay. As a result, average annual executive pay has quadrupled since the early 1970s.

TV

I started watching Orphan Black this week and like it so far.

Music

I haven’t heard their albums, but I came across these videos by White Lung and dig the ’90s nostalgia aethstetic:

China Miéville Lays the Smack Down on Psychogeography

From a 2011 BLDGBLOG interview with China Miéville:

. Novelists have an endless drive to aestheticize and to complicate. I know there’s a very strong tradition—a tradition in which I write, myself—about the decoding of the city. Thomas de Quincey, Michael Moorcock, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Iain Sinclair—that type-thing. The idea that, if you draw the right lines across the city, you’ll find its Kabbalistic heart and so on.

The thing about that is that it’s intoxicating—but it’s also bullshit. It’s bullshit and it’s paranoia—and it’s paranoia in a kind of literal sense, in that it’s a totalizing project. As long as you’re constantly aware of that, at an aesthetic level, then it’s not necessarily a problem; you’re part of a process of urban mythologization, just like James Joyce was, I suppose. But the sense that this notion of uncovering—of taking a scalpel to the city and uncovering the dark truth—is actually real, or that it actually solves anything, and is anything other than an aesthetic sleight of hand, can be quite misleading, and possibly even worse than that. To the extent that those texts do solve anything, they only solve mysteries that they created in the first place, which they scrawled over the map of a mucky contingent mess of history called the city. They scrawled a big question mark over it and then they solved it.

Arthur Machen does this as well. All the great weird fiction city writers do it. Machen explicitly talks about the strength of London, as opposed to Paris, in that London is more chaotic. Although he doesn’t put it in these words, I think what partly draws him to London is this notion that, in the absence of a kind of unifying vision, like Haussmann’s Boulevards, and in a city that’s become much more syncretic and messy over time, you have more room to insert your own aestheticizing vision.

As I say, it’s not in and of itself a sin, but to think of this as a real thing—that it’s a lived political reality or a new historical understanding of the city—is, I think, a misprision.

BLDGBLOG: You can see this, as well, in the rise of psychogeography—or, at least, some popular version of it—as a tool of urban analysis in architecture today. This popularity often fails to recognize that, no matter how fun or poetic an experience it genuinely might be, randomly wandering around Boston with an iPhone, for instance, is not guaranteed to produce useful urban insights.

Miéville: Some really interesting stuff has been done with psychogeography—I’m not going to say it’s without uses other than for making pretty maps. I mean, re-experiencing lived urban reality in ways other than how one is more conventionally supposed to do so can shine a new light on things—but that’s an act of political assertion and will. If you like, it’s a kind of deliberate—and, in certain contexts, radical—misunderstanding. Great, you know—good on you! You’ve productively misunderstood the city. But I think that the bombast of these particular—what are we in now? fourth or fifth generation?—psychogeographers is problematic.

Full Story: BLDGBLOG: Unsolving the City: An Interview with China Miéville

Mindful Cyborgs: Data Exhausted

This week Chris Dancy and I celebrate the one year anniversary Mindful Cyborgs by looking back on some of the articles we talked about in the first episode, talking about the future of wearable computing, and making some predictions about the next six months.

Download and Show Notes Mindful Cyborgs: Evaporating Crowdsourced Data and a Very Special Anniversary

Relax, the U.S. Military is Ready to Prevent the Zombie Apocalypse

960zombies_01

Apparently not a hoax, Foreign Policy reports:

Buried on the military’s secret computer network is an unclassified document, obtained by Foreign Policy, called “CONOP 8888.” It’s a zombie survival plan, a how-to guide for military planners trying to isolate the threat from a menu of the undead — from chicken zombies to vegetarian zombies and even “evil magic zombies” — and destroy them.

“This plan fulfills fictional contingency planning guidance tasking for U.S. Strategic Command to develop a comprehensive [plan] to undertake military operations to preserve ‘non-zombie’ humans from the threats posed by a zombie horde,” CONOP 8888’s plan summary reads. “Because zombies pose a threat to all non-zombie human life, [Strategic Command] will be prepared to preserve the sanctity of human life and conduct operations in support of any human population — including traditional adversaries.”

[…]

Navy Capt. Pamela Kunze, a spokeswoman for Strategic Command, acknowledged the document exists on a “secure Internet site” but took pains to explain that the zombie survival guide is only a creative endeavor for training purposes. “The document is identified as a training tool used in an in-house training exercise where students learn about the basic concepts of military plans and order development through a fictional training scenario,” she wrote in an email. “This document is not a U.S. Strategic Command plan.”

Full Story: Foreign Policy: The Pentagon Has a Plan to Stop the Zombie Apocalypse. Seriously.

You can read the full document on Scribd.

Muslim Punks vs. Sharia Law in Indonesia

Short Vice documentary about the actively suppressed Muslim punk scene in Indonesia’s only Sharia province:

Update: I hadn’t noticed before, but the damned embed auto-plays the video. If you want to watch the video visit the site.

RIP H.R. Giger, 1940 – 2014

rip-giger

swissinfo reports:

The renowned Swiss artist H.R. Giger has died at the age of 74, as a result of injuries sustained in a fall. Giger, who passed away in a Zurich hospital, was most famous for the alien monster he created for the movie of the same name.
The terrifying creature and sets he created for Ridley Scott’s film earned him an Oscar for special effects in 1980. In the art world, Giger is appreciated for his wide body of work in the fantastic realism and surrealistic genres.

Full Story: swissinfo: ‘Alien’ creator H.R. Giger is dead

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