John F. Kennedy and One Person, Armed With Powerful Technology

John F Kennedy Official Portrait

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. I wasn’t alive when it happened, so it is not an event that really touched me personally. Yet, the anniversary has led me to reflect on it quite a bit, if only for the fact that it is really difficult to avoid all of the media coverage.

And what strikes me is that it was a profound precursor to the world we live in now: one person, armed with powerful technology, can absolutely change the world with just an idea and three presses of a finger.

Hard to fathom in the ’60s. Routine today.

Privacy for Children: July 1 COPPA Update

If you have an internet-using child under 13 in your home, chances are they’ve come to you saying something like, “Can you please check your email? I cant use [insert website name here] until you respond to your email!  Pleeeeeeeese!”

Copyright Alejandrocaicedo – “Kids studying at RIA centers”

Been on vacation and at a conference for the past two weeks, so I’ve been off the grid. But I have a new post up about the childrens’ privacy regulation updates that took effect yesterday. The post is over at faithandsafety.org, a site focused on family friendly tech use that is a joint venture between the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

via Tightening Privacy for Children: July 1 COPPA Update – Blog Post – Faith and Safety.

Recommended Posts on Power, Culture, and Privacy

Lots of talk about privacy lately. Much of it has been spurred by the completely unsurprising revelations about NSA spying. But we were primed for that by the discussion surrounding Facebook Home and Om Malik’s widely noted reaction (“Why Facebook Home Bothers Me“) back in April.

Server room in CERN (Switzerland)

Server room in CERN (Switzerland) (© Florian Hirzinger)

Over the past day, I’ve read two standout posts that I’d really recommend. At the New Yorker, Jill Lepore has an engaging piece entitled Privacy in an Age of Publicity on the history of our modern notions of privacy. She connects a number of disparate points, including the shift in our meaning of “mystery,” early ideas about publicity from Jeremy Bentham (of the oft-discussed “panopticon” ), the development of the notion of a domestic sphere of life, and the legally foundational 1890 article on privacy by Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis. By the end of the article, it made a whole lot of sense why people just aren’t that bothered by the NSA’s practices. As she put it:

There is no longer a public self, even a rhetorical one. There are only lots of people protecting their privacy, while watching themselves, and one another, refracted, endlessly, through a prism of absurd design.

That’s the cultural side of things. But there’s also the power side of things. Dave Winer takes up that side (“The Quiet War In Tech“) noting:

In th[e] war [of information], the governments have more in common than they have differences. …What they want is to keep order, I really believe that. The order that keeps the rich rich, and more or less ignores the challenges we all face in keeping our species alive on this planet. I understand the sentiment. …If you were President of the United States, and you saw a certain probability of [tech collapse] happening, you’d re-up on the side of preserving order. …And in that context, it’s not surprising that our, the people’s, information access systems are really weak compared to the ones the governments have.

By now it should be obvious that the big tech companies are not our friends. They’re more like the government than they are like you and me. Maybe not their fault, maybe they didn’t see it coming, but I doubt they’d deny that they’re there now.

Winer goes on to spin out some important implications for programmers and tech users, so it is worth a read.

Great insights.

Defending Patents Against Patents

Some news in the tech patent world yesterday, where Jared Favole and Brent Kendall reported in the Washington Post (Obama Plans to Take Action Against Patent-Holding Firms) that

The White House on Tuesday plans to announce a set of executive actions President Barack Obama will take that are aimed at reining in certain patent-holding firms, known as “patent trolls” to their detractors, amid concerns that the firms are abusing the patent system and disrupting competition.

Mr. Obama’s actions, which include measures he wants Congress to consider, are intended to target firms that have forced technology companies, financial institutions and others into costly litigation to protect their products. These patent-holding firms amass portfolios of patents more to pursue licensing fees than to build new products.

Original patent for the first pedal-driven bicycle, filed by Pierre Lallement

Original patent for the first pedal-driven bicycle, filed by Pierre Lallement

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Social Media, the Boston Marathon Bombings, and Believing Your Own Press

It has been a rough few days for folks in Boston and throughout the United States in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. My thoughts and prayers go out to all who are affected by the tragedy.

As of this morning, the primary events have come to a close. The suspects have been apprehended, dead and alive. Now the reflection begins.

Among the things to drop, social media has been taking a beating this morning in the wake of widespread dissemination of names of people who were falsely identified as suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings. Alexis Madrigal did a great job trying–only somewhat successfully–to trace the complicated and twisting chain of events that led to Reddit and Twitter users to speculate about suspects and disseminate names of suspects now known to be false. From what Madrigal can find, two names were out in social media space: one posted to Reddit from someone who thought that they recognized a person from a phono, the other Tweeted by someone who overheard a name on a scanner. Neither was identified by law enforcement as a suspect. But as Madrigal puts it:

The next step in this information flow is the trickiest one. Here’s what I know. At 2:42am, Greg Hughes, who had been following the Tripathi speculation, tweeted, “This is the Internet’s test of ‘be right, not first’ with the reporting of this story. So far, people are doing a great job. #Watertown” Then, at 2:43am, he tweeted, “BPD has identified the names: Suspect 1: Mike Mulugeta. Suspect 2: Sunil Tripathi.”

All of a sudden, we have suspects.

Except they weren’t suspects. They weren’t involved. NBC eventually got the information right based on contacts with law enforcement. But by then, the info had been tweeted and retweeted thousands of times. It was, as Madrigal put, it “a full on frenzy.”

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