Oct 13, 2013

Avoid getting repackaged as a social product

Both Facebook and Google+ are competing to use your inputs on their social platforms for endorsing their ads (see article). They provide you with a free service and then use you to sell stuff.

Fortunately, there are mechanisms to opt out, which for most will not be enabled by default.

To opt out of appearing in Google+ Ads

  1. Go to https://plus.google.com/settings/endorsements
  2. Un-tick the checkbox that says "Based upon my activity, Google may show my name and profile photo in shared endorsements that appear in ads."
  3. Click 'Save'
To opt out of appearing in Facebook Ads
  1. Go to https://www.facebook.com/settings?tab=ads
  2. click the 'Edit' link for 'Ads and Friends'
  3. under 'Pair my social actions with ads for', choose 'No one'
  4. Click 'Save Changes'

Jul 23, 2013

Self portrait from outer space

NASA continues to send back astounding pictures from its explorer spacecraft.

On the same Earth day, July 19, 2013 two of these - Cassini-Huygens orbiting Saturn, and MESSENGER orbiting Mercury, captured these views of the Earth and Moon.

Two views of home (ID: PIA17038; NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute and NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington)
Here are close ups from the above image:

Saturn's view: 1.44 billion kilometers (898 million miles) away. "Earth appears as a blue dot at center right; the moon can be seen as a fainter protrusion off its right side." - NASA

Mercury's view: 98 million kilometers (61 million miles) away. "Earth and the moon appear very large in this picture because they are overexposed. When looking for potentially dim satellites, long exposures are required to capture as much light as possible." - NASA

While Cassini's main mission is to study Saturn system, including its spectacular rings and moons, it has captured - "only the third time ever that our planet has been imaged from the outer solar system" (NASA). The Earth image was taken as part of a wider mosaic of images of the entire Saturn system. Looking back at Earth from Saturn can be difficult as the bright sun is in the same direction, but Cassini placed itself in the shadow of Saturn. From its position experiencing a solar eclipse and capturing the less bright objects around the area.

"This simulated view from NASA's Cassini spacecraft shows the positions of Saturn and Earth on July 19, 2013" - NASA/JPL-Caltech
The deliberately inserted narrow-angle frame images in the sequence shot from Cassini shows a clearer separation of the Earth and the moon.

Narrow-angle frame image, with a 5 times magnification view (ID: PIA14949 & PIA17170, NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)
In every story told and lived, our anthropocentric mind prefers to get involved when we are part of the story. For all the work that NASA and other space programs are doing, the most evocative tend to be these images, looking back at us from almost untouchable distances.

At a point like this we always come back to Carl Sagan's words:
Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
In his time he was referring to this earlier picture:

Taken by Voyager 1 in 1996, from a distance of more than 6.4 billion km (4 billion miles) from Earth. (NASA/JPL ID:PIA00452)

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More links:

Jun 28, 2013

You as a product

Revelations of the emergence of the 'surveillance state' in the US has deeply disturbed many who have been in denial about what massive accumulation of private individual data allows. Even though the private corporations may profess no nefarious intentions, the very fact that they have this data leads to temptations, targeting and inevitable opportunities of misuse. Facebook recently suffered a leak of 6 million private emails and phone numbers. These have surely been recorded by someone and will be used as targets for spammers, or as stolen shell identities to send out spam. The phones will get targeted with international spam calls offering cheap services and holidays. If the social graph (list of contacts) has been obtained then its even worse, as emails will go out to all friends of the stolen identity containing alarming, embarrassing, and unwanted messages.

Online ('cloud') service providers, such as Google, Apple etc. do not want you to be anonymous or even pseudonymous. They want to have the power of attorney over you complete true digital identities. At this year's WWDC, Apple was very happy to publicly declare that it has 575 million paying accounts, most of which have stored Credit Card details. YouTube has been constantly sending out requests to have users change their online public chosen names replaced with their true First - Last names.

A problem is that this identity especially when connected out to other services including ecommerce, becomes a massive target. IT Technology is not absolute - as long as information can be accessed by one person, then the mechanisms meant to keep another out will inevitably be overcome. Weaknesses will be technological as well as human. There are many existing and emerging programs of national surveillance and industrial espionage out there. If one is holding a guarded fort of valuable digital information, one should not wonder if it will be breached but when.

In the Chris Nolan's The Dark Knight (2008), the scene that keeps coming back to me most is when Morgan Freeman's character is mortified, when Batman asks him to use a new surveillance technology over their own company's mobile network to spy on the whole city simultaneously and locate the criminal targets. Freeman suitably calls it 'unethical ... too much power for one man' and agrees only after Batman agrees to destroy the machine at the end of mission. How likely do you think that such a tool, once constructed, would be dismantled in real life? 

The following is a very information packed diagram from Baynote, about where all the privacy data is coming from and going to, in some of the popular online presences.

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