Week 12: (iot) and the Power of a Physical Connection

The internet of things (iot) refers to the ‘connectivity of physical objects to the network,’ (Mitew, 2014). This connection can enhance our lives by processing and recording information: tracking health and fitness, reducing and managing energy consumption and improving safety standards on roads. These devices communicate with the user and each other within the network (Bleeker, 2006). It is estimate that (iot) will generate over $7.1 trillion annually by 2020, a decline from previous estimates of over $8 trillion (SiliconBeat, 2014).

The accumulated data from these devices is susceptible to surveillance and misuse, resulting in adverse consequences to the individual such as the publication of private information (health records, personal interactions, economic history). In a previous blog post, ‘Rolling in the Deep, Dark Internet,’ I discussed how the internet is designed to remember and the monitoring of user’s online activity by criminal, military, government forces. Powles (2014) argues that ‘the new hyperconnected world will only make things worse for privacy,’ as our physical interactions and objects are exchanged through connections to digital networks. It is the sensors and location services embedded within this technology that poses a significant risk to user’s privacy (Mitew, 2014).

The nude photo hacking scandal has highlighted the implications of digital interactions and the extent of user’s privacy. Pre-internet, the publication of offline photographs would require physical possession and a willing distributor (legacy media: television, magazines). It is through the internet and mobile technology that these images were produced, accessible and globally distributed (Grubb, 2014). This scandal has sparked an important debate about the importance of privacy and the connection of tangible objects (or formerly tangible) to the abstract.

Stop Google Glass? How the physical connection can incite debates about online privacy (CNN)

Powles (2014) suggests that the tangibility and physical appearance of a connection may make ‘issues of privacy more readily apparent to users.’ Google glass is an example of the (iot) generating discussion about privacy, with a poll revealing 72% of Americans refusing to purchase the device based on privacy concerns (Mashable, 2014). This discussion about the product’s privacy implications has led to the banning of Google Glass at places such as movie theatres, restaurants and Guantanamo Bay (Huffington Post, 2014). Though the reliability of the polling is problematic, the bans illustrate how physical connections through wearable devices can evoke an important debate over privacy.

The internet of things (iot) can enhance our daily lives and may have implications for the covert snapchat and private selfie. Though there are concerns about the misuse of accumulated data; will our increasing interaction with tangible, connected devices lead to enlightened discussion about user’s privacy and data use?

 

Source

Grubb, B 2014, ‘iCloud celebrity photo hack: texts, address books and more ‘also accessible,’ SMH, 3 September.

Joseph, D 2014, ‘Apple Watch will power the internet of things,’ The Guardian, 16 September.

Singh, J and Powles, J 2014, ‘The internet of things – the next big challenge to our privacy,’ The Guardian, 28 July.

 

Week 11: Rolling in the Deep, Dark Internet

The internet is a vast, dark place, and like the North of Westeros; ‘always remembers.’ (Mitew, 2014). Within this space lurks various forces; criminal, military, corporate, activist and hacktivist. Engaging in covert actions, unknown to the majority of online users interacting on the world wide web (Mitew, 2014).

Military Muppets: Leaks reveal social media monitoring and use of ‘sock puppets’ by the US military.

Earlier this year it was revealed that the United States military had spent millions on a program monitoring and manipulating social media (Quinn & Ball, 2014).This action was similar to a status experiment by Facebook, where certain phrases and words were omitted from status updates in order to evaluate the link between emotion and network responses (Gibbs, 2014). Though the program’s original purpose was to evaluate ‘influence’ (celebrities and political  activitsts) on social media, leaked papers from Edward Snowden revealed the military’s use of ‘sock puppets’ (Quinn & Ball, 2014).

Sock puppets are a tool of cyber warfare, fake online personas that are ‘designed to appear as real people, entering political and social discussions on social media, blogs and message boards,’ (Mitew, 2014). Facebook estimated that between 5.5 to 11.2% of users were fake accounts, the however company did not disclose what percentage of this total were ‘sock puppets’ (TNW, 2014). In a previous post (see below), I discussed the filter bubble; algorithmic editing of social media based on users’ social and political beliefs. Alternatively, sock puppets are software designed to subvert alternative political discourse and promote pro-American propaganda (Cobain, 2011). It is by engaging online discussion with ‘real’ users, that sock puppets are perceived as legitimate, politically minded users.

This deceptive software conflicts with the idea of open civic debate, between citizens within the public sphere. By using these tools, manipulating and subverting political dialogue on social media, the US military is in a way restricting individuals’ freedom of speech (protected under the First Amendment of the US constitution). The use of sock puppets sets a frightening precedent for other governments, organisations and corporations (Occupy, 2013).

From the deep, dark internet to the walled garden of Facebook, no online conversations or actions are safe.

Sources

Bno, F 2013 ‘Revealed – “Sock Puppet” Software Allows U.S. Military to Create Fake Online Identities,’ Occupy, 28 June.

Cobain, I 2011, ‘Revealed: US spy operation that manipulates social media,’ The Guardian, 18 March.

Quinn, B and Ball, J 2014, ‘US military studied how to influence Twitter users in Darpa-funded research,’ The Guardian, 9 July.

Week 10: Whistleblowin’ in the Wind

Pre-internet, social and political activism consisted of protest marches, signs, sit-ins and songs. The internet has allowed the promotion of political messages and activism to go beyond a catchy tune.

Are organisations like Wikileaks leading to an increased surveillance State (Source: TIME)

Hacktivism is ‘hacking for an activist cause,’ and these causes often involve the leaking of classified government documents (Mitew, 2014). Wikileaks is one of the most prominent examples of hacktivism, ‘an ongoing project of resistance,’ guided by principles of freedom of information and transparency (Mitew, 2014). 

It is the organisation’s pursuit of transparency that has resulted in the leaking of these classified materials (documents, videos, cables) to the public (Sterling, 2010). The act of releasing documents to the public is highly political, it exposes the institution and provides individuals with once inaccessible information. The issue with this process is that availability does not necessarily result in awareness. Julian Assange and Wikileaks may be infamous but their actions have not achieved their intended purpose; government transparency.

Governments have reacted to hacktivist threats by reforming security laws, protecting classified documents and the imposing of severe penalties on whistle-blowers, hacktivists and the media.

In September, the Federal Government introduced radical reforms to Australia’s online security and intelligence agencies. These new laws will grant ASIO officers greater immunity from criminal prosecution, in particular, committing crimes in the course “special intelligence operations.” The definition of “special intelligence” operations remains uncertain, with journalists and digital activists arguing that the term is defined by ASIO itself, resulting in a broad meaning and legal application (SMH, 2014). Any leaked information about “special intelligence operations” by an ASIO officer or journalist is a criminal offence, with the maximum penalty increased to 10 years imprisonment (SMH, 2014).

Sterling (2010) argues that surveillance laws and and agencies, such as the National Security Legislation Amendment 2014 (Cth) and the United States’ National Security Agency are the ‘antithesis of transparency, and accountability.’ While the actions of individuals such as Edward Snowden have exposed the power and extent of the NSA’s operations, the agency continues to exist.

With the NSA continuing its surveillance operations and the Australian Government granting new powers to ASIO, have the actions of hacktivists led to an increased surveillance State or is it a case of the ‘darkest before the dawn’? (Sterling, 2013).

Sources

Knott, M 2014, ‘Australia’s New Security Laws Explained,’ SMH, September 26.

Week 9: Revolution and the tools of dissent

The top social media trends in Australia often reflect users’ response to popular television programs, minor political scandals, celebrity deaths and sports. In other parts of the world, particularly the Middle East, social media has been used to engage, inform and mobilise citizens against authoritarian regimes.

Twitter Protest: Tool of Dissemination and Mobilisation (Source: Mashable)

The role of social media in these revolutions is effectively summarised by an unknown protester in Cairo, ‘we use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world,’ (Mitew, 2014). While social media has had an important role in mobilising protesters and allowing for messages to be spread locally and globally, Morozov (2011) argues that ‘cyber-utopians have overstated the role of technology.’ It is the ability for protestors to connect through social media that enhanced the interaction between protesters, the tool of the protests (Morozov, 2011). Without social media, the dissemination of information and the scale of the protests could not be achieved.

Catalysts such as the YouTube video posted by Asmaa Mahfouz, calling upon Egyptians to protest against Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian rule were the necessary spark of revolution (Mitew, 2014). In comparison, social media based protests in Yemen and Syria were unsuccessful. The protests failed to effectively mobilise the local masses and lacked a catalyst (Mitew, 2014).

Mancini is sceptical of the politically participatory role of social media during the Middle Eastern protests and in Western democracies (Mancini, 2013, 51). Though social media initiated the revolutions in Egypt and other Middle Eastern nations, by mobilising, informing and connecting citizens during the protests (Shirky, 2011), critics argue that these protests have resulted in regional instability (Mancini, 2013). The Egyptian protests ended Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian reign, yet in the post-protests period Egypt has been exposed to hostilities by extremist groups; the “Arab Winter” (Spencer, 2012). Mancini argues that the current state of Egypt is a result of the temporary nature of social media, “they are the product of strong emotions and improvisations, they are not able to express and support stable and clear issues” (Mancini, 55, 2013).

While social media has been a useful communicative tool to mobilise protestors and allow for uncensored civic debate, government stability remains uncertain in the Middle East. If social media are not the appropriate tools to create sustainability in the region, should the focus return to the ballot box?

Sources

Mancini, P 2013, ‘Media Fragmentation, Party System and Democracy,’ The International of Press/Politics vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 43-60.

Morozov, E. (2011) ‘Facebook and Twitter are just places revolutionaries go,’ The Guardian, 7 March.

Shirky, C 2011, ‘The Political Power of Social Media,’ Foreign Affairs, January/February, accessed 18 September,

Spencer, R 2012, ‘Middle East Review of 2012: the Arab Winter,’ The Telegraph, 31 December 2012.

Week 8: Beyond the 6pm Newshour

The 6pm news bulletin is a main feature of the two major Australian commercial networks, 7 and 9. These programs are formulaic; consisting of important and exclusive stories, sport, weather and ending with a feel good story.

The susceptibilities of traditional journalism (Source)

Gate kept shut: the susceptibilities of traditional journalism (Source)

This is common of legacy media, where the information broadcast is “neatly packaged” and “easily digestible,” providing audiences with the important stories of the day (Mitew, 2014). The importance of the story is dependent on the organisation, with information filtered by a range of factors (commercial, political, etc). Alternatively, citizen journalism has created “new political spaces that are not party controlled,” and not subject to the commercial pressures of traditional news outlets (Davis, 2010, 753). With citizen journalism increasingly prevalent, it raises the question: are there aspects of traditional journalism that are still relevant?

Blogs and social media are the primary platforms of the citizen journalist. It is through these platforms that users can distribute and filter information. Bruns (2009) introduces the concept of ‘gatewatching,’ an alternative, progressive model of journalism, where information is constantly updated, with users contributing ‘insightful commentary and analysis’ on an unfolding event or a particular issue. This model encourages crowdsourcing of information and collaboration between users (Bruns, p. 5, 2009). It is the role of the journalist to filter through this information and evaluate its legitimacy through effective verification processes and an assessment of its news value.

Verification is an important filtering process of the gatewatching model. It is through this process that journalists can de-legitimise highly visible, false information. The Boston Marathon Bombings on April 15, 2013 exposed the negative implications of misinformation where through Twitter and Reddit two names were wrongly identified as suspects; Sunil Tripathi and Mike Mulugeta (Media Watch, 2013). In the aftermath of the bombing, users of Twitter and Reddit attempted to reveal and locate the individuals responsible. It was through Twitter where a single tweet by the user @YourAnonNews that two incorrect names were revealed. @YourAnonNews’ tweet was retweeted more than 3,000 times. It was through the tweet’s high visibility that news organisations and journalists published the information without verification (Media Watch, 2013). If the news organisations involved had verified the content, the misinformation would not have been broadcast.

While collaboration and aggregation is enhancing journalism, increased distribution is prone to the broadcast of false information. Events such as the Boston Bombing have exposed the vulnerability of establish news organisations to broadcast misinformation and the importance of assessing and verifying distributed content.

What other features and standards of traditional journalism are relevant?

Sources

Davis, A (2010), ‘New Media and Fat Democracy: The Paradox of Online Participation,’ New Media & Society, vol. 12, no. 5, pp. 745-761.

You Tweet, I Follow,Media Watch 2013, television program, Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Week 7: Shiny Apples and Functional Androids

Apple and Android. Bitter rivals with loyal subjects that are passionate about their products and the philosophies that underpin them.

Bitter rivals: iOS and Android (Photo credit: GSM Nation)

This strong corporate allegiance was illustrated on September 9, when Apple announced the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus and iWatch, with #iWatch trending globally on Twitter. According to Apple, over 4 million pre-orders for the iPhones 6 and 6 Plus were ordered in the first 24 hours of its availability (Extremetech, 2014). The pre-orders of the latest Apple products smashed previous records set by the iPhone 5, 5S, 5C, and Galaxy S5, which raises the question; how has Apple sustained it’s success?

Raymond (2001) distinguishes between closed and open systems through the metaphor of a cathedral (closed) and a bazaar (open). The nature of the system (being either open or closed) is a reflection of the creator and company’s ideology. Closed operating systems such as Apple’s range of products are cathedrals, ‘crafted by individual wizards or small bands of mages working in splendid isolation’ (Raymond 2001, p 2). The consistency in Apple’s design and operating system goes beyond their products to the culture and philosophy of the company. For example, the clothing choices of former CEO Steve Jobs (black turtleneck, jeans, sneakers, glasses) and the sleek architecture of Apple stores around the world.

The App store is the ultimate walled garden, selecting what content consumers can purchase (Kim Kardashian: Hollywood but not Wikileaks) and limiting the ability of Apple users to produce content. As Zittrain (2010) describes, ‘users no longer own or control the apps they run – they merely rent them minute by minute.’

Alternatively, the Android operating system is like a ‘bazaar, an open source model’ where anyone can contribute to the development of the product (Raymond, 2001 p.2). Although the fragmentation of Android devices is rampant (a natural consequence of it’s highly customisable nature), this same customisation provides users with a greater ability to personalise both the appearance and behaviour of their devices than is available to users of iOS platforms. This marketplace allows for iOS banned apps such as Wikileaks to be freely available on Android.

While interest in the iPhone 6 and 6 plus remains high, when it comes to Apple products; are we pledging allegiance or purchasing due to convenience?

Week 6: The Walled Garden of Eden?

 Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple. Global brands with billions of users. Sterling describes these companies as stacks, ‘private castles of cyberspace,’ that do not have ‘the values of the internet or the web 2.0’ (Sterling, 2013). This is in contrast to Sterling’s utopian view of the internet in 1993 referring to it as a ‘true, modern, functional anarchy’ (Week 2, 2014). Stacks or walled gardens are closed platforms with millions of daily users, interacting with content and other users. It is this interaction that is economically beneficial to the platform as the user’s information and actions such as a ‘like’ can be monetised (Sterling, 2013). Information is controlled and user’s personal privacy limited or non-existent.

The predominance of the ‘walled garden’ and stacks has led to the return to the principles of feudalism; nominal freedom with powerful entities controlling information and users’ online mobility (Mitew, 2014).

The Feuding Private Castles of Cyberspace (Photo credit: The Economist)

 Walled gardens (Google and Facebook) engineer the information we access to go beyond “picking and choosing information from websites” to unconscious algorithmic filtration (Parsner 2011). Parsner introduced the concept of filter bubbles, “invisible algorithmic edits of the web,” where the information broadcast on a Facebook newsfeed or Google search is filtered by the users accumulated online data (Parsner 2011). The personalisation of online spaces prevents the broadcast of information contrary to the user and their social circles’ political viewpoints. This is evident on my Facebook newsfeed, where conservative views on social issues and environmental policies expressed by some of my friends are rarely featured in comparison with users who share similar personal views. Parsner (2011) argues that the filtration and fragmentation of walled garden has led to an increasingly polarised political sphere . While walled gardens provides users with safe online spaces to communicate with friends, the personalisation of these platforms has consequences for the distribution of information and democracy.

 If walled gardens are threatening values such as privacy, freedom of information and association, why are they popular spaces? Walled garden provide users with not only a safe place to interact with friends but are also simple to use. With billions of users, these spaces are integrated into modern society (group assignments on Facebook, the instant google search for the obscure capital city of a well known country and the prevalence of MacBooks in lectures).

 With walled gardens a dominant feature of the modern world, will users eventually revolt or simply remain?

 

 

Resources

Parsner, E 2011, ‘Beware Online Filter Bubbles,TEDTalk, 1 March, accessed 7 September,

Sterling, B ‘What a Feeling,‘ Webstock 2013, accessed 2 September