Category Archives: DIGC202

The Internet of Things.

As the data suggests we as individuals and consumers spend far too much time online. Ingesting news, interacting with each other and conducting business. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week we are glued to our phones and computers (as discussed earlier). Despite my interest and near obsession with technology I don’t want my fridge or toaster to become yet another device which I can control using my phone or laptop from anywhere.

A fridge that can surf the web; that can email you when you run out of milk,

A wristband which connects to my phone; that can also track my lack of movement,

An alarm clock which can access my bank account 

All things which become gold mines of data for companies. It can tell them what time we open our fridges, what time we get out of bed… and where we are when we do these things. With this data companies can subtly influence our every move. And not so subtly create more demand.

Take the pillow industry for example who only recently added an expiry date to their products, this simple act caused sales to rise astronomically. What happens when every company has the information to create similar  demand?

These companies already collect so much data from me, why would i give them more.

Not that I am saying there is anything wrong with an alarm clock which will actually get me out of bed, I think it is a great idea. But do we really need another piece of technology, which records and stores our data and habits?

Another aspect of the IoT which scares me is what would happen if the Internet of Things becomes a fully realised world and then dissolves? just take a look at the TV show Revolution, and its post apocalyptic themes…

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The internet is fun and dangerous just like IRL.

Just like reality the internet is fun and dangerous and most wouldn’t have it any other way, especially LulzSec. Put together the words ‘lol’ and ‘security’ and what you are left with is ‘LulzSec’ a small decentralised node/group/collective of hackers who used their expertise to hack and attack hundreds of media groups, companies and corporations.

Hacking has become something more than a group of bored teenagers (although most still are) trying to change their grades, it has become a multi-billion dollar activity. The word ‘Cybercrime’ now dominates the popular discourse.

The natural evolution of this is ‘Cyber warfare’ which is probably occurring at this very moment. As Wired suggests the “Most Menacing Malware in History” was Stuxnet. A digital worm which had real world consequences and damages causing the Iranian government to repeatedly replace equipment in their uranium enrichment plant.

Whilst no individual was injured in this attack, it paves the way for more digital attacks to be created which will. Just take a look at the movie Live Free or Die Hard where  “John McClane and a young hacker join forces to take down master cyber-terrorist Thomas Gabriel in Washington D.C.” The hacking in this movie whilst filled with inaccuracies does foreshadow the world in which cyber war and hacking can become a deadly force.

We can only hope that digital security progresses as fast as the rest of the digital world.


Not all Hackers are Activists.

Not all hackers are activists.

Even some ‘members’ of the notorious online vigilante group Anonymous do not act in the best interests of the public. Hacking in the hands of the right people ( and thats the question, who are the right people? ) has the potential to be a great tool for championing, informing, protecting and educating the public. Hacktivism as well as the information that is released can be misdirected and become a tool for misinformation.

One thing to keep in mind though when considering Anonymous is that they are as you state decentralised. Due to this any individual can claim to be a part of Anonymous. This post on a forum site surmises this notion quite well “it is nothing more than a name that different groups can hide behind in order to leak/drop information and attach itself to the Anonymous “brand”  

Whistleblowers like Snowden and Assange do educate and inform the public, but what happens to the information after they release it? People will continue to believe what they wish despite the new evidence. Take for example the ‘fappening’ or as it should be known celebrity nude leaks scandal a case of hacking where individuals are targeted and exploited. Assange and Wikileaks on the other hand use hacking to promote activism and a culture of scrutiny focused on large corporations and governments.

Hacktivism is a great tool for promoting transparency in governments and corporations, I can only hope that it continues to be used for good.


Social Media- Revolutionary?

Revolutions rely on social interaction, protests and political unrest. An integral aspect of any revolution is the organisation, mobilisation and the struggle of individuals on a mass scale. Revolutions have always been social. Revolutions will always continue to be social whether or not they are coordinated online. As  argues social media platforms such as Twitter, YouTube, FireChat, and Facebook are simply tools that modern revolutionaries use.

Devin Coldewey a writer for TechCrunch has a similar view – “The people of Egypt made use of what means they had available, just as every oppressed people has in history.” On the issue of ‘social media revolutions my ideas align with Coldewey’s. In my somewhat cyber-realist opinion some social media revolutionaries are not activist but instead slacktivists attempting to gain karma, likes and self-renown.

Despite this, I do recognise the key role that social media now plays in protests and revolutions. The Arab spring movement relied heavily on Twitter for broadcasting information and organisation. Facebook and Youtube played major roles in organising, raising awareness and disseminating information as seen by the Facebook page ‘We are all Khalid Said‘ and by the series of Youtube channel ‘FreeEgypt founded by Asmaa Mahfouz. Social media played a key role and was used alongside the traditional methods of revolutionaries such as marching in streets and mass demonstrations. Most recently, FireChat a peer to peer messaging app has been used by Hong Kong protesters to avoid being disconnected should the government disrupt the internet or communication infrastructure in their struggle for a truly democratic government.

Social media has and will probably continue to play a key role in the organisation, mobilisation and dissemination of revolutionary ideals. This does not mean that one Tweet or a like on Facebook constitutes a revolution. Social media is only revolutionary when combined with social upheaval, social movements and activism.


Citizen Journalism

The words Citizen and Journalism in my eyes have never been separate. Everyone has bias, everyone has a side and everyone can be wrong. Growing up in the ever increasing world of social media and the internet, fact checking, seeking alternate sources and a general skepticism of news has become a habit.

Both the professional media and citizen journalists have their merits and their drawbacks. With citizen journalism, a lack of a standardised code of conduct or ethics and a lack of training can lead to incomplete and misinformation being spread. A lack of credibility and unethical practices can also be seen in some citizen journalism (Professional journalism can also seen to suffer from unethical practices…News of the World anyone?) Professional journalism can be said suffer from a lack of efficiency and owner bias (cough…Murdoch…cough) among other issues.

We as digital and interconnected citizens are becoming less and less dependent on legacy media and more reliant on each other for our information. News organisations such as CNN, the Guardian and even local newspapers are attempting to engage with the citizen journalist by crowd sourcing stories, images and opinions. Apps, hashtags and whole websites are dedicated to the coexistence and interaction of professional and citizen journalist. As much as the blogosphere boasts about the success and efficiency of citizen journalism it must be said that professional journalist use Twitter and social media almost as effectively. Johnson shows us at least one positive result of this convergence; the accumulation of news sources found on social media “will lead to more news diversity and polarization at the same time“.

I hope that as more and more citizen journalists and professional journalists collaborate and converge Johnson’s idea will continue to occur. Never rely on a single source for your news, no matter how sensational, well written, witty or funny it is (I’m looking at you Buzzfeed)


Another ‘gilded cage’ or an open source?

Last week I used the metaphor of a ‘Gilded Cage’ to describe the ‘walled gardens’ and the curating of the internet online landscape.  This week I want to repurpose this metaphor to explain my ideas on the open Vs closed software debate. The most recognisable and notable examples of these softwares are Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android.

Similar to Sterling’s (2013) stacks the closed nature of the iOS software can be described as a gilded cage, it allows for a safe, curated user experience which is carefully aligned with the vision and values of Apple Inc. Zittrain (2010) states that Apple and by extension the iOS software is a “gatekeeper to a devices’ uses”, which for me conjures images of 1984’s Big Brother and the idea of censorship in general. But it is not all bad in the world of iOS, it provides many users with clean and easy access to the mobile web, access to ‘approved’ apps and access to software which is hard to infect due to this vigilant gate keeping.

Google’s Android OS on the other hand is an open-source software that allows and actively promotes the refinement and adaptation of its source code (Mitew 2014). The world of Android is a world of perpetual beta or as Raymond (2001) would state “Release early. Release often.” This allows for a continual improvement of the user experience due to the feedback and development of other users. This open software architecture allows for the escaping from the ‘gilded cage’ and for a much more wild and wide web (which is not necessarily a good thing).

For many users from either side  iOS or Android there are not many practical differences as sites such as facebook, twitter and instagram all are equally accessible from both devices. For the general consumer there is no real practical difference, but for produsers and the techno elite Android has the advantage.


A gilded cage is still a cage.

A ‘walled garden’ is a closed network that exists on the internet where users are ‘walled in’ and access to content is controlled, protected, filtered and censored (Mitew 2014). Facebook is a prime example of a ‘walled garden’ in the modern online ecosystem, where content is monitored, information is recorded and access is limited. These ‘walled gardens’ are home to millions of users who conveniently go about their business, sharing information, participating in discussions and never noticing the cage surrounding their activities.

“She’s only a bird in a gilded cage,

A beautiful sight to see,

You may think she’s happy and free from care,

She’s not, though she seems to be,”

These cages are not all bad. They offer a quiet place to interact with friends, family and others; They can offer individuals better user experiences. The closed nature of the gardens offers a safe and secure browsing experience.

Despite these benefits a ‘walled garden’ it comes with a price. The wide open web is slowly being curated and cultivated by giant online corporations or ‘stacks’ as Sterling (2013) defines them as.Chris Saad, inline with Sterling’s notion surmises this on his website stating that “URLs are fading into the background, native mobile apps are all the rage and Facebook threatens to engulf the web into a proprietary black hole.

Jason Kottke believes that  “we already have a platform on which anyone can communicate and collaborate with anyone else… It’s called the internet”. I find myself agreeing with many of Kottke’s points especially the notion that after a period of realisation users will become more aware of what these walled gardens and cages are doing with our information and in turn break free of the glided cage that is facebook and other walled gardens.

References

Sterling 2013, Webstock ’13: Bruce Sterling – What a feeling!, online video, September, Webstock, viewed 6/9/14, < http://vimeo.com/63012862>

Mitew, T 2014, iFeudals: big data, surveillance, permission control, Lecture, DIGC202, Global Networks, University of Wollongong, delivered 01 September.