Watching over us lovingly

cctv

During the summer of 2014 I was on holiday with my wife’s family in South Cornwall in England. One afternoon I went for a walk with my wife and the husband of my sister-in-law and we were talking about CCTV and the government scanning emails. And I remember him saying “if you’ve got nothing to hide you’ve got nothing to fear”. At the time I didn’t know what to say. It felt like if I disagreed with that statement I was saying I had something to hide.

Recently I have been thinking about that statement a lot. According to this article written by Daniel J. Solove on thechronicle.com in 2011 ‘if you’ve got nothing to hide you’ve got nothing to fear’ was once the official slogan used by the British government in a campaign to promote mass surveillance. Now, I couldn’t find any evidence of this, and it might be true but just from 50 years ago or something like that. But however the argument got into popular consciousness, I think it has become a kind of justification for submitting to mass surveillance and mass monitoring.

We live in a post-Snowden era, meaning it is now known that the NSA is scanning the electronic communication of American citizens. And to be honest I was surprised when President Obama came out in support of this NSA program. I guess I had hoped he would come out and say something along the lines of “no, this is too far-reaching, we need to take another look at this”. His support to me implies there are scary things that are prevented from happening because of the work the NSA does.

Thinking about this reminds me of a conversation I once had with an ex-girlfriend. She was a doctor and this was when I was living in New Zealand. And a big issue at the time was whether there should be a law preventing parents from physically disciplining their children, the issue particularly centring on smacking and the concern some parents were hitting their kids too hard when they were disciplining them. She said to me that even though some parents were capable of restricting their physical discipline to a light tap, some parents were not, and the right thing for the responsible parents to do was to give up some of their freedom to protect the children of parents who were poor at physical discipline.

I think the issues of mass surveillance and mass monitoring are also about the exchange of freedoms for other perceived needs. I think this is what David Foster Wallace was getting at in his essay ‘Just Asking‘ for The Atlantic. I do think there are costs to freedom and I think we should be having a conversation about what we are willing to give up. But I don’t think we are, partly because it is a complicated topic. But I think it is important because if there is one quote I completely believe in it is ‘Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ and what concerns me about mass surveillance and mass monitoring is I can only see power becoming concentrated.

If we are going to try to get people thinking & talking about freedom in the context of mass surveillance and mass monitoring, I personally think privacy is a good place to start because most people can relate to this (The Open Rights Group has a good blog post that touches on the importance of privacy). 2016 was the first year I have seen articles online that have warned people against clicking on links contained within the article in case your employer or the government is monitoring your internet. In one example an article was linking to a white nationalist website that was supporting Donald Trump. Is that the world we want to live in? Where we have to trust that whatever artificial intelligence is reviewing our internet traffic will be advanced enough to know whether we agree or disagree with every worldview we read online? Or is privacy sufficiently important enough to freedom to keep intact?

Anonymise your internet browsing

(Last updated: 10-August-2010)

I’ve always thought the Tor Project (free internet anonymising service) was a worthwhile initiative. But the idea of having to run a Tor server somewhere seemed like a lot of effort. And I thought putting all my traffic through Tor would probably mean slow internet & possibly some internet services not working properly.

The Vidalia Project is a step in the right direction. You simply install the Vidalia bundle which includes Tor, install a ‘Tor button’ in your browser and – pow! – you have an ‘anonymise my internet right now’ button.

Download Vidalia: https://www.torproject.org/projects/vidalia.html.en

The ‘Tor button’ is reasonably straightforward. Note that right now the Firefox ‘enable Tor’ button extension that comes with the bundle will not work with Firefox 5. You’ll have to go get it here: https://www.torproject.org/dist/torbutton/torbutton-current.xpi

Google Chrome: There isn’t a Chrome ‘Tor button’ extension yet but the instructions for setting one up are super super easy.

It should be noted that internet is slow through Tor, and by default things like YouTube are blocked through Tor because of the personal information that can be passed through Flash. I guess the point here is you don’t really need Tor enabled for things like watching YouTube videos.

(Hat tip to Lifehacker whose What You Need to Know About the Internet Snooping Bill post first got me onto the Vidalia Project)

(Note: I only installed the Vidalia Project on Windows 7 so I can’t speak for the experience on other versions of Windows, Apple OS X & Linux/Unix)

Digital Marketing: What I read & pay attention to

(Last updated: 11-May-2011)

I recently completed a job application that wanted to know what websites I read & pay attention to. Here are some of the websites & web pages I provided:

John Battelle’s Searchblog – The man who wrote the book on Search. His blog on the online industry is continually sharp & thought-provoking. Battelle writes really well. I don’t always agree with what he might be saying but that is a healthy thing.

Wired – Do you ever wish there was a daily newspaper just about tech? This is probably the closest thing to it.

Search Engine Land – It is kind of an unfortunate name. But they have a number of good search marketing writers & Danny Sullivan knows search better than anyone I know of.

Google blogs – There are a lot of these so I’m just going to list them:

Conversion Rate Experts – the leaders in conversion rate optimisation. Particularly worth paying attention to for their case studies which give useful insight into their conversion optimisation process.

SEOmoz Daily SEO Blog – While some of what SEOmoz says publicly is often couched in caveats e.g. “this may mean”, “this might suggest”, the need for this is partly driven by their highly visible position in the SEO industry & the trouble with stating absolutes. Their blog is essential reading for SEO news & tactics.

NYTimes – US-centric news but it is better than, say, Fox. Their Magazine section occasionally does great long form pieces.  The Critics Best Of videos are good too.

Articles

Video

UPDATED:
Occam’s Razor by Avinash Kaushik – Avinash is a Google Analytics Evangelist but he also seems to do things like consulting/speaking on web analytics/writing books on web analytics. He is a guru on web analytics & his blog posts over the years have been critical to educating me about Google Analytics, metrics to ignore & metrics to pay attention to.