All posts by Dave

One of the central problems with Facebook

A great post from John Battelle. (As Rand Fishkin commented: “I’m both afraid of the time suck & unwilling to subject myself to the obligation of the feed.”).

Excerpt from Hey Facebook: Put Your Users In Control:

But unlike me, most of my true friends put a lot of care and feeding into their Facebook pages. It’s become a place where they announce important milestones, like births, graduations, separations, deaths, the works. These insanely important moments, alas, are all interspersed with random shots of pie, flowers, cocktails, sunsets, and endless, endless, endless advertisements for s**t I really don’t care about.

Taken together, the Facebook newsfeed is a place that I’ve decided isn’t worth the time it demands to truly be useful. I know, I could invest the time to mute this and like that, and perhaps Facebook’s great algos would deliver me a better feed. But I don’t, and I feel alone in this determination. And lately it’s begun to seriously f**k up my relationships with important people in my life, namely, my…true friends.

I won’t go into details (it’s personal, after all), but suffice to say I’ve missed some pretty important events in my friends’ lives because everyone else is paying attention to Facebook, but I am not. As a result, I’ve come off looking like an asshole. No, wait, let me rephrase that. I have become an actual asshole, because the definition of an asshole is someone who puts themself above others, and by not paying attention to Facebook, that’s what I’ve done.

That kind of sucks.

Read the full post: Hey Facebook: Put Your Users In Control

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Watching over us lovingly

cctv

In 2014, on holiday in Cornwall with my wife’s family, we were talking about CCTV and the government scanning emails. And I remember my wife’s brother-in-law 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. 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 I think the quote ‘Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ is true, 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)