Posts Tagged ‘Internet’

A Cop on the Twitter Beat

Monday, May 4th, 2009

I have done my best to resist posting about Twitter. Really, you can read about John McCain‘s earmark-ache and Britney‘s movie dates with her sons somewhere else, if you don’t already subscribe to their thoughtstreams. However, when the FBI pops up in a user’s feed, every user ought to take note.

Best as I can tell, here’s what happened: a lady called Liz received a spammy email pretending to be from the FBI. She wondered out loud whether to erase it. An FBI employee, trolling the twittersphere, got wind of the question, and answered:

“Yes, you dare.. and report it to our internet crime complaint center:”

More from Ben Smith.

Peanuts and Cracker Jack

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Over at Consumerist, the race is on for the title of “Worst Company in America.”  eBay v. Chrysler, GM v. Chase, Comcast v. Capital One…and so goes the parade of reviled corporate names even your dog has heard of, with the wildcard entry this year being the Peanut Corporation of America. (Remember them? Salmonella outbreak? Nine dead, hundreds made sick…against AIG they don’t stand a chance.)

Of course, these companies don’t want us to hate them. They want us to like them. But it’s interesting to note that some of the things they do out of their own self-interest are truly not in the interests of the consumer. And very often these conflicts are over personal data and the flow of information.

Let’s take Comcast v. Capitol One, just as an example. Comcast slapped limits on customers’ internet use, and critics say the policy is intended to deter people from watching TV online.  Funny, Comcast also has a cable business that would be adversely affected if people started watching shows on their computers.

Cap One is of course a huge and reviled credit card company, routinely accused of all kinds of chicanery you can just about get away with if you bury important notifications in nausea-inducing 2-point font. Also, they have the power to wreck your credit score.

At the time this post is being written, Comcast is winning handily.

Total aside: bless Nick Denton & the team he hired for creating a consumer news site that is hip and witty in a way Ralph Nader could only dream of. And bless Consumer Reports for buying it from him. This is a good match.

DIMACS Workshop on Internet Privacy

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

Intuitive as a door

Slide from our presentation; image from Harpeth Presbyterian Church

The Common Data Project recently attended the DIMACS Workshop on Internet Privacy at Rutgers University.  Since we’d already introduced the basic idea of a datatrust at the last DIMACS workshop we attended in February, we decided to do a presentation on a more specific aspect of our work—how an individual user might interact with the datatrust.  We want to create a new paradigm, a completely new way for individuals to collect their own personal information and share it with others—whether friends, researchers, or businesses—in ways individuals dictate.  Alex emphasized how such a model must be more intuitive than the opt-in/opt-out models available today, and walked through how this might be possible.

Given that the topic “Internet Privacy” covers a range of issues, the workshop drew a diverse group of participants. We heard a presentation by Adam Smith at Penn State University on differential privacy, a new area of research that we’ve been interested in for some time now, with the hope that it could be useful to our datatrust.  Daniel Howe from NYU and Felipe Saint-Jean from Yale presented on TrackMeNot and Private Web Search, two different approaches to obscuring identification by search engines, leading to an intense discussion on the ethics of purposefully messing with the business model of Google and the other search engines.  EJ Jung from the University of Iowa gave a fascinating talk on the ways controls have been placed on access to data in the Medical Image File Archive (MIFAR) at the Radiology Department.  We found her talk particularly compelling, as her project deals very practically with existing data and the obvious needs of doctors, researchers, and patients.  Solon Barocas at NYU, who also spoke on our panel, shared his research on how data-mining is used by political campaigns for voter profiling, which raises interesting and possibly troubling implications for democracy.

We were also struck by Naftaly Minsky’s presentation on preventing servers from abusing their clients, as he discussed the possibility of hypothetical “trusted third parties” to act as intermediaries between individuals with information and businesses and other organizations that seek information.  His description of the ”trusted third party” seemed to us somewhat similar to our conception of a datatrust.  We’re looking forward to exploring further how his research, as well as the other research we learned about, could shape our work.

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