Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist

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26 November 2004
Filed under:Privacy,problems with technology at11:30 am

If you use an instant message tool, people who want to contact you can know when you are online (that’s half the point of the software after all). But the Big Brother-ish IM Watching.net goes one step further and keeps an eye on the whereabouts of IM users 24/7 (as long as they have elected to make their online status publicly known). So now you can (for example) confront a teleworker or spouse with ‘evidence’ they weren’t at their computers for several hours they said they were. Oooh! Very sinister… Of course it was only a matter of time.

I don’t use IM much myself, and only make my online status known to people on my buddy list so it wouldn’t affect me.

23 October 2004

I always assumed that the large amount of news I receive about battles with the US Congress about various communications policy issues (copyright, privacy, digital divide issues) was simply due to my own interest in these subjects influencing my choice of online media sources. But it seems according to a report by Syracuse University’s “Convergence Center”:http://www.digital-convergence.org/,

During the late 1990s and early 2000s, communications and information policy (CIP) replaced the environment as the policy domain of greatest congressional activity, as measured by number of hearings. From 1997 to 2001, the annual number of congressional hearings devoted to CIP surged to approximately 100 per year.

6 September 2004

In “California”:http://www.dfw.com/mld/dfw/news/9588858.htm?1c a man attached a cellphone to an ex-girlfriend’s car and used it to stalk her (The woman eventually caught the guy under her car attempting to change the cellphone’s battery). Of course it is much easier to simply track your target’s cellphone – something that is apparently being done more and more frequently in Korea. I think all services should require the tracked phone user to acknowledge each tracking attempt.

See “this item from my archive”:http://blog.org/archives/000712.html for info on UK cellphone tracking services.

22 July 2004

The report on children’s Internet use I “mentioned earlier”:http://blog.org/archives/000905.html has now been made available in full.

UK Children Go Online is an excellent overview of kids’ online experiences in Britain and I am pleased to see it taking a very sensible balanced view of the risks and benefits of childrens’ online use. From the conclusion:

one cannot simply recommend greater monitoring of children by parents. From children’s point of view, some key benefits of the internet depend on maintaining some privacy and freedom from their parents, making them less favourable particularly to intrusive or hidden forms of parental regulation. Moreover, the internet must be perceived by children as an exciting and free space for play and experimentation if they are to become capable and creative actors in this new environment.

I am a little disappointed, however, that the press release leads on “parents underestimating risks”:http://personal.lse.ac.uk/bober/PressReleaseJuly04.pdf and lo and behold the “BBC’s coverage”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/3910319.stm doesn’t mention anything about the possible benefits of childrens’ online use or the divide that was found in the ‘quality’ of their use.

It is true that, ’57 per cent have come into contact with pornography online (compared with 16
per cent of parents who say their children have seen porn online)’ but as “Josephine Fraser”:http://fraser.typepad.com/edtechuk/2004/07/lse_uk_children.html points out a large problem with this survey is that it’s investigating ‘children’ between the ages of 9 and 19 (of course the data is usually split by age in the body of the report but not often in the summaries).

If you are concerned mainly about under-12s exposed to porn (for example) the proportion drops to 21 percent and this doesn’t indicate how often this exposure happened or how ‘severe’ it is. Would a single exposure to the promotional front page of a porn site in a few years of a ten-year-old’s surfing really be traumatic? Doesn’t it depend on what kind of stuff is considered pornographic (the report does not provide a definition)? I presume such sites don’t normally display really hard-core stuff on their front page without payment and young kids are exposed to soft-core images like that in lots of other ways. It’s true that 20% of 12-19 year olds say they have seen porn on the Internet five or more times but 17% of the same kids say they have seen it that often on TV.

Likewise it may be true that, ‘8 per cent of young users who go online at least once a week say they have met face to face with someone they first met on the internet’ but of those only 1% – one person (!) age unknown – said they didn’t enjoy the experience.

I guess as the report concludes what you see in it depends on your prior expectations and I am a ‘glass half full’ person more keen to ensure that kids have the opportunity to become digitally literate without having parents and teachers excessively limiting their chance to explore. And of course I am not the parent of an Internet-surfing child – if I were my views might be different!

25 April 2004

I start far more posts than I actually post (I have 30 in draft at the moment) because I am disciplining myself to one post a day. Which is why I am only just now bringing My So-Called Blog (written in January) to your attention.

It isn’t very deep or academically rigorous but it’s nonetheless fascinating to me because it shows the motivations and some of the consequences of this behaviour. My favourite quote:

He wanted his posts to be read, and feared that people would read them, and hoped that people would read them, and didn’t care if people read them. He wanted to be included while priding himself on his outsider status. And while he sometimes wrote messages that were explicitly public — announcing a band practice, for instance — he also had his own stringent notions of etiquette. His crush had an online journal, but J. had never read it; that would be too intrusive, he explained.

Thanks to Many-to-Many for the link

29 March 2004

A recent blog survey on Expectations of Privacy and Accountability from Fernanda Viégas at the “MIT’s media lab”:http://web.media.mit.edu/. The results found were interesting but I found one of the asides in the report interesting as well, for a different reason. Ninety percent of those blogging in their (admittedly biased) sample have better than a high school education but the report begins by being critical of the notion that weblogging is “a marginal activity restricted to the technically savvy”?

17 January 2004

“Fernanda Viegas”:http://web.media.mit.edu/~fviegas/ at MIT’s Media Lab has produced a Blog survey on the interesting subject of, “how bloggers think about issues of privacy and liability as they publish online”. I am not sure how representative a sample the respondents will be but it is certainly an interesting subject – one with some relevance to my own research – and I look forward to the results. Do fill it in if you run your own weblog and have a minute…

17 December 2003

An interesting discussion going on at the very insightful “TheFeature”:http://www.thefeature.com/ (which is all about ‘the mobile internet’). It was sparked by an article by “Howard Rheingold”:http://www.rheingold.com/ all about the potential dangers of ubiquitous location-aware devices. Some good points made about the need for sensible default settings (since few people change their defaults) and I pitched in:

Making “off” appear to be the same as “out of network range” is only a social protection as long as the technology doesn’t work reliably. The old phone excuse of “you’re breaking up I’ll call you back” really doesn’t work any more across most of the UK, for example – the network is just too good!

If your boss requires you to be locatable at all times during work hours you may not be able to pretend the technology doesn’t work – so the only protection for the individual against such harassment would be a social taboo against such behaviour – and I don’t think we can guarantee this will happen.

The only way I think this kind of thing can be prevented would be to make it illegal for a workplace to track someone’s location without a strong reason.

25 October 2003

I expressed worries about the new Outlook in an “earlier posting”:http://blog.org/archives/cat_email_discoveries.html#000904. It seems if you receive an email message using “Information Rights Management”:http://www.microsoft.com/office/preview/editions/technologies/irm.asp but don’t have the latest version of Outlook there is still a way to read it – you have to download an “Internet Explorer plugin”:http://r.office.microsoft.com/r/rlidRestrictedPermissionViewer?clid=1033 (and be given the necessary rights of course). It’s still a bit clumsy, though.

19 October 2003

Microsoft’s new “Information Rights Management”:http://www.microsoft.com/office/preview/editions/technologies/irm.asp software in Office 2003 will only let approved users open Outlook email messages which are ‘IRMed’ and allow users to set an expiry date after which their messages will die. Rather handy for business use, but if you “read the fine print”:http://www.microsoft.com/technet/treeview/default.asp?url=/technet/itcommunity/chats/trans/office/OFF0327.asp you find out that:
1) This is a subscription-based service, so if you use it you will be locked into paying Microsoft for ever after.
2) The only email software that will be able to read ‘IRMed’ messaged so far will be Outlook 2003 – and there are not even plans to make rights management work on the Mac.

I worry profoundly about what might happen if this proves popular. It might result in a situation where it’s a lot of hassle for non-Outlook email users to receive Outlook email and/or where people using Outlook end up having to remember who in their address book has Outlook and who doesn’t.

It also might actually make corporate email security worse – no technology fix is perfect and this might make people think they have solved the problem when in fact the only solution is eternal vigilance…

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