AI = surveillance

    Social networks are surveillance systems. Loyalty cards are surveillance systems. AI language models are surveillance systems.

    We live in a panopticon.

    Why is it that so many companies that rely on monetizing the data of their users seem to be extremely hot on AI? If you ask Signal president Meredith Whittaker (and I did), she’ll tell you it’s simply because “AI is a surveillance technology.”

    Onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt 2023, Whittaker explained her perspective that AI is largely inseparable from the big data and targeting industry perpetuated by the likes of Google and Meta, as well as less consumer-focused but equally prominent enterprise and defense companies. (Her remarks lightly edited for clarity.)

    “It requires the surveillance business model; it’s an exacerbation of what we’ve seen since the late ’90s and the development of surveillance advertising. AI is a way, I think, to entrench and expand the surveillance business model,” she said. “The Venn diagram is a circle.”

    “And the use of AI is also surveillant, right?” she continued. “You know, you walk past a facial recognition camera that’s instrumented with pseudo-scientific emotion recognition, and it produces data about you, right or wrong, that says ‘you are happy, you are sad, you have a bad character, you’re a liar, whatever.’ These are ultimately surveillance systems that are being marketed to those who have power over us generally: our employers, governments, border control, etc., to make determinations and predictions that will shape our access to resources and opportunities.”

    Source: Signal’s Meredith Whittaker: AI is fundamentally ‘a surveillance technology’ | TechCrunch

    All is petty, inconstant, and perishable

    So said Marcus Aurelius. Today's short article is about what happens after you die. We're all aware of the importance of making a will, particularly if you have dependants. But that's primarily for your analogue, offline life. What about your digital life?

    In a recent TechCrunch article, Jon Evans writes:

    I really wish I hadn’t had cause to write this piece, but it recently came to my attention, in an especially unfortunate way, that death in the modern era can have a complex and difficult technical aftermath. You should make a will, of course. Of course you should make a will. But many wills only dictate the disposal of your assets. What will happen to the other digital aspects of your life, when you’re gone?

    Jon Evans

    The article points to a template for a Digital Estate Planning Document which you can use to list all of the places that you're active. Interestingly, the suggestion is to have a 'digital executor', which makes sense as the more technical you are the more likely that other members of your family might not be able to follow your instructions.

    Interestingly, the Wikipedia article on digital wills has some very specific advice of which the above-mentioned document is only a part:

    1. Appoint someone as online executor
    2. State in a formal document how profiles and accounts are handled
    3. Understand privacy policies
    4. Provide online executor list of websites and logins
    5. State in the will that the online executor must have a copy of the death certificate

    I hadn't really thought about this, but the chances of identity theft after someone has died are as great, if not greater, as when they were alive:

    An article by Magder in the newspaper The Gazette provides a reminder that identity theft can potentially continue to be a problem even after death if their information is released to the wrong people. This is why online networks and digital executors require proof of a death certificate from a family member of the deceased person in order to acquire access to accounts. There are instances when access may still be denied, because of the prevalence of false death certificates.

    Wikipedia

    Zooming out a bit, and thinking about this from my own perspective, it's a good idea to insist on good security practices for your nearest and dearest. Ensure they know how to use password managers and use two-factor authentication on their accounts. If they do this for themselves, they'll understand how to do it with your accounts when you're gone.

    One thing it's made think about is the length of time for which I renew domain names. I tend to just renew mine (I have quite a few) on a yearly basis. But what if the worst happened? Those payment details would be declined, and my sites would be offline in a year or less.

    All of this makes me think that the important thing here is to keep things as simple as possible. As I've discussed in another article, the way people remember us after we're gone is kind of important.

    Most of us could, I think, divide our online life into three buckets:

    • Really important to my legacy
    • Kind of important
    • Not important

    So if, for example, I died tomorrow, the domain renewal for Thought Shrapnel lapsed next year, and a scammer took it over, that would be terrible. It's part of the reason why I still renew domains I don't use. So this would go in the 'really important to my legacy' bucket.

    On the other hand, my experiments with various tools and platforms I'm less bothered about. They would probably go in the 'not important' bucket.

    Then there's that awkward middle space. Things like the site for my doctoral thesis when the 'official' copy is in the Durham University e-Theses repository.

    Ultimately, it's a conversation to have with those close to you. For me, it's on my mind after the death of a good friend and so something I should get to before life goes back to some version of normality. After all, figuring out someone else's digital life admin is the last thing people want when they're already dealing with grief.

    Why it's so hard to quit Big Tech

    I’m writing this on a Google Pixelbook. Earlier this evening I wiped it, fully intending to install Linux on it, and then… meh. Partly, that’s because the Pixelbook now supports Linux apps in a sandboxed environment (which is great!) but mostly because using ChromeOS on decent hardware is just a lovely user experience.

    Writing for TechCrunch, Danny Crichton writes:

    Privacy advocates will tell you that the lack of a wide boycott against Google and particularly Facebook is symptomatic of a lack of information: if people really understood what was happening with their data, they would galvanize immediately for other platforms. Indeed, this is the very foundation for the GDPR policy in Europe: users should have a choice about how their data is used, and be fully-informed on its uses in order to make the right decision for them.
    This is true for all kinds of things. If people only knew about the real cost of Brexit, about what Donald Trump was really like, about the facts of global warning... and on, and on.

    I think it’s interesting to compare climate change and Big Tech. We all know that we should probably change our actions, but the symptoms only affect us directly very occasionally. I’m just pleased that I’ve been able to stay off Facebook for the last nine years…

    Alternatives exist for every feature and app offered by these companies, and they are not hard to find. You can use Signal for chatting, DuckDuckGo for search, FastMail for email, 500px or Flickr for photos, and on and on. Far from being shameless clones of their competitors, in many cases these products are even superior to their originals, with better designs and novel features.
    It's not good enough just to create a moral choice and talk about privacy. Just look at the Firefox web browser from Mozilla, which now stands at less than 5% market share. That's why I think that we need to be thinking about regulation (like GDPR!) to change things, not expect individual users to make some kind of stand.

    I mean, just look at things like this recent article that talks about building your own computer, sideloading APK files onto an Android device with a modified bootloader, and setting up your own ‘cloud’ service. It’s do-able, and I’ve done it in the past, but it’s not fun. And it’s not a sustainable solution for 99% of the population.

    Source: TechCrunch

    Why it's so hard to quit Big Tech

    I’m writing this on a Google Pixelbook. Earlier this evening I wiped it, fully intending to install Linux on it, and then… meh. Partly, that’s because the Pixelbook now supports Linux apps in a sandboxed environment (which is great!) but mostly because using ChromeOS on decent hardware is just a lovely user experience.

    Writing for TechCrunch, Danny Crichton writes:

    Privacy advocates will tell you that the lack of a wide boycott against Google and particularly Facebook is symptomatic of a lack of information: if people really understood what was happening with their data, they would galvanize immediately for other platforms. Indeed, this is the very foundation for the GDPR policy in Europe: users should have a choice about how their data is used, and be fully-informed on its uses in order to make the right decision for them.
    This is true for all kinds of things. If people only knew about the real cost of Brexit, about what Donald Trump was really like, about the facts of global warning... and on, and on.

    I think it’s interesting to compare climate change and Big Tech. We all know that we should probably change our actions, but the symptoms only affect us directly very occasionally. I’m just pleased that I’ve been able to stay off Facebook for the last nine years…

    Alternatives exist for every feature and app offered by these companies, and they are not hard to find. You can use Signal for chatting, DuckDuckGo for search, FastMail for email, 500px or Flickr for photos, and on and on. Far from being shameless clones of their competitors, in many cases these products are even superior to their originals, with better designs and novel features.
    It's not good enough just to create a moral choice and talk about privacy. Just look at the Firefox web browser from Mozilla, which now stands at less than 5% market share. That's why I think that we need to be thinking about regulation (like GDPR!) to change things, not expect individual users to make some kind of stand.

    I mean, just look at things like this recent article that talks about building your own computer, sideloading APK files onto an Android device with a modified bootloader, and setting up your own ‘cloud’ service. It’s do-able, and I’ve done it in the past, but it’s not fun. And it’s not a sustainable solution for 99% of the population.

    Source: TechCrunch