Seminar 12 – Hacking

During the seminar time this week we continued to work on ideas and research for our assignment 2 projects. I came up with a short list of different questions that I pose to answer in my assignment with regards to always on technology and the privacy and security complications that come with that.

In essence, I want my whole essay to answer whether the data implications of always on technology, constitute a significant threat to the privacy of individuals. But, first, I will need to discuss some definitions – what is always on technology and what constitutes as always on technology?

  • How does always on technology work?
  • What laws and regulations governs always on technology and the data these devices collect?
  • How do these devices collect big data?
  • What could this data be used for, why and who by?
  • What are the security and privacy implications of always on technology and the data they collected?
  • Do these security and privacy implications actually constitute a threat to our rights as individuals with regards to privacy?

These are my initials ideas and thoughts for this essay and will work as a sort of plan when it comes to getting started! For now though, I’ll leave you with these questions and I’ll be writing one last blog post to summarise the module once the last assignment has been completed. For now though, that’s all the lectures and seminars done!

Seminar 11 – Assignment 2 Initial Thought Process

During seminar time this week we were able to start/continue thinking about what to study and discuss for assignment 2 of the module. I’d only briefly considered what to write about before this point so, I sat for quite a while reading over my blog and lecture notes, then researching into a few initial ideas such as learning technology. However, the inspiration for my essay came from the birthday present I’d just bought for my Dad’s birthday – an Amazon Echo Dot. This device can be likened to a Siri or Cortana, allowing the user to speak commands aloud to their device, once connected to the internet, the device can give information on weather, news etc and connect with other household devices in order to play music etc.

Since I like to check reviews for items before buying them – especially on Amazon since it’s a very popular site and people tend to leave reviews on many of the items, I had a browse through some of the reviews on the Dot, and although many of the reviews were positive, some people were concerned about privacy and security when using the device. Although there is a switch to turn the microphone off on the device, the general idea is that it’s listening all the time, and will respond when the user speaks the command word – Alexa. However, this means that the device could potentially listen 24/7, record everything and store the data.

Amazon has stated that the device keeps a track of the information and tools you’ve used, in order to give a better user experience and that this information can be found and deleted on the users Amazon account, but this will mean the device will forget everything it knows about the user.

It’s all a matter of personal preference and knowledge, some users of always listening technology are not bothered about their devices collecting data about them, some users just simply aren’t away that there could be potential privacy issues with their devices and others will not use or are resistant to using always listening devices, due to concerns for their privacy.

I will be using privacy and surveillance discussions from theorists such as Manovich and Andrejevic in my report, as well as a number of journals and articles about always listening technology in order to argue that although always listening technology may cause concern for some people, it does not pose a threat to privacy and security, but rather is used for monetary gain by those who receive the data – which is not a threat to the user, it just means they are targeted for specific marketing strategies and advertisements.

There’s my train of thought so far, I’ll be continuing in next weeks seminar and then it’s just a case of writing out the assignment!

Seminar 10 – Software

Software Takes Command

Lev Manovich is an author and university professor, his research and teaching focuses on subjects surrounding software studies and digital technologies.

“Software has become our interface to the world, to others, to our memory and our imagination – a universal language through which the world speaks, and a universal engine on which the world runs.”

His book, Software Takes Command, is his most recent – having been published in 2013. In it, he discussed a number of key issues relating to epistemology, how we interact with software, big data gathering and understand, the computer meta-medium and more. As he states in his conclusion, he isn’t trying to answer questions, as his book is aimed more at theoreticians and practitioners, rather than students, but rather he wants to make others ask more questions in return and aims to start a kind of dialogue between others who may have different understandings than him.

Software Politics

As well as discussing the reading for this week and the works and ideas of Manovich, we also discussed some of the political systems that come with software developments and companies. As a perfect example, we looked at the relationship between Bill Gates, China and Microsoft – which is quite a complicated relationship! Gates tried and failed to access the common market in China with his Microsoft products for 20 years, since the Chinese government used Linux and encouraged its citizens to invent and create software rather than buy it – since Microsoft products where very expensive at the time, nobody was buying them.

Eventually, the Chinese government demanded that Microsoft give them open access to their coding system in order to understand how their software worked and what they could do with it, as well as being able to edit it to suit their needs and meet their censorship requirements. Eventually a deal was struck between Bill Clinton – the US president at the time, Gates and the Chinese so that Microsoft could access the open market in China and sell their products.

As recently as last year, Microsoft continues to create specific software systems or edit existing systems – including Windows 10 to meet the demands of the Chinese. It’s understandable that Microsoft are wary of people accessing the code that makes their systems run – at the end of the day, if somebody can replicate what they do, they can cut out the middle man and do it themselves, but at the same time, why should we pay so much money for something, and not actually have full access to it and how it works? It’s a fine line that needs to be understood more clearly and challenged by new generations in order to ensure people can still invent and create 100 years from now – preferably without being sued or prosecuted.

Seminar 9 – Andrejevic

Mark Andrejevic is one of the worlds key thinkers within the field of surveillance and over recent years he has branched out to discuss issues surrounding automation and sensing in relation to drones. In this seminar, we looked at his chapter in Drones and Unmanned Aerial Systems – Theorising Drones and Droning Theory.

One key point that Andrejevic discusses here, relates directly to McLuhan’s work on mediums and messages. He believed that the medium IS the message – it’s not the contents of an email or message that’s important, it’s the information that goes with it. Andrejevic remarks that data gathering and surveillance is much more about the who, what, when, where and why rather than the messages being conveyed.

This directly relates to drones and how they operate, the Compton Study being a prime example of how drones can be used. Here we see that a drone can be differentiate and can be used to collect data on a massive scale – drones do not choose individuals to target, but rather they see everything and everyone in order to observe the connections between things that the human eye would overlook.

The drone still has military connotations today and many remain wary of these devices due to the security and privacy implications that come with them. It’s not ever been officially released what spy satellites in earth orbit can see on earth and how high the quality has become but, it has been said that it’s possible observe any object the size of a loaf of bread and track its movements. It’s not wonder then that people are worried about their privacy when drones roam the skies – they’re much closer, and unhindered by pesky things like gravity and the atmosphere.

However, although there are military uses for drones, and they are important for homeland security, its their marketing potential that has some people excited. If you could gather data about a whole city – monitor a population zone for an extended period of time, you can understand what makes that city and its people tick. What they talk about, what they post on social media, how they travel, where they travel and so much more. We need to start thinking about drones and how they’re being used around us much more than we are already. We are told they’re there to keep us safe but what else?

In his chapter, Andrejevic has highlighted some of the key issues and concerns surrounding the use of drones by both military and non-military organisations. However, there are still questions that need answering. What will the role of drones be in the Internet of Things? Will we need them to monitor to billions upon billions of devices connected to the internet? Will they be able to survey connections and frequencies in order to keep things stable and moving at all times – in relation to the hopes of the developers of 5G technology? Andrejevic has gotten us started, but there’s a long way to go.

Seminar 8 – Hardware

What’s your mobile made of? Your laptop? Your television? Where did these components come from? And what price was paid for them? Of course, I’m not expecting an answer to these questions, most of us haven’t got a clue. Because we’re not given this information. If we want it we have to go and find it.

The social and political issues surrounding us in the technological age aren’t just about who has what information, who owns what parts of the internet and what data we have access to. There’s other aspects of human rights being abused and ignored by governments and political regimes across the world, we’re just less aware of them and they get less media attention. You’ve probably seen what the UK government has been up to over the past couple of weeks in terms of our personal information online but, what about in other corners of the world?

There are a wide variety of materials that go into manufacturing complex devices such as mobile phones and televisions, some are more rare than others. But do we ever consider the consequences of a material being ‘rare’? Somebody has to find and access these rare materials after all. And it’s not easy. The use of rare earth minerals in everyday products is something that brings with it many social and political issues and yet international awareness of these issues is very limited.

Here’s where things get more complicated as we start to think about things like globalisation – the rich taking advantage of the poor etc. But what I really want to focus on here is raising awareness of these issues. As I said before, you’ve probably seen in the news recently many articles about how governments in the developed world are increasing their access to our information and collecting more and more data about us. You won’t have heard recently about the living and working conditions of those mining so called ‘blood metals’ in under-developed countries.

Of course it’s all a matter of perspective, I’m typing this on a laptop that will almost certainly contain some of these blood metals. And this information will invariably be scanned by a number of algorithms created by various companies and governments that search for key words on the internet in order to monitor what people are publishing.

The aim of this post is just to get these issues out there, get people reading about them and thinking about them. It’s why I want to teach, be a lecturer. So I can pass this information on to the next generation and so on and so on until things can hopefully change. The future is a worrying place, especially when those in charge find new ways to monitor and control us day after day. But knowledge is power after all.

 

Seminar 7 – Prototype Presentation

It seems to have come and gone very quickly but, on Monday (7th) I presented my prototype to my seminar group! Although it was slightly nerve wracking – especially since I was the only one doing the module who’d chosen to work on their own and not in a team with fellow students and also because I ended up being the last one doing their presentation, I think it went really well and I feel like I’ve given the project 110% of my time and effort which, was all I could do at the end of the day!

On the whole I actually enjoyed working on the presentation and indeed, presenting my prototype to the group. I felt much more relaxed, presenting on my own, than I have done in the past. I felt much more confident and less rushed, so I managed to breath properly and keep my voice steady. I was also really excited to share my ideas and creations with the group and since I was really knowledgeable about what information I was sharing, I didn’t get my words in a jumble, result!

It’s now time to finish off my blog posts about how well the projects gone over all, how my research went etc and get those in ready for the deadline. We’ll be looking at blog post drafts in the seminar next week so, if I find some time, I’ll be getting stuck into producing a couple more posts about how the presentation went, what improvements I could make to it and the project as a whole, my audience research and what comes next. I’d better get cracking!

Seminar 6 – Prototype Update

Once again, I wasn’t able to make the Media Technologies class for this week due to being under the weather however, as with the the lecture, I’ve taken a look at the presentation slides and done the reading in order to get a sense of what was discussed in the class.

Although the topic for the week was mobile phone technology, the majority of the time in the seminar was dedicated to discussing presentation and prototype progress ready for the upcoming assignment deadline. There were some group tasks within the seminar group based around considering how often we use our mobile phones and what we use them for during that time, although I wasn’t able to take part in this task at the time, it’s interesting to think about how much I use my mobile phone and what I use it for.

I’d definitely have to say that I use my mobile phone for multimedia reasons rather than calls and texts, I listen to music and use the camera a lot and use the rest of the time on social media apps such as Facebook and Twitter. However, I think it’s important to also appreciate the ease with which I can contact people, check my emails, see my university timetable etc. on the go.

As I said, the rest of the seminar was actually focused on discussing the progress we’ve made on our presentations and prototype development. So as I mentioned in my Market Research post, I recently had a meeting with the Course Leader for BSc Computer Science. Unfortunately it turned out from that meeting there wouldn’t be anybody on the course available to work with me for the Prototype creation as their deadlines were different to ours! So, after the meeting I was very concerned about what to do (as you can imagine, with only a couple of weeks left before the deadline!) and spoke to my friend Joe.

I’d already spoken to him about the design of the app, what I should create etc. and when I mentioned that I was struggling to find somebody to collaborate with for the programming side of things, he volunteered to help. He actually created an Android app for his University dissertation a few years ago and was curious to see how the technology has evolved since then and whether it would be harder or easier to create my app. So, I’ve found somebody to collaborate with, created a specification for what my app will do, look like etc. and done my market research.

I also used the time this week from the seminar, to create a survey in order to conduct audience research into what the target demographic for my app requires. I based my questions around music, hobbies and social media usage in order to hone and improve the features of my app and to justify why I’m including specific features in my app in the first place. Onwards and upwards!

Seminar 4 – Power, Policy and Governance

Things are hotting up! Just to re-cap, in the lecture this week, we looked at power, policy and governance – focusing specifically on issues surrounding the freedom of information and online copyright infringement. In the lecture we focused on a speech by Lawrence Lessig – Laws That Choke Creativity for TED, in which he discussed the power of user-generated content and the imagination and creativity behind the re-write culture.

In the seminar, we began by quickly discussing our reactions to the Lessig speech, then moved on to discuss issues surrounding figures such as Aaron Swartz, the SOPA Bill and the continuing debate surrounding copyright laws and the policing of online space.

How much of your online information do you think has been viewed by people you didn’t intend to view it? Do you think any of it breaks any copyright laws? Do you believe your Facebook messages are read by people other than the recipient/s? Why is it against EU law to share a witty meme on your Facebook page and yet completely above board for Google to assess your search history in order to show you targeted advertisements based on your browser history? In todays society, questions around how to govern copyright online and how to allow people Freedom of Speech without contravening peoples Human Rights are at the forefront of many minds, especially those involved in politics, technology and the media.

SOPA

Back in 2011, a bill – Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was proposed to the United States House of Representatives, the bill detailed plans to combat online copyright infringement. This included court orders requiring Internet service providers to block access to certain websites and expanding existing laws to include imposing a maximum sentence of five years in prison for those convicted of unauthorized streaming. In short, Sky and other ISP would be ordered to block sites that are found to distribute ‘copyright’ material and if you watch your favourite programme online via a streaming website because you don’t pay for specific satellite channels you could end up spending 5 years in prison.

Of course this bill was proposed in America not the UK but, you can see why many people and groups – from all over the world, were set against SOPA from the start. In fact, in response to the proposed bill, services such as Wikipedia and Google co-ordinated a blackout and conducted surveys – Google reportedly collected over 162 million signatures from people opposing the Bill. Why all the fuss? People believed that the legislation would threaten free speech, Human Rights and innovation, and enabled law enforcement to block access to entire domains during to infringing content, when the content in question could simply be one blog post or ‘buzz’ word.

Eventually SOPA was scrapped as it had gained too much notoriety and public opposition from citizens all over the world as well as big and small organizations. However, those who had championed the Bill insisted that something of the same ilk was needed in order to crack down on illegal internet services and online copyright infringement.

Aaron Swartz

One particular case study we looked at was the arrest of Aaron Swartz. Swartz had already acquired a vast amount of recognition by 2011 as he was involved with several big name projects, including the development of the web feed RSS, Creative Commons and the social news site Reddit where he became a co-owner after a merger with his own company Infogami. He was also a high-profile campaigner against SOPA, founding the online group Demand Progress in protest against the proposed Bill, he organised a number of rallies and demonstrations with the group.

In January 2011, Swartz was arrested for breaking and entering charges after he connected his laptop to the MIT network whilst hidden in a closet on site and began downloading academic journal articles from JSTOR (Journal Storage) after logging into a guest user account on the MIT network which had been earlier allocated to him. He was charged with wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer and recklessly damaging a protected computer. MIT claimed that the Swartz accessed the MIT network  without prior authorization and with full knowledge of the illegality of his actions, they alleged that Swartz’s attack brought down some of their servers and deprived computers access to JSTOR research. Swartz downloaded over 4 million articles from JSTOR using the MIT network and if convicted for the charges he faced, would have been sentenced to up to 35 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million.

So why did he do it? Over the course of a few weeks Swartz downloaded academic journals to which he was granted access via an authorized account given to him by stint of being a research fellow at Harvard University. This entire case brings up a number of issues around fair-use and freedom of information. Swartz believed that everyone should have access to the information stored on JSTOR at MIT, rather than the select few who had been given authorization. However, if these journals are the property of MIT does that give somebody the right to take that property for themselves? I’m not going to make any conclusions online and rather keep my specific opinions to myself, all I wanted to do here was outline the issues surrounding the case and explore what actually happened.

I should mention at this point that Aaron Swartz committed suicide before this case could come to and end, after a long, drawn out process where he was subjected to a vast amount of accusations and threats. Swartz was offered various deals if he admitted to the charges and thereby accepted in front of the world that he had done something wrong and should therefore be punished, Swartz denied every offer. After his death, it was concluded that Swartz faced overzealous prosecution and the 13 charges brought against him were a case of ‘over-charging’ and that the powers that be were making an explicit example out of him and attempting to prove that SOPA, was a necessary measure.

Conclusion

So now you’ve read my (hopefully) thought provoking blog post about online privacy, what do you reckon? Do we have the right to use streaming websites and remain anonymous online? Game of Thrones is one of the most pirated and illegally downloaded/streams media of all time, but the creators are thrilled about it, because no  matter the medium, their message is getting out and their creation is being seen by millions. They see this as a positive, but those in power do not. Why is that do you think? These issues surrounding copyright infringement are all down to the colliding interests and power struggles related to the development and control of the internet. Those in power do not see the internet as something everybody should have access to and be able to use in the way they see fit, but rather it is something they must own and govern.

Personally I’d be happy to talk for hours about the legalities of freedom of information and copyright infringement laws but I reckon this post is as long as it should be! Although we covered a number of other areas in the seminar in more detail, I wanted to build upon what was discussed in the seminar instead and think about some of the key issues. What it comes down to at the end of the day is considering why those in power want to control and restrict internet access via ISP and stricter copyright laws and who will this affect the most?

Seminar 3 – Ecology

So just to recap, the lecture for this week was on ecology. We discussed a number of ideas relating to mutations within technology, natural selection of devices and the eco-system of the media. In particular, we focused heavily on concepts developed by Marshall McLuhan, below I’ve dropped in a fantastic quote from the man himself, where he outlines how humanity created one of the first mediums – the spoken word. In order to do this, we needed to develop from our society of drawing simple illustrations on cave walls and communicate through sound – one of the first and most significant steps to the society we know today.

“The spoken word was the first technology by which man was able to let go of his environment in order to grasp it in a new way.” Marshall McLuhan

The seminar then! We first discussed something that was only briefed touched upon in the lecture – another McLuhan concept. He believed that “all media are extensions of some human faculty – psychic and physical” – here he is referring to how we use our bodies to interact with various media. For example, we use our fingers to use our mobile phones, but we also use our ears to listen to it and our mouths to speak through it. Without us, technology wouldn’t exist as it would not be able to operate without us.

We then looked at the McLuhan tetrad – a system which outlines four effects that all technologies have upon the eco-system that McLuhan envisaged. The tetrad states that all media;

  1. Enhances – a previous medium, a body part, amplifies/extends, focuses a human capacity
  2. Reverses – when pushed to extremes, flips to the opposite intention, long-term and global consequences
  3. Retrieves – calls back experiences, patterns and media from the past – nostalgia
  4. Obsolesces – makes an older/alternate medium, process or pattern obsolete

Video killed the radio star?

One particular point of the tetrad cause quite a stir amongst the people in the seminar for various reasons. The tetrad states that all media technologies will make another/older technology obsolete – in a ‘video killed the radio star’ manner. Where some people were happy to believe this – with the blackberry as a prime example of how new developments such as the iPhone can make older technology, in this case the Blackberry, obsolete.

However, when looked at in relation to McLuhan and how he viewed the ecology of technology, we can argue that in a way this a necessary, as it means new media can always be developed – mutations lead to new technology. It can also be argued that McLuhan envisaged an eco-system where technologies – old and new would interact with each other, learn from each other and drive each other forward. He argued that technological progression was not linear, but rather a coming together of a vast network, with everything interacting and developing at once.

Conclusion

On the whole I found how McLuhan describes a network of mediums and technologies and an ever-evolving eco-system of development a very interesting concept and way of looking at changing technologies and how they interact with society. I enjoyed watching several interviews with McLuhan from the 1960’s and 70’s, as well as reading the Play Boy interview published in 2009 which, is a lengthy read but, a fascinating look into how McLuhan views the world around him and challenges his ideas constantly.

I particularly enjoy how McLuhan’s ideas relate so well to the world of technology we have today. When McLuhan began discussing concepts based on an eco-system or network of actors, he was referring to things like microfilm, books, radio and early television however, his ideas are still relevant when we look at more recent developments such as mobile phones and the internet.

Seminar 1 – Invisible Technologies

As seminars are there to discuss and challenge the information conveyed in the lectures, they usually start by quickly recapping the lecture – this is particularly helpful for those who didn’t attend the lecture but are also helpful for those who did as there’s usually a few days between the lecture and the seminar and it’s good to refresh the ideas!

We began by quickly going over the more important ideas from the lecture and then moved on to start discussing them as a group. As in the lecture, we focused largely on the importance of understanding how media technologies work – what happens when we press the buttons and pull the switches and why does it happen?

We also discussed how there are both visible and invisible elements and components of specific media technologies. For example, when we look at an iPad we see the case, the screen, the button etc. but perhaps more important is what we can’t see – the processor, the memory etc. When we use a radio, we pay more attention to the visible – the actual user interface where we turn the radio on, adjust the volume etc. than we do to the invisible – the actual frequencies the radio uses in order to receive a specific station through a network of data transmissions using radio waves and masts.

The main idea behind the seminar was that we must understand the ins and outs of technology, how it works, what it does, what it consists of etc. in order to create and innovate within the media technologies industry. This directly links to the first assignment on this module – to create a media technology prototype and critically review and analyse the thought process and end result through a series of blog posts.