On Twitter: @JamesFirth and @s_r_o_c (post feed)

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Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Debunking the debunking in All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

The first 2 episodes of Adam Curtis' 3-part BBC2 documentary All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace are a genuine must watch for anyone interested in technology or politics (or both!) - full series available on iPlayer until 10pm on 13th June.

I'm not going to attempt to summarise the documentary - if this type of content interests you, go watch it.

However, I take issue with the focus on "machines" offering a replacement system of organising society, and the lack of attention to the fact that "machines" also provide a tool for improved human-to-human communication, and citizen-to-state feedback.

It's the game-changing impact on how we all communicate brought by the internet that excites me.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Cockspiracy? Ed Vaizey's advice on e-privacy directive on cookies goes AWOL

Cockspiracy: (n, pl -cies) when we're unable to distinguish between a cock-up or a conspiracy. Often used to describe government #fail.

On Tuesday Ed Vaizey released an open letter providing advice to companies on the UK's implementation of the EC e-privacy directive on cookies that came into force yesterday (26th May).

Today, as of 13:30 BST, the letter has gone AWOL.  Or rather, it's still there (pdf), but it's 81.8 kilobytes of blank PDF. UPDATE 13:45 it's back up.  Now for a game of spot-the-difference... 13.51: no difference. VERDICT: cock-up

Never mind, I've put a copy on my own website (pdf) , if you want to read it.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Unmasking an estimated 30,000 Twitter users, a step-by-step guide

Twitter's European boss Tony Wang said people who did "bad things" would have to defend themselves, before warning that Twitter would hand over user information where "legally required" in response to a question from the BBC about #injunctiongate

UPDATE: reports Tony Wang is now saying he was misquoted (ht @charonqc)

I'm not sure where tweeting the name of a professional footballer in the context of gossip fits on a scale of 0-10 of "bad things" but let's assume Lawyers acting for **** ***** want to go after all 30,000.  Or worse, the court itself wants to press for contempt charges...

The YouTube political video banned from UK viewers (but available elsewhere)

I don't know whether it's an outrage, or a storm in a teacup.

There's a video on YouTube that's been banned by the UK government, but is still available freely in many other countries.  There's no age restriction or content warning on the video when viewed from outside the UK.

Before viewing the banned 19-minute video I was 9/10 on my own scale of outrage, reserving the extra notch just in case there was something truly gruesome that deserved to be banned.

There wasn't, but there was also no obvious reason why the government had banned the video, leaving me more curious than outraged.

Monday, 23 May 2011

The right to report on Parliament

My local: the William Cobbett, Farnham (pic: me)
I'm going on a bit, I know.  I won't apologise.  I'm fighting both for reason and awareness of the constitutional importance of issues related to the debate on privacy and press freedoms.

I don't care about sex scandals, but any privacy right must be considered in the context of other equally important rights.

Only by considering the new reality given the information-rich culture of today, together with lessons from history about important democratic safeguards; can we start to consider how to address the privacy concerns of today.

Privacy and free speech

Write in support of privacy, and the free speech lobby get agitated.  Speak out against court injunctions and become hailed as a champion of sex, scandal and tittle-tattle.

Having been numerously represented, I'm considering my legal options!

Yes, our sex and celebrity obsession concerns me, but the mechanism our courts seem to be using to induce change concerns me more.

In UK law we don't have an inalienable right to free speech any more than unlimited rights and freedoms in the physical world.  In both the physical and information domains; some actions are illegal, some are antisocial and some are legal but nevertheless immoral or unethical.

Being free to express opinions is an essential part of democracy, but where are the boundaries between free speech and bullying or harassment?

The risk and harm equations for speech and information are likely to look very different to behaviour in the physical world.


I don't think society understands enough about the concept of privacy in the information age to be creating privacy law - especially via the judiciary, outside of parliamentary scrutiny.

Privacy is a social problem that needs far more than a legal "solution", especially given (i) any statutory privacy law could well have unintended consequences, namely a pit for influential people to hide from accountability; and (ii) a scalable and robust system of enforcement across all publication channels will create a mechanism with far more capability for harm than good.

Two prescient questions on privacy:
  1. How do we define what is private, and what isn't
  2. Is society ready and prepared to adopt a change in attitude to celebrity sex and scandal, because ultimately, in a democracy, what interests the people does become public interest, despite what legal scholars ague, because a democracy respects the public will.  (Without adding the problems and unintended consequences associated with enforcement).
... Defined
Legal attempts to define privacy are in my view primitive and unhelpful as they tend to focus on static descriptions of the subject matter that should remain private, rather than consider the wider question of the setting and manner of intrusion.

Is sexual information always private?
The concept of privacy is the ability to find spaces to act free from observation.  What I do in those spaces is de-facto up to me.  The setting and manner I choose to undertake any activity should determine whether or not I'm afforded a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Attempting to classify activities into what is and what isn't a private matter is in my opinion is a short-sighted over-simplification.

If I want to sit in a locked room and read a book on knitting, then the fact I like knitting is a private matter.  The law should protect my privacy because I chose to carry out my activity in a private room.

If anyone then published information uncovered i.e. by intrusive surveillance (any surveillance would be de facto intrusive) then I would expect to see the perpetrators of the intrusion punished.

It doesn't matter if the publication of the information is seen as damaging to me by a court or third party.  The damage is my loss of privacy from the intrusion into my private space.

Whether or not the information once uncovered should be withheld by injunction is a moot point for two reasons.

Firstly, injunctions are not practically enforceable (and, found in Norway, not legally enforceable).  They're not scalable for the mass population, yet despite the recent hype, privacy is important to more than just celebrities. 

Secondly, the greater offence is my loss of privacy.  The information that gets out is a secondary concern to me; secondary to the fact that someone is undertaking surveillance on me in a private room.
Reasonable expectations

Privacy should be defined in terms of private spaces and methods of intrusion, not sex and sexuality.  For me the really big question occurs when a second, invited, party is involved in the locked room.

The question then becomes one of trust rather than privacy, and any question over whether invited parties should be bound by law to keep e.g. details of a sexual nature secret is riddled with pitfalls.

What is clear however is any secret surveillance undertaken by the invited party should be no more legal than any other eavesdropper.  The reason I draw this distinction is because of clarity and expectation.

We tailor our behaviour according to setting.  We assess the risk of being observed based on what we know, and our expectations (and granted, expectations are not static - they shift over time, especially as technology develops, e.g. CCTV etc).

We don't expect lovers to have installed surveillance, however we should always expect they might gossip.


Sunday, 22 May 2011

The world is laughing at us

Somewhere in Zimbabwe, a dictator's henchman is reading an article on the Daily Mail website and laughing at us.  An unnamed journalist could be going to prison for something he put on his Twitter.

Yesterday evening I watched a news broadcast on Channel 4  - I can't tell you which of the major UK news outlets I watched, since the TV station made reference to 2 overseas news websites wired and Sport.es, both of whom have run the now infamous story about footballer NotThat Stupid.

Channel 4 told me which overseas sites to go to, and since Channel 4's bulletin is still available online, I've got to be a bit careful here.

All this is claimed to be in the interests of privacy, and being an advocate of rights to privacy you'd think I would be all for this action.

But I'm not.  Privacy is the ability to find comfortable spaces to act unobserved.  Privacy law prevents intrusion into these spaces.

This is a power game over the control of information once it's become available, and injunctions aren't the solution.

Injunctions aren't scalable or robust.

For most people, if their privacy is breached by an ex-lover, perhaps embarrassing them on Facebook, they don't have the luxury of court action.  If action was affordable, how much court time would be clogged up?

If orders preventing disclosure of information numbered in the thousands, how would newspaper editors from local to national - plus bloggers, tweeters, Facebookers - all keep track of what they can and cannot say about individuals?

Will there be a central repository of  information we can't publish, just so we can check??! Who would have access to this? There must be thousands of UK publications...

Clarkson and Mosley have both argued that only the rich and the famous need injunctions.  I counter that with privacy is not just for the rich and famous, and the only way we can start to tackle the problem is to look at changing our social attitudes to intrusion.

The blunt force of the law is not always the best way to change behaviour; especially injunctions, as few have so far resulted in full trial where the person responsible for infringing another's privacy has faced sanctions from the court.

I know at least one of the current cases under question has an alleged element of blackmail, but speaking in general terms if an ex-lover breaks your bond of trust, that's an issue for you to deal with, not grounds to call for a nationwide censorship system to reign Twitter under control of the state.

James Firth

UPDATE: The case referred to above in the Mail is probably not the Imogen Thomas case, where the claimant is referred to as CTB.  In this case the code name is TSE

Friday, 20 May 2011

Injunctions restrict information, they don't protect privacy

'Ah, but the right to privacy is more important than...' has become the think of the children line of the current debate about press freedoms.

And it's not helping, especially since the topic under discussion - the ability of a court to issue a gagging order - has very little to do with protecting privacy.

Injunctions, like the Data Protection Act, do nothing to protect individuals from intrusion.  They both attempt to regulate the information - data - after it has been gathered; and it's the act of intrusion, not what we do with the data gathered, that breaches our privacy.

The right to privacy is the right to be able to perform certain actions free from observation. There are obvious limits, notably the setting where we choose to perform our actions plays a major role in determining whether or not we should be afforded a right to privacy.

Me on privacy, Twitter and injunctions (14:28 in)
on last week's Pod Delusion
In the physical world we are all reasonably capable of making decisions on the relative privacy afforded by different settings. We do something on the street, we know we might be observed. We do something in a closed room, we would hope not to be observed.  The real privacy law prevents others from hiding secret cameras or bugs in private rooms.

To me, press intrusion is the very act or surveillance. Camping outside a private residence with long lens cameras, or hacking mobile phones.  Our privacy is breached as soon as an uninvited third party becomes aware of our actions in a setting where we had a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Arguing that the injunction system protects anyone's privacy; at the point at least one journalist, their editor, sub-editors, legal team, judge plus our own lawyer has become involved; is absurd.

Furthermore, it's unrealistic to expect information can be suppressed.  Even without the internet, information travels from person to person. Lawyers, judges and policemen gossip in the pub - indeed sometimes with the odd blogger present.

Injunctions do nothing to punish and deter the act of invasion.  Journalists and paparazzi lose nothing from having their story spiked by a judge.  Maybe a bit of the editor's budget is wasted on a story they couldn't run... Oh well, try again next Sunday.

In general, especially given the internet, we face the question of how far do we attempt to control and regulate the flow of information.

Many civil and digital rights issues lead to a question of appropriate balance, but in practice there's very little granularity in censorship; for once a control system is in place, the temptation to expand its use to cover other "good causes" becomes overwhelming, and the task of sifting and reviewing what the public can and cannot see becomes both immense, and ripe for corruption by self-interested parties.

In a democracy, the free press goes a long way to providing oversight of government. Who oversees the press?  It may be hard to stomach, and indeed looking at the headlines it may seem absurd and wrong, but we the public oversee the press in our decision to buy their papers or read their websites.

For this reason it's so very important that we have plurality of the press, so readers have an alternative if certain newspapers overstep the mark.  Bloggers are contributing to that plurality, which is another reason why controls on the internet in particular could threaten the freedom and plurality of the press.

Privacy is not dead

Of course there are no absolutes - I'm pretty easy with the current internet censorship regime in the UK that blocks images of child abuse hosted overseas.  But the success of, and acceptance by the public for, this regime; stems from its highly focussed and extremely limited role.

Extreme cases aside, we have two basic choices - to regulate information, or let it free.  But in letting information go free does not mean that privacy is dead. It means we must adapt our behaviour to the new reality.

A vital concept in privacy is our ability to judge the consequences of our actions in any given environment.  There's a huge degree of granularity to this - e.g. we might be in public, but we might be hiding behind a bush.

Whilst the physical settings where we afforded a reasonable expectation of privacy have changed very little, the manner and consequences of being observed have changed dramatically.

Photography has been around for long enough for the majority of the population accept the fact they might be photographed in public.  A still-large percentage of the population are probably alert to the probability of CCTV being operational in any given place.

We moderate our behaviour according to the risk of being observed.  And to do this we must understand the risks. And consequences.

The internet introduces two new problems: our actions in the physical world could have a global audience, and there's no clarity or consensus over what constitutes a private space online.

The second of these problems is about bringing clarity to the public's understanding of where and when they are likely to be "observed", and the consequences of being "observed".  In reality it has only a very loose relationship with the laws protecting our personal data after it has been collated.

Last week I co-founded a new organisation to look far more closely at creating the online equivalent of a private home and family life, separating this from more public online spaces, and bringing clarity to net users and businesses alike, struggling to grasp the concept of privacy and the risk in a potential collapse of consumer confidence if businesses remain ignorant to the issues.


Tuesday, 17 May 2011

How the press in Norway first defeated their own injunctions, then one of ours

Possibly the worst example of Freedom
of Information Act redaction?
Nearly 2 years ago I became, for a short time, a reader of the website of Norwegian state broadcaster NRK. I don't speak a word of Norwegian, but that didn't matter, as several articles were published in English due to heavy demand from UK readers.

The reason for my interest in overseas news was an injunction from a UK court; and the reason the Norwegian press were able to fill the gap dated back to a completely separate matter in 2005 that led to the injunction system in Norway being rendered mostly defunct.

In 2009 the word Trafigura set Twitter alight.  I was blogging under an alias at the time, and for reasons relating to Trafigura I'd rather not reveal my nom de plume for my (now deleted) past bloggage.

I'm also not going to go into any more details about Trafigura. Call me a scaredy cat but I hear from fellow bloggers that Trafigura's lawyers are still active.  The details of what Trafigura are alleged to have done is irrelevant to the rest of this post, and I firmly believe one must be careful to pick and choose one's battles. Go Google.

Back to 2005, according to NRK's lawyer writing in journalism.co.uk, the chief editor of Norway's equivalent of the BBC was dealing with a different matter.  An injunction relating to a complex issue in which a police informant's privacy was at stake, but the conduct of the Norwegian police was also under question, led to the dramatic downfall of injunctions in Norway.

NRK's editor took the decision to publish and be damned. He was subsequently prosecuted for the criminal act of breaching a court injunction, but cleared on appeal to the Norwegian Supreme Court, which ruled the injunction was a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Possibly as a direct result of the actions of one editor in 2005 I was able to read information on the internet prohibited by law in the UK in 2009.

Two things are absurd here: (1) the UK is also a signatory to the very same European Convention on Human Rights; and, (2) the internet is global - if not Norway, then surely at some point a journalist in some other jurisdiction would be likely to publish the information prohibited by UK injunction.

Whilst I don't give a toss about the sex lives of celebrities, and I do feel strongly that personal privacy rights need to be strengthened and respected, the injunction (or super-injunction) is not the right way to force a change in UK attitudes towards privacy.

Often when there's no clear right answer we're left to consider the least worst option. A judge - often sitting in secret session - having the ability to prevent the UK press from publishing something is probably the greater evil.  Press restraint has the potential to allow serious wrongdoing to go unreported; the potential to do more damage to society than relinquishing some rights of some individuals to protect their privacy through injunction.

Privacy invasion is wrong.  But there are better ways a civilised, open and democratic society can achieve the same aim.  Social norms are effective are preventing antisocial behaviour - it's the reason the majority keep our gardens in trim!

Granted, it's a bit more than keeping a neat hedge, but we can punish those who invade privacy in the same way we punish other criminals, after the fact; just as Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire were punished for their invasion in the News of the World phone hacking saga.

An injunction doesn't deter the initial wrongdoing - it just attempts to put some limit on the publication of information once it has already reached the hands of numerous individuals.  There's nothing punitive about being the recipient of an injunction that would stop e.g. the editor of a national tabloid trying to obtain similar garbage for next Sunday's paper.

Information isn't the real enemy, it's just a by-product.

"But you can't put the genie back in the bottle" claim supporters of injunctions, in reference to the fact that once information has been published, it's impossible to retract.

Look at this another way.  Most of our laws try and prevent harm, but in what other area does the prevention of harm become so important that other human rights are sacrificed entirely?

The system of injunctions effectively says the privacy rights of individuals trump freedom of the press on the word of a solitary judge sitting in secret.  Furthermore, in the case of a super-injunction, it's impossible for any other party (e.g. a newspaper who can afford) to challenge the injunction, as the respondent is sworn to secrecy.

In the UK at least we treat other sources of potential harm differently.  A convicted killer is not executed; nor, in most cases, are they given whole life terms.  But several UK studies have concluded that a convicted killer is at a higher risk of re-offending than an average person.

In terms of "putting the genie back in the bottle" surely the ending of a human life is the ultimate irreversible crime.

Yet we let convicted killers free from prison on most days throughout the year.  And rightly so.  We do this because human rights together with the rule of law is more important than the increased risk to human life.  We choose not to kill or lock-up killers indefinitely solely because they might kill again.

On one hand we're prepared to risk the ultimate irreversible act, a killer might well kill again; yet on the other we choose to make information secret just because, in a discrete subset of cases, information might be released that might make a person or an organisation's life a bit more difficult.

Information is clearly powerful, but I can't help feel that we're overstating the potential damage in many instances; and we're unfairly beating up the new kid in town - social websites - in the process.

Those calling for certain injunction-busting tweets to be blocked must surely realise a logical conclusion: that certain pages from overseas news organisations like NRK would also have to be blocked in cases like the Trafigura debacle.  Isn't this exactly the sort of activity we criticise China for - blocking e.g. the UK's state broadcaster, the BBC?

We shouldn't be willing to put democracy at risk by censoring the information after it's become available.  We should focus on dissuading invasive practices in the first place.

@ JamesFirth

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Twitter and public interest

In the furore over injunctions (often super-, sometimes hyper-) one thing as struck me a absolutely wrong. The fact that a single judge, sat considering evidence presented by expensive lawyers, is capable of ruling over what information is and what isn't in the public interest.

Reliable news outlets are now reporting Cabinet will meet to consider its options; reportedly including measures to regulate, read: censor, social websites such as Twitter.

I use the word censorship deliberately and considerately. Imagine for instance the recent revelations of stars alleged to hold injunctions. The injunctions were issued by a UK court, with UK jurisdiction. Consider the possibility that these revelations were posted by an overseas Twitter user.

Can a UK court force Twitter to remove such posts? I very much think a US-based company would consider this an attack on US constitution first amendment rights to free speech.

So what's the alternative? UK government could attempt to order such posts freely available to view overseas to be censored from UK viewing, one way or another. Either with the co-operation of the service provider, or via some other net filtering system.

Both these thoughts horrify me, especially since we're defending a solitary judge's ability to judge public interest balance against the public's natural ability to pass on items of interest, and filter news not of interest.

Don't blame the message-passing service

I see public opinion currently being whipped by the tabloid press in support of press freedom, but more measured tones from quality dailies and broadcast news outlets.

This time I sit with the tabloids.

Asking ordinary people to consider how they'd feel if their privacy was invaded on Twitter is somewhat moot, since it deliberately conflates personal privacy with a very specific problem of widespread publication; applicable, in the most part, only to celebrities.

Don't believe me? Think Twitter can carry a rumour (true or false) about an ordinary citizen to millions or people?

As someone who's spent the last 18 months analysing how to spread information via the social web, as well as a local politician trying to disseminate community news, I assure you it's hard enough to get 30 people to view a picture or read a blog about something I feel is of interest.

So you have my blessing. I won't sue. Tweet about me and some imaginary dalliance with two ladies of the night. It won't go viral. It might get a retweet or 2 - if it's of interest to the reader.

And that if my point about public interest. The social web is not designed as a broadcast tool, where one person can transmit a message and millions will consume that message.

Some users have amassed a following large enough to make it a personal broadcast tool, but those named high-profile individuals are clearly identified, residents of a particular given country and clearly subject to national laws of privacy and libel.

But the medium itself is largely asynchronous - each participant can transmit and receive messages. And messages get relayed by others (retweeted) when they are of interest. Twitter is itself a judge of public interest.

Whatever the flaws in the social internet, and granted I accept it will have its own pitfalls, it has to be a better judge of public interest than a solitary cloistered judge considering arguments presented by way of a well-paid firm of solicitors representing the interest of the right and powerful.


Follow-up reading:

Net censorship isn't technically feasible - I don't need to defend porn to fight the UK net filtering proposals

It's a jurisdictional nightmare - The Elastic Jurisdiction

Social web restores democracy of information - Trust filters and viral messaging antibodies in social networks: part one - vapour shields, and a brief history of comms

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Cybercities: frontiers, audience monopoly and TweetDeck sale

In November I wrote in reflection to the net neutrality debate that Audience Monopoly - i.e. non-neutral platforms - should be seen as a bigger threat to online entrepreneurs than non-neutral networks.

I wrote Audience Monopoly having been approached several months earlier by someone claiming to be a venture capitalist wanting my opinion on a project he was working on.

Having signed no confidentiality agreement it won't be unprofessional of me to say it was a TweetDeck-like platform that was service agnostic. That is, it will present a Twitter-like stream to the user, but not necessarily be tied to using the Twitter infrastructure to service the messaging.

My advice was pretty much as I wrote in Audience Monopoly; that, since the service will in the early days rely on Twitter and/or Facebook - AKA The Big Boys - there was only likely to be four possible outcomes to the venture.

Outcome four was everyone going bust. This aside, the other three I listed were:
  1. The app becomes moderately successful, begins to appear as a threat to The Big Boys, and you accept a buyout. Total return is limited to the low millions.
  2. The app becomes successful and you refuse an approach from The Big Boys.  But - a very successful front end app will inevitably become a threat to the host, since it "owns" the audience.  The app is in a position to take the audience wholesale to a new platform.  Especially in the case I consulted on, as the app set out to be service agnostic.  Likely outcome: strangled by violations of Ts & Cs from The Big Boys or, in the case of a paid-for app, The Big Boys create a free rival to steal-back the audience
  3. The app fails to become successful and you lose your investment
It's clear from a VC perspective that apps reliant on a third-party proprietary service like Twitter or Facebook are not attractive for mega-bucks investment.  That's because tech VCs operate in the knowledge that a high proportion of investments will fail, therefore the ones that succeed need to make a very high return on investment, and the rules of Audience Monopoly prevent this.

Me live tweeting the DEAPPG
net neutrality event (centre of pic)
The theory doesn't just apply to social web services.  I was recently approached after the DEAPPG event on network neutrality at the House of Commons by representatives from major accountancy firms, both asking me questions about search engine neutrality.

I've since found out through contacts that accountants and risk strategists are paying far more attention to the potential business impact of search engine ranking, and in particular to any moves by search engines to change the ranking algorithms, than they are to classic network neutrality issues.

New frontiers!

It's tempting to focus on the somewhat contained and better defined risks of non-neutral networks.  Skype for example claims to be having a hard time with mobile operators - direct competitors for mobile voice services - who block VOIP over high-speed mobile internet.

But for me the bigger social and ethical questions are raised not by the networks but by the emerging platforms that currently control the audience.

The terminology of the frontier is very apt, since the virtual world has opened up new equivalents of settlers (audience) and real estate (websites).

Matthew Rhodes of Fresh Networks made reference to the original pioneers when he talked about first mover advantage on the social web in his Pecha Kucha slot at the Digital Surrey 1st birthday bash I organised.  The first family-run cheese business to get on Facebook and Twitter likely made a name for themselves by doing so; but now, the market is crowded.

Yet there are differences. The pace of development is huge. The digital equivalent of an oil or gold rush is well under way, yet few if any mining the new online territory know what oil or gold looks like; so even if we strike, lucky we may end up discarding a precious resource because we don't know today the value of what we've discovered.


In a domain where there's near-infinite real estate (website addresses) available; already, just 20 years after the public launch of the www, the audience has already gravitated to the mega cities of Google, Apple, Facebook and Twitter.

Network neutrality ensures that the as-yet unstaked real estate remains available to build new towns and cities, and that these new towns and cities can be serviced by traffic when built.  But even with fully-neutral networks; the trunk roads are open, but all the streets and feeder roads need to be built.

And even with a full transport infrastructure, there needs to be a lure for the settlers. Whilst the audience is happy with the cities, there's no reason for them to move to a frontier town.

Democracy and development funding

The Big Boys owning the audience at the moment are in full control of the cities. They run the council, the courts, the schools and the hospitals. They build what they want, where they want, within the confines of the city (ie their brand).

The Big Boys don't need to raise funds for new developments (apps and plug-ins) within city limits.  Other people choose to come and build their shops and offices in the city because of the lure of a steady supply shoppers and office workers.

In return for this audience, they must provide all their own funding and abide by the rules of the city owners.  Mess with the city council or become too big to handle (a threat) and you're out.  Maybe the further out from the city centre a business operates, the more it can get away with; yet it may have to work far harder to find the audience.

The glimmer of democracy is that the highways remain open, the settlers are free to live where they want, and the rent is cheap.

Privacy and personal space

In fact the lure of cheap rent (free services) is perhaps one of the main attractions for the cybercity dwellers.  Perhaps people would choose to live further out in the open where they have more space to themselves.

In the cybercity, the city council keeps tabs on all dwellers. They do this to help shops and offices that choose to set themselves up in the city find the best locations for their particular brand or industry.  No-one yet knows what the long term impact of this data gathering will be, especially when the federal government gains access to the city council's records!

TweetDeck started to own the audience more than Twitter ever could. In selling out to the city council it's ceded control of the audience back to The Big Boys.


Monday, 2 May 2011

Privacy balance: one rule for Google, another for the BBC

Privacy balance: the BBC have released an ultra-high definition picture of the royal wedding procession under the headline Royal wedding: Spot yourself in our hi-def crowd picture.

This raises an interesting question on  privacy and balance.

Google decided to blur the faces of ordinary people going about their ordinary activities caught on Street View.

The BBC have decided, where events like the Royal Wedding are concerned, it's fine to have high definition street shots showing the faces of ordinary people in the crowd; not to mention police officers, armed forces and - presumably - under-cover crowd security officers.

I can see the two issues are different - but they're closely related.  I don't have strong feelings either way on either instance.  I wrote previously about Google street view: At what point does helping police become an invasion of privacy?

I'm raising this as an important question that will keep coming up over the coming years.  It goes far beyond the questions of privacy law used by celebrities that has catapulted super-injunctions into the spotlight.  We simply can't say how society will evolve to balance the rights of ordinary folk in public against legitimate news reporting or highly useful public services such as Google Street View.

I also want to draw attention to the continuing harassment of street photographers such as a 16-year-old freelancer arrested for taking pictures of cadets.

On this I do have strong feelings - police actions must be open to public scrutiny, or we risk creating laws that could be abused to mask misconduct.  A couple of lessons from the US on this: Arrested for Filming Police and Weare police charge man for recording traffic stop.


Osama gone: perspective, and electronic camouflage

For some reason I feel the need to express a couple of points about Osama's passing.

Firstly the reaction on Twitter seems to fall mostly into 2 camps - the victorious and the sceptical. (nb. I don't mean the capital-'S' Skeptical)

A very short bit of religious perspective please bear with me!

I've already seen mini flame wars, with catchphrases like An Eye for An Eye banded around.  Interesting that, in my vaguely religious upbringing, I was taught the meaning of Exodus 21 was that all responses must be proportionate, else the whole world would end up with no eyes and no teeth!  More about An Eye for An Eye from a mainly Jewish perspective from The November Coalition. From a Christian perspective I was also taught to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5).

(Apologies to all who don't give a stuff about the Bible, I thought it worth a quick look behind the scriptures...)

Specifically on the killing of Osama Bin Laden, this on balance probably was a proportionate response to the horrific attacks on New York.  But it's worth noting that the escalation - the non-proportional response - started nearly ten years ago and has resulted in death and destruction from 2 wars.

Enough of the religion, already!

Another interesting angle was hearing the BBC reporters on Radio 4 and BBC News talk about the speculation that Osama's compound had become "of interest" to US forces once it was discovered that such a plush and well-defended residence has no internet connection.

Putting questions of the veracity of this statement aside it's interesting to note that electronic silence can be as suspicious these days as frequent trips to the world's favourite online terrorist training resources.