Bookmarked The case for … cities that aren’t dystopian surveillance states | Cory Doctorow (the Guardian)

If we decide to treat people as sensors, and not as things to be sensed – if we observe Kant’s injunction that humans should be “treated as an end in themselves and not as a means to something else” – then we can modify the smart city to gather information about the things and share that information with the people.

Imagine a human-centred smart city that knows everything it can about things. It knows how many seats are free on every bus, it knows how busy every road is, it knows where there are short-hire bikes available and where there are potholes. It knows how much footfall every metre of pavement receives, and which public loos are busiest.

Try imagining a mobile device that gathers data about its user, but doesn’t ever share that data with anyone, ever
What it doesn’t know is anything about individuals in the city. It knows about things, not people. All of that data is tremendously useful to the city’s planners and administrators, of course, as a way of planning and optimising services, infrastructure and future building.

Cory Doctorow discusses the idea of a smart city for people, rather than the capturing of data for the sack of surveillance.

Now, equipped with your device, you are prepared to be a sensor, rather than a thing to be sensed. As you move around your smart city, the things around you stream data about their capabilities, limitations, prices, uses and nature. Want to find a loo? Your device not only knows which ones are free, but also what time you habitually pee, and whether or not you’ve been drinking a lot of water and might need one. Want a free seat on a bus? Likewise, the device will tell you where there is one free. When you stand at a bus-stop, your presence, but not your identity, is registered, so that the transit system can adjust the vehicles and routes.

Doctorow also recorded a version of this piece:

Replied to With Bug-in-Ear Coaching, Teachers Get Feedback on the Fly (Education Week)

Real-time coaching through an earpiece, similar to what’s used in pro football, is a growing trend in teacher training—and there’s evidence it works.

It is interesting what in-ear support says about coaching. To me this is mentoring. Ideally, shouldn’t coach be about the coaches coming to their own realisation, rather than relying on an external voice? This reminds me of a discussion I had a few years about videoing.
Liked 2019 was the year of voice assistant privacy dumpster fires (Boing Boing)

2019 was the “I Told You So” year for privacy advocates and voice assistants: the year in which every company that wanted you to trust them to put an always-on mic in the most intimate places in your home was revealed to have allowed thousands of low-waged contractors to listen in on millions of clips, many of them accidentally recorded: first it was Amazon (and again!), then Google, then Apple, then Microsoft.

Liked The Domino’s ‘pizza checker’ is just the beginning – workplace surveillance is coming for you | Arwa Mahdawi (the Guardian)

Many of us are resigned to – and perhaps even fine with – the idea that our employer can scan our emails or keep track of how much time we waste on social media. But we are entering a new world of workplace surveillance in which we are watched 24/7 and every move is scrutinised. And things are only going to get more intrusive as corporations treat us less like human beings and more like machines. Last year, for example, Amazon patented an “ultrasonic bracelet” to be worn by workers to “monitor performance of assigned tasks”. Meanwhile, companies are implanting chips under workers’ skin and China is monitoring employees’ brain waves. It won’t be long until we have all been implanted with chips that keep track of our productivity and trigger a self-combustion protocol when we are no longer deemed useful to our AI overlords. But, hey, while the future may look bleak, at least there is consistently prepared pizza to look forward to.

Replied to Technology is the name we give to stuff that doesn’t work properly yet (Doug Belshaw’s Thought Shrapnel)

Three things that, to be honest, make me a bit concerned about the next few years…

As a ‘technology coach’ (I think that is what I am) it is an interesting space to be in. There are so many educators out there praising some of these innovations and the affordances they bring. I think that the least we can do is to be more informed, even if this is fallible and somewhat naive.

One of the challenges that really intrigues me is when someone else gives your consent for something without either asking or often even realising. In some ways shadow profiles touches upon this, but the worst is DNA tests:

It is also kind of funny how in education the discussions seems to be about banning smartphones. However, as you touch upon with microphones and wearables, we will not even know what is and is not being captured. A part of me thinks that as a teacher you need to be mindful of this.

What concerns me most are those who feel that we should make the capturing of biometric data standard.

We live in wicked times.

Liked 18 big thinkers take a critical look at the Sidewalk Labs plan (Toronto Life)

Google has big plans to build a Jetsonian smart city on the waterfront, and Torontonians have strong opinions about it: is it the solution to all our problems or the end of the world as we know it? We asked 18 super-smart people to tell us what they think

Essays By Joe Berridge, Michael Bryant, Ann Cavoukian, Jan De Silva, Dan Doctoroff, Cory Doctorow, Richard Florida, Ken Greenberg, Alexander Josephson, Jennifer Keesmaat, Bruce Kuwabara, Mohamed Lachemi, Kwame Mckenzie, Gord Perks, Robert Prichard, Yung Wu, Bianca Wylie And Shoshana Zuboff


Arvind Narayanan discusses three papers investigating the ways in which smart TVs watch the user, while the user is watching it.
Listened Emotions, relationships & technology from Radio National

Our emotions are being manipulated, hacked and shared like never before. So what does this mean for their future, our relationships and the technology that’s reading them?

Edwina Stott facilities a dive into children’s engagement with online spaces. Keith Stewart discusses the use of Fortnite as as modern skatepark where kids are able to congregate online. This reminds me of danah boyd’s point in her book It’s Complicated, that where teens may have gone to the mall in the 80’s, they have been forced online as the last refuge available:

The social media tools that teens use are direct descendants of the hangouts and other public places in which teens have been congregating for decades. What the drive-in was to teens in the 1950s and the mall in the 1980s, Facebook, texting, Twitter, instant messaging, and other social media are to teens now. Teens flock to them knowing they can socialize with friends and become better acquainted with classmates and peers they don’t know as well. They embrace social media for roughly the same reasons earlier generations of teens attended sock hops, congregated in parking lots, colonized people’s front stoops, or tied up the phone lines for hours on end. Teens want to gossip, flirt, complain, compare notes, share passions, emote, and joke around. They want to be able to talk among themselves—even if that means going online.(Page 20-21)

This episode also raises the question about the internet of things and the potential to gather emotional data. This is a topic touched upon by Ben Williamson in his book Big Data in Education.

Liked It’s all in the wrist: Your fitness tracker could be as much about data warfare as your welfare

In a world of pervasive tracking (“this website uses cookies, please click ACCEPT“), our data gets used to nudge us, descending from the lofty promises of big data into a theatre of “data warfare”, a world where businesses seek as much advantage as possible from all the data they’ve been able to vacuum from customers, vendors, employees – and everyone else.

As organisations gather huge stockpiles of data, they seem to grow increasingly tightfisted with their data and insights. They’ve found a gold mine – why share? The problem with this line of reasoning is that it quickly dead-ends in a world where the only conceivable use of data is as zero-sum competitive advantage: “I know something you don’t.”


Liked Amazon’s facial recognition fear crusade ramps up: now they’re paying Facebook to show you pictures of suspected criminals to scare you into getting a surveillance doorbell (Boing Boing)

Amazon’s Ring doorbells are surveillance devices that conduct round-the-clock video surveillance of your neighborhood, automatically flagging “suspicious” faces and bombarding you and your neighbors with alerts using an app called “Neighbors”; it’s a marriage of Amazon’s Internet of Things platform with its “Rekognition” facial recognition tool, which it has marketed aggressively to cities, law enforcement, ICE, businesses and everyday customers as a security measure that can help ID bad guys, despite the absence of a database identifying which faces belong to good people and which faces belong to bad people.

Bookmarked How to Scan Your Airbnb for Hidden Cameras (Slate Magazine)

Our guide recommends some tools you can use to spot internet-connected devices. But keep an eye out for random bottles of Mountain Dew, too.

Aaron Mak reports on Andrew Barker’s criticism of hidden cameras in AirBnB. Building on Barker’s advice, Mak provides a number of strategies, including using a scanner app and checking for consumer grade cameras, such as fake alarm clocks, USB chargers, buckets, lamps and stuffed animals.
Liked Foldable displays are going to make the future pretty amazing by an author (Thought Shrapnel)

Of course, foldable displays won’t be limited to devices we carry in our pockets. We’re going to see them pretty much everywhere — round our wrists, as part of our clothes, and eventually as ‘wallpaper’ in our houses. Eventually there won’t be a surface on the planet that won’t also potentially be a screen.

Replied to Issue [#327]: Happy New Year! by Doug Belshaw (Thought Shrapnel)

I had a bit of an epiphany when I realised that one of the main uses of AI is, or will be, voice assistants. In practice, that means a lot less time spent looking at displays and a lot more time interacting with devices using natural language. To do that, voice assistant need to know the context in which you operate, so they need to have data on you.

I’m not delighted to be handing over so much data to Google, but given their GDPR-compliant controls, I’m willing to give it a try. The Lenovo device is in our kitchen and has replaced our DAB radio, and the Onkyo speaker is in our bedroom. Both of them have hardware switches which mute the microphone when they’re not being used.

I really am not sold on all this move to smart devices Doug. My wife recently purchased an iWatch and has taken to messaging directly from it. I now need to check if she is talking to her phone, watch or me. I have also noticed this on public transport. I have two particular reservations:

  1. What if everyone was talking at once? What would that look and sound like?
  2. What about the conversations that may not be appropriate for speaking out loud in public or in private.

I respect there are some who see such constructive uses as a God send (read Richard Wells reflection), however this depends upon an appropriate space.

My other question is uses beyond the novel. Yeah I can ask Google a question or play a track from The National, but what else? I am really interested in what particular workflows you develop in conjunction with your smart things.

NOTE: I have written this response in the open web and respect your desire to restrict such conversations to paying subscribers, which I am not one, sorry.

Liked The Next Data Mine Is Your Bedroom by an author (The Atlantic)

Just this month, the insurance company United Healthcare began partnering with employers to offer free Apple Watches to those who hit certain fitness goals. Insurers might also offer benefits to residents whose homes prove their fitness or brand loyalty—and punish those who don’t. Health insurers could use data from the kitchen as a proxy for eating habits, and adjust their rates accordingly. Landlords could use occupancy sensors to see who comes and goes, or watch for photo evidence of pets. Life-insurance companies could penalize smokers caught on camera. Online and in person, consumers are often asked to weigh privacy against convenience and personalization: A kickback on utilities or insurance payments may thumb the scales in Google’s favor.

Liked Facebook – Trust us! by Daniel GoldsmithDaniel Goldsmith (View from Ascraeus)

Facebook – sure, we may have sold your most intimate data to the Russkies, installed a cryptofascist in the whitehouse, engendered genocide in Myanmar and the slaughter of hundreds of innocent people across the developing world, and (just this last week) got caught leaking user data of at least 50,000,000 people, but you should totally allow our always-on microphone and camera into your home! Trust us!

Liked Article 13 makes it official. It’s time to embrace decentralization by Ben WerdmüllerBen Werdmüller (Ben Werdmüller)

Although it uses incredibly imprecise language, it can be reasonablly inferred that the directive targets large service providers like Google and Facebook. It doesn’t target small communities or people who are independently hosting their content.

All of which means that peer-to-peer decentralized social networks are exempt, if you’re hosting your profile yourself. Nobody on the indie web is going to need to implement upload filters. Similarly, nobody on the federated social web, or using decentralized apps, will either. In these architectures, there are no service providers that store or provide access to large amounts of work. It’s in the ether, being hosted from individual servers, which could sit in datacenters or could sit in your living room.

Replied to Maths eats robots for breakfast – Issue 83 – Dialogic Learning Weekly  (Dialogic Learning)

Most of my week has been spent thinking about, advising on and reviewing future school designs. I have noticed the rising influence of the interior design of workplace on the aesthetic of secondary and senior learning spaces. It reminds me of this article outlining how WeWork (a co-working business) designs spaces using rich datasets and machine learning. I wonder if future schools will have responsive learning spaces based on similar sets of data about usage and pedagogy? It is not such a big leap, my home thermostat continually learns the patterns of how we heat the house and creates a schedule for us. Imagine a campus that can respond in a similar way to the patterns it predicts from how we use it.

Another great newsletter Tom.

I remember Ross Halliday focusing on what might be deemed as ‘IoT for education’ at GTASyd. It is an interesting space. I can see the potential for it in education, but at what cost? For what impact? Here I am reminded of Marshall McLuhan’s tetrid:

  • What does the medium enhance?
  • What does the medium make obsolete?
  • What does the medium retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier?
  • What does the medium reverse or flip into when pushed to extremes?

I recently finished reading Ben Williamson’s book on Big Data in Education. Although not solely on this topic, definitely relates and worth reading.