After seeing the impact of rare earth mining myself, it’s impossible to view the gadgets I use everyday in the same way. As I watched Apple announce their smart watch recently, a thought crossed my mind: once we made watches with minerals mined from the Earth and treated them like precious heirlooms; now we use even rarer minerals and we’ll want to update them yearly. Technology companies continually urge us to upgrade; to buy the newest tablet or phone. But I cannot forget that it all begins in a place like Bautou, and a terrible toxic lake that stretches to the horizon.
What we learned from the spy in your pocket.
The data reviewed by Times Opinion didn’t come from a telecom or giant tech company, nor did it come from a governmental surveillance operation. It originated from a location data company, one of dozens quietly collecting precise movements using software slipped onto mobile phone apps. You’ve probably never heard of most of the companies — and yet to anyone who has access to this data, your life is an open book. They can see the places you go every moment of the day, whom you meet with or spend the night with, where you pray, whether you visit a methadone clinic, a psychiatrist’s office or a massage parlor.
This information is often used in cc combination with other data points to create a shadow profile.
As revealing as our searches of Washington were, we were relying on just one slice of data, sourced from one company, focused on one city, covering less than one year. Location data companies collect orders of magnitude more information every day than the totality of what Times Opinion received.
It throws an interesting light on western concerns about China. The main difference between there and the US, it seems, is that in China it’s the state that does the surveillance, whereas in the US it’s the corporate sector that conducts it – with the tacit connivance of a state that declines to control it. So maybe those of us in glass houses ought not to throw so many stones.
Another example such supports Naughton’s point is presented by the Washington Post which reported on how some colleges have taken to using smartphones to track student movements.
I’d love to see a lot more money poured into Free Software to solve some of the problems I’ve outlined above. A lot of it is due to a combination of:
- The massive mismatch between the number of developers working on Free Software projects, compared to the number of designers.
- The increasing amount of vendor lock-in, and decreasing interest in standards of interoperability .
- Duplication of effort and fragmentation across the Free Software landscape. Some of this is political, some social, and some (to be quite honest) because of ignorance.
We can do a lot better than this. I’d like to help, but right now I have more problems and questions than I do answers.
Cheap data and inexpensive smartphones brought millions of people online in India this decade. As the country’s government cracks down, protesters are using the internet to resist.
“The changes that the smartphone brought to the West were incremental,” Ravi Agrawal, CNN’s former Indian bureau chief and author of the book India Connected, told BuzzFeed News. “If you were a middle-class American, chances are that you already had a PC, a telephone line, a camcorder, a music player. Getting a smartphone consolidated the things you already had.” For Indians, he said, the smartphone was people’s first camera, television, library, and newspaper. “For Westerners, the smartphone has been evolutionary, but for Indians, it has been revolutionary.”
This has come on the back of cheap Android devices that have flooded the market and free access from companies like Google.
More so than Apple, Google shaped the modern Indian internet. The company went to the grassroots and got its hands dirty, doing more than throwing free Wi-Fi at Indians. Over the last few years, Google has made its products available in more than a dozen Indian languages, reworked Android keyboards to work better with Indic language scripts, and even trained its voice assistant to understand Hinglish, a mixture of Hindi and English that millions of Indians use colloquially, which trips up Alexa and Siri regularly.
Access to the internet has subsequently given people a voice. The government response has been to control these tools to stamp out dissent.
In India, shutting down the pipes that power dissent has been the go-to move for officials, big and small, for years. According to the Software Freedom Law Center, which tracks internet shutdowns in the country, India tops the world in digital clampdowns. By its estimate, India had turned off the internet in various parts of the country 376 times at the time this article was published — 104 times in 2019 alone.
If students don’t learn these essential digital skills in schools, where will they? Where is the environment where students can try to use cellphones productively, fail, receive feedback and then try again? Who other than schools and teachers are better situated to help students learn this?
My point is not that you should use a smartphone like me, but that you *shouldn’t have to*. Privacy should not be a privilege, but because the legal system is broken, the average person today stands, at every stage of life, naked before the eyes of corporations and governments.
This system of predation has survived for so long because it occurs under the illusion of consent, but you were never asked your opinion in a way that could change the outcome. On the most consequential redistribution of power in modern life, you were never granted a vote.
The lie is that everything happening today is okay because ten years ago, you clicked a button that said “I agree.” But you didn’t agree to the 600 page contract: none of us read it. You were agreeing you needed a job; agreeing you needed directions, email, or even just a friend.
It wasn’t a choice, but the illusion of it. The consent you granted was never meaningful, because you never had an alternative. You clicked the button, or you lost the job. You clicked the button, or you were left behind. And the consequences were hidden for ten years.
I like Snowden’s point about consent. This was a part of my concern with, although I did not capture it that well.
via Sebastian Greger
The ACCC has recently released their final Digital Platforms Inquiry, which raises important points that I believe should have led the recent debate when Victorian education minister, James Merlino announced a ban of smart phones in Victorian schools.
This report, coupled with a major project on human rights and technology by the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Artificial Intelligence: Australia’s Ethics Framework (A Discussion Paper) by the CSIRO, provide a collective warning about the vast amounts of personal data being collected and its implications.
The computer scientist on his new book “Digital Minimalism,” why workplaces may go email-free, and why the tech backlash is about to go mainstream.
Digital minimalism is a clear philosophy: you figure out what’s valuable to you. For each of these things you say, “What’s the best way I need to use technology to support that value?” And then you happily miss out on everything else. It’s about additively building up a digital life from scratch to be very specifically, intentionally designed to make your life much better.
This is in contrast to digital maximalism.
[Maximalism] arose in the 1990s. The basic idea is that technological innovations can bring value and convenience into your life. So, you assess new technological tools with respect to what value or convenience it can bring into your life. And if you can find one, then the conclusion is, “If I can afford it, I should probably have this.” It just looks at the positives. And it’s view is “more is better than less,” because more things that bring you benefits means more total benefits. This is what maximalism is: “If there’s something that brings value, you should get it.”
Newport argues that regulation will not curb social media and that we instead need to understand that we do not really need them.
I’m a skeptic on a lot of privacy legislation, just because I’m a computer scientist who knows it’s very, very hard to even get a sensible definition of what privacy means. So, I personally don’t see the regulatory arena as being what’s gonna save us here. I think what’s gonna save us is this idea that we don’t need the giant walled garden platforms to attract the value of the internet. We would be fine if Facebook went away.
Slow social media and escaping the walled factories of industrial social media are two ways to step toward a more authentic social internet experience. They’re not, however, the only ways. As with my last post on this subject, I’m more interested in sparking new ways of thinking about your digital life than I am in providing you the definitive road map.
via Doug Belshaw
Practically speaking, to be a minimalist smartphone user means that you deploy this device for a small number of features that do things you value (and that the phone does particularly well), and then outside of these activities, put it away. This approach dethrones this gadget from a position of constant companion down to a luxury object, like a fancy bike or a high-end blender, that gives you great pleasure when you use it but doesn’t dominate your entire day.
Smart phones have become an essential part of our lives. But are they so familiar, we sometimes underestimate their importance? The role they’ve played in helping to shape our interests and interactions?
Work invades our personal time, private leaks into public, the intimate is trivially shared, and the concerns of the wider world seep into what ought to be a space for recuperation and recovery. Above all, horror finds us wherever we are.
After a single decade little more remains in our pockets and purses than the snacks, the breath mints and the lip-balm.
Adam Greenfield ‘Radical Technologies’
The cold blue light of modern touchscreens may be aesthetically pleasing, but it poses health problems. Designers and technologists should take cues from military history and embrace the orange.
Recent reports estimate that over 50% of teens are addicted to their smartphones. Veronica Belmont investigates the impact of growing up online.What does it mean to grow up online? We investigate how the www is changing our bodies and our brains. A college student shares his experience at rehab for Internet addiction. Bestselling author Nir Eyal breaks down what apps borrow from gambling technology. Writer Heather Schwedel talks about taking a cue from Kanye and breaking up with Twitter. And blogger Joshua Cousins talks about the Internet as a lifeline, in the wake of recent natural disasters.
In the end your smartphone use is helping to build up a picture of who you are and the kind of advertising you’re interested in for companies like Google, Facebook, and others — even if an app isn’t part of a massive advertising network, it may well sell its data to one. Apple stands apart in this regard, keeping the data it tracks for its own use and largely on a single device, though of course the apps that run on iOS have more freedom to do what they want.
Even if you’re reasonably content to put up with some monitoring on Android and iOS, it’s important to know what kind of data you’re giving up every time you switch your smartphone on. Whether it means you uninstall a few social media tools, or disable location tracking for a few apps, it gives you some semblance of control over your privacy.