Scientists showed they can identify you with more than 90 percent accuracy by looking at just four purchases, three if the price is included - and this is after companies “anonymized” the transaction records, saying they wiped away names and other personal details. The study out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, published Thursday in the journal Science, examined three months of credit card records for 1.1 million people. “We are showing that the privacy we are told that we have isn’t real,” study co-author Alex “Sandy” Pentland of MIT said in an email. His research found that adding just a glimmer of information about a person from an outside source was enough to identify him or her in the trove of financial transactions they studied.
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New Snowden docs reveal Canada spying on millions of internet users

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I really get sad at least once a day, i know its part of being famous, but i think about that taylor always has to worry about her privacy and photographers , like she probably feels like she has to be isolated sometimes:( like the post i saw, or there people always waiting for her next move, or to mess up, give the girl some space please. I would never leave stuff at her house or wait by her house i find that rude and invasion of privacy no matter how much id want to meet her. I probably never will cause id never do that. Or find where she is to try to even say hi, i don’t wanna bother her. when she does so much already thats like literally the only small space on earth she has to herself, it just breaks my heart sometimes. I wish there was something i could do, i know i cant, and honestly i think there should be some law passed where photographers can only take pictures once or twice a week in like any state, to give people breaks. like why cant there be?! Why Aren’t there laws? I mean look at princess Diana what happened , it was so sad lots of accidents have happened cause of them, then i know she must get bothered where ever she goes and just wish sometimes she could just have fun as a normal girl, if anyone bothers her or hurts her u best believe ill be there to set em straight ❤️ i love you taylor and I’m sorry that things are like this sometimes, but u handle it all so well , i know i couldn’t i love you have a good nite and hope people don’t bother you much today xoxo lisa

Secrets: Do We Really Need Them?

I have written on and off about my ambivalent feelings about a society where we value individual privacy over collective intelligence. Whenever I bring up this argument there is a counter to the effect of “but we need secrets” or “concealment is a condition of civilization” (from this piece by the NYU philosophy professor Thomas Nagel).

While I completely agree that our society at present is constructed in a way where secrets and concealment abound, it still seems fair to ask whether that is necessarily so.

Consider the current secrecy around salaries. Most companies carefully guard payroll data. The rationale for this is somewhat unclear. Is it that employees would feel bad knowing the salaries of others? That immediately leads to several other questions. Are they feeling bad because of discrepancies that shouldn’t be there, such as one’s based on gender as in the case of Sony?

Or that employees would ask for their salary to be raised? Maybe leading to an “inflation” in salaries? This does seem to have happened to some extent with executive compensation which is in the open at least for publicly traded companies. But would that really be bad from an overall social perspective if it extended to employees further down inside a company? It might reallocate dollars from owners of capital to providers of labor but unclear that it would be harmful otherwise.

I think it is super important to question our assumptions here. In Sweden tax returns are published for everyone so salary data is effectively open for the whole country. The company Buffer has published how they determine salaries. These are important alternative models in which a lot can be learned by everyone from the data. For instance, open salary data will work as a counter to the rise in inequality between management and employees. It will also help close gaps based on race or gender — the Sony case provides great anecdotal evidence here.

Another example of the problematic impacts of secrecy is sexual orientation. I completely understand why any one individual would not want to reveal their own orientation, especially at a time when society is judgmental and there could be all sorts of negative repercussions (including downright illegality — just watched The Imitation Game, which is a powerful reminder). On the other hand, people being public about their sexual orientation seems to have contributed critically to overcoming biases.

So one way to think about secrecy is that it leads to lots of prisoner’s dilemma style situations. Individuals (or companies) would be worse off if they were the only ones disclosing, but if everyone disclosed (or at least the majority), then everyone would be much better off. In the language of game theory, we are in a bad equilibrium.

I am looking for examples and arguments where that would not be the case. The piece by Professor Nagel which I quoted earlier tries to make an argument for what he calls “concealment" that I find entirely non-compelling. To give just one example, Nagel writes "Perhaps after enough time has passed, the intrusion will be muted by distance, but with people whose lives have overlapped with ours, there is something excruciating about all this exposure, something wrong with our now having access to Bertrand Russell’s desperate love letters, Wittgenstein’s agonized expressions of self-hatred, Einstein’s marital difficulties." His concern seems entirely with protecting such private information and he doesn’t once question whether the very existence of these emotional turmoils was caused by concealment in the first place!

So here is my challenge for readers. Please come up with examples of / arguments for individual secrecy being in fact better for everyone involved. Original ideas and links to existing writing are equally welcome.

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Sex, drugs and murder: Monumental Silk Road trial to determine future of the internet 

Aaron Swartz Died 2 Years Ago Today — In Remembrance

Two years ago humanity lost a brave, brilliant and kindhearted individual named Aaron Swartz. On that day, I composed a post expressing my outrage and sadness. I reposted it on the anniversary of his death last year, and am reposting it again today.

I would also like to add that if you haven’t seen the Aaron Swartz documentary, The Internet’s Own Boy, I highly recommend you do.

Let us take inspiration from his life and his struggles in order to continue his very important and courageous work. What follows is the original post, Remembering Internet Prodigy and Activist Aaron Swartz (1986-2013): Your Life is an Inspiration:

Remembering Internet Prodigy and Activist Aaron Swartz (1986-2013): Your Life is an Inspiration

It takes a person like Aaron Swartz to remind you how little you are actually doing to bring forth social, political and economic justice in this increasingly insane and sick world.  I’m not exaggerating when I say his life was an inspiration.   At 14 years old he helped start the RSS feed system, which so many now use to read content online.  He also co-founded Reddit, and its sale to Conde Nast is what afforded him the resources to dedicate his life to the defense of a free and open internet.  His most remarkable success in this regard was the creation of the organization Demand Progress, which was instrumental in defeating the internet censorship bill know as SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act).

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For most people doxing is seen as relatively unserious, not terribly different from one’s address and phone number being available in a public phone directory. But, as is so often the case, the unique force-multiplying effects of the Internet are underestimated. There’s a difference between info buried in small font in a dense book of which only a few thousand copies exist in a relatively small geographic location versus blasting this data out online where anyone with a net connection anywhere in the world can access it. Further, the initial point of release is almost always before a pre-existing hostile audience—those most likely to see the dox first (like, say, 8chan or 4chan’s /b/ board) are those most likely to act on it maliciously, in other words.

In addition, a dox release is a form of targeting. Even if some of the data was publicly available, it was often buried amidst the screaming noise of literally millions of other data points. To dox is to elevate certain data above others, highlighting it and thus painting a target on someone’s back by making personal information– home and workplace addresses, phone numbers– easier to see. It feeds impulsiveness by removing most of the steps required to dig up existing public info, to say nothing of the effort required to find private information (like social security/insurance numbers, et cetera), putting info in the hands of those who would otherwise be too lazy to find it themselves.

To dox someone, then, is to make it easy for anyone in the world to use your private information maliciously and aggressively, and to target them by elevating this individual above the rest of a mass of internet users.
Police using new radar technology to see into your home without a warrant

The Constitution’s 4th Amendment prohibits the government from executing unreasonable search and seizure of your home and property, but police across America are now using technology that searches your home without your knowledge and without a warrant. 

from USA Today:

At least 50 U.S. law enforcement agencies have secretly equipped their officers with radar devices that allow them to effectively peer through the walls of houses to see whether anyone is inside, a practice raising new concerns about the extent of government surveillance.

Those agencies, including the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service, began deploying the radar systems more than two years ago with little notice to the courts and no public disclosure of when or how they would be used. The technology raises legal and privacy issues because the U.S. Supreme Court has said officers generally cannot use high-tech sensors to tell them about the inside of a person’s house without first obtaining a search warrant.

The radars work like finely tuned motion detectors, using radio waves to zero in on movements as slight as human breathing from a distance of more than 50 feet. They can detect whether anyone is inside of a house, where they are and whether they are moving.

Current and former federal officials say the information is critical for keeping officers safe if they need to storm buildings or rescue hostages. But privacy advocates and judges have nonetheless expressed concern about the circumstances in which law enforcement agencies may be using the radars — and the fact that they have so far done so without public scrutiny.

"The idea that the government can send signals through the wall of your house to figure out what’s inside is problematic," said Christopher Soghoian, the American Civil Liberties Union’s principal technologist. "Technologies that allow the police to look inside of a home are among the intrusive tools that police have."

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Somewhere, George Orwell’s ghost is saying, “I told you so.”

I value my privacy a lot. If you take my phone and start to look through my pictures, I will get pissed off. If you look through my messages, I will be VERY pissed off. It’s not that I have nothing to hide. But it’s private. Like my bedroom or my home. If I invite you in and tell you it’s okay to look around and stuff, then go for it. But you shouldn’t try to sneak in when I’m not home and go through my shit like a fuckin’ creep.

Privacy || Laina + Lucas

A disinterested Laina was on her usual bus, staring out the window and trying to avoid having anyone sit too close to her. She shifted in her seat each time someone came by, and when she finally thought her eyeballs might melt out of her head if she had to keep staring out that window the rest of the ride, she decided to stare at her phone instead. Unfortunately, that couldn’t happen, because when she patted her pockets in search of it, all she found was a quarter and a pack of gum. When her brief state of confusion was over, the bus stopped to let people off. She got up from her seat and went off the bus, angry at herself for letting her phone get lost. She sighed, picking at her shirt sleeve at the bus stop, trying to thing of where she would head. The last place she had it out was at a coffee shop, she remembered, and headed for the cafe a few blocks down and over. 

Justice Department pays woman $134,000 for using her photo on fake Facebook profile

Sondra Arquiett was shocked when she found out that her photos were being used on a fake Facebook account but even more so when she found out that it was the Justice Department operating the page. 

from AP:

The Justice Department has reached a $134,000 settlement with a New York woman after federal drug agents used information from her cellphone to set up a fake Facebook page in her name.

The settlement with Sondra Arquiett was revealed in court papers Tuesday, months after a judge referred both sides into mediation.

It follows revelations that the Drug Enforcement Administration took photos and other information from Arquiett’s cellphone to create a fake Facebook page in hopes of tricking her friends and associates into revealing incriminating drug secrets. Arquiett had earlier been arrested in a cocaine case and was sentenced in 2012 to time served and given a period of home confinement.

Arquiett sued the federal government last year. The Justice Department initially defended the practice but later announced a review.

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This isn’t the only case of law enforcement stealing people’s private photos off of their phones. One California police officer described the practice of stealing nude photos from suspects phones as “a game” that officers routinely play.