Sunday 22 February 2015

Run Silent, Run Deep ; Track it anyway, Objects talking back better, Privacy on the internet today

Now that I've finally upgraded my smartphone after two years of of uhmming and aahing about wether to upgrade to 'another level up' with the same brand, I noticed that it was much easier to port the data over from the old to the new. This used to be one of the biggest bugbears when deciding to upgrade. Even your phonebook / callers list would be nigh on impossible to send over unless you stored it on your SIM card. The data would then be stored and be seen, but some of the contact details would occasionally go awry.

That was then, and this is now. It took less than an hour to send the lot over from phone to phone and my relief and joy at this made the rest of my day. It allowed me to spend a few more hours, just going through the phone itself wondering if I could make more use of the usual built in apps for memos and scheduling etc.

That's where I have to confess I'm a neo-luddite. My modus operandi for keeping a schedule to this day, is paper diary entries and sending myself text messages on the move. I no longer cringe at that confession, because it has worked where my smartphones have either failed, or in some instances, been lost in transit.

Luckily, when my phones were lost in transit, on both occasions they were sent back to me. One instance was at the concourse at St Pancras Station. And it arrived back without a scratch or a mark via the lost property office. My jaw was on the floor for the rest of that week, because I couldn't believe someone handed it in. It's great to know there is that much kindness still out there in the world. 

The issue of privacy and someone rifling through my phone, did occour to me when it came back, but this happened  pre 'Edward Snowden's leaks' ( an event in itself), and so I didn't give it too much thought. But what's the worst that could have happened? Someone could have copied the numbers and systematically rang them up and harrassed the incumbents?  That would have been pointless, daft and pathetic. Or someone could have gone through any of the other info on there. That would have been equally as futile as I make it a rule to not store my life history on my phone. Not out of paranoia, but common sense. I wouldn't walk around telling all and sundry about my life unannounced, so why do it on my smartphone, for no logical reason?

Security has become a bigger concern in the last year or so, and even applications that are using anonymity as a USP , are not without potential issues :-

How the 'safest place on the internet' tracks its users

Since the aforementioned Edward Snowden 'data leaks',  it's all seemingly become a double-edged sword. On the one hand, there is rational reason to keep an archive of the data, together with the GPS based location information for marketing purposes and general statistiical trending. But on the other hand, this data can then be used for all sorts of things, which may not necessarily be in the best interests of the consumer. Particularly in the case of an app like this one, where no one seeing your comments online can remonstrate with you if they find them offensive or disagreeable, for instance.

In effect, the aforementioned highlights and illustrates perfectly how far we've come in terms of interactivity online. It's that easy to just whip your smartphone out, leave some comments, and that's the end of it. But it's NOT the end of it, because the moral and ethical issues are complex.

For example, if it transpires that a violent crime or misdemeanor is commited soon after the posting of an inflammatory comment pertaining or alluding to comitting one, does that mean there is a right of protection veto in that instance, in order to catch the offender? Or does it mean the organisation has to keep it's confidentially agreement(s) in place, as to not violate the orignal terms and conditions which emphasise the anonymity clauses?

Ultimately, it's all about control. In effect, how much control do you have and exercise, versus how much control is the user allowed to implement under the guise of  a 'nom de plume'.

Smart devices are about being in control. But how smart are they? :-

When Objects Talk Back

At present, there is a level of artificial intelligence that is best exemplified by the concepts of 'auto-complete' and 'predictive text'. If they're both switched on in your smartphone's settings, you're probably writing long texts and posts on social media without recourse to much spell checking. That's because the software is automatically second guessing the word(s) you are trying to string together to form phrases and sentances.

But there are newer levels of A.I. that are adapting and trying to engage with you, in order to better deliver what you want. They exist in the form of complex hard and software systems which are integrated into our macro environments; nest and the heating system, for example, and also our treadmills and even refridgerators. I have a slight bugbear with all this control being surrendered over, and always look to see what or where the manual system settings and override is/are. Now that's just my sheer pragmatism at work as I don't trust machines to run my life for me as well as I can.

The years I spent in I.T. have still left me with a slightly raised eyebrow when it comes to thinking that any device can take it all over for you, and let you just get on with something else. And until the A.I. algorithims, together with the requisite hard and software integration is far more reliable and cost effective, the jury is still a little out for me. These devices are useful and a real leap forward, but it's early days yet as far as I'm concerned. 

'The internet of things' is the phrase given to this new age we've entered into, where everything is literally connected to everything and everyone else.  As time goes on, more devices will know more about your habits, lifestyle and even your connections with others. And as already mentioned, the amount of information that will then be accessible to third parties, may not be to everyone's approval :-

Privacy in the Internet of Things era: Will the NSA know what’s in your fridge?

Whenever data protection and privacy is mentioned these days, the whole 'orwellian dystopia' concept looms over the horizon like a black cloud. In essence, we're being watched and monitored more than ever AND it's supposedly mostly without our consent, if reports and scribes are to be believed.

More importantly, our devices and smart technology is continously monitoring our keystrokes, swipes and offering suggestions to help us in our work and play times. So the question that needs to be addresed, is how far does this electronic assistance, and 'mysterious monitoring' go?

Fifteen years ago, the internet was a slower place, but a more fun place to be, in my opinion. You'd surf, go to a website and window shop and that was the sum totality of your experience. Now everyone has the ability to access it. Even someone the remotest of areas can plug into the network, without using a computer; a smartphone, even a basic one, should be more than enough to get connected. And the speed, variety of data and the whole concept of interactivity on a global scale, has become something my generation wouldn't have imagined, let alone conceptualised as a reality that quickly, so easily.

But all of this has come at a price. We willingly give snippets of our identity within five minutes of talking to a 'friend of a friend' or even near complete strangers, on social media networks. It's become de rigeur to post up pictures of nearly everything we do, like some sort of badge of honour, or even just in the name of sharing our experiences, again with sometimes near complete strangers. It's all been a very gradual change of gear, and we're all part of the fun and frolic, too.

But no one wants to end up being stalked, harrassed or even tormented and bullied on the internet, because of the respresenation of themselves that is on there. The aforementioned emphasis is important to stress that it's not necessarily really them.  Unless of course, they're tweeting or posting on a more than hourly basis, with videocam and microphone updates to boot. Now that's a harder thing to act out, than just being yourself. Imagine being in that state twenty four hours a day, seven days a week; it's not for the faint of disposition and it's certainly not for everyone due to the time and energy consumed and dissipated in the process. 

It's in being your truest authentic self, that in my opinion, matters more than ever these days. Letting machines and software 'run more of the show', isn't conducive to good long term interactivity amongst people, let alone with the machines themselves. We aren't designed to become less reliant on our cognitive abilites and reasoning, to the point where your existance is best served doing...what exactly? If you're doing less around the house, and less at work, what do you have more time to do?

Enjoy life, strengthen and even rebuild relationships, reconnect with your inner self, and switch off the phone and laptop and spend some time in nature. I do this on a regular basis. It works and it's as habit forming as using all this technology is. Try it.

In effect, what we used to do, may very well become a way of life again and we can adapt and switch on and off, accordingly. It's ironic, and yet it's all doable.

As far as I'm concerned, all machines are tools designed to help us, and not to become the masters to which we are mindlessly enslaved. I suspect I'm not in a minority when I say that.If you're feeling drained in your existance, without any known emotional or psychological stress generators, ask yourself how much you use the internet and social media in an average day. That could well be what's taking up far more of your time and energy, than your mind and body can handle. 

In which case, reducing useage and spending more time doing other non social networking activities will make a noticeable difference.

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