Data Anxiety

Tempus fugit


Technology concentrates power


In the 90’s, it looked like the Internet might be an exception, that it could be a decentralizing, democratizing force. No one controlled it… But those days are gone.

Orwell imagined a world with a telescreen in every room, always on, always connected, always monitored… we’ve done him one better. Nearly everyone carries in their pocket a tracking device that knows where you are, who you talk to, what you look at, all these intimate details of your life, and sedulously reports them to private servers where the data is stored in perpetuity.

Each of us leaves an indelible, comet-like trail across the Internet that cannot be erased…  we have to track all this stuff, because the economic basis of today’s web is advertising, or the promise of future advertising. The only way we can convince investors to keep the money flowing is by keeping the most detailed records possible, tied to people’s real identities. Apart from a few corners of anonymity, which not by accident are the most culturally vibrant parts of the Internet, everything is tracked.

Coming up with a sane business model is really hard—So let’s take people’s data, throw it on a server, link it to their Facebook profiles, keep it forever, and if we can’t raise another round of venture funding, we’ll just slap Google ads on the thing. “High five, bro!”  We are shocked when the Ukrainian government uses cell tower data to send scary text messages to protesters in Kiev, to keep them off the streets.

We treat freedom and the rule of law like inexhaustible natural resources, rather than the fragile and precious treasures that they are. And now, of course, it’s time to make the Internet of Things, where we will connect everything to everything else, and build cool apps on top, and nothing can possibly go wrong.”

— An extract from Our Comrade The Electron, a talk from the Webstock Conference by Maciej Cegłowski, which is worth reading in its entirety. via new-aesthetic

Emphasis mine.

Millennials and digital affluents share data

This recent Intel Semiconductor study assumes that the more personal data is shared, the better. It is an odd survey, both subject matter and methodology. The primary, though not exclusive, intent is discovery of

the most compelling way to close the gap between those who will share and those who won’t… 

The following content is disturbing, given that the context is an Intel Public Relations study about millennials and technology.

Research revealed that it is possible to incentivize sharing by showing the specific benefits. For example, when asked if they would share personal information to lower costs of medications, the number of low-income consumers previously unwilling to share their data increases from 66 to 80%

Of course low-income (and high-income) people will pay whatever is necessary, whether the medium of exchange is currency or personal data, when in need of medicine! 


36% think technology should learn about their behavior and preferences when they use it.

So. That means that about 64%, maybe 60%, are undecided or don’t think technology should learn [sic] about their behavior. Yet this seems to say the opposite.

70% of millennials will favor… applications that watch their work habits and smart pills that monitor their health.

Monitoring of work habits is welcomed

  • 59% of millennials say people are over-reliant on technology, believe it makes users less human and desire technology that is more personal and knows their habits.
  • Individuals with high incomes are the most willing to anonymously share personal data, such as results of lab tests and travel information…and allow monitoring of their work habits.

Both findings are odd, as anonymity and surveillance are mutually exclusive.

* All emphasis mine.

Single-source AM radio and PGP encryption

In Phoenix, we have our very own time zone, Arizona Standard, The radio show that I listen to most often, WSJ in the morning, is on a local, terrestrial station, KFYI 550 from 4:03 to 5:00 AM. Yes, it really IS scheduled to begin at 4:03 AM AST. I enjoy that.

For those who aren’t on Arizona Standard Time, go have a look at the main WSJ radio program page. I was mildly surprised that the Wall Street Journal has its own radio network.

I like AM news radio

AM news radio seems to be the most timely yet validated news source. I have a theory about why that would be true: Radio broadcasts can be very quickly produced. This doesn’t apply to WSJ radio only! All good AM radio stations enjoy the same advantages.

A few more advantages

1. Television broadcasting is inherently less responsive, as there is more infrastructure and preparation required for video.

2. Accuracy on Twitter is so-so. I have been burned by that. It is embarrassing!

3. News reports delivered via the internet, as well as print news, require careful written composition. It takes time to do that correctly.

Yes, I am enthusiastic. In case you were questioning my integrity, wondering if I were a paid endorser, I had a related but separate motivation for writing this post. 

PGP Encryption

For those who have information to share, but wish to do so anonymously, or with the assurance of privacy, there is Wall Street Journal SafeHouse. It is unique, insofar as I know. I first found a link to the page in June 2011, so I can say with confidence that it isn’t a flash-in-the-pan response to recent events. That increases my trust.

The URL in my previous paragraph has the link to actual site. Access is via SSL or course. I am really impressed that the page is 100% free of any cookies! Rarest of rare: I could find ZERO evidence of UA-xxxxxx or any other g_ack style Google Analytics tracking!

EDIT  Oops, I misspelled my local Fox Talk Radio affiliate as KYFU instead of KFYI in my first version.

interesting while frightening and of questionable legality

This is an excerpt, and not intended as criticism of the author, nor of Facebook. The author is making a point about a new Facebook payment function. She is also emphasizing the importance of care regarding sharing of personal data. It is GOOD advice.

Patricia Handschiegel is not doing anything frightening, nor of questionable legality! I want to emphasize that.

I am not making any allegations that Facebook is doing anything of questionable legality either. What is happening as a result of Facebook is what I found frightening. Read on and I’ll tell you what I found questionable as far as legality.


There was an article today about Facebook testing a payment functionality for its users. 

What’s interesting is, a lot of companies that require or allow login via Facebook do some pretty crazy things with your profile from there, including software that not just scans your profile but the profiles of everyone you know, keywords or buzzwords usage set to identify things you might specifically talk about and all kinds of other things.

For example, a friend in the medical industry said that they now require job applicants to apply using Facebook login. Entirely because, from there software scans user profiles and everything on it, and the profiles of all friends and everything on them as well, which then notes any flags on any front, and largely determines whether or not someone gets the job. This includes the Facebook ‘friends’ users have friended that they do not actually know and vice versa. Some software is said to then also check out the friends of your friends, etc.

Not a lot of Facebook users probably know this but it is an interesting aspect of the news above regarding payments.


Facebook gives access to third-party apps. Facebook is not doing any scanning. Someone commented on Patricia’s blog post, saying that she was accusing Facebook of doing this scanning. She was not.

It may be ethically questionable to do this sort of collating of personal information for marketing purposes. It is not illegal. In fact, I was rebuked on Google+ for finding it objectionable by various erudite sorts, following a post by Professor Jeff Jarvis for praising this behavior in a sales context. Jeff Jarvis referred to a SUBSET of this data as “SMALL DATA”. I don’t know what is SMALL DATA versus BIG DATA.

I DO know that in the United States, it is not legal for Equal Opportunity Employers to require an active Facebook account as a condition of employment. Nor is it acceptable to use the results of such a scan as the primary criteria upon which to base hiring decisions.

Is Patricia’s friend correct? It is anecdotal. I hope it isn’t true.

Again, I am not casting stones at Patricia for writing a blog post about something an acquaintance told her.

“No. This isn’t good journalism. Although it is an opinion piece, the anti-government, pro-corporate bias is disturbing, and misrepresents reality. TechCrunch alleges that eight U.S. Congressman are behaving irresponsibly by sending a written list of questions “directly to CEO, Larry Page”.”

Comic XKCD Nails Google Glass Critics (Especially Congress) - reviewed by Ellie Kesselman - NewsTrust

The congressmen are DOING THEIR JOBS! They are supposed to protect our Fourth Amendment rights, and that is what they are doing! Google is a U.S.-domiciled company. U.S. Congressmen don’t need “to Google search” for information! The author of the article states that they “shouldn’t be permited” to address inquiries directly to the CEO of Google.

This is additionally irresponsible, as it is unfair to, and misrepresents Google. Google has not made a public statement regarding the questions, negative nor otherwise.

Apparently, TechCrunch is acting as self-appointed corporate advocate for Google (as well as misappropriating Randall Munroe’s xkcd webcomic, posting it without the requisite alt tag and text).

Going Bright

Wiretapping without Weakening Infrastructure


"Mobile IP-based communications and changes in technologies, including wider use of peer-to-peer communication methods and increased deployment of encryption, has made wiretapping more difficult for law enforcement."

Law enforcement wants to be able to have the same functionality used in the past, but for newer technologies. Two problems:

  1. Extending wiretapping to Internet-based services would result in even more security risks.
  2. It might have a negative impact on innovation.

The article suggests this as the solution:

"Law enforcement’s use of passive interception and targeted vulnerability exploitation tools creates fewer security risks for non-targets and critical infrastructure than do design mandates for wiretap interfaces."

Is it effective? I’m inclined to believe it may be. One of the authors is a well-regarded information security professional. He is temporarily working with the Federal Trade Commission, but will return to being a teacher. That’s an understatement! “full tenured professor in Computer Science at Columbia University” is more accurate. He also is a good friend of @TheRealSpaf, which is an indicator of integrity.

Source for excerpts:
S. Bellovin, M. Blaze, S. Clark, S. Landau, Wiretapping without Weakening Communications Infrastructure, IEEE Security & Privacy, January/February 2013 Vol. 11, No. 1, pp. 62-72; DOI: 1540-7993/13/

Online Tracking Jumps »

Online tracking on 50 of the most-visited websites has risen sharply since 2010… The average visit to a Web page triggered 56 instances of data collection, up from just 10 instances when Krux conducted its initial study, in November 2010.

The article refers to results from Krux’s most recent study, in December 2011.

The use of (automated) online auctions by advertisers competing to purchase website visitor’s behavioral data is disturbing. Certainly the sharp increase in usage of this method is disquieting.

In real-time bidding, as soon as a user visits a Web page, the visit is auctioned to the highest bidder, based on… the type of page visited or previous web browsing by the user. To make the auctions work, advertising companies are racing to place tracking technology on as many websites as possible. That technology gives them user and Web-page data to sell.

A lot of energy and effort is being focused on what seems to be a shrinking pool of potential customers:

We’ve moved from a traditional advertising model of buying 1,000 impressions. Now you evaluate and buy a single impression.

This could be due to improvements in big data (“data harvesting”) and analysis methods.

It DOES seem odd to me, that for such a huge growth area as e-commerce, there would be competition at a single-user impression level. This is especially curious, given that it was three orders of magnitude higher, just a few years ago.


Is it due to a diminishing pool of potential customers? Fewer clicks on banner ads overall? Or something else that I haven’t even thought of.

Facebook to start asking all users to verify their phone numbers


Mark Z wants user mobile numbers NOWIn true Facebook fashion, they are trying to get every possible bit of information from their 900+ million users. The next step will be a new message that will sit atop your news feed. Some are already seeing it. The new message will ask you to “stay in control of your account” and send you over to the Facebook Security page - where you can verify your mobile number with the social giant.

Read More

As though the information that Facebook ALREADY has about users is insufficient, now they want this as well!

Facebook has offered the means to include phone number, as well as mother and father’s names, birth dates, all sorts of stuff, in one’s profile, should users want. But Facebook never requested it explicitly. It was merely a field that you could choose to fill in or leave blank and forget about.

Why now, Facebook?

I wonder what Facebook’s motive is, in choosing to push users for this information.

Pieceable logo

Well, from David’s post, the request is for mobile phone numbers only.

Ahh, okay, that answers my question!

It is part of the Facebook mobile strategic plan. This might involve a mobile phone O/S, and certainly included purchase of Instagram and even more recently Pieceable, a mobile app testing platform.

There’s apparently some Facebook app that allows people to answer questions about you and it shows up on your page?
My sister just read a few things that showed up on hers. People say:
- she’s a jerk
- wouldn’t look good in a bathing suit
- is dumber than britney spears
and several more like this.
Who’s bright idea was it to create that bullshit?”

 Come on in, drop a line~: 


The conversation that follows is between me and the woman whose younger sister had the experience described above with a new Facebook app.

 dataanxiety I just reblogged your first post and was going to reblog the rest,  and URLs on Twitter, because it makes me so sad about this Facebook app. It made me cry almost, because I know how much it  hurts, those mean words. I want other people to be warned. But maybe you don’t want me to do that. I don’t have an agenda. Before I post, I am EllieAsksWhy on Twitter, I want to ask for your permission.

Oh, yes that’s fine. The name of that app (I just asked her) is “Between You and Me”. I have to wonder whatever else is on it, considering the questions my sister got. :( I’m seriously just… augh I never liked facebook for several superficial reasons but this is just disgusting.

It’s awesome that you’re trying to get the word out about this? :) My sister at the moment can’t find a way to block it, so if anyone gets back to you with it, can you let me know? I think it’d be good to warn other people too. 

 dataanxiety Okay, thank you. Is your sister under 18 years old? That makes it worse. But it honestly doesn’t matter if she’s a minor or an adult. I don’t like Facebook. I realize this kind of crud can happen in any online context. But it is particularly awful if it happens on Facebook and your friends, parents and cousins see it too. It isn’t like they’ll laugh at you, but it is humiliating anyway. You don’t need to tell me if your sister is 13 - 18 yrs old.

Yes, she is younger. She now says she tried using the app once after these things showed up on her dash (though she also says she steered clear of any negative answers because “everyone likes getting compliments but who wants to see that someone thinks their ugly or something”) to see who it was saying these things about her.

I don’t know if it shows up publicly, and neither does she. That didn’t even occur to me— I was just worried about the damaging effects it could have on the person it was intended for. :c 

Yeah, this happens on tumblr all the time with rude/hate anons and such but… idk it’s like by having this app Facebook is encouraging it, if that makes sense??