door knocker, beacon hillIn the physical world we know what privacy is and how it works.

We know because we have worked out privacy technologies and norms over thousands of years. Without them we wouldn’t have civilization.

Doors and windows are privacy technologies. So are clothes. So are manners respecting the intentions behind our own and others’ use of those things. Those manners are personal, and social. They are how we clothe, shelter and conduct ourselves in the world, and how we expect others to do the same.

The Internet is a new virtual world we also inhabit. It was born in 1995 with the first graphical browsers, ISPs, email and websites. It arrived in our midst as a paradise. But, as with Eden, we walked into it naked — and we still are, except for the homes and clothing we get from companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple. They clothe us in uniforms, one for every login/password combination. Who we are and what we can do is limited by what they alone provide us. Yes, it’s civilized: like the middle ages. We toil and prosper inside the walls of their castles, and on their company lands. In many ways the system isn’t bad. In many othr ways it’s good. But it isn’t ours.

To have true privacy in the networked world, we need to be in charge of our own lives, our own identities, our own data, our own things, in our own ways.

We should be able to control what we disclose, to whom, and on what terms.

We should be able to keep personal data as secret and secure as we like.

We should be able to share that data with others in faith that only those others can see and use it.

Our digital identities should be sovereign — ours alone — and disclosed to others at our discretion.

(True: administrative identifiers are requirements of civilization, but they are not who we are, and we all know that.

Think of how identity works in the physical world. It’s not a problem that my family members call me Dave, the government calls me David, other people call me Doc — and the rest of the world calls me nothing, because they don’t know me at all.

This is a Good Thing. It is enough to recognize each other as human beings, and to learn people’s names when they tell us. Up to that point we remain for each other literally anonymous: nameless. This is a civic and social grace we hardly cared about until it was stripped from us online.

In the physical world, companies don’t plant tracking beacons on people, or follow them around to see who people are are, where they go and what they do — unless they’ve been led by the hideous manners of marketers who believe it’s good to do that.

Those manners won’t change as long as we don’t control means of disclosing our selves and our data. Until we have true privacy, all we’ll have are:

  • Crude prophylaxis, such as tracking and advertising blockers
  • Talk about which companies screw us the least
  • Talk about how governments screw us too
  • Calls for laws and regulations that protect yesterday from last Thursday

We won’t get true privacy — the kind we’ve known and understood offline since forever — until we have the online equivalents of the clothing, doors and manners.

All we’ll get from most big companies are nicer uniforms.

I look forward to what we’ll get from the Barney Pressmans of the online world. Here’s a classic ad for Barney’s (his clothing store) that ran in the 1960s: http://youtu.be/KMIgu9-zd8M. (Just watch the first one, which ends :47 seconds in.) That’s where my headline came from.

 

On Saturday I invited Serial listeners to recall the Edgar Smith case. Smith got away, literally, with murder. He did it by convincing the media and the public (and to a lesser degree the courts) that he was innocent man, falsely convicted of brutally killing a teenage girl. After he was released he attempted another murder, confessed to the original one and went back to prison.

Now I invite Serial listeners to recall a counter example: the West Memphis Three, who were convicted as teenagers in 1994 for the murders of three boys in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1993. One was sentenced to death and the other two were given life sentences. It was alleged, on debatable evidence gained by poor police work, that the victims were killed in a Satanic ritual.

All three are now free, having given Alford pleas. These are “guilty” pleas in which innocence is still maintained. (It’s complicated. Look it up.) To make a long story too short, it is now clear that they got bum raps and that other persons are the more likely perps. The miscarriage of justice in the case is so extreme that the dad of one of the victims has taken up the Three’s cause.

I met two of the Three, plus the dad, in 2012 after a screening of the documentary West of Memphis at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. I’m sure they are innocent.

The Memphis Three’s case, like Edgar Smith’s, is irrelevant to Adnan Syed’s. (He’s serving time for murder in the case Serial explores). The jury is still in for that one, and Adnan is still officially guilty. But maybe keeping these other cases in mind will help us all keep our minds open.

Meanwhile, HuffPo has a nice set of takes by prosecutors and defense attorneys.

I’m now four episodes into Serial, the hugely popular reality podcast from WBEZ and This American Life. In it reporter Sarah Koenig episodically tugs together many loose ends around the murder of Hae Min Lee, a Baltimore teenager, in 1999. The perp, said the cops and the proscecutor at the time, was former boyfriend Adnan Syed, who was convicted by a jury of first degree murder. They deliberated about as long as it takes for an afternoon nap. He’s been in prison ever since.

My provisional conclusion is that the court was right to find Adnan guilty. My case for that conviction (or vice versa) is an ad hominem one: the whole thing is eerily eminiscent (for me) of Edgar Smithedgar-smith, (that’s his mug photo on the right) who served a record length of time on death row before successfully arguing for a retrial, which resulted in a lesser conviction and his release — after which he kidnapped and tried to kill someone else, confessing as well to the original crime. He’s an old man now, serving time for the second crime.

While still in jail for the first crime, Smith earned a high degree of media attention and celebrity with his book Brief Against Death, which was a bestseller at the time. I read it and believed him. So did William F. Buckley Jr., who befriended Smith, and was instrumental in getting Smith’s case reconsidered, by both the courts and the public. Buckley even wrote the introduction to Smith’s book.

Think of the media-intensive Smith case as the Serial of its time.

Back then a good friend of mine was studying at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, and interviewed Smith. “He’s guilty,” my friend said. “The guy is brilliant, but he’s also a liar.” Later Bill Buckley said the same thing.

It haunts me that I was snookered by Smith, and comforts me none to know I wasn’t alone.

This of course makes no case at all against Adnan Syed. He might be innocent as a lamb. And I’d like to say he’s innocent until proven guilty. But his guilt has already been decided by a court of law, so now it’s the other way around: he needs to prove his innocence. Or at least raise the shadow of doubt to a height under which he can be sprung.

I worry about what will happen if all the current interest in this case results in Adnan’s release. What if he really did kill Hae — meaning he’s as remorseless and manipulative as Edgar Smith?

With the case headed to an appeals court, this now appears possible.

I’ll keep my mind open as I listen through the rest of Series. It’s outstanding radio. And I also invite the @Serial team to look at the Smith case as well — if they haven’t already.* It may not be relevant, but it is similar.

Bonus case: Jack Henry Abbott.

* (14 December) Have they? I’ve now listened through Episode 7 and so far they haven’t mentioned it.

The uncanny valley is where you find likenesses of live humans that are just real enough to be creepy. On a graph it looks like this:
461px-Mori_Uncanny_Valley.svg

So I was thinking about how this looks for advertising that wants to get perfectly personal. You know: advertising that comes from systems that know you better than you know yourself, so they can give you messages that are perfectly personalized, all the time. I think it might look like this:

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 11.40.56 PM

Traditional brand advertising — the kind we see in print, hear on radio and watch on TV — is fully familiar, but not at all human. It comes from companies, by way of media that also aren’t human. A little less familiar, but slightly more human, is old fashioned direct response advertising, such as junk mail. The messages might be addressed to us personally, and human in that respect, but still lacking in human likeness. Avertising that gets highly personal with us, because it’s based on surveillance-fed big data and super-smart algorithms, is  much less familiar than the first two types, yet much more human-like. Yet it’s not really human, and we know that. Mostly it’s just creepy, because it’s clearly based on knowing more about us than we feel comfortable having it know. And it’s only one kind of human: a salesperson who thinks we’re ready to buy something, all the time — or can at least be influenced in some way.

I’m just thinking and drawing out loud here, and don’t offer this as a final analysis. Mostly I’m metabolizing what I’m learning from Don Marti‘s thinking out loud about these very different kinds of advertising, and how well they actually work, or don’t — for advertisers, for the media they support, and for the human targets themselves. (Like Don I also dig Bob Hoffman’s Ad Contrarian.)

So there ya go. I welcome your thoughts.

[Later...] I was just reminded of T.Rob‘s excellent Escaping Advertising’s Uncanny Valley and Sara Watson’s pieces cited below (she’s a Berkman Center colleague):

What we see here is a groundswell of agreement about what’s going on. But do we see a reversal in the marketplace? Maybe we will if @rwang0 is right when he tweets “2015 is not the year of the crowd, it’s the year when the crowd realizes they are the product and they don’t like it.”

Latest Linkpile

I thought today I wouldn’t let the list of open tabs get too long, since I spent most of the time working on stuff that’s not especially webfull. But here we are.

A Call to Israeli Engineers! Adtech Is Not For You. | Aleph While this resonates with me (as somebody who dislikes being on the receiving end of adtech), it doesn’t square with …
   http://electrospaces.blogspot.ro/2014/11/iIncenser: How the NSA and GHCQ are tapping Internet Cables
Chris Messina in Medium: Thoughts on Google. It’s about identity. No big company, and no government, should be in charge of it. That includes Google.

Got big rain today in Santa Barbara, and across all of California, or so it appears:

Rain in CaliforniaRainfall records were broken. As expected, there were mudslides. One friend going to Malibu was smart to avoid the Pacific Coast Highway.

The drought persists, of course. We’ll need many more storms like this to make up for the water shortage.

Two things the news won’t mention, though.

One is the dropped wildfire danger. We care about those here. Two of the last four wildfires took out over 300 homes. One came within a dozen homes of where I’m sitting now.

The other is the greening of the hills. When California gets a good winter soaking, it turns into Ireland — at least until the fire season starts again.

Tags: , , , ,

I’ll compress, copy edit and annotate after I drive to Los Angeles today. Meanwhile, dig.

Tor: Parterning Mozilla
Mozilla: Introducing Polaris Privacy Initiative to Acccelerate User Focues Privacy Online

Unless you look out the window.

When I did that on 4 November 2007, halfway between London and Denver, I saw this:

baffin Best I could tell at the time, this was Greenland. That’s how I labeled it in this album on Flickr. For years after that, I kept looking at Greenland maps, trying to find where, exactly, these glaciers and mountains…

baffin1…were.

While I’m sure there are good maps of Greenland somewhere (Nuuk? Denmark?), Google, Bing and the rest are no help. Nor are the fat world atlases. Here’s an island the size of a continent, with lots of Fjords and islands and glaciers and mountains and stuff, many of which were surely named by the natives or visitors, and there ain’t much.

But:::: good news.

There, out my dirty and frosty window over the trailing edge of the wing, was the same long deep valley I had seen seven years before. Only now I was equipped to learn what was what, and where. My GPS and the plane’s map — there on a screen mounted in the back of the seat in front of me — agreed: we flying over the Cumberland Peninsula of Baffin Island, an Arctic landform almost twice the size of New Zealand, in Nunavut, Canada’s newest, most arctic and least populated territory.

The valley, I discovered on the ground, is called Akshayuk Pass. It connects the North and South Pangnirtung Fjords, bisecting the peninsula. Imagine a Yosemite Valley with a floor of glaciers draining into Arctic rivers, flanked for seventy miles by dozens of Half Domes and El Capitans — crossing the Arctic Circle, through an island where the last Ice Age still hasn’t ended.

On the west side of the pass is the Penny Ice Cap, a mini-Greenland inside the forbidding and spectacular Auyuittuq National Park. Wikipedia explains, “In Inuktitut (the language of Nunavut‘s aboriginal people, the Inuit), Auyuittuq (current spelling: ᐊᐅᔪᐃᑦᑐᖅ aujuittuq) means ‘the land that never melts.’” Nobody lives there. Hiking across it ranges from difficult to impossible. The only way to fully take it in is from the sky above, like I found myself doing right then. It was thrilling.

On the first flight over, I became fascinated by a mountain, just south of the Penny Ice Cap, that looked like an old tooth with fillings that had fallen out. It’s in the lower left side of this shot here from the 2007 trip:

asgard So I recognized it instantly when I saw it again two days ago. Here’s how it looked this time:

agard2 Now that I could research the scenery, I found it was Mt. Asgard, named after the realm of Norse gods. From below it looks the part. (That link is to amazing photos by Artur Stanisz, shot from Turner Glacier, which Asgard overlooks in the shot above. Fun fact: one of the great James Bond ski chase stunts was shot here. See this video explaining it. Start at about 1:33.)

So now we have all these albums:

Which join these others on Flickr:

A digression on the subject of aviation…

A bit before I started shooting these scenes, a flight attendant asked me to shade my window, so others on the plane could sleep or watch their movies. Note that this was in the middle of a daytime flight, not a red-eye. When I told her I booked a window seat to look and shoot out the window, she was surprised but supportive. “That is pretty out there,” she said.

Later, when we were over Hudson Bay and the view was all clouds, I got up to visit the loo and count how many other windows had shades raised. There were very few: maybe eight, out of dozens of windows in the economy cabin of our Boeing 777. Everybody was watching a movie, eating, sleeping or otherwise paying no attention to the scenery outside.

No wonder a cynical term used by airline people to label passengers is “walking freight.” The romance and thrill of flying has given way to rolling passengers on and off, and filling them with bad food and failed movies.

Progress is how the miraculous becomes mundane. Many of our ancestors would have given limbs for the privilege of seeing what’s on the other side of our window shades in the sky. Glad all we need is to give up our cynicism about flying.

gaudifaceIn an email today I was asked by a PR person if I wanted to talk with somebody at a major newspaper about its foray into “native” advertising — a euphemism for ads made to look like editorial matter. Among other things they asked if native advertising would “signify the death of credible journalism.” Here was my response:

I think tricking up advertising to look like journalism crosses a line I wish (name of paper) would keep up as a thick wall.

In publishing, editorial is church and advertising is state. The difference should be clear, and the latter should not be confused with the former. For nearly all its history, this was the case with (name of paper), and all serious publications.

While native ads don’t signify the death of credible journalism, they do signify a sell-out by publishers using them.

If (person at the paper) wants to try convincing me otherwise, I’m game. But be warned that the likelihood that I’ll give native ads a positive spin — for any pub — is close to nil.

Bonus link — Andrew Sullivan on Native Ads: Journalism has surrendered. Great interview.

I started using Uber in April. According to my Uber page on the Web, I’ve had fifteen rides so far. But, given all the bad news that’s going down, my patronage of the company is at least suspended. As an overdue hedge, I just signed up with Lyft. I’m also looking at BlaBlaCar here in the U.K. (where I am at the moment), plus other alternatives, including plain old taxis and car services again.

But here are a few learnings I’ve gained in the meantime.

First Uber isn’t about “ride sharing.” That’s just marketing gloss at this point. Instead Uber is what’s coming to be called an “app-based car service.” Let’s call it ABCS. I mean hey, if that’s what the New York Attorney General calls it, that’s what it is. At least for now.

ABCS is a new category, growing within and alongside two existing categories: taxis and livery. These are both old, established and highly regulated (in New York City for example, by the Taxi and Livery Commission).

My first few Uber drivers were dudes picking up some extra bucks, or so it seemed. The rest, including all the recent ones, have been livery drivers taking advantage of one more way to get a fare. Some had as many as three dedicated cell phones on their front seat: one for Uber, one for Lyft, and one for whatever car (livery) service they otherwise work for. Here are their names, in reverse chronological order: Jeffrey (whose real name was Afghanistani), Heriberto, Malik, Abdisalam, Fernando, Jourabek, Maleche, Namgyal, Mohammad, Rafael, Maged, Shahin, Imtiaz, Shaafi and Conrad. That last one was my first, in Santa Barbara.

Rather than being a new way to “share rides,” ABCS is a great hack on dispatch — a function of taxis and car services that has long been stuck in the walkie-talkie age — and payment ease.

But ABCS also hacks the whole car category as well. Why spend $300/month on a lease, or $30k for a car, plus the cost of gas, tolls, insurance and upkeep, when you’ll spend less just calling up rides from an app — and when every ride is friction-free and fully accountable? (Even to the extent that every charge is easy to post in an expense account.)

Cars are already becoming generic. (If you rent cars often, you know what I mean. A Toyota is a Nissan is a Chevy is a Hyundai.) And now we have a generation coming up that gives a much smaller damn about driving than did previous ones — at least in the U.S. All that aspirational stuff about independence and style doesn’t matter as much as it used to. How long before GM, Ford and Toyota start making special models just for Uber and Lyft drivers? (In a way Ford did that for livery with Lincoln Town Cars. Not coincidentally, several of my Uber drivers in New York and New Jersey have been in black Town Cars. Another fave: Toyota Avalons.

Anyway, I think we are amidst of many disruptions that caused by app-based ways to shrink the distance between supply and demand. Changes within ABCS are happening rapidly and in real time. Example: SheRides. Here’s one story about it.

Whatever else ABCS does, driving still won’t be a way to get rich. At best it will be a stepping stone to jobs that pay better and involve more marketable skills. So to me one question is, What are the next stones? And, Does the emergence of ABCS give workers on the supply side — other than those running the companies — a lift?

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