Sunday, April 24, 2011

Lessig's Code 2.0 and Anonymity

                In Lessig’s Code 2.0, we learn that our behavior online and in virtual worlds is not without its consequences in the real world. What used to be the wild and uncontrolled world of cyberspace is now a world where we realize that controls have to be utilized and these ‘controls’ come in the form of code. Because cyberspace is now a place where problems or disagreements can be coded away, the solutions should be altogether as simple as two parties agree on what's in the code. But things are never that simple.
                As Lessig discusses the remaking of cyberspace under this coding control, he adds that “Values originally considered fundamental will not survive” (p.5)  What if anonymity is what becomes the ‘fundamental’ value that does not survive?
                He covers this ground by discussing Julie Cohen’s “Cohen Theorum” – basically, “…protecting a right to read anonymously – that if they monitor, the must be constructed so that they preserve anonymity…[she] identifies a value yielded by an old architecture but now threatened by a new architecture, and then argues in favor of an affirmative right to protect the original value” (p. 192). But while Lessig does favor Cohen, he also argues that the other side also has a legitimate reason for tracking. Simply put, the technology was not there before, it is here now, so why punish someone if they want to use it? His solution is to “architect cyberspaces to ensure anonymity – or more precisely, pseudonymity – first” (p. 192).
                Citizens in the country of Spain are currently participating in a “
Right to be Forgotten” campaign against Google, so that their anonymity and privacy online can be protected, and old references in Google searches “wiped away.”
                As the article states:
                “… Google regularly receives pleas asking that it remove links to embarrassing information from its search index or least ensure the material is buried in the back pages of its results. The company, based in Mountain View, Calif., almost always refuses in order to preserve the integrity of its index.”
                But while Google has been reluctant to make changes to satisfy the masses, they do make exceptions and are sometimes legally forced to change things. On April 4, 2011, the Swiss Federal Administrative Court asked Google to obscure all faces and license plates on the street views for Switzerland.
                And the story in Spain is expected to gain more notoriety, “because the European Commission this year is expected to craft controversial legislation to give people more power to delete personal information they previously posted online.”
                And I know of several requests from high-power executives who have asked that their homes be removed from the Google’s Street View feature – and it was removed. So it does seem that those who know the code and have access to it, or the ones who have the power to obtain legal changes, will be the ones who benefit.  So while those familiar with the online structure of how to regulate and settle arguments by modifying the ‘natural laws’ of the virtual world can find solutions, the bottom line is, the problems that can be coded away will not be meant for everyone.
                As Lessig says:  “There is no middle ground. There is no choice that does not include some kind of building.” One of Lessig's themes for a solution to the anonymity/privacy problem is to get ahead of it enough to be sure that we don't have to backtrack and change things in the future. 
 " may take more planning to ensure that privacy is protected. But if those rules are embedded up front, the cost would not be terribly high. It is far cheaper to architect privacy protections now rather than retrofit them for later" (p. 198).

But I think that the technology grew too fast and was in the hands of those who know how to create their own rules too long, that we will be doing a lot of backtracking for a long time.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Shirky and Flash Mobs

                Clay Shirkey’s “Here Comes Everybody” speaks to the effortlessness of the organization with social media in play and how it triggers collective action and collaboration like no other time in our history.
                Shirkey does delve into the specific technologies of how the collaboration took place, but he mostly details what the groups are doing as well as the end-result of their actions. One section that I was particularly interested in was his take on flash mobs.
                Of course, as Shirky says, flash mobs began as an almost ‘hipster movement’ in New York as performance art, but quickly gave way to more politically-driven activities such as the ones that he describes in Belarus with the ‘ice cream incident.’ However, the author limits the purveyance of the flash mob to political protests and quirky public demonstrations. Other issues are the location and purpose, as well as the bargain vs. buy-in social agreements.
                Flash mobs have been and are being employed for many other uses other than the ones stated by Shirkey. He speaks of the “triviality of the culture of the developed world for using flash mobs for amusement and distraction rather than for political engagement” (p.171). However, they have also been used for promotion and advertising. Take for example, the
Random Acts of Opera in Montreal article that details artists trying to find a way to get young people interested and actively engaged in the opera community. Or Oprah Winfrey’s audience kicking off a flash mob dance-off with the Black-Eyed Peas in an outdoor Chicago park to launch one of her new TV seasons. So as the  definition of a flash mob becomes more varied, it also becomes more complicated, especially when it takes on an anti-establishment tone.
                In the last couple of years, the city of Philadelphia has experienced ‘flash mobs’ that are anything but quirky or entertaining. I noticed this distinction about Philadelphia’s flash mobs on Twitter because I follow many musicians and writers from the Delaware Valley -- the metro area of Philadelphia which includes, Philadelphia, Camden, NJ and Wilmington, DE -- and so am in their circle of information for local news and events happening in the area. I noticed the news about flash mobs, but specifically because the news was rather negative, so I investigated further. My usual take on flash mobs is a random gathering of people singing Christmas carols at Nordstroms and then dispersing, however, Philadelephia has had a string of violent mob attacks where store-fronts have been trashed, pedestrians attacked and entire sections of the city closed off because of ‘roaming bands of youth’ – as the local police and press describe them.
                While Shirkey’s Belarus flash mobs stood as an example of antiauthoritarian demonstrations and social activism, these ‘flash mobs’ in Philadelphia were simply criminal. Shirky’s initial description of a flash mob – “…a group that engages in seemingly spontaneous but actually synchronized behavior” (p. 165) – does not detail the direct intent of these types of gatherings. But he does end the section with the following: “What the group does with that power is a separate question” (P.171). And so it becomes that in Philadelphia, and possibly even the entire East Coast and beyond – with a New York Times’ article  
Flash Mobs Take Violent turn in Philadelphia – will now see flash mobs as the gathering of young hoods making trouble for law-abiding citizens, and authorities seeing social media as a way to track this new enemy.
        “Police shut down LOVE Park yesterday afternoon after 10 to 15 teens were arrested for disorderly conduct and rumors spread that flash mobs were set to form. Officers stood guard at the entrances, telling passers-by not to enter the park. The park was shut down from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m., said Lt. D.F. Pace, of Center City's 9th Police District. ‘We keep tabs on Internet chatter - especially these social-networking sites - and we received credible information that flash-mob activity was going to form here,’ Pace said.”
                So flash mobs in Philadelphia have become similar to what Shirky describes in Belarus: “…the real message lay not in the behavior but in the collective action….any coordinated public gathering….had a political dimension; mere evidence that [youth] were operating in any organized way was both a threat and a rebuke to the state” (p.167).                                
                The issue at hand seems to be what Shirly calls the promise, the tool and the bargain. The promise begins with people coming together and working towards doing something successfully, using the tools that best suit their effort and to bargain their expectations with each other.
                For example, in London, a protest in March that began with 250,000 peaceful protestors became violent when 200 demonstrators broke off from the bigger group to violently protest recent government cut-backs. The violence was not met with much approval or support by the community, and now authorities are concerned that anarchists will use the occasion of the April 29 royal wedding to hide amongst the throngs of crowds that are expected to attend.
                So, what is the flash mob organizer’s bargain with the outside world? What happens when they don’t have buy-in with the greater community?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Exploit

The Exploit: A Theory of Networks is the study of our now much-relied-upon system of networks, with a discussion that there is an inherent belief of thought that networks favor equality across all time and space. The authors would ask that we take a second look at this assumption.
                Before going too much into my thoughts, I did find the authors use of italic paragraphs to summarize their [sometimes] difficult to penetrate their thought processes, especially when the subject matter was so varied, especially when discussing topics as vastly apart as bioterrorism and 1890 punch cards to describe the subject of network science.
                Perhaps the one item that I picked up on initially was the “war on terror” and the media’s role in a battle that has not ended yet, not in Iraq or Afghanistan, and with more trouble spots in many more regions around the globe. 

The role that communications and information networks have played in international terrorism and the “war on terror” has meant that media have now become a core component of war and political conflict.
                This is true in the sense that never before have we had a 24-hour media-based society at a time when the world is at war. And we hear about every single thing that happens. Now we may not hear about everything from every network, news agency, blogger, celebrity with a cause, etc., but the information is out there, and being sent to use via the many routes that information can take today. This is what the authors state as “the everydayness of the digital (e-mail, mobile phones, the Internet)” p. 10.      I found some interest in the author’s discussion about the necessity of the West to name an object, event, discovery, etc. And the possibility that the ‘naming convention’ itself is flawed.  It brought to my mind the conflict in Egypt and how the U.S. media was quick to take a descriptive term of ‘democracy’ to label the eruption in mass protests in January 2011 against the decades of rule under President Hosni Mubarak.  After 18 days of angry protests and after losing of the support of the military and the United States, Mr. Mubarak resigned on Feb. 11, ending 30 years of autocratic rule. The military stepped forward and took power.
                Our networks provide us a lot of information at our fingertips, but maybe not a way to use it. It reminds me of the blossoming of the term ‘analytics’ at many companies, and the strategy to use the information and data in hand to compete with other companies.