A reading list of articles and other links I use to inform my work at Small Technology Foundation, posted every weekday. Continued from the Ind.ie Radar, and Ind.ie’s Weekly Roundups. Subscribe to the Laura’s Lens RSS feed.
Tracking everyone’s whereabouts won’t stop COVID-19
Written by Albert Fox Cahn and Alyssa Domino on Fast Company.
“Rather than simply accepting tracking with open arms, Americans should be wary of geeks bearing gifts. Today’s startups could do more than squander venture capital dollars—their misguided COVID-19 surveillance measures may cost lives and undermine our democracy.
… This points to one of the most fundamental concerns in any new health surveillance tool: Who else gets the data? Even if a tool is shown to be effective, even if it’s deployable at scale, how else might the data be used by government agencies?”
Slack, Zoom, Google Hangouts: Are Your Remote Work Apps Spying on You?
Written by Yael Grauer on OneZero.
“It’s no secret that connecting with co-workers and management through tools like Slack, Zoom, and Google Hangouts is just not the same as going into the office. But technical glitches aren’t the only area of concern as meetings are relegated to bits and bytes. User privacy is, as well.”
Panic, Pandemic, and the Body Politic
Written by Laurie Penny on Wired.
“The diseases that are most successful in the coming century will, as always, be the diseases that exploit our major failure modes and popular delusions.
If you design a world economy that rewards self-interest and makes altruism unaffordable, it’s unsurprising that some people start acting like they’re in the prisoner’s dilemma.”
Coronavirus, facial recognition, and the future of privacy
Written by Khari Johnson on Venturebeat.
“If quarantines are ineffective or improperly carried out, millions of people could die, according to some estimates, but that doesn’t mean we can throw civil liberties out the window.
Aside from the spread of COVID-19, the other prevailing story this week was a rush of revelations about companies peddling AI-powered surveillance technology to businesses, governments, and law enforcement agencies.
Global economies are bracing for recession, and no one knows exactly how the spread of COVID-19 will impact global supply chains, public events, travel, and other industries. And even as we’re actively discussing whether a company like Clearview AI will mean the end of privacy, COVID-19 could easily be used as an excuse to spread mass surveillance.
This is not intended to be alarmist, but it’s important to keep an eye on mission creep in this space.”
OK Google, Black History Month Is Over. What Now?
Written by Gabrielle Rejouis on OneZero.
“Despite the benefits Google has received from the Black community, the company has refused to or has been slow to correct the discriminatory algorithmic practices at YouTube, such as its language filter, ads, and its search algorithms. Whether intentional or unconscious, all of these biases have harmed the Black community. For some people, Google is the internet. Civil rights considerations must be central to big data and the platforms they drive. Google should not celebrate the contributions of Black people without also making their platforms welcoming to them.
Technology will not be the silver bullet solving the problem of content moderation. Neither will sensitivity training nor diverse hiring. Dismantling these structures will require racial literacy and more multifaceted changes.
To say the internet has a huge impact on our society is an understatement. And the data and privacy missteps committed by Big Tech disproportionately affect historically marginalized communities.”
The Prodigal Techbro
Written by Maria Farrell on The Conversationalist.
“Prodigal tech bro stories skip straight from the past, when they were part of something that—surprise!—turned out to be bad, to the present, where they are now a moral authority on how to do good, but without the transitional moments of revelation and remorse… It’s a teleportation machine, but for ethics.
(While we’re thinking about the neatly elided parts of the prodigal tech bro story, let’s dwell for one moment on the deletion of the entire stories of so many women and people of color barely given a first chance in Silicon Valley, let alone multiple reinventions.)
The prodigal tech bro doesn’t want structural change. He is reassurance, not revolution. He’s invested in the status quo, if we can only restore the founders’ purity of intent.”
The lot of this is infinitely quotable. And if you’re a person in tech who is starting to care about justice, equality, ethics and so on, please please read the exceptional advice at the end of the article.
Spotify’s Weird LinkedIn Playlists Sound Like a Cash Register
Written by Shoshana Wodinsky on Gizmodo.
“[W]hen you look into the way Spotify’s slowly morphed its playlists into data-mining machines, suddenly it makes a lot more sense.
See, to Spotify, playlists and podcasts aren’t just what you’re listening to, but who you are… In the process of tapping into Spotify day after day after day with some variation of this routine, I’m giving the company not only my emotional state but also my entire schedule.
Since going public in 2018, Spotify hasn’t been quiet about its push into the big data space, partnering with third party after third party (after third party) to bulk up the intel it can already guesstimate from its user base. More and more, it’s starting to look like Spotify’s less about knowing my “mood” and more about knowing the car I’m most likely to drive, the beer I’m most likely to order at a bar, whether I still live with my parents, and the exact location where I’m binge-eating Baskin Robin’s.”
Planned Parenthood let Facebook track how often I logged my period
Written by Ruth Reader on Fast Company.
[L]ots of health companies use Facebook to advertise. As my “off Facebook activity” download showed, much of what gets shared with Facebook is indirect information, such as dates and times I visited a website or app, products, or prescriptions I have looked at or purchased, and products I put in a digital shopping cart.
But glued together, these scraps of information create a collage of my overall health, which Facebook can then sell advertisements against. In collecting data about my health behavior and interests, Facebook probably knows more about my health than my doctor.
At the end of last year, Planned Parenthood decided to stop using Facebook’s mobile software development kit to make ads for its period tracking app Spot On. When I downloaded my off-Facebook data in January, an outdated version of the Spot On app on my phone had recently pinged Facebook’s servers (this stopped once I updated the app).
The organization decided that it was worth losing access to some of Facebook’s targeting capabilities in exchange for better user privacy in this instance.
Good on Planned Parenthood for doing the right thing and removing the Facebook tracking. But it’s shocking that developers are ignorant to the tracking embedded in these frameworks and libraries.
Here’s the File Clearview AI Has Been Keeping on Me, and Probably on You Too
Written by Anna Merlan on Motherboard.
“You may have forgotten about the photos you uploaded to a then-popular social media site ten or fifteen years ago… but Clearview hasn’t,” Riana Pfefferkorn, associate director of surveillance and cybersecurity at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, wrote in an email. “A lot of data about individuals can quickly become ‘stale’ and thus low-value by those seeking to monetize it. Jobs, salaries, addresses, phone numbers, those all change. But photos are different: your face doesn’t go stale.”
“What is clear is that this information is available to far more people than Clearview likes to acknowledge, and that they have future, as-yet-unannounced plans for their photos of your face.”
“The face search results show exactly why we need a moratorium on face surveillance. In a democratic society, we should not accept our images being secretly collected and retained to create a mass surveillance database to be used, disclosed, and analyzed at the whim of an unaccountable company.”—Jeramie D. Scott
Will My Data Be Online Forever?
Written by Daniel Kolitz on Gizmodo.
“We should not be scared of permanent records. We should be scared of informational power dynamics that bring immediate, harmful consequences and a serious lack of preservation infrastructure for contemporary culture.”—Meg Leta Jones
“Rather than focus on data (as in the term “data protection”), shouldn’t we be focused on people and communities and the good and the harm that can be done to them with data? I would argue it is far more useful and more practical to focus on what can be done with data, no matter how old or how collected—how can that data be used? So we could identify uses that are harmful or objectionable or likely to cause offense, and either prohibit them outright or require explicit, opt-in consent.”—Fred H. Cate
“A company may have to ask you for consent to collect your geolocation data, but you have no idea what’s being inferred from it. And this is important, because the potential for privacy-invasive harms don’t necessarily occur at the input stage, where you volunteer information to a company. The interesting stage comes afterwards, once machine learning and AI are applied to that data, a process that can derive a lot of potentially very intimate information: your sexual orientation, your housing status, your religion, your political beliefs, potential disabilities, your gender identity. The user often has no idea that the data they’ve surrendered can actually disclose those things.”—Sandra Wachter