Participatory Surveillance

One of George Orwell’s great insights and fears was not, as in 1984, a draconian dictatorship imposed on the populace but of a participatory one. For the proper benefits (even if only perceived) men will join most anything.  We can see this in many ways in the modern world, accelerating with social media of all kinds.  Well here comes another chance:

Surveil Me!  Surveil Me!

An increasing number of the nation’s auto insurance companies have a new proposition: Let them track every second of your driving in exchange for an annual discount that can reach into the hundreds of dollars if you behave yourself on the road.

In theory, everyone wins here. Progressive, Allstate and State Farm — among the most aggressive of the larger companies that are pursuing this strategy — attract better drivers who crash less often. Customers who sign up for the optional programs can pay premiums based more on how they drive and less on their age, gender or credit history.

At the moment, State Farm and Progressive are not raising rates on people who sign up for monitoring and prove to be terrible drivers. Participation is voluntary, and Progressive, the early adopter in usage-based insurance, says that close to 15 percent of its customers are already enrolled.

Still, as more people sign up, the standard rate will start to feel like a penalty for those who decline to participate…

NYTimes Lieber

Of course somewhere in the big data every purchase I make is being tracked, my preferences, locations, size of purchase…  But we all better start wondering where the line is to be drawn

Google Googles Your Mail and Doesn’t Want to Say How

Google is seeking to black out portions of a transcript from a public court hearing that includes information on how it mines data from personal e-mails.

Google, fighting a lawsuit claiming its interception of e-mails amounts to illegal wiretapping, asked U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in a filing in San Jose on Thursday to redact “confidential” information from the transcript, without being more specific. The main revelation at the Feb. 27 hearing was the existence of “Content Onebox,” used by Google to intercept e-mails for tailored advertising and to build user profiles, Sean Rommel, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told the judge at the time.


SF Gate: Rosenblatt

Port Authority (Think Chris Christie) Knows Your Every Motion

“Using an array of sensors and eight video cameras around the [Newark Liberty International Aiport] terminal, the light fixtures are part of a new wireless network that collects and feeds data into software that can spot long lines, recognize license plates and even identify suspicious activity, sending alerts to the appropriate staff.

To …  the Port Authority, the systems hold the promise of better management of security as well as energy, traffic and people. But they also raise the specter of technology racing ahead of the ability to harness it, running risks of invading privacy and mismanaging information, privacy advocates say.

Fred H. Cate, director of the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research at Indiana University, described the potential for misuse as “terrifying.”



More Hacking of Retail Data

BOSTON/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Target Corp and Neiman Marcus are not the only U.S. retailers whose networks were breached over the holiday shopping season last year, according to sources familiar with attacks on other merchants that have yet to be publicly disclosed.

Smaller breaches on at least three other well-known U.S. retailers took place and were conducted using similar techniques as the one on Target, according to the people familiar with the attacks. Those breaches have yet to come to light. Also, similar breaches may have occurred earlier last year.

Photo Op(eration)

A Photo Op has been short for photo opportunity for some time — a quick few minutes for photographers to catch moments with the rich and powerful to grace the pages of their magazines.

Now we may being to think of it not so much as an event, but a process — a Photo Operation– in which our photos are snapped around the clock at known, and unknown, locations, and often sent into photo recognition data bases.

The spread of cheap, powerful cameras capable of reading license plates has allowed police to build databases on the movements of millions of Americans over months or even years, according to an American Civil Liberties Union report released Wednesday.

The license-plate readers, which authorities typically mount along major roadways or on the backs of cruisers and government vehicles, can identify cars almost instantly and compare them against “hot lists” of vehicles that have been stolen or involved in crimes.

But the systems collect records on every license plate they encounter — whether or not they are on hot lists — meaning that time and location data are gathered in databases that can be searched by police. Some departments purge information after a few weeks, some after a few months and some never, said the report, which warns that such data could be abused by authorities and chill freedom of speech and association.


Here is a graphic of the sizes of government — not including commercial– photo databases.

Trackers Trackers Everywhere

It’s not just the government which is tracking you

One, RetailNext, uses video footage to study how shoppers navigate, determining, say, that men spend only one minute in the coat department, which may help a store streamline its men’s outerwear layout. It also differentiates men from women, and children from adults.

RetailNext, based in San Jose, Calif., adds data from shoppers’ smartphones to deduce even more specific patterns. If a shopper’s phone is set to look for Wi-Fi networks, a store that offers Wi-Fi can pinpoint where the shopper is in the store, within a 10-foot radius, even if the shopper does not connect to the network, said Tim Callan, RetailNext’s chief marketing officer.

The store can also recognize returning shoppers, because mobile devices send unique identification codes when they search for networks. That means stores can now tell how repeat customers behave and the average time between visits.

NY Times

For all the consternation at the Snowden revelations of government collection of meta-data there has been little comment on similar corporate data collection. For my money this is a set of evil twins and I’m not sure at all which is more intrusive of our liberty and privacy: that which is, here and now, aiming to shape our every waking hour or that which may sweep us  into a life disrupting investigation. People are rightly worried about the latter but the former is constant, and insidious and even, to some extent, participatory.  There is a kind of magic in the ads appearing for shoes when that is what we are interested in; we appreciate a store layout that directs us to exactly what we want.  Our expectations and our lives become shaped by this. We want to live in the warm cocoon of perfect knowledge and satisfaction of our desires. There is a peverse pleasure in being known completely, a pleasure which obscures the realization that we are under constant watch, by others, for their own purposes.

Drones: Their Use and Abuse

Our guard dogs have a lot to be growling about these days.  For some, the most worrisome intruder is the collection of meta-data — of electronic mail, and as we learned to day, of snail mail [and not just by the US.  France, that bastion of Liberty, has it’s own drag-net program.]  For me, the monitoring of who I call and who calls me is less worrisome than other, deadly, incursions into peoples lives, done by the US government, of course, but by many many others. It seems an inborn human habit to interfere in the lives of others, and when power is accumulated, whether by those elected to governments of long standing or by the self elected warriors of transient and morphing groups, that interference is compounded and used to grow that power.

cbp_uas_baseline_operational_viewThe news of Thursday that the notorious drones used by the CIA in Pakistan and Afghanistan to kill identified terror warriors are being used inside the US is as unsettling to me as that of meta-data collection.  In this case, the drones, authorized by Congress, have been used for some years to watch for desert-walkers up from Mexico.  Ten predator drones are reported to be in use by the Customs and Border Protection Agency, of the Department of Homeland Security.  They have been loaned out, however to other agencies.  Some of the uses seem fine, even laudable.  Who would not want one flying over a wooded area when a seven year old had gone missing?  Some uses seem odd, to be sure: deployed them to investigate fishing ? violations?  Really?  Fly fishing without a license, or mass slaughter of dolphins?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Three years ago, the drones were used by other agencies 30 times; in 2012, that jumped to 250 times. How the agency stores and shares that data with other government agencies remains unclear.

They have been used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the North Dakota Army National Guard, Texas Department of Public Safety and the United States Forest Service, among others.

Drones In US Loaned Around

As we’ve seen with all new electronic gadgetry, the rule invented for a baseball stadium in a cornfield is universally true: if someone builds it,  it will be used.

I would stay in touch with Zoe Lofgren:

“What concerns me is the lack of clear, transparent rules for domestic drone use,” said Representative Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat from Northern California, who recentlyintroduced legislation to limit their use in domestic airspace. She said she was concerned about “the government’s increased interest in using drones for domestic surveillance and security, including the potential use of force.

And the Electronics Frontiers Foundation, whose Freedom of Information lawsuit unearthed the evidence of the loan program.