December 21st, 2014
My stupid refrigerator thinks I'm pregnant.
I reached for my favorite IPA, but the refrigerator wouldn't let me take one from the biometrically authenticated alcohol bin. […]
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May 29th, 2014
Having finally got round to reading the transcript of Maciej Cegłowski's Beyond Tellerrand 2014 Conference Talk , I can but report that – as usual – he talked a lot of sense:
One reason there's a backlash against Google glasses is that they try to bring the online rules into the offline world. Suddenly, anything can be recorded, and there's the expectation (if the product succeeds) that everything will be recorded. The product is called 'glass' instead of 'glasses' because Google imagines a world where every flat surface behaves by the online rules. [The day after this talk, it was revealed Google is seeking patents on showing ads on your thermostat, refrigerator, etc.]
Well, people hate the online rules!
Google's answer is, wake up, grandpa, this is the new normal. But all they're doing is trying to port a bug in the Internet over to the real world, and calling it progress.
You can dress up a bug and call it a feature. You can also put dog crap in the freezer and call it ice cream. But people can taste the difference.
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January 9th, 2014
James Bridle on How Britain exported next-generation surveillance. Good, but depressing.
As is often the case when it comes to governments and surveillance technologies, the problem isn't so much the technology itself as it is a reluctance on the part of officials to explain how the data gathered is being used, beyond a bland assertion that all relevant laws and guidelines are being followed. Plus, of course, mission creep on every possible front.
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January 5th, 2014
Los Angeles Times reporter David Lazarus, prompted by a tip-off from a reader, tried registering with a UPS service that offered more control over parcel delivery schedules and found that UPS already knew quite a bit about him and his family:
In my case, UPS wanted me to name the city I'd formerly lived in. San Francisco, where I resided before moving back to Los Angeles, was on the list.
The next one was a trick question. It asked me to name the street I'd once lived on or "none of the above." The answer was "none of the above."
The third question asked me to name the city I'd never lived in. The list included three Connecticut cities I'd never visited and the one where I was born. Since you could pick only one answer, I picked "all of the above."
The UPS site then said it would need more information to verify my identity and asked for my birth date. Maybe this was just a glitch. Or maybe it was a sneaky way to get me to cough up this most important of data points.
I provided my birth date and was presented with a trio of much more specific questions. The first asked the month that my wife was born, and it included both the correct month and her full name.
The second one again identified San Francisco as my former home. The third question included the street in San Francisco that I lived on.
Like Miller, I was completely creeped out.
I'm not sure what's creepier about this: the notion that data mining lets companies know this much about potential customers, or the idea that they might have gathered incorrect information and there's no practical way for me to correct it because I don't know where they got it from.
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December 14th, 2013
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December 1st, 2013
Jonas Lund's Gallery Analytics brings WiFi-based tracking to the cultural sector:
Lund's Gallery Analytics project is a site-specific installation for exhibitions that's able to generate data about behavior of visitors and present this data in a Google Analytics-like environment. By setting up a mesh Wi-Fi network and combining it with custom-made software, Gallery Analytics is able to track every Wi-Fi-enabled device (such as a smartphone) moving around in the area in real-time. […]
I can see how with a long-term exhibit you might want to tinker with the layout if analysis reveals that visitors are tending to overlook a particular piece, or perhaps even to swap out a piece that people aren't paying attention to for something that might attract more interest, but if you have a short-term exhibit will you accumulate enough data to draw firm conclusions about what is and isn't working before it moves on?1 Also, if you're a museum that hosts visits by groups2 you might find that a group of students being led through on a tour of your exhibits will end up distorting your stats a bit. What you really need is a real-life equivalent of the Referrer field to help you distinguish between a group being led around and individual, self-directed visitors.3
All in all, this could be a heck of a tool for museum and gallery operators, so long as they don't go nuts and start assuming that the data is the whole story.
Now, for extra credit, consider your local shopping mall or town centre doing all of the above. Is that better, or worse, or no different? Please justify your answer.
- Imagine trying to use Google Analytics on a web site where one or more sections of the site is completely repurposed every X weeks. Not just tweaking the colour scheme and fonts, but actually ripping out the content that used to be book reviews and replacing it with knitting patterns, and organising the content by colour one month and by country of origin the next. ↩
- e.g. schoolkids. It's been a long time since I was one, but I assume that occasionally classes of schoolchildren still get taken on a visit to their local museum/art gallery. ↩
- But then, if a group of a couple of dozen distorts your stats that much then you're getting so few visitors that perhaps you're not going to be open much longer so this software isn't going to have time to help! ↩
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October 25th, 2013
Giles Turnbull imagines a gathering of serious, grey haired gentlemen taking place somewhere in central London the other day:
GERMANY: Our Chancellor will phone the American President and demand an apology.
SPAIN: Yes, she should do that.
ITALY: We will send a letter of protest. We don't want them listening in to our President's calls too.
DENMARK: If they even think about spying on us, there will be trouble.
FRANCE: We have begun our protest already. Our President telephoned the Americans after breakfast yesterday.
UNITED KINGDOM: Actually I think it was nearer to lunchtime – so I gather.
FRANCE: How would you know that?
UNITED KINGDOM: I think perhaps your man mentioned it to our man. You know, just idle chit chat. Anyway, what shall we do about this Obama fellow, eh? We need to speak with one voice – all of Europe, standing up to American threats. […]
And that last line is where he lost me. The only thing the British government are objecting to is the notion that there's something wrong with the NSA and GCHQ hoovering up as much data1 as humanly possible with as little meaningful oversight as possible.
- Or rather "metadata", as if that's somehow a lesser outrage. ↩
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October 25th, 2013
Nicholas Carr contemplates the Quantified Self movement and wonders whether the same technologies are going to be adapted to bring us what I'd prefer to call the Quantified Employee:
Some companies are outfitting employees with wearable computers and other self-tracking gadgets in order to "gather subtle data about how they move and act – and then use that information to help them do their jobs better." There is, for example, the Hitachi Business Microscope, which office workers wear on a lanyard around their neck. "The device is packed with sensors that monitor things like how workers move and speak, as well as environmental factors like light and temperature. So, it can track where workers travel in an office, and recognize whom they're talking to by communicating with other people's badges. It can also measure how well they're talking to them – by recording things like how often they make hand gestures and nod, and the energy level in their voice."
It's the euphemisms that get to me. In the hands of the unimaginative and the insecure, "Use that information to help them do their jobs better," will turn into "I don't trust you further than I could throw you, so you are now required to account for every five minute block of time you spend away from your desk. And for the quality of your hand gestures."