A time-shifted risk

“People always ask me: where's the harm?

Privacy harms are a time-shifted risk.

The moment you are protesting against your government, a seamless cashless public transport system can turn into a data trove for surveillance crowd control.”
Reporter Mary Hui (@maryhui), 13 June 2019, on witnessing Hong Kong protesters using cash transactions to board the subway instead of using their trackable/traceable metro cards. Also see Hui's CASH IS KING: Why Hong Kong’s protesters were afraid to use their metro cards, Quartz, 13 June 2019

The fandom it asked for

“The solution here isn’t all that difficult. If fans want to hold banners protesting fascism and racism and gun violence, that should be fine… It’s a feature, not a bug, one that comes from accepting that, when you treat your sport like a beacon of community, then some people will start treating it as such.”

The article also notes,

It’s a depressing commentary on our current national moment that signs stating opposition to gun violence, fascism, and racism are deemed “political”.

It just requires that Twitter would care

Imagine if signing up to read Twitter was free, but posing required you to spend a week doing moderation first.

Everyone who came into the community would have to learn the rules before they violated them.

Then, when you’re tempted to break the rules, you’d remember that there were people who would read what you wrote, just like you did for others, and you’d lose your account and have to do another week of moderation before getting to post again.

This is not too hard to implement. It’s certainly easier than inventing a magic AI that will solve all your problems. It just requires that Twitter care enough about their community to do it.

We want voters to be aware of who is trying to influence them. That’s the reason we have disclosure requirements on our campaign ads. We’ve known, at least since Aristotle in Western culture, that the source is judged as part of the message.
— Kathleen Jameison Hall, author of Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President — What We Don’t, Can’t, and Do Know (Oxford University Press, 2018), as quoted in How Russia Helped Swing the Election for Trump, by Jane Mayer, New Yorker, 24 September 2018

Discourse Saboteurs

[Kathleen Hall Jamieson's] case is based on a growing body of knowledge about the electronic warfare waged by Russian trolls and hackers — whom she terms “discourse saboteurs” — and on five decades’ worth of academic studies about what kinds of persuasion can influence voters, and under what circumstances. Democracies around the world, she told me, have begun to realize that subverting an election doesn’t require tampering with voting machines. Extensive studies of past campaigns, Jamieson said, have demonstrated that “you can affect people, who then change their decision, and that alters the outcome.” She continued, “I’m not arguing that Russians pulled the voting levers. I’m arguing that they persuaded enough people to either vote a certain way or not vote at all.”
How Russia Helped Swing the Election for Trump, by Jane Mayer, New Yorker, 24 September 2018. The article is a profile of Kathleen Hall Jamieson forensic's analysis of the 2016 election: Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President — What We Don’t, Can’t, and Do Know (Oxford University Press, 2018)

Charlotte S H Jensen

 
Charlotte S H Jensen

Charlotte S H Jensen

My friend and colleague Charlotte S H Jensen died suddenly last week. She was beautiful, kind, and funny and I will miss her very much.

Charlotte was an archivist and as far as I could tell she worked simultaneously for the National Archives of Denmark, the National Museum of Denmark, and the Copenhagen art and history museums. I’m not sure how she did that but I’m not surprised that it took three institutions to even partially contain her willpower.

She was a fierce advocate for the right of so-called ordinary people to use, benefit from, and contribute to the work of archives; and she was a force-of-nature in the vanguard of Danish museum, library, and archive professionals developing a more open, democratic, and engaged vision of cultural practice.

Charlotte was for the people, always, and I have never met anyone so passionate about their work and so dedicated to doing what is right for all.

Charlotte in Storm20, 2017.

Charlotte in Storm20, 2017.

Charlotte’s most recent project was the creation of the Storm20 makerspace in the ground floor of the Copenhagen History & Art offices in central Copenhagen. It is a warm, welcoming place — intimate but open — drenched with sun during the long Nordic winter and a welcome haven for ice cream during hot summer days. I always loved the fact that it was both a place to make and to socialize, with a little coffee house and shop up front.

Whenever I visited Storm20 there were a mix of tourists and locals; colorful bits of knitting, glue, electronics and fabric everywhere; and always photocopies, books, and notes about a half-made project going on — usually something connecting the past to the present through your hands.

Storm20 was created, as a sign in the workshop says, as a “historic maker space”, a place where you could “learn about the city of Copenhagen by participating in activities and workshops.” One of the first times I visited they were working on a project to reconstruct knitted work gloves found in the excavations for Copenhagen’s new subway line. One of the gloves, a mitten really, was unearthed and discovered to have two thumbs (!) and the Storm20 knitters were making reconstructions from the archaeological documentation to figure out why. All of the gloves were gorgeous, fascinating to touch and behold, and the point was clearly made: What one knows in one’s hands really matters; One can learn about the past — live it, feel it — by making something now; History belongs to, and is within reach of, all of us.

Interior of Storm20 makerspace. Knitted glove reconstructions are on the table in the foreground. The ones with two thumbs are on the far right.

Interior of Storm20 makerspace. Knitted glove reconstructions are on the table in the foreground. The ones with two thumbs are on the far right.

‘Yarn bomb’ on a vent pipe outside Storm20

‘Yarn bomb’ on a vent pipe outside Storm20

Charlotte cared about people, and history, and joy. And also about change.

As you work at Storm20 you can sometimes hear the screams of people on the rollercoasters at the Tivoli amusement park across the street. I often thought of those rollercoaster screams — screams of happiness and terror — as we talked about the joys and sorrows of trying to make a difference in the world. Change can be hard, and Charlotte took it seriously; both the successes and the setbacks. She was one of the first people to believe in me as I began to have bigger thoughts, and take more risks, in my own work and I believed in her and supported her as well.

Charlotte in Storm20, keeping careful eye on the robotic embroidering sewing machine, 2017

Charlotte in Storm20, keeping careful eye on the robotic embroidering sewing machine, 2017

A memorial service will be held in Copenhagen on August 5th (details here).

Goodby Charlotte. We loved you and we’ll miss you so much.

On stage at the Danish archives conference, 2017.  Det er svært at spå navnlig om fremtiden  — “Sometimes it’s difficult to predict the future”

On stage at the Danish archives conference, 2017. Det er svært at spå navnlig om fremtiden — “Sometimes it’s difficult to predict the future”

Photos CC-BY Michael Edson

WhatsApp — half of Zimbabwe

The crackdown on social media [in Zimbabwe], in part, is a demonstration of how the WhatsApp corner of the internet has become a powerful space for Zimbabweans. WhatsApp facilitated the spread of misinformation during elections in Brazil and has contributed to caste-based violence and mob killings in India. But it can also serve as a platform for democratized distribution of news in a country with a storied history of oppressing government critics.

Independent media in Zimbabwe are turning to WhatsApp as a primary distributor of news in the midst of an information landscape that is shifting to social platforms. State broadcasters and newspapers have long dominated the media, but alternative platforms began to exist and gain increasing traction in the last years of the Mugabe era.

Zimbabwe, with a population of 16.7 million, has a mobile penetration rate of close to 100 percent, and an internet penetration rate of about 50 percent. WhatsApp connections comprise almost half of all Internet usage in the country. Mobile network operators such as the country’s largest, Econet Wireless, provide data bundles specific to WhatsApp and Twitter, or Facebook and Instagram, for as low as $0.50 or $1 per week, making it more affordable for people to freely communicate in an economy where a significant majority are unemployed.

“When someone talks about internet access in Zimbabwe, they basically are talking about WhatsApp access,” said Thulani Thabango, a Ph.D candidate in media at Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

Hudson Yards

“Up in the sky, Hudson Yards’ observation deck may also become an attraction — a triangular platform, 1,100 feet high, theatrically cantilevered from the top of 30 [Hudson Yards], with bleachers that provide an even loftier view. It opens next year.

I got a preview the other day. It’s one of the most amazing vistas over the city. I gazed north toward Harlem, gaped at the Empire State Building, and took in Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty.

New York is awesome, I thought.

Then it occurred to me.

From that deck, you can’t see Hudson Yards.”
Hudson Yards Is Manhattan’s Biggest, Newest, Slickest Gated Community. Is This the Neighborhood New York Deserves? by Michael Kimmelman, Architecture critic, The New York Times, 14 March 2019

What sort of place?

Screen grab of https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/03/14/arts/design/hudson-yards-nyc.html

Screen grab of https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/03/14/arts/design/hudson-yards-nyc.html

“A new place is emerging.
The question is, what sort of place?
And this is the immediate problem with Hudson Yards.”

It is, at heart, a supersized suburban-style office park, with a shopping mall and a quasi-gated condo community targeted at the 0.1 percent.

A relic of dated 2000s thinking, nearly devoid of urban design, it declines to blend into the city grid. […]

[T]he whole site lacks any semblance of human scale…as if the peak ambitions of city life were consuming luxury goods and enjoying a smooth, seductive, mindless materialism.

It gives physical form to a crisis of city leadership, asleep at the wheel through two administrations, and to a pernicious theory of civic welfare that presumes private development is New York’s primary goal, the truest measure of urban vitality and health, with money the city’s only real currency.

Hudson Yards Is Manhattan’s Biggest, Newest, Slickest Gated Community. Is This the Neighborhood New York Deserves? by Michael Kimmelman, Architecture critic, The New York Times, 14 March 2019

Breaking news

“I'm still learning how to say things like ‘allegedly’ or ‘it’s being said’ when I’m describing breaking news,” Ms. Villarreal said. “It’s a challenge, because I speak the language of the streets, and that’s why people follow me.”
La Gordiloca: The Swearing Muckraker Upending Border Journalism, by Simon Romero, New York Times, 10 March 2019. The article is a profile of Priscilla Villarreal, a self-taught, self-employed journalist in Laredo, Texas.

A great challenge to society

Netflix does seem to be pushing cultural boundaries and sparking new conversations all over the world. After it plastered Bangkok with billboards advertising “Sex Education” last month, a conservative Thai political party filed a complaint against the company for airing the racy British comedy, which the party called “a great challenge to Thai society.” The young, progressive Thai internet responded in fury, and in the outrage, people started talking about actual problems in Thai society, like the lack of sex education and the high rates of teenage pregnancy.
Netflix Is the Most Intoxicating Portal to Planet Earth by Farhad Manjoo, New York Times, 22 February 2019

Disruption for Thee, But More for Me

That’s where the trouble starts. Tech law is a minefield of overly broad, superannuated rules that have been systematically distorted by companies that used ‘disruption’ to batter their way into old industries, but now use these laws to shield themselves from any pressure from upstarts to seek to disrupt them.
Disruption for Thee, But More for Me , Cory Doctorow's takedown of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, Locus Magazine, 7 January 2019

The article continues,

[The DMCA] is used for “business model enforcement,” to ensure that disruptive, but legal, ways of using a product or service are made illegal – from refilling your printer’s ink cartridge to getting your car or phone serviced by an independent neighborhood repair shop.

Together, the CFAA and DMCA have given digital businesses access to a shadowy legal doctrine that was never written by Congress but is nevertheless routinely enforced by the courts: Felony Contempt of Business-Model.

[By 2018] the transmission of pictures and texts and the distant manipulation of computers and other machines will be added to the transmission of the human voice on a scale that will eventually approach the universality of telephony. What all this will do to the world I cannot guess. It seems bound to affect us all.
— J. R. Pierce, Bell Labs, 1968. From “Toward the Year 2018”, edited by Emmanuel G. Mesthene, as quoted in What 2018 Looked Like Fifty Years Ago, New Yorker, 7 January 2019

Sparse prose (a sociology of love)

Pager wrote in sparse prose and fought with co-authors who wanted to bog down papers with jargon and technical details. “Devah had this rare ability,” says the Princeton sociologist Mitchell Duneier, “to both do the most rigorous social science, and then to translate those findings so that they would be discussed by people of different political persuasions.”

It was this kind of grounding that led Pager’s work to have such a profound impact on public policy … It was research compelled by moral commitments — racism is evil, poverty steals our gifts — and Pager’s ability to see the best in us, including those among us who have been convicted and caged. Hers was a sociology in the service of the dispossessed, a sociology of love.

Devah Pager: Her Work As A Sociologist Highlighted Racial Injustice In The United States, by Matthew Desmond, New York Times Magazine, 27 December 2018