I Have a Stake in the Internet of Things

I have been a Type 1 Diabetic since I was 13 years old. Over the past 13 years I have had to get used to constantly self-monitoring and recording various aspects of my lifestyle and health on a daily basis. For me this has always been a manual and imprecise practice, and from the perspective of a diabetic the Internet of Things (IoT) presents a lot of opportunities to make diabetes management and control and much simpler and more precise process.

Image sourced from here

Image sourced from here

The Internet of Things describes a complex network ecology made up of physical objects that produce their own constant data stream using sensors that detect environmental changes (Mitew 2014). Devices that participate within the IoT ecology are characterized by their ability to track where they are and where they’ve been, store and record the primary data they have gathered, and act with some sort of agency within the online environment whether it be communication with other devices or human beings (Bleecker 2006). It is from the logic of this IoT ecology that the movement (and philosophy) of “quantified self” has grown; which describes a process of self-monitoring and self-tracking using IoT objects that produces data on a range of personal everyday practices such as food consumption, emotional state, and physical/mental performance (Lupton 2013). http://quantifiedself.com/2013/11/doug-kanter-year-diabetes-data/ A look at the “diabetes” archive of the Quantified Self website shows a thriving culture of sharing, aggregation and prosumerism in regards to the personal data they have compiled in regards to their diabetes management and lifestyle (Lupton 2013). For example Type-1 diabetic Doug Kanter (see above video) used data and data visualizations in understand relationships between his diet, blood sugar levels, and insulin (read: medication) doses (Ramirez 2013). But IoT has more potential in this area than simply a thorough self-studying tool. Technology has reached a point where it is now entirely possible to embed a small sensor under the skin that constantly monitors blood sugars and communicates this data directly to an insulin pump that adjusts doses according in response; establishing a dynamic, actionable conversation between two different online devices (Swan 2012). In this sense a network of IoT devices shows great potential in artificially emulating the regular body functions of a healthy, non-diabetic. But of course even with this leap in technology there are still issues of cost and internet availability that will present barriers to accessing this kind of treatment in many developing parts of the world (Mitew 2014).

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Wading in Deeper

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering,
fearing, doubting…”

(Edgar Allan Poe 1845)

I’m sure we all know that the internet is big. Really big. The internet has grown so big that it’s actually overwhelming some of the more widely routers that form the backbone of the internet’s infrastructure (McMillan 2014). In fact just Googling “the internet is big” generates over 1,000,000,000 results (see screen grab below). But were you aware that the vast majority of the internet is actually not indexed, and therefor won’t appear on search engines such as Google? This is what’s known as the “deep web”; it’s several orders of magnitude larger than the indexed “surface” web and it grants users anonymity by concealing IP addresses (Bergman 2001 ;Digital Citizens Alliance 2013).

The internet is big

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Image sourced from here

The anonymity of the deep web has allowed a range of online communities, cultures and practices to thrive; including dissident political groups and illegal online black markets like the Silk Road (Digital Citizens Alliance 2013). Much like the Poe quote above it instils feelings of wonder, fear, and liberation. Through a highly sophisticated black market economy, criminal marketplaces have emerged that have allowed people to purchase literally anything they can imagine; including passports, credit cards, trojans, exploits, rootkits, botnets, phishing kits, credentials, drugs, and weapons (Power 2014; Mitew 2014).

It’s not just morally and legally questionable activities that are thriving in the anonymous, unregulated spaces of the deep web. Increasingly artists and musicians are finding inspiration, creative and commercial opportunities on the deep web that have been made possible without the restrictions from monopolies, surveillance, censorship, and legislation (Zadeh 2014). Accessible only through the use of TOR software, the announcement of Aphex Twin’s new album was made via a tweeted link to a website on the deep web, which added a sense of mystery, intrigue and hype to the news which would otherwise be rather unremarkable (Bowe 2014).

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Image sourced from here

Digital Martyrs Unearth the Truths We Don’t Want to Deal With

The nature of a distributed information network grants equal power and access to all users. By extending this design of digital equality we can easily see how to architecture of cyberspace favours cyber libertarianism; an internet philosophy where information is free, where there is no hierarchy or state authority, and the interactions between users and organizations are kept transparent (Goldsborough 2000). It is from this philosophy that hacker-culture is nurtured; a culture that treats information freedom and the dissemination of secrets as a sport or game, undermining authority for kicks (Mitew 2014). It is from this culture that the likes of Julian Assange, WikiLeaks, and Edward Snowden have emerged, with their additionally grand plans for bringing the public the “truth” (Sterling 2013). This is the climate we’re currently in, where the likes of Assange and Snowden flee prosecution to carry on as digital martyrs in the name of truth, and where parallel organizations and media insurgency groups such as OpenLeaks and Al Jazeera’s Transparency Unit emerge to join the cause (Benkler 2011; Khatchadourian 2010; Sterling 2013). But what comes next? What is society meant to do with the truth?

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Image Sourced from here

Bruce Sterling (2013) makes the point that the truth has been far more complicated than it has been helpful. Despite the efforts of whistle-blower Edward Snowden, the NSA remains the same opaque spying agency operating outside of accountability, democracy, and public scrutiny that it was before it was made public that they were spying on us (Sterling 2010). Although I can’t honestly say I’m not pleased on some level that the truth is out, it’s just that I’m not sure if it’s been useful. In fact it could be argued that leaks and hacktivism of this nature will push governments and security organizations into being more cautious with their lack of transparency, rather than prompting them into behaving in a more open and democratic manner (Sterling 2010).

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Image sourced from here

What the current hacktivist climate is actually showing us is just how incompatible a centralized, hierarchical government network is with a decentralised, distributed network such as the internet (Sterling 2010). And as much as it seems harmless for some information to be free, it can’t all be military cover ups and secret data collecting. It’s this same cyberlibertarian philosophy and hacker culture that has fostered the collection and distribution of explicit celebrity photos that were harvested from the iCloud just a few months ago, some of which constitutes as child pornography (Smith 2014).

#OccupyCentral

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All social media platforms represent a range of network philosophies and ecologies to varying extents. On social networks we see operating examples of attention economies, long tail effects, aggregation, curation, dialogic interactions, dissemination, participation, and various hybridisations of open source and walled garden architecture (Mitew 2014). The logic of the net favours its use as a political space through fast mobilization, mass involvement, and scalable openness; properties which allow users of social media platforms to become exposed to global issues and potentially empathise with the specific people affected by these issues (Mitew 2014;Popova 2010). But how effective is social media in regards to promoting activism and revolution? How does social media promote real world change?

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The power of connectivity in regards to social media manifests itself in the sharing of images, videos, messages, and organized plans/events which help to both coordinate and emotionally sustain movements (Bohdanova 2013). Those who adopt a cyber-realist attitude argue the utopian view of social media as a platform for revolution can easily be overstated, and that real-world action is needed in order to bring about change (Morozov 2011). Whilst this is certainly true to a point it does ignore the underlying value that generating awareness and passion for a cause online has for sparking and sustaining real-world events (Popova 2010).

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At time of writing, the mass Hong Kong protests have entered their seventh day and grown to attract the largest number of protesters involved in the movement to date (Hanna 2014). In recent events in Hong Kong we have seen evidence of the Chinese Government censoring and shutting down social media platforms such as Instagram and We Chat recently in light of the pictures of the Hong Kong protests being shared via #hk, #hongkong and #occupycentral hashtags in support and solidarity of the movement (Olesen 2014). There was also a fake Occupy Central app being circulated that upon installations would gather data relating to the users’ location, call records and SMS/MMS records (Boehler and Sam 2014). These suspicious acts of surveillance and censorship in the face of this protest movement serve as an informal acknowledgement by Chinese government authorities that social media networks and connectivity do equate to power and influence in a decentralized network ecology.

All the News That’s Fit to be Told by Some Random Person

To an extent we have always all been journalists in at least an amateur sense. The American Press Institute describes journalism as “the activity of gathering, assessing, creating, and presenting news and information” as well as the product of this process. So arguably the definition of journalism itself is broad enough to encompass a range of social interactions that we have always engaged in. But what has changed over time is the way in which the shift from centralized legacy media to distributed social media has empowered the amateur journalist, allowing us to become active participants in the story and giving us free access to a global audience (Mitew 2014).

Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have fostered a journalism process that resembles Raymond’s (2001) open-source “bazaar”, in which power, accuracy and value came about through the aggregation of many small, essentially value-less contributions. This is especially true of Twitter; which limits each post to 140 characters rendering it almost worthless as information. But through organizing tools like “@ replies” and hashtags, hyperlinks, as well as a search engine, these small samples of worthless information accumulate and amount to an expansive, real-time conversation with great depth in terms of participation and sustainability of the discussion (Johnson 2009). This sort of citizen journalism can be thought of as less about a product, and more about a process; an unfolding story in perpetual beta that invites the participation of users (Bruns 2009).

The distributed network paradigm has seen a number of other platforms arise that attempt to empower citizen journalists in a number of different and interesting ways. Sites such as Wikinews and Spot.us have been constructed with different “gatewatcher” components in mind; which recognizes the shift in a journalists role away from being a watchdog to that of a guidedog for facilitating and enabling the contributions of amateurs on aggregate (Bardoel and Deuze, cited in Bruns 2009). Wikinews allows for contributions and edits from anyone who’s a member, with certain privileges given to more invested members that allows them to contest and remove certain alterations; all with the goal of providing a “neutral” point of view on a story (Sawers 2011). Spot.us takes an approach that is more in line with a crowd funding site like Kickstarter, where the idea is for members of the community to help fund and work alongside journalists who are commissioned to stories that the community feel aren’t getting covered elsewhere (Sawers 2011).

Why Apple Will Never Break the Rubiks Cube Speed Record

Constructed from Legos, powered by a Samsung Galaxy S4, and harnessing the programming of a custom-built Android app, the ARM-Powered CUBESTORMER 3 robot broke the Guiness World Record for speed solving (Hagen 2014). But aside from being an impressive culmination of several geek and tech interests, the story presents a great opportunity to illustrate the fundamental philosophical differences that exist between Apple and Google in terms of the mobile internet.

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The moment I found out that a smart phone had been used to run the CUBESTORMER 3 I pretty much knew that it would be running an Android OS, or at the very least I was certain that it wasn’t running iOS. The reasoning behind this is simple; Apple’s iOS is a closed platform that forbids users from modifying the OS and device without its approval, whilst Google’s Android OS is an open-source platform that permits and encourages all users to access and modify to suit their own needs (Mitew 2014). Apple’s iPhone represents what Zittrain (2008) referred to as an “information appliance”, consistent and aligned entirely with the visions of Apple at the expense of flexibility, innovation and user freedom. Which is perfectly fine if you simply want a product that will do what the makers guaranteed it would, but with a single corporation controlling the permissions it’s not hard to understand how a Rubiks Cube solving robot is unlikely to be utilizing Apple’s iOS or iPhone technology (Zittrain 2010). It just doesn’t seem likely to fit in with Apple’s vision, and even if it did why would a pair of engineers bother to seek Apple’s approval for an app that they aren’t actually selling when they can simply use the free license, open source Android OS? In this process, the engineers have become a part of Android’s OODA feedback loop; one of the many eyes engaging with the perpetual Android beta and improving the system for all whilst pursuing solutions to their own problems (Raymond 2001).

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Hack iStack

The past week has undoubtedly been a horrible one for certain female celebrities. It was revealed over the course of the week that a “hacker” had breached the security, and indeed privacy, of a number of female celebrities and leaked their personal, nude photos on the website 4chan (Horowitz and Marcus 2014). There’s a lot that has been said about these acts, from countless ethical and legal perspectives. But while I could honestly dedicate a whole other post to explaining why doing this constitutes sexual assault, I am instead using this example to talk about online security and governance in relation to Apple’s heavily integrated products and services.

Apple’s range of integrated products and services represent what Bruce Sterling refers to as “stacks”. Stacks share a number of characteristics such as a unique proprietary operating system, a dedicated cloud, a dedicated mobile ecology, and an economy based on earning revenue from data that users generate. The dedicated cloud, or iCloud in relation to Apple, is simple a remotely located computer that stores your data (Bloomberg News 2014). When users surrender their data and certain freedoms to these stacks they are expected to get certain benefits in return, such as quality, functionality and protection (Mitew 2014).

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So then what responsibility to Apple have in the security breach that took place this week? According to Apple the iCloud wasn’t actually hacked, but rather the content was accessed via the user’s own accounts and being able to correctly answer the security questions in order to change the password (Evershed and Farrell 2014). But surely it’s Apple’s responsibility to ensure that there aren’t such weaknesses in their security. After all these questions are part of Apple’s design, and many of them aren’t hard to figure out with enough dedication. No matter what paths we choose as users, we will inevitably end up in a stack surrendering our data to those in control (Mitew 2014). It’s a price many of us don’t really think about paying until something goes wrong and it sheds light on just how vulnerable we are online.Clouding securityimage sourced from here

 

A Chilling Tail

A few days ago my attention was drawn to an interesting online forum by someone who was essentially an online stranger. The website is called the Ice Chewers Bulletin Board and it rather unsurprisingly boasts the tagline “a place to share about ice chewing”. I’d like to immediately point out that this isn’t about ice the drug, but rather ice – the solid state water reaches at 0°C. What’s interesting about this website from my perspective is just how well it illustrates the viability of niche markets and audiences in a networked society.

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Above we see a power law distribution function, which is a naturally occurring distribution model under conditions of infinite choice (Anderson 2009). To the left at “the head” we have the mainstream hits upon which the legacy media business models are based, and to the right we have the “tail” where an infinite range of niche markets reside. As can be seen by the areas under the curve the long tail holds more market value, on aggregate, than the mainstream one (Anderson 2004). What the Ice Chewers Bulletin Board represents is just one of those niche markets that lay on the right in the “tail end” of the curve.

The Ice Chewers Bulletin Board has 4046 total members with close to 2000 posts, and the forums have all seen recent activity. So despite its niche appeal it has managed to assemble a sizable active audience. This is because when you compare the internet to the physical limitations of distribution and storage in traditional outlets, its infinite size and reach make meeting niche market demands free and easy (Anderson 2006). If you can imagine trying to start an ice chewing notice board in the physical world, it would almost certainly fail due to the constraints of distance, time and the size of the board itself. But of course on the other side of the digital divide, these physical constraints are still present and the access to personal, niche markets is essentially non-existent.

Microsoft and Our Liquid Lives

On the 10th of July 2014 the new CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, announced his new vision for the future of Microsoft. This vision would see a new focus on developing the cloud and mobile services in order to ensure that Microsoft services can always be accessed by people as they move between personal, professional and leisure environments (Hughes 2014). This announcement makes a lot of sense when viewed as a response to the paradigm shift that the logic of networked societies and information flows have brought about in terms of information labour markets (Bradwell and Reeves 2008).

What Nadella is driving at here is that society’s constant connection with multiple technologies and digital information networks removes the boundaries of time and space; demanding that corporations like Microsoft facilitate the accessing and sharing of information across multiple platforms, times and environments (Deuze 2006). In other words, the very notion of work-life and home-life have been challenged by the nature of information flows. Instead we are seeing the convergence of lifestyle and work to form what Bauman (in Deuze 2006) refers to as “liquid life”, a metaphor that describes a constant reshaping of our lives based on constantly shifting work, private and leisure environments that we must negotiate every day.

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But what does this shift mean for us as thinking, feeling individuals? “Presence bleed” describes a phenomenon of constantly occupying multiple real and immaterial times and spaces, which sees the expectation of work cross and blur the boundaries between the different professional and private lives we live (Gregg). It’s worrying to think of a future where the notions of “clocking on/off” for work no longer apply and we are instead coaxed into living life on “standby”, allowing work to permeate across all aspects of our lives (Gregg 2013). This is certainly the future that Microsoft are preparing to capitalize on, regardless of how this liquid labour workforce might be affected.

The Harassment of Zelda: A Link to Online Governance

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, societies and cultures are being shaped through negotations with the global networks of the internet and the ecologies of cyberspace. But the change has not just been simple transformation of the already established cultures of the physical “real world”. As an entirely new and universally large Cyberspace emerges, completely removed from the constraints of pre-existing governing bodies, new kinds of cultures and social orders emerge that would not have been previously possible in physical space (Barlow 1996). As Dyson et al. (1994) acknowledge, the emergence of Cyberspace presents humanity with new sets of problems in terms of how such a space should be governed.

Cyberlibertarianism is a term that gets thrown about a lot online. Cyberlibertarianism is an internet philosophy that advocates complete online freedom of information and expression without interference from governments and institutions (Goldsborough 2000). The idea instead is for the internet to be governed in a loose sense through debate and coordinated online activism, or not at all (Castels 2004). John Perry Barlow (1996) describes a new world with complete freedom of expression without coercion or censoring; a world without racial prejudices or imbalances in social power. But does this philosophy keep true to its promises?

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Earlier this week news broke across the world that Oscar-winning actor Robin Williams had killed himself. While it wasn’t long before tributes, articles and commemorative memes began circulating the social media, it seems it also wasn’t long before people were harassing the late Williams’ family. Just yesterday it was reported that Robin Williams’ daughter, Zelda, had decided to abandon her Twitter and Instagram accounts after having them mined for pictures of her father and becoming platforms for online trolling (ABC News 2014). While Twitter did manage to suspend a number of users in this instance, this is just one very recent example of online harassment that is allowed to run rampant under the anarchic governance of Cyberlibertarian philosophy. The large scale online bullying and harassment of teenage pop-wannabe Rebecca Black and pop-culture feminist Anita Sarkeesian serve as further examples of the failings of an internet that is almost entirely free from any sort of governance or moderation.