Being discreet online

I know some friends that have closed their Facebook accounts because they supposedly don’t want to leave any kind of information for Facebook to track, however I believe they are a bit too late. Facebook has already used their information to train their algorithms and keep on using its user’s information.

As detailed by this article written by Zeynep Tufekci, these algorithms can already make accurate predictions through the use of previously available data in order to gain more information about you. Even though your profile is gone, most of the information Facebook gathered about you is probably still stored in their servers and was used to make predictions and create a more accurate profile of you.

The amount of users Facebook has allows their platform to use these algorithms to create profiles of their users so that they can possibly be targeted by advertisers. The article even mentions the possibility of Facebook targetting young teenagers that may suffer depression or “need a confidence boost”. These can lead to serious ethical issues, I mean, all these data gathering seems pretty unethical in the first place, but now targetting your depressed users with special ads for them seems borderline illegal and abusive. A lot of people say “lmao just get off the internet”, however young people today, including myself, have become quite dependent on the internet, be it to stay connected to our friends, to do homework, etc. so it can actually be a bit difficult to “just get off the internet”. There are also people literally addicted to social media, the attention and dopamine they get from people reacting to their new pictures and submissions.

Tufekci suggests as a solution to create mobile devices that are more privacy oriented. However if the companies selling you these smartphones are the same ones that want to collect all of your information, I don’t see a reason for these companies to actually go ahead and do it if they aren’t forced to. There needs to be a government regulation of how much access companies have to our devices and our information.

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My One Assignment

One assignment to finish it all, One assigment to stress them; One assignment to bring them all and to graduation guide them.

This semester I had a course about Smart Cities, which I then discovered was better named Smart Citizens, according to my professor Ken Bauer. I could not agree more, making a city smart while keeping the citizens dumb sounds like a very unfortunate dystopia for us citizens. Having a smart city doesn’t do too much good if their citizens are not actually smart.

Talking a little bit more about the class, at the beginning my team, which is Hermes, Miguel and I, were supposed to work with a team from the University of Alberta in a joint project, however we came into a disagreement because all we were going to do was the front-end part of their project, which we didn’t really feel like doing and the three of us weren’t very familiarized with front-end developing.

With this I learned about the differences there can be when working as a team in the professional environment, of course in this case our professor Ken was nice enough to support us in our decision of not working with the UA team, however in other circumstances or perhaps with another professor, things could have been different. If this was a project the company we work at put us in charge of doing we probably could not have said no that easily, we may have even been fired for refusing to work on the project, since it is supposed to be our job. I hope I don’t get stuck in a job working with technologies I am not even interested in using, although I believe it is quite possible it happens at one point or the other of my professional career.

Since this happened, we decided to work on our project which still involved gamification, which was the aspect the UA team wanted to work with from the beginning, but focused for the Tec community. What we decided to was an app where Tec students can earn badges for assisting to events and participating in sports team and cultural activities, creating a resume of extracurricular activities. Since there are a lot of companies that look forward to applicants having passions other than academic stuff, we believe this could be useful. We would also like to get Tec involved for possible rewards to outstanding students.

Something that makes me sad is that when thinking about smart citizens is that when I think about a citizen being smart, I think about a citizen being smart enough to not be taken advantage of, be it by other citizens or by the government in charge of the city. This semester I wrote an essay about the ethical aspects of government surveillance in the modern days through the use of technology, particularly in communications, including phone calls and internet traffic. In it I talk about how government surveillance has become a necessary evil to mantain national security in this complex world we live in, however a limit must exist in how much of our privacy we are willing to give up and check if all these surveillance is really giving the results we would expect in exchange for the constant breaches to the privacy of millions of people. External institutions that regulate how much access the government has to our private information must exist in order to try and preserve as much of our privacy as possible, you can read my essay (in spanish) here.

Related to surveillance, we also talked about how data is now everywhere and used by everyone, our own data is used without our permission by big corporations in order to gain more profits. “Digital intelligence is neither inherently virtuous nor corrupt; however, as efficient as these technologies may be, we must continue to critically reflect upon the type of city we want.” This is very tied to the lack of ethics in the current tech industry, most programmers, I must say that including myself, view users as some kind of dumb entity that will be interacting with our system, granting us some input for us to process and spurting out something for them. I feel there needs to be a class specifically dedicated to professional ethics in the software industry, because there are some classes that do show some code of ethics, like the ACM one, but they just turn into another topic in the course that will be forgotten by students the next semester. Companies need to realize that algorithms making decisions that affect the life of millions of people greatly, need some kind of regulation to ensure their effectiveness, as well as some kind of control that prevents bias, because no matter how impartial one as a developer tries to be, we all have biases and preferences that have grown into us as we have grown up. We must really take into account the ethical dilemma of creating new technologies that may affect the lives of people these days, as new technologies becoming more and more entangled in our daily lives.

Internet freedom is at risk, every day, tech companies gather our information left and right, they supposedly do so to make our experience using their services better, but what happens when the government orders these companies to give them full access to all of their user’s data? Privacy is violated.

I believe that there is lack of ethics in general, not only in the software community, but in all the industry that is in charge of handling user data and possibly sensitive information.

“The most overarching and important is the Kantian idea of respect for the dignity of the person. When the self can be technologically invaded without permission and even often without the knowledge of the person, dignity and liberty are diminished.”  (Marx, 1998, 21).

In the last classes we also talked about surveillance and data privacy a lot, I believe this class was very focused on this and I really liked it since I had other classes where I was also talking about these topics. I also wrote about the US government surveilling its arab communities and about how Facebook can already predict a lot of your data without having it directly available with a fair amount of accuracy.

References:

AI used to unredact FBI documents

Internet Freedom in a Surveillance World

Marx, G. (1998). An Ethics for The New Surveillance.The Information Society, MIT. Obtained from: http://web.mit.edu/gtmarx/www/ncolin5.html

Smart Surveillance

Smart Citizens – Week 8

Should This Exist? – A question the software industry should must ask itself

 

AI used to unredact FBI documents

On this blog I will talk about how AI is being used to reveal information hidden by the FBI of a decades-long program of spying on US Muslims. There is a countless amount of evidence of the US government not being held accountable for unethical and illegal practices they incur into when they spy on their own citizens. After Assia Boundaoui won a lawsuit against the FBI, they were forced to release 30,000 documents that detail operation Vulgar Betrayal, which is focused on the surveillance of the Illinois arab community. However, as she received the documents, she realized that more than 70% of the document’s contents were redacted for the sake of “national security”.

It should come with no surprise that the US government is spying on its own citizens, it is something they have been doing for quite a long time, however people seem to be okay with being watched all the time these days. They feel like the information they post online is not very important, while it can actually be taken advantage of.

People need to be aware that nowadays they are always being watched, every bit of activity they do online, or that has anything to do with modern devices, is likely being tracked. Just carrying your cellphone around with you even without you using it, makes you leave a digital footprint of things you were doing and places you were at.

Talking a bit more about the article, since most of the documents are redacted, an AI is being used to try and “decrypt” these documents. Through the analysis of previous documents based on race surveillance and other FBI documents, there are hopes that we can get more information contained in the documents than the government wants us to see. This all helps to have a more transparent government. Having a government that is more transparent, at least in my opinion, makes the people trust the government a bit more, since we can actually know what they are doing and if anything they do is actually threatening any of us.

Internet Freedom in a Surveillance World

Internet freedom is at risk, every day, tech companies gather our information left and right, they supposedly do so to make our experience using their services better, but what happens when the government orders these companies to give them full access to all of their user’s data? Privacy is violated.

“The most overarching and important is the Kantian idea of respect for the dignity of the person. When the self can be technologically invaded without permission and even often without the knowledge of the person, dignity and liberty are diminished.”  (Marx, 1998, 21).

Violating someone’s privacy is literally violating their human rights, dignity and liberty. They are no longer allowed to act, think, or learn in a private environment, everything is recorded. This creates a passive society which agrees with the government in fear of creating a conflict and being seen as a potential threat. The people fear their own government, the government they elected to represent them, is feared by the same voters who put them there, crazy isn’t it?

“The return to a similarly controversial situation in which intelligence services continue to obtain information through ethically questionable or illegal methods poses serious challenges for democracies. Yet the reaction of the public to the more recent scandals has been quite nuanced. While there has been clear outrage among civil society groups and certain segments of the public, the perceived terrorist threat seems to have also led to a surprisingly muted reaction. Polls indicate that members of the public in several countries support mass surveillance as an acceptable method of intelligence collection. Additional surveys even indicate acceptance of enhanced interrogation techniques.” (Martin, 2016, 19).

Governments perform this massive surveillance in the name of safety, however there must be a limit set to how much of our freedom and privacy we are willing to give up in the sake of this “national security”. This information gatherings are already morally questionable and potentially illegal. The government is not applying its own laws to itself, it  is allowed to act as a free entity that can do with its population as it pleases, and people seem to be fine with it, as long as they are not too affected by the goverment’s activities. If you play nice, you get treated nice, nice meaning the way the goverment likes it.

It is sad to see the indifference society has with all their information being available to corporations and governments, see that Aaron Swartz work may not have the impact he expected it to have, most people seem to just not mind being so exposed and watched these days. Being a public person is very common, however we all like some privacy, and this privacy is diminished more and more every day with the frequent privacy breaches. As a society we must fight for our privacy rights and not give way for more and more abuse from part of the government, as we know, information is power, and we do not want to give more power to an entity that is already trying to know everything about us and potentially control our lives.

Martin, S. (2016). Spying in a Transparent World: Ethics and Intelligence in the 21st Century. Geneva Centre for Security Policy. Obtained from: https://www.gcsp.ch/News-Knowledge/Publications/Spying-in-a-Transparent-World-Ethics-and-Intelligence-in-the-21st-Century

Marx, G. (1998). An Ethics for The New Surveillance.The Information Society, MIT. Obtained from: http://web.mit.edu/gtmarx/www/ncolin5.html

Should This Exist? – A question the software industry should must ask itself

Each day we see new technological advancements being made that blow our minds out. Recently, Elon Musk has been surprising us with SpaceX’s unmanned rockets landing back on Earth for reuse. This is great! Space exploration can truly mark the future of humanity and take us to another level. You can also talk about electric cars becoming more and more popular, with Tesla releasing all its patents in an effort to fight climate change.

However there are some technologies that just get us closer to a futuristic dystopia of surveillance, corporation governments and unnecessary technology.

If you have seen Tom Cruise’s Minority Report (2002) or read the book it is based on by Phillip K. Dick, you may remember that it is a story where PreCrime, a specialized police department, apprehends criminals based on foreknowledge provided by three psychics called “precogs”. This system is all about determinism (all events are determined completely from previous causes) versus free will.

Now this same systems are being implemented in countries like China, where massive surveillance and facial recognition systems allow the government to keep an eye on their citizens very closely, coming as close to rating their support for the government and giving them benefits according to their political views, as well as restricting them access to certain things like travel if the government realizes that the citizen’s views are not aligned with the government’s interests. A system like the one in Minority Report would suggest that if I search up about terrorism, bomb attacks, serial killers or similar, I may be a threat to my community or government. We can imagine a Smart City where the police has to do little work and most work is done by a surveillance system that captures every one of our move, while police is only dispatched when the system has decided that there is an event of importance going down that needs the intervention of the authorities. Should this exist?

Not really, letting algorithms decide wether someone is guilty or is about to commit is a crime completely removes the innocent until proven guilty status that democracies are popular for. The system assumes you are guilty even before committing the crime and decides that you should be imprisoned for an act you supposedly have yet to commit. We must really take into account the ethical dilemma of creating new technologies that may affect the lives of people these days, as new technologies becoming more and more entangled in our daily lives.

 

On Blogging

I found out after having a lot of late assignments for this class, that having to create blog after blog can be quite tedious, boring and tiresome, but after a while had passed and giving it some thought, I actually kind of enjoyed having to push blog after blog. It felt like I was creating a footprint of what I was learning and I could revisit it any time or share it with someone and tell them “HEY! I LEARNED THIS! YOU CAN TOO!”.

Of course right now most of my blogs are assignment related, but I actually kind of want to blog about other things, I just prefer to play videogames or something. However, if I ever get tired of playing League of Legends or sharing Facebook memes, I for sure will start blogging about anything I like! Sounds like a super fun idea, I am leaving my digital fingerprint on the Internet. I may die, but my blog posts will probably be stored in the internet forever, occupying space in WordPress’ servers without me ever paying a cent, FeelsGoodMan.

I really encourage anyone who doubts about bloggin to just give it a try, it is a really nice way to express yourself and I this is probably the blog I have enjoyed writing the most, because I finally am expressing what I think about blogging itself. Don’t be ashamed of posting something, just post it!

Smart Citizens – Week 8

This post comes after reading DataCités: Data as a commons for Smart City.

I really liked the term “invisible economy”, how we don’t realize that the cost we are paying for all this apparently free services is the constant stream of information we are giving up to these big corporations. One of the biggest problems that all this creates is that our public data is used for private purposes by big corporations, as well as algorithms being given absolute control in possibly important part of our lives, like the insurance example the article gave.

This all undermines the collective ownership principle that Smart Cities wants to portray, “Civil society, too, is caught between the incontestable benefits of these services and a growing uncertainty about the fate of its data. “. This all comes with big tech companies pushing for even less regulation on their data gathering activites, with Silicon Tech companies recently pushing for more ‘self-regulation’ and less legislation in the US.

“Digital intelligence is neither inherently virtuous nor corrupt; however, as efficient as these technologies may be, we must continue to critically reflect upon the type of city we want.” This is very tied to the lack of ethics in the current tech industry, most programmers, I must say that including myself, view users as some kind of dumb entity that will be interacting with our system, granting us some input for us to process and spurting out something for them. I feel there needs to be a class specifically dedicated to professional ethics in the software industry, because there are some classes that do show some code of ethics, like the ACM one, but they just turn into another topic in the course that will be forgotten by students the next semester. Companies need to realize that algorithms making decisions that affect the life of millions of people greatly, need some kind of regulation to ensure their effectiveness, as well as some kind of control that prevents bias, because no matter how impartial one as a developer tries to be, we all have biases and preferences that have grown into us as we have grown up.

Pretty much everything that involves the use of a person’s information for financial gain needs to be regulated. Data is still being treated as a resource you can easily obtain and OWN, as if it was some kind of mineral (data mining, duh).

I’ve written about this in my ethics essay (in spanish):

Smart Surveillance

Check it out, as well as the references for additional information.