Category Archives: Technology

Has the webbed world finally killed civility?

DSC_0091

I’m not sure exactly when dread became my near-constant Internet-traveling companion – certainly, sometime after he first protocol suite went live back in the “me” decades of the late 20th century – but I’m having a hard time shaking my conviction that the online universe has rendered common courtesy deader that a door knob.

This is, by no means, an original observation.

“Have our brains become so desensitized by a 24/7, all-you-can-eat diet of lurid flickering images that we’ve lost all perspective on appropriateness and compassion when another human being apparently suffers a medical emergency?” CNN contributors Gary Small (M.D.) and Gigi Vorgan asked in a commentary posted (where else?) online a couple of years ago. “Have we become a society of detached voyeurs?”

Or worse?

According to a Canadian Press piece carried in newspapers across the country yesterday, “Research out of Simon Fraser University (SFU) suggests that the online abuse that has been so prevalent on the teenage battlefield is carrying through to the arena of adults at Canadian universities.”

The research, in fact, is the subject of a symposium, “Cyberbullying at Canadian Universities: Linking Research, Policy and Practice”, in Vancouver this week. One presenter, education prof Wanda Cassidy, notes the relatively high incidence of abuse hurled at faculty members these days.

In the abstract to her talk, she writes, “Survey data collected in 2012/13 revealed that 17 per cent of respondents had experienced cyberbullying either by students (12 per cent), or by colleagues (9 per cent) in the last 12 months.  Gender differences were apparent: 14 per cent of females had been targeted by students, compared to 6 per cent of males.  Only females experienced cyberbullying from colleagues, always by someone they knew, and primarily for work-related reasons. The messages were belittling, demanding, harassing, and/or excluding, impacting their work, mental health, and relationships.  Faculty members of racial minority status appeared more vulnerable to being cyberbullied.”

Another peresenter, SFU criminologist Margaret Jackson, says universities aren’t equipped to deal with the problem because their policy frameworks are out of date. “While most. . .outlined complaint procedures and possible sanctions, relatively few addressed the issue of prevention,” she notes in her abstract. “Only about one third made reference to ‘cyber’ behaviours, suggesting that the university. . .environment is not current with the information and communication technologies which occupy the daily lives of university students and faculty.”

As CP reported, “Cassidy said the emergence of cyberbullying in an older population comes with grown-up consequences, such as ruined professional relationships or reputations, anxiety, sleep deprivation and thoughts of suicide.

‘There was a fair proportion of people — both faculty and students — who said it made them feel suicidal. . .which is quite frightening, particularly when you think of faculty members.’”

If that’s not bad enough, the Competition Bureau of Canada issued a dire warning during its second annual “2 Good 2 B True Day” (Tuesday) this week. “Scammers are using the Internet in increasingly sophisticated ways to defraud Canadians of their money and personal information through malicious software, fake websites and online offers or job opportunities that are simply too good to be true,” it said in a statement.

What’s more, “Users of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest may be exposed to scams from ‘friends’ or ‘followers’ whose social media accounts are designed exclusively to promote fraudulent products. Scams promoted through social media may seem more credible because they appear in the same place as content created by a consumer’s friends and family. Social media users may inadvertently promote these scams by liking, tweeting or pinning information about these products.”

But, then, I wonder what we were expecting when we embraced the notion of running what amounts to a live wiretap right through our homes and businesses. The great innovation of the Internet was nothing if not vastly facilitated communications and information gathering. That why the American military establishment was an early and enthusiastic adherent.

Still, I comfort myself by acknowledging that the technology that makes it easy to anonymously mudsling and defraud on an unprecedented scale also makes it easy to crowd-source funds for disaster relief.

In the end, the only moral filters in the online universe come factory installed in the mind if the Internet traveler.

Tagged , ,

The Internet of Things’ nosy, new tech

DSC_0027

It is an indisputable fact of modern life that even the fiercest defender of personal privacy will trade the juiciest morsel of intel on himself for the latest item of cool consumer tech – as long as said tech is connected to the vast, remorseless Internet.

This is, in a nutshell, the essential dialectic of our human nature in the 21st century: our contradictory urges and impulses that find nearly perfect expression in the exquisitely instrumented age of greed.

In this context, I sometimes wonder who Ann Cavoukian thinks she’s reaching when she complains about the shadowy doings at Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), where spies toll the electronic highways and byways for tidbits about their fellow citizens.

“Technology allows our every move to be tracked, collected and catalogued by our governments,” Mr. Cavoukian, Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner writes in a commentary published yesterday in the Globe and Mail. “Yet, while our U.S. neighbours are debating the future of phone and Internet surveillance programs, our government is maintaining a wall of silence around the activities of (CSEC). This silence is putting our freedoms at risk.”

She is, of course, utterly correct, and I applaud her determination to tear back the veil that hides the snoops, creeps, plotters, conspirators, crooks, crackpots and incipient blackmailers from plain view.

Then again, what else would I say? I’m a hopeless paranoid who believes that former National Security Agency analyst, and latent whistleblower, Edward Snowdon is actually a red herring and that the truth – whilst still out there – is worse than you can possibly imagine.

Most people are more sanguine than I about the nakedness with which they comport themselves while the world tunes in and out, variously following the motions and transactions that comprise their quotidian existence. Indeed, members of my own family couldn’t care lees who’s been peeking at them through the drapes.

Says one: “My life is an open book – and a pretty boring one, at that.”

Says another: “Dude, sacrifices must be made. Ever think what you’d do without the Internet?”

To which I respond, “Don’t call me dude.”

In fact, I have often pondered what I’d do without the web. And, if I’m honest with myself, the story never ends well. Still, I wonder just how much Kool-Aid the so-called “Internet of Things” requires its true believers to quaff?

“With never-before seen tech breakthroughs and thousands of new products launched, innovation took center stage at the 2014 International CES (Consumer Electronics Association conference) in Las Vegas, Nevada.”

That was from the press release following the event – during which “3,200 exhibitors showcased their latest technologies and major tech breakthroughs, launching some 20,000 new products to capture the world’s attention” – earlier this month. Here’s what Karen Chupka, senior vice president of International CES and corporate business strategy, had to say:

“Technology of the future was widespread  at the 2014 CES where executives from every major industry came to see, touch, interact and do business at the world’s intersection for innovation. Amazing new products emerged in the areas of wireless, apps, automotive, digital health and fitness, 3D printing, startup tech and so much more. It was an incredible event that brought the global tech community together and successfully celebrated and showcased the amazing innovation that is a hallmark of our industry.”

Welcome, indeed, brave new world.

Common – nay, fundamentally crucial – to all such gadgets is their Internet connectivity. Everyday household appliances – once inert and dumb; now active and smart – will keep tabs on your habits, schedules and coming an goings in both real and digital worlds.

Leading the charge, naturally, is Google. The giant announced earlier this month that it would buy Nest Labs Inc. for a cool $3.2 billion in cash. Nest manufactures  thermostats and smoke alarms. But not just any thermostats and smoke alarms. In their effort to make you a more intelligent energy consumer, these ones talk to you through your Internet-enabled computer, and this, of course, raises the specter of spying.

For its part, the new venture has insisted that it would never tabuse its position by mishandling personal information that might come its way via its new “nests”.

But, really, if the choice is between privacy and cool, new tech for the vast, greedy marketplace, are Google’s assurances even necessary these days?

Tagged , , , , , ,

Big Brother’s eyes are everywhere

Birds of a feather?

Birds of a feather?

I summon a certain phrase whenever the world’s Internet-traveling tech companies assert their moral authority to protect their millions upon millions of customers from Big Government’s snoops and sneaks: something about foxes guarding henhouses.

In ads in major newspapers across the U.S., and on dozens of websites, Google, Microsoft, Apple, AOL, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Yahoo (call them the eight horsemen of the digital apocalypse) have announced a new consortium, the purpose of which is to pressure governments everywhere to stop the growing practice of warrantless and unaccountable spying.

That’s a little like asking a gossip to keep a secret. Nevertheless, here’s what they say: “We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens. But this summer’s revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide. The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual – rights that are enshrined in our Constitution. This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It’s time for a change.”

What’s more, and for their part, “We are focused on keeping users’ data secure –deploying the latest encryption technology to prevent unauthorized surveillance on our networks and by pushing back on government requests to ensure that they are legal and reasonable in scope. We urge the U.S. to take the lead and make reforms that ensure that government surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent and subject to independent oversight.”

All of which raises but one question: Do these 100th-of-a-one-percenters, these brilliant geeks who, in some cases, kissed off their Ivy League educations to make billions of bucks in the open market, seriously think we buy their pieties about personal privacy? This is all about business, pure and simple.

That’s what Google CEO Larry Page means when he observes that “the security of users’ data is critical, which is why we’ve invested so much in encryption and fight for transparency around government requests for information. This is undermined by the apparent wholesale collection of data, in secret and without independent oversight, by many governments around the world. It’s time for reform, and we urge the U.S. government to lead the way.”

In fact, the productive relationship between government R&D and the technology sector, has produced most, if not all, of the communications innovations of the past 75 years. That includes everything from the application software that makes your smart phone chatter on command to the Internet, itself. Separating these partners in this continuum of invention would be akin to extracting chlorine from a swimming pool.

What’s at stake is the integrity of Big Data – a jewell so profoundly valuable in the tech world that anything that might cause a public (i.e. consumer) rebellion against its collection and deployment in the service of capitalist enterprise must be quelled. Simply put: When Big Brother overreaches, he hurts the bottom line.

Technology writer, Katherine Arline had this to say in a piece for mobile.pro last month: “Telecommunications equipment maker Cisco Systems announced an anticipated 8 to 10 per cent drop in revenue for the current quarter, sending shares tumbling 13 per cent . . .Cisco said concerns about network security in the wake of Edward Snowden’s disclosures fueled the decline.”

Specifically, Frank Calderone, the company’s CFO said he had seen “a significant increase in the ‘level of uncertainty or concern’ among international consumers. ‘I have never seen that fast a move in emerging markets,’ Calderone said. Cisco customers are concerned that the NSA has backdoors into network hardware from U.S. makers, and analysts think  that companies including IBM and Microsoft are also at risk. Jim Lewis, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic Studies in Washington, told Reuters that more U.S. companies are likely to be affected. ‘All the big U.S. IT companies are concerned,’ Lewis said. ‘But so far Cisco is bearing the brunt.’”

It may be true that the allegations against the National Security Agency – that it routinely and illegally snoops on average folks by extracting data from unwilling tech companies who must, nevertheless, comply with its edicts – are exaggerated.

But in an industry where reputations are everything and brand loyalty is paramount, perceptions are even more important than reality. Internet-traveling tech companies playing the role of public defender No. 1 is great spin.

Indeed, it might even work.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Give The Hub a well-deserved hug

Up, up and away for Moncton

Up, up and away for Moncton

We touched down on the tarmac of the delightfully and grandiosely named Greater Moncton International Airport, and a line from an old Eric Clapton tune immediately sprang to mind: “Hello old friend, it’s really good to see you once again.”

We had been away, out west, where the news from the cities of our births had been simply and detestably rotten.

My Toronto was riven by controversy. Mayor Rob Ford had failed to obtain a clean bill of moral health from Hog Town’s top cop, Chief Bill Blair, who announced the results of his full-metal-jacket foray into a nest of alleged drug dens in the city’s north end. Writing in the Globe and Mail, municipal affairs columnist Marcus Gee reported, “The raid centred on the Dixon Road apartment complex associated with the purported Rob Ford crack video. Minutes away is the house where a photo was apparently taken showing Mr. Ford with three men, one of whom has since been murdered.”

As Mr. Gee archly observed, “What is not excusable is the mayor’s own persistent refusal to answers questions about the affair. He told reporters. . .that he knew nothing about the raid and had nothing to hide, but has yet to say. . .whether he has anything to do with the men in the notorious photo, what he was doing at the house where it was taken or whether he knows the people who live there (two of whom have criminal records, one for trafficking in cocaine).”

A few hundred kilometers up the St. Lawrence, the mayor of my wife’s Montreal, Michael Applebaum, had just resigned after Quebec police slapped charges of fraud, breach of trust and corruption on him.

As the CBC recounted the sorry saga, “(Mr.) Applebaum was selected as mayor by Montreal city council Nov. 16, 2012, following the resignation of Gérald Tremblay amid allegations of corruption. . .The province’s anti-corruption unit, UPAC, said the charges (against Mr. Applebaum) relate to obtaining permission and political support for two real estate projects in Montreal’s Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough between 2006 and 2011, during which time Applebaum was the borough’s mayor.”

All of which caused me to wonder whether Moncton’s Hizzoner, George LeBlanc (as honourable a fellow as the summer day is long), had misplaced his invitation to the party of Canadian mayors acting out. Thank Almighty God for the small mercies of prudence in public office, rare though this quality of character may be. These days, the headlines from The Hub are nothing but good, nothing but fortifying.

After a vote of 8-2, Moncton City Council agreed to purchase the former Highfield Square site in western part of the downtown area – the logical move towards building an events centre that could generate millions of dollars a year in tax and private-sector revenue. In fact, a related ballot green-lighted a request for proposals. According to a report in this newspaper, “If all goes according to the city’s timeline – funding help from the federal and provincial governments being the overwhelmingly large missing piece of the puzzle – work could start in 2015 and the project would be completed in early 2017.”

Meanwhile, the Moncton-based Atlantic Cancer Research Institute has made national news with its novel technology. Again, this newspaper reports, “(It’s) a time-sensitive, non-invasive clinical test in which a sign of cancer could be recognized without having conducted a biopsy. . . .Not only could the product detect early concentrations of diseased cells attributing to cancer, it could be used in detecting heart disease, neurological ailments, and many more health issues in both humans and animals.”

Granted, the ACRI – which has received many plaudits from leading scientific think tanks around the world – does not benefit directly from the good works and sound planning of the municipal authority. But both institutions say something larger about the community in general. And, compared with the sick melodies sung in certain other urban centres in this country, it’s a welcome and familiar refrain for a weary, returning traveller.

“Hello old friend,” indeed.

Tagged ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 562 other followers

%d bloggers like this: