Today is a day of action for a coordinated effort to convince Congress to stop the vote to repeal existing net neutrality provisions. A meeting is scheduled to vote on this matter on Thursday, December 14, 2017.
Call or email them and let them ask them to to stop the vote. Let them know:
We want an open and free Internet. A neutral open Internet, free of censorship is essential to free speech.
Small businesses rely on an open and free Internet.
We do not want ISPs to block content, websites or applications.
We do not want ISPs to slow or speed up services or create classes of service.
We do not want ISPs to charge online services for access or fast lanes to Internet access providers’ customers.
We know that the initial comment period on this rule change was interfered with by fake submissions and comments from Russian email addresses.
We know that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has REFUSED to cooperate with New York Attorney General Schneiderman’s investigation into the identity theft surrounding these irregularities.
Ask your member of congress to delay the vote!
I wrote both my senators and my congressman today. What did you do?
But there are other dangers we should be more concerned about that are getting less attention. Your gadgets could be providing a window that any hacker could see right through to spy on you.
Your stuff is surveilling you
Your laptop has a video camera built into it. When it’s recording, a little green light blinks on so you’re aware you’re being recorded. But it can be instructed to videotape your activities without the green camera light being on. And this is not just an in-laboratory warning of a hypothetical danger; it has actually been done, by over-eager school officials and by peeping Toms.
At least you can turn off your laptop: when it is shut, the camera can see only “the other side” of the laptop. But this quick fix doesn’t apply to sound recording devices, like microphones. For example, your phone could listen to conversations in the room even when it appears to be off. So could your TV, or other smart appliances in your home. Some gadgets – such as Amazon’s Echo – are explicitly designed to be voice activated and constantly at the ready to act on your spoken commands.
It’s not just audio and video recording we need to be concerned about. Your smart home monitor knows how many people are in your house and in which rooms at what times. Your smart water meter knows every time a toilet is flushed in your home. Your alarm clock knows what time you woke up each day last month. Your refrigerator knows every time you filled a glass of cold water. Your cellphone has a GPS built into it that can track your location, and hence record your movements. Yes, you can turn off location tracking, but does that mean the phone isn’t keeping track of your location? And do you really know for sure your GPS is off simply because your phone’s screen says it is? At the very least, your service provider knows where you are based on the cellphone towers your phone is communicating with.
We all love our smart gadgets. But beyond the convenience factor, the fact that our devices are networked means they can communicate in ways we don’t want them to, in addition to all the ways that we do.
Next generation wiretapping
A bad actor could figure out how to take control of any of these technologies to learn private information about you. But maybe even more worryingly, could your technology provider become, voluntarily or under compulsion, a party to a scheme through which you unwittingly reveal your secrets?
The recent battle between Apple and the FBI revolved around the feds’ request that Apple develop a custom insecure version of iOS, the operating system of the iPhone, to facilitate their hacking into a terrorist’s cell phone. Is breaking into a locked phone just the next step beyond a traditional wiretap in which the government asks an Apple or a Samsung to use its technology to bug the conversations of a suspected terrorist?
But modern phones can be used to do a lot more than listen in on conversations. Could companies be asked to keep location tracking on while indicating to the suspect that it is really off? It would seem to me hard to draw a line between these cases. No wonder some Apple engineers came out as “objectors of conscience” in the Apple-FBI matter. This case was dropped before Apple could be compelled to do anything, so there’s no legal precedent to guide us on how these next-step examples would play out in court.
It is, of course, valuable for law enforcement to monitor criminal suspects, to investigate ongoing criminal behavior and to collect evidence to prosecute. This is the motive behind wiretap laws that allow law enforcement to listen to your phone conversations with no notice to you.
Wiretaps actually got their start in the 1800s as tools of corporate espionage. In 1928, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Olmstead v. U.S. that it was constitutional for law enforcement to use wiretaps, and that warrants weren’t required. This decision was superseded only in 1967, by Katz v. U.S., which established a citizen’s right to privacy, and required law enforcement to obtain warrants before bugging a phone conversation. This was long after Congress had passed an act carefully restricting wiretaps, in 1934.
In the early days of wiretapping, there was a physical “tap” – a side connection – that could be applied to a real wire carrying the conversation. Newer technologies eventually permitted the telephone company to encode and multiplex many telephone calls on the same physical wire.
In the United States, the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) was passed by Congress in 1994, due to worries about law enforcement’s ability to keep up with new communications technologies. It requires communication companies to provide a way for law enforcement to place a wiretap even on newer communication technologies.
The law explicitly exempted information services, such as email. This legal differentiation between communications technologies and information services means companies are obliged to help the government listen in on your phone calls (with a warrant) but are not obliged to help it read your email messages (at least on account of this specific law).
In 2004, the Federal Communications Commission ruled that services such as Voice Over IP (think Skype) were communications services covered by CALEA, and not exempt information services.
Perhaps you don’t care about the privacy of criminals. But note that surveillance is not just of known bad actors, but also of suspected bad actors.
History teaches us that lists of suspects can sometimes be drawn way too broadly. You may remember the McCarthy era and J. Edgar Hoover’s reign at the FBI, which infamously included bugging Martin Luther King Jr.’s bedroom. Even today, there are attempts by the British Government Communications Headquarters to monitor everyone who visited the Wikileaks website, even just to browse. Some laws don’t make sense or aren’t fair, so even some “criminals” may still deserve privacy.
And it’s not just law enforcement overreach we have to worry about. Technologies like Finspy are commercially available today to install malware on your computer or phone and “recruit” it to spy on you. Such technologies could be used by anyone, including the “bad actors,” without the cooperation of your device manufacturer or service provider.
Wiretap laws, such as CALEA, apply to explicit communication actions taken by someone, such as actually making a phone call. Wiretaps do not track your movements in the house, they do not listen to your conversations when you are not on the phone, they do not videotape you in your bathroom – but these are all actions our various devices are now capable of performing. With the proliferation of devices in our lives, it is certainly possible to use them for surveillance purposes. There’s no question that by doing so, authorities will catch many bad actors. But there will also be a huge price to pay in terms of privacy and possibly wrongful arrests.
Finally, this may feel futuristic, but I assure you it is not. The FBI was already using a cellphone microphone to eavesdrop on organized crime as long as a decade ago. Commercial interests are not too far behind in doing much the same, with the purpose of targeting a better sales pitch.
Our omnipresent networked devices raise big questions that we should openly debate. How we balance these costs and benefits will determine the type of society we live in.
In the hours since I first sat down to write this piece, my laptop tells me the National Basketball Association has had to deny that it threatened to cancel its 2017 All-Star Game over a new anti-LGBT law in North Carolina – a story repeated by many news sources including the Associated Press. The authenticity of that viral video of a bear chasing a female snowboarder in Japan has been called into question. And, no, Ted Cruz is not married to his third cousin. It’s just one among an onslaught of half-truths and even pants-on-fire lies coming as we rev up for the 2016 American election season.
The longer I study human psychology, the more impressed I am with the rich tapestry of knowledge each of us owns. We each have a brainy weave of facts, figures, rules and stories that allows us to address an astonishing range of everyday challenges. Contemporary research celebrates just how vast, organized, interconnected and durable that knowledge base is.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that our brains overdo it. Not only do they store helpful and essential information, they are also receptive to false belief and misinformation.
But here’s the more concerning news. Our access to information, both good and bad, has only increased as our fingertips have gotten into the act. With computer keyboards and smartphones, we now have access to an Internet containing a vast store of information much bigger than any individual brain can carry – and that’s not always a good thing.
Better access doesn’t mean better information
This access to the Internet’s far reaches should permit us to be smarter and better informed. People certainly assume it. A recent Yale study showed that Internet access causes people to hold inflated, illusory impressions of just how smart and well-informed they are.
But there’s a twofold problem with the Internet that compromises its limitless promise.
First, just like our brains, it is receptive to misinformation. In fact, the World Economic Forum lists “massive digital misinformation” as a main threat to society. A survey of 50 “weight loss” websites found that only three provided sound diet advice. Another of roughly 150 YouTube videos about vaccination found that only half explicitly supported the procedure.
Rumor-mongers, politicians, vested interests, a sensationalizing media and people with intellectual axes to grind all inject false information into the Internet.
So do a lot of well-intentioned but misinformed people. In fact, a study published in the January 2016 Proceedings of National Academy of Science documented just how quickly dubious conspiracy theories spread across the Internet. Specifically, the researchers compared how quickly these rumors spread across Facebook relative to stories on scientific discoveries. Both conspiracy theories and scientific news spread quickly, with the majority of diffusion via Facebook for both types of stories happening within a day.
Making matters worse, misinformation is hard to distinguish from accurate fact. It often has the exact look and feel as the truth. In a series of studies Elanor Williams, Justin Kruger and I published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2013, we asked students to solve problems in intuitive physics, logic and finance. Those who consistently relied on false facts or principles – and thus gave the exact same wrong answer to every problem – expressed just as much confidence in their conclusions as those who answered every single problem right.
For example, those who always thought a ball would continue to follow a curved path after rolling out of a bent tube (not true) were virtually as certain as people who knew the right answer (the ball follows a straight path).
So, how so we separate Internet truth from the false?
First, don’t assume misinformation is obviously distinguishable from true information. Be careful. If the matter is important, perhaps you can start your search with the Internet; just don’t end there. Consult and consider other sources of authority. There is a reason why your doctor suffered medical school, why your financial advisor studied to gain that license.
Second, don’t do what conspiracy theorists did in the Facebook study. They readily spread stories that already fit their worldview. As such, they practiced confirmation bias, giving credence to evidence supporting what they already believed. As a consequence, the conspiracy theories they endorsed burrowed themselves into like-minded Facebook communities who rarely questioned their authenticity.
Instead, be a skeptic. Psychological research shows that groups designating one or two of its members to play devil’s advocates – questioning whatever conclusion the group is leaning toward – make for better-reasoned decisions of greater quality.
If no one else is around, it pays to be your own devil’s advocate. Don’t just believe what the Internet has to say; question it. Practice a disconfirmation bias. If you’re looking up medical information about a health problem, don’t stop at the first diagnosis that looks right. Search for alternative possibilities.
Seeking evidence to the contrary
In addition, look for ways in which that diagnosis might be wrong. Research shows that “considering the opposite” – actively asking how a conclusion might be wrong – is a valuable exercise for reducing unwarranted faith in a conclusion.
After all, you should listen to Mark Twain, who, according to a dozendifferent websites, warned us, “Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.”
Wise words, except a little more investigation reveals more detailed and researched sources with evidence that it wasn’t Mark Twain, but German physician Markus Herz who said them. I’m not surprised; in my Internet experience, I’ve learned to be wary of Twain quotes (Will Rogers, too). He was a brilliant wit, but he gets much too much credit for quotable quips.
Misinformation and true information often look awfully alike. The key to an informed life may not require gathering information as much as it does challenging the ideas you already have or have recently encountered. This may be an unpleasant task, and an unending one, but it is the best way to ensure that your brainy intellectual tapestry sports only true colors.
For many of us, access to the Internet through a variety of means is a given. I can access the Internet through two laptops, a tablet, a smartphone and even both of my game systems, from the comfort of my living room.
However, this access is unequally distributed. Although nine out of 10 low-income families have Internet access at home, most are underconnected: that is, they have “mobile-only” access – they are able to connect to the Internet only through a smart device, such as a tablet or a smartphone.
This leads to limited access: A third of families with mobile-only access quickly hit the data limits on their mobile phone plans and about a quarter have their phone service cut off for lack of payment.
So, what impact does this type of access have on youth learning?
What changes with a computer connection
My research has explored underserved youth’s use of technology to discover and participate in content related to their interests. Having access only through their mobile devices means that low-income families and youth do not have the same access to the Internet as those with other Internet connections.
One-fifth of families who access the Internet only through their mobile devices say too many family members have to share one device. This means that the amount of time each individual has to access the Internet is limited.
This can be a barrier to learning for young people. It can limit their access to resources to complete their homework, as well as create barriers for other learning. Thirty-five percent of youth who have mobile-only access look online for information about things they are interested in. But this goes up to 52 percent when young people have access to an Internet-connected computer.
When young people have access to an Internet-supported computer, it facilitates their learning. leah, CC BY-NC-ND
When young people have their own access to the Internet, they have an opportunity to engage in connected learning – learning that is based on interest, is supported by peers and has the potential to offer better opportunities for the future.
A 2014 paper on the use of digital media as a learning tool highlights how learning around interests can be supported through online resources.
The paper tells the story of Amy, a participant in an online knitting community, Hogwarts at Ravelry, which combines both interest in knitting and the Harry Potter series. Amy finds inspiration in the vast knitting pattern library of the group and receiving support from others in the community. She begins to develop, design and write patterns of her own. And, as a teenager, she begins selling her patterns online.
Amy’s access to a stable Internet connection and her own dedication allowed her to dive deep into the activities of the community. Over time, it allowed her to become more active and engaged in knitting.
Another example of what youth can accomplish online comes from my 2014 research on a professional wrestling fan community, a set of forums where professional wrestling fans get together virtually to discuss the many facets of professional wrestling.
Maria, a professional wrestling fan, seeks out an online community because she lacks local support for her interest. Through her participation, she realizes her deep enjoyment of writing. She carries this back into her English class and the school newspaper. This eventually leads her to take creative writing as a second degree in college.
Maria spent hours on her computer carefully crafting her narratives while participating on the forum. With a mobile-only access, she would not have had the amount of time online, or the amount of bandwidth, required for this work. This is supported by the fact that only 31 percent of children with mobile-only access go online daily as compared to 51 percent of those with other Internet access.
How low-income youth get left behind
Mobile-only access to the Internet can create serious barriers for youth who want to access content and educational supports.
As part of my research, I have been conducting workshops in libraries located in low-income communities, using an online coding program that is not yet available on mobile devices. In one of the workshops, students needed to work on projects outside of the sessions.
Because of the limited technology access at home, the librarian held additional open hours so the youth participating in the workshop could work on their projects outside of the workshop hours. A few youth had access to their own computers, but the majority had only mobile access.
The youth with computer access at home created more complex projects. This was partly because they had more time to develop, modify and problem-solve their projects. But it was also because the coding program was available to only those with computer access. These youth also seemed to develop a deeper interest in coding potentially due to this greater level of exposure.
Designers, educators and researchers need to be aware and continually create more equity through mindful decision-making.
Amanda Ochsner, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Southern California who studies how underrepresented groups of young people engage with games and digital media, argues that when designers and developers take the time to understand young people’s digital lives, they are ultimately able to make better tools. As she said to me:
In offices where the most recent models of laptops, tablets, and iPhones are abundant, it’s far too easy for those of us who develop educational tools and technologies to misjudge the technological realities of the young people the education tools and technologies are designing for.
Just how young people access online, in other words, matters – a lot.
There has been a lot of discussion about the shrinking shelf space alloted to books in Barnes and Noble stores. Articles like Sherry D. Ficklin’s “The (inevitable) death of Barnes & Noble” and The Digital Reader’s “B&N a Bookseller No Longer?” both bemoan the loss of space for books in the retailer’s stores. It seems pretty apparent that music, particularly vinyl, is a big part of the replacement plan.
Yesterday, Barnes and Noble has announced that they will be celebrating “Vinyl Day” on Saturday. November 21, 2015. There will be special events in stores and online and you can get more information at www.bn.com/VinylDay. According to the retailer’s press release:
An entire day dedicated to vinyl records and music, Vinyl Day will take place at Barnes & Noble’s nearly 650 stores nationwide just four months after its first vinyl-themed promotion in July as part of the summer program “Get Pop-Cultured with Barnes & Noble.” Now, with Thanksgiving around the corner, the bookseller aims to break consumers out of their usual holiday shopping habits and encourage the “Art of Creative Gift-Giving.”
The chain is offering a selection of vinyl titles exclusive to B & N which includes artist like the Beatles, Tony Bennett, and even an anthology of music from the TV series “Mad Men.” Also featured are color vinyl editions by artists such as Dave Brubeck, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. And for the consummate collector, there will even be a limited number of Signed Edition LPs from artists Bad Company, Brian Wilson and others.
And, yes, they will have have Adele’s new release, “25,” available for Vinyl day, according to the press release.
I signed up for the CBS All Access video service when they were running a promotion for a month-long free trial (no longer available). The service runs $5.99 a month. I tested the service on my Roku box, my Samsung Galaxy Note 8 tablet (Android) and my iPad Mini first generation (IOS).
Sign up was super easy. I just had to create an account, enter billing and credit card info and I was good to go. I didn’t need to wait for a confirmation email to use the service.
CBS has a lot of long-running shows and most of that content is available on the service. NCIS and its spin-offs. Criminal Minds. MacGyver. CSI and spin-offs. All 175 episodes of Family Ties. All 264 episodes of Frazier. All of the Star Trek series are available on demand. The content also includes current shows and the option to watch live TV.
The few shows that were missing seemed to be tied in to current licensing deals. When I started my free trial, there were only clips from the series EXTANT – no full episodes -Amazon had exclusive streaming rights to the show. When season two of the show started, the season one episodes finally appeared on ALL Access. There are no season two episodes because Amazon still has exclusive rights to those.
CBS’ Elementary is another strange situation. Right now, seasons one through three are streaming exclusively on Hulu Plus. CBS All Access is only showing episodes from season three on demand. Hulu Plus’ original announcement seemed to indicate that its agreement for Elementary only covered past episodes, not the current ones.
Most new episodes appear the day after the show airs on television. The Kindle version of the app lists an 8 day delay for episodes in HD.
I tried the CBS app on three different devices. The experience was slightly different on each one of them, but the two things in common across all three platforms were the excessive adds and the video glitches and quality problems.
The advertisements on this service are, quite simply, awful. There are tons of ads and they played before, during and after the show episodes. The sound volume of the ads was extremely loud compared to the video volume. The ad choices seemed especially irritating. The fact that they were played repeatedly through out an episode only increased my annoyance. The series of Jack Link’s Jerky commercials featuring the abuse and bullying of Sasquatch stood out as being particularly noxious.
On the Roku, ads played an average of every eight minutes. The cutting process was really awkward. After the commercials, the show would replay the last few seconds before the break and playback would repeatedly stall and need to reload. I have DSL, and the app did not handle a slow connection well; at times the quality was very poor and the audio would be slightly out of sync. This was especially noticeable compared to Netflix, Amazon and Hulu which seem to do a better job of balancing slower connections.
Viewing on the Android app showed most of the same problems with ads and audio sync issues as the Roku. For the most part, the video quality was somewhat better on the Android than the Roku box.
The picture quality on the iPad Mini was the best out of the three devices, although the audio sync problems were still there.The IOS app had full page ads built into the app that were really disruptive.
Both the Android and IOS app still showed a large number of commercials, but they seemed to be less frequent at the beginning and more frequent towards the end of the episode.
All three platforms had closed captions, although the settings were a little more difficult to figure out on the Roku app as they worked a little differently than I was used to on Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. On the IOS app, I could turn on captions from within the app for streaming, but the app defaulted to the main IOS setting when watching live TV.
I live right outside of Chicago and had no problems with the app recognizing and streaming my local CBS station live. The commercial ads shown during the live didn’t seem the same ones I saw on the on demand side of the app. There were a lot of very short commercials but I didn’t see anything I recognized as strictly local to Chicago.
With a price tag of $5.99 a month, the advertisements and the poor video quality on the Roku box were deal breakers for me, especially after trying Hulu ad-free. I canceled the service near the end of the trial.
Canceling the service was very easy. I simply clicked a link on my account page to cancel, although a toll-free number is also listed on the cancellation page. I was asked to give a reason for canceling (it was optional) and given an opportunity to provide feedback (also optional). I received an immediate email verifying my billing cancellation. I was also informed that I still had access to the content until my trial period actually ended.
Unlike previous series, only the first episode will air on television. The new series will be the first exclusive series for CBS’s “All Access” online streaming service, which currently costs $5.99 per month.
I am a die-hard Trekkie, but unless this service gets significantly better, I will be waiting on the new series until it is out on DVD. I don’t get making the show exclusive to All Access unless they are just trying to boost the adoption of the app.
So, how about you? Have you tried the service? How do you feel about CBS making it exclusive?
Want to see what the Google Books project would look like if it scanned images? At Flickr, there is an archive of over 2 million images, all in the public domain, The photos, from books, magazines and newspapers, span a 500 year period and were originally scanned as part of the Internet Archive project. Eventually, the archive will encompass over 14 million images.
Image from the Internet Archive: Image from page 327 of “Handbook of the trees of the northern states and Canada east of the Rocky mountains. Photo-descriptive” (1907)