The world keeps getting creepier and creepier, right? The Internet sure isn’t helping.

Digital Shadow is a website that connects to your Facebook account. Like Wolfram|Alpha, it analyzes your activity on Facebook. Friends, pictures, posts, vocabulary, and activity are all displayed onto the webpage. To be honest, a lot of the data is information that I didn’t expect to be extracted from my Facebook. People I argue with, people that stalk my profile, the people whose profiles I stalk… I didn’t know that connecting my Facebook page to the website gave them that information.

This is part the advertising campaign for a game made by the French company Ubisoft. Professional data miners, who make billions of dollars mining and selling our information to advertisers and analytics companies, without a doubt have more extensive data. In fact, Facebook probably gives the data directly to these companies. After all, that’s how Facebook makes it’s money. Not advertising, but by selling our data to advertisers so that they can advertise to us.

‘Online privacy’ is dead. There is none. The Terms of Service agreements that we sign waive all the rights we have to our own data. Facebook mines our data, which sells it to companies that analyze it, which then sells it to advertisers that sell ads to companies. All of this data is then collected by the government to hunt dem terrorists.

I’m definitely going to be more careful with my Facebook.

And I’m not the first to say so either.

Of course, even a broken clock is correct twice a day. In his book ‘The World Is Flat‘ he discusses the the topic of globalization. Globalization is the process of the world’s ever increasing level of interconnectedness. He discusses how the internet and computing has fundamentally changed how economics and business work. This is true. Businesses like Walmart, McDonalds, Apple, and UPS would not be able to function without these advances in technology. The internet is flattening the world, evening the playing field for those competing in different countries. This is supposed to be positive. After all, a rising tide lifts all boats, right?

Of course, globalization is not all positive. Products that used to be manufactured in the US are now being manufactured abroad, where labor is cheaper. The Europe outsourced to the US, who outsourced to China, who then outsourced to Vietnam and Cambodia. These aren’t the only problems. Outsourcing will result in inferior quality products because they will be produced by people that don’t care about quality or improvement. The people outsourcing the labor can’t even monitor the quality of the products being produced. 63% of companies are using paper based systems to keep track of the products produced overseas. It is called ‘the fog of outsourcing’, where not even the companies that are outsourcing can keep track of the quality of their products. This fact directly contradicts Friedman’s point that technology is flattening the world, and not the endless drive for businesses to lower costs. I would argue that this trend of outsourcing would have happened regardless of the internet revolution. It’s happened before. It’s happened time and time again for centuries.

Thomas Friedman is still a blithering idiot.

Here are all of my Code Academy badges dating back to the first assignment.

 

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Code Academy Final Badges

Note: Casper Diamond is my name on Facebook, and Code Academy decided to use that name for my account.

Heartbleed is probably the worst thing that has ever happened to internet security. Apparently, according to Bloomberg, the NSA has known about the exploit for years and has been using it to extract user’s passwords without the knowledge of the server administrator or the user. Sounds pretty screwed up, doesn’t it?

It’s massively screwed up. The NSA is lying to us. Again. They said that they would report these vulnerabilities to the developers so they would get fixed. Instead, they’re keeping quiet about them, all the while exploiting them for their own gain. It disgusts me that my tax dollars go to fuel this dragnet beast. What gets me the most is the arrogance of the NSA to think that they’re the only ones smarter enough to discover this bug. Russia has their own teams of hackers, and so does China (and their governments are a whole lot less scrupulous than ours). If we can find it, so can they, and their inability to pipe up about it endangers us all.

Unfortunately, the way that ours laws have been written, we basically have no right to known when our informations has been accessed. Should we know? Of course. Are they ever going to tell us? No. Is the federal government going to claim national security need for secrecy like everything else they do? Probably.

Since the whole Snowden fiasco started last year, my online shopping has ground to a halt. Since last June, I’ve even been afraid to use my bank card. Snowden’s documents show us that the NSA collects everything even credit card transactions. Online shopping is a lazy fool’s game. They’re basically forefeitting their privacy for convenience, and I think that that’s a horrible trade to make.

Filesharing is a very controversial topic. Both the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) claims that billions of dollars is lost every year to illegal filesharing. The RIAA estimates that only 37 percent of music acquired by U.S. consumers in 2009 was paid for, and that U.S. internet users consume between $7 billion and $20 billion of ‘digitally pirated recorded music’ each year. In the past decade, music sales in the U.S. have declined from $14.6 billion to $7.7 billion.

First of all, the claims proposed by these statistics are disingenuous, for several reasons. First of all, they count each song illegally downloaded as a missed sale. That assumes that everyone that pirated a song would have bought had it not been available illegally. This is wrong to assume. As a ‘pirate’ (to use the recording industry’s pejorative term), I have downloaded a vast amount of music that I wouldn’t have bought otherwise. I’ve discovered artists, songs, albums and genres that I wouldn’t have been able to if I were required to buy it all. For many of those artists I have gone to concerts, bought merchandise, and spread the word about them on social media. I wouldn’t have been able to do that otherwise. Second, another contributing factor to the decline of music sales is the ability to find the music for free online legally. Ever hear of Youtube? Spotify? Pandora? Rdio? Last.fm? Why buy the music when you can listen to it for free legally? Adopting these services and sacrificing that revenue was the recording industry’s choice, and they are blaming us for it. They’re trying to double dip. Third, I do not trust the recording industry’s statistics when they have been shown to be extortionists, liars, and thieves many times in the past. They’ve attempted to sue grandmothers into oblivion over alleged illegal downloads, many of which didn’t have the capability to illegally download the content in the first place.

My favorite artist is Pretty Lights. He is an extremely talented and popular musician/producer that has been releasing his music for free through his website since 2005. He sells out stadiums and festivals around the world, routinely playing to crowds of over 100,000 at Bonnaroo and Coachella every year. He wouldn’t have been able to do that if he had gone with the traditional retail model and sold his music like everyone else. By lowering the barrier to entry, he enabled anyone and everyone with an internet connection to download his music as they pleased. He makes his money through touring and selling merchandise. By giving his music away for free, he made himself more money. Despite giving away his music for free, people still choose to pay for his music (myself included). His last album, A Color Map of the Sun peaked at 24 on the Billboard 200 chart.

Illegal downloading is a problem for the record industry, that is true. It is a problem because they are too stubborn to change their antiquated business practices. The internet changed everything. Old business models do not work anymore. The recording industry needs to find a new, better business model. It is extremely luddite and hypocritical for them to complain about shrinking revenues when they have fought against the internet every step of the way. They need to adapt, or die.

No, it’s not a the pejorative term (that’s ‘mook’, I feel dirty just typing it). Far from it. MOOC stands for ‘massive open online course’. They are free courses offered online. Offered through websites like Khan Academy and Code Academy, anyone can enroll in these courses. These programs have received a lot of hype, namely because they claim to offer people opportunities to expand their knowledge about a wealth of subjects (biology, finance, language, history…). Question is: do they work?

It depends on the person. In fall 2012, Duke University offered a course called ‘Bioelectricity’. 12,725 students enrolled, but a small percentage of those people ever actively participated in the course. Only 7,761 of those enrolled ever watched a video, and 3,658 attempted a quiz. By the end of the semester, barely anyone that had enrolled in the course was still participating. 345 people attempted the final exam, of which 313 passed. That’s a course completion rate of 2.5%. That’s miserable. A researcher for Columbia University found that 32% of those enrolled in MOOC’s withdrew from the courses before their completion, compared with 19% for equivalent classroom classes.

There is a great deal of trust with MOOCs. You have to trust the students to be truthful and not cheat, which is easier than ever when you can just open a tab and Google the answers. You have to trust them to be motivated enough to complete the course. That isn’t a lot to ask, but many people are selfish, lazy, incompetent and unmotivated. The people that would benefit the most from these courses (financially insecure people) are the people least likely to complete the courses. They don’t have the time, motivation, or energy to go through with it. It’s unfortunate.

MOOCs work, but only for some people. It worked for the 2.5% of Duke students that managed to complete the course, but it didn’t work for the 97.5% of students that failed to do so. MOOCs have great potential, but people need to be sufficiently motivated in order for that potential to be realized.

Most people have never heard of a man named Aaron Swartz. Many of them have probably heard of Reddit (which he co-founded), which is one of the largest message boards and communities on the internet today. What happened to him is a travesty that many more people should be aware of.

In January 2011, Swartz was arrested by MIT police for systematically downloading articles and academic journals from the repository called JSTOR. Swartz planned to gather the articles and publish them in an open, free database that would be open for anyone to view and use. Federal prosecutors charged him with thirteen criminal charges, which carried a cumulative maximum penalty of $1 million in fines plus 35 years in a federal penitentiary. Swartz’s attorney accused the Department of Justice of lying, seizing evidence without a warrant and withholding evidence. Unfortunately, the trial dragged on for more than two years. On the evening of January 11, 2013, Swartz was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment. Swartz was hopeless, convinced that he was doomed to lose the trial.

Why did the government feel it necessary to prosecute Swartz? He was trying to gather and distribute data from academic journals that were free to begin with (free as long as you were connected to MIT’s WiFi network). How is it that the government was charging him with theft? Theft from whom? They accused him of hacking. Do they even know what hacking is? Did the prosecutors have the faintest idea of the crimes that they were charging Swartz with?

Aaron Swartz was many things. A programmer, entrepreneur, activist, organizer, writer, and contributor to many things that benefited the world immensely. He created RSS, Reddit, and helped organize and create Creative Commons, among other things far too numerous to list here. One thing that he was not was a criminal. Our copywrite laws are severely broken, and they need to be fixed. Fast. Problem is, the people tasked with fixing the broken system we have, are the same people that created the broken system to begin with.

Code Academy, Casper Diamond is my Facebook name

What do I consider private? In short, metadata and content that is associated with me that I do not publish. Content is easy to define and understand. What you are reading is content. Metadata, on the otherhand, has a more nebulous and confusing definiton.  Metadata is data that gives specificity to other data. Say, for instance, you place a phone call to someone. The audio of that phone call is the content. The length and GPS location of the call, the identities of those engaged in the call, the IMEI and SIM identification numbers of the phones connected to the call… THAT is metadata. The government wants us to believe that it’s dragnet, mass surveillance is only collecting metadata. ‘It’s only metadata’, senator Diane Feinstein and president Barack Obama said last year. Assuming that is true (it’s not, there is evidence that proves that the government is collecting much more than just metadata), that is tremendously scary. Metadata can be tremendously revealing if analyzed. There are so many reasons to have a problem with this, more than I can list in just a few paragraphs.

Whenever I engage in conversations with people about the government’s mass collection of our data, the stock response is ‘but I don’t have anything to hide’. So? That doesn’t mean anything. Whether or not you have anything to hide is entirely irrelevant. It’s whether or not the government thinks you have something to hide, and with the Executive’s overly broad interpretation of section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, everyone is a suspect in the War on Terror. Everyone. You, me, grandma. Whether or not you have anything to hide, you are suspect, and that is a tremendously dangerous interpretation of the law. Of course, the government also collects the data that Facebook and Twitter collect. Problem with that is, when I post something or log into Facebook, I am giving Facebook consent to use that information. Not the government. Not the companies that Facebook then sells that data to.

We are on a slippery slope. Our data is not safe. Not from the government. Not from private corporations. Encryption won’t help. Not at all. Our data is collected, stored, and sold on the daily, and I don’t think there is anything that we can do to slow or stop it. 

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