Amazon’s Ring Considering Facial Recognition

Ring just gets creepier and creepier. While the basic home security idea isn’t bad, the implementation, especially when combined with the (existing or just discussed) partnerships with law enforcement, giving them unfettered access to the video captured by the cameras, is really, really disturbing.

(I have friends who have Ring cameras, some of whom have been very glad to have them when weird things have happened at their place. I don’t want to discount the benefits that these systems can provide. But for people who have been considering a Ring system, it’s worth thinking seriously about the potential wider concerns with the system and considering other options; for those who do have a Ring system, it might be worth reviewing the settings to see how much, if any, of the data sharing can be opted out of.)

In its public-relations efforts, Ring has maintained that only thieves and would-be criminals need to worry about the company’s surveillance network and the Neighbors app. From the way Ring’s products are designed to the way they’re marketed, the notion of “suspicion” remains front and center; Ring promises a future in which “suspicious” people up to “suspicious” things can be safely monitored and deterred from afar.

But “suspicious” is an entirely squishy concept with some very potentially dangerous interpretations, a byword of dog-whistling neighborhood racists who hope to drape garden-variety prejudice beneath the mantle of public safety. The fact remains that anyone moving past a home equipped with Ring cameras is unavoidably sucked into a tech company dragnet, potential fodder for overeager chatter among the suburban xenophobe set. To civil libertarians, privacy scholars, and anyone generally nervous about the prospect of their neighbors forming a collective, artificially intelligent video panopticon maintained by Amazon for unregulated use by police, Ring’s potential consequences for a community are clear.

A “proactive” approach to information sharing could mean flagging someone who happens to cross into a Ring video camera’s frame based on some cross-referenced list of “suspects,” however defined. Paired with the reference to a facial recognition watch list and Ring’s generally cozy relationship with local police departments across the country, it’s easy to imagine a system in which individuals are arbitrarily profiled, tracked, and silently reported upon based on a system owned and operated solely by Amazon, without legal recourse or any semblance of due process.


Five Senators Join the Fight to Learn Just How Bad Ring Really Is: “…if police want to request footage from a person’s front door in reference to a car break-in on that street, there is no need for police to verify that footage would be helpful to solving that incident, or whether the footage would even be used for that particular incident and not for other purposes. If a person agrees to share their footage with police, police then have that footage forever and can share it with whoever they want without oversight or restrictions. This means footage from your door, requested by local police to catch an alleged thief in the neighborhood, could end up being used by another law enforcement agency for a completely attenuated purpose, such as identifying someone for deportation—without your knowledge or direct consent.”


Linkdump for January 11th through January 23rd

Sometime between January 11th and January 23rd, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!


Linkdump for September 23rd through October 1st

Sometime between September 23rd and October 1st, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!

  • Well, this is a good way to keep me from visiting New Zealand:: "New Zealand's Customs and Excise Act 2018 went into effect today. That means travelers who refuse to give their phone or laptop password to customs officials will be fined NZ$5000. In addition, their devices will be confiscated and forensically searched." Not that I had plans to visit New Zealand, but this sure puts a damper on any interest.
  • The Eternal Life of the Instant Noodle: “Last year, across the globe, more than 100 billion servings of instant noodles were eaten. That’s more than 13 servings for every person on the planet.”
  • Science Says Toxic Masculinity — More Than Alcohol — Leads To Sexual Assault: "Every drink is downed amid cultural expectations and societally mediated attitudes about women and power. Those things — and how young men absorb them — have a stronger causal influence than the alcohol alone. When a man feels entitled to assault someone, he may get drunk before he does it, but the decision to act was ultimately his alone."
  • iOS 12 Siri shortcut for traffic stops: Pauses music, dims the screen, turns on Do Not Disturb, and activates video recording on the front-facing camera. When done, sends the video to a trusted contact or uploads the file to Dropbox. Clever.
  • Everything You Know About Obesity Is Wrong: “For decades, the medical community has ignored mountains of evidence to wage a cruel and futile war on fat people, poisoning public perception and ruining millions of lives. It’s time for a new paradigm.”

Linkdump for September 3rd through September 23rd

Sometime between September 3rd and September 23rd, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!


Twitter’s Weird Email Search: Not Findable, Except That They Are

While killing time the other day, I ran into a weird little “feature” on Twitter that, I have to admit, I don’t entirely understand.

Twitter's FInd FriendsAs part of their new interface, there’s a tab at the top titled “Who to Follow”, when then has a tab called “Find Friends” that allows you to hook into your Gmail (or Yahoo, MSN/Hotmail, AOL, or LinkedIn) address book to discover people that you might not know are already on Twitter. So far, so good.

So, I pop my email address in, authorize with Gmail, and let Twitter think for a moment. After a moment of thinking, I get a long list of Twitter accounts that are associated with the email addresses in my address book (most of which I was already following). Once again, so far so good — this is all what I would expect to have happen.

But as I scrolled down, things got a little more odd. I started getting hits for a bunch of people with the cryptic message, “This person is on Twitter, but isn’t yet findable by email. Let them know you’d like to follow them.” When I clicked the “Follow” button on a few of those entries, Twitter kindly let me know that it had sent a message to let them know I was interested in following them.

Not Findable?

This morning, I got a note from one of the people behind those accounts letting me know that that account was unused. They were kind enough to forward the message that Twitter sends, however:

On Jan 28, 2011 11:13 PM, “Twitter” wrote:

Michael Hanscom (@djwudi) would like to follow your tweets (@—–) on Twitter.

Michael Hanscom knows your email address: @—–@—–.com. But Twitter can’t suggest you to users like Michael Hanscom because your account (@—–) isn’t configured to let users find you if they know your email address.

So here’s what I don’t understand. These accounts are set to hide their email address, and to not be searchable by email address. This is even mentioned twice, once in the listing after Twitter read through my address book, and again in the email sent out after I hit the “Follow” button. However, that’s exactly how I found the accounts: by their email address.

Sure, Twitter isn’t showing me the account name, so I can’t follow directly. Instead, I have to send a request, and the account owner then has to approve (or disapprove) the request. It does, however, let me know that there is a Twitter account associated with that email address…which seems to run counter to the intent of the account owners who have set their accounts to not be findable by email address.

Is this a bug? A feature? A privacy concern? Or is there something that I’m just not grokking, and this actually makes perfect sense and is how things should work?

Anybody want to toss their two cents in the ring (yes, mixed metaphor, I know)?

Drama-Free Facebook

Leave it to the kids to figure out how to make Facebook as safe, secure, and drama-free as possible.

From danah boyd | apophenia » Risk Reduction Strategies on Facebook:

Mikalah uses Facebook but when she goes to log out, she deactivates her Facebook account. She knows that this doesn’t delete the account – that’s the point. She knows that when she logs back in, she’ll be able to reactivate the account and have all of her friend connections back. But when she’s not logged in, no one can post messages on her wall or send her messages privately or browse her content. But when she’s logged in, they can do all of that. And she can delete anything that she doesn’t like. Michael Ducker calls this practice “super-logoff” when he noticed a group of gay male adults doing the exact same thing.


Shamika doesn’t deactivate her Facebook profile but she does delete every wall message, status update, and Like shortly after it’s posted. She’ll post a status update and leave it there until she’s ready to post the next one or until she’s done with it. Then she’ll delete it from her profile. When she’s done reading a friend’s comment on her page, she’ll delete it. She’ll leave a Like up for a few days for her friends to see and then delete it. When I asked her why she was deleting this content, she looked at me incredulously and told me “too much drama.” Pushing further, she talked about how people were nosy and it was too easy to get into trouble for the things you wrote a while back that you couldn’t even remember posting let alone remember what it was all about. It was better to keep everything clean and in the moment. If it’s relevant now, it belongs on Facebook, but the old stuff is no longer relevant so it doesn’t belong on Facebook.

(via Waxy)

Interesting approaches, and I don’t think I would have thought of either. Well, I might have thought of the second, but I babble enough that it would be far too much trouble to bother with (and besides, the majority of what goes on Facebook also goes to Twitter and my blog, so there wouldn’t be much point).


Bloggers’ Rights and Blogophobia

With the news of another weblogger losing his job because of posts on his weblog — this time [Joe of the Woolamaloo Gazette][1] — the issues of what webloggers can and cannot expect to be able to post on their weblogs has started bubbling ’round the blogosphere again.

[1]: “Thursday, January 06, 2005”

This time, [Ellen Simonetti of Queen of Sky][2], who [lost her job as a flight attendant][3] due to pictures she posted on her weblog, has started a project she’s called the [Bloggers’ Bill of Rights][4]. I’ve had a few people e-mail me about this (including Ellen herself), but I’ve been holding off on posting anything about it until I’d had some time to think about it.

[2]: “Diary of a Flight Attendant”
[3]: “Queen of Sky Story Summary”
[4]: “The Bloggers’ Rights Blog”

# The Bloggers’ Bill of Rights #

The Bill of Rights reads [as follows][5]:

[5]: “International Bloggers’ Rights Blog: The Bloggers’ Bill of Rights”

> We, the inhabitants of the Blogosphere, do hereby proclaim that bloggers everywhere are entitled to the following basic rights:
> 1. If an employer wishes to discipline an employee because of his/her blog, it must first establish clear-cut blogging policies and distribute these to all of its employees.
> 2. Blogging employees shall be given warning before being disciplined because of their blogs.
> 3. NO ONE shall be fired because of his/her blog, unless the employer can prove that the blogger did intentional damage to said employer through the blog.
> Blogophobic companies, who violate the Bloggers’ Bill of Rights, will be blacklisted by millions of bloggers the world over.

After running this around in my head for a couple days to be sure of where I stood on this, I’ve got to admit that I may end up taking a rather unpopular stance — but I can’t help but think that while I appreciate the ideals behind this, this particular effort seems rather silly, pointless, and unlikely to be of any real consequence.

First off, there’s the simple fact that this is not a real “Bill of Rights” in any real legal sense (which Ellen has made sure to [call attention to][6]). Well-intentioned as it is, it carries no weight whatsoever beyond that which the participants give it, and as the sole participants are going to be those webloggers who sign on to it, it makes the whole thing pretty one-sided.

[6]: “Blogger’s Bill of Rights, Rough Draft (See Edit #3)”

As for the three points of the Bill:

1. > If an employer wishes to discipline an employee because of his/her blog, it must first establish clear-cut blogging policies and distribute these to all of its employees.

While a specific, targeted, “clear-cut blogging policy” sounds good, and there are a few companies [starting to implement such things][7], I ‘m not entirely sure if it’s a necessary thing in most cases, and it seems rather redundant if you’re working under a Non-Disclosure Agreement.

[Terrance has been thinking about this side of it][8] more than I have:

> But what should a corporate policy on blogging look like? That’s something I never quite got back to wrapping my brain around but seeing this list of people who were fired for blogging got me thinking about it again.
> For employers, assume that your employees are going to blog, and establish clear guidelines to guide them should they choose to do so. Make the penalties for not abiding by the policy clear, such as under what circumstances an employee will be warned and under what circumstances an employee will be terminated where blogging is concerned. And, of course, one of the best things to do is to set an example by starting a company blog if appropriate.

If you’re publishing something to the ‘net, then you need to think very carefully about the fact that you’re _publishing_ something. The ‘net is a public forum. You’re not talking to one or two friends over a pint in the local bar — you’re putting that information out for [Google][9] and the entire world to see. Even if you generally only have a small handful of friends and family visiting your website, if the site is publicly available, than you have a potential audience larger than any printed newspaper or magazine on the face of the planet, and once a post is made, it makes no difference whether your words were printed with ink on paper or electrons on a screen.

If you’re under an NDA, than it’s blindingly simple: don’t talk about anything covered by the NDA. Period. Hopefully nobody’s foolish enough to question that.

If you’re not under an NDA, it may seem a little hazy, especially without a blogging policy in place. Many people think that attempting to blog anonymously, using pseudonyms for their co-workers or employer will keep them safe. I tend to think that that’s a somewhat naïve belief, something that I’ve talked about in the past (when I chose to start weblogging [under my given name][10], and again when I was [wrapping up my experiences with Microsoft][11]). Really, it’s very simple, and boils down to common sense: if something you write might get you in trouble, assume the worst _before_ you post it for the world to see.

Maybe it seems a little overly paranoid — but while there are times when it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission, that’s not a game that I think is very reasonable when it comes to your employment.

2. > Blogging employees shall be given warning before being disciplined because of their blogs.

Oh, how I wish I’d been given a warning and the opportunity to delete my offending post! I don’t have any problem at all with this clause — in fact, I think that in quite a few of the cases where webloggers have been dismissed from their jobs (including mine, Ellen’s, and Joe’s), a warning or even mild disciplinary action on the part of the company would have been _far_ preferable to simply firing the offending employee.

However, that’s a decision that is solely up to the company. We as webloggers can sign all the agreements, petitions, and Bills of Rights that we want, but it’s the employer that makes the final call, not the employee. My one hope is that as more of these cases come to light, more employers will realize that they’ll receive far less bad publicity and word of mouth by requesting that the offending material be deleted and reprimanding the employee, rather than simply cutting all ties as quickly as possible. However, until and unless that happens — and some companies may decide that it’s not worth the risk of keeping the employee around, even with the potential bad press — it’s far better to err on the side of caution (at least if you’d like to continue receiving a steady paycheck).

3. > NO ONE shall be fired because of his/her blog, unless the employer can prove that the blogger did intentional damage to said employer through the blog.

First off, and most importantly, again, this is solely up to the discretion of the employer.

That said, how does one define “intentional damage” — and why “intentional”? What if an employee were to blog about a project of a co-workers that they’d been peripherally involved in, only to find out later that it was a secret project? They weren’t part of the main team and hadn’t signed a specific NDA regarding that project, so any damage that publishing that information may have done to the company wouldn’t have been intentional — but that wouldn’t mean it was any less damaging to the company, or that the employee was any less at fault for having disclosed the information.

What we as employees, customers, and webloggers see as damaging might be (and likely is) far different from what a company would see as damaging, especially if we can be seen in any way as representing the company. Joe Shmoe on the street saying “Product X sucks” is one thing, a programmer on the Product X team saying the same thing in their weblog is very different, _even if the average reader might not know that the weblogger is associated with that project_.

[7]: “Sun Policy on Public Discourse”
[8]: “Do Work and Blogging Mix?”
[9]: “Google”
[10]: “Own Yourself”
[11]:” “Conclusion”

In the end, it really boils down to something very simple: it’s the employer that holds the cards. That certainly doesn’t mean that they should be able to get away with doing anything they wish (as has been demonstrated many times over the years through unions, strikes, and so on), but it does mean that the employee needs to take their employer into consideration before publishing work-related subjects to their website.

Lastly, about this “…blacklisted by millions of bloggers the world over” bit. Nothing personal to Ellen or anyone else who’s signed, but so far, there’s all of 44 signatories to this — a far cry from “millions of webloggers.” Plus, even if this did gain traction and there were millions — or even thousands — of participating bloggers…_blacklisted_?

So, anyone who has signed or is about to sign this thing is pledging not to mention or support any of these companies in any way? That’s going to be interesting to see. [Apple][12]’s on that list, so there better not be any Mac users — and if there are, then I hope they’re not planning on covering the [Macworld Expo][13] that starts tomorrow. [Microsoft][14] might be on the list, too. With both Apple and Microsoft on the list, I assume that everyone who’s signed up so far are either currently using [Linux][15], some Unix variant, [BeOS][16], or [Amiga][17] computers, or about to make the switch. [Starbucks][18] is on there — that’s going to seriously cut into the number of Seattle webloggers that sign up.

[12]: “Apple”
[13]: “Macworld Conference and Expo”
[14]: “Microsoft”
[15]: “The Linux Home Page at Linux Online”
[16]: “BeBits – The Best Source of BeOS Software!”
[17]: “ – The site for Amiga support and news”
[18]: “Starbucks Homepage”

Anyway, you get my point.

# Is Microsoft ‘Blogophobic’? #

Apparently, there’s been a fair amount of back-and-forth discussion in the comments to Ellen’s [list of Blogophobic companies][19] as to whether or not Microsoft should be listed, with [my experiences][20] being one of the more prominent arguments for why they should be. Ellen e-mailed me tonight to ask my opinion.

[19]: “The Bloggers’ Rights Blog: Blogophobic Companies/Organizations”
[20]: “Of Blogging and Unemployment”

In short: Absolutely not.

What, you’re surprised? The guy who got booted off the Microsoft campus for posting a picture on his weblog _doesn’t_ think that Microsoft belongs on the Blogophobic list?

Damn skippy I don’t. I’ve had the same opinion of what happened to me ever since the incident took place: I made a mistake, and while I think Microsoft could have handled the situation better than they did, they were entirely within their rights to do what they did.

[From my wrap-up][21] posted two days after I was ushered off campus:

[21]: “Who’s to blame?”

> Who’s to blame? In the end — me. I really don’t blame Microsoft for their actions. By my best guess, they saw me as breaking the rules…and decided that rather than give me a second chance and run the risk of me doing something similar in the future, it would be better to just cut me loose before I could do any more damage. […] I may not like the way that they handled this. […] However, I cannot fault them for making the decision that they did, however much I wish that that they had made a different decision.

As the old saying goes, “If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.” Not only did I happen to be one of the first [highly][22]-[publicized][23] cases of a major company dismissing someone for a weblog post, but that company was Microsoft, which added a whole new angle to the stories. Not only was Microsoft dismissing someone for reasons that many people would find trivial, but the person they were dismissing was an admitted fan of traditional rival Apple’s products — and it was a [photo of those very products][24] which triggered the entire thing! You couldn’t _ask_ for a better setup than that for another round of Microsoft bashing.

[22]: “/.: Microsoft Fires Mac Fan For Blog Photo”
[23]: “Blogger dismissed from Microsoft”
[24]: “Even Microsoft wants G5s”

However, as with most things, it’s hardly that simple. There are two major reasons why I don’t believe my experiences should put Microsoft in the “Blogophobic” category.

1. **I was in the wrong.**

[As I’ve said before][25], I made a mistake. I may wish that Microsoft had taken a different approach after finding my post, but it was my mistake, and I paid the price. Life goes on.

2. **Microsoft _supports_ weblogging.**

[Robert Scoble][26] has been a prominent and prolific Microsoft weblogger for quite some time now, since long before I was dismissed. He’s also quite good a what he does — I may not always agree with him (apparently they forgot to stock the snackroom in my building on the Microsoft campus with the right [Kool-Aid][27]), but he’s a fan of Microsoft’s work, and he writes what he believes.

He also doesn’t just blindly fawn over everything Microsoft does (though, admittedly, there are times when it seems like it). However, he knows the difference between saying something like “Product X sucks” (as in my example above) and saying “[we need to work on this.][28]” It may seem like a minor thing, but there’s a huge difference in tone there. I know I’ve seen him say that there are areas and products where Microsoft could do better, but I don’t think I’ve seen him out-and-out slam Microsoft for something.

(There’s also one huge difference between Robert and I — he is employed directly by Microsoft, while I was a third-party contractor. The gap between being a Microsoft employee and being an employee of a temp agency who contracts you to a second company who happens to provide on-campus services to Microsoft is immense.)

Beyond Robert, though, there are a multitude of Microsoft-employed webloggers. [][29] currently lists 1,239 different weblogs — that really doesn’t sound like a company that’s afraid of letting its employees blog to me. I’d bet that every single one of those webloggers knows where to draw the line between what is and what is not permissible to talk about on their sites, too.

Much as it pains me to point this out, too, I have to ask — are there any current Apple employees aside from [Dave Hyatt][30] weblogging? Not that I’m about to chuck my PowerMac G5 out the door, buy a PC and [drink the Kool-Aid][31] (at least that flavor, I’m still quite happy with my Apple-flavored Kool-Aid) over an issue as trivial as this, but if you _really_ want to use this as a basis for comparing whether a company is blog-friendly or not, Microsoft really isn’t doing badly at all.

[25]: “Yes — I made a mistake”
[26]: “Microsoft Geek Blogger”
[27]: “Google for ‘scoble kool-aid'”
[28]: “Microsoft the new IBM?”
[29]: “”
[30]: “Surfin’ Safari”
[31]: “Google for ‘drink the kool-aid'”

So, to sum up: The Bloggers’ Bill of Rights, while well-motivated, doesn’t look to me to be all that useful in the real world; Microsoft isn’t ‘Blogophobic’; and I _talk a lot_ when given the opportunity. Geez. See what happens when someone actually _asks_ my opinion on something? Over 2,400 words on whether people should be surprised when they get canned for being snarky about their job on their weblog.

You’re probably better of leaving me to play with silly [online quizzes][32] and [memes][33]. Less pain for your newsreader, at the very least. ;)

[32]: “Dominant Intelligence”
[33]: “Timeline Meme”