A firm stance on ePrivacy regulations in Europe

computerEurope is preparing to take a firm stance on new digital privacy rules. This will likely have a huge impact on online advertising, and any company who wants to expand their services to Europe.

“Would you allow a stranger to go into your bedroom or look through your drawers without your permission?” she asked. “No, you probably wouldn’t.” The same concept, she added, should apply to the online world.

 

Making blockchains anonymous

Blockchain transactions that use public ledgers, such as Bitcoin, are not truly anonymous. It is possible to link an address to an individual and expose all the historical transactions.

Now a recent article in MIT Tech Review has described how blockchains can be combine with zero-knowledge proofs so transactions can be provable, but truly anonymous. Zero-knowledge technology allows someone to prove that something is true (such as the fact that your have reached the legal drinking age) without revealing any information about yourself.

A truly anonymous block chain may be a game-changer for private transactions.

 

Facebook wants your embarrassing images

shy girlFacebook is trialing a service in Australia where people upload their sexy, embarrassing images to prevent them from being published in the social network. This service uses a technical procedure called “hashing.”

Using hashing algorithms to take a mathematical summary or “fingerprint” of a photo is a cool technique. It can be used to recognize an image that has been seen before without actually viewing the image. This is very useful for detecting duplicates and creating watch lists.

Special “fuzzy” hashing techniques can even recognize a photo when it has been cropped or changed slightly. Microsoft has developed a PhotoDNA technique that is particularly good at this, and it is a key tool used by INTERPOL and other law enforcement agencies for processing child exploitation images. By quickly recognizing images that have been seen before, investigators can focus their efforts on new images that might provide fresh evidence.

Microsoft also offers a cloud service so that online sites can screen images that are uploaded by users.

Now Facebook is starting a trial using the same kind of technology. The idea is that revenge-porn images, usually explicit images being distributed without the subject’s knowledge and consent, can be recognized and blocked before they are put online.

This is an interesting idea, but how is Facebook to know if the image being submitted for blocking is actually a revenge-porn image – maybe someone is instead trying to interfere with their business competitors, for example.

The solution that Facebook describes is to have staff members review each submitted image to make sure that it violates their policies on explicit images. Obviously this is rather privacy invasive, and presents further risks of exposure and embarrassment.

More concerning is that Facebook intends to keep the submitted images for some time (with some form of blurring), instead of immediately deleting them once the hashes are created. This obviously creates further privacy and security risks.

Facebook is trying to tackle a serious problem using effective technical methods, but the devil is going to be in the implementation. It is not clear why the images have to be retained, for example, once the hashes are created. It will be interesting to follow the results of the trial – hopefully Facebook will let us know how it worked out.

 

Canadian decisions against Google must be applied globally, top court rules

In an important decision, the top court in Canada has ruled that Google must respect rulings made in Canada and apply them globally. This is a notable stretch of jurisdiction and impact. The EFF has provided some interesting commentary:

The Supreme Court of Canada […] ruled that because Google was subject to the jurisdiction of Canadian courts by virtue of its operations in Canada, courts in Canada had the authority to order Google to delete search results worldwide. The court further held that there was no inconvenience to Google in removing search results, and Google had not shown the injunction would offend any rights abroad.

Source: Top Canadian Court Permits Worldwide Internet Censorship | Electronic Frontier Foundation

UPDATE: A US court has now ruled that the Canadian ruling does not have to be applied in the US, citing threats to free speech. It is not clear if Google will go ahead and unblock the results in the US, violating the Canadian order.

 

The psychology of lying

National Geographic has a great article on the psychology of lying. Lying is a “deeply ingrained human trait” and children learn to lie at a very young age.

Ironically, even though we all lie quite frequently, we are really bad at detecting when others are lying.

That human beings should universally possess a talent for deceiving one another shouldn’t surprise us. Researchers speculate that lying as a behavior arose not long after the emergence of language. The ability to manipulate others without using physical force likely conferred an advantage in the competition for resources and mates, akin to the evolution of deceptive strategies in the animal kingdom, such as camouflage. “Lying is so easy compared to other ways of gaining power,” notes Sissela Bok, an ethicist at Harvard University who’s one of the most prominent thinkers on the subject. “It’s much easier to lie in order to get somebody’s money or wealth than to hit them over the head or rob a bank.”

Vision without seeing

Do you ever get the feeling you are being watched? Did you see something out of the corner of your eye, but not know what it is? It turns out that a lot of visual processing happens without us actual seeing anything.

Once information leaves our eyes it travels to at least 10 distinct brain areas, each with their own specialised functions. Many of us have heard of the visual cortex, a large region at the back of the brain which gets most attention from neuroscientists. The visual cortex supports our conscious vision, processing colour and fine detail to help produce the rich impression of the world we enjoy. But other parts of our brain are also processing different pieces of information, and these can be working away even when we don’t – or can’t – consciously perceive something.

Source: What triggers that feeling of being watched? – Mind Hacks

Ethical review for usability studies

computerThe role of ethics review boards (aka Institutional Review Boards or IRBs) has long been discussed when considering social science, human factors, or usability studies. How much review is appropriate when the behaviours involved are limited to things people do in everyday life (e.g., trying a new computer program or completing a questionnaire)? Is the level of review done for medical experiments appropriate when it comes to usability research? This debate has flared up again with some recent rule changes in the US.

If you took Psychology 101 in college, you probably had to enroll in an experiment to fulfill a course requirement or to get extra credit. Students are the usual subjects in social science research — made to play games, fill out questionnaires, look at pictures and otherwise provide data points for their professors’ investigations into human behavior, cognition and perception.But who gets to decide whether the experimental protocol — what subjects are asked to do and disclose — is appropriate and ethical?

Source: Some Social Scientists Are Tired of Asking for Permission – The New York Times

Understanding false beliefs

truth wordsThere have been many discussion recently about belief in false facts. This phenomenon has shown up both in politics and in science.

In order to understand why people persist in believing things that are demonstrably false, you have to consider the psychology.

…[C]onsider whether the following statements are true or false:

– We only use ten percent of our brains.
– We lose most of our body heat through our heads.
– If you swallow chewing gum, it will stay in your system for seven years.
– Cracking your knuckles will give you arthritis.

If you answered “true” to any of these, you’re guilty of believing falsehoods.

Read more at:
Why Do People Believe Things that Aren’t True?

The economics of the Loch Ness monster

monsterJust in time for tourist season, there has been another sighting…

Study after study has shown there is nothing in the loch that resembles a monster. But the locals desperately wish to keep it alive. I would love to visit Loch Ness for the mythical feel and historical context, but mostly for the geology and beauty. There is no monster in the loch except for the one that has to be fed by tourist cash.

Money monster of Loch Ness must be fed

Replicating Milgram: People are still willing to obey authority and inflict pain

A 2009 article from Cognitive Daily described a replication of Milgram’s classic obedience to authority study.

In that study, participants played the role of “teachers” asked to give electric shocks to “students” during what appeared to be a learning experiment. The key finding was that people were surprisingly willing to obey and give increasing levels of electric shock.

Nobody thought the study could ever be repeated because of ethical concerns, but now it has been done.

And the results? People are still willing to obey.


Would we still obey? The first replication of Milgram’s work in over 30 years

Seventy percent were willing to continue past the 150-volt mark, prompting the experimenter to halt the study. This result was statistically indistinguishable from Milgram’s.

Now there has been a more recent replication from researchers in Poland:

Just like Milgram, and other replication attempts in the US and elsewhere, the team found the majority (90 per cent in this case) of “teachers” were willing to continue to the highest shock level, even after hearing screams of pain from the “learner”.