Archives for category: Opeds

I wrote a critical piece about the Google Apple Contact Tracing (GACT) platform a few days ago. This resulted in quite some discussion, which brought some more arguments to the fore, that I would like to address and clarify here. Here I focus on my area of expertise: privacy. My colleague Tamar Sharon wrote an eloquent article about the (much) broader picture, that we should definitely not lose sight of.

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The European Commission published a common toolbox for contact tracing and some guidance on such apps in relation to data protection. Here is a critical analysis.

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Apple and Google released a joint specification that allows both iPhones and Android devices to do contact tracing on a global scale. Even though “privacy, transparency, and consent are of utmost importance”, this is a game changing event that has grave consequences. We must stop Apple and Google in their tracks. Or else ditch our smartphones as they will truly become the Stasi agents in our pockets.

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When grading exams, teachers typically award a number of points to each answer given, up to a certain predetermined maximum number of points for every question on the exam. The grade for the exam is a function of the total number of points scored. This function is called the norm of the exam. Often, teachers adjust this norm depending on how well (or how poorly) students performed. As a teacher you typically want 60-70% of the students to pass your exam.

With the current Covid-19 pandemic, exams are increasingly held remotely. This increases the opportunities for fraud: students may call each other, secretly share answers using shared documents, or use inadmissible tools like certain calculators or software, etc.

This creates a kind of prisoner’s dilemma for students that do not want to cheat, but know that their fellow students could easily do so. If many students cheat, the overall exam results will be pretty good. This may lead to an adjustment of the norm. The norm may be made more strict, meaning that you need more points to pass the exam. This puts people that didn’t cheat at a disadvantage: they are likely to score fewer points than those that did. So even if you are inclined not to cheat, knowing that your fellow students might cheat creates a strong incentive to cheat as well (especially if the topic of the exam is not one you excel at).

Can this dilemma be defused? Certainly. As a teacher you should publicly commit to a norm well before the start of your exam. And if you decide to deviate from the norm, only do so to adjust for a poorly made exam by lowering the norm. This way, honest students are certain they will never be adversely affected by fellow students that decide to cheat.

In 2016, the Nine Dots Prize was awarded for the first time, to James Williams. His prize? The opportunity to develop his 3.000 word idea into a full-length book: ‘Stand Out of Our Light: Freedom and Resistance in the Attention Economy’ (available from Cambridge University Press as open access). This is a review of that book.

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A random newsflash I stumbled upon yesterday: “The majority (54%) of consumers in Germany forecast cash to become obsolete in a few years and they prefer contactless.”. Form personal experience I can confirm that more and more people are paying by card in the Netherlands as well. In fact, increasingly shops stop accepting cash. This is a problem, from a privacy and autonomy perspective.

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The push for open access to scientific publications is finally getting traction. For example, Plan S, backed by mostly European institutes funding scientific research, was launched in September last year. But I really worry about the direction we are heading. Current proposals essentially maintain the status quo and keep the huge profits of the publishers intact. The only change is that instead of libraries paying for subscriptions, authors now pay for publishing their papers. This is problematic for several reasons, to be explained in this post, and hence not a solution. Instead we should strive for a model where both the publishing of scientific papers by authors and the access to those papers by anyone in the world should be open to and free for all. In other words: open access should be free for both authors and their readers.

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