Archives for category: Opeds

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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In an otherwise perfect interview on the importance of social innovation (that I wholly agree with and that I encourage everybody to read) Jaromil said something interesting about the use of blockchain to create scarcity in the digital realm.

With the blockchain the situation is paradoxically creating scarcity, because if I give you something I will not have it anymore, and I can’t spend it anymore. The blockchain creates for the first time a condition in which it will be possible to create a unique asset in the digital dimension.

For some, creating scarcity is the holy grail in the digital domain. Because scarcity does not naturally exist there. In the digital domain it is easy to make exact digital copies of digital documents, pictures, videos, etc. Scarcity would re-establish copyright, or at least prevent large scale copyright infringements. And it would prove Paul Graham wrong.

I fear the situation is slightly more complex than that, and that, in fact, digital scarcity is a Fata Morgana.

Let me explain.

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Palantir is a platinum sponsor for the 2018 edition Amsterdam Privacy Conference (APC). Because of Palantir’s very poor (privacy) reputation several scholars cancelled their participation. And a petition was started (called ‘Funding Matters’) that calls for

  1. The discontinuation of Palantir’s sponsorship of the Amsterdam Privacy Conference,
  2. Organizers and participants alike to engage in an action-oriented discussion on corporate funding of academic events,
  3. The development of rigorous criteria and guidelines for corporate sponsorship, for example, based on Human Rights Impact Assessments.

I agree, funding matters. (Not only when organising conferences, but also when doing research, by the way.) But I am afraid that I cannot sign the petition as it currently stands. Even though I care about this issue a lot. In fact, it’s because I care about this issue a lot.

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Last sunday, journalists from The Correspondent revealed that it was trivially easy to find the names and addresses of military and intelligence service personnel that use Polar, a popular runners wearable and fitness app. All runs (even private ones) made by owners of a Polar fitness device are stored on a central server, and can be viewed on a map. Even though the user interface restricted access to only public runs, bypassing the user interface and entering URLs manually allowed them to extract all runs made by anyone since 2014. Polar switched off access to the map recently to prevent further abuse of this. What can we learn from this incident?
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Last year I was a member of an ENISA (the European Network and Information Security Agency) expert group. We studied the issue of how to address and support privacy and data protection in mobile application development. A few days ago (on data protection day) ENISA published the final report. It was a real pleasure to work on this project, both with the academics involved, as well as the ENISA staff supporting us. Unfortunately, ENISA has adopted a new policy whereby it no longer acknowledges the contribution of the researchers that actually wrote the report: our names are not listed as authors. Sadly this means that for academics like myself participation in ENISA research projects and contribution to ENISA reports is no longer useful or even possible.

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