Archives for category: Opeds

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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I was invited to speak at the Bitcoin in Education (BCINED) conference held in Groningen, September 5, 2017. Topic of my presentation: “Blockchain & Identity: Why you should avoid the blockchain like the plague“. While listening to the morning keynotes, praising the many benefits of using blockchains in education and for managing (academic) credentials in particular, I realised my message might provide a very much needed counterpoint. The short summary: using blokchain for identity management is ridiculous.
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The Internet Privacy Engineering Network (IPEN/EDPS), the University of Leuven (KU Leuven), and the Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) will host a transatlantic workshop dedicated to Privacy Engineering Research and the GDPR on Friday, 10 November, 2017 at the University of Leuven in Belgium. In preparation they asked a few people for a shortlist of the most pressing issues to be discussed at the workshop. I started thinking, came up with a short list, which then grew longer as I started explaining what I meant. I’m sharing the result in the hope to receive feedback and to sharpen my thinking.

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A few days ago I was strolling around my home town Groningen, when a family asked me the directions to the Dutch Comics Museum (‘Stripmuseum’). As this had been a particularly unproductive day so far (a lot of thinking without getting anywhere, really), I felt very happy to be of service. Silly as it may sound, it actually made me feel good.

This was an important lesson for two reasons.

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