Archives for category: Science

Tests that detect Covid-19 antibodies are becoming available. This allows authorities to test whether people already contracted the virus, and therefore are now immune and no longer a carrier of the virus. Once tested, such people could be exempted from certain restrictions (like staying inside or working from home), or could volunteer to help vulnerable people that stay in quarantine. The question is: how do you reliably prove that you have tested positive for such an antibody test, while protecting the privacy of people being tested. After all, we do not know yet what the long term health effect is of having been infected by the virus. It may be a perk and a badge of honour now, but it may be a stain in your health dossier in the years to come.

Read the rest of this entry »

In an effort to monitor or control the spread of COVID-19 (aka the Corona virus), countries have turned to invasive forms of surveillance based on the location data that mobile telephone operators collect of their users. This is not only happening in China or South Korea, but also in Israel and even Germany, Austria and Italy. The details differ per country.

In this blog (long) post I want to describe the current ways in which location data is being used to fight the spread of COVID-19, discuss why this worries me for the future, and describe some technological options for more controlled, privacy conscious tracking of infected people. (I hesitate to write privacy friendly in this context.)

If you prefer, there is also a pdf version that you can read.

Read the rest of this entry »

David Chaum introduced blind signatures almost four decades ago [1], as the fundamental building block to implement a form of untraceable digital cash. His proposal was to represent each digital coin as a unique serial number blindly signed by the issuing bank. The unique serial number embedded in the coin would prevent double spending, while the blind signature over the coin would guarantee both untraceability (by not knowing which coin was signed) and unforgeability (by signing the coins in the first place). Unfortunately, the way Chaum explained the blindness property has somewhat obscured the fact that it actually has two different faces.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Netherlands uses a nationwide, smart card based, public transport ticketing system called “OV chipkaart“. This system logs all trips made by all people travelling by public transportation in the Netherlands in one central database. This is even the case for the so called anonymous OV chipcard, which gave rise to a court case recently asking the judge to order the Dutch data protection authority to start enforcing the GDPR. And that in turn got me thinking about how to implement public transport ticketing in a privacy friendly way.

Read the rest of this entry »

Suppose you want to go to the movies tonight. Or perhaps your favourite band is coming to town. To secure a ticket for the event, you decide to buy one online. You select the event details, make sure you selected the right date and time, choose the e-ticket option (provided the shop even offers alternative delivery options), and you are ready to proceed to checkout and pay.

But wait.

Somewhere along the ordering process you are required to sign in to your account at the online ticket shop. If you don’t have an account yet, you’ll have to create one, and you will probably be asked to provide your full name, home address, phone number and email address. In some cases you will have to provide more information, like your age, and perhaps your credit card number (for future purchases). Doesn’t that surprise you? No? Perhaps you are so used to it now, so conditioned to it, that you no longer really notice this identification step, let alone question it. Apparently you have bought into the myth that ‘they’ always need to know who you are. But do they, really?

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »