Search the KHIT Blog

Monday, March 9, 2015

Wearables update: the iWatch

Apple, with its long history of privacy breaches— including a September 2014 leak of nude celebrity photos stored by its iCloud service— was forced by mounting consumer backlash to engage in the debate about privacy protections in a far-reaching manner when it held its September 2014 press conference on its impending release of the new Apple iWatch and Apple Pay service. For the first time, Apple was entering the top tier of companies that profit from data mining, primarily dominated by Google and Amazon.

The proud boast of Apple had long been that, as opposed to those other companies, its profits derived predominantly from the creation and sale of physical products rather than from targeted advertising . As the New York Times reported, “Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, said in an interview that in contrast to companies like Amazon and Google that relied on tracking user activity to serve ads or sell things, Apple still primarily made money from selling hardware . With Apple Pay, which will be available next month, Apple does not store any payment information on the devices or on Apple’s servers. It simply acts as a conduit between the merchant and bank.”

In a sneer at the aforementioned competition, Cook told the Times, “We’re not looking at it through the lens that most people do of wanting to know what you’re buying, where you buy it, how much you’re spending and all these kinds of things. We could care less.”

Another top Apple official announced that the company would not allow app developers for the new Apple Watch to use iCloud, presumably more vulnerable to hackers, to store sensitive health information, and that the data stored on the watch itself would be encrypted. Similar protection was assured regarding the financial data logged by Apple Pay, which will employ the more secure chip-based Europay, Mastercard, Visa (EMV) technology that relies on changing numbers assigned to each purchase instead of the old-fashioned magnetic-strip technology that had proved vulnerable to theft at stores...

But none of this was quite true, and little of the boasting stood up to scrutiny, since the apps that had made the iPhone so profitable were most often dependent for their profitability on the harvesting of individual location and other data. With the new Apple iWatch collecting an individual’s health data and Apple Pay recording a record of credit card purchases, Apple is suddenly wading in the deepest waters of sensitive personal data collection.
A few years ago, with privacy concerns largely dormant in the mainstream political discussion, this product-line shift from a prominent company did not raise many questions from the public, but in the post-Snowden era, Apple was forced to directly confront the problem. The good news is that once consumers have been warned about the glaring threats to their private data online , companies will be forced to tighten those protections in order to maintain their customers’ trust in the process. The bad news is that those same companies have been loathe to inform consumers of the risks they face for fear that doing so will jeopardize a profit model based for most Internet companies on targeted advertising.
“The Achilles heel for privacy and consumer protection are apps connected to marketing, where information can be gathered and used,” noted privacy advocate Jeffrey Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy, adding, “I do not believe safeguards are in place to protect consumer health information that will be gathered for profiling and targeting.”
The overall pitch of those who run Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and the rest is: trust us and trust market forces to keep us straight when we stray from the proper course. This is, after all, a basic conceit of free-market capitalism— as long as the game is not rigged by crony capitalists gaining an advantage from the government to distort the market to their benefit...
They Know Everything About You: How Data-Collecting Corporations and Snooping Government Agencies Are Destroying Democracy (pp. 205-207). Nation Books. Kindle Edition.

I just finished reading Robert Scheer's book. Bracing. The myriad paradoxes borne of technology (increasingly including "the internet of things") and "Big Data."

Fitbit Data Now Being Used In The Courtroom
Parmy Olson, Forbes

Personal injury cases are prime targets for manipulation and conjecture. How do you show that someone who’s been in a car accident can’t do their job properly, and deserves thousands of dollars in compensation? Till now lawyers have relied on doctors to observe someone for half an hour or so and give their, sometimes-biased opinion. Soon, they might also tap the wealth of quantifiable data provided by fitness trackers. A law firm in Calgary is working on the first known personal injury case that will use activity data from a Fitbit to help show the effects of an accident on their client.

The young woman in question was injured in an accident four years ago. Back then, Fitbits weren’t even on the market, but given that she was a personal trainer, her lawyers at McLeod Law believe they can say with confidence that she led an active lifestyle. A week from now, they will start processing data from her Fitbit to show that her activity levels are now under a baseline for someone of her age and profession...

So, after finishing Robert Scheer's new book I watched the 2015 Oscar-winning HBO documentary "CitizenFour," and reviewed several of my lengthy stash of books pertaining to privacy. A bit depressing. The loud contention over the inadequacies of "patient privacy" (see my prior post) is just a small part of the larger issue.

I've been involved in the privacy debate for a long time, predating my grad school days in the 1990's. The topic then became the focus of my time in grad school. From my 1998 Master's Thesis:
...Finally, on the necessity of “privacy”: Whether one believes that the Fourth Amendment phrase “ in their persons...” is synonymous with a proscriptive legal right to bodily and psychological privacy, I shall argue that the need for privacy is a fundamental aspect of personality, one seen and respected in one form or another throughout millennia and across cultures. The cardinal elements of virtuous moral character (e.g., courage, temperance, justness, industriousness, honesty) and the behaviors they guide are not mere functions of the prod of ongoing surveillance. Indeed, one can make the case that virtue is a matter of behaving morally even in the absence of observation or threat of apprehension. Those who framed our Bill of Rights were far more noble than a cynical conspiracy of tariff-averse fur traders and rum-runners motivated by nothing more than a desire to hog-tie authority. They knew that liberty—which we ostensibly revere as a founding principle—requires respect for individual moral agency: respect for the private absent probable cause justifying its breach...
“Privacy” is a term with multiple connotations. We mandate by law and social norms that certain activities be conducted “in private.” The privacy synonyms “secluded” and “exclusive” are positive keywords in real estate advertising. A media microphone rudely thrust in the face of a grieving parent who has just lost a child to an accident is disdainfully viewed as an egregious “invasion of privacy.” Similarly, celebrities bemoan (and frequently litigate against) their losses of privacy at the hands of their tabloid pursuers. In some major public policy contexts, however, privacy seems to be what we value most for ourselves, and what we would most like to deny others by casting aspersions on their privacy claims...

We will examine developments in U.S. legal privacy norms, including current concerns regarding confidentiality in a digital age. We will then survey ethological, anthropological, cultural, historical, psychological, and philosophical evidence supporting the role of privacy in the development and functioning of socially competent citizens. Bentham got it wrong. The conventional framing of the privacy issue—which posits an intractable antagonism between personal privacy rights and social imperatives—is inadequate. A deeper understanding is required. Paradoxical though it may seem on a surface view, it can be shown that privacy is at once a personal and civic ethical good. The Panopticon is by wide margin a net loser: devoid of enduring moral force with respect to the dissolute; irrelevant at best with respect to the upright.
Some regard privacy as an inseparable aspect of personal autonomy requisite for the very notion of liberty we ostensibly revere as a cardinal element our social and legal order. Critics, on the other hand, either dismiss the notion of a general right to privacy out of hand, or assert that it is a relatively recent, weak, and “derivative” declaration, one inherently inimical to and necessarily deferential to society’s “right-to-know” in the interest of commercial efficiency, public safety, and criminal prosecution. Those holding this latter position view the quest for privacy as a reaction to increasing urbanization and advances in information processing technologies, that the inhabitants of earlier eras and non-industrial cultures had and have little concern with our notions of “privacy.” Critics of the former persuasion who disavow the very notion of a general right to privacy under federal law find the concept adequately accounted for principally in terms of property rights. Libertarian advocate Murray N. Rothbard, for example, argues in The Ethics of Liberty that “there is no such thing as a right to privacy except the right to protect one’s property from invasion.” Rothbard holds that what some regard as an invasion of privacy is more correctly seen as a misappropriation of property, “not some vague and woolly invasion of a 'right to privacy'."
Rothbard calls it a "property right." Interesting. Well, who "owns" facts about you? Who "owns" rumors about you? Who "owns" lies about you? (All of them "data.") More charitably, who owns mere "errors" about you, and what might be the upshot of their acting upon them? See my November 2013 post "(404)^n, the upshot of dirty data."

Is everything "ownable" and "owned" (minimally via "the commonwealth")?

Not at all clear. Recall that the cardinal attribute of "ownership" goes to the ability to control something's use (for profit or any other motive), to be able to deny others access to the thing ostensibly "owned."

See also my other writings on the topic, e.g., here, here, and here.

Robert Scheer:
FOR DEMOCRACY, PRIVACY IS THE BALL GAME. WITHOUT the assurance of a zone of inviolate space, both physical and mental, that a citizen can inhabit without fear of observation by others, there is no guarantee of the essential sovereignty of the individual promised in the First and Fourth Amendments to the US Constitution. That should be clear, as it is to most people who have been oppressed by the tyranny of authoritarian regimes. Indeed, as Aldous Huxley and George Orwell brilliantly established in their classic writing on this subject, the totality of societal observation over the individual is the defining antithesis of freedom, even when that observation is gained through hidden and subtle persuasion. 

That much used to be obvious, particularly after the starkly revealing experiences in the last century with overtly totalitarian regimes; Germany under both fascism and communism offers the most startling example. In both instances, the advanced educational level of the population provided no significant barrier to the population’s surrender of freedom and its accommodation of total surveillance of individual activity. 

Unfortunately, with the sudden dominance of the Internet— which has come upon us worldwide and with more crushing, and yes, liberating consequences— we have been overwhelmed with the illusion that surveillance and freedom are compatible. That is because the culture of the Internet, driven by its core economic model, has succeeded in equating privacy with anonymity. In reality, that is not the case. Privacy is a matter of individual choice as to what to reveal about one’s behavior to others, whereas anonymity, in the modern commercialized celebrity-driven world, is assumed to represent a harsh societal dismissal of individual worth. 

The profit model of targeted advertising has sustained the Internet since its original development as a Cold War– era military project of the Pentagon’s science and technology research wing DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) meant to ensure military communications in the event of an all-out nuclear war with the Soviet Union. That compelling business application of the Internet, the ability of advertisers to anticipate and manipulate consumer consumption, is what has financed the phenomenal growth of the wired world at a pace of change that dwarfs all such transformations in communications that came before. Broadcast television held that distinction previously, with its ability to deliver content to millions of viewers— but it was only a glimpse into our desires that, by the standards of the Internet, was quite limited... (Scheer, op cit, location 73) 
The "larger issue" goes beyond relatively narrow 4th Amendment Constitutional privacy to to the breadth of concerns bearing on the topic. From "Spying on Democracy":
Alexander the Great amassed an empire in the fourth century B.C. with innovations in military tactics and strategy that continue to be used today. Spy networks, including soldiers counting enemy camps at night to plan counterattacks, were essential to his maneuvers. But while Alexander used stealth tactics and reconnaissance against enemies at war, corporations and our government now conduct surveillance and militaristic counterintelligence operations not just on foreign countries but also on law-abiding U.S. citizens working to improve society. Bicycle-riding environmentalists in New York City, journalists raising awareness of flawed national security initiatives, and lawyers representing unpopular clients are but a few examples of individuals whose lives are subjected to monitoring, infiltration, and disruption once they are seen as a threat to corporate profits and government policies. 

From the minute you wake up, your everyday activities are routinely subject to surveillance. Retailers capture consumer data and sell it to data aggregators, telecommunications companies hand over records of customer calls to government agencies, and personal data shared on social media platforms is readily available to businesses that may share it with the authorities. 

Whether you are the head of the Central Intelligence Agency arranging a secret sexual encounter or an ordinary citizen shopping at Target, your interactions with others are under a staggeringly comprehensive network that tracks where you go, how long you stay, and what you browse, read, buy, and say. An intelligence-gathering infrastructure that commands access to, and control over, so much personal information is the hallmark of a totalitarian regime. 

Historically, successful government spies are acclaimed as heroes, while those caught spying for the other side face harsh punishment, including execution. The lauded ones were masters of deception, betraying trusts and confidences to gain invaluable intelligence. In similar fashion, government and corporate authorities abuse trusting Americans by monitoring them around the clock and amassing their personal data. The more an individual draws attention to a corporate or government misdeed, the more that person is subject to intrusive observation. 

This book documents the way relentless surveillance makes people in the United States less free. As government agencies shift from investigating criminal activity to preempting it, they have forged close relationships with corporations honing surveillance and intelligence-gathering techniques for use against Americans. By claiming that anyone who questions authority or engages in undesired political speech is a potential terrorist threat, this government-corporate partnership makes a mockery of civil liberties. The examples in these pages show how a free press, our legal system, activists, and other pillars of a democratic society— and even children— suffer as a consequence. As the assault by an alignment of consumer marketing and militarized policing grows, each single act of individual expression or resistance assumes greater importance, each single act of individual expression or resistance assumes greater importance . As individuals and communities, we need to dismantle this system if we are to restore and protect our civil liberties.

Boghosian, Heidi (2013-07-22). Spying on Democracy: Government Surveillance, Corporate Power and Public Resistance (City Lights Open Media) (pp. 21-23). City Lights Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Garrett Keizer's eloquent book "Privacy":
A second way to defend privacy, especially as a political value, is to grant the truth of the worst that can be said about it: that it is selfish. Si, the Chinese word that may come closest to the English word privacy, means approximately that. Chinese is wise on that score. The right of privacy implies that an individual human being is so important that he or she is entitled to an inviolable sphere of self-interest. Without that recognition, democracy is merely rule by a multitude of petty tyrants, and altruism little more than a benign form of harassment. 

But if one accepts a right to be selfish, it follows that others have that same right; otherwise it is not a right at all, but merely a whim. The beauty of privacy, when it is beautiful, is that the most radical acceptance of our own prerogatives leads us to an empathetic sense of “the others.” No less than ourselves, they are entitled to be let alone. The sage goes into the mountains, turning his back on society and all of its obligations, only to return and proclaim the Golden Rule. 

We might go so far as to say that there is a “vaccination effect” to privacy: it provides some immunity even to those members of the population who refuse the vaccine...
For most of us privacy provides a refuge from the world. Christopher Lasch speaks of domestic life as “a private retreat from a public world increasingly dominated by the impersonal mechanisms of the market.” Others might see it as a retreat from a world increasingly dominated by the likes of Christian Heller. T. S. Eliot said that “human kind / Cannot bear very much reality”; often the reality we cannot bear very much of is humankind. Sartre put it tersely: “Hell is other people.”

Keizer, Garret (2012-08-07). Privacy (Big Ideas//Small Books) (pp. 42-43). Macmillan. Kindle Edition.
Again, Garrett Keizer:
It is a curious paradox of the times we live in, when no commandment is inscribed on tablets of stone but every one of our transgressions lives eternally within some data bank, effectively beyond the pale of forgiveness. [ibid, pg 6]

Indeed. Goes to ever-increasing conflation of government and commercial interests out to relentlessly, surreptitiously data-mine and manipulate the minutia (and, by extension, the actuality) of our lives.

Useful to connect some David Graeber dots in this regard:

[F]rom inside the system, the algorithms and mathematical formulae by which the world comes to be assessed become, ultimately, not just measures of value, but the source of value itself. Much of what bureaucrats do, after all, is evaluate things. They are continually assessing, auditing, measuring, weighing the relative merits of different plans, proposals , applications, courses of action, or candidates for promotion. Market reforms only reinforce this tendency. This happens on every level. It is felt most cruelly by the poor, who are constantly monitored by an intrusive army of moralistic box-tickers assessing their child-rearing skills, inspecting their food cabinets to see if they are really cohabiting with their partners, determining whether they have been trying hard enough to find a job, or whether their medical conditions are really sufficiently severe to disqualify them from physical labor. All rich countries now employ legions of functionaries whose primary function is to make poor people feel bad about themselves. But the culture of evaluation is if anything even more pervasive in the hypercredentialized world of the professional classes, where audit culture reigns, and nothing is real that cannot be quantified, tabulated, or entered into some interface or quarterly report. Not only is this world ultimately a product of financialization, it’s really just a continuation of it. Since what is the world of securitized derivatives, collateralized debt obligations, and other such exotic financial instruments but the apotheosis of the principle that value is ultimately a product of paperwork, and the very apex of a mountain of assessment forms which begins with the irritating caseworker determining whether you are really poor enough to merit a fee waiver for your children’s medicine and ends with men in suits engaged in high-speed trading of bets over how long it will take you to default on your mortgage.

Graeber, David (2015-02-24). The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy (pp. 41-42). Melville House. Kindle Edition.
No small irony in the fact that the very passages I highlight within and cite from my Kindle reader are at once transmitted to Amazon's "cloud" servers, where they become grist for Amazon's proprietary analytics. The notion of the FBI controversially harrassing librarians post-9/11, in egregious violation of the First Amendment, for the reading records of patrons has become a bit quaint, has it not? Back to Robert Scheer:
The Constitution’s Fourth Amendment guarantee of the sovereignty of the individual—“ The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated”— was being treated as an irrelevant relic of a bygone civilization. 

It was a perfect storm. The snoopers, both state and corporate, now had the capacity for massive storage and search functions, able to move far beyond the level of surveillance ever deemed permissible, or even possible, by the constitutional framers. Now the government, rationalizing the excessive use of state power with a hysterically defended claim that the very existence of our country was threatened by terrorism, merged the private and the public data fields in order to create instant, absurdly detailed portraits of any citizen “of interest.” One’s most intimate habits, from private correspondence, book pages read, and lists of friends and phone conversations, can be seamlessly merged with a detailed map of an individual’s DNA, both biological and social. [Scheer, op cit, pp. 182-183]
As a potent symbol of how those once clearly separated activities are now intricately entwined, consider the example of Amazon. Jeff Bezos, the online superstore’s founder and major owner, is now also the owner of the Washington Post—the paper most significant for its daily, in-depth coverage of the federal government— while, at the same time, his company has a contract to build a $600 million cloud to store the data that the seventeen US spy agencies are collecting on the world’s population.

With such a massive conflict of interest, will Bezos’s Post continue to run exposés of the surveillance state as it did as one of the main publishers of the Snowden leaks? Will Amazon, with near-monopoly dominance, be influenced in its marketing of books, music, or movies critical of the government, or of big corporations like itself? [ibid, pp. 192-193]
I'm not sure it's possible to overstate the concerns here.

More mundanely, some of this stuff has recently gotten personal for me.

Basically, HR advised my wife and her colleagues that, even though we are not Anthem subscribers, if we used any providers who also take Anthem insurance, our data may have been swept up in the breach.

I'm not making that up.


I spent some time surfing the EFF site today.

I may donate and join once I shake off my funk.

Ran across information about this book while on the site.

Look like more riffs on a theme.
"You are under surveillance right now.

Your cell phone provider tracks your location and knows who’s with you. Your online and in-store purchasing patterns are recorded, and reveal if you're unemployed, sick, or pregnant. Your e-mails and texts expose your intimate and casual friends. Google knows what you’re thinking because it saves your private searches. Facebook can determine your sexual orientation without you ever mentioning it.

The powers that surveil us do more than simply store this information. Corporations use surveillance to manipulate not only the news articles and advertisements we each see, but also the prices we’re offered. Governments use surveillance to discriminate, censor, chill free speech, and put people in danger worldwide. And both sides share this information with each other or, even worse, lose it to cybercriminals in huge data breaches.

Much of this is voluntary: we cooperate with corporate surveillance because it promises us convenience, and we submit to government surveillance because it promises us protection. The result is a mass surveillance society of our own making. But have we given up more than we’ve gained? In Data and Goliath, security expert Bruce Schneier offers another path, one that values both security and privacy. He shows us exactly what we can do to reform our government surveillance programs and shake up surveillance-based business models, while also providing tips for you to protect your privacy every day. You'll never look at your phone, your computer, your credit cards, or even your car in the same way again."
I'll probably buy it and read it as well. After I finish the novel I just bought in hardcover to give this depressing crap a rest.

The NSA Has Taken Over the Internet Backbone. We're Suing to Get it Back.

Every time you email someone overseas, the NSA copies and searches your message. It makes no difference if you or the person you're communicating with has done anything wrong. If the NSA believes your message could contain information relating to the foreign affairs of the United States – because of whom you're talking to, or whom you're talking about – it may hold on to it for as long as three years and sometimes much longer.

A new ACLU lawsuit filed today challenges this dragnet spying, called "upstream" surveillance, on behalf of Wikimedia and a broad coalition of educational, human rights, legal, and media organizations whose work depends on the privacy of their communications. The plaintiffs include Amnesty International USA, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and The Nation magazine, and many other organizations whose work is critical to the functioning of our democracy.

But the effect of the surveillance we're challenging goes far beyond these organizations. The surveillance affects virtually every American who uses the Internet to connect with people overseas – and many who do little more than email their friends or family or browse the web. And it should be disturbing to all of us, because free expression and intellectual inquiry will wither away if the NSA is looking over our shoulders while we're online.

The world first learned of the existence of upstream surveillance from whistleblower Edward Snowden's spying revelations in June 2013. Since then, official disclosures and media reports have shown that the NSA is routinely seizing and copying the communications of millions of ordinary Americans while they are traveling over the Internet. The NSA conducts this surveillance by tapping directly into the Internet backbone inside the United States – the network of high-capacity cables and switches that carry vast numbers of Americans' communications with each other and with the rest of the world. Once the NSA copies the communications, it searches the contents of almost all international text-based communications – and many domestic ones as well – for search terms relating to its "targets."...

Off topic for this post, but too good to not cite. Margalit rocks!

 ObamaCare Cheesy Poofs

...Obamacare is creating a retail market for health insurance. Essentially, the inefficient, unaffordable individual health insurance market model is to be propped up by government subsidies, while its unsustainable and inequitable methodology is copied over to the orders of magnitude larger employer sector. When the transition is complete, health insurance will no longer be a job benefit. Instead, a fixed value voucher will be given out by employers to be applied by employees towards health insurance purchases. Since salaries will not be affected by this change and since the voucher value will be trending to zero over time, most Americans will be forced to shop not just for insurance, but for everything insurance used to buy. 
Retail medicine makes perfect sense to the canapé nibblers under the candelabra, because Isabella, the undocumented au pair, is very happy shopping at Walmart for all her health care needs, and she comes from a good upper class home in Venezuela. One can only imagine the entertaining spectacle offered by millions of little consumers scurrying ever each way, like so many rodents on a burning ship, holding on tight to their worthless little vouchers, desperately trying to find a way to pay for medicine. Help is on the way though. Transparency, you see, is the missing ingredient in this newly liberated market. Every Cheesy Poofs bag has a clear list of ingredients, starting with cornmeal, oil and salt, and ending with yellow coloring, and a big huge table of “nutrition facts”. This has been shown to work well for Cheesy Poofs and it is now being applied to health extortion bags, as well as boxes of health providers.
In a moving show of solidarity, the glitterati themselves are participating in this disruptive “sharing economy” because they all use Uber. Uber is replacement for taxis, and if the closest you ever came to paying for a private ride was on your high school prom night, that’s okay, because taxis are disproportionately used by rich people. Cheesy Poofs guzzlers take the bus or drive themselves. Uber for health care has been the wet dream of many entrepreneurs and their two bit consultants. In this “sharing economy”, lots of jobless hungry people provide on-demand unskilled services to more fortunate patrons, and then “share” their fare with a $41 billion global corporation. This business model is several thousand years old and it used to be called pimping in the prostitution field.
The Uberization of health care will require turning the same tricks used in the taxi industry, or the hotel industry, to neutralize licensure requirements for offering a service, any service. The eradication of credentialed expertise, goes by the name of democratization, because discrimination based on one’s education, training and expertise should be abolished in an enlightened society where only pigs can be more equal. Health care is a harder nut to crack though, because the unfairly large differential between a licensed doctor and all other potential providers of this service, and because licensed physicians are selfishly unwilling to “share”. The good news is that some doctors are starting to come around, and the indisputable success of Obamacare is showing that health care consumer products need not contain real doctors, just like your satisfying bag of Cheesy Poofs contains no real cheese. It’s a miracle of sorts….. Bud Light is still beer. Cheers.
LOL. And, as I've said before, healthcare needs an Uber like it needs another Gruber.

More to come...

No comments:

Post a Comment