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Archive for June, 2009

Who are you when under surveillance?

June 29th, 2009
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BigLittle from SnitchtownOne of the many ways we identify ourselves is as a member of a city, state, or country. This context brings certain benefits, rights, and responsibilities. People in your community have practices and understandings about what it means to be a member, including beliefs about behaviors that might result in someone being ejected from that community.

A couple of years ago, Forbes.com published Cory Doctorow’s Snitchtown essay. In it Doctorow explored what makes a community and how video surveillance violates a loosely understood “social contract” without returning significant social benefits. From Doctorow’s essay:

The key to living in a city and peacefully co-existing as a social animal in tight quarters is to set a delicate balance of seeing and not seeing. You take care not to step on the heels of the woman in front of you on the way out of the subway, and you might take passing note of her most excellent handbag. But you don’t make eye contact and exchange a nod. Or even if you do, you make sure that it’s as fleeting as it can be.

Doctorow continues,

The irony of security cameras is that they watch, but nobody cares that they’re looking. Junkies don’t worry about CCTVs. Crazed rapists and other purveyors of sudden, senseless violence aren’t deterred. I was mugged twice on my old block in San Francisco by the crack dealers on my corner, within sight of two CCTVs and a police station. My rental car was robbed by a junkie in a Gastown garage in Vancouver in sight of a CCTV.

The irony, as Doctorow points out, is that “When you watch everyone, you watch no one.” This is a classic case of missing the forest for the trees. We have millions of eyes, but with them we can not see.

Emma Byrne published a photoessay on her blog (direct to the PDF) to illustrate Doctorow’s essay. Byrne notes that her photographs include “some of the 4.2 million CCTV cameras currently estimated to be active in Britain.” Yow!

Coaching moment: Do you have cameras in your neighborhood? Look around, I bet you do. Surveillance cameras act as silent and ever-vigilant recordings of our every public move. They don’t come with any indication of why they’re there, or who’s watching.

Have you ever walked to the other side of a street, or taken another path through a store, so as not to be in the middle of the camera? Have you ever noticed a camera then quickly responded by looking down or away? Worn sunglasses and a hat so as not to be as easily recognized? Or does the surveillance make you feel safe? Why?

Note that you may not have anything to hide. You may have done nothing wrong in public. That’s not the question. For most people the surveillance just feels illegitimate, creepy and wrong.

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Mapping the New Frontier

June 28th, 2009

Personal Data EcosystemThis picture, and the accompanying post The Personal Data Ecosystem, describes a flow of data from and about us. (Click on the picture for a larger, more readable version on Flickr.)

This rather detailed article talks about the need for a Personal Data Store, a database of a sort, in which you could “source, gather, manage, enhance and selectively disclose data” that supports your needs. More importantly, this data store is something that YOU would control. This is significant because it inverts the power structure for data (right now everything is in the hands of the collector organizations), and makes your personal data more valuable by being more accurate, targeted to your needs, and freely exchanged for a specific purpose. The authors point out the desirability of this new paradigm: “if a new source emerges that is richer, deeper, more accurate, less toxic – and all at lower cost than existing sources; then organisations will use this source.” Note that the organizations will no longer need to maintain and update their databases at the same level that they do now.

Coaching moment: Many people don’t think twice about giving their name, address, phone number, and email address, to strangers if it means they might win a prize or gain some free advantage. Getting something for nothing has a strong pull. Their data has no inherent value to them. We’ve been trained well by the advertising and other industries that we are lacking, or that we are nothing without their products or services. On some level, we believe this.

It’s a lie.

Our value is in our uniqueness. We see and experience things in ways that are different from everyone else. Our perspectives on life, our needs to interact with others, our personal wishes and desires are part of who we are. The essence of what we think of as “good,” “moral,” or “right” is what we might contribute to making the world a better place.

Yes, we have things in common: the need to be loved, to eat and have shelter. Look beyond our necessities. If you could find others in the world that lifted you up and made you feel special, and you did the same for them, wouldn’t you want this? Can you think of any likely path that might happen with the current state of data ownership?

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Your Health Records: Are they really YOURS?

June 22nd, 2009

Let me start with three stories illustrating why you might care about having access to and control over your personal health records:

  1. Fred lived in Florida. As he was elderly, he had a regular care provider that he saw for his health needs. As was customary, the health care providers maintained a file of records for each patient, including Fred.

    One day Fred went to see his family in New York. Fred woke up one morning and was feeling quite ill, so his family took him to the local hospital where Fred was admitted to the Emergency Room. Fred’s doctors in New York needed to have access to Fred’s prior medical history and medicines in order to provide proper diagnosis and care. However, when the New York doctors called the Florida doctors for copies of Fred’s records, they were denied access. The Florida provider’s office told the New York doctors that they would only share the records with the patient in person, and that if the patient was unable to fly back and get them, the Florida providers couldn’t help the New York doctors–even if all parties knew that Fred was in the emergency room.

  2. Keisha and Bob lived in a nice house. One day a natural disaster struck their neighborhood and devastated many of the houses, including Keisha and Bob’s. As natural disasters strike suddenly, Keisha was seriously harmed and was taken away to another county’s health care facility for treatment. Bob knew that Keisha was taking medicines for some condition, but Bob had been away recently and had not heard what Keisha’s condition was or the names of the medicines. Also, Bob knew that Keisha had just changed their health care provider but didn’t yet have an identification card for the new insurance plan. Bob could give permission for medical care, but did not have the proper information to assist his wife.

  3. George had been diagnosed with cancer of a mysterious kind. The first oncologist suggested that George undergo certain tests, which he did. The second oncologist interpreted the tests for George. A third doctor prescribed medicines. George’s cancer did not abate, and he was referred to a specialist at a different hospital. George got additional tests and additional medicines. However, because George was ill he did not remember that he was taking medicines prescribed by the other doctors, so George was over-medicating himself. That made George really sick. After some months of going round and round, George got so sick that he called 911 for an ambulance, which arrived to find George unconscious. The ambulance doctors had no way of knowing what might be wrong.

In each of these cases, accurate and informed care could be provided to the doctors if they could get access to existing medical records.

HeathDataRights.org is a site that can tell you more about this and why it’s important. Here’s their FAQ. The basic idea is this:

  1. Have the right to our own health data
  2. Have the right to know the source of each health data element
  3. Have the right to take possession of a complete copy of our individual health data, without delay, at minimal or no cost; if data exist in computable form, they must be made available in that form
  4. Have the right to share our health data with others as we see fit

I endorse these rights. I hope you will join me in talking about this important matter.

Coaching moment: You are represented in many ways. For example, there are several databases that include information about you, including databases maintained by your bank, your employer, and your health care provider(s). The medical records that pertain to doctor’s appointments, past surgeries, current medicines and allergies, and other forms of health care could save your life.

If something happens to you and your medical care providers can’t get access to your data, what would you do? What would you like to see happen? Is this information about you really yours?

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On Being Disconnected

June 18th, 2009
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Are you happy? Does your work make you happy, and does it pay you enough?

In his video below, Douglas Rushkoff suggests that the answer might be no, and that the reasons have been systemically building for a long, long time. Moreover, he suggests that we’re at a point in time that is an opportunity to reframe our culture from serving “the man” to bettering ourselves.

Here’s a link to his book, Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back.

Coaching moment: These are times when events and situations are much bigger than us. Rushkoff is talking about everything that lead to the current economy, from the time of the Renaissance to now–including the nature of our capitalistic society and underpinnings of our democracy. That’s rather overwhelming, and impermanent–things will change.

Lucky for us, it’s not going to change overnight or by any one person. However, the change can begin with us. The changes will start in many forms: conversations with friends and family members, new approaches to work, new kinds of work, new kinds of money, tools, ways we work together, ways we prioritize the things in our lives, our dreams, and more.

If a new kind of society is based on what’s good for the society and its people, and not on what’s good for companies and the economy, what kind of changes would you expect to see? (For example, I think we’d have no plastics.) If you could do something good for the world today, what would it be?

Take a day and go for a walk, preferably somewhere in nature: along a beach, in the woods, through a nearby park. Not only will the walk be good for you, it will give you time away from things to think. If life could be changed, what would change in yours? Let’s say you quit your job (money matters aside). What would you do with your life?

As I mentioned above, fundamental, society-wide re-prioritization won’t happen over night. We will still need to work to support ourselves for a while. Even while we work, we dream, plan, initiate changes in our personal lives. It helps us to be resilient and to find ways to re-frame our situation. We are on the path of change.

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IIW8: What was it all about?

June 17th, 2009
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The Internet Identity Workshop (IIW8) was held in May 2009 at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA. Here’s my brief conference report.

Coaching moment: Like most developments, first comes an idea then a discussion, followed by an implementation and testing. Thankfully most people aren’t involved in these early stages when things may not work well, or may take more patience or tech skills than you have. That said, it’s good to know what’s on the horizon. It helps you be aware of tools that will help you when they become available, and knowing about these tools helps counter some of the spin from companies that want to “help you” protect yourself.

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