Should You Trust Health Apps on Your Phone?

July 27, 2014

One of the few cases of perfectly missing the point.  While there is an utter lack of open access to the article (revealing enough in itself), there is a more complete lack of understanding – not a mention of privacy, surveillance, behavioural marketing, targetted advertising, data mining?  What a total let down.  Where is the discussion of power relations and social equity?  One would think a group of doctors could do much better than this.  Having just experienced the Facebook debacle and what it implies of large scale data collection, any discussion of health apps cannot avoid the essential discssions of big data.  Individualism and not a mention of the social health determinants.  Hopefully, this is NOT the future of health apps.



The Coming Digital Anarchy

June 11, 2014

As I write this on wordpress, I can’t help but question how that will be transformed in the potential coming digital anarchy.



Free access to British scientific research within two years

July 18, 2012

A promising trend?

Free access to British scientific research within two years

Radical shakeup of academic publishing will allow papers to be put online and be accessed by universities, firms and individuals

Ian Sample, science correspondent, Sunday 15 July 2012 19.53 BST

Professor Dame Janet Finch
Professor Dame Janet Finch’s recommendations on open access publishing prompted the government’s decision.

The government is to unveil controversial plans to make publicly funded scientific research immediately available for anyone to read for free by 2014, in the most radical shakeup of academic publishing since the invention of the internet.

Under the scheme, research papers that describe work paid for by the British taxpayer will be free online for universities, companies and individuals to use for any purpose, wherever they are in the world.

In an interview with the Guardian before Monday’s announcement David Willetts, the universities and science minister, said he expected a full transformation to the open approach over the next two years.

The move reflects a groundswell of support for “open access” publishing among academics who have long protested that journal publishers make large profits by locking research behind online paywalls. “If the taxpayer has paid for this research to happen, that work shouldn’t be put behind a paywall before a British citizen can read it,” Willetts said.

“This will take time to build up, but within a couple of years we should see this fully feeding through.”

He said he thought there would be “massive” economic benefits to making research open to everyone.

Though many academics will welcome the announcement, some scientists contacted by the Guardian were dismayed that the cost of the transition, which could reach £50m a year, must be covered by the existing science budget and that no new money would be found to fund the process. That could lead to less research and fewer valuable papers being published.

British universities now pay around £200m a year in subscription fees to journal publishers, but under the new scheme, authors will pay “article processing charges” (APCs) to have their papers peer reviewed, edited and made freely available online. The typical APC is around £2,000 per article.

Tensions between academics and the larger publishing companies have risen steeply in recent months as researchers have baulked at journal subscription charges their libraries were asked to pay.

More than 12,000 academics have boycotted the Dutch publisher Elsevier, in part of a broader campaign against the industry that has been called the “academic spring”.

The government’s decision is outlined in a formal response to recommendations made in a major report into open access publishing led by Professor Dame Janet Finch, a sociologist at Manchester University. Willetts said the government accepted all the proposals, except for a specific point on VAT that was under consideration at the Treasury.

Further impetus to open access is expected in coming days or weeks when the Higher Education Funding Council for England emphasises the need for research articles to be freely available when they are submitted for the Research Excellence Framework, which is used to determine how much research funding universities receive.

The Finch report strongly recommended so-called “gold” open access, which ensures the financial security of the journal publishers by essentially swapping their revenue from library budgets to science budgets. One alternative favoured by many academics, called “green” open access, allows researchers to make their papers freely available online after they have been accepted by journals. It is likely this would be fatal for publishers and also Britain’s learned societies, which survive through selling journal subscriptions.

“There is a genuine value in academic publishing which has to be reflected and we think that is the case for gold open access, which includes APCs,” Willetts told the Guardian. “There is a transitional cost to go through, but it’s overall of benefit to our research community and there’s general acceptance it’s the right thing to do.

“We accept that some of this cost will fall on the ring-fenced science budget, which is £4.6bn. In Finch’s highest estimation that will be 1% of the science budget going to pay for gold open access, at least before we get to a new steady state, when we hope competition will bring down author charges and universities will make savings as they don’t have to pay so much in journal subscriptions,” he added.

“The real economic impact is we are throwing open, to academics, researchers, businesses and lay people, all the high quality research that is publicly funded. I think there’s a massive net economic benefit here way beyond any £50m from the science budget,” Willetts said.

In making such a concerted move towards open access before other countries, Britain will be giving its research away free while still paying for access to articles from other countries.

Willetts said he hoped the EU would soon take the same path when it announced the next tranche of Horizon 2020 grants, which are available for projects that run from 2014. The US already makes research funded by its National Institutes of Health open access, and is expected to make more of its publicly funded research freely available online.

Professor Adam Tickell, pro-vice chancellor of research and knowledge transfer at Birmingham University, and a member of the Finch working group, said he was glad the government had endorsed the recommendations, but warned there was a danger of Britain losing research projects in the uncertain transition to open access publishing.

“If the EU and the US go in for open access in a big way, then we’ll move into this open access world with no doubt at all, and I strongly believe that in a decade that’s where we’ll be. But it’s the period of transition that’s the worry. The UK publishes only 6% of global research, and the rest will remain behind a paywall, so we’ll still have to pay for a subscription,” Tickell said.

“I am very concerned that there are not any additional funds to pay for the transition, because the costs will fall disproportionately on the research intensive universities. There isn’t the fat in the system that we can easily pay for that.” The costs would lead to “a reduction in research grants, or an effective charge on our income” he said.

Another consequence of the shift could be a “rationing” of research papers from universities as competition for funds to publish papers intensifies. This could be harmful, Tickell said. For example, a study that finds no beneficial effect of a drug might be seen as negative results and go unpublished, he said.

Stevan Harnad, professor of electronics and computer science at Southampton University, said the government was facing an expensive bill in supporting gold open access over the green open access model.

He said UK universities and research funders had been leading the world in the movement towards “green” open access that requires researchers to self-archive their journal articles on the web, and make them free for all.

“The Finch committee’s recommendations look superficially as if they are supporting open access, but in reality they are strongly biased in favour of the interests of the publishing industry over the interests of UK research,” he said.

“Instead of recommending that the UK build on its historic lead in providing cost-free green open access, the committee has recommended spending a great deal of extra money — scarce research money — to pay publishers for “gold open access publishing. If the Finch committee recommendations are heeded, as David Willetts now proposes, the UK will lose both its global lead in open access and a great deal of public money — and worldwide open access will be set back at least a decade,” he said.

© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

ICTs for sustainability and equality: work-in-progress now available

June 15, 2012

still a lot of work and editing to do on this video, but here is a teaser

We need a vision

June 12, 2012

But there doesn’t seem to be one for ICTs on the Rio+20 agenda.

Well, perhaps that’s a little harsh. So far, only a number of rudimentary declarations and papers calling for improved efficiencies, greening the internet, making products, industries and businesses more sustainable, and using ICTs to help adapt to climate changes and drive green growth have materialised.

Unless the bigger picture is accounted for and the social structures and values support the goals of Rio+20 – sustainability – then the above activities will likely only leverage business as usual for population, consumption and inequality growth – as they have demonstrated over the last 20 years – outpacing any possible gains from ICTs by several orders of magnitude.

For instance, the Zero Draft of the Rio+20 Outcome Document – The Future We Want – includes: “18. We recognize that improved participation of civil society depends upon strengthening the right to access information and building civil society capacity to exercise this right. Technology is making it easier for Governments to share information with the public and for the public to hold decision makers accountable. In this regard, it is essential to work towards universal access to information and communications technologies.”

While that might be correct in certain cases, so is the converse. In fact, you could probably name without thinking too hard, at least a half a dozen countries where information and transparency is being withheld thanks to ICTs. And many governments withhold and conceal information, not only their own, but also that of third parties, from their citizenry.

So the fact that ICTs MAY make it easier for sharing information doesn`t ensure they WILL be used to share information, nor does it preclude the fact that they MAY also serve to obstruct, conceal, discredit and distort information too. So may anyone else.

Furthermore, where information can be shared, do we necessarily want that information being shared for all possible purposes? Governments have begun giving away building naming rights, for example. When might they begin selling ‘consumer’ information to the highest bidder as well? Who will set rules on information – governments, markets, corporations or people – and how will rule setting be determined?

Moreover, while it may be desirable in some cases to work towards “universal access to information”, will that necessarily be the situation for all instances, and who and under what rules will those decisions be made?

There is also some concern about the addition of “…and communications technologies” to the end of that statement. Just because people have access to the tools doesn’t mean they will be able to use them, properly and equally effectively for the same information. The result may systematically erode the egalitarian potential of ICTs. There are great examples of land thefts by (wealthy) folks able to access ICTs who subsequently slipped the ownership out from under the feet of the legitimate owners who did not understand their ICT access sufficiently to understand what was happening. And need anyone require reminding about spam or telemarketing?

While it may be important to share and have universal – if not equal – access to information, it may actually prove counterproductive to sustainability. It will certainly challenge many values – competition, individualism, control, leadership and governance, and privacy among others. Are we prepared for those discussions?

While the obscure method to contribute to future revisions of the Zero Draft is ironically revealing, my intent is not to critique each submission or the Zero Draft. Rather the point is that ICTs can be used in whatever manner the user and society deems appropriate. So the role of ICTs is not so much what THEY CAN do, but what WE WILL do with them and HOW those choices will be mediated.

That has a lot more to do with culture, values, beliefs, existing institutional mechanisms and structures, social expectations, cultural norms and historical practices, than the details of any specific technology. How ICTs will be used depends mostly on the values and their assumptions we attribute to society and behaviour.

So why haven’t we seen any of these details on the Rio+20 agenda for the role of ICTs?

Maybe it’s time to get them on the agenda.

a picture is worth a thousand words

June 12, 2012

This advert courtesy of Heather Anne Campbell from The Midnight Show (hmmm) via Adbusters says so so much about the distribution and allocation of resources, our values and priorities, development aid priorities, consumerism…!

It might not be a pretty statement, but then neither are thousands of consumers trampling over each other just to be the first to own the latest and newest sleek gadget. Where did the materials come from to manufacture it? Where do the cast aways go when consumers discard them? How can consumerist values be so wonky while millions – for largely social reasons – can’t meet basic needs?

Handing a starving child that lives in a polluted exploited environment a hyped-up piece of technology will surely generate a strong sense of values and a consumer disciple. Is that necessarily wise?

The medium is the message and we would do well not to forget the message of the medium.


more privacy

March 24, 2012

The CBC’s morning program Fresh Air hosted Rhonda McEwen today talking about privacy.

Many privacy experts – as well intentioned as they are – might do well to look at history.

When the automobile emerged, it was viewed as a horseless carriage.

Today, the automobile industry – let alone the global economy based on fossil fuels – has become literally and practically ‘too big to fail’ (despite the enormous risks such an economy presents).

Society created from this horseless carriage, a world, an economy, an entire (arguably unsustainable) civilsation.

We must avoid the myopic view that data is a commodity…one that is only there to satisfy the purposes of commercial enterprise and profit.

That, like the horseless carriage, might at best be a drop in a universe of possibilities.

Indeed, the idea that privacy is an individual responsibility, an important and valuable commodity that governments should protect, control and regulate, even serves to support the market model of society, the corporatisation and commodification of the planet.

Imagine what this world would look like had the early pioneers been constrained by regulations and religious ideological values that prohibited the use of the automobile for anything but what a horse and carriage provided.

Privacy, just like horsepower in the days of horses, will need to be completely redefined and reimagined.

If we maintain our current archaic perceptions of privacy and its use, we may never realise the possibilities.

Study: Plume vapors linked to birth defects

January 8, 2012

Still not sold on the fact that your smart phone calls, social media use or emails cause direct health impacts?

This new study confirms the health consequences of ICT manufacturing, even in ‘over regulated’ United States.

The published results of the study can be found here.

Vint Cerf on fundamental human rights

January 6, 2012

I may not agree with everything Vint says, but he sure hit the nail on the head with this pieces’ title, if not some of the content!

January 4, 2012
Internet Access Is Not a Human Right
Reston, Va.

FROM the streets of Tunis to Tahrir Square and beyond, protests around
the world last year were built on the Internet and the many devices
that interact with it. Though the demonstrations thrived because
thousands of people turned out to participate, they could never have
happened as they did without the ability that the Internet offers to
communicate, organize and publicize everywhere, instantaneously.

It is no surprise, then, that the protests have raised questions about
whether Internet access is or should be a civil or human right. The
issue is particularly acute in countries whose governments clamped
down on Internet access in an attempt to quell the protesters. In
June, citing the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, a
report by the United Nations’ special rapporteur went so far as to
declare that the Internet had “become an indispensable tool for
realizing a range of human rights.” Over the past few years, courts
and parliaments in countries like France and Estonia have pronounced
Internet access a human right.

But that argument, however well meaning, misses a larger point:
technology is an enabler of rights, not a right itself. There is a
high bar for something to be considered a human right. Loosely put, it
must be among the things we as humans need in order to lead healthy,
meaningful lives, like freedom from torture or freedom of conscience.
It is a mistake to place any particular technology in this exalted
category, since over time we will end up valuing the wrong things. For
example, at one time if you didn’t have a horse it was hard to make a
living. But the important right in that case was the right to make a
living, not the right to a horse. Today, if I were granted a right to
have a horse, I’m not sure where I would put it.

The best way to characterize human rights is to identify the outcomes
that we are trying to ensure. These include critical freedoms like
freedom of speech and freedom of access to information — and those are
not necessarily bound to any particular technology at any particular
time. Indeed, even the United Nations report, which was widely hailed
as declaring Internet access a human right, acknowledged that the
Internet was valuable as a means to an end, not as an end in itself.

What about the claim that Internet access is or should be a civil
right? The same reasoning above can be applied here — Internet access
is always just a tool for obtaining something else more important —
though the argument that it is a civil right is, I concede, a stronger
one than that it is a human right. Civil rights, after all, are
different from human rights because they are conferred upon us by law,
not intrinsic to us as human beings.

While the United States has never decreed that everyone has a “right”
to a telephone, we have come close to this with the notion of
“universal service” — the idea that telephone service (and
electricity, and now broadband Internet) must be available even in the
most remote regions of the country. When we accept this idea, we are
edging into the idea of Internet access as a civil right, because
ensuring access is a policy made by the government.

Yet all these philosophical arguments overlook a more fundamental
issue: the responsibility of technology creators themselves to support
human and civil rights. The Internet has introduced an enormously
accessible and egalitarian platform for creating, sharing and
obtaining information on a global scale. As a result, we have new ways
to allow people to exercise their human and civil rights.

In this context, engineers have not only a tremendous obligation to
empower users, but also an obligation to ensure the safety of users
online. That means, for example, protecting users from specific harms
like viruses and worms that silently invade their computers.
Technologists should work toward this end.

It is engineers — and our professional associations and
standards-setting bodies like the Institute of Electrical and
Electronics Engineers — that create and maintain these new
capabilities. As we seek to advance the state of the art in technology
and its use in society, we must be conscious of our civil
responsibilities in addition to our engineering expertise.

Improving the Internet is just one means, albeit an important one, by
which to improve the human condition. It must be done with an
appreciation for the civil and human rights that deserve protection —
without pretending that access itself is such a right.

Vinton G. Cerf, a fellow at the Institute of Electrical and
Electronics Engineers, is a vice president and chief Internet
evangelist for Google.

Stratfor Hacked – What’s the message?

December 26, 2011

In the world of hactivism, it seems one of the loudest messages was just sent. Stratfor data was apparently hacked. The message sent, although probably not what Occupiers, social activists, Arab uprising participants or UK rioters might necessarily celebrate, may be pleasing to them nonetheless.

The message seems clear – no one is immune. Privacy needs to be strengthened.

But that’s what the mainstream media would have the majority of people believe.

The more subtle message is that privacy – it’s very definition – needs to be re-examined.

All too often we hear the privacy commissioners, watchdogs and experts warning ‘consumers’ to be careful with their data – guard your security passwords, enable your security features, build security into your defaults. With the same messages for those who work in the world of data.

While that might be sound advice, it also works well to substantiate the status quo, where the wealthy have the means to protect themselves and protect their data from being compromised. They can hire the best (like Stratfor) for intelligence information. They can hire the best security and data control (oops, I mean ‘management’) companies. They can chase after and prosecute (someone) when their systems are compromised.

However, the average Joe or Jane sixpack can’t. Even if they could, the courts may soon be overwhelmed with too many cases dealing with privacy compromises.

This hacktivism demonstrates that even the best are not immune to having their data compromised. So can enhanced privacy be the answer? Not only is it proving increasingly challenging, it may also be obstructing progress.

The more profound message is that the ideas/values we might hold (such as privacy) need to be re-examined, re-considered, re-thought and re-worked. 21st century realities couldn’t be sending a louder message.

But by fixating on the symptom – privacy – the result is twofold: 1) the average person remains in a compromising position, subject to the limited (in comparison to the potential of ICTs) laws and courts to protect them or overstep their privacy in doing so; and 2) the concept of individualism (and other values that support the global status quo – individual rights, property rights, ownership, meritocracy, competition and proprietary rights, for example) – is being strengthened and substantiated.

Privacy, historically defined, is simply another agent used to maintain the wealth of the wealthy and the power of the powerful through the top-down management of society.

It’s more than privacy and Robin Hoods. The real message is deeper and more substantial: it demonstrates that the rigid hierarchies that control the world are beginning to snap under the relentless distributive empowering nature of ICTs.

In a world where profit can be made, and competition demands privacy to conceal inequalities, we might just need to re-consider our goals and values as a global society, and the roles of privacy in achieving, or obstructing, those goals.

Where ICTs can radically redefine sustainability and equality through entirely transformed governance and management regimes, historical ideas of privacy only stand in the way in the same ways our constructed ideologies of competition, individualism, capitalist free markets and others impede progress.

This hactivism isn’t really about privacy; it’s about antiquated ideologies being tossed around grasping for purchase in the eddies of an emerging 21st century societal transformation.