Reflections on fantasy, SF, writing, music, technology, life…

PRISM: Orwellian surveillance and the Cloud

The recent disclosure of the extent of US covert electronic surveillance through PRISM (and, one must assume, that of other governments via access to PRISM data or through their own tools – Yes, China, we’re looking at you!) shows the paranoid had it right about living in an Orwellian dystopia where one’s every utterence (presumably, including this post!) is scooped up into the maw of the US intelliegence machine to search for key words that ring their alarm bells.

Americans themselves appear to have some (probably scant) constitutional protection from all this. The rest of us suckers appear to be fair game. This is a “wake-up call” for anyone who has placed any faith in Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft, IBM and all those other US-based providers of data storage and cloud services. Do they deny PRISM because they knew but couldn’t tell (due to secrecy orders) or because they really didn’t know? Either way, this is bad news for privacy and security.

For a British technology writer’s take on the imlications for Cloud computing see this Computerworld article on Why PRISM kills the Cloud.

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eReader snoopers: Is Big Brother on your Kindle or iPad?

Every now and again, I come across a website I just keep wanting to revisit. Dennis Baron’s The Web of Language is one, full of fascinating information on the use of language and technology.

One particular article has caught my eye: the e-reader over your shoulder.

I dislike the idea that my reading habits are monitored, assessed and sold. Yet that is the trade-off I entered into when I started using a Kindle (and the same goes for Apple products too). As Baron comments:

Kindles and iPads track what we read and when, record our bookmarks and annotations, remind us what we searched for last, and suggest other titles we may like. They collect our personal reading data in the name of improving… our digital reading experience, and along the way they may sell the metric of how and what and when we read and use it to improve the company‚Äôs bottom line as well. … CCTV may monitor our comings and goings from the outside, but e-readers have spyware that actually looks inside our heads. And e-books provide the ultimate interactive experience: they read us while we are reading them.

The whole article is well worth a read, running from teachers being able to monitor student study patterns, through Amazon and Apple selling your reading habits through to the implications of DRM and the fact that one never “buys” but “rents” through their stores.

It makes uncomfortable reading.

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