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Reflection

Truth verification was the most challenging thing I did during the course period

Truth verification was the most challenging thing I did and thought of during the course period. I inevitably had to deal with this issue because of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster. As soon as the disaster happened, I started to follow seemingly trustworthy people on Twitter to get the accurate information about radioactivity. I learned all sorts of things about nuclear plants and radiation from how historically nuclear plants came into existence in Japan in the first place to the maximum permissible exposure to radiation. The history of the Japanese nuclear plants seemed to be trustworthy but it does not mean it is the cause of the problem. People were not just deceived by a limited number of bad people about the introduction and spread of nuclear plants. We must have been deceiving each other about the safety of the nuclear plants. We did not pay too much attention to them. Maybe that ignorance was the cause of the catastrophe. The truth of a case like this is so hard to verify, while things like the maximum tolerable exposure to radiation is more scientific and easier to judge. The latter might be the fact rather than the truth. Ok, I redefine the subject of this blog post, it is fact verification and truth verification. The former is easy to verify using social media such as Twitter. However for the latter, social media could confuse you. You can know what’s going on about something by looking at pictures shared through social media but it’s so difficult to grasp the truth behind it. Through the course I learned many platforms people have developed in order to grasp the truth of what’s going on around the world. I’m not sure if I’m supportive of all of them but at least I could know the massive efforts of those people. That’s the most useful thing I learned through the course. I will keep an eye on the development of those platforms and developers in the future.


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Week 10

This week was about Encryption.
The notion of privacy became more important than ever after Snowden’s whistle-blowing about NSA (The Guardian 2013).
In this blog post, I will focus on the question, “why is privacy important?” “What’s wrong with collecting all the data?”
Snowden himself says that privacy matters because it allows people to decide who they are and how they want to be. I understood what he said as, if every motion of every human is recorded and analysed by someone, that person has the power to change how people behave. This is an authoritarian society and there is no freedom in it.
Without being controlled by an authority, people “naturally” change their behaviour if they know they are watched all the time. This panoptic state is another problem about the total surveillance. It is important for people to be able to act humanly without being coerced into doing so. For example if CCTVs are everywhere and people behave because they know they are watched, there is no way people can nurture their morality. In order for people to be able to autonomously act in a good way, the system must allow them to move around freely without any surveillance and to think about their own behaviour for themselves sometime.
Another reason why data collecting is bad is that it allows the government and corporations to make profits out of people’s unconscious movements. These new technologies which require people’s personal data to process the systems themselves are called “capture technologies” and they are very different to traditional surveillance technologies such as CCTV (Kitchen and Dodge 2011). With CCTV, people’s motions are captured through the device and authorities look at the recorded videos to take out people’s personal data that they need. With capture technologies, the systems will not process without people’s personal data in the first place. An example of these is the modern flight booking system. Without entering your name, passport details and credit card number, the system will not allow you to purchase a ticket.
So it is not only about NSA sneaking into people’s email accounts and computers but the nature of technologies we interact with everyday has significantly changed. For example the flight booking system I explained above probably will not disappear until this world is completely united. When there is no border, people can finally move around freely anywhere in the world and purchase flight tickets without putting their personal data. From this point of view, this privacy issue has much more deeper root than it seems and we should not just doubt the NSA and encrypt everything. The real problem actually comes from “doubt” and I will rather think about how we all could trust each other better.

THE GUARDIAN, 2013. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden: ‘I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things’ – video [Online]. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/jun/09/nsa-whistleblower-edward-snowden-interview-video [Accessed: 26 Mar 2014].

THE GUARDIAN, 2013. Edward Snowden warns about loss of privacy in Christmas message – video [Online]. Available at http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/dec/25/edward-snowden-christmas-message-video [Accessed: 26 Mar 2014].

KITCHEN, ROB AND DODGE, MARTIN, 2011. Code/space: Software and Everyday Life. The MIT Press.


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Week 9

This week was about hacktivism.

Examples of hacktivism organizations are Anonymous, Occupy, Pirate Party, Telecomix, Wikileaks etc.

There was a discussion about Wikileaks, it seems too rationalist. Could revealing all the hidden conversations lead the world to peace??

I personally think Occupy was a success, it didn’t become like a religion and it certainly well publicised the true ratio between the rich and poor (we are the 99%).

Anonymous has been quite successful I think and I was impressed by the way they use videos to have a common identity among Anonymous people themselves.


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Week 8

This week Tanya O’Carroll, Amnesty International’s Technology and Human Rights Project Officer gave a talk as a guest lecturer.

The question she posed to us was, “has social media helped people feel more empathy about what’s happening around the world or has it made people close themselves to the world by giving too much information?”

My first thought before answering her question was whether or not you can really find the “truth” about what’s going on in this world. For example in Japan, there are some people who have been tweeting about the “actual” danger level of radioactive contamination. Your stance towards radioactive contamination is a very tricky one, if you overlook food/land contamination, your health can be seriously damaged. However if you are in a way too cautious about them, your life can be seriously damaged, meaning, for example, by unnecessarily abandoning your business which took you years to establish in order to move out of a seemingly radioactively contaminated area.

Some of the people who have been tweeting about radioactivity in Japan seem extreme, being over cautious about it, some say everyone should move out of the entire islands of Japan immediately, some say move out of East Asia. Some say living in Tokyo is safe, some even say living in Fukushima is safe.

This is also related to the issues of citizen science last week, the accuracy and interpretation of data.

Another example of the inability to find “truth” is conspiracies. For example for 9/11 incident, you won’t be able to find the truth no matter how deep you dig into that matter. However this “truth” behind the incident determines the way people have empathy towards it. Here is another question, is having a false empathy a good thing or not?

My answer to Tanya’s question is, before being able to answer the question of whether you could know the “truth” of something, I will not be able to answer the question.

After that we tried Mozilla Popcorn Maker and Crowdmap

https://popcorn.webmaker.org/

https://crowdmap.com/


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Week 7

This week was about citizen sensing/citizen science. It’s basically about a bunch of people trying to do environmental research by themselves without depending on any governmental/corporative aid.

There are citizen science organisations and each group works on a different area, from the level of fumes in London to the level of radioactive contamination in Japan.

One of the organisations introduced in the lecture was Safecast (http://blog.safecast.org/).

As a Japanese citizen, of course I already knew about it but personally never trusted the organisation itself or the data they produce.

They have been doing DIY geiger counter project recently, but the geiger counter is a tricky thing to use, it’s very difficult to correctly measure the actual contamination level. Even if you measure the same place, each device shows a different numerical value and it fluctuates easily depending on various factors.

So I’m quite suspicious about the idea of the “DIY” geiger counter because usually DIY stuff are typically less reliable than the commercial ones.

However more than anything, Safecast’s largest problem is the fact that they only measure aerial radioactivity. Dosing radioactive substances through food and water is the most dangerous thing. Safecast seems to me that they are trying to make Japan look like a safe place to live by only showing the low level of aerial radioactive contamination.

The following is Safecast’s view on contamination in food

FAQ: Contaminated Food In Japan

http://blog.safecast.org/2014/01/faq-contaminated-food-in-japan/

“SAFECAST is not equipped yet to do our own food measurements, but we cooperate with independent food measurement labs and constantly monitor both official and independent results.”

Citizen science allows people to have data which have not been published by officials. However the preciseness of the data is critical, false data can easily cause unnecessary panic. It’s also possible that data collected by the public is used by corporatives to make profits. Therefore it’s important to decide what data to open and what not to.