26 Oct

These three posts provide a broad spectrum of some of the issues I have tackled throughout the blog, shifting focus in regard to regulating Internet Crime. As a whole, they also utilize the diverse space that is the blogosphere by including quotes, images, videos and a personal (I would hope sometimes humorous, always engaging) voice!

1. Categorizing the Criminal:

2. Overwhelmed and Over Informed: When Information becomes Subjugation

3. China: The progressive catalyst or the predictable communist?


Concluding the Inconclusive

26 Oct

It’s a challenge to really find an answer regarding transnational governance and a global interweb. The world has seen a new digital era that has created new technologies and modes of consumption. It has also ushered in a new wave of means to exploit that rapid development and to exploit the freedoms allowed to us in a digital democracy. Whilst Internet crime varies in its severity, the lack of regulation across the board shows that both the control of the state is somewhat negated, and the call for a strict international order has not been answered.

In Australia, talks of filtering and censorship have been heavily opposed, with fears of slowing the net and losing our right to the freedom of information. As we saw in China, censorship is an issue to the younger generations of Chinese and a public concern for the rest of the world when attempting to uphold the natural flows of free information.  As mentioned at the birth of this blog, our rights as free people also come with responsibilities, and that means that a global database must also be respected. We could never have predicted what the internet would have become, or where it is headed. Its a powerful force that gives avenues to a globalized community, but its also self-reflexive. The internet says more about ourselves than we would care to admit, and so a mutual understanding of that right to privacy between governments, corporations and the individual must be understood. The cyber self must be protected in order to actually continue to be controlled by the individual it represents. We all have the right to anonymity…or do we?

We have unraveled the contradictions of hacktivist groups, who appear to have a single face behind which to remain anonymous, whilst seeking to reveal the truths of others. On the other hand, whilst Obama may have discussed the freedom of information online at a Chinese University, groups such as Wikileaks has shown that not all information relating to governments is readily available online (though one may argue it isn’t even in the rich accessible database that is the web for a reason).

We have seen the repercussions of piracy and the call to control intellectual property, reward the consumer, and change the mentality. We have also observed a shift in understanding why people pirate ( convenience, accessibility, profit) and who exactly is to blame (the provider, the downloader or the corporations who don’t provide an adequate service?). What about the argument that piracy provides an ‘accidental diplomacy’ by providing access (and subsequently the origin of a product’s values and beliefs) to those who couldn’t normally afford (or censorship wouldn’t allow them) to purchase a legal copy? Some say piracy creates new markets that may purchase products affiliated with the pirated content down the line. Others say that Corporations arguments against piracy are disingenuous in that companies like Microsoft only started caring once their pirated products had spread to establish a worldwide market.

Maybe the answer really is self-regulation and not what some would see as a New World Order (NWO). Maybe the internet is free, in every sense of the word, for a reason. Maybe, like in many aspects of life, we are given the freedom to choose, and possibly abuse, our interactions with the web. Maybe the crimes we currently sanction that are conducted online, such as pedophilia and fraud, have legislation because they’re the only ones the state can control. The internet has unprecedented access to data, media and interaction, and that’s something to be celebrated. Legal access, however, is no guarantee.

The Inherent Contradictions of Hacktivists and the subsequent need for Regulation

26 Oct

It seems appropriate in this post to address our concerns with groups who both attempt to preserve their anonymity whilst exposing what they deem as worthy of public knowledge. Both Wikileaks and aptly named ‘Anonymous’ are ‘hacktivist’ groups that exercise their ability to gain authority online and embed a lasting online legacy whilst attempting to ‘reveal truths’, acting as what they would consider vigilantes. It’s important to note that in this context, regulation and censorship are two very different concepts, as only self-regulation is indirectly conducted (though not acknowledged) by hacktivists, whilst the latter is downright opposed!

In the face of our previous discussions regarding narcissism and the dangers of the cyber self, especially in the phenomenological sense during the digital age, its often hard to equate these groups with the neoliberal values they seem to uphold. Its no wonder positions are so often slanted towards either that of skepticism and hatred to that of utter devotion, as if these groups posses some sort of sacred qualities. Its why groups like Wikileaks get labelled anything from divine intervention to cyber terrorists. They try so hard to maintain their own privacy it seems contradictory for them to remain anonymous whilst they expose others. The most recent scandal again involves Amanda Todd, (who is proving a timely example time and again!), where Anonymous attempted to reveal the name of the man who supposedly caused her so much grief. The article I have hyperlinked makes a very good point – the shift from governments and corporations to individuals seems a violation made purely for attention. It’s often hard to ascertain where these groups actually stand, and just what lengths they’ll go to for information. It’s equally confusing that many of their hacking attempts verge on exploitation over reason, as if designed purely to flex their digital power over government agencies. Julian Assange’s rise as a figurehead has roused speculation  as to whether his recent speeches are designed to garner attention rather than spread a set of ideals. It’s that air of mystery, that desire to discover a seemingly private individual, that seems to overshadow the objectives of Wikileaks and has figures like Lady Gaga lining up at the Ecuadorian Embassy to understand the man behind the movement. The rest of the hacktivists seem to hide behind masks, quite literally, as they attempt to ‘control’ the internet. The 21st century digital celebrity is one we don’t really understand at all, which makes him, and the faceless movements he has become synonymous with, all the more appealing. Our society’s desire for information is what feeds these hacktivists, complete closure and transparency in the information society is why privacy has become an issue.

It appears the only transnational bodies attempting to regulate these groups and understand how to adequately find a democratic balance online are the UN and its sub-organisation, the ICU. This may be a discursive means of slanting my views on hacktivism by making this connection, but it’s important to note that the UN is attempting to fight cyber terrorists (yes, they’re not always hacktivists) with heavier incentives and localized control, recognizing the severity of these criminal organisations. The ICU or International Telecommunications Union, will be having a summit in Dubai at the end of the year discussing hacktivism and privacy. They have been attempting over a number of years to ascertain a means by which countries can standardize digital policies and control net crime.

Until idealism becomes reality and there are tangible consequences for internet crime, it seems the issues of privacy and the contradictions of hacktivism will always work against finding an answer. Does hacktivism pose a threat to privacy, or is it legitimately creating a better space on line? Are we seeing the dawn of digital self-regulation or blatant self-absorption?

Sound off below…unless your are part of, or wish to remain Anonymous.

China: The progressive catalyst or the predictable communist?

26 Oct

There are two pivotal questions that we must pose in our discussions of privacy and autonomy:

1. Do governments or transnational bodies have the right to access our personal data if we pose a threat, or is our right to freedom of information, freedom of speech, and right to privacy being too heavily invaded?

2. Who, depending on the outcome, does this responsibility then fall upon?

Governments are constantly playing catch up with developments in technology. Previous issues discussed regarding hacking, piracy and theft of confidential information all take advantage of this agency we have online. Efforts such as SOPA have shown direct state intervention at stopping aforementioned issues like piracy. Already reprehensible crimes in other forms other than digital, such as racism, verbal assaults, harassment and pedophelia have serious consequences. But not all of these issues in their digital forms have equal consequence. And what’s more, an anonymous face that operates on a global scale can’t necessary be charged by a single state.

Governments in countries such as China have attempted to censor or filter the information accessible online. In fact, the Chinese people have adopted symbols and phrases that are metaphors for what they are trying to communicate, a secret code if you will. Facebook is heavily monitored and altered to the point that it no longer represents the Facebook the rest of the world shares. The Chinese staff of Facebook numbers less than a dozen employees. The popular Chinese microblogging website, Sina Weibo, most recently suffered a censorship issue whereby people could not search the Chinese characters for ‘truth’. It seems so ironic its hard to believe its a coincidence, and it doesn’t stop there. Obama recently made a talk at a Chinese University on freedom of information that had critical concepts on western believes regarding the flows of data and the right to an informed state….but much was censored and so only the roomful of students heard the speech in its entirety. Bill Gates has reinforced that Chinese efforts at censorship are useless as there ‘isn’t always a way around it’.

Chinese ‘dissedent’ Ai Weiwei, who has been in trouble with the government before, recently posted a ‘Gangam Style’ spoof that criticized Chinese totalitarianism and the authoritarian nature of Chinese Government. It was quickly blocked, though many citizens are said to have seen the spoof.

Another pivotal issue to consider is what exactly happens to our data when we die. At the moment, it’s possible to put your data in a will and companies such as Apple have policies in place. But what about our digital purchases, search history, and potentially vital information stored. Does anyone have the right to access this information, much like a transcript of a novel by a deceased author? Oh and yes, there is a wealth of information online on how to keep that data secure but also accessible after you have perished…and its taken as a matter of grave seriousness.

Looking back at what we said about Google a few weeks back, is it possible that governments should have the right to personal data if it is an issue of national security? There’s nothing to say that in a few years time Google won’t be selling governments personal information as freely as they do to advertisers. It’s a downward slope the more we let our privacy go, but there’s just as many arguments in favour of legitimizing regulation for the safety, security and upholding of values of nations.

So, do China’s efforts represent a  dramatic and extreme notion of necessary censorship, or does the ‘Great Firewall of China’ represent a step backwards? It initially appears to me as a fruitless means of controlling opinion, freedom of speech and expository information that may ‘reveal’ a very different understanding of Chinese politics to it’s people. It is important to consider that extreme internet crimes, such as pedophilia,  are ones that we oppose in all other more tangible forms and so must equally uphold these values in a digital space. These are often more black and white decisions and as such, have strict regulation already in place. But what if these crimes stretch further than a state’s jurisdiction? And where then do we stand when we look back to piracy? And is an international organisation exercising a hopeless game of cat and mouse? Or a necessary step in the move against Internet Crimes?

More on that final question next post!

Overwhelmed and Over Informed – When Information becomes Subjugation

23 Oct

The key term that must be emphasized throughout all discussions of anonymity, data and freedom of information is privacy. There’s a figurative line that must be drawn when we consider people’s right to confidentiality. It’s easy to argue that the internet is a public space and therefore must be engaged with as such. But the internet, as many would argue, was never designed for many of the processes it has become popular for. Originally designed for the US military, the Internet now houses huge amounts of diverse data, both legal and illegal. From personal information (bank details, emails etc) and social networking to adult entertainment and illegal file sharing (see previous posts), cyberspace is an ever-evolving platform, as unpredictable now as it was at its creation.

As such, we face an age where our digital footprint says a lot about the people we are. But conversely to the discussions about corporations and their right to data, I’m shifting the focus this week to the individual and the right to privacy, or whether it is mitigated at all.

A few weeks ago, Kate Middleton faced some pretty confronting media attention – a topless photo scandal that tested the integrity of journalists and their publishers worldwide. Were there, shall we say ‘desperate’ enough companies out there that had the audacity to publish topless photos of a British royal? The answer was yes, but surprisingly (and reassuringly) many UK based press said a resounding ‘No’ to the many photos taken. Despite this, the images were still published and still went viral on the web, supposedly seen by over ‘seven million Britons.’  There are factors that convince me that both the photographing and subsequent circulation of the images are particularly immoral and breach the aforementioned right to privacy (even for a gossip columnist). Firstly, the photos were taken in a private locale and with a lens from over half a mile away – that is a clear abuse of technology. It’s also important to remember that this is a public figure who is a celebrity by circumstance, she doesn’t mirror the Kim Kardashians or Paris Hiltons of the world who use these leaks as a popularity boost (and sometimes voluntarily expose themselves). Even for those careless individuals, it’s still a breach of privacyThere was no consent, no consultation and no consideration for Middleton as a person. It is equally a breach of privacy to consider the News of the World phone scandal last year, and the numerous phones that have been anonymously hacked such as that of Rihanna and Scarlett Johansson. Everyday, victims are seemingly random individuals who are forever humiliated throughout cyberspace.

In this Digital Age, I feel that the issue is increasingly the fact that it is so easy to distance oneself from others online. It’s such irony that in an increasingly globalized world, where we are forever identifying ourselves with the cyber self, we feel we have the right to either abuse others (‘trolling’) or access their private information. The phenomenon that is ‘trolling’ emphasizes a ‘skill’ at being able to start heated discussion and is even practiced professionally (in fact, you can hire people to do it). Its focus on the actual method of ‘trolling’ completely overshadows that its subjects are given little discretion or consideration. Particularly at an amateur level, comments are often hateful and full of vitriol, slander and abuse in order to stir individuals. They completely miss the point that it’s often at the behest of another individual who is receiving said abuse.

It’s so easy to make a poor decision online, but in today’s society it is forever embedded in your digital persona, just like the data collated in the discussion from my last post. Amanda Todd  was one of the unfortunate examples who, as mentioned last week, posted a topless image of herself to a man online, ‘privately’, but suffered humiliation when it went viral. As a result, after being subject to relentless tormenting, she committed suicide. Sure, her nativity led her astray, but these days it is much easier to suffer the repercussions of a fleeting mistake than it was in the past. Worse still, there are people out there today who seek out these images, conversations and personal data and use it against individuals. Whilst these people are clearly at fault, should we consider whether it is also the fault of the initial individual engaging with a ‘public space’? Should we forever regret our mistakes through public identification and humiliation?

As we can see, privacy comes from both individual and external factors. There are so many cases in which privacy must be considered, from hate pages and ‘trolling’, to paparazzi and journalism (which many argue is in a desperate state of flux, often doing anything for an entertainment story). But issues like cyberbullying and sexting demonstrate that its often hard to hold people accountable for their own actions or even what they have said or done to others online. Not only is it hard to regulate behaviour, it is also hard to argue that people are breaching any form of online conduct when we are discussing a global sphere such as the internet. We can’t forget that if we argue in favor for privacy across the board, we may have to apply those policies to those who seek to expose others!

There’s a few integral factors to consider throughout the discussion in regards to anonymity:

  • To what degree does all of society, including public figures, have a right to privacy?
  • Is there a balance between freedom of information and the right to privacy?
  • In cases such as the release of a secret recording like Mitt Romney’s (who unabashedly degraded people who don’t pay income tax), does the individual’s misconduct (given the context) give them any right to privacy? Is not the person who published the information also at fault?

Searching for the Self

23 Oct

Last week, I saw an interesting documentary called Inside the mind of Google that got me thinking – what happens with our data?
Growing up in this day and age, it’s easy to be flippant when it comes to handing out personal data online. I have my banking details, numerous account passwords, details of my relationships and some confidential emails all available online. Only recently, after privacy scares like those of Facebook , have I joined the skeptics who have been apprehensive since the start. It’s the notion of a balance – that of convenience vs compromise, that has recently been argued over in my mind. It’s just too tempting to buy online, easier to bank online and more convenient to save my passwords and Google search habits. This complacency is yet to affect me, but I’ve heard some recent horror stories in the news – Sony has endured some huge privacy scares regarding their clients credit card data, the News of the World saga demonstrates a corporate will to hack phones for entertainment news and Facebook has been rumored to be selling personal data to advertisers.

In the context of the documentary mentioned earlier, Google CEO Eric Schmidt made a subjective comment along the lines of ‘If you don’t want  us to know this sort of information about you, maybe you shouldn’t be searching for it.’ That’s right, Schmidt deems all those keystrokes you make to inquire about what can sometimes be some very intimate, personal or embarrassing inquiries as unsuitable for the Google search engine. Schmidt has generalized that if people feel uncomfortable about their private searches, they are probably all of a sinister nature. How often have you thought that every search inquiry you make has been stored; building up a profile that could be used against you? The notion of ‘anonymity’ in Google’s case is about hiding names but keeping IP addresses, and this, in my opinion, is convoluting its very definition. I don’t believe people are aware that they must carefully consider that they are engaging in a public good from a private space, and that everything they type should be carefully assessed. It would suggest we are moving towards some sort of Orwellian future meets The Matrix, in that we are increasingly losing control and forgoing choice in order to buy into a digitally monitored future Up until now, Google has a pretty good record of using data and search habit information to improve its search engine and tailor it to the user, but an increasing belief that there is a need to store readily accessible data to create a better society would suggest the Google’s past may not be indicative of its future. Marrisa Mayer has stated that Google’s privacy policy revolves around choice, transparency and control – a response to previous data scares that, in my eyes, paradoxically highlights everything you don’t really have when using Google. Sure, your search habits are tailored for convenience, but you are also losing the ability to choose and control through this process, and it comes across as an ultimatum for your data. In many ways you’re being filtered an altered search, carefully formulated and designed for Google’s own profit.  I implore anyone to log in to Google and see just how many settings are automatically defaulted to expose and record your habits when using ‘Google products’. Google’s own will to adhere to ‘transparancy’ is indicative of what’s expected when we partake in its search engine – it also shifts any blame from Google to those who request data or alternatively, its removal.

Inside the mind of Google  emphasizes a significant point – no service online is really ‘free’, the exchange is that of a user’s data for access. The companies of the Web 2.0 Age seem to have adopted a 21st century adage, ‘the best things in life are free – you want in, we want to know about you.’ Data is the latest currency, the hidden cost of buying your way into a ‘free’ social network or internet service. Even more disturbing, is that being a free service also means that privacy is not necessarily guaranteed, these services (which, lest they remind you, one is always welcome to opt out of) can change their policies at any given moment. The problem is that our increasing dependency upon such large corporations to provide social networks, search engines and basically our entire digital way of life means that we are actually losing agency online and increasingly feeling the pressure to accept that our information is not necessarily just our own.

So, should abuse of such a rich data network be reprehensible, and if so, by whom? Do we actually have any agency when using these services? And should this wealth of information be used to inform law enforcers? Can individuals’ ‘private’ digital footprint be used against them if deemed ‘necessary’?

More on that next week.

The Problem with Anonymity

22 Oct

Moving into the second phase of my Net Crime blog, I think in the age of buzzwords such as ‘Wikileaks’, ‘trolling’ and cyber bullying it is only appropriate to discuss the responsibilities that come with a faceless digital persona. Because in reality, the powers that be in cyberspace, like Google for example, are able to create such a strong profile of an individual from their actions online that you may be able to exercise a degree of autonomy online, but the anonymity of your actions is often relative to whether you abuse your freedom of expression.

That relativity comes down to how you conduct your ‘cyber self.’ People often like to create a digital persona that is an idealised image of themselves, hence the argument that people who are overtly active on social networks like Facebook have frequently been labelled narcissists. These people are obsessed with how many friends they have rather than the degree of each individual bond, and are often ‘self-absorbed exhibitionists’ according to The Guardian. Whilst this is a harsh label, it does draw attention to the abuse or even addiction with our online persona that can detract from the person we are in real life. In spaces like Twitter, some of these accounts that ‘follow’ you aren’t even real – in the case of Barack Obama, sources say over 70% of his 19 million followers are made up of fake accounts. Psychologists are studying the impacts of teenagers who experience symptoms of depression when disengaged from a social media platform, or the fear of ‘missing out’. In some cases, people have admitted to compulsively checking their mobiles whilst driving, literally putting their lives on the line for their social fix.

This brings into question the validity of arguing that the online self is separate from the tangible one, especially when individuals are spending increasing amounts of time online. This is even more of a concern when we look at the increasingly vitriolic behaviour that is conducted within forums and social media and how one’s self esteem is impacted by their cyber self. Two prominent examples come to mind in this respect. Whilst I have encountered many disgustingly spiteful pages online, from jokes about cancer to social commentary that quickly spiral into misogynistic abuse,  its the two hate pages on Facebook regarding Jill Meagher’s killer and bully victim Amanda Todd that have recently garnered the most media attention. In retrospect, the Jill Meagher pages, which identified the 41 year-old man behind the murder, I could almost understand. They contained details of the man’s background and ‘incited violence’ according to The Australian; but for such a horrific crime, it was almost as if Facebook was lending a unified voice to the masses who shared a very multilateral opinion. It wasn’t inciting a new opinion, just expressing it. The way in which it was conducted however, was derogatory, defamatory and tasteless. The other  issue was that it was jeapordizing the case for Victiorian police and as such, after many requests, was finally removed by Facebook. In Amanda Todd’s case, not only was her suicide in reaction to online abuse, but the posthumous abuse that landed on memorial pages could be considered even more disdainful, malicious and disrespectful than the attacks she had recieved when she was alive. Clearly the way both the cyber self is conducted, and how it is received, has real world repercussions.

The next few weeks’ discussions are centred around the public space (internet) and the so called ‘private’ lives we lead…do we really have agency online or is our data to be used against us? What right do ‘net activist’ groups such as Anonymous and Wikileaks have to information over government agencies? Is it any safer, or is our personal details at risk? And what do public companies do with our information..and what does the future hold?

Piracy, privacy and Anonymity – where does it all fit in and where do we draw the line, online?