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The Purpose Behind All These Words

When I started writing in G+, I wondered why. What is the actual point of this - the collections, the posts, the reading, thinking and writing?

But the things I read soon gave me a purpose for time spent in this community - I was and still am participating in the dialogue of who we are and what do we get to expect from life. So the pictures you post, the inspiring quotes, the ideas - they are all a part of something rather important, because they are pieces of our reflection. A mirror which allows to see both reality and the ways we wish to change it. After looking at this reflection we understand and decide what to become.

Therefore my posts are meant to be my contribution - but not only in looking for ourselves. I want to participate in the discussion what we are supposed to be. And thus I admit that my viewpoint shall always be influenced by the understanding that we have higher obligations than just enjoying our freedom to the extent granted to us. Because freedom is reponsibility upon itself - and a society that does not understand that is easily sentenced to wear the ball and chain.

This collection of posts is dedicated to the meaning of freedom in the sphere of modern technology. I would like to discuss with you the significance of different e-communities as media for exchange of ideas and what are the rules of moderation that can be enforced by the said media; what can we expect from e-service providers; what should we change in our homes, in the way we work and spend our free time; what are our responsibilities and how can we defend our freedom.

The fact is that these topics are a bit of an embaressment for our contemporary governments. Technology presents unique problems which might seem beyond the reach of the administrative capacity of authorities. In this case I would like to be the voice that says that this is not a wrestling match and a government cannot just tap out and leave. Because the price of its failure shall be for us to pay.

You can expect me to stand behind the need of legislation stating what tehcnology giants can and cannot do when providing services and goods. Because the fact is that we are indeed participating in this economy. We buy or provide revenue via different mechanisms, so we should get a say what services we are ought to receive. And I believe that no company, regardless of its services and its size, can say no to that. We are customers and even more - participants - and as a whole we should work with the government and corporate interests to set rules. Because justice and freedom do not exist outside what we create.

The result of this decision of mine - which is easy to see by now - is that my posts seem to be aimed at technology giants. The companies providing you and me with the hardware and software to read these writings of mine. And in this I feel compelled to explain - I don't deny the necessity or usefulness of modern technology. I just stand for the idea that we get a word when determining what our rights as users or service providres are. Clarity, so the boundaries of our responsibility and freedom are clear.

And finally - a word of thanks to Alphabet for creating this platform and the support in the work on my collection by the Google+ Collections community as a whole and +Nina Trankova in particular. I am thankful for the opportunity to reach out and to be touched by the ideas of others in turn. However, this community is as much as a medium for sharing ideas, as it is a subject of my considerations when discussing the problems of technology. Everything I say directly concerns us as users of an e-service - here we should have freedom and responsibility for what we say. And these freedom and responsibility should be matched in turn by all other members of the community and by the service provider.

#technology #e-services
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New EU Legislation On Consumer Protection In The Web

The EU parliament has voted for a new Regulation on Consumer Protection Cooperation, which allows taking down websites associated with fraudulent activities.

This option has raised serious questions concerning the risk for censorship and the lack of control over the procedure. Now, some of the arguments against this power granted to consumer protection authorities I shall discard outright - the question whether such measure is proportional and why it was introduced, while other remedies were removed from the scope of the regulation.

Firstly, consumer protection is usually about defending lots of small interests against a singular larger interest. This means that the claims of a single consumer a usually insignificant, but a quantity of such claims has a different quality. And only for a large number of claims the consumer protection really works. So when we are talking about large numbers, the most important measure is to stop the violation of the rights of consumers as soon as possible. The compensation for already damaged consumers is not urgent, however sad it might sound. So this measure is rather necessary.

The question is, that I've had the chance to discuss, any power can easily be misused and this is true for the power to remove web-sites from the web as well. This power though is really dangerous - because indeed it means possible limitations of free speech and sharing of information. I would like to see the debate about safeguards against abuse of this power for national regulators before making any definitive statements, but for sure the EU begins a dangerous conversation, and even if it is necessary, this measure might bear sour fruits.

#technology #consumerprotection #EU
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Do Robots Dream Of Electric Sheep?

Science fiction is not so much about aliens and predicting innovations - it is rather about the boundaries of what we understand as human. How much can we change while remaining the same? Is there a border to who we can be and who we would accept to be? And exactly the authors asking these questions were always the one worth reading - and were the ones most successfully predicting how technology shall change.

Philip K. Dick is a very good example - because while his works might not be so alien in terms of setting, they have always asked difficult questions. And getting back to Blade Runner - and the story that gave birth to the concept behind the movie - I think that Philip K. Dick hit the bull's eye. Again.

And I have to agree with everything set down in the article posted by +The Verge. Because currently there is a lot of attention towards robots and AI, but little understanding what they actually are. And people are trying to make a fortune out of it.

But the process of milking this cow is already starting to damage our society - and create problems with actual AI. The citizenship granted to the robot by Saudi Arabia resulted in questions raised about the rights of actual humans in the Kingdom. Because it is easy to grant rights to robot which you don't expect to use them. But what about all the human beings really needing these rights?

But next to this very serious question lies another one - do we need robot citizenship right now? For me the answer still is no - because we still are far away from actual artificial intelligence. Yes, most tech companies announce they are working on AI and actually show some developed programs. But they still remain nothing more than simple software. Yes, they have started to learn when it comes to solving more and more complex tasks. But as long as the tasks are predefined by us, AI remains mostly artificial. And here comes the tricky part - because identity comes with the right to choose, to make decisions. If a software makes decisions on basis of predefined values, without the opportunity to decide, compare options and ultimately make a choice we cannot predict, it falls short of an actual AI. It remains a complex tool, but nothing more. And this is the actual discussion - do we have the strength to give a piece of software the right to choose? Can we let it make decisions we won't like?

But while we discuss robot citizenship, we miss these questions. They just slip by while we fund the next pretty toy. And here we come back to Philip K. DIck's work - his Blade runner actually shows, how robots can be both different and similar to us. Because in the book (and movie) you can always distinguish man from machine, because the latter has no emotions. But in the end it turns out that the machine wants to survive just as much as a human - and it can value the life of others. So, enforcing anthropomorphic expectations is risky - because it will make us see similarities, when such cannot exist, and at the same time miss the actual ones. And once we see things as they are we shall be able to answer what rights should robots have.

We have come to the point where we decide whether we shall be a Dr. Frankenstein, a creator of some sort, or something completely different.

#technology #AI
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General Data Protection Regulation

Lately this collection is taking most of my attention - because this is one of the most significant changes in EU legislation, coming into effect next year. And it directly affects many of the topics of technology and law. So instead of flooding with a series of posts about the regulation, I am intent to create a comprehensive guide to understanding it as a separate collection.

If you are interested in the matter of data protection or you process personal data, I hope this collection would be useful. If you have any questions, I would be glad to help.

#technology #GDPR
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The Vocabulary Problems With Data Leaks

Data leaks have become something common lately - and it is inevitable, since more and more data is being uploaded, more systems are becoming linked. So, this is the story of the latest NSA leak - which have become scandals to the last one. But to me it seems that this one is being overlooked. So, here are some considerations you might find interesting:

First, notice what was stolen - 'classified materials that included both software code and other information that the agency uses in its offensive hacking operations, as well as details of how it protects US systems from hacker adversaries'. Let me try to translate for you - along with information on protection software, hackers managed to steal data about software backdoors used by U.S. Hackers.

Now, here we get to one of the problems - offensive hacking is a legitimate part of the work of the NSA, if we read what was written in this article. But someone, the author including, was surprised that someone is spying on the spy - so, either naivety, either selling us some propaganda.

The second matter in question - the U.S. government has cracked down at Kaspersky for working with the Russian government and installing backdoors. Allegations that completely corespond to the actual situation that was established at Yahoo, and not only. So the result soon shall be a totally uncompetitve market of software solutions. Each country shall breed its own software developers based on their maleability. And international markets - well, they shall sell to governments that do not mind being spied upon by the country of the software developer.

We come to the bottom of the problem - hacking has become part of every day life and governments value it as a tool too much, to discuss it as illegal or wrong. So foreign hackers shall be evil, while our own shall be good.

#technology #NSA
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On The Necessity Of Light And Truth

A statement has a life of its own once it slips off our tongue. It shall be interpreted and misinterpreted, repeated long after the circumstances have changed, or readily censored. And on the web this is more true than ever before.

So, here is a post from +David Amerland, taken out of its context. Now, if you ask me this subject needs a review - because while the context has changed, the conclusions in the post and the linked research are still true. But let's let the reader be the judge of that.

There is one aspect of this research (which I have left to stew for later review for half an year now) which repeatedly caught my attention. And I notice it wherever I go - our tendency toward imitation and mimicry. First, a few words on the simptoms - when you read opinions on certain subjects, you might notice that while the users are often polarized in their viewpoints, but both sides stick to certain rules of expression. Now, I can speak for Bulgaria, where my obesrvations are closer to thorough, and I notice that certain viewpoints are always defended with identical terms by different people. And this identity is not limited to what we would call alt-right. Everywhere we can see bad jokes and attempts to make fun of the names, stature, etc of more inffluential people. In many posts you can notice that jokes do not care about the casual reader - they are out of context to the point that they are unintelligible, unless you have followed a dozen previous discussions.

So, some implications. First, does the identity in expression mean that these discussions involve just two people, talking through a myriad of accounts? I'd say rather not, because someone has set a trend of expression that is being repeated blindly. That is why we can observe lack of coherence between such accounts. Is this the fruit of intentional attempt to modify public opinion. I would say yes. It is difficult to explain why, but it is not justa gut feeling. The tendencies, the way the posts are aimed in this or that direction, it all shows that someone is trying to destroy the reputation of a certain person or sway public opinion against a certain decision.

But here comes the interesting part - this is not strictly subsidy-based effort. Maybe it started that way, but now it is being carried out by people that believe the things they write. That is why sometimes these discussions become unintelligible - because they are not lead by people with purpose to convince the public, but rather from activists looking for expression. The public opinion slowly becomes irrelevant for these people, because they have enough proselytes and do not desperately need more.

But there is a deeper concern here - if these memes, these posts are created by activists, this would mean that limiting them is a breach of the freedom of speech. After all how do we determine what is propaganda? We can bar everyone from stating and/or supporting a lie. But who will be the authority on truth then - would it be the Trump administration? Or the Democratic party which was caught rigging the caucuses against Bernie Sanders? Truth is as much a function of reality, as it is related to conviction. So how to keep our freedom while dealing with propaganda?

For me the answer is to judge ideas and statements not on basis of their content, but on the idea behind them. Any talk against the rights of others, against equality and freedom should be banned, even if the statement would meet all requirements for truth. Any statement urging towards violence, towards hate and prejudice should also be targeted as harmful, even if it cannot be deemed false.

Of course we can continue discussing the Russian interference in the US elections and the alt-right activists. But do they use different means from what we would approve if their ideas where more acceptable? These ideas are the actual danger - and until we educate ourselves to be more tolerant and less afraid, they shall spead ever further.

#technology #propaganda
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Equifax - The Story Goes On

You might wonder whether watching John Oliver discuss the Equifax hack is worth 15 minutes of your life. Well, I promise it is an entertaining experience. But we can sum it up - first, the things we know:
Equifax leaked the personal data of pretty much half of the U.S. population. Now, a data breach can happen, so nothing to worry about there. The problem though is that a company dealing with credit ratings - a monetized expression of trust - both failed at keeping its security up to date and to notify about the breach. This means that any actions aimed at damage control were rendered useless - because were undertaken way too late.

But that are things we already knew all that - as well as the fact that the Equifax management did what it could to cut its losses. It was also clear that the suggested measures to compensate people whose data was stolen were inadequate. The news here are how inadequate exactly they were - because we would expect such a corporation to try to regain the trust it used as currency and deal with this as fast as possible. Well, instead it turned out that they messed up again - and while it was less damaging, it showed how misderected any effort to deal with the data breach was.

Because while Equifax suggested to grant their anti-identity theft service for free to people affected by the breach (for an year of course), they did their work so efficiently that they redirected users to a dupe site created by a prankster. And while the prank was obvious nobody actually checked the links provided to users. And while the prankster might have not had anything malicious in mind, that would be an exception.

No CEO-Roasting by the Senate can fix this - because this is principal problem with company culture, and especially responsibility towards the people, whose personal data was processed.

#technology #dataprotection #Equifax
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Are We Just Talking To Ourselves?

In Bulgaria the topic of the week was s scam, which was based on completely fake social network accounts. It turned out that all the pictures on the web were fake and we still don't know who is the person in them. Or at least that is what the authorities say - I still feel there is something left unsaid. But that is beside the point. The fact is that a person managed to build a completely fake personality, using a number of social networks. Is this is a technology problem? After all hustlers, scoundrels and all sorts of such persons have existed for quite a while before computers were invented and we become a part of a global information network.

The past though made it easy for such scoundrels. By leaving your village you can get away from any past deeds. Change your appearance just slightly, avoid any old acquaintances, and everything is fine. Nowadays my face has already gotten everywhere and everyone can recognize me, given a little bit of effort. In the meanwhile we remain further apart than ever - because while technology connects people, we choose to ignore actual communication.

Everything about this matter is contained in the question "Are you OK?" You can't watch 10 minutes from a movie without hearing that phrase, it is catchy and it is simple. It requires a yes or no answer, without any true engagement. It is completely different from "How do you do" for instance - because the question implies a more complicated answer. Of course the latter has become rather a greeting than an expression of concern for the other. And this is the actual problem I see - because we have strained the connections between us to the limit. We have become gullible - because a number of nice pictures in a social network account and some sweet talk can convince us in everything. At the same time we are suspicious - because our gullibility has gotten us in trouble before and because we are familiar with all the latest conspiracy theories.

Technology has given us the means to improve our connections, our relationships. But it cannot - and is not intended to replace actual communication. But intended and actual use obviously differ. So, time for bed for me, so I can try and actually talk to someone tomorrow.

#technology #communication
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The Irony In The Equifax Hack

I decided to wait a bit before commenting on this topic - so the dust can settle a bit, and the truth can shine. I agree with +Shawn Tuma - we as a society have short memory. So stories like this one need to be repeated every once in a while, so we might remember what happened.

To summarize - the personal information of hundreds of thousands of people was stolen. The reason was a vulnerability in software which was identified in early 2017, but was not patched by the Equifax team. The sad part is not the allegations that the chief security officer did not have the qualification for the job, but the fact that this vulnerability was not dealt with in time and that the breach was not disclosed for more than a month.

This means that while Equifax knew about the stolen data from the end of July, it did not notify the users of its services (who are just providing the data of third party to check for identity theft), nor anyone else till September. This means that if the data was going to be used for identity theft, most victims would be caught unaware that the breach had happened and their personal information is available to malevolent persons. In this regard the reaction of Equifax is similar to that of Yahoo from the series of data breaches in 2016, which means that the latter have not been a lesson - neither in cyber-security, nor in responsibility.

What should have happened - Equifax should have immediately notified any person affected by the breach, as well as any authorities who might check for signs of identity theft related to these persons. And after that the company should have paid compensation to the affected persons. Because it is not enough to know, you have to be compensated for the problems the theft of your personal data means. And these problems are practically related to the need to constantly be looking over your shoulder or checking your bank statement.

And here is the important point as Gavin G. Smith points out in his book The Hangman's Daughter, a corporation is beyond notions of good and evil. It operates in terms of profit, so to stop it from doing something it is not enough to prohibit it. The breach of the prohibition should be so expensive, that it outweighs the positive effects of the said breach.

+Shawn Tuma mentions punitive measures - but when we are talking for victims, it is not enough to punish the guilty party. It is necessary to provide some restitution to the victim. And that is the matter nobody is discussing - because there are no measures for restitution suggested for discussion. This means that users are effectively excluded from the calculation. But all punitive measures, all incentives should be aimed at providing a safe environment for our personal data.

#technology #identitytheft #Equifax
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When Net Neutrality Issues Come Knocking At The Door

We have talked a lot about net neutrality - so much, that we actually risk becoming boring. But this is not some hurricane to blow over at some point. People are constantly trying to control over information traffic - it might be a subtle, but ongoing war you might barely notice. Or it might be quite an interference in your life. The problem is people just want some additional profit - and if it means destroying the competitive environment that created them, they are okay with it. To deal with this we need actually to talk more about our rights - to share what they mean and how we can defend them.

And here is the personal story that inspires this specific post:

I have been sticking to the same mobile operator for 11 years now, give or take. It has been a bumpy ride, though in general the improvement is great - I use more services and pay less. So lately I considered trying to listen to telemarketing attempts - and it turned out to be a mistake. Because within the bunch of appendixes there was one for Internet TV - a service I explicitly mentioned I do not want to subscribe for. So of course I didn't sign the documents and when I got a call I explained that next time I will be visiting an office of the mobile operator to sign my new contract. The polite lady on the other end though told me something interesting - I couldn't renew my contract without subscribing to this additional service, though I shouldn't be concerned, there was no additional fee.

Now, at this point I know I am hearing wrong. The only question is whether the mobile operator knows it. Why? Well, three separate issues:

1. Maybe the most general consideration, freedom of will - on which any contractual relationship is based. I will subscribe for the services I want and my mobile operator shall have to live with it. Otherwise we are talking about plain racketeering.

2. Along with this general principle, additionally I benefit from the user protection rules of the EU. So forcing me into a contract that is not directly related to the service I want to use is not exactly wise.

3. And finally, this practice in severe breach of competition protection. Why? Well, imagine this: you are a broadcaster and you want your channel to reach as many viewers as possible - to get advertisement revenue, of course. And here comes the mobile operator stating that he can get your channel to 1/3 of the viewers in a territory. How, you ask. Simple - he will force every client to subscribe for free of charge TV service. It sounds tempting to get free TV, but actually it is not free. Because the operator is getting revenue. But he is also gaining unfair advantage over his competitors. Because when you already have cheap or free Internet TV, you don't want to pay additionally for the same service. So clients would usually rely on that free service and cancel any other subscription. Once the mobile operator has killed its competition, suddenly the subscriptions become paid. Of course, that is some distant and not so certain future, because in the meanwhile competitors retaliate: they start forcing subscriptions on their clients. And of course, we users get to carry around a fashionable set of ball and chain.

The fight for net neutrality is an expression of the belief that this future is not inevitable. By making sure operators of different networks are not forcing their services on their clients we can have a better choice of services. Yes, in the short term it means running away from lower prices and special offers, but also it means having a choice what we receive in terms of services and goods. These rules are not exactly non-existent - they have been created for a number of industries. Now is the moment they get applied on the Internet as well.

So, wish me luck, because I'm looking forward to one interesting conversation with a random mobile operator's office manager...

#technology #netneutrality
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