Ahmed Elbatrawy

Despite Facebook, privacy is far from dead

Amitai Etzioni says Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg says privacy is obsolete, but has made concessions on the issue.

Editor’s note: Amitai Etzioni is professor of international relations and director of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies at George Washington University. He is the author of “The Limits of Privacy.”

Washington (CNN) — Whatever the outcome of Facebook’s public offering of stock, the social network has already enriched quite a few — as well as famously offered many hundreds of millions of people a new virtual social world. Yet critics claim that Facebook is hastening the demise of privacy, which as the cliché goes, is already on life support.

Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy says that “Facebook has purposefully worked to erode the concept of privacy by disingenuously claiming users want to share all of their personal information.” Human Rights First CEO Elisa Massimino argues, “Facebook’s privacy policies are prohibitively confusing, make it difficult for users to protect personal information, expose to disclosure information users believe is private, and are changed without adequate warning or consent from users.”

Mark Zuckerberg has responded to such criticisms in two rather different ways. On the one hand he argued that privacy is an obsolete social norm, echoing the (then) CEO of Sun Microsystems who stated, “You have zero privacy anyway. … Get over it.” On the other hand, Facebook has improved its privacy settings, for example, by allowing users to “untag” themselves from previous posts and giving them greater control over what information can be accessed by third-party apps.

Amitai Etzioni

From the viewpoint of privacy advocates such as NYU law professor James Grimmelmann, Simon Davies of the UK-based Privacy International, Dany Nativel in France, and Malte Spitz in Germany, privacy is already on its last legs.

Facebook merely adds to the major inroads made by the CCTV cameras that are ubiquitous in many cities around the globe, along with surveillance satellites, tracking devices, spy malware and, most recently, drones used not for killing terrorists but for scrutinizing spaces heretofore considered private, like our backyards.

Corporations keep detailed dossiers on what we purchase. No wonder privacy advocates argue that we live in a surveillance society and privacy “ended with Facebook.”

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Actually if you look beyond all these alarmed pronouncements, you will find that:

(a) Many of these devices are applied to public spaces, where it is unclear how much of a right to privacy we have in the first place. They do what a police officer does, only using technology instead. In free societies, in which this debate largely rages, when the police do spy on someone’s home, personal phone or car, the courts still generally hold that the authorities need a warrant — that is, they need to show a judge that they have reasonable evidence to assume the person has committed a crime. Under those conditions, privacy was not protected from the day the Constitution was written.

(b) Our communications are now much more secure from prying eyes and ears — that is, much more private — than they were before the cyberage. The main reason is that most of our sensitive online transactions — financial, medical, etc. — are encrypted, often automatically. The default option for Gmail user accounts also encrypts communications between users’ browsers and Google’s servers. The NSA is surely able to read encrypted communications, but few, if any, others can. Compare today’s messaging to those that were made by letters (that could be readily steamed open and resealed), faxes and telegrams, and you see how much more private communications have become.

(c) These days, our information is routinely stored in computers and protected by passwords. Those, especially when we are lazy (and use — as a surprising number of people do — 123456, abc123, or “password” ) or do not bother to reset them regularly, can be broken. However, most times they hold. Compare this storage of information to what it was before the cyberage, when it was kept in paper files in drawers and locked offices, which often could be opened with a letter opener or even a credit card, not to mention a burglar’s tools.

(d) Before 2000, the most intimate and private information, medical information, could be bought and sold. Health insurance companies could disclose information to employers, corporations profited as clearinghouses of buyers and sellers of medical records, and pharmaceutical companies used patient information to more successfully market prescription drugs to individuals. In 2000, a new federal right to medical privacy was established in the United States. Those who share such information now, without proper authorization, can be tried as criminals. No wonder now there are very few reports of violations of medical privacy.

Indeed, if you read closely the various alarmist articles about the death of privacy, you soon will note that many deal either with public spaces or with hypotheticals. They claim that police could abuse these tools, might use them to ill effect and so on. The American Civil Liberties Union, for example, criticized the use of drones by law enforcement by arguing that such use “could eventually eliminate the privacy Americans have traditionally enjoyed in their movements and activities.”

Facebook has been caught in the same crossfire between strong privacy advocates and the social benefits it generates for hundred of millions who use it to communicate with their families and friends, close and not so close. It improved its privacy settings, though it still takes a considerable amount of effort to set them at the specific level one prefers.

However, if Facebook users choose to ignore the risk to their privacy when they log in to this domain, which is known for its openness, their complaints must be taken with a grain of salt. The same holds for the argument that privacy in general is on its way out. It surely faces new challenges in the cyberage, but also unprecedented protections.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Amitai Etzioni.

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Behind Apple’s ‘upside-down’ logo

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak using a Powerbook with the

(CNN) — Those new to the cult of Mac may not realize it, but there once was a time when that iconic logo that shines from the top of Apple notebooks used to be positioned, well, upside down. Anyone gazing at the back of an open PowerBook or iBook saw Apple’s logo balancing on its stem, almost as if in the middle of a pirouette.

And now we know exactly why Apple opted for its original logo positioning: Joe Moreno, a former senior web app engineer and marketer at Apple, took to his blog Sunday to disclose the story behind Apple’s original design.

Moreno said that Apple staff confused by the design decision used the company’s anonymous internal question system Can We Talk? to ask “Why is the Apple logo upside down on laptops when the lid is open?”

Apparently, the Apple Design Group had discussed the issue of the Apple logo on the lid extensively. If the logo faces the user when he or she opens the laptop, then it’s upside down when the lid is up. And if the logo is right side up when the laptop is open, then it’s upside down to the user when he or she is looking to open it.

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Apple CEO Steve Jobs wanted to provide the best experience for the user, and so the Apple logo was initially placed to be upside down to onlookers.

But the decision was reversed within a few years. “Opening a laptop from the wrong end is a self-correcting problem that only lasts for a few seconds. However, viewing the upside logo is a problem that lasts indefinitely,” Moreno wrote.

Smart move — especially considering how often Apple notebooks appear in Hollywood productions.

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Ad-skipping DVR prompts fight for the future of TV

Dish Network is marketing a DVR that lets viewers skip TV commercials entirely, but broadcasters aren't happy about it.

(CNN) — It turns out that consumers like the idea of watching TV shows with no other ads. And, surprise, the television networks are less than thrilled.

On Friday, news was continuing to emerge about a flurry of lawsuits between Dish Network, which last week released a tool to let its DVR customers do exactly that, and the major television networks.

It’s a battle over a new technology tool. But, in some ways, it’s a microcosm of the fight for the future of television and how we watch it.

“With Dish’s aggressive move to please the end customer rather than advertisers, it’s clear that in the fight for TV revenue the gloves have finally come off,” James L. McQuivey, an analyst for Forrester Research, told The New York Times. “The fact that Dish would be willing to anger some of its most important content partners just goes to show how desperate these times we live in really are.”

Two weeks ago, Dish rolled out Auto Hop, a feature for its DISH DVR that lets users who subscribe automatically skip ads while watching recorded shows.

It didn’t take long for the lawsuits to start flying back and forth. Fox, NBC and CBS all filed suit in federal court on Thursday, and Dish fired back with a claim of its own against the networks.

The scuffle is the latest in a series of fights between traditional entertainment providers and Web-based delivery systems that can be traced back to Napster vs. Metallica and beyond.

Whether it’s illegal downloads (the target of the failed Stop Online Piracy Act in Congress) or DVR systems that let users quickly and easily zoom past advertising, the new-media landscape offers a host of hurdles that have left some entertainers and, by extension, entertainment companies, struggling to adapt.

It’s an argument that will sound familiar to those who have followed those fights.

The TV networks are saying that DISH has, in effect, violated their copyrights by stripping away the traditional way they make money.

“How does Charlie Ergen expect me to produce ‘CSI’ without ads?” CBS chief executive Les Moonves said this week, referring to Dish’s CEO.

For their part, Dish argues that people have been skipping TV ads, in one way or another, since the invention of television. Viewers have muted ads for decades, and the DVR’s fast-forward function only hastened the process.

“We are giving them a feature they want and that gives them more control,” said David Shull, Dish senior vice president of programming, in a statement.

Janney Capital Markets analyst Tony Wible said the tool might not make that much difference for the typical TV watcher, though.

Ad Hop’s commercial-skipping powers only kick in at 1 a.m. the day after the original program airs. He says that means the overwhelming majority of DVR viewers will watch when ads are still intact.

An AdWeek article that highlighted Wible’s comments also noted that, according to Nielsen, 82% of broadcast TV viewing and 90% of cable viewing still takes place the day a show airs.

As CNNMoney noted, this isn’t the only front on which the entertainment vs. tech war is being waged.

On Wednesday, several local New York stations, including the local Fox, PBS and Univision channels, filed suit against a new technology called Aereo.

Aereo would allow consumers to watch and record broadcast TV online by hooking up a small antenna to an Internet connection. The broadcasters are seeking an injunction against Aereo, claiming the company is allowing consumers to bypass cable retransmission fees.

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New ’3D’ way to interact with computers

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  • Yahoo launches Axis ‘search browser’

    Yahoo's Axis browser delivers thumbnail images instead of text for search results.

    (CNN) — Yahoo has joined the browser wars with Axis, its very own tool designed to enhance its search with a clear eye toward the rapidly expanding mobile Web.

    Axis, the company announced late Wednesday, is a stand-alone app currently available for Apple mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad and on desktops as an add-on to established browsers like Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Safari.

    Yahoo special project director Ethan Batraski wrote on the company’s search blog that “with a mobile-first focus,” the company “set out to completely re-think and re-design how users search and browse the Web.”

    The result was Axis, a visual-rich tool that aims to combine searching and browsing into one experience. On mobile devices, a query returns thumbnail images of actual Web pages instead of a list of links. People can use the touchscreen to scroll and choose a page.

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    Early reviews have been positive for the mobile version of the tool, which addresses the rising percentage of time Web users spend accessing the Internet on phones and tablets.

    “Mobile is where the action is, so it makes sense that Yahoo threw the bulk of its development love into the tablet and smartphone versions,” wrote CNET’s Rafe Needleman. “On the iPad, Axis is simply a great browser. The integrated search feature is intuitive, and being able to move through search results without having to go back to search makes sense. After only a few minutes using it I thought, Why hasn’t Google done this yet? It’s that good.”

    A pull-down feature lets users flip back and forth between a Web page and their search results. It also features search bookmarking and integration with Pinterest.

    Users can also integrate Axis among multiple devices, saving a personal homepage and searches on phone, tablet and desktop computers. The tool’s main page also shows “trending” searches at any given time.

    On the desktop version, Axis appears as a small search box in the bottom left corner of the browser window, allowing people to keep using whatever browser they like.

    The unveiling of Axis comes as Yahoo is trying to jockey for position among the big three of Web search — Google, Microsoft’s Bing and Yahoo Search.

    Google controls about 64% of the search market, according to March numbers from Experian Hitwise. Yahoo (which is powered by Bing) had about 16% of the market, while Bing itself accounted for another 14%.

    E.B. Boyd, of Fast Company, writes that the release of Axis marks a new charge in the browser wars, as all three companies work to revamp, and redefine, Web search.

    Boyd wrote:

    “The three leaders in this space have each realized that the conventional paradigms for search, architected over a decade ago when bandwidth was low, few people used the Web for more than research, and almost all computing was done at desktops, no longer work in an age of mobile apps, multiple devices, big data, and ever greater expectation on the part of the consumer that working online is about getting things done, not just perusing documents.”

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    A look at Apple’s ‘spaceship’ campus

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    Apple's second campus in Cupertino, California, is scheduled to be completed in 2015. The campus will cover 2.8 million square feet and house 13,000 employees. Apple’s second campus in Cupertino, California, is scheduled to be completed in 2015. The campus will cover 2.8 million square feet and house 13,000 employees.

    Apple in CupertinoApple in Cupertino

    Apple in CupertinoApple in Cupertino

    Apple in CupertinoApple in Cupertino

    Apple in CupertinoApple in Cupertino

    Apple in CupertinoApple in Cupertino

    Apple in CupertinoApple in Cupertino








    (CNN) — It will cover 2.8 million square feet and have its own power plant inside its massive, gleaming circular design.

    It will be covered in solar panels and house up to 13,000 people on a daily basis — not to mention 6,000 trees.

    It’s been compared to a spaceship. And now, as Apple looks to make its innovative new headquarters a reality, it’s checking with the neighbors.

    Due to be completed in 2015, Apple’s new headquarters may be one of co-founder Steve Jobs’ final, longest-lasting legacies.

    This week, Apple reached out to residents of Cupertino, California, where its current headquarters resides (and will continue to after the new campus is built). In a letter obtained by blog 9to5 Mac, the company seeks to allay some concerns that its neighbors have expressed since the plan was submitted to the city last summer.

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    According to the letter, the four-story building will be a research facility that will not replace the existing campus on 1 Infinite Loop. And it will not be open to the public, so there will be no museum or corporate store.

    The building will contain an auditorium that seats 1,000 and will be used for special events like product unveilings, though.

    The letter, from Apple Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer, says the company plans to break ground on the site as soon as Cupertino gives its approval, which is expected this year.

    Neighbors are invited to send Apple a letter or go to the city’s website to express any concerns.

    In the suburban city of roughly 58,000 people, the primary concerns have focused on additional traffic and environmental impact, both of which Apple says it is addressing in the design of the campus, which is expected to get LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification as an environmentally friendly project.

    The new campus was one of the last major initiatives for Jobs, who died last year.

    In 2010, when HP abandoned its Cupertino campus, Jobs quietly arranged to buy the site, according to Walter Isaacson’s biography, “Steve Jobs.”

    “I want to leave a signature campus that expresses the values of the company for generations,” Jobs told Isaacson.

    A team of 50 architects was hired, and Jobs, as was his habit, was intimately involved in the details, according to the book.

    Much of the campus sits on the former site of an apricot orchard, and Jobs required that 80% of the campus be natural, with more than 6,000 trees. Apple hopes to raze 26 buildings on the site to make room for the “spaceship,” which will be surrounded by grass and trees.

    A June 7 City Council meeting was one of Jobs’ last public appearances.

    At the meeting, he spent about 20 minutes introducing the project and answering questions.

    “It’s a little like a spaceship landed,” he said as council members got their first look at the design. “I think the overall feel of the place is going to be a zillion times better than it is now.

    “I think we do have a shot of building the best office building in the world. I really do think architecture students will come here to see this. I think it could be that good.”

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    TV remote inventor dies

    Channel surfers everywhere owe a debt to inventor Eugene Polley, who died this week.

    (CNN) — The inventor of the TV remote, Eugene Polley, died on Sunday at 96.

    After his death was announced on Tuesday, the Internet paused — get it? — to remember the man and the wireless television remote control, which ushered in the era of channel surfing and couch potatoes.

    Some tributes were humorous. Others were fawning.

    “Gush all you want about Facebook, Twitter and other recent tech innovations. I’d stack Polley and his TV remote against all of them,” wrote David Lazarus at LATimes.com. “After all, which would you be more willing to give up — Facebook or your remote? … Thought so.”

    Polley, who died of “natural causes,” according to a news release, invented Zenith’s “Flash-Matic” wireless remote control, which was introduced in 1955 and was heralded as the first of its kind. “It used a flashlight-like device to activate photocells on the television set to change channels,” the Zenith news release says.

    In the 1950s, the mechanics of using a remote were a little clunky:

    “The viewer used a highly directional flashlight to activate the four control functions, which turned the picture and sound on and off and changed channels by turning the tuner dial clockwise and counterclockwise,” Zenith says.

    Rosa Golijan from MSNBC writes that eccentricities always have been part of the remote control and its odd history:

    “Because the remote shined visible light, TVs could be confused by other light sources. In spite of its quirkiness, the Flash-Matic was a revolution, and the reason Polley was bestowed with humorous titles ranging from ‘the founding father of the couch potato’ to ‘the czar of zapping’ to ‘the beach boy of channel surfing.’ “

    And an advertisement from that era underscores just how new this invention was.

    “A flash of magic light from across the room (no wires, no cords) turns set on, off or changes channels,” one ad says, “and you remain in your easy chair!”

    Born in Chicago, Polley had a long career as an engineer at Zenith, where he worked his way up from the stockroom. His inventions, mostly in the field of television, earned 18 U.S. patents.

    Technology analysts, commentators and remote users are using the occasion of Polley’s death to celebrate his invention and tease a bit about its legacy.

    “Thanks for the belly Eugene,” someone wrote on the tech blog Gizmodo’s Facebook page. “Just kidding. Great invention.”

    Others chose to focus on the way Polley, who won a Emmy Award from the National Academy of Television Arts Sciences for his creation, changed the world with the invention.

    The TV remote was the precursor to interactive entertainment — and it’s part of the reason we’re able to navigate digital content so freely, says The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal.

    “The new device meant people could change channels quickly and easily from the comfort of their sectionals, and that affordance meant that television stations could not continue to sell advertising or deliver programming the way that they had before when it was more difficult to change the channel,” he writes. “I do not think it is an accident that we started channel surfing (1986) before we started surfing the Web.”

    As if taking a cue from that thought, one Twitter user wrote:

    “R.I.P. Eugene Polley, inventor of the TV remote control. Please honor the man by reading this tweet for at least 5 seconds before scrolling.”

    Gizmodo also muses on the post-remote world:

    “Cordless control allowed audiences a vastly new experience of consuming television: For the first time ever, they could switch programs without getting up to turn the dial. No longer were programs endured simply because they were too lazy to get up off the couch. Commercials could be avoided by switching channels, or muted, with just the press of a button. ‘Channel surfing’ become a thing.”

    Who owns the remote in your home, and why? Tell us about your relationship with TV remotes in the comments section.

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    IBM worries Siri has loose lips

    IBM reportedly has banned Apple's Siri voice service on its network.

    (WIRED) — If you work for IBM, you can bring your iPhone to work, but forget about using the phone’s voice-activated digital assistant. Siri isn’t welcome on Big Blue’s networks.

    The reason? Siri ships everything you say to her to a big data center in Maiden, North Carolina. And the story of what really happens to all of your Siri-launched searches, e-mail messages and inappropriate jokes is a bit of a black box.

    IBM CIO Jeanette Horan told MIT’s Technology Review this week that her company has banned Siri outright because, according to the magazine, “The company worries that the spoken queries might be stored somewhere.”

    It turns out that Horan is right to worry. In fact, Apple’s iPhone Software License Agreement spells this out: “When you use Siri or Dictation, the things you say will be recorded and sent to Apple in order to convert what you say into text,” Apple says. Siri collects a bunch of other information — names of people from your address book and other unspecified user data, all to help Siri do a better job.

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    How long does Apple store all of this stuff, and who gets a look at it? Well, the company doesn’t actually say. Again, from the user agreement: “By using Siri or Dictation, you agree and consent to Apple’s and its subsidiaries’ and agents’ transmission, collection, maintenance, processing, and use of this information, including your voice input and User Data, to provide and improve Siri, Dictation, and other Apple products and services.”

    Because some of the data that Siri collects can be very personal, the American Civil Liberties Union put out a warning about Siri just a couple of months ago.

    Privacy was always a big concern for Siri’s developers, says Edward Wrenbeck, the lead developer of the original Siri iPhone app, which was eventually acquired by Apple. And for corporate users, there are even more potential pitfalls. “Just having it known that you’re at a certain customer’s location might be in violation of a non-disclosure agreement,” he says.

    But he agrees that many of the issues raised by Apple’s Siri data handling are similar to those that other internet companies face. “I really don’t think it’s something to worry about,” he says. “People are already doing things on these mobile devices. Maybe Siri makes their life a little bit easier, but it’s not exactly opening up a new avenue that wasn’t there before.”

    But other companies have been pressured by privacy groups over the way they store customer data. Google, for example, has come under fire in the past for the way it handles a massive database of user search data. But IBM doesn’t ban Google. Neither Apple nor IBM could be reached for comment Tuesday, but there are a couple of important differences between Siri and Google that may have IBM worried: For one, Siri can be used to write e-mails or text messages. So, in theory, Apple could be storing confidential IBM messages.

    Another difference: After being dogged by privacy advocates, Google now anonymizes search results — making them difficult, if not impossible, to trace back to an individual user — after nine months.

    Maybe if Apple agreed to do something like that, Siri would be welcome over in Armonk, New York.

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    Band uses no instruments, plays iPads

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    Ahmed Elbatrawy