The Principality of Sealand and data haven?
Seven miles off the English coast and just 24 feet above the roiling waves of the North Sea is the Principality of Sealand. The nation’s total area amounts to just 120 x 50 feet, but its occupier and “ruler” since 1966, Major Paddy Royal Bates, has had outsized dreams for his former military platform out in the sea. Once, it was the home of HavenCo, that company that billed itself as a “data haven,” the Switzerland of data centers.
HavenCo was supposedly to be the home of businesses who didn’t want governments minding their business: porn, anonymous currencies, governments in exile. When Fox News reported that WikiLeaks was moving its servers to Sealand, it certainly seemed fitting but, alas, turned out to be just speculation. That led us to Ars Technica, where law professor James Grimmelmann has written what is probably the definitive history of Sealand and HavenCo, and it is a thrilling read. A few snippets from nation’s short history include a pirate radio broadcaster hurling Molotov cocktails, press wars over “marooned children,” and coup led by a former diamond dealer (possibly staged).
Modern life is about maximizing information overload. So while you watch your favorite shows on the boob-tube, chances are you’re also surfing the Interwebs, looking for that actor’s screen credits, buying the season on DVD, checking other people’s real-time reactions. Ah, but what if your TV pulled up all that stuff for you, and helpfully displayed it on your computing device of choice, a la Google Ads in your email? Wouldn’t that be…something?
Before the end of the year, just such a TV will be released by a start-up called Flingo—a TV that, should you opt in to the service, will note what you’re watching and customize what your computer shows you. Read More
For those hyper parents who must know exactly what their kindergartner is doing at every moment–including how she’s interacting with her peers, and how that will ultimately affect her chances of being accepted to an Ivy League school–here’s a nifty bit of technology. Researchers in Japan are testing out a device for kids to wear that gives parents the ability to see everything that passes before their kid’s eyes.
The technology builds on existing devices that can track the location of a child, but this gadget also monitors what the child is seeing, and even their pulse. If a child’s heart rate is faster than usual, it snaps a photo of their point-of-view and alerts parents via email…. A password-protected website allows parents to access an activity log and photos taken during the day.
Seung-Hee Lee of the University of Tsukuba, who led the team that built the device, says it could help parents find out about bullying or could be used to track down a missing child, but we can think of lots of other handy uses. Parents can find out if their kid’s eyes waver from the blackboard, and punish them accordingly. They can find out who their kid has a raging crush on by keeping a close watch on that heart rate.
The gadget is currently being tested on 10 children aged 2 to 6, and further trials are planned for slightly older school children. The device’s makers also hope to add a microphone and software that will store the child’s conversations. As for privacy concerns, Lee scoffs at them. She’s a mother, she told New Scientist, and she’d choose safety over privacy for her child any day.
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Our medical establishment has elaborate rules governing patients’ privacy and ensuring that embarrassing medical details don’t become public. But when King Tut is diagnosed with a disease–or even when researchers turn up something as sensitive as signs of inbreeding–it makes headlines across the world. That’s just not fair to Tut, two researchers are arguing.
Anatomist Frank Rühli and ethicist Ina Kaufmann of the University of Zurich, Switzerland argue that mummy research needs an ethical overhaul. In their paper, published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, they note that probing a mummy is an invasive process that can reveal intimate facts, and point out that the mummy never gave informed consent for these procedures. Rühli suggests that mummy researchers should weigh their scientific objectives against the rights and potential wishes of the long-dead individual.
Søren Holm, the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Medical Ethics, told New Scientist that researchers should ask themselves if they’re motivated by voyeuristic interest.
Holm, a philosopher and bioethicist at the University of Manchester, UK, wants researchers to think about whether their work is motivated by scientific inquiry or simply by curiosity. “Do we really need to sort out the intricate details of Tutankhamun’s family history?” he asks…. “I try to treat mummies like patients,” he says. “I don’t like it if researchers make fun out of them, or show them to gruesome effect.”
At the very least, mummy researchers, that means no dancing around the lab and making mummies reenact Steve Martin’s King Tut routine.
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Image: Wikimedia Commons
Annoyed by Google’s revised stance on “net neutrality“? Pissed off by the company’s power to collect personal data in applications like Buzz (which can show others who you Gmail the most) and Street View (which shows the locations of cars and faceless people)? Worried about the news that a Street View project gone awry mistakenly collected information from the Wi-Fi networks that Google’s mapping vehicles cruised past? The activist group Consumer Watchdog feels your pain. And to spread the anti-Google message further, the group is running the video ad below on a 540 square foot video billboard in Times Square.
The cartoon shows Google CEO Eric Schmidt giving children free ice cream, body-scanning them, and divulging their parents’ secrets. Consumer Watchdog hopes the video will inspire viewers to pressure Congress to make a ‘Do Not Track Me’ list, similar to the existing ‘Do Not Call List.’
Had her baby been switched at birth in a hospital mishap? That’s what one mother thought after getting her child’s results from the personal genetics testing company 23andMe and finding that his genetic profile was inconsistent with the rest of the family’s. After she finished screaming and crying, she contacted the company. Sorry for the inconvenience, she was told–we just mixed up his sample.
The company that asks clients to spit in vials is now putting its foot in its mouth: it gave up to 96 customers a look at the wrong genes. 23andMe posted an apology, viewable only to clients, on their website.
The Los Angeles Times also published the statement, which blamed the snafu on a processing error at a contractor lab:
Gap cards and cell phones and, quite possibly, kittens. These are a few of Todd Davis’s favorite things.
Actually, not. These are the favorite things of the thirteen criminals who stole Davis’s identity and used it to apply for credit cards and cell phone accounts. Davis’s true delight is plastering billboards with his social security number to demonstrate his confidence in his identity theft protection company, LifeLock. Obviously, his company’s services leave a little something to be desired.
On Tuesday the Federal Trade Commission promised Davis that he’ll be doing more than blushing—LifeLock must pay twelve million dollars for deceptive advertising and for failing to secure customer data.
“In truth, the protection they provided left such a large hole … that you could drive that truck through it,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, referring to a LifeLock TV ad showing a truck painted with Davis’s Social Security number driving around city streets.
This fall, incoming students at UC Berkeley will find a little something extra in their welcome packages: cotton swabs. The university is hoping that students will swab a few cells from the insides of their cheeks and pass them over to the university for DNA testing.
The university says this exercise will get students excited about the prospects of personalized medicine, in which genetic testing could allow doctors to tailor their treatments to individual patients. The administration stresses that students won’t be tested for their risks of serious diseases, but instead for three fairly mundane genes.
USA Today reports:
Geneticists will analyze each sample for three genes: metabolism of folate, tolerance of lactose and metabolism of alcohol, all relatively innocuous and perhaps useful in students’ daily lives. Students will be able to use that information to learn if they should eat more leafy green vegetables, steer clear of milk products or limit alcohol intake.
Jasper Rine, the professor of Genetics and Development Biology who’s overseeing the project, swears he’s not trying to create a genetic database of thousands of undergraduates for any nefarious purpose. Really, what nefarious purpose could there possibly be?
Anyway, the school can’t make lists of students who might be suitable for slave camp organ farms, because the data will all be anonymous. Each student’s genetics kit will come with two bar codes, one to be stuck on the sample and the other for the student to keep. The student can then retrieve his or her test results from a secure online database using the bar code. So there you go.
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Image: flickr / Bernt Rostad
Online piracy has plagued the music and movie industry for years, with copyright infringement causing millions of dollars in loss each year. So when the U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator (the copyright czar) asked the entertainment industry to submit proposals to the government for ways to protect intellectual property, the industry came out all guns blazing.
The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) came out with a set of proposals (pdf) that would combat piracy by invading the privacy of consumers and putting the federal government to work for the entertainment industry.
For example, the trade groups suggest that spyware could be installed on home computers across the land. This special software would identify and block content that violates fair use, block certain keywords that might lead to sites with illegally obtained content, and monitor social networks for the promotion of infringing Web sites.
The industry also wants border authorities to educate everyone entering the United States about piracy issues, suggesting that customs forms should be amended to require the disclosure of pirate or counterfeit items being brought into the United States. The Electronic Frontier Foundation reports:
Does that iPod in your hand luggage contain copies of songs extracted from friends’ CDs? Is your computer storing movies ripped from DVD (handy for conserving battery life on long trips)? Was that book you bought overseas “licensed” for use in the United States? These are the kinds of questions the industry would like you to answer on your customs form when you cross borders or return home from abroad.
The best way to make a point about privacy and “invasive” body scanners at the airport–is to strip down to your underwear and then publish that video to YouTube so the whole world can see you in your nearly naked glory. Might sound strange at first, but we are covering it in Discoblog, so I guess it worked.
Warning: This video has mild nudity and so may be NSFW.
German activists from the Pirate Party thought organizing a “fleshmob” of people to strip down to their skivvies and converge on the Berlin-Tegel airport was a great idea. The activists were protesting the use of what the Germans call the Nacktscanner, or naked scanner–a body scanner that may increasingly be used for airport security, in the wake of the botched underwear bombing on Christmas Day.