My latest lesson

I used to be against. Injustice, for example.

Then I decided that it was better to be for things than against things. More positive.

But you can’t be for the safety and well-being of children if you don’t also fight child abuse, which includes that you are against its acceptance in some circles and cultures. (As expressed by for instance a recent decision in Britain that child abuse victims by definition “consented” to their abuse if they were living in the same house as the abuser, and other nasty nonsense like that.)

Similarly, you can’t be for the creation of a better future if you’re not also against its destruction.

You can’t be for human rights for every human being if you’re not also against the taking away or diminishment of human rights of some people by some people (such as in the case of that abused apprentice who had the misfortune of working at a business with an approved abuse culture).

I see that now.

I am redefining myself as fiercely anti-abuse (etc) first and fiercely pro-flourishing (etc) second.

That is probably what I already was when I started out. I don’t like feeling angry, however. So I tend to avoid anger and tend to see it as something negative. But you can’t accomplish a thing in the world without anger. Ultimately, anger is what makes the world go round. Anger for instance makes people fight against (the effects of) abusive people in power, like Donald Trump, and fight for a better world.

Anger pushes people out of complacency and opens their eyes. And then it makes them decide to do something about what caused the anger and fight for what becomes possible without it. Anger makes people start food banks and raise funds for medical treatments in the presence of failing governments and corrupt politicians.

Anger is a tool that you can learn to use. The first step in that learning process is to stop avoiding and suppressing it so that you see how you can actually use it constructively. Anger makes people stop waffling and whining and begin to act instead. Anger is empowering. It is powerful.

Anger can therefore be very destructive (particularly if you suppress it and allow it to fester). That is the risk inherent to anger, and part of the reason why most people try to avoid it (and also why it’s generally seen as done for men but not for women).

That’s why you have to tie it to something else. Compassion, for example. Anchor it.

See, when you get angry, you have a choice. That choice is whether to let the anger make you act for good or act for bad. Whether to make a cake to throw into a politician’s face or to make soup to hand out to strangers on a cold street. Whether to start a mud-slinging campaign on Twitter against some public figure or start a fund-raising campaign for someone’s medical treatment, or heck, sponsor the pill for an American woman.

An example of fighting for justice and against child abuse:

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(“Wow, the Guardian and the Times not calling me a fantasist anymore after Conifer report”). For more, see for example:
https://www.johnglen.org.uk/news/my-statement-operation-conifer-report
https://jersey.police.uk/news-appeals/2017/october/operation-conifer-report-published/

However, “Even when people are unhappy with a state of affairs, they are usually disinclined to change it. In my area of research, the cognitive and behavioral sciences, this is known as the “default effect.” wrote Musa al-Gharbi in May in the US News on the likely reelection of Donald Trump. Today, the same prediction was made by a different medium.

People generally dislike taking responsibility. They don’t like stepping up. This is often connected to risk aversion. So they are angry, but don’t do anything with their anger. That causes stress.

Stepping up does not have to mean getting your face into the newspapers because of something you did or proclaiming that you want to rule the world. It does not have to involve huge risks. Stepping up can be as simple as driving your neighbor to the supermarket and back.

So to use anger, you have to look at your possibilities. If you don’t have a car, you can’t drive someone else to the supermarket. And I, for example, don’t have the power to vote against Trump or against Theresa May. So what can I do? And what can you do? Looking into that can force you to take other steps. Empowering steps. Steps that enable you to do something instead of nothing.

Here is another example of how you can use anger for good. (Don’t worry, there are five or so comments in Dutch but everything else is in English.) It’s an MTV video on Facebook that a Dutch cop showed a young woman who’d been using her phone while driving. He didn’t ticket her.
https://video-lhr3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t42.1790-2/21718690_118651268834762_4211678555756560384_n.mp4?efg=eyJ2ZW5jb2RlX3RhZyI6InN2ZV9zZCJ9&oh=8055066e6214239bed7073acbedb51d9&oe=59D92C8D

 

Internet trolls and the law

The first time I had the word “troll” within the context of the internet, I had no idea what it meant. I found out the hard way, as most people have by now. Internet trolls can make our lives pretty miserable and can cost some people their only means of business advertising.

But what can you do about them? They are anonymous by definition, and police officers are usually just as powerless as you are when it comes to tracking down trolls and identifying them.

In addition, while trolls can be thoroughly unpleasant and sometimes incredibly hurtful, they often aren’t breaking any criminal laws.

Many have developed their pestering skills to perfection. The way they render people powerless and expose them to senseless hurt and insults – such as in the case of Leo Traynor who was viciously stalked by the 17-year-old son of a friend – can be impossible to accept as life as usual and then just forget about. So what do you do?

One option is to sue them in civil proceedings (and for example call them John Doe). That is complicated, and hard. It forces you to be as persistent as your troll. Another one is to trap them, but it only works if the troll is not particularly tech-savvy. You can read about both methods in this Forbes article about Leo Traynor and the case of Carla Franklin who forced Google to reveal who was tormenting him. (Read more here.) Two years later, she sued Chico Shon Moss.

There are a few web pages out there that claim that Mr Traynor made up the entire story. It does not actually matter whether he did or not because the trolling he described is very real. He is not the only person who undergoes this kind of abuse. I too have some experience with this kind of stuff and I am certainly not the only one. In another account, you can read about a man called Chris Andrews in real life, a politician who quit his party when unmasked as a Twitter troll.

Nicola Brookes is a woman in the British seaside town Brighton. She asked the court to force Facebook to reveal the identity of the anonymous trolls who tormented her for months, even suggesting she was actively involved in sexual child abuse as well as a drug dealer. The High Court ruled in her favour, a legal first (see also this EU report Cybercrime and Punishment- New Developments & Challenges by Sylvia Kierkegaard).

One of the trolls turned out to be police officer Lee Rimell. He was arrested, but not suspended, says a follow-up article in the Daily Mail and this BBC article. Apparently he worked out of Birmingham.

He received a serious written warning, according to this detailed article on the web site of Sophos. It shows you in detail what kind of horrific abuse Nicola Brookes was subjected to. Not that different from what Leo Traynor said happened to him.

Hacking: What you can do

Hackers can do incredible damage to businesses and contrary to what is often thought, hackers don’t only go after large corporations with vast amounts of credit card data and e-mail addresses. They go after tiny outfits too and after people like you and me. Below are a few things you need to know about hacking.

Picture of me 1-crop4In 2009, British police was given the power to hack into personal computers without a court warrant. It is called remote searching. You can read more about it in this article in The independent. By the way, it ends with this important bit of information:

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Britain’s policy of retaining samples from people never convicted of a crime – including children – breaches human rights.

However, there have also been reports that the British police runs hopelessly behind with regard to fighting cyber crime, because it lacks the knowledge and technology (see here). “The police are becoming more aware of the cyber threat, but remain behind in terms of their own technology, knowledge and intelligence”. How does this add up? To police not being able to do much, in practice. Cyber crime investigations are expensive and require the kind of expert knowledge few people possess.

The least you can do?

  • Always cover your web cam when it’s not in use. Read more about web cams and hacking here and here.
  • Never tell anyone you do not really know what computer equipment you have and what software you run. The chances that you are talking with a hacker may be slim, but if you are, particularly if it is someone you have exchanged e-mail with (meaning that the person has your IP address), the person may not even have to use software intended to test computer security (such as Metasploit) to examine your computer from a distance and then use software like MeterPreter to target the vulnerabilities in your equipment.
  • Be aware that any e-mail you receive may be spoofed. Faked. There is no way to tell whether an e-mail is spoofed or not. E-mail that appears to come from a potential new client may contain a link that causes you to download code (and even the mail itself may contain code). Do a web search instead of clicking on the link and call that possible new client instead of e-mailing back.
  • If you are in the habit of filling out online surveys to make an extra few pennies, mail announcing a new survey can be spoofed too. Keep that in mind before you announce to the world (Facebook, Twitter) that you are filling out online surveys. Such an e-mail can then take you to the computer of a hacker who can ask you to tell him or her truthfully what kind of computer equipment you are using and all sorts of other things he or she wants to know.
  • Internet traffic can be redirected with internet port relay software. I don’t know how exactly it works. If you know what a traceroute is and suspect that some of your traffic is being rerouted, run a traceroute and direct its output to your printer (so that you have a hardcopy that cannot be tampered with). A traceroute can be redirected as well, however. Having traceroute results that show tampering is no good for police, but it can tell you that you are not going paranoid after all. That’s worth a lot.
  • If you use Facebook, Skype or anything else that has a chat possibility, use it on one specific piece of equipment, not on your main computer if you want to keep that computer safe. If you use anything with a chat feature on your main computer, it provides a hacker with a direct conduit into your PC. Particularly Facebook seems to be very leaky. If you keep all those social media communications limited to one device that you don’t use for anything else, you can easily reset or reinstall it in the event of a problem (generally without losing any data).
  • If you’ve just had broadband or cable installed and someone calls you claiming to be from your provider asking you any of the numbers on the side of the router or the like, don’t give it to the caller.
  • If you use a mobile phone for business, get several phones and only allow one phone number to be known publicly. That’s like the e-mail address on which you don’t mind getting spam. Use it only to receive calls, from mostly unknown parties. Use a non-published phone number on a different mobile to communicate much more securely with your trusted clients.
  • There is a lot of free and cheap software out there that you really don’t want to know about. Particularly if you have a persistent suitor, ex or an envious competitor, you should be aware, though, that there are all kinds of software that enable someone to modulate his or her voice when they call you or Skype with you, including changing gender. it works well, too.
  • I have no idea how tablets get hacked (Facebook use and hacking of mifi hotspots?), but regularly resetting one’s tablet, always verifying downloads, and backing up or removing personal files regularly is probably a good idea and anyone who tells you that there is not much hackers can do with a tablet still has a lot to learn.
    Below is an example of a tablet hack. You may have to play the (converted) video a few times and watch the tablet screen at the beginning to see that the tablet screen is filling up all by itself. There were pages and pages and pages of the stuff. The original recording is 7 seconds long and is continuous but has a bit rate of 64 kbps; the converted file seems to consist of only three images.

In spite of what most people think, though, many hackers are good for society and some may even help you on occasion.

Facebook getting away with it?

I haven’t heard of huge numbers of users quitting Facebook over its recent experiments and I haven’t heard of any court cases on behalf of one or more users yet.

That could mean that from now on, Facebook will be free to do exactly as it pleases. If that ticks off or disadvantages its users, those users take responsibility from now on as their continued use of Facebook in spite of all the publicity about what Facebook has been up to can surely be seen as informed consent.

Understandably, the scientific community appears to be appalled.

Meanwhile, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (Epic) in the US has filed an official complaint with the US Federal Trade Commission about the Facebook experiment.

On this side of the big pond, a UK regulator is launching a probe into the experiment.

Facebook in trouble?

Facebook appears to know it is in trouble over the experiment it conducted (see previous post). On CNN, I read this morning that a spokesperson said it was research “to improve our services”.

It looks like Facebook is trying to jump through hoops. But Facebook doesn’t fit through the hoops.

When users consented to their data being used to improve Facebook’s services, most users will have assumed that this referred to services provided to the users, not services Facebook provides to advertisers. (When you’re happy, you are more optimistic, hence more likely to click on advertisements. Pessimists have a more realistic view of the world than optimists, but optimists likely see themselves as more successful than pessimists.)

And when Facebook users consented to their data being used to improve the services, they sure as hell did not consent to psychological experiments being conducted on them.

They may have expected Facebook to analyse the data and make use of the results of those analyses, yes, but they were likely thinking in terms of technology or something along those lines. Upgrading server x that delivers Facebook to country y. They may also have expected to see baby products being advertised to those who clicked on such ads and posted baby pictures, and office products being shown to people who stated that they are self-employed.

Facebook tweaking the streams of users to bring them the items it thought users wanted to see, that is one thing. I can be annoyed about Facebook not showing my friends’ posts in my timeline, no matter how many boxes I tick to try and get them to show and I can be annoyed about commercial posts I get shown no matter how many boxes I tick in an attempt to get rid of posts about products I cannot even buy because I am many miles away on the other side of the world, but that is an entirely different ballpark compared with Facebook deliberately tweaking the streams of users to make them feel happy or make them feel miserable, or even attempting to see whether it can or not.

Facebook – and the two university researchers along with it – has crossed a line, again. This time, Facebook has made an unforgivable mistake.

It is true that other media manipulate us all the time. But we expect that. We know that the BBC only reports what it wants to report and does not present an objective overview of society. We know that commercials feed us bullshit, that buying that car or buying that dress or perfume won’t make glamorous models suddenly find us irresistible. And I know that when CNN – CNN Money, that is – writes that “it does not appear that Facebook faces any legal implications”, CNN is trying to manipulate its audience too.

That does not apply when it comes to messages from our friends. It may still be true that we have one or two friends – or children – who may consciously or subconsciously try to manipulate us, but when it comes to messages our friends post combined, we do not expect those messages to be manipulated by a third party in such a way that we become happier. And we certainly don’t expect our Facebook streams to be manipulated to make us miserable.

Happy or sad?

 

Facebook could have conducted this experiment equally well after explaining what it wanted to do and allowing users informed consent. It chose not to.

The US Army provided some of the funding for this experiment. That does not help.

I have meanwhile realised how Facebook may be able to get away with this in a court of law. Facebook could claim that it was carrying out this experiment because it was concerned about the number of suicides and other problems precipitated by bullying on Facebook. It could say that it was trying to figure out how it could tweak the streams of its users to prevent such problems for its users. Unless some whistleblower provides evidence to refute this, that might very well work.

Facebook in for a major battle?

I just learned that Facebook made the blunder of conducting a massive psychological experiment on the users of its English-language version without their explicit consent. This is extremely unethical.

This is bound to have legal consequences.court

The Independent published about it today. The paper reporting the results of the experiment appeared in PNAS.

I hope to see class actions in every country that uses the English version of Facebook because this is most definitely not right. No amount of word-twisting by Facebook (or the researchers) can cover up that no users ever consented to this kind of experiment being carried out on them.

In addition, the university researchers involved in the study should be investigated and disciplined. If they were in my employ, I would sack them instantly.

They have damaged the scientific reputation of their universities and, in my view, do not belong in academia. I trust that Cornell University and the University of California will take the appropriate steps.

On the other hand, these researchers are highlighting a serious danger that lurks behind social media, but it does not appear that this was the motivation for their unforgivable conduct.