Jenn Webb

Jenn Webb is a veteran of the newspaper industry turned freelance scribe, editor and researcher. She is a nerd with a passion for publishing, technology and cultural disruption.

Strata Week: Why we should care about what the NSA may or may not be doing

Response to NSA data mining and the troubling lack of technical details, Facebook's Open Compute data center, and local police are growing their own DNA databases.

It’s a question of power, not privacy — and what is the NSA really doing?

PEW graph

Pew Research Center national survey

In the wake of the leaked NSA data-collection programs, the Pew Research Center conducted a national survey to measure American’s response. The survey found that 56% of respondents think NSA’s telephone record tracking program is an acceptable method to investigate terrorism, and 62% said the government’s investigations into possible terrorist threats are more important than personal privacy.

Rebecca J. Rosen at The Atlantic took a look at legal scholar Daniel J. Solove’s argument that we should care about the government’s collection of our data, but not for the reasons one might think — the collection itself, he argues, isn’t as troubling as the fact that they’re holding the data in perpetuity and that we don’t have access to it. Rosen quotes Solove:

“The NSA program involves a massive database of information that individuals cannot access. … This kind of information processing, which forbids people’s knowledge or involvement, resembles in some ways a kind of due process problem. It is a structural problem involving the way people are treated by government institutions. Moreover, it creates a power imbalance between individuals and the government. … This issue is not about whether the information gathered is something people want to hide, but rather about the power and the structure of government.”

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Visualization of the Week: NYC Citi Bike use, in real time

Oliver O'Brien has visualized real-time bike share use not only in NYC, but in cities around the world as well.

New York City’s new bike-share program, Citi Bike, has been underway for a couple of weeks now. Its level of success is still up for debate, but the stats are impressive: as of June 10, there had been 173,516 trips traveled over 510,782 miles since the launch. Oliver O’Brien, a researcher and software developer at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA), and a contributor to OpenStreetMap, has developed a visualization of bike share use in real time.

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Strata Week: Wireless body area networks bring humans into the Internet of Things

Humans as nodes, pills and electronic tattoo password authenticators, NSA surveillance leaks, and hiding data in temporal cloaks.

Collaborative sensor networks of humans, and your body may be the next two-factor authenticator

There has been much coverage recently of the Internet of Things, connecting everything from washers and dryers to thermostats to cars to the Internet. Wearable sensors — things like FitBit and health-care-related sensors that can be printed onto fabric or even onto human skin — are also in the spotlight.

Kevin Fitchard reports at GigaOm that researchers at CEA-Leti and three French universities believe these areas are not mutually exclusive and have launched a project around wireless body area networks called CORMORAN. The group believes that one day soon our bodies will be constantly connected to the Internet via sensors and transmitters that “can be used to form cooperative ad hoc networks that could be used for group indoor navigation, crowd-motion capture, health monitoring on a massive scale and especially collaborative communications,” Fitchard writes. He takes a look at some of the benefits and potential applications of such a collaborative network — location-based services would be able to direct users to proper gates or trains in busy airports and train stations, for instance — and some of the pitfalls, such as potential security and privacy issues. You can read his full report at GigaOm.

In related news, wearable sensors — and even our bodies — may not only be used to connect us to a network, but also to identify us as well. Read more…

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Visualization of the Week: Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring”

Stephen Malinowski's latest music visualization celebrates The Rite of Spring's 100th anniversary.

Stephen Malinowski’s hypnotic music visualizations have been quite a hit on YouTube — he has visualized a number of scores, from Debussy’s, Clair de lune to Chopin’s Nocturne in B Major, opus 32 no.1 to his own Fugue in A minor. Anastasia Tsioulcas reports at NPR that Malinowski’s visualizations have garnered more than 100 million page views. And just in time to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring at the end of May, Malinowski created a visualization of the score:

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Strata Week: Can your passwords stand up to a cracker?

Password (in)security, sensors and ant-sized computers, and big data skeptics are called out.

Companies, developers need to do more to increase password security

Google urged users this week to take more care in creating passwords. In a post on the Google Blog, Google Software Engineer Diana Smetters offered some guidelines, including using a different password for each online account, keeping them in a safe place, creating a recovery option and making them hard to guess. Smetters suggests using a mix of letters and numbers and avoiding basing passwords on common phrases.

Though industry experts generally applauded Google’s efforts to increase consumer awareness, most agreed the company could do more. Seth Rosenblatt reports at CNET that industry experts Alex Salazar and Mary Landesman feel Google should be pressuring developers and companies to improve their security practices.

Landesman noted, for instance, that using spaces in passwords makes them stronger, but most sites don’t let you do that. Salazar outlined three steps Google could take to make the web safer for consumers: pressure companies to require consumers to choose passwords that are easy to remember but hard to break; be a stronger two-factor authentication advocate; and to publish guidelines for developers — and to do a better job of stressing the importance of protecting your customers. Landesman pointed out that often, blame for password breaches is misplaced on users. “[Password security] is tilted against the user,” she said.

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Visualization of the Week: Hospital procedure charges across the U.S., compared

The New York Times and The Washington Post created visualizations using data released by The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released procedure billing data on more than 3,000 U.S. hospitals. The New York Times and The Washington Post have put together interactive visualizations to help consumers compare costs. The New York Times’ visualization compares costs on a per-hospital basis:

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Strata Week: Intel wants you to reap the benefits from your personal data

Intel's Data Economy Initiative, your personal records are exposed, Sears gets into the data center business, and ODI wants Git for data publishing.

Intel’s taking the lead in the new “data economy”

Intel is looking to take the lead in what it has dubbed the “data economy,” helping consumers and individuals realize and retain more value from their personal data. Antonio Regalado and Jessica Leber report at MIT Technology Review that the the world’s largest computer chip maker has launched a “Data Economy Initiative.” Ken Anderson, a cultural anthropologist who is in charge of the project, described the initiative to them as “a multiyear study whose goal is to explore new uses of technology that might let people benefit more directly, and in new ways, from their own data.”

As part of the initiative, Intel is funding hackathons to encourage developers to experiment with personal data in new ways, Regalado and Leber note. “[Intel] has also paid for a rebellious-sounding website called We the Data,” they report, “featuring raised fists and stories comparing Facebook to Exxon Mobil.” Read more…

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Visualization of the Week: CIA rendition flights of terror suspects

The Rendition Project has published an interactive visualization of three year's worth of suspected rendition flights.

The Rendition Project, a collaboration between academics at Kent and Kingston universities and the NGO Reprieve, has developed an interactive visualization of the extent of CIA rendition flights of terror suspects.

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Strata Week: Are customized Google maps a neutrality win or the next “filter bubble”?

Two views on new Google Maps; a look at predictive, intelligent apps; and Aaron Swartz's and Kevin Poulsen's anonymous inbox launches.

Google aims for a new level of map customization

Google introduced a new version of Google maps at Google I/O this week that learns from each use to customize itself to individual users, adapting based on user clicks and searches. A post on the Google blog outlines the updates, which include recommendations for places you might enjoy (based upon your map activity), ratings and reviews, integrated Google Earth, and tours generated from user photos, to name a few.

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Visualization of the Week: Real-time Wikipedia edits

The Wikipedia Recent Changes Map visualizes Wikipedia edits around the world in real-time.

Stephen LaPorte and Mahmoud Hashemi have put together an addictive visualization of real-time edits on Wikipedia, mapped across the world. Every time an edit is made, the user’s location and the entry they edited are listed along with a corresponding dot on the map.


Click here for the full visualization.

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