Peering into private homes

The photographer Arne Svenson has an amazing series of photographs. What he has done is photographed his neighbors in the building opposite from where he lives in New York. Using a 500mm lens he peered through the glass-faced building and took some amazing shots.

The result is a series of images called The Neighbors. They are very personal images into peoples private lives but – from what I’ve seen online – none of the images clearly identify anyone. On the artist’s site this is how the photographs are explained:

The grid structure of the windows frame the quotidian activities of the neighbors, forming images which are puzzling, endearing, theatrical and often seem to mimic art history, from Delacroix to Vermeer. The Neighbors is social documentation in a very rarified environment. The large color prints have been cropped to various orientations and sizes to condense and focus the action.

The Guardian has a quote from Svenson about his work:

“I don’t photograph anything salacious or demeaning,” is Svenson’s stock retort when pressed on his work’s morality. “I am not photographing the residents as specific, identifiable individuals, but as representations of humankind.”

Despite this, two neighbors sued Svenson after having spotting their children among the subjects. Yet a court ruled this month that Svenson’s actions were defensible under the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, and that such art needs no consent to be made or sold.

The interesting thing is that Svenson seems to express a clear ethical boundary. He is taking photographs of people, without their consent, inside their homes and making them public. And yet he does draw the line at making individuals identifiable.

Wearable camera takes 2 photos per minute

Lifelogging has been a buzzword for some time now, but its still a cumbersome task for most of us. But this is not going to last long.

One device that’s going to make this all too easy is the Memoto, which has the tag line “Remember every moment.”

The product is small and simple, clip it on and it takes two photos per minute until you take it off. In the promotion video Memoto says: “What if we could build a camera small enough to never be in the way, but smart enough to capture life as we live it.”

The mass of 5 megapixel pictures are stored on Memoto’s storage surface, and include the time and the location where they were taken. Via an app the photo’s are searchable via gps and time.

When the images are stored on the cloud they are organized into moments, represented by the algorithmically chosen most interesting image.

Sure this is a cool toy, its small, light and colorful. But it also raises several ethical implications. Such as:

  • Many of the people around will have no idea they are being photographed by the device
  • People may object in general to having their time and location and image stored
  • What happens if the device carrier walks into sensitive areas such as hospitals, courts, police stations
  • Who controls the images
  • Who accesses the images (legally or illegally)
  • Copyright questions
  • Trade secrets

Despite all these questions the devices are available and will probably be around soon. A day will produce over 1000 pictures – which explains the need for the algorithm to help us sift through the garbage. But even then I suspect that most of us will realize that we live fundamentally boring lives, probably not worth documenting.

 

Leading Creative Commons Sweden

In 2005 I met the cool Karl Jonsson (the original hard rock hippie lawyer) and began on a translating and adapting the Creative Commons licenses to fit into the Swedish socio-legal system. Since then I have been the Project Lead for Creative Commons Sweden and have given countless lectures on the way the licenses work.

We were joined in 2009 by the energetic and creative Kristina Alexanderson together we formed a fantastic team, working voluntarily with the licenses and culture of sharing we believe so strongly in.

For some time, I have been spending time in Philadelphia and I am slowly transitioning my life to spend all my time there.

Americano by Wrote (Creative Commons BY NC)

The distance and the time zones makes it more difficult for me to be an active project lead so the project needs to be handed over to another. The person needs to be what in Swedish is called by the beautiful word eldsjäl – which translates as fire soul.

Fortunately this description fits well on our very own Kristina is now taking over as Project Lead for Creative Commons Sweden. There is a sweet sadness in leaving the post, but I am happy that the project is left in great hands.

 

Public shaming with technology

A question that has been bouncing around my head for a while, and maybe this is because of an article I’m working on now, is why do people use technology to shame, defame, slander or insult in ways that they would never do without technology?

This is not a new discussion. In the early Internet days part of the answer that was often used was the idea that people felt that they could be anonymous online and this made “bad behavior” permissible or possible.

The important thing about this anonymity was that it was a perceived sense of anonymity as opposed to real anonymity. This caused many to believe that if anonymity could be taken away technology users would behave themselves.

Surveillance would resolve bad behavior.

This thinking created the idea of enforcing real identities online.

Countries like China and South Korea and companies like Google and Facebook have for different reasons implemented real identities online.

Naturally policies and regulations such as these have been criticized.

But do we behave if we do not believe ourselves to be anonymous online?

Apparently not.

Look at the abuse that Marion Bartoli, the woman’s Wimbledon champion, faced.

With tweets like “Someone as ugly and unattractive as Bartoli doesn’t deserve to win” there is a direct connection between physical appearance and physical skill. Sadly, of course, this connection is more common when it is related to women.

What is interesting is that many of those who offered opinions like this (and worse) were not anonymous and yet they were still openly hostile, belligerent and maybe slanderous.

The Swedish clothes company H&M printed clothes with pictures of Tupac Shakur, a 21 year old Swedish woman, wrote to question on H&M’s Facebook page asking why they thought it was ok to use the picture of a man convicted of sexual abuse in their clothing.

As a result she received thousands of comments, she was threatened with, amongst other things, rape, stoning and drowning. The main discussion was whether or not H&M had behaved correctly by not being actively enough in removing comments.

But what is interesting is that the comments where all on Facebook, people seemed to be happily open with their misogynistic, threatening and illegal comments. There was no illusion of anonymity, the users were easily identifiable by everyone and yet this did not stop them.

Bad behavior online is not prevented by openly identifying everyone.

Responding to attacks

In a very thoughtful and interesting post L’Hote writes about the Japanese response to their terrorist group/cult Aum Shinrikyo. The calm determination not to close down society and the results it caused to understand terrorism and threat assessment, look to Aum

Just as important was what the Japanese government and people did not do. They didn’t panic. They didn’t make sweeping changes to their way of life. They didn’t implement a vast system of domestic surveillance. They didn’t suspend basic civil rights. They didn’t begin to capture, torture, and kill without due process. They didn’t, in other words, allow themselves to be terrorized. Instead, they addressed the threat. They investigated and arrested the cult’s leadership. They tried them in civilian courts and earned convictions through due process. They buried their dead. They mourned. And they moved on. In every sense, it was a rational, adult, mature response to a terrible terrorist act, one that remained largely in keeping with liberal democratic ideals.

This reminded me very much of the Norwegian response to the Norwegian Breivik killed 76 people and bombed parliament buildings in central Oslo. He was politically motivated and left a, so called, manifesto “arguing” his misguided case.

The Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg reacted immediately by calling for more democracy and more openness. It was a very moving and heartfelt response from a man who knew very many of the victims personally. He would go on to reinforce this position later (Huffington Post):

Five days after an attacker incensed by Norway’s culture of tolerance horrified the world, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday issued a quiet call of defiance to his countrymen: Make Norway even more open and accepting.

“The Norwegian response to violence is more democracy, more openness and greater political participation,” Stoltenberg insisted at a news conference.

Of course each situation is different but it is interesting to note that the “Keep Calm and Carry On” approach seems to be the quickest way of returning to a state of normality and healing that ensures that the attackers have failed in impacting the society they attack. L’Hote ends his post, which talks about the American response but applies equally to other countries, with the words

We have examples of adult responses to terrorism. Instead, we betray ourselves, in every sense a terrorized, terrified people.

Don’t see this as a spoiler – go read the text.

Technology: older than we think

Technology is always older than we think. Recently XKCD published a wonderful series of quotes on how we perceive the changes technology brings on the pace of everyday life.

Then today I came across Mark Twain’s excellent use of the camera in King Leopold’s Soliloquy: A Defense of His Congo Rule published in 1905.

The kodak has been a sore calamity to us. The most powerful enemy that has confronted us, indeed… Then all of a sudden came the crash! That is to say, the incorruptible kodak — and all the harmony went to hell! The only witness I have encountered in my long experience that I couldn’t bribe… Then that trivial little kodak, that a child can carry in its pocket, gets up, uttering never a word, and knocks them dumb!

Public servants and Private individuals

TJ McIntyre has a brilliant quote from Glenn Greenwald that summarizes much of what is important in the privacy debate:

The way things are supposed to work is that we’re supposed to know virtually everything about what they do: that’s why they’re called public servants. They’re supposed to know virtually nothing about what we do: that’s why we’re called private individuals.

Promiscuous plagiarism

Attitudes towards plagiarism have not always been the same. But this story about a signed letter from Rudyard Kipling admitting promiscuous plagiarism kind of made my day.

“I am afraid that all that code in its outlines has been manufactured to meet ‘the necessities of the case’: though a little of it is bodily taken from (Southern) Esquimaux rules for the division of spoils.

“In fact, it is extremely possible that I have helped myself promiscuously but at present cannot remember from whose stories I have stolen.

“Very sincerely, Rudyard Kipling.”

The choice of words is also very interesting promiscuously and stolen. Kipling seems to realize the importance of his actions but admits them freely in this letter.