Creepy iPhone App Demonstrates Problems with Location Data and Privacy

From a Cult of Mac article by John Brownlee:

These are all girls with publicly visible Facebook profiles who have checked into these locations recently using Foursquare. Girls Around Me then shows you a map where all the girls in your area trackable by Foursquare area. If there’s more than one girl at a location, you see the number of girls there in a red bubble. Click on that, and you can see pictures of all the girls who are at that location at any given time. The pictures you are seeing are their social network profile pictures.

I don’t use Location Services unless I’m specifically trying to locate something. I restrict from apps except Find My iPhone.

Brownlee in This Creepy App Isn’t Just Stalking Women Without Their Knowledge, It’s A Wake-Up Call About Facebook Privacy explains why.

Go. Read.

ETA: FourSquare has responded by blocking the app’s access to the API.

ETA: And the app has been pulled.

It’s Complicated

This is a really smart article by Mathew Ingram: “Our Relationship with E-Books: It’s Complicated“.

Ingram quite even-handedly covers the bases on sharing ebooks and ebook annotations, complete with lots of links, in clear language. He notes:

Will we ever be able to download a digital version of the print book we just bought, and then share that book with friends — or even sell it to someone else at a discounted price, as we can with real books — or share our margin notes and highlights with others, regardless of what e-book reader they use? . . .

The unfortunate part of all this, of course, is that publishers would likely be able to sell far more books if they made it easier for readers to download, read and share them — or passages from them — with anyone regardless of what device they owned. Until that happens, e-books will continue to be a Balkanized mess of competing standards and sharing silos, and the book-reading public will be the worse for it.

Go read the whole thing, and do follow the links in his post, because they provide examples that support his central argument.

Trying to teach with ebooks in an English literature class is almost impossible in terms of using them for analyses by students because they can’t annotate the text, and export their own annotations as notes along with the passage they’re analyzing. Ideally, I’d like a highlighted passage, the annotations or notes associated with the passage and a citation (author, title, chapter and/or section and publication data) to be easily exported. Restricting the excerpt by character or word would be fine; but the practice of not allowing any passages to be copied and pasted is frustrating for teachers, academics, scholars and students.

Ironically, The Voyager Company’s Expanded books had this feature (among others) in 1992.

Public Library Ebooks and Overdrive

Michael Cohen, over at Tidbits, has written a piece about downloading a DRM protected ebook via his local public library. His library like mine uses technology and books provided by Overdrive, Inc. The books in question are DRM epub books, using Adobe Digital Editions technology for DRM. Cohen writes:

So, when I discovered that my local public library had dipped its toes into the ebook waters and had begun to offer ebooks on loan, I was more than intrigued. After all, I’d read books on a Kindle (loved it), read books using iBooks on my iPad (loved it, too), and was looking forward to making even more use of my local library than I already did.

It’s a good piece, and thanks to Cohen, I discovered Bluefire Reader.

Cohen’s experience was, on the whole better than mine; I’ve been using Adobe’s digital DRM protected books since about 2000. I’m on my fourth computer now though, and when I attempted to get Adobe’s authorization to use the book I downloaded from my public library, not having accessed any of my Adobe DRM protected books on this new computer, Adobe borked my books, and told me I had to call for permission to authorize a fourth computer.

I did. Adobe told me I was SOL, because you know, they only authorize three computers. Mind, I don’t even have two of the computers; they’re dead, defunct, and long past pining for the fjords. But I did pay for about fifteen ebooks using Adobe’s tech, and now, I can’t read any of them, at all.

Moreover, they told me that one of the books–a scholarly edition of a medieval ms. that was a few hundred dollars–won’t work at all on any Adobe reading platform. (Fortunately, I have an old computer with an old OS, which I’ll be sure to keep for reading this one book).

I am not a happy camper.

The lesson here, boys and girls, is that DRM doesn’t stop piracy (pirates’ve already figured out how to crack Adobe’s Digital Editions DRM) but it does stop paying, legal, law-abiding readers.

Am I going to buy more Adobe using ebooks? No. Not ever. Nor will I crack them or pirate them, but I will let authors and publishers know why I’m not buying their books.

Why Technology Fails to Stop Book Theft

Various forms of technology intended to control who could read books have failed.

All of them have failed, and largely, for the same reasons.

We have first the book curse, sometime called a fiat. Then we have chained libraries.

DRM doesn’t work because it is as easily broken as the medieval chains were broken—which is why so many medieval book collections were ravaged for their valuable covers and the contents between the covers casually disposed of, which is exactly what happened to The Book of Kells in 1006.

DRM doesn’t stop thieves. It just stops honest people from buying and reading DRM books.

On the other hand, giving away books without DRM encourages people to buy more books. It works. And while I absolutely don’t think giving away books for free is a tactic for everyone, it’s awfully interesting that Cory Doctorow and Baen’s books seem to be less frequently pirated not because they’re free (not all of either entity’s books are free) but because good reasonably priced DRMless content does seem to drive out cracked illegal content on the basis of ease of use, and production quality/readability.

Thieves are thieves; they’re not new. Talk to a librarian or to someone who works in a bookstore. Thieves will steal.

Technological anti-theft methods fail because the genuine paying customer is alienated, annoyed and frustrated and so doesn’t buy or read the protected book. We buy and read another book—it’s not like there’s a shortage of books readers want to read.

The remedy is to concentrate on appealing to the majority customer–the honest people who want to pay for their books–and making them available without DRM. People like me who love books will buy multiple copies of the same book—we did this before ebooks, and we do it now. We’re the real customer‚we actually read our books as well as pay for them.

A Response to Chris Hedges’ “Retribution for a World Lost in Screens”

Giusiniano Infortiatum 13th CenturyBob Stein posted a link to Chris Hedges’ essay “Retribution for a World Lost in Screens” on Stein’s Facebook page. I responded, and Stein asked for clarification; this is my attempt to provide a more complete response to Hedges’ piece. I think Hedges is too easily dismissive of “screens,” and, even more importantly, the people behind those screens. I also think his is a tired rehearsal of an old argument that has already proven false. I am far more optimistic about the people of the screen.

Plato asserted that text would destroy memory and lead to the end of civilization, resulting in men who “seem to know much, while for the most part they know nothing, and as men filled, not with wisdom, but with the conceit of wisdom, they will be a burden to their fellows.” While I share Hedge’s sense of impending doom, I think that pointing at the screen as even a contributing factor is daft. I think Hedge’s own isolation and egotism and elitism is fostering his talismanic associations with the printed page. He has created his own fetishistic idol, and his own demons.

For various reasons, I have no talismanic associations with the printed page; my allegiance is to the word, in text, in pictogram, and in the human voice. A book is merely a container for words, for text, for image, and yes, for data. I am about to leave with my partner for a writer’s workshop where there will be writers using pens and notebooks, and Macbooks, and digital styli, and memory to record their impressions of each other’s words, written and spoken, and where they will be interacting with each other one-on-one, in small groups, and over Twitter and text message and email.

We are still tellers of tales; we still experience narrative lust, and joy. We meet face to face through a glass, though it is not dark. My sense of optimism is spurred by several things— first, my experience in the college English lit and comp classroom, before and after the personal computer. I still teach students to read Chaucer in Middle English out loud; they still memorize his words, and those of Donne, and Shakespeare and Frost, and Keats and Monty Python for the sheer joy of it. We still parse text, whether it is rasterized or preserved on vellum, or on a digital reproduction of a manuscript too fragile to share, but which now the world may access.

I am optimistic because I have met life-long friends via the ‘net, and we gather together with familiarity and comfort in the flesh, though we meet for the first time in the analog realm. I am optimistic because one of the online communities I belong to has come together return a member of our community home after she was trapped by Katrina, shepherding her and her cat from one to another, passing her off to her next host and driver, until she and her cat arrived at their home. We have bought roofs, found adoptive parents, critiqued poems and plays and novels, cheered with each acceptance and commiserated with each rejection from a publisher, and mourned as a whole for the loss of a member.

I am optimistic because we are managing to share scholarship with scholars who are all over the world, affiliated and not, to engage in scholarly community via blogs and online communities. In that first community I mentioned, we have a vibrant politics forum where we require citations and analysis of argument for political discussions, and we have a single cardinal rule, respect for a fellow writer, and a single corollary; don’t be a jerk.

Hedges alludes to the ideal of the padeia, ekstasis, as a thing withering on the digital stalk; I submit that he is missing what blooms around him. Yes, we have have the idols of the tribe, the cave, the marketplace, and of theater; but Bacon’s Four Idols are hardly new. The fault lies not in our screens, but in our thought processes. We have generations who have not been taught to engage with content, to engage with text and image, but the organic ability, nay, the desire and even the compulsion to engage and parse and understand is still there; I submit it is our responsibility to future generations to demonstrate that rhetoric and conversation, whether on the screen or on vellum, still ties us one to another, and that we still have a greater community of shared ideas and ideals; we act like chickens with opposable thumbs, but we can be better.

The emphasis should not be on text in any specific container, but on words and on the ability to understand and communicate and share. The emphasis on the printed page is so misplaced that it should be laughable to any humanist; just as Plato denounced the arrival of text, so to did opponents of the incunabula decry the evolution of the printing press in that it made the luxury of the book affordable. This outcry too is being repeated, with objections to the liquidity of the digital text and the “death of the book.” The assertions about the authority of the codex book disappear for anyone who has ever seen what the early book was like; no word spacing, for one, and no, it was absolutely not linear. Even the early printed book bore with it the assumption of glossing as inherent, of text as conversation, much as the return to hypertext and the networked screen are doing for us now. The book has always been a container; whether the container was made of baked clay, or curling papyrus, or scraped animal hide, or fiber or silicon, the book is just the container; the screen is just a window.