Chrissy Clary

ponder. conspire. digitize.

Author: claryc (page 2 of 7)

How does trust work?

Anyone with a little determination can build a website, set up a Twitter account, and position themselves as a trustworthy corporation. We as users may be spending too little time considering the objectivity and sources of the information we receive and believe.

My son (a twelve-year-old gifted student and self-proclaimed gamer) and I were discussing trust on the Internet. He is in middle school and in the early stages of developing his junior researcher skills.

Hoping he had learned a thing or two about researching an idea and trying to find reputable information, I asked him how he knows if something he finds on the Internet should be trusted.

He confidently explained that the best way to know if something is true is to look at the search results page. If there are several entries that appear to support a particular idea, then most likely it is true. He also shared with me that one of his teachers reassured his class that Wikipedia is a trusted resource because they only let people with PhDs become editors on the site. I thought “Oh, crap.”

To set the record straight, a Ph.D. is not, in fact, a requirement to be a Wikipedia editor. According to the Who Writes Wikipedia? a page on the nonprofit’s site, all it really takes to be a Wikipedian is a little bravado: “Yes, anyone can be bold and edit an existing article or create a new one, and volunteers do not need to have any formal training” (Wikipedia, 2017).

When I tried to explain that much of what we see is being presented to us algorithmically based on a code developed by someone at a corporation such as Google, my son assured me that the people at Google can be trusted. I asked him why he would trust people he has never met, and he responded, “Why would they lie to us?”

Michael Patrick Lynch discussed this idea in his 2016 book, The Internet of Us, writing that “an organism’s default attitude toward its receptive capacities—like vision or memory—is trust.” Meaning it is natural for people to trust what they see or what someone is telling us, our default is to believe.

Lynch also explains that if we are not knowledgeable on a topic, we may choose to look for answers from someone with expertise in the domain, but he stresses the need for reference checks.

Of concern is how we consume information today. With more than 60 percent of adults getting their news from social media, according to a study by the Pew Research Center, it is important that users understand that not all facts are checked and that there is no governing body for the content published to the Internet.

Lynch makes the point that “digital media gives us more means for self-expression and autonomous opinion-forming than humans have ever had. But it also allows us to find support for any view, no matter how wacky” (2016). This last bit is the concerning part because it suggests that no matter what your particular truth is, “no matter how wacky,” you could find verification for the idea on the Internet.

On November 19, 2016, Mark Zuckerberg, founder, and CEO of Facebook, posted a message to Facebook users about “misinformation” on the site and outlined what the corporation plans to do moving forward to reduce the prevalence of fake news within the social media network:

The problems here are complex, both technically and philosophically. We believe in giving people a voice, which means erring on the side of letting people share what they want whenever possible. We need to be careful not to discourage sharing of opinions or to mistakenly restrict accurate content. We do not want to be arbiters of truth ourselves, but instead rely on our community and trusted third parties.

I don’t believe we have the maturity as a species to reason through all the information that is being presented to us in a logical, fact-finding way. We used to pay people to do that for us—they were called journalists. Today, we are still believing information the same way we always have and perhaps are taking it at face value and swallowing it whole. Is this ignorance or laziness? Both? Neither?

Next Read: Who and What Do We Trust?

References:

Lynch, M., P. (2016). The Internet of Us: Knowing More and Understanding Less in the Age of Big Data. Liverlight Publishing Company. New York.

Wikipedia. (May 4, 2017). Who Writes Wikipedia? Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Who_writes_Wikipedia%3F

Zuckerberg, M. (November 19, 2016). Facebook. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/zuck/posts/10103269806149061

What data do
they have on us?

Corporations are gathering large amounts of data on us: data about our actions, our interests, what we search for and read, and how we interact with others. Of concern is the idea that interpretations of our right to digital privacy are in the hands of the corporations and government organizations that own the data, leaving us little control over our own digital data points.

Have you ever heard of a data broker? This term refers to companies that gather information on consumers through a variety of channels and then sell that information to corporations. The corporations use the data to build consumer profiles. They then use those profiles to market to those consumers in a targeted, personalized way.

According to Brian Naylor’s article on the NPR website, data brokerage is not anything new, “but the Internet upped the ante considerably” (2016).

Naylor explains how it works:

Once these companies collect the information, the data brokers package and sell it—sometimes to other brokers, sometimes to businesses — that then use the information to target ads to consumers. And it’s a lucrative industry. One of the largest brokers, Acxiom, reported over $800 million in revenue last year” (2016).

This raises concerns around the right to privacy. We do have that right, right?

The Fourth Amendment reads:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized (National Constitution Center, 2017).

Unfortunately, the Founding Fathers did not anticipate digital media or the Internet, so the Fourth Amendment does not include anything about large corporations selling, buying, storing, or mining your data.

The American Civil Liberties Union expresses its concerns about the privacy of our data on its website:

Technological innovation has outpaced our privacy protections. As a result, our digital footprint can be tracked by the government and corporations in ways that were once unthinkable. This digital footprint is constantly growing, containing more and more data about the most intimate aspects of our lives. This includes our communications, whereabouts, online searches, purchases, and even our bodies. When the government has easy access to this information, we lose more than just privacy and control over our information. Free speech, security, and equality suffer as well (2017)

To compound this concern, we are freely sharing intimate information on websites and applications owned by large corporations. That information is being archived, mined, and sold. Based on data gathered, corporations can use machine learning to understand and make assumptions about who we are and what actions we are likely to take.

Curious about my own data floating around on the Internet, I spent 30 minutes googling myself. I found information on my age, design style, address, career and education history, cities I’ve lived in, homes I’ve owned, things I am interested in, projects I’ve worked on, awards I’ve won, court records, and my relationship and marital history. Click on the items in the chart below to see what my search revealed. 

This search did not take into account the mounds of search and activity data about me that corporations have stored but not made public. If you are interested Google will share an archive of your data from the Google apps you use. You can delete those accounts and clear your browser history, but I was unable to find a statement indicating that if you delete your account or clear your history that data will be erased from Google’s files (Google Support, 2017).

In the book The Internet of Us, Michael Patrick Lynch notes, “In some cases—many cases in fact—we trade information in situations where trust has already been established to some degree.” For instance, if you have an affinity for a particular brand you may be more comfortable completing an online form and giving over your personal information than if you had never heard of the company (2016). Can we assume that humans who give their data up freely trust the organizations to which they are giving that data?

We may well be trusting blind. We have little visibility into what data is being stored on us and even less visibility into how those data are being mined and harvested. Even if we did know what data these corporations have, most likely we still would not know what assumptions the corporate algorithms are making about us.

Alas, in an article on Backchannel.com, David Weinberger explains how machine learning works and how little we can hope to understand:

Clearly our computers have surpassed us in their power to discriminate, find patterns, and draw conclusions. That’s one reason we use them. Rather than reducing phenomena to fit a relatively simple model, we can now let our computers make models as big as they need to. But this also seems to mean that what we know depends upon the output of machines the functioning of which we cannot follow, explain, or understand (2016).

Next Read: How Does Trust Work?

References: 

ACLU. (2017). Privacy & Technology. Retrieved from https://www.aclu.org/issues/privacy-technology

Google Support. (2017). Retrieved from https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/3024190?hl=en

Lynch, M., P. (2016). The Internet of Us: Knowing More and Understanding Less in the Age of Big Data. Liverlight Publishing Company. New York.

National Constitution Center. Amendment iv. Retrieved from https://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/amendments/amendment-iv

Naylor, B. (July 11, 2016). Firms Are Buying, Sharing Your Online Info. What Can You Do About It? NPR. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2016/07/11/485571291/firms-are-buying-sharing-your-online-info-what-can-you-do-about-it

Weinberger, D. (April 18, 2016). Alien Knowledge: When Machines Justify Knowledge. Backchannel. Retrieved from https://backchannel.com/our-machines-now-have-knowledge-well-never-understand-857a479dcc0e

What is the effect of
algorithmically delivered news?

About 6-in-10 Americans get news from social mediaAlgorithmically delivered news that is based on user actions is reducing the diversity of the news we receive increasing the echoing of ideas.

I was lucky enough to work in a real newsroom right before the industry started to tumble. Every day, the editors gathered at 10 a.m. to discuss what would make the paper the next day. It was not unusual for a heated argument to erupt over what story should be featured. These people believed in what they were doing, they wore their ethics on their sleeves, and they cared deeply about the community they influenced. They were the gatekeepers.

Today, much of our news is delivered through social media platforms. According to the Pew Research Center, 62 percent of US adults get their news from social media (Gottfried and Shearer, 2016):

News plays a varying role across the social networking sites studied. Two-thirds of Facebook users (66%) get news on the site, nearly six-in-ten Twitter users (59%) get news on Twitter, and seven-in-ten Reddit users get news on that platform. On Tumblr, the figure sits at 31%, while for the other five social networking sites it is true of only about one-fifth or less of their user bases (Gottfried and Shearer, 2016).

Reddit, Facebook and Twitter users most likely to get news on each site
The thing is, there is no daily editor meeting at Facebook. There are no local groups of people or community members deciding what is important. The news is being delivered to you algorithmically based on a variety of data points gathered by that particular platform to identify your likes, friends, interest, and actions. Such formulas for news delivery only take you into account. Does this method really give you the information you need to be a healthy, contributing part of a local community? Isn’t that what the editors were doing?

In a video posted in the Facebook Newsroom, Adam Mosseri, VP of product management for News Feed, explains how News Feed works. He also comments that the goal is to “connect people with the stories that matter most to them” (Mosseri, 2016).

In 2016, Facebook updated the News Feed algorithm. Now, “what you see will depend more on who your friends are, what they share, what you click on (Sunstein, 2017).”

News Feed uses data on its users to make decisions about what those users most likely want to read. Thus, News Feed is helping us sort through thousands of articles and delivering exactly what we want, when we what it (Mosseri, 2016). That doesn’t sound so bad, right?

In an attempt to deliver the news you are most likely to interact with, News Feed appears to be strengthening the echo-chamber effect. With regard to media, the echo-chamber effect occurs when when your opinions and preferences are echoed back at you.

As a point of reference, an echo chamber can be described as “a bounded, enclosed media space that has the potential to both magnify the messages delivered within it and insulate them from rebuttal” (Jamieson and Cappella, 2010).

In an opinion piece for Wired Magazine, Kartik Hosanagea, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, calls echo chambers problematic because “social discourse suffers when people have a narrow information base with little in common with one another (Hosanagea, 2016).”

Is his book #Republic, Cass Sunstein cites research by Facebook employees that appears to indicate that the algorithms are responsible, in part, for our political echo chambers: “Evidence shows the algorithm suppresses exposure to diverse content by 8 percent for self-identified liberals and 5 percent for self-identified conservatives” (2017).

In his book The Internet of Us, Michael Patrick Lynch raises the concern that only reading about the things we already agree with is giving rise to “group polarization – that we are becoming increasingly isolated tribes (2016).”

Wasn’t the Internet supposed to open us all up to new people and cultures? It appears the opposite is happening. We are being profiled based on our online actions. Without proactive steps on the part of the user to contradict these affects, it is possible that our scope of knowledge and understanding will shrink.

Next Read: What data do they have on us?

References:

Adam Mosseri explains how the Facebook News Feed works. (April 22, 2016).
Facebook Newsroom. Retrieved from https://newsroom.fb.com/news/2016/04/news-feed-fyi-from-f8-how-news-feed-works/

Lynch, M., P. (2016). The Internet of Us: Knowing More and Understanding Less in the Age of Big Data. Liverlight Publishing Company. New York.

Gottfried, J. & Shearer, E. (May, 26, 2016) News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2016. Pew Research Center, Journalism & Media. Retrieved from http://www.journalism.org/2016/05/26/news-use-across-social-media-platforms-2016

Hosagar, K. (November, 25, 2016). Blame the Echo Chamber on Facebook. But Blame Yourself, Too. Wired. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/2016/11/facebook-echo-chamber/#slide-2

Lynch, M., P. (2016). The Internet of Us: Knowing More and Understanding Less in the Age of Big Data. Liverlight Publishing Company. New York.

Why I Marched

On January 21, my son, my mother and I participated in the Women’s March in Washington D.C. We made signs and braved a sea of protesters. I am a strong woman, but I wouldn’t consider myself the protesting type. So why go?

I think it was good ole women’s intuition. I was drawn to it. And well, maybe I am simply afraid.

  • Afraid of what may come next from Trump’s Twitter account.
  • Afraid of not seeing the day when women achieve the goal of equal pay for equal work (I really thought we were getting close on that one).
  • Afraid that my child will think that using hateful rhetoric to get ahead is in anyway acceptable.
  • Afraid that the feeling of nausea and dread that I’ve had since Trump won the election won’t go away.

The dread is still there, but the hope is back too. Bearing witness to the mass of people who stood up, squeezed in and braved overflowing port-o-potties to make it clear to the new administration that democracy is alive and well, and we will not, as many signs said, “go quietly back to the 1950s.”

“A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.” — Bob Dylan

Learn more about the Women’s March.

Home Sweet Home

Going to school as an adult is an interesting thing. I think the experience becomes less chase and race and more about simple exploration. Most recently I’ve had the opportunity to take a Photography class with the Harvard Extension School, and while all of the classes I have taken with Harvard have delivered some type of enrichment, this one came in a much more physical form. This is because few people want photos of my home or office, so to pass the class I needed to get out of my routine and explore the world around me.

I like to travel and explore, this time I kept it local and explored my home state of Florida. I wanted to see what I might find if I looked more closely. The images that follow are of several explorative days on the road with my trusty sidekick Candy Clary (my Mom).

I wish everyone took the time to simply drive around and observe. Maybe a few of my shots could encourage others to stop at a few rusty road side attractions.

Enjoy,
Chrissy

De Leon Springs, originally a sugar plantations built by slaves, turned road side attraction (with Water Skiing Elephants), turned State Park, features a natural swimming pool. The pool is spring fed and maintains a constant temperature of 72 Degrees Fahrenheit. Photo taken on Dec. 12, by Chrissy Clary.

De Leon Springs, originally a sugar plantations built by slaves, turned road side attraction (with Water Skiing Elephants), turned State Park, features a natural swimming pool. The pool is spring fed and maintains a constant temperature of 72 Degrees Fahrenheit. Photo taken on Dec. 12, by Chrissy Clary.

Artist do their best to capture the beautiful day on the banks of the Silver Spring River. Photos taken on December 11, 2016 at Silver Springs State Park, By Chrissy Clary.

Artist do their best to capture the beautiful day on the banks of the Silver Spring River. Photos taken on December 11, 2016 at Silver Springs State Park, By Chrissy Clary.

Slick fish bones collect on the river bank in Tarpon Springs Florida a town known for sponges and Greek food. Photo Taken on December 10 in Tarpon Springs Florida, By Chrissy Clary.

Slick fish bones collect on the river bank in Tarpon Springs Florida a town known for sponges and Greek food. Photo Taken on December 10 in Tarpon Springs Florida, By Chrissy Clary.

While the Mermaids of Wiki Wachee are unforgettable Manatee sightings are pretty special too. This baby was hanging out with with the rest of her pod in the safety of the state park. Once upon a time manatee were thought to be mermaids so it is fitting that they would find a safe spot at Wiki Wachee springs, a place made famous for turning beautiful girls into underwater performers. Photos taken Dec. 12, 2016 at Wiki Wachee Springs State Park, FL, by Chrissy Clary.

While the Mermaids of Wiki Wachee are unforgettable Manatee sightings are pretty special too. This baby was hanging out with with the rest of her pod in the safety of the state park. Once upon a time manatee were thought to be mermaids so it is fitting that they would find a safe spot at Wiki Wachee springs, a place made famous for turning beautiful girls into underwater performers. Photos taken Dec. 12, 2016 at Wiki Wachee Springs State Park, FL, by Chrissy Clary.

 

For a short time when she was a child my mom lived in a town called Wiki Wachee Springs. If you have never heard of the place, In its hey day it was a pretty big deal. This small, Florida roadside attraction features an underwater stage where guests sit and watch women dance like mermaids might dance. In the 1960 millions of people attended shows, but today the the park is a shadow of its former self. Interestingly the ladies performing were were not those who appear on the Wiki Watchee Website, they were a group of former Mermaids who ranged in age from 50 something to 71. Photos taken Dec. 12, 2016 at Wiki Wachee Springs State Park, FL, by Chrissy Clary.

For a short time when she was a child my mom lived in a town called Wiki Wachee Springs. If you have never heard of the place, In its hey day it was a pretty big deal. This small, Florida roadside attraction features an underwater stage where guests sit and watch women dance like mermaids might dance. In the 1960 millions of people attended shows, but today the the park is a shadow of its former self. Interestingly the ladies performing were were not those who appear on the Wiki Wachee Website, they were a group of former Mermaids who ranged in age from 50 something to 71. Photos taken Dec. 12, 2016 at Wiki Wachee Springs State Park, FL, by Chrissy Clary.

Indian Summer Behives collect yummy honey. The Indian Summer Honey company migrates from Florida to Wissconsin and then back again to take advantage of prime honey making weather. Photo taken on December 11, 2016, at Indian Summer Honey Farm, by Chrissy Clary.

Indian Summer Beehives collect yummy honey. The Indian Summer Honey company migrates from Florida to Wisconsin and then back again to take advantage of prime honey making weather. Photo taken on December 11, 2016, at Indian Summer Honey Farm, by Chrissy Clary.

This De Leon Springs Park Ranger takes a break to catch up on the news while she waits on her next group of boat passengers. Photo taken December 11, 2016, at De Leon Springs State Park, by Chrissy Clary.

This De Leon Springs Park Ranger takes a break to catch up on the news while she waits on her next group of boat passengers. Photo taken December 11, 2016, at De Leon Springs State Park, by Chrissy Clary.

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