Pseudonyms and Identity on the Web

Should Facebook and Google+ offer pseudonymic membership?

Still in beta testing, Google-Plus is already a hit, making Facebook nervous with some blatantly better approaches to social networking — such as the ability to specify your postings to different groups of ‘friends’.  One of many fixes we humans have been asking for. (Find me on Google Plus!)

 Yet, controversy already simmers.  Take the issue of pseudonymity vs identity.  Just like Facebook, Google+ insists that people use their real names. They’ve already suspended many accounts found to be in violation.

 Complains one blogger: “Allowing pseudonyms could be a way for Google Plus to distinguish itself from Facebook, particularly since Google contends that Google Plus emphasizes personal control over information and sharing. But as it stands, that control is limited to those who choose to go by real names.” Some users, no doubt, merely want to separate their public and private profiles.

Some take their objection even further:  Google+’s “No-Pseudonyms” Policy is Homophobic, Not Just Anti-Social. A snip: “Forcing people to use their real names can be directly damaging to people, especially people who are persecuted for their political views, or persecuted just for being who they are. Like LGBT people — who still face execution in at least three countries.”

A good point.  But Google and Facebook have legitimate counter-points of their own.  First, anonymity and unaccountable pseudonymity are proved to foster some very unpleasant types of online behavior, ranging from predatory to deliberately harmful to just plain nasty. Second, anonymity can open the door to automated personas that sift and collect data for hidden masters, or that might replicate endlessly, clogging the system with multiple, non-real  entities. 

DomainsSure, there should be realms where identity is as open and wild as the old west! But when it comes to those domains that offer themselves up as central fora, where we’ll all feel obliged to join and where our children feel they “must” have a presence? These should be subject to norms of accountability, backed by a reputation that rises and falls according to one’s deeds – as it always did for our ancestors

There are other problems too, described in my book The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom.

The perennial key question: Must we make an either-or choice? Our civilization made most of its real strides by looking for the win-win, the positive sum game. I have been consulting for some folks who believe they see a terrific business offering two items desperately needed online, both reputation management and portable but accountable pseudonyms… 

 …pseudonyms that come certified and therefore offer some defense  against abuse, with “follow me” reputations that ensure accountability for specific misbehaviors… but still provide safety from retribution for political or other views.  In fact, the outline for such a system seems remarkably clear, with some surprising added benefits! 

Somebody is going to make a lot of money, providing a win-win-win solution to this problem.

Are Algorithms Going to Take Over? Too late – they have!

Kevin Slavin argues that we’re living in a world designed for — and increasingly controlled by — algorithms. In this riveting talk from TEDGlobal, he shows how these complex computer programs determine: espionage tactics, stock prices, movie scripts, and architecture. And he warns that we are writing code we can’t understand, with implications we can’t control…

Watch the video, then ponder the microsecond trading that he reveals in Wall Street. Stock markets should be driven by people who study a company’s details and choose to invest… not by computer programs that detect the ordering patterns of those studious investors and automatically buy up whatever stock they want, before they can type “return.”

In what way does that make “markets more efficient?”  How does it allocate investment capital better?  In fact, it deters intelligent investment in promising companies because the system has parasitic organisms sucking gradient energy and flattening opportunity curves.

I never thought of this before.  These awful parasitic trade-programs are the biggest argument FOR insider trading!

You know how I feel about this!

The Securities and Exchange Commission approved rules Wednesday that could make it highly lucrative for Wall Street whistleblowers and other corporate insiders to alert the agency to securities violations. Under the rules, whistleblowers will be entitled to receive 10 percent to 30 percent of the money they help the SEC collect through enforcement actions. Corporations had lobbied intensely for rules that would impose constraints on whistleblowers.  

And this…

Dozens of police departments nationwide are gearing up to use a tech company’s already controversial iris- and facial-scanning device that slides over an iPhone and helps identify a person or track criminal suspects. The so-called “biometric” technology could improve speed and accuracy in some routine police work in the field.  The smartphone-based scanner, named Mobile Offender Recognition and Information System, or MORIS, can be deployed by officers out on the beat or back at the station.

An iris scan is significantly more accurate than results from other fingerprinting technology long in use by police, BI2 says. When attached to an iPhone, MORIS can photograph a person’s face and run the image through software that hunts for a match in a BI2-managed database of U.S. criminal records. Each unit costs about $3,000.

Can we get the benefits without paying a steep cost?  Sure… providing we get these things, too!  And we always, always have the right to aim them back at authority.

Briefly back to politics…

Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal – Rupert Murdoch’s top partner and co-owner of Fox News – said that he wants oil prices to drop so that the United States and Europe don’t accelerate efforts to wean themselves off his country’s supply. Ask your favorite Fox-watcher what he or she makes of all the facts contained in that sentence.  First get them to read it aloud.  Watch cognitive dissonance and denial go to work. 

And to show who Barry Goldwater or William F. Buckley would be voting for, today? President Obama announces push to train 10,000 engineers yearly.

Science Miscellany

 And the campaign against Uplift begins — with fear-mongering. See also “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”  This is going to be a hard struggle, with BOTH the right and the left lined up against what could be humanity’s greatest and most noble accomplishment.

And more misceallaneous cool/weird science? Can eating “probiotic” bacteria extend health and life? Long considered a beneficial side effect of eating certain types of yoghurt, these “good bacteria” have been studied and even refined a bit by science. Indications are that there’s some truth to it. But do researchers have any literary background? Aldous Huxley wrote of gut bacteria bringing immortality in “After Many a Summer Dies the Swan.” (1939) You only learn it’s scifi on the last page! 

An interesting attempt to create a nonprofit to improve discourse by holding public figures accountable for conflicts of interest.  I’m not at all sure it is well-designed or executed, but some folks should look it over and report back. 

With support from President Barack Obama, NASA’s budget is at an all-time high. Over the next four months, the  division is due to launch three major missions: to the Moon, to  and to Jupiter. And the heliophysics division plans to send a probe plunging into the blistering atmosphere of the Sun, closer than ever before. But because the overall NASA science budget is relatively flat, something had to give. Since 2008, astrophysics funding has plunged relative to other NASA science — and relative to physics and astronomy funding at other agencies.  Stung by spiraling costs and charges of mismanagement, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) — Hubble’s long-awaited successor — is now seen by some critics as too expensive to fly. And the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), which would hunt for exoplanets and probe the poorly understood phenomenon known as dark energy, may take too long to develop to be worthwhile. 

Water appears to be abundant in the universe — even where we least expect it!  Caltech researchers recently found an immense cloud of water vapor near a quasar  surrounding a black hole. This distant (and ancient) site – the super-blasting center of an ancient galaxy – indicates that water was around from the earliest stages of the universe…

Now to find intelligence… anywhere! Far from Washington, I presume…


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