Philip Sheldrake

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the hi:project and the Digital Life Collective

The Digital Life Collective

This is the newsletter about the Digital Life Collective sent to hi:project subscribers 24th April 2017 and posted to the hi:project blog.


The hi:project team is collaborating with others interested in trustworthy and empowering technologies. We’re working to launch the Digital Life Collective and we'd love you to be part of it.

Now for anyone interested in the trials and tribulations of an ambitious, open-source, nonprofit vision such as the hi:project, I provide a fuller debrief below. For those who prefer their updates bitesize, everything you need is contained in the next six paragraphs.

You’ll recall the hi:project has some mighty challenges in its sights. We will help: solve personal data & privacy; secure a citizen-centric Internet of Things; transform accessibility & digital inclusion.

Just as for many free open source software projects, no-one profits with the hi:project but rather everyone because of it. And therein lies both the broad opportunity and the deep problem. If everyone secures the return on investment, if the profit cannot be privatised, who exactly is going to make the investment?

In other words, markets aren’t designed to address such particular potential, but that hasn’t stopped us appealing to commercial players – more on how that works below. Moreover, it doesn’t seem foundations can fund and foster such fundamental architecture. And our brush with academic funding was a brush off. In all, we’ve been working across four fronts, failing at these three, and seeing if we can succeed at the fourth.

At first the fourth appears counter-intuitive ... if the hi:project seemed too big, fifty of us have banded together so far to go bigger. The Digital Life Collective is a co-operative dedicated to “tech we trust for the world we want”, and today is the day we go all official. Today we put the incorporation paperwork in the post and invite you to become a co-founding member so that together we can give the market a miss for the moment, pause the powwow with foundations, give up grinding the grant applications … and start simply co-operating.

Technology of, by and for the people. Our tech, not their tech. Find out more now at www.diglife.com.

As for engineering the hi:project … well we’ll be making our case to the Collective in due time.

###

The debrief

From the moment we started talking about the hi:project, we contrasted the user interface (UI) and the human interface (HI), the former describing the status quo in which you, the mere user, are actually the used, where you are in fact the product being sold, the civilian being controlled. By adopting HI as our terminology, we communicate the intent to reinstate your sovereignty, your dignity, your humanity. Read more

The Digital Life Collective

The Digital Life Collective

An invitation to build our technology together
… tech we trust for the web we want.


 

Our motivation

Digital technologies are undermining our privacy, permitting mass state surveillance, enabling censorship, undermining journalism, and spreading fake news. It feels forbidding, uncertain, unsafe – more problem than solution, and far from the original vision for the Internet and Web.

And yet we’re optimistic that we can join together to fix it. The problem isn’t really the technologies we have to work with of course, but rather the way they’re crafted and who gets to do the crafting.

Our purpose

We’re forming the Digital Life Collective to combine our resources to research, design, develop and certify digital products and services to protect privacy, foster trust, and work towards a sustainable and equitable world. We aim to pool $20m p.a. to make this happen.

You're invited

Please join the Digital Life Collective, indeed be the Digital Life Collective. We need you. We can’t do this without each other.

Here's our 16-page stack with a bit more detail. [UPDATE 25th April 2017 – visit www.diglife.com]

If you love it, please join us.

If you sense the deep potential, please join us.

If you feel today's digital landscape is selling us all short, please join us.

If you're intrigued about making this happen as a co-operative, please join us.

Digital Life Collective – introductory stack

Next steps

There's a handful of us right now. We're talking to people who work in this space so that we become dozens or possibly hundreds of likeminds in the coming weeks.

We've been careful to scope the why? and qualify the what? ... but we've stopped short of detailing the what? until we've accrued greater collective intelligence ... by your joining us of course.


✿ We'll be plugging into all the riot.im goodness very soon.

UPDATE 15th June 2017 removing references to our Slack instance. We have since migrated to our own instance of Mattermost, and participation there is restricted to members of our co-operative.

How and why I strive to maintain my privacy – a post in light of the Snooper’s Charter

GCHQ at Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

An aerial image of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.
Photographer: GCHQ/Crown Copyright. CC BY-SA 2.0


Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say.

Edward Snowden, 2015 (source)


I get asked now and then how to improve one's personal privacy, digitally speaking. It's unsurprising that such questions are directed my way given privacy is a core objective of the hi:project, and yet I seemed to have attracted more than the usual number of questions since my last post – Introducing Google Assistant, the Surveillance Interface.

You might want to stop commercial entities intruding – it's difficult to sum up in a sentence or two how egregious the state of commercial surveillance is today. You might want to help head off the realisation of a surveillance state if only because you've read somewhere that such things don't end well. You might simply want to have less data about your movements and purchases and media habits and general proclivities out there because it's not a case of if the corresponding databases are hacked but when.

Importantly, I write this post the very week the UK has passed the most extreme surveillance law ever passed in a democracy. The so-called Snoopers' Charter is disgusting, distressing and, in good part, stupid. Read more

Introducing Google Assistant, the Surveillance Interface (SI)

google assistant by techcrunch

A new kind of interface has surfaced over the past five years – artificial intelligence (AI) based ‘personal assistants’.

Apple Siri started the ball rolling, swiftly followed by Google Now, Microsoft Cortana, Amazon Alexa, and half a dozen others. But it now has a new apogee, a new sector defining moment, a revolution dressed up as evolution. The only thing more alarming than its instrusive, opaque, and society-altering capabilities is the way in which tech pundits have ladled out the accolades, pundits whose worldview appears as limited as a magpie’s regard for shiny things.

Google Now is now Google Assistant, and it comes integrated into Google’s first full-on (i.e. not just a reference design) mobile phone – the Pixel. Read more

Why can’t Deezer answer simple questions about privacy?

Deezer website screenshot

I've just bought an Onkyo TX-8150 network receiver. Lovely. Especially because it can drive two pairs of speakers, eats so-called hi-res music (24/192 with a 32/384 Hi-Grade DAC), and comes ready to play nice with the likes of Spotify, Airplay and Deezer.

Spotify tarnished its reputation somewhat with its privacy cock-up last year, and doesn't yet entertain hi-res. Apple's Airplay looks neat but doesn't do hi-res either, and totally ignores Android. Hmm. So let's check out Deezer I thought to myself. A rare European Unicorn. And while it describes lossless CD quality as hi-res when that's not really what the term means, I'm not sure my 'listening environment' is that sensitive! Lossless CD quality will do me. Read more

Toward a social compact for digital privacy and security

toward a social compact for digital privacy and security, Global Commission on Internet Governance
Updated 16th September, embedding the videos of the session below.


The Global Commission on Internet Governance (ourinternet.org) was established in January 2014 to articulate and advance a strategic vision for the future of Internet governance. With work commencing in May 2014, the two-year project is conducting and supporting independent research on Internet-related dimensions of global public policy, culminating in an official commission report.

toward a social compact - Global Commission on Internet GovernanceThe Commission published a statement 15th April 2015 for the Global Conference on Cyberspace meeting in The Hague. It calls on the global community to build a new social compact between citizens and their elected representatives, the judiciary, law enforcement and intelligence agencies, business, civil society and the Internet technical community, with the goal of restoring trust and enhancing confidence in the Internet.

I have been invited to discuss this statement with Dame Professor Wendy Hall and Sir David Omand at a Web Science Institute event this afternoon.

The core elements advocated in building the new social compact are:

  1. Privacy and personal data protection as a fundamental human right
  2. The necessity and proportionality of surveillance
  3. Legal transparency and redress for unlawful surveillance
  4. Safeguarding online data and consumer awareness
  5. Big data and trust
  6. Strengthening private communications
  7. No back doors to private data
  8. Public awareness of good cyber-security practices
  9. Mutual assistance to curtail transborder cyber threats.

Here is the brief slidestack framing my contribution today:

Videos

Dame Professor Wendy Hall introduces session (1min 32sec)

Sir David Omand (12min 45sec)

Me (9min 35sec)

Marketing and PR and the General Data Protection Regulation

EU citizens

My main character in Attenzi – a social business story, the CEO Eli Appel, has this to say over lunch with his chairman:

Good business is about cooperative and interdependent relationships, always has been, yet the humanity was lost when organizations scaled way up during the 20th Century. We want to make those relationships more human again, but the answer can’t be to scale it all back down. We have to scale something else up.

He adds:

... No business can really get to be social in a meaningful and valuable way simply by indulging in social media or by slapping apps onto social devices or by subscribing to a social enterprise network.

Eli is referring here to the visceral difference between 'doing' social (bolted on) and 'being' social (built in), and you know which one you're on the receiving end of in any given situation right? Read more

Different kinds of privacy, empowerment and autonomy – centralized versus decentralized

qs-watch[Originally posted to the hi:project blog.]

In an article in the Guardian last week, Professor Alex 'Sandy' Pentland mooted the potential for Google to cleave in two, with one part dedicated to providing a regulated bank-like service for data. Pentland directs the MIT Human Dynamics Lab and co-leads both the Big Data and the Personal Data and Privacy initiatives of the World Economic Forum, and I'm surprised how often his name crops up in my hi:project related research, yet I find it difficult to reconcile his observation here with his fluency in the power of decentralized networks:

Social physics strongly suggest that the [Adam Smith’s] invisible hand is more due to trust, cooperation and robustness properties of the person-to-person network of exchanges than it is due to any magic in the workings of the market. If we want to have a fair, stable society, we need to look to the network of exchanges between people, and not to market competition.

Pentland continues under the heading: How can we move from a market-centric to a human-centric society? Read more

The hi:project, social business and Flat Army

Dan Pontefract Flat Army and the hi:project
I help organisations work better, so how on Earth is that connected to the hi:project? Given I dedicate not a small fraction of my time to this non-profit endeavour, I'm asked on occasion to explain how the two are related.

The 'HI' of the hi:project stands for human interface. It's our way of describing the technology we think should and will largely supplant the user interface, the UI. Here's how I've begun to explain it of late ...

When we approach digital, we have a natural propensity to digitize the pre-digital; after all, that is all we know. That's how we ended up sticking an 'e' in front of mail for example, and went from having desktops, files and folders to, well, desktops, files and folders.

Yet digital has unprecedented qualities – it just takes us a while to discover and exploit them. It's only with the passing of decades for example that organisations can now explore alternatives to email. And filing stuff looks increasingly anachronistic with the power of near-instant search at our fingertips.

In the same way, the UI is attached to the digital machine / service today because pre-digital physical machines had a physical interface. Read more

A presentation to the Open Mobile Alliance conference on big data

According to its website, the Open Mobile Alliance "was formed in June 2002 by the world’s leading mobile operators, device and network suppliers, information technology companies and content and service providers. OMA delivers open specifications for creating interoperable services that work across all geographical boundaries, on any bearer network."

The OMA met today in Dublin to discuss aspects of big data, and I was invited to present on personal data, social media and social business.

I've met some great people today and we've covered some pretty geeky things between us, but the experience has left me with a renewed appreciation of the differences between 'net' and 'telco' people. For example, this was the first conference I've been to in many years that didn't have an agreed hashtag, or many people tweeting come to that. And mine was the only stack not to claim copyright, rather my normal Creative Common licensing. Trivial examples maybe, but indicative nonetheless of a different (but no less apposite) mindset.

I've tried my best to persuade a standards-setting collective to think harder about when to intervene and about the longer-term ramifications they might have on all the good stuff the Internet, the open Web and related technologies can do and are doing for humanity and our custodianship of the planet. That's not to undermine the value of standards, far from it, but as the saying goes, everything can start to look like a nail when you have a hammer.

I asked them to think about "humans" or "people" rather than "consumers" and "users", and about putting the facility for all humans to realise their full potential ahead of shareholders. That's not counter-capitalist. I put shareholders' best interests first by putting them second. You can find out more about this perspective in my recent ebook, Attenzi - a social business story.