Un-American behaviour? There’s an app for that

Paul Raven @ 21-12-2010

So last week I flippantly suggested the possibility of a smartphone app for reporting politically or religiously unpalatable behaviour by persons in your immediate vicinity. I often make these worst-case-scenario suggestions as a rhetorical device, a kind of ultimate extrapolation of the sf-nal “if this carries on…” riff, rather than in the sincere belief that they will actually come to pass. Sometimes, however, reality likes to remind me that a cynic is rarely disappointed [via TechDirt]

Citizen Concepts announces the launch of PatriotAppTM, the world’s first iPhone application that empowers citizens to assist government agencies in creating safer, cleaner, and more efficient communities via social networking and mobile technology.  This app was founded on the belief that citizens can provide the most sophisticated and broad network of eyes and ears necessary to prevent terrorism, crime, environmental negligence, or other malicious behavior.

The underlying concept is actually pretty sound (not to mention an inevitable component of a truly networked society) but the presentation is, to me at least, chilling in its jingoistic nationalism*, and a reminder that technology is morally neutral: it’s the hand that swipes the screen which wields the blade.

[ * This is not an anti-American dig, by the way; I’d find a Union Flag-draped equivalent even more unpleasant. It is my hope that systems like this will actually erode nationalism in the long run, but it’s far from a foregone conclusion, sadly. ]


Wikileaks making the news rather than breaking it

Paul Raven @ 15-07-2010

Everywhere I look, I seem to see Wikileaks. The site’s founder, Julian Assange, appears at The Guardian and delivers a cautious guess at the shape of world media after another decade:

Is WikiLeaks the journalistic model for the future? He gives a characteristically lateral answer. “All over the world the barriers between what is inside an organisation and outside an organisation are being smoothed out. In the military, the use of contractors means that what is the military and what is not the military is smoothed out. Newswise, you see the same trend – what is the newspaper and what is not the newspaper? Comments on websites from the general public and supporters . . . ” His point trails away, so I press him to make a prediction about the shape of the media in a decade or so from now. “For the financial and specialist press, it’ll still look mostly the same – your daily briefing about what you need to know to run your business. But for political and social analysis, that’s going to be movements and networks. You can already see this happening.”

An insight into his stated political stance (or lack thereof):

In his talk, Assange had said that he is neither of the right nor the left – his enemies are forever trying to pin labels on him in order to undermine his organisation. What matters first and foremost is getting the information out. “First the facts, ma’am,” is how he summarises his philosophy to me. “Then we’ll get down to what we want to do about it. You can’t do anything sensible until you know what the situation is that you’re in.” But while he rejects political labels, he says WikiLeaks does have its own ethical code. “We have values. I am an information activist. You get the information out to the people. We believe a richer intellectual and historical record that is fuller and more accurate is in itself intrinsically good, and gives people the tools to make intelligent decisions.” He says an explicit part of their purpose is to highlight human rights abuses, no matter where they are carried out or who perpetrates them.

And some sidebar from Wired UKWikileaks runs pretty frugal for what is, in some respects, a new media non-profit startup:

Wikileaks has received 400,000 euros (£333,000) through PayPal or bank money transfers since late December, and spent only 30,000 euros (£25,000) from that funding, says Hendrik Fulda, vice president of the Berlin-based Wau Holland Foundation.

[…]

The money has gone to pay the travel expenses of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and spokesman Daniel Schmitt, as well as to cover the costs of computer hardware, such as servers, and leasing data lines, says Fulda. Wikileaks does not currently pay a salary to Assange or other volunteers from this funding, though there have been discussions about doing so in the future, Fulda adds. The details have not yet been worked out.

“If you are drawing from volunteers who are basically doing stuff for free and if you start paying money, the question is to whom, and to whom not, do you pay, and how much?” Fulda said. “It’s almost a moral question: How much money do you pay?”

The big question here is whether the organisation can keep itself small enough to stay free of spook infiltration, and keep close enough to its core ethics that they don’t suffer a serious case of mission slippage or internal fraud. It’ll never be a big-bucks business, I’d guess, but the accrued counter-authority power and kudos will appeal to a lot of people with axes to grind. But what if they manage to make it an open-source process, so that the same work could be done by anyone even if Wikileaks sank or blew up? An amorphous and perpetual revolving-door flashmob, like Anonymous without the LOLcats and V masks? It’s essentially just a protocol, albeit one that runs on human and electronic networks in parallel.

That Assange is a real character, though; wonder how much he’s playing on the Warhol similarities deliberately? Strikes me as the sort canny enough to play the media on the symbolic level, that’s for sure. Definitely a name to watch out for.


The Anonymous Hunters: corporate critics and whistleblowers beware

Paul Raven @ 06-11-2009

Have you ever bad-mouthed a big company in an internet comments thread? If so, the Wragge and Co. law firm of Birmingham, UK may be hot on your tail (provided the comment is vitriolic enough to provoke the company to spend money, one assumes) – they’ve just announced a new legal “task force” for tracking down the identities of nefarious anonymous commenters [via TechDirt].

The Cyber Tracing team at Wragge & Co was set up to deal with what the law firm said was a rising problem with people making anonymous statements that defamed companies, and people sharing confidential information online.

And Wragge boasted the new team would ensure there was