Archive for February 2011

Updated: Diaspora at NYLUG

Daniel Grippi and Raphael Sofaer, two of the four founders of the Diaspora open source social networking project, spoke at NYU this week. They said that the project was started by members of the ACM club at NYU and was inspired by a speech by Professor Eben Moglen called Freedom in the Cloud.

In an earlier interview, Grippi said, “it was the first time it made us think of the violence of those that use your data, and of how, behind the scenes of someone who offers you something for free, there’s always someone that uses the data you exchange with your friends. We deleted ourselves from Facebook and we started to think about an alternative. People don’t really understand the risks they’re taking, but even those that understand them don’t know where else to go to.”

Before starting Diaspora, the club had built a MakerBot and had completed other projects together, such as having the door to the club room tweet every time it was used.

The group decided to build a decent social network for nerds. They went to Kickstarter, whose founder is also a graduate of NYU. Kickstarter allows anyone to raise money for any project through very small donations, as little as $5 per person. The group posted what Grippi called “a pretty terrible video.” The goal was to raise $10,000. In fact, they raised $200,000, which at the time was a record for Kickstarter.

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Privacy in Context: A Speech at Fordham Law School

Professor Helen Nissenbaum has made a career out of putting philosophy to work. In a CV replete with honors (and also filled with impressive grants), she has turned a doctorate in Philosophy from Stanford University into a career researching the privacy implications of the internet. She is currently professor of “Media, Culture, and Communication & Computer Science” at NYU. I heard her speak at the Fordham University Law School, where her talk focused on her latest book, Privacy in Context; Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life.

Nissenbaum said that she thought this would be the easiest book she’s ever written, because it was simply synthesizing many papers, but that in fact it was the hardest, and it took two years. In the book (and in her current work) she is building an analytical framework that would identify the aspect of an online transaction or interaction that causes social anxiety.

The miracle of the internet is about the rapid dissemination of information. This has delivered powerful economic benefits, and it has delivered freedom.

The internet has also enabled massive data repositories that have caused concern. Nissenbaum mentioned Choicepoint and you can see the concerns of the Electronic Privacy Information Center here. Nissenbaum also mentioned the Total Information Awareness (TIA) program of the federal government. Of TIA, EPIC wrote, “TSA has failed to meet its legal obligations for openness and transparency under the Freedom of Information Act and has violated the spirit of the Privacy Act for the protection of privacy rights.”

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How The FCC Killed VoIP

Many people in the U.S. use Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone service today. But I contend that the FCC has killed the technology. How can I make this assertion? After all, there are over 20 million VoIP subscribers in the U.S.

However, the VoIP services that exist today are a shadow of what the technology makes possible. VoIP has been choked so that it no longer disrupts telephone service. VoIP has been fenced in by the FCC so that it offers no more than telephone, a move that was intended to protect cellular and wireline phone companies.

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