Quirks in Tech

An informal space where I think about the oddities of technology, politics, and privacy. Also some other stuff.

No skin thick enough: The daily harassment of women in the game industry ∞

The aggression committed towards these women is truly abhorrent — it speaks poorly to the various efforts to effectively combat sexism and misogyny. No one should be on the receiving end of such comments, ever, and to normalize the sending and reception of them is just wrong. To be clear: this isn’t bullying, but the cases speak to acts of hate. And it’s an area where hate speech laws should be triggered to bring offenders to justice.

Jul 23, 2014

The Little-Known Loophole Obscuring Facebook and Google's Transparency Reports ∞

For some time I’ve been asking corporate executives how they do, or don’t, account for legal requests served by Canadian authorities on American social networking companies. And the obscurity has been noted in work I’ve previously published on this topic. In an admittedly selfish way, it’s terrific to see a Canadian reporter look into this issue further only to learn that the transparency numbers provided by Google et. al. do not fully account for non-US authorities’ requests for data.

Hopefully we’ll see other journalists, in countries the US has Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLATs) with, file similar requests to better break down how many requests their domestic law enforcement agencies are issuing to the American companies responsible for storing and transiting so much of our personal data. While Google and other companies should be congratulated for their work it’s apparent that corporate transparency isn’t enough: we need better government accountability and corporate transparency to properly understand how, why, and how often authorities request (and receive) access to privately held telecommunications data.

Jul 23, 2014


Jul 22, 2014

How Apple and Google plan to reinvent healthcare ∞

For many years the digital health industry has been driven by wearable devices like the Fitbit, Nike’s Fuelband, and Jawbone’s Up. But if the titans of the smartphone industry succeed in creating a dominant platform for health and fitness data, this business could be in trouble. “A lot of the basic functions we have seen in fitness wearables — tracking your steps, taking your heart rate — those functions will become basic features on a smartphone or smartwatch,” says Wang.

As someone who’s worn one of these trackers for years now [1] and who is obsessive about carrying my smartphone, I cannot disagree more. My phone does rough calculation of how much I move every month and it’s routinely off by absolutely enormous magnitudes. [2] To some extent, that’s because the phone isn’t calibrated to precisely monitor how far I walk. To a greater extent, however, it’s because while I’m obsessive about keeping my phone around me it’s actually not on my person for about 30% of my movements each day. I don’t carry my phone at night when walking the dog, or necessarily when I’m wander around the building I work in.

For people who want just casual or ambient information about movement a smartphone might be fine. But anyone who is even moderately interested in tracking their activity for health reasons isn’t going to be willing to ‘guesstimate’ 1/3 of their day’s activity. The real power of smartphones is delivering information-rich notifications or aggregating data from a variety of sensors; it’s the software that they bring, first and foremost, that is their value add. And I think that for the fitness device companies to be successful they’ll need to develop powerful data mobilization schemes – you’ll need to be able to integrate data from the fitness hardware to any smartphone OS – to really capture significant portions of the market over the longer-term. I don’t buy the idea that people will keep buying sub-par products because the data is bound within a specific operating system or mobile phone ecosystem. Though, perhaps that’s just me as someone who hops between smartphone and smartphone OSes every 12–14 months.

  1. I’ve lost a pair of Fitbits, returned another, and currently use a Jawbone UP 24. I bought my first Fitbit in April 2012.  ↩

  2. As an example, My Jawbone tracked me walking somewhere between 135–150 miles last month whereas Google suggested I walked just 30–40 miles.  ↩

Jul 22, 2014

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