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Author Archives: DanJee

Week 2 Summary

I will try to follow Alexandra’s format from last week. This week’s assignment included: “Scroogled” by Cory Doctorow, “Facebook’s Move Ain’t About Changes in Privacy Norms” by Danah Boyd, “Search Me” and “Short of Anonymous” from On the Media, “This Week In Google 25: The People’s Republic of Google”.


Scroogled is an interesting fictional stroy from Cory Doctorow. In the story, the protagonist Greg comes to learn about how Google has come to work with the Department of Homeland Security to provide information about specific individuals. It is a very interesting concept that Doctorow explores into. At immigration check-point in a airport, the security officials use what type of ads pop up based on a person’s search queries. Greg is scrutinized and thoroughly investigated due to having model rocket ads being shown up in his ads. From his friend Maya, he comes to learn that Google agreed on a deal with the government to provide service in exchange for more freedom to conduct business as they desire.

Even more shocking is that Google is everywhere and government is watching you everywhere. Once a person like Greg is flagged at the airport, they can be followed and checked for “suspicious patterns” by cameras on the street and search queries and e-mails. Maya, using her programming skills, developed a program called Googleclean to turn a person like Greg into a normalized individual. Life seems normal at first after this, but Maya learns that her program is being used by Google to promote political agendas. Maya is scared by this and the fact that DHS officials know of her dubious activies and flees to Mexico. Meanwhile, Greg is contacted by “consultant” to work for Google to perfect Maya’s Googleclean, so that it can be better used to promote secret political consipiracy. On his first day back, Greg learns Maya killed her self in Guatamala.

From a personal standpoint, while I think this is an interesting take on Google’s ubiquitous nature in the modern world, it is completely unrealistic. There is absolutely no way that it will ever become possible to use search logs and advertisment being served to judge a person on a legal level. From a legal standpoint, you can only tie back information from cookies to a computer, not to an invidual and in this modern day where many people use multiple computers (including smartphones), correctly identifying a person to a political agenda is impossible to perform. Yes, the information can be useful in business and advertising perspective, because business function by probability and numbers. Government, especially when it enters the legal territory, functions in a black-or-white, legal-or-illiegal world. I am very intrigued by the concept of Googleclean; however, it already exists. Deleting your cookies will do the trick and opting out of Google’s ad preferences will also “normalize” you. Just go to www.google.com/ads/preferences.

Search Me

In this short internet radio segnment from On the Media, Google’s Marissa Mayer discusses how Google’s information collection from search queries work and about Google’s policy to promote more privacy. Starting point of the discussion centers around how Google’s Chrome browser will make all personal data collected anonymous within 24 hours and how all ada collected from searches will be made anonymous in 9 months instead of previous 18 months. (One thing I believe Bob Garfield made mistake with stating this is that all information will be deleted after these periods, not made anonymous. Any information being collected is already anonymous for Google or any other search engines.)

Marissa Mayer states that “you are giving up some personal information, but you are gaining a lot of familiarity.” She also clears up that “first thing to understand on search logs is that they are not personally identifiable. We don’t know who you are,. So we don’t know your name, or your e-mail address, or information that would tie your searches to you.”

As an employee of Google, Mayer is saying the “right” thing and some may think that she is corporate-speaking. However, from a person who is working with Google’s data on a day-to-day basis, much of what she says is just the fact. It simply is true. Personal information are not collected, but just your acivities and preferences are monitored, and while that does sound controlling and scary, much of it is used for the benefit of the user as well.

Short of Anonymous

In the “Short of Anonymous” segment from On the Media, Alissa Cooper, the Chief Computer Scientiest of the Center for Democracy and Technology, discusses the limitations of Google guaranteeing anonymity. She mentions that the definition of “anonymized” is flexible in a sense that while it is true that Google data cannot identify you as a person, it can be used to infer who you are indirectly. She states that “information in the logs that they hold can probably sill be tied back to an individual” despite the fact that information by itself will not identify the individual.

Bob Garfield summarizes nicely that “I can set my own degree of privacy on my browser for more or less utility from that same browser”. What he says is very true; allowing your browser to collect more information can provide you with more utility in a sense that your internet experience can be catered and personalized for you. However, that also mean the browser and search engines need more information from you to provide that utility. For instance, on Amazon, it will tell you what products you might like and what products you might be interested in based on the information they collect from you browsing history and purchasing behavior. Or they will send people e-mail on promotions and discounts on certain items based on that data. This can be useful and nice, but it also involves letting them know more about me.

Facebook’s Move Ain’t About Changes in Privacy Norms

In this blog, Danah Boyd discusses the latest statement from Mark Zuckerberg that “the age of privacy is over” and that sharing information with the public is the norm now. Boyd argues that this is not the case and making being public a norm should not be the case. He states that being private should be the default and becoming public should be by choice. While the choice is stil there, Boyd argues that there does exist a difference in what is the “default” setting. Boyd also argues that this move by Facebook and Zuckerberg is purely a business decision trying to gather more information to use for revenue generating activities, and Boyd states that what Zuckerberg is trying to suggest by saying that being public is the norm in modern world is just a ploy to legitimize their information collecting activities.

Boyd makes a very logical argument that makes a lot of sense. And I can honestly say that he made me confused as to how I stand on this issue. Before I had believed the same thing Zuckerberg stated. I thought being public is becoming the norm and people want to almost “overshare” their lives. However, on principal what Boyd suggests is convincing in that the default should be the choice to remain private. Yet there also is the counter-argument that Facebook can choose to do whatever they want and since people are following how Facebook wants people to be public by default then Facebook can make it remain that way. Facebook is not obliged to philosophical goodness or rightness. Honestly, I am a bit torn in how I should stand on this issue.

This Week In Google 25: The People’s Republic of Google

In this Internet TV segment, Leo Laporte, Gina Trapini, Jeff Jarvis, and Siva Vaidhyanathan discuss opinions and implications around the latest statement from Google that they will pull out of China unless Google is allowed to keep their information data away from the Chinese government.

As Siva Vaidhyanathan mentions 30% of Chinese population is amazing potential revenue and pulling out of China would be a huge risk. However, as he also points out, if Google’s security is compromised by the Chinese governemnt and if an anti-goverment political activist is arrested based on g-mail documents or search queries, Google might face a dangerous situation with public discontent. As Google’s mantra states, Vaidhyanathan suggests that this move is in line with “Don’t Do Evil”. In other words, Google seems to be taking the route of lesser risk over greater risk.

Jeff Jarvis agrees with Vaidhyanathan on this point, stating that “Doing evil is bad business”. However, the point on which Vaidhyanathan and Jarvis seems to be in disagreement over is whether Google was motivated by purely business strategy of avoiding risk, or if Google was motivated to promote free speech as well. Jarvis is on the side that Google wanted to not just avoid evil, but promote good as well through supporting free sppech.

Viadhyanathan also brings up an interesting point. He says “it’s not a total bluff that they will pull out of China. It is a total bluff that they will run an un-filtered, un-censored web search project in China on Google.cn….The reason why this is important in a larger sense is that Google is making a stand for the internet itself…Google is the first company to openly speak about the level of attacks and level of vulnerability….They cannot stand for this level for aggresive intrusion.” This is somewhat pessimistic view on Google’s decision, but also a very shrewd and realistic observation. Chinese government will not succumb completely to Google’s demands, and Google cannot possibly expect Chinese government to completely change. However, as Vaidhyanathan states, Google seems to be looking for the compromise point.

Leo Laporte and Gina Trapani believe that the move by Google is driven a lot by ego and is 4 years late. They state that there seems to tech geek ego of being offended by security breach and this could be a brilliant PR move to cover-up the security breach. To a certain extent that seems natural and true. However, Jarvis continues to believe that motiviation to do good was involved in Google’s decision.

Social Media as the Moneymaking Machine

You are thinking about buying a product. It could be anything. A music file from iTunes store, or a new book, or a guitar, or a computer, or even a TV. Whatever it may be you are probably going to do some research about it. What kind of music this band plays? How engaging or exciting is the author? Does the computer function fast and are its hardwares up to date? You might go to expert reviews or check out blogs. I tend to be a bit obssessive about the products that I buy doing a lot of over-research. For example, I purchased a TV few weeks ago. I went on every imaginable tech review sites and blogs to learn about the latest TV technologies and how they function, what brands are reliable and what functionalities do I need and not need. The thorough research did help me, but in the end it really came down to listening to some experiences my friends had with specific TVs. I think this may be the case for a lot of people. What your friends–or people who you know and trust–tell you can be very convincing source of opinion in infuencing what you end of purchasing.

In comes social media. I am still unsure which company or which method of social media I want to concentrate on for my next travelogue, but I am thinking along the lines of Facebook, or Foursqure. For now, I will start my journey with Facebook. Facebook is literally gigantic in its reach. If your friend that you know to be a fashionista is a fan of Paul Smith, you might be more likely to become a fan of Paul Smith and buy his clothes. It is a very insteresting concept. Or if you see a lot of comment about this new band on your friend’s wall, you might be interested to check them out. “Facebook is expected to reach $435 million in 2009 and $605 million in 2010.” Mark Zuckerberg had thought that social media is not going to be able to generate as much ad revenue as search engines or display publishers, and in the current scale of thing, he is probably right. Google made almost $20 billion in revenue, and Facebook’s $0.6 billion looks tiny in comparison. However, it is generating crazy investments from private equity firms and corporations and private investors. If it does go public, the stock prices will soar. Clearly, something is going on and people are interested in it and it could be a money making machine. I want to explore and travel into this spectrum. See how this is being done and what the prospects look like for the future.

More specifcally, where is social media marketing heading? Business speaks in numbers and dollars. In this case, you see the dollars Facebook is making, but it is more difficult to see the dollars coming out for companies using Facebook as advertising medium. How is this world going to change? How do you quantify and numerically reason and explain the marketing activities on Facebook? In other words, how do you measure the buzz and return on marketing investment?

I know we weren’t supposed to use Google, and YouTube sort of is Google. OK, I failed the challenge, but here is a thought to leave you with from two years ago on 60 Minutes (a lot has changed since then. They are making money like crazy):
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Not So Fast, Curtis!: Digging Deeper into Game Theory

Adam Curtis presents a rather interesting argument and somewhat dark and nightmarish look into our current society and how the ruling class–the economic and political elite forces–have come to transform people into cold robotic machine.  Into series of 1′s and 0′s.  Into rational, self-interested, cold, animal-like creatures.  While I found “The Trap” to be quite effective and thought-provoking, I am not sure if it was completely completely effective in achieving its purpose of enlightening me to the “dangers” and harsh realities that the society has transformed us into numbers, and–as Curtis argues–that the society has made people treat each other in robotic manners.  Overall argument presented to by Adam Curtis–while poignant and interesting–fails to–make the argument into a convincing one at least for me.

To the statement that modern society has made people into super-rational machines, I find this not too difficult to believe.  In fact, I almost found Curtis to be over-dramatizing the effect of game theory with regards to this aspect.  While Curtis chose to focus heavily on the development game theory since World War II with regards to this, the phenomenon was witness far before game theorist began to notice this robotic attitude of people towards each other.  In fact, American sociologist Louis Wirth noticed this phenomenon in society in “Urbanism as a Way of Life”, published in 1938.  Wirth noted that with growing population especially in urban areas, the lives of individuals became more segmented and thereby made intimate relationships more difficult to establish.  In other words, Wirth explained that the social interactions people have with one another became more transactional and economic, striving for utility over intimacy.  This concept is in line with what Curtis attempts to attribute to game theory as the main cause.  Seeing that academia world began to notice this shift prior to development of game theory, I am leaning more towards believing that while game theory probably had some effect–especially regarding its influence on politics and business–much of the phenomenon described by Curtis is in fact a caused more macro-social influence than just game theory.  It seems more plausible and reasonable to believe that the shift of human interaction becoming “rational” began much earlier than Curtis thinks, but probably accelerated by game theory.  In other words, the attempt by Curtis to picture the current society in cold, demonic, machine-like manner is to a certain extent exaggerated as an effect of direct influence from the political and economic elites.

However more importantly with regards to the validity of statements made by Curtis, in certain cases, Curtis overplays his cards and ultimately makes his argument weaker by making the documentary sensationalist.  For example, in the second segment of the documentary–”The Lonely Robot”–Curtis tries to explain to the viewers that companies fictionalized their revenues and profits.  Is his statement completely out of line?  No, he does have some point.  For instance, try going to on-campus recruiting information sessions for investment banks.  Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Evercore, Houlihan, Citi, RBS, Credit Suisse, whichever one you attend, they will tell you that they are the most successful and most profitable firm.  And they will do this by showing charts and graphs with actual numbers.  How can this be?  How can different firms be number one in the same category.  Well, look closer and you will see that how they slice and dice numbers are different in each chart.  Is this misleading to a certain extent?  Yes.  Is this wrong?  Well, I would argue not.  The notion Curtis dives into here is similar to this logic.  Companies do have different ways of calculating their revenue and income under the guidelines of GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) or any other standardized accounting framework.  Does this make looking at numbers confusing?  Yes.  Can it be misleading?  Yes.  IS it misleading?  Maybe not.  Take for instance, how each company calculates inventory.  Some companies find it more convenient to calculate using LIFO (Last-in, First-out) where as some companies use FIFO (First-in, First-out), and some even likes to take averages.  Certain industries and certain businesses have found the best and the most convenient method for each of them.  And while this can make comparison between them somewhat inconvenient and misleading to a normal person, this is not actually misleading or presenting wrong information.  Accounting frameworks forces companies to consistently use the same method in each reports which makes each numbers reliable and stable to be compared back to past historical reports.  In fact, I find this to be completely acceptable and somewhat noble.  Attempting to present your company and your performance in the best light is only natural as long as you do it within the rules.  Going to back to the example, Curtis presents in “The Trap”, companies are abiding by the rules and contrary to the argument Curtis attempts to make, the rule in this case is not trying to purposely mislead and lie to people.  In fact, if they cannot decipher the numbers and look into the second and third and later pages of the financial report to know what the numbers mean, the fault is on the lack of effort and laziness of the public and people rather than the system.  If you bought a nice birthday gift for someone, it is only natural that you want to wrap it in a nice wrapping paper, with your own flair and touch of personality.  It is unfair and stupid to ask everybody to wrap all the gifts in same bland wrapping paper, just so nobody gets confused that they are gifts.  In addition, Curtis makes himself look stupid at the end of this particular segment by saying that behavioral economist are counter-game theorists by studying “if people really do behave as the simplified model says they are”.  In reality, behavioral economics is an evolved form of game theory that builds very much on the basis of game theory concepts.  It is not counter-game theory nor is a “new” discipline as Curtis states.  Yes, it is true that in the past decade or so, behavioral economics has gained enormous popularity in academia and in the private sector, but the concept was established by Adam Smith himself–who Curtis pretty much dismisses as obsolete ironically right before he introduces behavioral economics–in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, actually written before his all-famous Wealth of Nations.  Curtis most definitely went overboard trying to make his argument and by doing so makes himself unconvincing and almost trivial.

In addition, I personally found Curtis to be over-stressing certain aspects of game theory.  For instance, Curtis misrepresents Nash equilibrium by associating it merely with the Prisoner’s Dilemma game.  While the Prisoner’s Dilemma is the most popular, and perhaps most interesting case to present Nash equilibrium, in reality Nash equilibrium is much larger than just the Prisoner’s Dilemma game.  Prisoner’s Dilemma is unique in that it is a game in which Nash equilibrium does not equal Pareto optimal solution.  Pareto-optimal solution refers to a the situation in which neither party involved in the game cannot do better than the solution presented.  For instance, in the Prisoner’s Dilemma game, the Pareto-optimal point would be for both parties to deny any wrong doing.  However, Nash equilibrium–the game theory solution point that takes into account the action of the other player–is for both parties to defect in the Prisoner’s Dilemma game.  This is only one example of game theory and Nash equilibrium.  There are plenty of example in which Pareto optimal point is equal to Nash equilibrium unlike Prisoner’s Dilemma.  In fact, there probably are more cases of Nash equilibrium being equal to Pareto optimum than not.  When Nash equilibrium equals Pareto optimal solution, game theory in fact is serving to the better of all parties involved in the game.  While it does not negate argument presented by Curtis that game theory assumes people to rational, it does somewhat contradicts Curtis in that this view of society serves for the betterment of society as a whole, benefiting all parties involved without sacrificing one for another.

Moreover, Curtis completes neglects to mention mixed strategy concept of game theory.  In most game theory solutions, there exist pure strategy game and mixed strategy game.  Pure strategy game is in simple terms, a simplified version of a game in which choices are either Option 1 or Option 2.  When looking at game theory as a whole, pure strategy represents a smaller portion of the discipline than mixed strategy.  Mixed strategy is a case where one considers the probability and preference of the other party choosing Option 1 or Option 2.  In other words, it is not always the case in Prisoner’s Dilemma that a person as 50/50 probability of denying guilt or admitting guilt.  Mixed strategy takes this into account.  While economist might state that and in reality true that mixed strategy still implies assuming the people to rational decision makers, I believe it inherently also assumes and values the individuality of each human being and that heart–or the irrational side of human–should be taken into account in each game’s probability.

Ultimately, I find what Curtis is saying to be interesting and true in its essence.  However, I do believe that the approach Curtis takes to make this argument is not the most effective way to make his case.  By being over-aggressive (bordering the lines of sensationalism), I found “The Trap” to be propaganda-like, neglecting to present a complete picture of topics being discussed and narrowing the vision only to those that fit his argument (which is natural).  Moreover and more importantly, I do not necessarily find the phenomenon or development of society that Curtis presents with regards to game theory to be disturbing as he presents.