ALS Topic 42 - Is Privacy Worth Having?

Adelaide Lunchtime Seminar, ALS 42
Saturday, August 31, 2019 12:15 PM to 2:30 PM (end time flexible)

Venue: The Rose - 31 East Terrace, Adelaide SA 5000 (Upstairs. Please buy a drink or something))

About Focus Questions: a) Please read them before you come to the meetup. Think about them so you have more than "instant opinions" to offer. b) Feel free to add more focus questions. c) THE FOCUS QUESTIONS ARE JUST A MENU TO CHOOSE FROM. From this menu we can discuss whatever seems interesting. d) Focus questions are not intended to push one viewpoint! You can adopt any position you wish. We actually like friendly disagreement - it can lead to deeper understanding.

Focus Questions


2. SO WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE HIDING FROM? WHY BOTHER? If you have a phone, Google etc (and the cops) already know more about you than you know about yourself. Everything you click is information collected and cross-collated using AI. Google Location records every address on the planet you have been to every minute of your day. Your face, and even your gait is collected through street cameras. Your smart fridge is listening to you. Every bank card classifies you minutely. ...and so on.

3. EVERYTHING THAT IS KNOWN ABOUT YOU CAN BE MISINTERPRETED, AND PROBABLY WILL BE. WHAT ARE YOUR PROTECTIONS, IF ANY, AGAINST BEING CONFUSED WITH THE BAD GUYS? How smart do you think some clerk in a local council, or a tired cop are going to be about understanding the volumes of information they have about what you seem to be doing?


5. IF THE WORLD MOSTLY DOESN'T GIVE A DAMN ABOUT YOU ANYWAY, ISN'T THAT INDIFFERENCE YOUR BEST PROTECTION? At last count there were about 500 million blogs (& 1.6 billion websites) on the Internet, so sheer numbers give you anonymity. My old website has carried a detailed "About Thor" page since 1992 ( From statistics, about 2 people a year look at it and nobody has ever commented. So much for self-promotion.

6. WHO SHOULD HAVE A FIRST RIGHT TO SECRECY: ORGANIZATIONS OR INDIVIDUALS? What is your feeling about the following idea: A country in which governments & organizations have all the secrets but individuals have none is a tyranny. A country in which governments & organizations have no secrets but individuals have all the secrets is 'free' for individuals. Where should the balance be between these extremes?

7. HOW MUCH ACTUAL PRIVACY SHOULD GOVERNMENTS BE ALLOWED? Australia has FOI (Freedom of Information) Laws but they are prohibitively expensive for individuals to use, subject to delay, and essential information is often redacted for 'security' reasons. The Norwegian government is required by law to make everything public except under strict and tested conditions ( ). Which systems serves citizens best?

8. "SECURITY" IS A WORD LIKE "FREEDOM" - IT MUST BE ATTACHED TO SOMETHING TO HAVE MEANING. Security for whom, when, where and under what conditions? If you make an audit of the way the word 'security' is used, who or what is mostly being kept 'secure', or secret or private? What can you do about this balance of 'security'?

9. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE + UNCONTROLLED DATA GATHERING gives corporations great power to limit or enhance your life (present or future) without your knowledge. This power knows no borders and is new in human history. What will the consequences be? What can we do about it personally or as a society?

10. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS INTERNET PRIVACY IN THE LONG RUN (OR OFTEN IN THE SHORT RUN). Whatever is on a "cloud" database will be leaked or stolen and sold. There are countless examples of this happening already to hundreds of millions of people. If no law can secure your private information on the Internet (as it seems), what will be the long term social consequences of zero privacy for individuals?

Extra Reading

Michael Gebicki ( August 15 2019) "Cameras on planes: Are airlines secretly spying on their passengers with hidden cameras?" @ 

Natalia Drozdiak and Giles Turner • Bloomberg (7 August 2019) "Siri, Alexa 'eavesdroppers' leave tech giants facing probe - Amazon, Apple and Google are to be investigated over human reviewers listening in on instructions given to AI 'helpers"'. Aljazeera @ 

Caroline Haskins (July 13 2019) "Revealed: This Is Palantir’s Top-Secret User Manual for Cops - Motherboard [website] obtained a Palantir user manual through a public records request, and it gives unprecedented insight into how the company logs and tracks individuals." @

ABC (13 July 2019) "Facebook to be fined $US5 billion for Cambridge Analytica privacy violations, reports say." Australian Broadcasting Corporation @  [Thor, information point: Cambridge Analytica, for hire, has specialized in warping elections worldwide]

Hilary Osborneand Sam Cutler (July 2, 2019) "Chinese border guards put secret surveillance app on tourists' phones - Software extracts emails, texts and contacts and could be used to track movements". The Guardian @ 

Jessica Leigh Hester (April 24, 2017) "How to Disappear - Is it possible to move through a smart city undetected?" City Lab @ 

Bloomberg Editorial Board (March 11, 2019) "A NSA Program Fizzled Out. The World Didn’t End - A surveillance operation revealed by Edward Snowden quietly came to an end. Did anyone even notice?" Bloomberg @ 

Antony Funnell (29 July 2019) "Western spy agencies being outgunned by 'bad actors', ex-CIA operative James Olson warns". Australian Broadcasting Commission @ 

Nicole Perlroth and Scott Shane (May 25, 2019) "In Baltimore and Beyond, a Stolen N.S.A. Tool Wreaks Havoc". New York Times @ 

Matt Johnson (8 February 2019) "SIM swapping: How the mobile security feature can lead to a hacked bank account" The New Daily @ 

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai (April 25 2019) "Hacker Finds He Can Remotely Kill Car Engines After Breaking Into GPS Tracking Apps - “I can absolutely make a big traffic problem all over the world,” the hacker said". @

Andrew Higgins (December 9, 2016) "Foes of Russia Say Child Pornography Is Planted to Ruin Them" New York Times @ 

Helen Pitt (15 September 2017) "Australian Tax Office fake calls: The scam that keeps on giving" Brisbane Times @ 

Erika Rawes (October 6, 2018) "How to find hidden cameras in your Airbnb rental" DigitalTrends @ 

Asia Times (22 January 2019) "France fines Google €50 million as critics decry ‘surveillance capitalism’" Asia Times @ 

Michael Segal (November 1, 2018) "We Need an FDA For Algorithms - UK mathematician Hannah Fry on the promise and danger of an AI world." Nautilus @ 

ABC (3 June 2019) "United States visa applicants now required to hand over social media usernames". Australian Broadcasting Commission @ 

Tim Sandle (July 31 2019) "Capital One Financial Corp. has indicated that personal information, such as names, addresses, phone numbers and credit scores of about 100 million of its customers located in the U.S. plus some six million people in Canada have been obtained by a hacker" Digital Journal @ 

Tim Lewis (18 August 2019) "AI can read your emotions. Should it? - Advertisers, tech giants and border forces are using face tracking software to monitor our moods – whether we like it or not". The Guardian @ 

Nectar Gan & Chow Chung-yan (16 August, 2019) "Blindsided: why does Beijing keep getting Hong Kong wrong?" South China Morning Post @  [Thor, comment: I have included this article because at bottom it is not just about Hong Kong and the PRC. It is about the limits of data gathering in any country. That limit in the end comes down to inability of of politicians, or companies, or bureaucrats, or individuals .. to process, understand and act on information they may not want to hear. The PRC has countless "researchers" and agents in Hong Kong continuously monitoring opinion at every level of society, yet they failed to predict or manage the current crisis. Across the globe, the CIA and many agencies do similar monitoring on behalf of the United States government, yet over decades that government has made many disastrous, ignorant foreign policy decisions again and again. We can't claim the actors in Canberra are much smarter. Leaders, like everyone else, hear what they want to hear regardless of evidence. ]

The Economist (August 15th 2019) "As face-recognition technology spreads, so do ideas for subverting it - They work because machine vision and human vision are different". The Economist @ 

Stephanie Hare (18 August 2019) "Facial recognition is now rampant. The implications for our freedom are chilling". The Guardian @

Garfield Benjamin (21 August 2019) "Silicon Valley wants to read your mind. It has missed the part of sci-fi that acts as a warning for the implications of technology." Asia Times @ 

John Naughton (24 August 2019) "Douglas Adams was right – knowledge without understanding is meaningless". The Guardian @  [Thor, comment: On the surface this article has nothing to do with the privacy topic. It is about Man Vs Machine in figuring out a scientific problem. Yet both the scientific problem, where computers arrive at an answer that humans don't understand, and the privacy problem, where officials obtain masses of data that they don't understand, pose rather similar ethical and practical dilemmas.]

Dave Lee (30 August 2019) "Google finds 'indiscriminate iPhone attack lasting years'". BBC @  [Quote: “Simply visiting the hacked site was enough for the exploit server to attack your device, and if it was successful, install a monitoring implant... Once on a person’s iPhone, the implant could access an enormous amount of data, including (though not limited to) contacts, images and GPS location data. It would relay this information back to an external server every 60 seconds ... The implant also was able to scoop up data from apps a person was using, such as Instagram, WhatsApp and Telegram"]

Kari Paul (30 August 2019) "Amazon's doorbell camera Ring is working with police – and controlling what they say. Amazon Ring shapes communications of police agencies it works with. Critics fear it’s building up a for-profit private surveillance network." The Guardian @  


Thor's own websites:

1. articles at ;

2. legacy site: .


Is Privacy Worth Having? (c) Thor May 2019 return to Ddiscussion