Monday, November 15, 2010

Facebook "privacy," smart cars, and personal drones

Four links on three unrelated topics:

1. Privacy on Facebook (not): 

(a) The New York Times reported on October 22 that the capacity of Facebook to allow marketers to connect with very specific groups of people ("say, golf players in Illinois who make more than $150,000 a year and vacation in Hawaii") can inadvertently allow those marketers to learn sensitive personal information that Facebook claims it keeps confidential.

(b) Francis Harvey (to whom my thanks) sent me a link to a November 4 article about Air Force efforts to warn "Facebook users of a new location-based application that may pose a security risk because it publicises users' locations without their specific consent." As usual, the application is on by default, meaning that Facebook users must adjust their privacy settings manually.

2. Better software in cars. Francis Harvey (thanks again!) also alerted me to an October 15 press release from McMaster University announcing a major initiative to develop advanced software for use in automobiles. Cars already have multiple computer chips running thousands of lines of code, and the possibility of errors or malfunctions to cause trouble - including fatal trouble - is growing. New approaches to developing software are needed to address these challenges.

3. Military software for the masses. A breezy article brought to my attention by Don Searing (again, thanks!) entitled "Celebs beware! New Pandora's box of 'personal' drones that could stalk anyone from Brangelina to your own child" touches on potentially serious developments. Small flying drones (measuring about 3 feet from tip-to-tip of its helicopter-like blades) are being used by U.K. police who pilot the drones using software developed by the U.S. military. If the past is prologue, we can expect ever-cheaper drones over the next few years becoming affordable to corporations, then small businesses, then to merely well-off individuals, who will be able to use them to spy on - anyone. Presumably it will be rare for inexpensive drones outfitted with weapons to be sold to the general public, but the cunning people who brought us the Improvised Explosive Devices that have killed and maimed so many people in Afghanistan and Iraq must be salivating over the possibilities already.

Ken Pimple, PAIT Project Director

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