Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"Cheaters Find an Adversary in Technology"

This article, published in the New York Times on December 27, 2010, describes Caveon Test Security, a company that finds cheating in standardized tests by using "data forensics." The description of the tug-of-war between test designers/givers and test takers (especially would-be cheats) is intriguing on its own, but what does this have to do with pervasive information technology? Consider a case of state-wide testing:
With more than 100,000 students tested, proctors could not watch everyone - not when some teenagers can text with their phones in their pockets.
One of Caveon's clients is the Law School Admission Council. One of the challenges for the LSAT is that students who have recently completed the exam discuss the test online. Caveon "patrols the Internet for leaked questions." (The article doesn't say what it does with what it finds.)

Two pervasive technologies - texting and the World Wide Web - are cited as tools for cheating. Another technology (or bundle of technologies) is used to detect and prevent cheating. Is this an arms race, or will an equilibrium be achieved? You tell me.

Ken Pimple, PAIT Project Director

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"Microsoft Introduces Tracking Protection to Its Browser"

An article published in the New York Times on December 7, 2010, reports that Microsoft has announced that the next version of Internet Explorer ("available next year") will include a feature "that would permit users to stop certain Web sites from tracking them."

The announcement comes shortly after the Federal Trade Commission advocated such features (see my earlier posts "Stage Set for Showdown on Online Privacy" and Update: FTC and online privacy).

Since I made at least one snarky remark about Microsoft on this blog ("New Web Code Draws Concern Over Privacy Risks"), feel obliged to praise Microsoft for this decision, which I assume has been in the works for some time.

My favorite sentence in the above-mentioned Times article: "Microsoft’s announcement comes at a time when some in the online advertising community fear that a government-mandated do-not-track system could have severe ramifications for their business models."

It's no surprise that online advertisers would be worried about this development, but their business model is not as important as the civil right to privacy.

Ken Pimple, PAIT Project Director

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Update: FTC and online privacy

An earlier post on this blog concerns a potential clash between the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Commerce Department on regulating online privacy. At the time, the New York Times reported that the FTC was "exploring" a "do not track" policy, similar to the "do not call" lists that are now popular across the United States, allowing many of us to enjoy dinner without interruption from telemarketers.

The "do not track" policy would allow consumers to opt out of being tracked by Web sites.

Yesterday's New York Times reports that the FTC has "advocated" such a plan. Good for the FTC.

Ken Pimple, PAIT Project Director

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

"Context Awareness is Future of Experience-Driven Design"

Francis Harvey brought this article from Outlook Series to my attention. It describes the keynote address delivered at the Intel Developer Forum on September 16, 2010, delivered by Intel Vice President, Director of Intel Labs, and Intel Chief Technology Officer and Senior Fellow Justin Rattner.

Context awareness covers a wide range of ways that computing devices, including smart phones, can be "aware" of the preferences, needs, and expectations of the device's user. A smart phone "knows" a great deal about its owner/user because it has access to her or his address book, calendar, e-mail, social networking information, pattern of outgoing and ingoing telephone calls, real-time physical location, and more. In the near future, Rattner claims (and demonstrates in a short video) that our smart phones give us directions to the nearest restaurant of the kind we best like and can afford, plus suggest the entree that we'd like best.

The article gives a nod to security and privacy concerns. I've got to say that if I were in charge of U.S. espionage, I'd be working to get these devices into the hands of all sorts of people. Think of the ways access to this kind of information about a person's habits and past behavior would enhance blackmail, intelligence gathering, kidnapping, and assassination.

For the ordinary citizen, the technology might be useful and even attractive. The biggest selling point seems to be that it will save people time - the time it takes to ask the concierge about good restaurants, for example. But my observation has been that the more time I save, the busier I turn out to be; all that free time gets filled up very fast, and not typically with refreshing and rewarding experiences

Besides, I don't want my smart phone to morph into a combination backseat driver and nag.

Ken Pimple, PAIT Project Director