Frozen Credit

September 22, 2007 at 10:38 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Identity theft is a constant threat of our increasingly digitalized United States economy. On freezing your credit reports from Freedom to Tinker and New law allows Texans to freeze credit reports by The Dallas Morning News’ columnist Pamela Yip both have brought the current changes and issues in credit freezing to public attention. However, each article examines different failings of the credit system.

Freedom to Tinker considers the credit authentication problem.

The proper answer, of course, is to arrange for SSNs to have no more value to an identity thief than your name and address. The unanswered question, then, is what exactly can replace it as an authenticator? One possibility, raised in the thread on car dealers who insist on fingerprints, is to require these sorts of transactions be notarized.

Ms. Yip examines the change in credit reporting.

The change in Texas law is significant because consumers now can head identity thieves off at the pass and deprive them of using a consumer’s credit report for a shopping spree.

However, continues with the sobering conclusion.

The law still isn’t able to keep up with identity thieves, who have become increasingly nimble and sophisticated at what they do.

While the advances have allowed United States residents more control over the use of their credit, the current system fails on several points. While Ms. Yip considers the current options available to U.S. residents, she overlooks the questioning the workings of the current system. On one hand this is because she writes about personal finance rather than the larger identity issues that Freedom to Tinker concerns. However, without questioning the system, her concerns for fixing the system and preventing identity theft are unlikely to be resolved, which is Freedom to Tinker’s point.

Particularly interesting in the comments of Freedom to Tinker’s post are the descriptions provided describing Switzerland’s credit reporting, essentially a state run as apposed to private corporations. Which begs the question of whether we should be trusting private corporations, with uneven interests in security individuals from identity theft. Ms. Yip notes duly that

Companies must do a better job of guarding sensitive financial information. There have been too many cases where customers’ Social Security numbers, credit card numbers and other valuable information have been found in the trash intact.


Gaming crowdsourcing

September 20, 2007 at 1:29 am | Posted in Assignments | Leave a comment

Assignment Zero Final provides a postmortem for Assignment Zero. The concept employed a smart mob to to create Pro-Amateur journalist content. If the organizers had looked at what game designers have learned from MMOs, they might have had more success.

The net effect was to put the organizational onus on the volunteers themselves. Baffled by the overarching concept of crowdsourcing, confused by the design of the website and unable to connect directly to a manager or organizer, most of the initial volunteers simply drifted away. “What we learned,” says Rosen, “is that you have to be waaaay clearer in what you ask contributors to do. Just because they show up once doesn’t mean they’ll show up over and over. You have to engage them right away.”

However, just letting a group of people loose on a website failed to create a community. Communities need means to establish themselves. Even beyond engaging the contributors, those involved needed to establish norms.

The effect of this reorganization was felt immediately, as contributors could now collaborate openly with each other and review one another’s reporting. This certainly reinforced one of the lessons that was learned from reporting on various crowdsourcing projects: Essentially, it’s all about the community.

Like games, you need a core of people invested and willing to induct newcomers. But without some means to organize, a core group will never form. As gamers and game designers know, without this core of people able to help out newbies, newcomers can quickly become lost and confused. Essentially what the organizers witnessed during the first half of the experiment.

But like everything else, you have to fail a few times and learn the hard lessons before you can be successful.

Undefended torrents

September 17, 2007 at 5:00 pm | Posted in Assignments, Copyright, Thoughts | Leave a comment

Torrent Freak caused a stir when they announced that a group called Media Defender-Defenders had released pilfered emails from Media Defender.

Unfortunately for Media Defender – a company dedicated to mitigating the effects of internet leaks – they can do nothing about being the subject of the biggest BitTorrent leak of all time. Over 700mb of their own internal emails, dating back over 6 months have been leaked to the internet in what will be a devastating blow to the company.

Irony, not withstanding, bittorrent users engage in the very tit-for-tat that makes collaborative efforts worthwhile. In this case, bittorrent users identified a cheater that engaged tactics to impede exchanges (albeit illegal exchanges) and reacted by outting the cheater.

Particularly interesting in the comments are the extracted lists of IP addresses. Once these are available, everyone will effectively killfile anyone connecting from those addresses.

The bittorrent community, acting as a smart mob attacked the reputation of Media Defender.

However, one must consider how the information was acquired and the total content. Others have mentioned that SSN were amongst the data acquired and wondered whether they will become pariahs. Also interesting is how someone knew to attack the GMail account which held the files in the first place.

It’s a bird, it’s a beat, it’s not DRM!

September 11, 2007 at 1:36 am | Posted in Assignments, Copyright, Thoughts | Leave a comment

Recently, Truth Happens released a video fable as part of an anti-DRM campaign.

Requiem for DRM

(Audio Required. This video makes little sense without audio.)

This video tells the tale of the life of a beat to a bird song to its capture and then its final, inevitable release. While the video may or may not appeal to everyone, anyone can take the pieces and make something new. The authors have freely provided the assets used to create the video in the spirit of community driven art. Implicit with this offer is the hope that someone else will expound on their ideas. The interest thus far has been underwhelming.

A little over a year ago, Stephen Colbert posed a similar challenge to his viewers. He provided half a minute of cable TV footage. The results were amazing. Results ranged from simple Star Wars light saber antics to meshed video to an iPod advertisement. The stakes were high, the stage was set, millions vied for hits with the chance for notoriety and a change to make it big.

Both these efforts entice media consumers to become producers. But, for reasons of celebrity, humor and the like, one has received more attention than the other. Yet, this attitude ultimately runs afoul of entrenched media copyright interests.

For example, this post from when the show originally aired no longer leads to the challenge’s footage. A Viacom campaign removed it. Instead, YouTube provides the following message “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Viacom International Inc.” Viacom via ComedyCentral provides the only remaining source of the video, locked inside a flash website. They are under no obligation to keep providing it. They are under no obligation to not also remove the derivative works.

In contrast, Truth Happens has provided the content under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License. Everyone may freely share the video, all of the source files, and any derivative works so long as they abide these licensing terms.

While the Truth Happens video and materials on their own provide an abstract and slightly confusing message, when compared with Viacom’s treatment of Colbert’s challenge, the strength of their position shines.

Burning websites

September 4, 2007 at 2:33 am | Posted in Assignments, Thoughts | Leave a comment

Aside from such scenes as Book Burning 2007, there are more effective ways of burning books and ideas online. Amongst ways of debilitating a website, delivering a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) ranks closest to burning a book.

DDoS Attacks Target Prominent Blogs describes an attack during the Muhammad cartoon scandal of 2006.

An earlier series of attacks targeted the blog of Michelle Malkin, who led a movement among bloggers to mirror the controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad that initially appeared in a Danish magazine. The attacks began Feb. 15, and escalated on Feb. 23, when an attack from a botnet in Turkey forced Malkin to post on the Pajamas Media weblog until her main site was available again.

Like burning a book, the DDoS sends a message. However, unlike an old fashioned book burning, the message is more than symbolic. The DDoS prevents visitors from reading the victim, from hearing the offendable ideas.

The attack overwhelms the victim’s servers with a deluge of innocent seeming requests. Lesser servers grind to a halt, unable to respond. The victim can no longer tell the real visitors from those interested in squelching the message and is silenced. The network traffic connecting to the victim’s computer network makes LED indicator lights blaze with fire.

Those who would burn books, have found ways to burn and persecute victims on the Internet.

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