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PlaceAvoider Puts Life-Logging Privacy/Censorship Issues Front & Center

on Monday, Feb. 10th

Here’s your term of the day: life-logging, which means using a piece of technology to log your activities. You may already be familiar with this thanks to apps like Foursquare, or its automated cousin Moves.

The latter app, which tracks where you’ve been in a technomagical fashion, is where the whole life-logging movement is headed. Couple this with devices like Google Glass (or the Neurocam, can’t forget the Neurocam) and we have the ability to keep a visual log of what we’re doing at any given moment.

The technology advancements have been a boon to journalists and life-streamers like the founder of the newly renamed Twitch Interactive. You may remember him as the Justin of Justin.tv, back when strapping cameras to your head was in its infancy.

All these cameras, however, are making people uncomfortable. Which is where PlaceAvoider comes in.

Nic Fleming of the MIT Technology Review writes about the new software which developers hope can solve some of the privacy concerns individuals and corporations have about the democratization of spycraft.

Computer scientists at Indiana University have developed software that uses computer vision techniques to automatically identify potentially confidential or embarrassing pictures taken with these devices and prevent them from being shared. A prototype of the software, called PlaceAvoider, will be presented at the Network and Distributed System Security Symposium in San Diego in February.

In his Wired blog author/futurist Bruce Sterling notes that while much of the talk about the software centers on the idea of preventing “accidental shares” that scenario is fairly optimistic:

This assumes that the user is in control, of course — though one rather imagines that, in practice, this complicated blacklisting would be managed by somebody else.

Therein lies the rub for this kind of self-censorship technology. If networked life-logging cameras become the norm and the blacklists are held not by the users but by third party entities how many steps would it take to create a “social media blackout” in the next Tahrir Square or Zucotti Park?

Lower-tech solutions will always be available to those who want to document abuses of power, but the revolutionary thing about social media is that it has turned everyone into a potential member of the press. As networked devices supplant their non-networked ancestors, the power to nonchalantly shrink the size of the press is put in the hands of the network owners.

Via Bruce Sterling

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