Category Archives: spark

The Virtual Self: a chat with Nora Young part 2

Today we continue our chat with CBC Spark host Nora Young about her book The Virtual Self: How Our Digital Lives Are Altering the World Around Us. If you missed part one yesterday, go ahead and check that out. Otherwise, read on:

In your book, you also touch on copyright issues. Content owners are cracking down on privacy yet individuals have to accept terms of service agreements without any input. Is there an imbalance forming between corporate and individual rights?

In terms of service agreements in particular, I spoke to Ian Kerr at the University of Ottawa about some of the issues that come out of this and it’s mostly his observation that we have this standard form contract where you click “I agree.” Obviously it’s not practical for you to negotiate your own separate contract between you and Facebook, there’s a reason for why we have these things, and yet when we’re dealing with our data, this is really quite new.

If we had been born digital and none of those external things like terms of service agreements were in existence, we probably wouldn’t be thinking about negotiating those relationships in the way that we currently do. Again, one of the things that people who know a lot more about this stuff than I do (lawyers and so forth) are thinking about whether we need something like a data bill of rights or whether we need to think in terms of ownership of data and be more rigorous in the governance of who can do what with it.

Obviously in Canada we’re lucky enough to have organizations such as the Office of the Privacy Commissioner who are writing those questions. It seems pretty clear that if we’re going into a situation where theoretically it’s starting to look like our lives are being captured, do we really want to be relying just on these individual terms of service agreements or maybe what we want to say is that we’re the people who have the data, the data belongs to us and we decide when we want to lend it out and make it available to other third parties.

I consider it a completely fair exchange to be on Facebook for free and the quid pro quo is that they get to use my preferences and so on to sell me advertising. That might be a completely legitimate decision for me to make. But right now, what seems to be happening is that we have all of this personal data that we’re creating that’s kind of separated into all these different companies with which we have a relationship, which are governed by these terms of service agreements that are difficult to understand. They don’t really give us the power to control our data or bring it all together in one place. As we start thinking about whether this information has value, maybe we need to recalibrate that relationship. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on June 7, 2012 in blogging, books, cbc, copyright, Facebook, privacy, spark


The Virtual Self: a chat with Nora Young

Have you ever wondered why people share so much information about themselves on things like Facebook and Twitter? Have you ever thought about how all of that data might be used in the bigger picture? Have you ever wondered whether all of that stuff might actually be worth more than just free access to a site that lets you share photos?

Nora Young, host of the CBC radio program Spark (which I sometimes contribute to), tackles all of these topics and more in her new book The Virtual Self: How Our Digital Lives Are Altering the World Around Us. It’s a great read that provides a good deal of food for thought in regards to why we engage in all this self-tracking, and what it all might mean as it develops further.

I had a long chat last week with Nora about her book and thought I’d present that conversation here in two parts. Here’s part one, with part two coming tomorrow:

What’s your back-of-the-book pitch? What’s it all about?

It’s really about the accumulation of what I’m calling the statistical minutiae of every-day life. I’m not talking about oversharing on Facebook, I’m talking about the way we’re starting to pump out enormous amounts of data about where we’re going, what we’re doing, how we’re reacting to the world around us, the pictures that we’re taking of all the stuff that we do in our daily life. That’s everything from wearing a Nike Plus when you do your runs to checking in on Foursquare to registering a status update on Facebook or Twitter or posting innumerable photos from your cellphone camera.

So it’s thinking about both why it is we’re doing this thing that’s sort of odd on a personal level, but also looking at, on a collective level, how this information can be used for beneficial ends and also what the red flags are as we go forward. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on June 6, 2012 in books, cbc, Facebook, interview, spark


Geeks, Googlers and Panthers

It’s shaping up to be a crazy week with a bunch of stuff on the go. But before I get to all that, check out this weekend’s episode of CBC Radio’s Spark. Host Nora Young (who wrote an awesome blurb for the back of my book) and I talk about Sex, Bombs and Burgers. It’s a neat interview as the producers spliced in some old radio archive audio about microwave cooking from the fifties. Very retro! (The interview starts around the 38:20 mark - you can also download the podcast from iTunes here).

If you’re wondering who the handsome young lad is in the photo at left, that’s my nephew Nick picking up a copy of my book at Chapters. There’s nothing obscene or vulgar in the book, but it’s probably best his parents don’t let him read it just yet. It might be a little too difficult to explain the Real Touch to a 10-year-old.

Aside from doing a number of media interviews this week, I’m also taking part in a few speaking engagements. On Wednesday, I’ll be at the Ontario Science Centre for GeekFest, where I’ll be on a panel talking about the future of the media. We’ll be trying to answer the question: is print dead? (Short answer: no.) Fellow panelists include Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente and Mike Dover, pop culture critic and co-author of Wikibrands: How to Build a Brand in a Customer-Controlled Marketplace. GeekFest is also holding a nifty Dragon’s Den-style contest where inventors will present their concoctions to a panel of judges.

On Thursday, I’m heading to Waterloo to talk Sex, Bombs and Burgers at Google’s offices. The search company runs a regular program called [email protected], where book writers come in and give presentations on their work to staffers. Past participants have included Salman Rushdie and Barack Obama, so it’s a very significant honour to be able to take part. Google posts the talks on YouTube, and I’ll be sure to embed that here once it’s done.

And to cap off the week in grand fashion, I’m heading out to the Steel Panther concert on Thursday night! I’m teed up to interview them for the CBC’s Arts section - apparently they never break character, which should be a hoot. I’ll try to get some video of that interview up as well. Can’t wait to feel the steel!

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Posted by on March 8, 2010 in books, cbc, Google, spark


Talking net neutrality on CBC’s Spark

Last week was a big week for net neutrality, with rulings coming down in both Canada and the United States. I’ve blogged about net neutrality and its importance before. If you still don’t know know what it is, in a nutshell it’s about keeping the internet free from interference by the companies who own the pipes it runs on. That said, I’m on CBC Radio’s Spark program talking about it this week - I’m on around the 32:10 mark, just after Tim Berners-Lee, the fellow who invented the web, and his definition of net neutrality. (The program also has a cool bit about geoblocking and why we Canadians can’t access websites like Hulu - check it out).

I got asked a few times last week what I thought about the different developments in Canada and the U.S. Basically, what happened is that Canada’s regulator, the CRTC, issued a new set of rules that internet service providers have to follow. ISPs must first use “economic measures” to try and control congestion - in other words, they have to build more capacity into their networks or charge customers by how much they download. If those moves don’t alleviate congestion, they can try “technical measures” such as traffic shaping and throttling. In any event, they have to be transparent in what they’re doing and tell customers about it.

A day after the Canadian ruling, the CRTC’s U.S. counterpart, the FCC, approved a process that will ultimately establish similar rules, probably by next summer. The FCC has proposed a bunch of rules and there will now be several months of lobbying from both ISPs and net neutrality advocates before there is a final framework.

So what do I think? Well, the FCC’s proposed rules are considerably stronger than the CRTC’s official rules - they prohibit ISPs from blocking any sort of legal traffic or content. The CRTC rules do too, sort of, but ISPs do get the “technical measures” out - if they can prove a particular application is harming their network, they can effectively cripple it.

Moreover, the intent behind the FCC’s proposed rules is also much stronger - Barack Obama vowed to protect net neutrality during his election campaign, and he’s got ties to big supporting companies like Google. In Canada, our government continues to be mum on the subject.

(On a related note - there is some disturbing news coming from my old colleague Jesse Brown, who hosts the Search Engine podcast for TVO. Last week, Jesse tweeted some highlights from an interview he did with CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein, who admitted he hasn’t seen any studies that have criticized Canada’s broadband situation. That’s pretty shocking. Jesse tells me his podcast will be up on Monday - I’ll post a link to it here as soon as I see it.)

It’ll be interesting to see whether this apparently strong political will for concrete rules in the U.S. will get watered down by lobbying over the next couple of months. Heck, even acknowledged computer illiterate John McCain has joined in on attacking the FCC’s proposed rules.

Meanwhile, here in Canada we’re going to go with that old cliche - only time will tell.

UPDATE: Here’s the link to Jesse’s interview with the CRTC chairman. Some great questions in there.

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Posted by on October 26, 2009 in cbc, internet, net neutrality, spark, u.s.


The problem with porn and net neutrality

I’m on this week’s episode of CBC Radio’s Spark, talking about net neutrality. If you want to have a listen, that stuff starts at about the 49:27 mark. We’re discussing the events of the past week down in the United States, where the regulating body - the Federal Communications Commission - announced it will enshrine net neutrality principles as law.

The FCC’s move comes at a time when our own telecommunications regulator, the CRTC, is mulling whether it should recommend new rules here in Canada. The CRTC held hearings this past summer, attracting an unprecedented level of interest from the public. With the United States moving towards adopting new rules that will prohibit internet service providers (including cellphone carriers) from unfairly interfering with their customers’ traffic, the pressure is on the CRTC - the regulator is supposed to announce its opinions some time this fall. Some have argued that our telecom laws are already strong enough - others have suggested that Telus’s blocking of access to a union website a few years ago and the ongoing situation with Bell throttling peer-to-peer file sharing are just two examples that our laws are too lax.

Ultimately, the power and decisions rest with the government, and it’s here that Canada and the United States couldn’t be further apart. President Obama immediately voiced support for the FCC’s plan, but in Canada, the Conservative government is the only party that has not voiced explicit support for net neutrality. The best we have is this statement in the House of Commons last year from former Minister of Industry Jim Prentice:

I bring up net neutrality here not only because of my personal interest in the issue, but also because it has significant implications on pornography. Invariably, the first sort of content that internet providers and governments alike target for blocking is porn. I’ve written on numerous examples of this, from China to the United Kingdom to India to Australia.

Personally, I take a pretty hard line on this - if the material, regardless of what it is, is legal within a country, adults should not be blocked from accessing it online in any way, shape or form. In other words, if you can buy a Vivid DVD down at the local sex shop, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to get it online too.

Porn producers feel the same way, so they’re generally big supporters of net neutrality.

There is one big problem, though: it’s ridiculously easy for anyone - children included - to get access to porn online. If you go to any number of porn sites, you’re simply asked to verify that you’re over 18. Click a button and you’re in. In the case of the plethora of YouTube porn clones out there, you’ve got instant access to a veritable cornucopia of porn video, all for free.

I’ve yet to hear a decent explanation as to how this has been allowed to happen. I remember in the early days of the web, there were a number of adult verification services out there and you generally couldn’t get easy access to such sites without a credit card. Somehow over the years, that’s gone out the window and now it’s like the wild west. I imagine that competition and piracy pushed producers to offer more and more of their stuff up for free, without age verification, and nobody stepped up to police them. As many countries have found, it’s just easier to block them all outright.

If net neutrality is to apply to porn companies, to where ISPs in developed countries such as the U.K. and Australia don’t try to block access, they’re going to need to come up with a solution to this problem. Otherwise, they’re going to continue to get targeted no matter what kind of neutrality rules are in place.

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Posted by on September 28, 2009 in cbc, internet, net neutrality, sex, spark


Talking porn on CBC radio

If you’re in need of a porn-on-the-radio fix, you’re in luck. I’m on CBC Radio’s Spark show this week talking about the industry’s influence on technology, which is of course one of the major themes of my book. Host Nora Young and I talk about porn’s influence on everything from the Polaroid camera to internet payment systems to 3D movies. My segment starts at the 2:56 mark and goes for about eight minutes. It’s been remarked that it was a refreshing interview in that we were earnest about it rather than salacious, which is how the mainstream media usually addresses porn. Check it out - it’s a nice preview of what I’m covering in the book.

And since we’re on the topic - the great news is that not only has Spark been renewed for next season, it’s also going to one hour from its current 30 minutes as of September. It’s also being moved to Sunday afternoons at 1 p.m., right after Stuart McLean’s popular Vinyl Cafe, which should hopefully result in an audience bump for Spark. All of this seems to indicate that CBC management holds Spark in high regard, which it should because it’s a great show (and not just because they occasionally have me on).

Part of the beefing up is also probably because of the axing of Search Engine, which went from being on the radio to being just a podcast to not being at all. Luckily, Search Engine and host Jesse Brown have ended up on TVO where they’ll probably get treated well. I’m a fan of both the show and Jesse, who likes to deal with the same big-picture technology issues I try to report on, so hopefully they’ll do well at their new home.

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Posted by on May 21, 2009 in cbc, interview, sex, spark


Talking net neutrality

For net neutrality aficionados, I’m on CBC Radio’s Spark program today (Wednesday) at 11:30 a.m. talking about the current CRTC proceedings on the subject. Not much to do with the topic of this blog, but Spark host Nora Young does give my book a nice shout-out toward the end of the program, which you can also catch as a podcast. And besides, net neutrality is a hugely important issue - if certain internet service providers get their way, perhaps some day we won’t be able to view blogs with the word “boobs” in their titles.

Wouldn’t you know it, though - I just happen to be on Spark’s episode number 69. (Cue Beavis & Butthead laughter.)

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Posted by on March 11, 2009 in cbc, net neutrality, sex, spark


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