March 30, 2012

Lit crit or spooky surveillance?

Filed under: Business,Futures,Technology — by xrematon @ 9:38 pm
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Ever written the word ‘confused’, ‘secretive’ or ‘angry’ in a work email? Watch out – as someone might think you are on the cusp of plotting some dastardly scheme according to a recent article in the Economist.

The article describes how certain companies, in particular those at risk of employee fraud, are using specialist software to analyse the email communication of their staff and check for any suspicious activity. Apparently, using some of the above words would suggest an employee who is unhappy and worth keeping an eye on. Other give-aways include ‘call my mobile’ or ‘come by my office’ as they imply a desire to talk without being overheard; likewise be wary of words that suggest a personal relationship between an employee and an outsider (to potentially tip off) such as ‘beer’, ‘Facebook’ or ‘evening’.

All this surveillance sounds rather disturbing, and such concerns are picked up in the reader comments. The one I have included below also makes the point that governments as much as corporates are doing this kind of thing in America.

Why no mention of the core market for surveillance that has undoubtedly funded all this technology? Are corporate surveillance techniques not dwarfed by the American government’s own capabilities to mine all emails and phone calls along with a much deeper trove of personal, financial, and medical data? If our civil rights can be abrogated with impunity, a dictator can define his own “crooks,” much like a corporate titan can, to include any threat to his rule. The opinions of lawyers are malleable, as shown by Obama’s promise-breaking continuation of Bush and Cheney’s flouting of the constitution.

However, what intrigued me most in the article was the fact that the software must learn to adapt to the particular style of communication within a given sector.

For example, when software gurus at E&Y looked at e-mails among financial traders, their first impression was that “these guys’ hair is on fire,” recalls Vincent Walden, a fraudbuster at the firm. The e-mails were packed solid with swear-words. But this is how traders normally talk. It is when they go quiet that the software must prick up its electronic ears.

Imagine applying this software for another purpose – to evaluate the different literary styles across organisations and industries. The above suggests prose from financial traders would need to be x-rated; I wonder what would come up if we looked at doctors – perhaps not much better – or teachers – or saintly and demure librarians?!

March 13, 2012

On the wrong side of the digital divide

Filed under: Business,Technology — by xrematon @ 10:40 pm
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Does it sound silly for me to say that I feel digitally excluded? Obviously, it does in some senses given that I have typed this blog post. So what do I mean?

Well, I am thinking about the times when my ‘digital activity’ has been compromised as I don’t have a printer and it is assumed that being online also means having a printer. No point in getting some handy vouchers – I can’t print them off. Or ticket bookings.

The time I got very cross was opening a new bank account with Santander. It was – admittedly – an eSaver account – but why should that mean I need a printer too? There was one particular form necessary to activate the account, which I was emailed through with the assumption that I could print out a hard copy, fill in and then post off. I went to the effort of ringing to see if I could get the form sent to me in the post, but the person I spoke to was adamant this was not an option. Grrrr…

As a counterpoint to this frustrating experience, let me describe a more positive interaction with Amazon. I wanted to return an item and followed the instructions on the site. I reached the stage when there was a form to print out – my heart sank – and then rose again when I read on. You could just send back the sales slip that came with the pack. Hooray – I could function!

Perhaps I am being rather silly and making a mountain out of a molehill but I really don’t want to be forced into getting a printer. They are ugly dark boxes (there is no beautifully-designed Apple-equivalent of a printer despite the claims of this article); producing extra paper doesn’t make sense in a world when we are trying to streamline the amount of stuff we use up; and given this, why can’t I use just a code or an email sent through on a smart phone instead?

But I do have an Achilles heel – I like my photos to be tangible – but that’s what Photobox is for!

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