[Image: Peter Fonda in The Hired Hand, 1971]
Google’s green dot: making Nest cameras more private
Google sent an email to customers of its Nest camera explaining that a software update would prevent them from turning off the status light on their camera. “You would always see a clear visual indicator when your Nest cameras are on and sending video and audio to Google” they said.
It’s a bit uncomfortable not knowing if the house you’re in contains videos, microphones and other sensors that are watching you. So a change that will clearly improve privacy should be a Good Thing, but it has been controversial. Some customers say the light prevents a specific user need (homeowners who fear criminals will take cctv systems unless they’re hidden, parents who want to use them as baby monitors, etc, and there’s now a petition). One obvious reading of this is that the customer’s interests aren’t necessarily the same as those of people who might be in the camera’s field of vision.
The other thing that might be alarming customers is the idea that you buy a product which works a certain way, but the manufacturer later changes how it works with a software update. Once software eats physical products, they’re permanently a bit malleable. People are used to websites and software changing over time, but they aren’t yet used to thinking about physical objects as changeable software services that they’re merely renting access to.
Google’s note says that some cameras will indicate that they’re watching with a green light, others a blue light, and others will use a blinky light. Maybe a new language would help. If sensors and devices that collected data and sent it to some other place were required to indicate that in a consistent way. You still wouldn’t know whether you could fully trust the “purple light” (for example), nor what happened to the video when it got sent to wherever.
Questions of privacy and data are never about one camera, or one company or even one individual. They’re usually about multiple devices, services, companies and people with differing roles and interests. Not easy questions.
Facebook privacy cafe
Facebook is opening a pop-up coffee shop in London to give people “privacy check ups”. You would guess that this will be about being careful which third parties you share your data with when you’re on Facebook. But it might not cover how to perma-delete your FB account or send them a GDPR subject access request.
(Previously: students pay for coffee with personal data.)
Yotta walks down the street through an invisible bath of data, network pings and sensor attention that her device describes as an audible crackling in the background like a radiation counter. Her earring buzzes when she turns to face the shop - there’s a brief pause as DuckDuckSocial provides a disposable proxy identity. She won’t get the loyalty points but she has principles. She steps over the threshold of the Whatstagram coffee shop and into quote a safe social space. The crackling thins out - inside the shop Whatstagram blocks some traffic to other platforms.
At the table with friends, their devices all flash purple LEDs • to indicate personal data being gathered by the network. She know her devices will try resist the sensors, offering deepfaked data. But you never know if it works.
“If this shop worked like Whatstagram actually does, they’d give you this free coffee and a cookie, and then very closely watch how you behaved, who you spoke to, taking lots of notes, follow you to the bathroom, and continue when you walked off down the street.”
“Yeah yeah Yotta, but the coffee is good.”
Livestreamed funerals: “nearly 20 percent of US funeral homes now offer the service—a big number in an industry resistant to change—in response to demand from clients. Tech-savvy entrepreneurs offer livestreaming as a service to hesitant funeral directors”
At last, you think, a genuine use for an internet fridge! Infuriated by her daughter’s obsession with social media, a mother confiscates her internet devices, resulting in the teen tweeting from gaming boxes and eventually from a smart fridge. Funny story. Though maybe it was a Twitter joke, or just a guerrilla marketing campaign (the fridge manufacturer claims not). Whether it is true or not, you can expect to see people emergency-tweeting from their fridges in a movie plot in 2021.
Two more marketing stories for a world in which true and fake are smooshing into each other: a depressing article on how to piggyback your marketing onto news stories. A vision for “synthetic media” - computer-generated content.
(Elsewhere in marketing, Facebook will be rebranding Instagram and WhatsApp as “by Facebook”, though these days you wonder if rebranding FB “Newsfeed by Whatstagram” could have been worked.)
Tracking the tracking
The last newsletter was looking for a user-friendly tool that you could give a web address to and get back a list of third party tracking things running on that site. A beloved reader writes: “PrivacyBadger will almost do what you want with trackers: it’s a browser extension built by the EFF that will show (and block) trackers when you visit a page”.
Co-op Digital news
Service mapping to make friends and influence stakeholders.
Most opened newsletter in the last month: small baskets at Amazon Go stores. Most clicked story: what’s on the Alan Turing banknote?
- Delivery community of practice - Mon 19 Aug 1.30pm at Fed House.
- What has the web team been up to? Playback - Tue 20 Aug 1pm at Fed House 5th floor.
- Health team show & tell - Tue 20 Aug 2.30pm at Fed house 5th floor.
- UX future vision wrap up show & tell - Wed 21 Aug 11am at Fed house 5th floor.
- Engineering community of practice - Wed 21 Aug 1.30pm at Fed House Defiant.
- CRM and data ecosystem show & tell - Wed 21 Aug 3pm at Angel Square 13th floor breakout area.
- Membership show & tell - Fri 23 Aug 3pm at Fed House 6th floor kitchen.
More events at Federation House - and you can contact the events team at firstname.lastname@example.org. And TechNW has a useful calendar of events happening in the North West.
Thank you for reading
Thank you, clever and considerate readers and contributors. Please continue to send ideas, questions, corrections, improvements, etc to the newsletterbot’s typing squirrel @rod on Twitter. If you have enjoyed reading, please tell a friend!
If you want to find out more about Co-op Digital, follow us @CoopDigital on Twitter and read the Co-op Digital Blog. Previous newsletters.