I wouldn’t trust Google with my personal info
When I read in the pages of this newspaper this month that the Conservative Party was planning to transfer people’s health data to Google, my heart sank. The policy described was so naive I could only hope that it was an unapproved kite-flying exercise by a young researcher in Conservative HQ. If not, what was proposed was both dangerous in its own right, and hazardous to the public acceptability of necessary reforms to the state’s handling of our private information.
There are powerful arguments for people owning their own information and having rights to control it. There are massive weaknesses in the NHS’s bloated central database and there are benefits from using the private sector. But there are also enormous risks, so we are still a long step from being able to give personal data to any company, let alone Google.
Google is the last company I would trust with data belonging to me. In the words of human rights watchdog Privacy International, Google has “a history of ignoring privacy concerns. Every corporate announcement has some new practice involving surveillance”. It gave Google the lowest possible assessment rating: “hostile to privacy”. It was the only company of the 20 assessed to get this rating. It also said Google was leading a “race to the bottom” among internet firms, many of which did little to protect their users.
This highlights how careful we must be in using private companies to handle personal data. Actual and potential misuse of such data will be a recurrent public concern of the next several decades. This is because of the huge commercial value of a near-monopoly internet presence, combined with legally unfettered use of personal data. This is what gives Google a market capitalisation of $130 billion (£79 billion). It represents the value of exploiting its customers’ private data for commercial ends.
There is little the state can do about this. It cannot cut back Google’s monopoly, because it arises properly from the fact that Google provides a service people want. The state should impose some limits on how personal data is managed, anonymised and used, but that is a slow, technically difficult and international process. We should not disapprove of the profitability of Google, but we should recognise that the size of its profits have a dramatic effect on corporate behaviour.
It was the prospect of huge profits that pushed Google into its amoral deal with China and drove its high- handed approach to the intrusion on people’s privacy with Streetview. (…)
(via Paul Gilroy)
Britain’s dirty little secret as a dumper of toxic waste
Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, ordered an investigation into two British companies linked to 90 shipping containers containing 1,400 tonnes of waste. They included syringes, condoms and nappies. The companies that received the waste — sent from Felixstowe to three Brazilian ports — said that they had been expecting recyclable plastic.
In a separate case, the Ministry of Defence was unable to explain how one of its computers was found by The Times on a notorious dump on the outskirts of Accra, Ghana. Children as young as 5 extract scrap metal from electrical items there and are exposed to potentially lethal chemicals.
Inspectors from Brazil’s environment agency, Ibama, found hospital waste in several containers, reportedly including bags of blood. Another container was full of dirty toys with a note in Portuguese saying they should be washed before being given to “poor Brazilian children”.
Ingrid Oberg, an Ibama official, who opened containers found in the port of Santos on national television news, said: “Whoever put this rubbish into the containers in the UK knew what they were doing and knew where they were going, so it is a criminal act. England needs to assume responsibility.”
(Hat tip: Paul Gilroy)
Sanaa’s summer pavilion brings sunshine to the Serpentine
Made of enormous sheets of aluminium polished to a mirror finish, and supported by slender stainless steel columns, the structure makes the raindrops look quite beautiful: the ceiling reflects them as they fall, so they seem to go up to the heavens, as well as down to earth. All we need is some trippy music and the pavilion, designed by the Japanese architectural collaborative Sanaa, will be complete.
This is clearly a good way to experience the structure, which was unveiled yesterday. As Ryue Nishizawa, one of Sanaa’s two founding partners, says: “The pavilion is designed to amplify the way things look.” But, as well as playing visual tricks, the swooping roofs, rising up from the ground to the canopies of trees and back down again, also amplify incidental sound: birdsong, the clip-clopping of horses, the thrum of passing traffic.
* SANAA : kazuyo sejima + ryue nishizawa
Zaha Hadid’s Billowing, Temporary Music Hall
As the culmination of this year’s Manchester International Festival, the organizers decided to put on a program of solo works by Bach. The only problem was that they didn’t have a suitable chamber-music hall. So they approached Zaha Hadid to design a temporary one, and she obliged, with a ribbon of fabric that swirls around inside the Manchester Art Gallery.
The translucent fabric is supported by a steel frame, which itself is suspended from the ceiling. The form, according to Hadid’s press release, is meant to respond to Bach’s intricate harmonies, and it does so by looping around the performer and audience. Not that the design was pure whimsy: The scale and shape were tweaked for acoustic considerations, which are paramount in what would otherwise be an echoing white box of a space. In particular, acrylic panels, designed to give the room the perfect amount of resonance, were hidden within the ribbon, and around the stage.
The installation is up for the duration of the festival, which ends on July 18.
10 Latin quotes for the underground
Mary Beard in TLS:
Last week it was reported that the drivers on the Piccadilly line would be adding some well chosen quotes to their announcements on the underground: “Hell is other people”, “Beauty will save the world” and other appropriate thoughts for a commuting journey.
Surely, with Boris as Mayor, there ought to be some real Latin among the anglophone platitudes. Indeed, a surprising number of the best known Latin quotes turn out to be surprisingly appropriate for the journey to work. In no particular order:
1. “perfer et obdura! dolor hic tibi proderit olim” — or “Be patient and put up with it; one day this pain will pay dividends”. That’s Ovid (Amores III, XIa) reflecting on the insults of his mistress — but fits well enough for the rush hour commute.
2 “quousque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra” — or “How long Catiline will you abuse our patience?”. The famous first line of Cicero’s first speech against Catiline, attacking the would-be revolutionary (or innocent stooge), Catiline. But you can substitute any adversary for Catiline.. ‘quousque tandem abutere, Boris, patientia nostra?”
3. “arma virumque cano” — or “Arms and the man I sing”. The most famous line in the whole of Latin poetry, the first line of the first book of Virgil’s Aeneid. Though Virgil didn’t exactly mean the arms of the man digging into your side, as you’re stuck in the tunnel between Covent Garden and Leicester Square.
Augmented Reality App Points to London Tube Stops
Though much of the work being done in augmented reality has thus far been of the gimmicky, flashing, ad-centric sort—more proof of concept than truly functional—the clever iPhone developers at acrossair are putting it to fantastic use with their new app, Nearest Tube. Taking advantage of the iPhone 3GS’ integrated compass, Nearest Tube merges GPS, compass, and video camera data to create a real-time overlay of the position and proximity of, as the name implies, the nearest tube stations.
UCL, Bartlett School of Architecture, Summer Show Bartfest 2009
Film by Alex Sutton and Emma Swarbrick and others. An insight into the ‘adventures’ of a first year architectural student, the process of ‘playful’ exploration at its best.