Prenatal Genomics

A genomics researcher, Razib Khan, sequenced his child’s genes prior to birth, a first for the U.S. with a “normal” child.  This is described, with some of the legal and other issues in an article in MIT’s Technology Review. Khan comments on the issue of “who owns a genome” in this article and part of a regular Blog he posts. Just to be clear, this is the 6 billion base pair analysis, not the half billion 23andMe form, so he now has most of the story.  I don’t think full Genome analysis addresses epigenetic information such as methyl groups and histone variations. These can affect gene expression, and also reflect a path for passing information from generation to generation without mutation and as a result of the activities of the parent.  So, yes, it appears your smoking, drinking, etc. can affect your children and grandchildren — actually one of the evident connections is between famine and longevity of grandchildren.

The FDA is currently blocking 23andMe from providing health analysis related to their genomic testing, but for clients, the results are available in raw form, and online sites allow cross checking. Of course in the world of the Internet, most attempts to control information are futile.  A software package Promethease provides analysis via a literature search “for free”.  Of course one might worry about what the creators of that package do with the information besides telling you about the genome you submit (presumably your own).  It seems that the FDA, while trying to protect consumers from “medical advice not provided by a professional”, have pushed the  liability and challenges associated with this from a contractually obligated partner to the open internet.

Looking forward, we can anticipate that genome sequencing will be available to the public, at least in “free” countries, and that analysis will be possible with varying degrees of quality control in such environments.  It would seem the medical, policy, and ethical community might be better served by focusing on articulating the issues and educating the public rather than trying to get the genie back in the bottle (or should I say the Genome back in the bottle.)

“Reality” Covers it Well

"Reality" Summer cover for Technology and  Society, image by Eran FowlerThe cover for the Summer 2014 issue of Technology and Society demonstrates that a picture can be worth at least a thousand words.   So, in effect this is a guest blog entry implicitly from Eran Fowler the creative artist involved. The piece is titled ‘Reality”.

SSIT often touches on the issues associated with virtual reality, the potential isolation from on-line connectivity compared with human connectivity. There is an irony that the editorial for this issue is on Lifelogging — folks who record their every activity, and in some cases post it online in real time. One can envision the “life log” of the individual in the cover image.  It is possible that he/she is living someone else’s life-log.  I also note that there is no evident form of input device — our subject here is a passive receiver.  A letter to the editor in the issue, from Jim Fifth – a prospective game developer and father (accompanied by a larger copy of this image) observes that in the limited life time any individual has what he “would be taking from these people isn’t their money, but their time, their participation in reality, their relationships, hopes and dreams.”

This image, like many in art, is a commentary.  If presented as an editorial, or a technically-researched, peer-reviewed paper, there would be a dialog on the percentage of individuals in this category, or even out-right refutation.  Art can lie.  That is something that propagandists have known for centuries (I know St. George killed the dragon, I saw the picture) Images can have significant social impact which is why governments censor some images and block photography or recording in various situations. If a simple photography or image can have that impact, consider the potential for motion pictures, or virtual reality.  The issue of how video games or movies affect behaviour is a recurrent topic in academic and  public discourse.  So look at this cover again. Is it a painful truth?  A good lie? Both? What action does it suggest? Is Jim Fifth’s observation that we pay good money to toss away hours, days or even years of our life a social concern?  Or does it placate the masses and keep them from questioning authority, deal with unemployment, and tolerate a declining quality of life?  Or is it an individual choice? Is the subject in this image “living for the moment”, immersed in the “now”,   expending the only real currency they have: their time in the way that seems best to them?

Culture vs Technology

Freedom of Speech vs the Right to be Forgotten …. Technology and Society, but whose society?  A recent European Court ruled that Google (also Bing, Yahoo, etc.) might be required to remove links that might be “accurate” but objectionable to the affected individual(s).  It is easy in a world with a dominating culture (U.S.A.) and particularly for technologists working in that culture (Google, et al) to adopt and apply the values of that culture (Free speech) without being aware of alternative cultural norms.

Apparently in Europe, particularly in Germany and France, have some precedents that suggest that prior offences, actions, public knowledge should become unaccessible in the present and future.  This is being considered as part of new E.U. Privacy legislation, and not just a court finding.

It is easy (particularly for those of us in the USA) to hold up the sacred right of free speech (as written in the book of Constitution, verse 1:1) and ignore the concerns, and abuses associated with this.  Some folks on-line are surprised that Facebook (or other) postings of their pictures/activities may result in them being expelled from college, fired, or fail to get a job. This “long tail” left by all of us in the exponentially growing web may contain many issues of concern.  For example, if I mention diabetes in this posting might I lose health insurance? Or if someone with a very similar name is leading a quite different life style, might I suffer some of the consequences?  And of course if I advocate an issue or candidate or religious affiliation could I find that I am persecuted in the media, or worse by police showing up  at my door (consider the recent transitions in Egypt… ops, there I go).

Consider one example, the widespread “sex offender” registration required by many US states.  This has  been a topic of non-academic discussion (Dear Abby) recently but presents an interesting reference. Note that the distinction between an individual found guilty of molesting children many times and a eighteen year old’s indiscretions with a seventeen year old can be indistinguishable in this context.  The public “right to know” would seem to apply in one case, and the chances of recurrence seems unlikely in the other —  yet both may lead to loss of job opportunities, shunning by neighbors, etc.

Facilitating the oppression of religious groups, political dissidents, or even un-informed misuse of the failings of youth seems a good rationale for a “Right to be Forgotten”.  At the same time,  and almost in the same breath, we can hear the need to know a political candidate’s racist remarks, the series of lawsuits brought against a used car dealer (the U.S. stereotype for a shady business),  or perhaps that my fiance has three divorces in the last five years. (This is hypothetical!)  The “Right to be Forgotten” may also be countered with the “Right to Never Be Forgotten”.  The Internet has created a global village — with all of the gossip and “everyone knows” implications of the spotlight of a small town.

This challenge is just beginning.  With face recognition and public web-cams, and many other sources of personal data being captured explicitly or implicitly how we deal with the diversity of cultural norms is non-trivial.

What are the issues you see?

Kicking the Online Habit

The spring issue of Technology and Society (T&S) starts with an editorial addressing Internet Addiction.  Perhaps the most disturbing example is the Sundance premier of Love Child.  This documentary covers the death of a child in South Korea attributed to her parent’s addiction to online gaming. They pled guilty claiming addiction as part of their defense, which is an interesting situation if not a precedent.  In South Korea, drunkenness is a form of addiction that mitigates legal liability, which provides a basis for the couple’s plea approach.  Apparently they also had little or no education on taking care of their premature baby. (One might wonder if a more realistic video game environment, they were raising a virtual child, might have lead to a different outcome.)

This captures the issue in a nutshell.  Video gaming can be an educational tool. But may result in problematic, or apparently, fatal responsibility failures.  The T&S editorial continues to outline other countries and situations that reflect the “Internet Addiction Disorder.”  When you combine gaming, with texting, email, web searches, smart-phone connectedness, and the increasing need to be on-line and/or have  remote access for your job, our screen times are rapidly expanding.  Since 2009 the average screen time for U.S. adults has  doubled.  Of course some of this is folks using their cell phones while watching TV and using their PC, but it is still a significant change in the way we use our time.

How much time is being used by these “brain suckers”? — (Curious that zombies have become a major horror show topic … perhaps there is more to this than we realize.)  To what extent are we losing essential aspects of society such as relationships, mindfulness, personal growth, productivity, etc?

And significantly, what can we do about it?  Your thoughts?  (as you read this online….)

Net Neutrality, Natural Monopolies and the Future of the Internet

A US Appeals Court struck down the FCC’s Net Neutrality requirements in a decision released on January 14th.  One month later, Comcast announced their desire to acquire Time Warner.  The LA Times coverage of this shows key characteristics of the companies involved. At the $ level, their market value, 2013 revenues and 2013 profits are: Comcast: $144 / 65 / 6.7 billion; Time Warner: $37 / 22 / 2 billion. These are not the key numbers.  Consider Comcast’s revenue sources: (in billions) Theme Parks 2.2; Broadcast 7.2, Film 5.5, Cable networks 9.2 and the Cable/Phone/Internet “last mile” 42 billion.

How do these two things relate? The now deprecated FCC requirement was :”Wireline or fixed broadband providers may not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices. Mobile broadband providers may not block lawful websites, or block applications that compete with their voice or video telephony services.  … Fixed broadband providers may not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic.”

Verizon’s objection to this was based (in part) on the bandwidth domination of services like NetFlix (32%) and YouTube (19%)  — Clearly there is a significant usage transformation as new technologies emerge … the web, then video streaming, and business built on these. The future for education (Udacity,, et al), gaming (Mindcraft, World of Warcraft) and future virtual reality environment will push this even further. And one can gain some sympathy for the companies trying to provide the bandwidth to support this.

But, here’s the rub. Reverse the FCC wording (which is what the court allows) and see how it reads: “Wireline or fixed broadband providers may block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices. Mobile broadband providers may block lawful websites, or block applications that compete with their voice or video telephony services.” — now go back and look at the businesses of companies like ComCast and Time Warner —- Movies, TV shows, …. what is called “content”, and now they can block access to competing content.

The rationale for the FCC involvement was the “Common Carrier” clause of the  U.S. Constitution and various Telecommuncations laws that acknowledged that the telephone lines, then Cable TV and finally some aspects of the Internet were “Common Carriers”. Other common carriers include the US Highway system, something more in line with the world view of the 1780’s when the constitution was written.  Associated with this are natural monopolies.  It does not make sense to have a dozen competing highway systems with tolls and blockades to prevent Coke trucks from using one, while allowing Pepsi to use that road.  This same situation exists historically in terms of delivering telephone service to all residences, not just the profitable ones. (Think rural areas where residences can be miles apart, or mountain canyons which limit viable density.)  In addition to providing AT&T (and a few other suppliers) a monopoly for phone service, the FCC prohibited them from providing services where this would be an unfair advantage.

All of this is out the window now, at least for the U.S. Internet.  A supplier can exclude access to web sites based on competition, or their political preferences.  Perhaps they can also be selective at a finer level, blocking some content while allowing other content.  “You really shouldn’t be reading this blog, so we won’t let you read that entry, but the next one is ok“.There are places in the world where either governmental controls or other vested interests may already have such control, but it is not consistent with the U.S self image.

Part of the problem is that natural monopolies still exist.  Fiber to the home is an excellent way to get high bandwidth, and a medium that can expand in bandwidth significantly. Running two fibers to the home is overkill (although a logical extension of the Phone and Cable connections.)  Access for right-of-ways precludes new suppliers in this market — in most cities it is phone, power, cable TV and the city itself … which is why some cities are starting to build fiber infrastructure.  Education, health care and other services may be of sufficient value to warrant public infrastructure.  Certainly exclusive controls by the ISP’s could lead to pressure for such and investment.

Wireless is a second natural monopoly.  You need towers-antenna sites and frequencies vary. Some are line of sight, others can interfere with in-premises devices, or with each other.  And of course many segments of the spectrum are already allocated.  So it is unclear that it is possible to have a truly competitive wireless environment either.  And all of that depends on having the bandwidth to provide for NetFlix 3.0 and other next generation services.

It will be interesting to see how the U.S. Moves forward with this new implicit Internet model.



Internet of Things (IOT) – 2014 March

The IEEE World Forum on Internet of Things 2014 will be held at the Seoul Olympic Parktel Hotel in Seoul, Korea on 6-8 March 2014.

This flagship conference will feature a comprehensive technical program including numerous sessions, tutorials, and an industrial exhibition. The program will feature prominent keynote speakers and vendor exhibits.

The theme of WF-IoT is to investigate how progress in technologies and applications of IoT can be nurtured and cultivated for the benefit of society.

Important dates:

  • 15 January 2014: Papers – Camera-ready Submissions Due
  • 22 January 2014: Author Registration Deadline
  • 31 January 2014: Final Tutorial Material Due
  • 6 February 2014: Participant Panel Call for Presentations Deadline
  • 7 February 2014: Early Registration DueFor details, please visit:

Cell Phone WiFi Used to Track Your Location

The 14 Jan Wall St. Journal has an article noting that your cell phone is being used to track where you are, and not by the cell phone provider (well, ok, they do as well, but using the cell-tower location process).  This tracking occurs when you have  your WiFi enabled and pass a detection device.  Turnstyle Solutions and Apple iBeacon (BlueTooth) provide devices placed by shop-owners and others to detect, record and report your location.  Turnstyle works with your devices WiFi MAC address, and iBeacon with iOS on your phone. iBeacon provides location data for Aps, but also for the host location.

The good: Knowing you are there may allow you to pay for goods at checkout without having to get out your credit card.  It may provide you with immediate “discount coupons” or other offers.   The Apple concept with BlueTooth is promoted as a way to provide ‘fine tuned’ personal (identifiable) services such as payment, or any other service that your phone apps using location services may be able to provide.

The bad: Turnstyle is not tied to apps, your cell provider, or your phone OS. It simply uses your MAC address (which is part of the handshake that is periodically being transmitted by any WiFi device to identify possible connections.)  An intended service Turnstyle provides their customers is a composite of “what other locations your customers visit”.  A restaurant has offered branded workout shirts as a result of feedback that 250 of their customers went to the gym that month (or at least to a gym that was in the Turnstyle network.) One Turnstyle customer is quoted as saying “It would probably be better not to use this tracking system at all if we had to let people know about it.”   I find that insightful.

Turnstyle also offers free WiFi in various retail locations.  The information about your sites visited, searches, etc. can be used to further classify you as a consumer — without collecting “personally identity” information (maybe.)  Any number of combination of data-mining techniques can be used to get fairly personal here — via Apps, site usernames, email addresses disclosed, etc.

The ugly: In the context of the article, the example of a problematic location tracking might be your visits to a doctor, say the oncology clinic in a monitored area. Combine that with searches on selected drugs and diseases and what you thought was private medical information is now available, and perhaps bypassing heath privacy regulations.

Consider the “constellation” of radio beacons you either transmit or reflect.  My car keys have an RFID chip, some credit cards have these (and passports), you have unique cell phone ID, WiFi MAC address, BlueTooth id, Apps that may be sending data without your awareness, etc. While any one service may be protecting your anonymity the set of signals you transmit becomes fairly unique to you.  Connecting these with your identity is probably more a question of the abusers desire to know than it is a question of your rights or security measures.

These mechanisms can be used by paparazzi, stalkers, assassins, groupies, and other ne’er-do-wells for their nefarious purposes.

In the Harry Potter series the Marauder’s Map was used to track anyone, at least within Hogwarts. To activate this “Technology” you tapped it with a wand and declared “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.

Where have your footprints been taking you lately? And who has been watching them?

T&S Magazine, Winter 2013

T&S Magazine





4 EDITORIAL For Now We See Through a Glass, Darkly Katina Michael

6 BOOK REVIEW Digital Whoness: Identity, Privacy and Freedom in the Cyberworld


9 LEADING EDGE Automatic Quality Management in Crowdsourcing Daniel Schall

14 LEADING EDGE Transparancy-Driven Business Process Management in Healthcare Settings Mathias Kirchmer, Sigifredo Laengle, and Victor Masías

17 OPINION The Future of Outdoor Media Systems Ron Harwood

19 OPINION Promoting Psychological Wellbeing: Loftier Goals for New Technologies Rafael A. Calvo and Dorian Peters

22 OPINION Open Prosperity: Breaking Down Financial and Educational Barriers to Creating Physical Goods Stephen Fox

 25 COMMENTARY Understanding the Human Machine* Deborah Lupton

    SPECIAL SECTION ON SENSORS Katherine Albrecht and Katina Michael

31 GUEST EDITORIAL Connected: To Everyone and Everything Katherine Albrecht and Katina Michael  

SPECIAL SECTION FEATURES   35 Asynchronous Adaptations to Complex Social Interactions* Sally Applin and Michael Fischer

45 Comparing British and Japanese Perceptions of a Wearable Ubiquitous Monitoring Device* Stuart Moran, Toyoaki Nishida, and Keiichi Nakata

50 Public Open Sensor Data: Revolutionizing Smart Cities* Albert Domingo, Boris Bellalta, Manuel Palacin, Miquel Oliver, and Esteve Almirall

57 Public Domain Treaty Compliance Verification in the Digital Age* Christopher W. Stubbs and Sidney D. Drell


*Refereed articles Cover Image: Fabio Lima.

“LIKE” as an evaluation system?

The SSIT Logo competition is just closing submissions, however for the month of Sept. (2013) we will be encouraging all interested persons to go to the Facebook group for SSIT and “Like” the logo submissions that they, well, like.  There is a prize for the submission getting the most “Likes”.  But, that is not the prize for the best submission, that prize is being awarded by a panel of judges from SSIT.

So, why use “LIKE” for an award? The answer is simple: “Marketing” … folks can get all of their friends and associates to go and “like” a target item.  This is more of a measure of their quantity of contacts, and perhaps their influence, than any particular quality of the target object.  However … if what you want is for lots of folks to “see” an object, then this is not a bad concept to apply.  With our SSIT contest, besides the Logo it’s self, we ask each submission to explain the relationship of the Logo to SSIT’s mission, purpose, etc.  In short any of their friends who go to “like” the logo will be presented with both their friend’s observations about SSIT, but also the existence of SSIT and whatever else they encounter as they deal with the SSIT stream on Facebook.

Our hope is to have more folks join the Facebook group, and from there, expose more professionals to SSIT’s discussions, topics, considerations, etc.  Ultimately some number of the contact points will get drawn into other aspects of SSIT such as conferences, publications and perhaps even membership and becoming a volunteer.

All of which is quite consistent with the LIKE button as it is used in commerce.  When you visit a page with a “Like” button, Facebook knows you were there, and if you click the button, Facebook knows you actually expressed a presumably positive opinion about that.  From this they can decide how to better provide you with advertising content, etc. — note that I did say they know you were there even if you don’t like the page.   Your Facebook cookies are available to Facebook when they provide the icon for the Like button, along with the web site information, time, date, etc.  But hopefully that is old news for folks following this blog.

IEEE Society on the Social Implications of Technology

Katina Michael at the University of Wollongong, guest editor of the June 2013 Computer magazine special issue on Big Data: New Opportunities and New Challenges, talks about the IEEE Society on the Social Implications of Technology (SSIT), IEEE Technology and Society (T&S) magazine, and the International Symposium on Technology and Society (ISTAS).

View the video on YouTube


From Computer’s June issue:…. Visit Computer: