The political scandal du jour involves New York congressman Anthony Weiner. Last week a conservative media group charged him with sending lewd pictures to a 21 year old woman via his Twitter account.
Initially, the congressman denied the allegation, claiming that his account was hacked and it was just a juvenile prank. As more pictures began to surface, the congressman admitted to sending the image in question and many others to six different women over the last three years.
This practice, known as sexting (sex + texting), has gotten a lot of people in trouble, as it leaves a trail of data that can easily be uncovered. The disgraced legislator is now paying the price for his reckless behavior in cyberspace. He has refused to resign from office, despite calls from some of his colleagues and many of his political opponents.
As convoluted as Weiner’s denial was, it was not implausible that he had been hacked. It’s easier than you may think to hack someone’s Twitter account. If you’re curious, here’s one way to do it. For other possible explanations, read Errata Security’s “Weiner Schnitzel” story.
Of course we now know what really happened. For once, hackers weren’t responsible. But this sordid story still offers lessons for everyone. As the hacks of corporations like Sony, Gmail and most recently, Citibank, make clear, online security as got to be improved–and fast.
In the meantime, take your own personal security precautions. If you use Twitter, limit access to your account. Have a unique password that you only use for Twitter. Use a strong password, change it periodically and keep it secure.
Remember that social media is designed to help you share information. Privacy settings notwithstanding, assume that anything you share online can be viewed publicly and act accordingly.
As for sexting, some things are best done offline, don’t you think?
Personalization has been the holy grail of the Web. According to MoveOn.org president and author, Eli Pariser, we’ve finally reached that goal. The Web’s most popular sites–Facebook, Google and many others–customize what you see based on the personal data it collects and how the sites perceive your interests.
Suppose you do a search on the term “android.” You might get results related to Google’s operating system for smartphones if you have a history of researching mobile technology. But if you’re a sci-fi fan, your top results might include links to humanoid robots.
Whether this customization is good or not is debatable. Pariser argues that what he terms “The Filter Bubble” confirms what we already think, denying us the opportunity to consider opposing viewpoints. In a political context, it would be like watching Fox News exclusively, which promotes conservative ideology to the exclusion of contradictory evidence.
What if the same customization could be applied to television?
NHK Science & Technology Research Laboratories has unveiled a television system that does just that. The TV has a built-in camera that captures facial expressions and motion as you watch a program. Based on that, software determines your degree of interest and displays programming suggestions on a tablet PC.
According to an NHK spokesperson, “If the viewer’s expression does not change for a certain period of time even though he keeps watching TV, he is estimated to be concentrating on the program.”
Although the interface is still in development, you can see where this is heading. If Fox News gets your blood boiling, it might be eliminated from your “watch” list. The same fate awaits programs that don’t hold your interest, although they might be valuable to view anyway–like a public hearing on an important issue.
We’ll see if the NHK system attracts consumer interest. Meanwhile, Pariser argues that we should all try to listen to people and opinions outside our comfort zone to promote a more informed and civil society. After all, no one is wrong 100% of the time.