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October 14, 2014

Crazy verdict: Dutch Rail may abolish paper tickets

Filed under: Technology by Branko Collin @ 8:44 am

lady-justice-chaoukiThe business court of The Hague has determined that Dutch Rail can abolish paper train tickets even though the law says a traveller has a right to an objective proof of the right to travel.

The court felt that the new electronic travel card system (OV Chipkaart) suffices because there are five places where you can confirm you have the right to travel. Arnoud Engelfriet lists them all:

  1. The display of the electronic gate at the time of checking in.
  2. The display of the vending machine.
  3. A paper print-out at the service desk.
  4. A transaction data listing on the Dutch Rail website.
  5. The display of the train conductor’s travel card reader.

Engelfriet and his commenters point out that there are numerous problems with this verdict.

  1. The electronic display only shows that you’ve checked in for a very short time, especially if somebody checks in a fraction of a second later (this happens a lot during rush hour).
  2. If you are in a rush, you are not going to stand in line at the vending machine or service desk.
  3. The Internet listings are only updated after a significant delay.
  4. Train conductors are “masters at being impossible to find”, according to Rikus Spithorst of travellers association ‘Voor Beter OV’ (‘for better public transport’). (Doesn’t that make train conductors hobbits?)

Basically this means that you either show up five minutes early for your daily commute to double check you are actually checked in or you pay a tax in the form of fines every time you fail to check in for whatever reason.

What bothers me is that in the case of a conflict between a traveller and Dutch Rail (and only the OV Chipkaart in place) travellers now have to rely completely on the antagonistic party to provide them with the proof that they have in fact travelled legally. Travelling without a valid ticket is a criminal offence, so why would the state make rules that make it practically impossible for a suspect to defend their innocence?

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August 24, 2014

Extending the self into the corporate cloud

Filed under: Technology by Branko Collin @ 9:19 pm

interferenceI went to Interference last weekend, a hacker convention run by anarchists in a former squat called Binnenpret. Most Dutch people know the part of the complex called OCCII, a music venue on Amstelveenseweg.

The talks were somewhat similar to what I have encountered at other hacker conventions in the past. If there was a difference, it was that in the Q&As audience members were criticizing language that could be used as a weapon, as a means to disempower outgroups.

Also, the hosts did not appear to serve coffee.

Cory Shores had a talk about post-humanism and spoke about the blind man’s cane. This is apparently an issue of some contention in philosophy: is the cane part of the man, of the self? A blind man ‘sees’ with the tip of the cane after all, his hand being no more than a relay.

A similar extension of the self was identified by Paulan Korenhof and Janneke Belt who pointed out technological differences in the way people remember things, such as remembering a shopping list versus writing one down. They did not further explore the issue of the self, but instead looked at where our shopping lists (and therefore maybe parts of ourselves) end up: in the cloud, specifically in the indexes of search engines owned by international companies.

Earlier this week I mocked visitors of the Lowlands festival in a posting who gave away their privacy for RFID trinkets, but perhaps my commentary wasn’t entirely fair. The Lowlands RFID wristbands do have some value to the user as they extend the self, even if the company behind them is solidly grounded in the philosophy of “if we give you something for free, you are in fact the product”.

See also: the Interference reader.

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August 18, 2014

RFID bracelets track festival goers

Filed under: Music,Technology by Branko Collin @ 8:11 pm

waldo-lowlands-2008-gabe-mcintyreHave you ever gone to a music festival but got too drunk to remember which acts you saw?

Yeah, me neither, but apparently now there’s a solution. For the price of whatever was left of their privacy, visitors of the Lowlands festival last weekend could get a ‘free’ wristband that allowed them to keep a diary of sorts.

Every time you held the Nedap-developed wristband against a scanning station, the station would register your ID, time and location in order to be able to present you with a slew of data on the spot or afterwards. The data contained the location of both you and bracelet-wearing friends, the bands that played nearby, photos of you and your friends, ‘spotified’ set lists, and so on.

According to the video below by Face Culture, some people ‘hacked’ the system by trying to get into the top ten of the people that scanned their bracelets the most. Other advantages mentioned were the ability to remember the names of obscure bands you saw and not having to trawl through 20,000 photos online before finding yours. One person complained that she still had a sliver of privacy left: she wanted more scanning stations so that she could also see when she had gone for a burger.

A Campign Flight to Lowlands Paradise (its full name) is an annual festival held near Biddinghuizen in the province of Flevoland.

(Photo of Waldo at Lowlands 2008 by Gabe McIntyre, some rights reserved; if only he had worn an RFID tag, you would have spotted him instantly; link: AD)

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July 22, 2014

Dutch constitution will finally include e-mail

Filed under: General by Branko Collin @ 8:33 pm

grondwet-grondwetfestival_nlArticle 13 of the Dutch constitution declares a secrecy of correspondence, meaning the government and others are not allowed to snoop on your mail.

However, there is an unfortunate loophole: the law specifically talks about paper mail. E-mail was never included and therefore exists in a legal limbo.

According to Internet lawyer Arnoud Engelfriet, the council of ministers of the Netherlands has now proposed a change in the constitution that will not actually name e-mail, but which will make the phrasing of Article 13 more generic. A change in the constitution requires two consecutive parliaments to vote for that change, the idea being that the change can be made an issue in the elections.

Not that it matters much, as the Dutch constitution, which is now 200 years old, is more of a guideline than law. Judges are not allowed to ignore laws based on their constitutionality. The constitution may be said to have a normative function, for example, it could show courts how to interpret a vague law, but a 2009 study by the national government claims that this normative function is eroding (PDF). Instead a societal function is emerging, as the constitution aims to hold up a mirror to the citizens of the kingdom and to show us what our shared values are.

See also: an English translation of Article 13.

(Photo of the constitution of 1814 by Grondwetfestival.nl, used with permission)

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June 16, 2014

Eccentric farmers can kiss privacy goodbye

Filed under: Animals by Branko Collin @ 9:29 am

calves-orangemasterIn a fascinating article by anthropologist Lizzy van Leeuwen in De Groene Amsterdammer last month, she describes how farmers’ association LTO, together with the Dutch government, has set up a system for detecting and dealing with early warning signs of the mistreatment of farm animals.

A database kept by Vetrouwensloket Welzijn Landbouwhuisdieren (the confidential office for the well-being of farm animals) tracks symptoms such as excess deaths and diseases, hurt and crippled animals, parasites, poor development of young animals, and so on.

Nobody could object to such a system, but the database also registers information about the farmers themselves based on the idea that unhappy farmers make unhappy farm animals. This information includes attendance at meetings and the number of friendships a farmer maintains. Do farmers stop answering their phones and do their relationships fail? It is all registered.

If the signals reach a certain danger level, a team is sent to the farmers in question to try and help them get back on track. Magazine Veeteelt ran a headline in 2010 that aptly describes the duality of this approach: “Animal neglect can happen to anyone. [This system] prevents a negative image of the industry.”

The result is that some farmers—the loners, the ‘known’ problem cases—are pushed into extreme transparency through a finely mazed network of ‘reporters’ or ‘snitches’, depending on who you talk to. These are often the ‘erfbetreders’, a Dutch word I did not know until yesterday meaning ‘those who walk onto the farmyard’—the people who have to be on the farm for business and who rat out the farmer on the side.

Van Leeuwen’s four page article goes into incredible detail on how farmers are viewed by the general public. She hypothesizes that the Dutch have lost contact with farming world. Between 1947 and 1990 the percentage of people working in agriculture dropped from 20% to 4%. The general public are now in the habit of seeing farmers through isolated incidents, such as the 2011 tragedy in which a farmer from Brummen, Gelderland killed about 100 cows with a tractor and then killed himself. Van Leeuwen speaks of “a trend of viewing farmers as professional animal abusers”.

The result is that farmers have not just become an out-group, but in order to close the ranks they have decided to nip rare and extreme cases of animal abuse in the bud by creating their own out-group of lonely and eccentric farmers. Ironically, this does not seem to apply to factory farming, a practice to which pretty much everybody turns a blind eye.

Van Leeuwen’s article, “De weg van alle vlees—dierverwaarlozing op de boerderij“, is available on the web (in Dutch), but unfortunately behind a pay wall.

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June 11, 2014

Government still misleads masses with digital ID system

Filed under: IT,Weird by Orangemaster @ 11:39 am

For years local governments have been mistakingly pointing tens of thousands of citizens if not more to an advertising agency called Digi-D in Waalwijk, Noord-Brabant instead of to the Dutch national government’s digital identification system called DigID (no hyphen, and ID in capitals), indispensable for filing taxes and other matters nowadays. In October 2012 10,000 people sent their details to Digi-D. It’s June 2014 and the wesbite the agency set up to tell people about this serious cock-up counted 40,805 mislead people on 6 June.

Digi-D the agency has been around since 2002, while DigID started up in 2005. The government’s game plan has been to strong arm the agency into changing its name, but the agency claims that it would cost them 110,000 euro to change their name, never mind lawyering up for something they didn’t mess up. To make it worse, the agency is being forced to store all this data to prove that it is a nuisance to them, but if ever the data leaked, the government would blame the agency for it!

(Link: www.omroepbrabant.nl)

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April 24, 2014

Student sells all his personal data for 350 euro

Filed under: Online,Weird by Orangemaster @ 3:46 pm
privacy

Dutch student Shawn Buckles decided to sell his personal data to the highest bidder in an attempt to raise awareness about privacy. E-mail, diary, location, medical records and more were up for grabs. He claims he didn’t sell anything he didn’t own, and had a lawyer helping him out. Most of what he sold is available in bits and pieces on the Internet for anyone who would want to look for it, something we collectively noticed when the likes of Julian Assange were more prominently in the news.

In a radio interview with BBC radio Buckles said, “I’m trying to add more value to my privacy. Companies are making huge profits on this data trade, and I thought why not turn the tables and see what happens when a person tries to sell his data, to figure out how much it’s worth.”

On an auction on 12 April Buckles finally sold everything he could for € 350. Most people give away data for free in exchange for the use of a site, service or application. At least he made a few bucks. And anyone who really thinks their information is private is fooling themselves.

People don’t generally understand the value of their data, which is what Buckles was trying to draw attention to when he sold his. Oddly enough, there is no way an individual can sell their personal data on a market, but it may not be that far off. The health research sector, entertainment industry and insurance companies are interested in this kind of personal data.

The winning bidder was technology news company The Next Web, which Buckles says will use his data to highlight the issue of online privacy rather than to a more sinister end.

(Link: phys.org)

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January 17, 2014

A chip linked to your ID to drink in Eindhoven

Filed under: Food & Drink by Orangemaster @ 12:52 pm

There’s this street in Eindhoven called Stratumseind or ‘Stratum’ full of cafés that mostly cater to students. The cafés are so close to each other that people walk around like it’s one big café, at least that was my memory of it a few years back.

As of mid March, the cafés owners have decided that patrons are to wear bracelets with a chip in them linked to some ID, like pigeons in the park. People will be tagged so that the cafés don’t have to constantly check if they are old enough to drink, something apparently the city has come up with. Making sure people are old enough to drink means the cafés lower the risk of selling alcohol to minors.

As of 1 Jan 2014, the drinking age went up from 16 to 18, although 16 and 17-year-olds could not buy or be served hard liquor. The cafés that refuse to go along with this scheme will be monitored à la Big Brother more closely — surprise, surprise.

You can’t possibly force anybody to wear anything to drink in a café, but you can ask them to produce ID. As well, this totally ignores anybody from out of town like tourists or visitors, how very forward-thinking. Guilty until proven innocent, someone please challenge this in court, it’s ridiculous.

(Link: www.ed.nl)

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December 3, 2013

Google breaks privacy laws, Dutch watchdog says

Filed under: Technology by Branko Collin @ 3:26 pm

privacy-jeff-schulerBy not informing its users about what data it collects and by not asking for permission, Google is breaking the Dutch data protection act, privacy watchdog CBP said in a press release last Thursday.

In 2012 Google changed its privacy policy. The American Internet giant started combining the private data it collects from its users across all its services.

The investigation shows that Google combines personal data relating to Internet users that the company obtains from different services. Google does this, amongst others, for the purposes of displaying personalised ads and to personalise services such as YouTube and Search. Some of these data are of a sensitive nature, such as payment information, location data and information on surfing behaviour across multiple websites. Data about search queries, location data and video’s watched can be combined, while the different services serve entirely different purposes from the point of view of users.

Internet lawyer Arnoud Engelfriet points to a peculiarity of Dutch privacy law that says you have to ask users for informed consent. It’s not enough to say ‘this is how we deal with your privacy’, users should be able to understand what is going to happen and say ‘no’ before it happens. Also, Google shouldn’t say what they could do with your data, they are obliged to say what they will do with your data.

Apparently Google tried to defend themselves by claiming they do not collect personal data, they merely create profiles. CBP quotes Google’s own CEO Eric Schmidt back at them who once stated: “We don’t need you to type at all. We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.” Google’s chief Internet evangelist (and Internet co-inventor) Vint Cerf said two weeks ago at a privacy and security workshop of (of all people) the US Trade Commission (40 minutes into the video): “I would not go as far as to simply, baldy assert that privacy is dead. [...] But let me tell you that it would be increasingly difficult for us to achieve privacy. I want you to think for just a minute about the fact that privacy may actually be an anomaly.”

Engelfriet concludes: “Google of course believes the criticism is invalid and uses a barrage of marketing language [...] to keep dancing around the issue. And that is all that will happen. I don’t see what kind of effective measures CBP can take to make Google fundamentally change its ways—which is a pity, because this is one of the most substantial reports CBP has issued in a long time.”

(Link: the Register; photo by Jeff Schuler, some rights reserved)

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October 13, 2012

Public broadcaster closes off websites to privacy fans

Filed under: General by Branko Collin @ 1:05 pm

Screenshot of uitzendinggemist.nl with the cookie dialogue.

The website that the public broadcasters of the Netherlands use to display videos of programmes that have already been broadcast, Uitzending Gemist, has been locked down for visitors who refuse to accept Internet cookies.

A recent law stipulates that website owners must ask every visitor permission to store cookies. (Cookies are a web browser technology for storing small bits of data about a visitor.) The law does not say what a website owner should do if a visitor refuses cookies. Two options that spring to mind are to show a simplified website (typically without advertising) or to show no website at all.

Volkskrant quotes a spokes person of NPO, the organization running Uitzending Gemist, saying: “We are legally obliged to report how many people we reach, and cookies are important to this goal. This is why our websites and on-line videos can only be made accessible to those who accept cookies.”

The public broadcasters are paid from general taxes. OPTA, the government watchdog for telecom issues, has been leaning heavy on the owners of publicly funded websites lately. The agency stated that government organisations have to set the right example.

One commenter at Arnoud Engelfriet’s blog said (and in my opinion he or she is right): “A law that was enacted to protect consumers is now being used to hijack consumers. [...] In my opinion the law was set up to give people an actual choice—to allow cookies or not. Forcing visitors to allow cookies (or else the site cannot be visited) is absurd.”

See also:

Disclaimer: 24 Oranges has yet to determine how to apply the cookie law without inconveniencing its visitors.

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