Tagged: software

The rule of “suspicion algorithms”

The decision-making criteria of computer expert systems are often so complex that they are beyond the comprehension of their individual users and creators. For example, computer systems equipped with artificial intelligence can be used for estimating the degree to which somebody is likely to default on her credit. These days, computer programs can also be used for the large-scale monitoring of populations and for attempts at predicting who is more or less likely to become a criminal or a political dissident.

When computers start to decide who is likely to be a threat and who isn’t and neither secret services, law enforcement nor the subjects of surveillance understand how a threat assessment comes about, the shared understanding of what constitutes suspicious behaviour gets lost. Writing in the Intercept Dan Froomkin cites Phillip Rogaway, a professor of computer science at the University of California, Davis:

If the algorithms NSA computers use to identify threats are too complex for humans to understand, Rogaway wrote, “it will be impossible to understand the contours of the surveillance apparatus by which one is judged.  All that people will be able to do is to try your best to behave just like everyone else.

If people don’t understand the criteria by which they are judged anymore, one can still find it reasonable to use such computer systems. Yet, their “suspicion algorithms” themselves don’t express human reasoning anymore. People become subject to a governance by statistical probabilities instead of human value choices . The computers may not rule as they don’t possess true agency yet. Still, humans delegate their assessment of who is an insider and who an outsider, of who is a friend and a potential foe to systems whose calculations are beyond their comprehension. Reasoning about an essentially political decision is transferred to machines .

The data is there, the algorithms set in place. An ethics of the data age has yet to emerge.

How Apple keeps track of the programs you install on your Mac

It probably doesn’t come as news but I just got curious why this little program called gkoverride wants to call someone through my firewall when I try to install a patch for SPSS and I found a pretty good explanation on Zdziarski’s Blog of Things saying that Apple basically checks new program installations for security purposes. However, without asking they also keep track of the programs users install — in the name of security. Most users probably care more about security than about privacy but I think it should be made more clear and transparent and it would be important to also provide alternative security mechanisms — as suggested by Zdziarski.

WhatsFace? Still not liking it.

Today it was in the news. Facebook snapped up WhatsApp. I never really feel comfortable communicating privately via Facebook. I feel Facebook knows too much about us, while we know too little about what Facebook knows about us.


Now WhatsApp. When my old Smartphone broke a few years ago I didn’t really bother to replace it. I’m sort of glad that it spared me the choice of installing WhatsApp. I thought, well, surely the technology is great but here comes yet another monopolising service that snaps up all our data, and can pass it on to people that run network analyses on my friends and colleagues and content analyses on my messages.

Of course, Facebook has much of that data already. I never believed you could trust them. But well, nearly everybody uses it and in a way we are all in this together, generation „friend“ and „like“ and „tag“. I just didn’t like the idea of once again succumbing to the seduction of a company that makes money by me connecting to it, by me pouring information about me and everyone around me into it. Now it’s basically one company. I still don’t like it.

There are other, more private and secure services as well. But when you load them it feels like an empty corridor. No one is there. You hear your own echo. Still, I don’t wanna give up on it.

You can set up free and encrypted chats on your mobile phone with apps for Android and iOS. You can also connect to them from Windows, Mac and Linux computers. It take some more effort than WhatsApp and might not develop as fast. But you won’t be bugged so easily either. You will be free. At least a little bit.


My digital social science engine

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time optimising my workflow and identifying the right software for each step. As a result I’m indebted to lots of other nerdy knowledge worker blogs on the web.

Let’s go!

An admission: I do love and support Linux. However, since a former employer had Mac OS running, it gave me sort of a rationale for my betrayal. So the setup I’m presenting is for Mac. Some of the software is available for Linux and Windows, too.
Love Linux!

1. Search: I mostly use G**g**-Scholar for search. I do so with the free and open source browser Firefox and two plugins: Zotero and the Zotero-to-BibDesk auto-import utility.


2. Research library: The Zotero-to-BibDesk auto-import utility syncs my Zotero database with my Bibdesk database. The free and open source Bibdesk allows me to save my reference data in a Latex format with uniquely identifiable and portable reference keys. Bibdesk also serves as an iTune-like research library, where I can assign keywords, comments and ratings. I can also tick whether I’ve already read a text or collect texts in a reading list.


3. Annotation: From inside Bibdesk I can start the (once again) free and open source PDF reader Skim. Skim allows me to highlight and comment PDFs. After having done so, I can copy everything highlighted or commented to a text editor, complete with an indication of the relevant page numbers.


4. Page number adjustments: Often the digital PDF page numbers and the nominal page numbers of ebooks and journal articles will not be congruent. This will impinge upon the page numbers indicated after copying from Skim to your favourite text editor. It’s a hassle to adjust the page numbers for each individual entry. For page number adjustments I have only found one solution: Adobe Acrobat Professional, which comes with a rather hefty price tag (particularly considering that you only really need it for this one task). It can save lots of work, though.

5. Database and draft editor: I use Scrivener as a database and for drafts. It’s lightweight, has tons of functions and hardly every crashes. It’s great as a complex outliner (for simpler outlines, I recommend OmniOutliner). Scrivener is proprietary but value for money. You can just copy your highlights and annotations, from Skim, alongside the citation keys from Bibdesk, to Scrivener and then rearrange them according to the structure of your research project. If you do it properly, you will always know what are your own thoughts and what you took from which page of what publication, thus avoiding plagiarism.


6. Compile it all into a beautiful text: I use TexShop for setting the final text in LaTex. TexShop works harmoniously with Bibdesk. Of course, you may often need to exchange documents with people who don’t use Scrivener of LaTex. Then you will need to use OpenOffice or Word for the final draft. Combining that with Bibdesk is a little more of a hassle, though rudimentary Plugins do exist.


7. Get published or die trying.