If you do not research it – it will not happen?

Over the last days plans to do research on the use of public date from social networks to calculate someone’s credit risk made big news (e.g. DW). The public (as voiced by journalists) and politicians showed a strong opposition and declared something like this should not be done – or more specifically such research should not be done.

I am astonished and a bit surprised by the reaction. Do people really think if there is no research within universities this will (does) not happen? If you look at the value of facebook (even after the last few weeks) it must be very obvious that there is a value in the social network data which people hope to extract over time…

Personal credit risk assessment (in Germany Schufa) is widely used – from selling you a phone contract to lending you money when buying a house. If you believe that we need a personal credit risk assessment – why would you argue that they work on very incomplete data? Will it make it better? I think the logical consequence of the discussion would be to prohibit the pricing based on personal credit risk ratings – but this, too would be very unfair (at least to the majority). Hence the consequence we see now (the research is not done in Universities) is probably not doing much good… it just pushes it into a place where the public sees little about it (and the companies will not publish it in a few years…).

MUM 2009 in Cambridge, no technical solution for privacy

The 8th International Conference on Mobile and Ubiquitous Multimedia (MUM 2009) was held in Cambridge, UK. The conference is fairly specific and had an acceptance rate of about 33% – have a look at the table of content for an overview. Florian Michahelles presented our paper on a design space for ubiquitous product recommendation systems [1]. Our work contributes a comprehensive design space that outlines design options for product recommendation systems using mobile and ubiquitous technologies. We think that over the next years mobile recommendation systems have the potential to change the way we shop in the real world. It probably will be normal to have access in-depth information an price comparison while browsing in physical stores. The idea has been around for a while, e.g. the pocket bargain finder presented at the first ubicomp conference [2]. In Germany we see also a reaction of some electronics stores that asked users NOT to use a phone or camera in the shop.

The keynote on Tuesday morning was by Martin Rieser on the Art of Mobility. He blogs on this topic on http://mobileaudience.blogspot.com/.
The examples he presented in his keynote concentrated on locative and pervasive media. He characterized locative media as media that by social interaction that is linked to a specific place. He raised the awareness that mapping is very important for our perception of the world, using several different subjective maps – I particular liked the map encoding travel times to London . A further interesting examples was a project by Christian Nold: Bio mapping – emotional mapping of journeys. QR or other bar code markers on cloth (large and on the outside) have a potential … I see this now.

In the afternoon was panel on “Security and Privacy: Is it only a matter of time before a massive loss of personal data or identity theft happens on a smart mobile platform?” with David Cleevely, Tim Kindberg, and Derek McAuley. I found the discussion very inspiring but in the end I doubt more and more that technical solutions will solve the problem. I think it is essential to consider the technological, social and legal framework in which we live. If I would need to live in a house that provides absolute safety (without a social and legal framework) it would be probably not a very nice place… hence I think here we need really interdisciplinary research in this domain.

[1] von Reischach, F., Michahelles, F., and Schmidt, A. 2009. The design space of ubiquitous product recommendation systems. In Proceedings of the 8th international Conference on Mobile and Ubiquitous Multimedia (Cambridge, United Kingdom, November 22 – 25, 2009). MUM ’09. ACM, New York, NY, 1-10. DOI= http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1658550.1658552

[2] Brody, A. B. and Gottsman, E. J. 1999. Pocket Bargain Finder: A Handheld Device for Augmented Commerce. InProceedings of the 1st international Symposium on Handheld and Ubiquitous Computing (Karlsruhe, Germany, September 27 – 29, 1999). H. Gellersen, Ed. Lecture Notes In Computer Science, vol. 1707. Springer-Verlag, London, 44-51.

Printed Yearbook – will they be replaced? Facebook with time-machine?

On the trip to Potsdam two young women sat opposite us – discussion one-by-one the pages in the yearbook of their school. The yearbook was from a school in Berlin was from 2009 and printed in highest quality – quite professional. Their discussion had a lot of forward references (what will become of people – and how they see and present themselves now). Looking back 10, 20 or 30 years after leaving school these images and texts are very interesting… There is a real value in paper that cannot be altered – here new technologies (facebook and alike) that evolve with the people are less entertaining.

Is there already a website like archive.org for social networks? An interesting feature in such sites could be a time machine. E.g. you can put in the date and you get the page as it was on that date (e.g. what friends did she have then, what music did she like, etc.) – would guess this is to come – I can hear the privacy worries already…

Tutorials at Pervasive, HCI Library

I did a tutorial on Mobile Human Computer interaction at Pervasive 2009. The tutorial tried to give an overview of challenges of mobile HCI and was partly based on last year’s tutorial day at MobileHCI2008 in Amsterdam. For the slides from last year have a look at: http://albrecht-schmidt.blogspot.com/2008/09/mobilehci-2008-tutorial.html

Listening to Marc Langheinrich‘s tutorial on privacy I remembered that that I still have the photos of his HCI library – and to not forget them I upload them. Marc highlighted the risk of data analysis with the AOL Stalker example (some comments about the AOL Stalker). His overall tutorial is always good to hear and has many inspring issues – even so I am not agreeing with all the conclusions 😉

For me seeing the books my collegues use on a certain topic still works better than the amazon recommendations I get 😉 perhaps people (or we?) should work harder on using social network based product recommendation systems…

Bob Iannucci from Nokia presents Keynote at HotMobile 2009

Bob Iannucci from Nokia presented his keynote “ubiquitous structured data: the cloud as a semantic platform” at HotMobile 2009 in Santa Cruz. He started out with the statement that “Mobility is at the beginning” and he argued that why mobile systems will get more and more important.

He presented several principles for mobile devices/systems

  • Simplicity and fitness for purpose are more important than feature
  • use concepts must remain constant – as few concepts as possible
  • presentations (what we see) and input modalities will evolve
  • standards will push the markets

Hearing this, especially the first point, from someone from Nokia seemed very interesting. His observations are in general well founded – especially the argument for simple usage models and sensible conceptual models when targeting the whole population of the earth as users.

In the keynote he offered an alternative conceptual model: Humans are Relational. Model everything as relations between people, things and places. He moved on to the question what are the central shortcomings in current mobile systems/mobile phones and he suggested it comes down to (1) no common data structure and (2) no common interaction concept.

With regard to interaction concepts he argued that a Noun-Verb style interaction is natural and easy for people to understand (have heard this before, for a discussion about it in [1, p59]). The basic idea in this mode is to choose a noun (e.g. people, place, thing) and then decide what to do with it (verb). From his point of view this interaction concept fits well the mobile device world. He argued that a social graph (basically relationships as in facebook etc.) would be well suited for a noun-verb style interaction. The nodes in the graph (e.g. people, photos, locations, etc.) are nouns and transformations (actions) between the nodes are the verbs. He suggested if we represent all the information that people have now in the phone as a graph and we have an open standard (and infrastructure) to share we could create a universal platform for mobile computing. (and potentially a huge graph with all the information in the world 😉

I liked his brief comment on privacy: “many privacy problems can be reduced to economic problems”. Basically people give their information away if there is value. And personally I think in most cases people give it away even for a minimal value… So far we have no market place where people can sell their information. He mentioned the example of a personal travel data which can provide the basis for traffic information (if aggregated). I think this is an interesting direction – how much value would have my motion pattern have?

Somehow related to what you can do on a mobile phone he shared with us the notion of the “3-Watt limit”. This seems fundamental: you cannot have more than 3 Watt used up in a device that fits in your hand (typical phone size) as otherwise it would get to hot. So the processing power limitation is not on the battery, but on the heat generated.

[1] Jef Raskin. The Humane Interface. Addison-Wesley. 2000.

Rating your professor, teacher, doctor, or fellow students?

This morning I was coming back from Munich* on the train I got a phone call from a journalist from Radio Essen (http://www.102.2radioessen.de/). As their studio is very close to the railways station in Essen I went there spontaneously before going back to University. 

We talked a little about web services for students to rate their profs (e.g. meinProf.de). The numbers of ratings most professors have received so far is extremely small (in comparison to the number of students we teach) and hence you get interesting effects that are far from representative or in many cases even meaningful. Last term I registered my course and we sent proactively a mail to all students who complete the course with the request to rate the lectures. This seems to be a good way to generate a positive selection 🙂
There are many of these services out – rating teachers, doctors, shops, etc. Thinking a little more about the whole concept of rating others one could image many interesting services – all of them creating a clear benefit (for someone) and a massive reduced privacy for others. 
To make it more specific I offer you one idea: Rate your fellow students’ professonal capabilities and academic performance. Students have typically a very good insight into the real qualities of their peers (e.g. technical skills, social compatibility, creativity, mental resilience, ability to cope with workload, diligence, honesty etc.). Having this information combined with the official degree (and the transcript the university offers) a potential employer would get a really interesting picture… We discussed this with students last term an the reactions were quite diverse – as one can image.>
Obviously such a service would create a lot of criticism (which lowers the cost of marketing) and one would have to carefully think in which countries it would be legal to run it. An interesting question would also be what verification one would employ to ensure that the ratings are real – or perhaps we would not need to care? Interested in the topic – perhaps we should get 5 people together implemented in a week and get rich 😉 
The direction of such rating systems are taking is very clear – and it seems that they will come in many areas of our life. Perhaps there is some real research in it… how will these technology change the way we live together?

* travelling from Munich (leaving at 22:30) and arriving in Essen in the morning (or Darmstadt) works fairly well and if you stay in a hotel in Stuttgart 😉 – it is surprisingly a real alternative to a night train or an early morning flight…

Biometrics will come, who will care about privacy

Arriving at the new Terminal 5 at Heathrow airport I saw some extra installations (and extra lines) for iris scan immigration. Arriving at 4 am in the morning they were closed and there were not queues – but I could see that it is very attractive at other times of day when queues are long. On the official website they claim that border control will be down to 20 seconds. There is a more detailed document on the schema – I saved the document to have it in 10 years when we will have a very different view on privacy.

Ideas in Advertisment, Privacy, German Law

In our master course we offer a project on pervasive advertisement (it is an interdisciplinary course project from computer science and marketing) where we look at future forms of advertisement that become possible by new technologies.
The students presented a set of really exciting ideas – an I would expect (if they get some of their ideas implemented) that advertising will be more entertaining and fun in the future. For some of the ideas we discussed potential privacy issues and I promised to provide later the reference to the German privacy law that restricts the use of optical/camera devices in public spaces. The German law is at a first glance very restrictive with regard to using cameras in public spaces. In short it can be summarized that data can only obtained for a legitimate, concrete and defined purpose and that the privacy interest of the people are not higher to value as the purpose. Additionally it has to be clear to the person observed that he or she is observed. (We probably need a lawyer to figure out what is allowed 😉 In [1] the text of the law (in German) can be found.

Privacy – will our understanding change radically?

As one issue this morning we came across issues related to privacy. In particular it seems that social network analysis based on behavior in the real world (e.g. the reality mining project [1]) is creating serious interest beyond the technology people. Beyond measuring the frequency of encounters qualifying the way people interact (dominance, emotion, …) will reveal even more about social networks… 

In our discussion I made a reference to a book: “The Transparent Society” by David Brin. Even Though it is now nearly 10 years since it was first published I still think it is an interesting starting point for a privacy discussion.

[1] Eagle, N. and (Sandy) Pentland, A. 2006. Reality mining: sensing complex social systems. Personal Ubiquitous Comput. 10, 4 (Mar. 2006), 255-268. DOI= http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00779-005-0046-3 

[2] The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? David Brin, Basic Books (June 1, 1999). At Amazon

Tagging Kids, Add-on to make digital cameras wireless

Reading the new products section in the IEEE pervasive computing magazine (Vol.7, No.2, April-June 2008) I came across a child monitoring systems: Kiddo Kidkeeper – In the smart-its project Henrik Jernström developed 2001 a similar system in his master thesis at PLAY which was published as a Demo at Ubicomp [1]. I remember very lively the discussion about the validity of this application (basically people – including me – asking “Who would want such technology?”). However it seems society and values are constantly changing – there is an interesting ongoing discussion related to that: Free Range Kids (this is the pro side 😉 The article in the IEEE Magazin hinted that the fact the you can take of the device is a problem – I see a clear message ahead – implant the device – and this time I am more careful with arguing that we don’t need it (even though I am sure we do not need it I expect that in 5 to 10 years we will have it)

There were two further interesting links in the article: an SD-card that includes WIFI and hence enables uploading of photos to the internet from any camera having an SD-slot (http://www.eye.fi/products/) – the idea is really simple but very powerful! And finally the UK has an educational laptop, too (http://www.elonexone.co.uk/). Seems the hardware is there (if not this year than next) and where is the software? I think we should put some more effort into this domain in Germany…

Not to forget the issue of the magazine contains our TEI conference report [2].

[1] Henrik Jernström. SiSSy Smart-its child Surveillance System. Poster at Ubicomp 2002, Adjunct Proceedings of Ubicomp 2002. http://citeseer.ist.psu.edu/572976.html

[2] http://doi.ieeecomputersociety.org/10.1109/MPRV.2008.27

Ensuring Privacy – trust in the physical

After having a really interesting discussion on privacy with a student at CDTM with regard to implicit interaction I saw the depicted privacy solution on the train back to Bonn. The woman had her notebook camera disabled – not in software – but physically with a scotch tape and a piece of paper. Such solutions are not uncommon and remind one impressively that people want tangible control over their privacy. It seems that people trust in the physical much more than the virtual – and for a good reason.

I reduced the size of the picture as she was preparing an exam paper (school, 7th grade math) and in full resolution details are readable – so much about privacy. One could make that mental note not to edit/view any private document on the train even in small print as it is very quick to talk a phone (even with a phone) and read it afterwards 😉