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My Digital Identity

Sharp Perspectives on Identity, Security, and Privacy

Lies vs the Truth

Psychological research has shown that the saying “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”, a law of propaganda often attributed to the Nazi Joseph Goebbels, does have some validity. Of course this does not really make something the truth but people start believing it is and among psychologists something like this is known as the “illusion of truth” effect. This is becoming more of a problem in our age of social media where people are getting more of their information from crowds of often like minded people.

Fortunately repetition isn’t the only factor on forming beliefs of what is true. Logical reasoning, critical thinking, and verifying what is actually true can all contribute to finding the truth. Where repetition becomes more of a factor however is when it is used as a shortcut technique for guessing what is true. Reliance on shortcuts tends to happen a lot more in a world where huge volumes of information are barraging us daily.

What can we do about it? I think there are 6 main actions we can take ourselves and in helping others:

  1. Educate yourself and others on critical thinking and logic skills
  2. Do investigative research on the topics that really matter to you.
  3. Listen to the arguments of different views and evaluate the possibility that they may have some validity.
  4. Use and share credible sources that you have investigated, understand any potential bias, and have been shown to be trustworthy.
  5. Don’t pass on false or misleading information.
  6. Identify lies when you come in contact with them, especially for people close to you.

A good example of the battle for truth against lies is making edits on wikipedia which has a process for updating its encyclopedia that includes identifying sources for assertions being made. If fighting for the truth sounds like work, it is, but isn’t being a force for truth as you know it worth it? Retreating into a shell and letting lies spread will not make our interdependent world a better place. Pick your battles and make a choice that is right for you on how you can use your influence to make a difference in your own battles for the truth.

Gamergate Discrediting Wikipedia?!

Mark Bernstein has written a 3 part series on the serious issue of how Wikipedia is being used as a weapon against feminists who have been criticizing the portrayal of women in games. Gamergate refers to gaming developers and enthusiasts who are using Wikipedia and other media to discredit their critics. Mark’s articles are an important expose of how Wikipedia’s policy decisions are allowing the web site to be used as a weapon in an information war. If this is not corrected will we ever be able to trust Wikipedia again and is this the beginning of the end of its downfall?

Gamergate Part 1 Infamous
Gamergate Part 2 Thoughtless
Gamergate Part 3 Careless

Previous to this Wikipedia has been a success story because of their editorial processes that prevented lies and misuse of the information on its site. What has gone wrong?! Will it be corrected?

The truth about Internet Rumours revealed

I have found snopes.com as a quite useful and trustworthy site for research on Internet rumours and scams. It is a bit like the mythbusters tv show as it strives to provide the truth on information being spread especially when the sources aren’t usually known.

Some items that I have recently checked on.

Hallmark Postcard Virus is partially true.

The rumour that hotel magnetic door key cards are a risk for disclosing personal information is false according to snopes.com research. The examples at the top of the article that look like sheets of paper are showing the incorrect information that is sometimes sent via email. You have to read the whole article to get the full story. Computerworld did an extensive study that showed that hotels don’t put sensitive personal information on the cards. They have no reason to do so.

Snopes confirmation of the story that a man horrified people by running into a skyscraper window actually happened in Toronto. Windows do crash so don’t take the risk.

Apple IOS is an Example of Trustworthy Computing that Started with Microsoft

Anil Dash has written another excellent article that provides a short history of trustworthy computing. It is illuminating because:

  • It explains how Apple’s IOS is an example of a new computing model based on trustworthy computing principles
  • It gives credit to Microsoft research for establishing some of the principles of trustworthy computing.

Another theme that comes from the history lesson is the importance of branding and reputation on being an innovator. Microsoft’s bad reputation in the security area made it difficult for them to advance trustworthy computing because the industry was suspicious of their intentions. Apple is able to make the advances due to their product success track record but even in their case there are a lot of suspicions by people comfortable with previous models on what Apple’s intentions are and how they might abuse the capabilities.

Some vigilance is justified as with many security capabilities they can be can have both positive or negative attributes depending on how they are applied.

Who to Trust Online?

I have recently done some research on trust and reputation in the online world and how you can differentiate online between the good guys and the bad guys. Google can be helpful but you need to decide which sources you believe.

It started with a computer article about not needing to upgrade HW/SW as a lifestyle (against geek convention) which recommended a life skills course.

A description of the course curriculum which might be interesting to people looking for self improvement.

After a google search, some info was obtained that strongly indicates this is a cult that could cause serious problems.

http://skepdic.com/landmark.html

http://www.rickross.com/reference/landmark/landmark87.html

http://www.apologeticsindex.org/l30.html

http://www.rickross.com/reference/landmark/landmark26.html

Another example, like Ginette’s lawyer story, about the advantages of using google to avoid scams and to check into things.

There is also a group that is categorizing web sites as a way of warning people of possible dangers. They have a plugin for Firefox which will indicate whether sites are dangerous from a computer malware point of view. The big question is how authoritative and trusted they can become and what criteria is used especially in the grey areas.

http://www.siteadvisor.com/

I had a nasty experience with some fake video codec software that turned out to be malware. This software actually provided notices that there was malware present and suggested paying for a program they provided which just installed more malware. Siteadvisor provides some cautionary indicators for spyaxe.net (**My warning is don’t download this software**) but it doesn’t actually provide a serious enough warning in my opinion. What I would recommend as one of the good guys for spyware prevention – pandasoftware.

Google research on what a variety of people are saying is still needed to get a more complete picture. The question with Google searches is whether the google ranking is a reliable indicator of the authoritativeness and trustworthiness of the source. Since google rankings are based in part on the number of links it is not directly based on authoritativeness but rather on the assumption that most people link to sites that they think are useful, accurate, or worthwhile. This can be also misleading since people can manipulate the rankings in various ways and notorious sites might also get a lot of links.

This same issue of authoritativeness and trustworthiness is also played out on projects like wikipedia since anyone can contribute information. A pessimist (realist?) might think that this type of approach would lead to a lot of inaccurate and misleading if not just graffiti type information. The amazing thing is that the information developed is actually in general quite good (check it out for yourself on a subject you have some knowledge about) because there are more good people who care more about providing and correcting information that is good and truthful than there are who want to mislead and distort for their own purposes. Maybe there is some hope for the democracy of caring online. Nevertheless we should not leave this to chance but look for improved ways of tipping the odds in favor of the good guys. There are some exciting things happening with social networking and online identity that could help address this increasingly important area.