Ryan Calo's blog

Facebook's Security Screening

UPDATE: Facebook explains the security procedure here. Apparently they only use photos if you have not set up another verification means. Also, I have confirmation that the photo identification is not being done for a secondary purpose.

I recently tried to sign on to Facebook from a coffee shop. I was told that I had to pass a security screening because of the "strange location." Fair enough. The actual test, however, was surprising. It was comprised of a multiple choice exam where I had to identify who was in a given picture.

A couple of things. First, some of the pictures were embarrassing. I doubt the person who uploaded them thought they would be used to screen for improper access. Think about it. Facebook is showing random private photos to people because it suspects they may not be the account holder. The photos must be private because they form the basis of a security screening. Read more about Facebook's Security Screening

Should The Law Punish Robot Tasks Differently?

I attended a fascinating thesis defense today on the subject of human-robot interaction by Stanford PhD candidate Victoria Groom. HRI experiments apparently tend to focus on human encounters with robots; few studies test the psychology behind robot operation. Groom’s work explores how we feel about the tasks we perform through robots. One of the more interesting questions she and her colleagues ask is: to what extent do we feel like it’s really us performing the task? The question is important where, as in the military, people work through robots to carry out morally charged tasks. And the answer might have repercussions for how we think about evaluation and punishment. Read more about Should The Law Punish Robot Tasks Differently?

New Blog: Robotics And The Law

I started a new blog around robotics programming and scholarship at Stanford Law School. Some of us here believe that robotics is a transformative technology on par with the Internet. (We're not alone: the "roadmap for U.S. robotics" prepared for Congress by a coalition of robotics labs and research institutes is called "From Internet to Robotics.") I've said before and I'll say again: the age of Internet exceptionalism is over. We can now do "digital" things in the real world. The chief importance (and danger) of the Internet is the imaginative possibilities it opens up. Robotics is how we will prove the slogan Chris Anderson came up with in a slightly different context: "Atoms are the new bits." Please stay tuned.

Thanks to Elaine Adolfo for the image. Read more about New Blog: Robotics And The Law

Thanks from WhatApp.org!

The response to WhatApp.org has been wonderful, thanks! We now have over 20 registered and approved experts from a wide variety of sectors, including privacy compliance, law, and computer science. Many (many) people have signed up, left comments, edited wikis, or suggested apps to review for privacy, security, and openness. (We're going to run out of apps to review, so please do "add an app" if you get a chance!) If you have comments or questions, please email whatapp@law.stanford.edu. It's a work in progress and we need your help. Thanks again---especially to the Rose Foundation for their generous support. Read more about Thanks from WhatApp.org!

Unvarnished Revisited (& Updated)

UPDATE: Unvarnished changed its privacy policy, addressing some of the problems I mentioned. Thanks!

I recently wrote about my disappointment in Unvarnished’s privacy policy. To his credit, founder Pete Kazanjy immediately invited me to coffee. Turns out they’ve been thinking very hard about the delicate balance between anonymity and accountability, it just hasn’t made its way into the privacy policy. (The privacy policy, like the service itself, is still in beta.) Read more about Unvarnished Revisited (& Updated)

Unvarnished & Unintellible

UPDATE: I had a good meeting with Peter Kazanjy about Unvarnished. My thoughts on that meeting and what I learned here. Among other things, Unvarnished has now cleaned up its privacy policy to address many of the concerns I mention below.

Like many of you, I'm trying to figure out what the personal reputation website Unvarnished (now in beta) is all about. I notice that I need to sign in through Facebook Connect before I can kick the proverbial tires. So, before turning over my entire Facebook profile to a unknown entity, I decide to check out Unvarnished's privacy policy. I find I don't understand it. Read more about Unvarnished & Unintellible

WhatApp.org: Now In Beta

There's an app for everything these days. But users often don't have a complete picture of the applications they download and use. Privacy policies are technical or vague and seldom allow users to compare practices among different services. Too often users are compelled to forgo their privacy if they want to use a given online product or service. There is little ability to choose an application based on better privacy or security practices because there are few ways to learn that information at the time of download.

Indeed, ninety-one percent of respondents to a TRUSTe survey expressed a willingness to take further steps to safeguard their privacy if presented with usable tools.
WhatApp.org is an app review website that tries to do just that. WhatApp.org combines traditional consumer reporting and review tools with wikis, ratings, and news feeds to allow both savvy Internet experts and novices to share insights about privacy and security features. With nearly 200 applications from a diverse array of platforms (iPhone, Facebook, Twitter, Android, and Firefox), WhatApp.org aims to help fill the current market gap between consumer demand for privacy friendly applications and insufficient practices employed by many, though certainly not all, developers. Here's how to get involved: Read more about WhatApp.org: Now In Beta

Google Italy & Privacy: Not What You Might Think

Reading through Italian news coverage of the Google Italy case, another picture emerges. User privacy may well be at issue, but not in the way you probably think. I grew up in Italy and now research and teach Internet law in the United States. When I heard about the verdict against three Google executives, one of them an alumnus of the law school where I work, I went first to American sources, then to Italian ones. What I found was that most Americans may be getting the basic facts and ideas of the case wrong. Read more about Google Italy & Privacy: Not What You Might Think

Chatroulette: From Art To Commodity

Chatroulette is frame to much of what is terrible and much of what is wonderful about the Internet. It is the best of websites and it is the worst of websites. In case you’re one of the few people that reads cyberspace blogs but doesn’t know about the service, Chatroulette sets up a video, audio, or text chat session with a completely random stranger. Either party to the arrangement can skip to the next. That’s about it. Chatroulette does not require registration let alone age verification, although the site makes noises about having to be at least 16. You can change the display a little. There, I’ve described it.

Chatroulette takes many of the most interesting facets of the Internet and runs them into their no-frills, logical boundary. The Internet permits anonymous speech; Chatroulette can be completely anonymous. The Internet permits people to connect across diverse communities; Chatroulette practically forces this connection. It is deeply democratic in the sense that it makes no effort to privilege one type of content over another. The brainchild of a Russian child, reportedly hosted in Germany and written in English, Chatroulette is dramatically international. It connects the curious youth of Europe, to you and I, to the white-hatted frat boys of America, to all the weird anywhere shut-ins in between. Read more about Chatroulette: From Art To Commodity

One-Way Mirror Society

Pam Dixon of World Privacy Forum has released an eye-opening new report (PDF) about offline consumer surveillance. Pam describes a quiet revolution in digital signage able to profile us as "users" of real space. I've written before about the danger of techniques developed on the Internet bleeding out into the real world. Well here is the proof. As Wired's Chris Anderson recently wrote in another context, "atoms are the new bits." Pam's report shows just why that matters. Read more about One-Way Mirror Society

National Robotics Week

I'm very happy to announce National Robotics Week, an effort by leading robotics companies, research universities, museums, and others to raise awareness of U.S. robotics. In this inaugural year, NRW will take place all over the country April 10 through 18, including three great events in the Bay Area.

The website is nationalroboticsweek.org. You can follow NRW on Twitter (#roboweek) and Facebook.

PS: The NRW logo is available under a Creative Commons license. Read more about National Robotics Week

Audit Zittrain's "Difficult Problems In Cyberlaw"

Jonathan Zittrain and Elizabeth Stark invite you to follow along with "Difficult Problems in Cyberlaw," an innovative course at Stanford involving students from three leading schools. Details for the course---including a wiki and Twitter---below. I'm appearing as a guest on January 12.

"In the coming three weeks, students from Harvard, MIT, and Stanford will be tackling real-life problems of Internet commerce, governance, security, and information dissemination at Stanford Law School. This course, Difficult Problems in Cyberlaw, covers the Global Network Initiative, ubiquitous human computing, the future of Wikipedia, and cybersecurity, and is co-taught by Jonathan Zittrain and Elizabeth Stark." Read more about Audit Zittrain's "Difficult Problems In Cyberlaw"

Robotics & The Law: Liability For Personal Robots

I’m in the middle of writing a paper on liability for harm caused by (or with) personal robots. The paper grows out of a panel that Dan Siciliano and I organized around the present, near future, and far future of robotics and the law. I’ve recently received some media coverage that, while welcome and accurate, presents a danger of oversimplifying my position. Specifically, a few people have understood my remarks to suggest that manufacturers should enjoy total immunity for the personal robots they build and sell, merely because doing otherwise would chill innovation.

This post develops my position in a little more detail. On my view, robotics manufacturers should be immune from certain theories of civil liability—particularly those premised on the range of a robot’s functionality. I don’t believe that the law should bar accountability for roboticists in all instances. Nor am I by any means certain that my suggestion represents the exact right way to handle liability. But I am convinced that we should talk about the issue. The alternative is to risk missing out on a massive global advance in technology capable of substantially better our world. Read more about Robotics & The Law: Liability For Personal Robots

ACLU of Northern California Launches dotRights

The ACLU of Northern California has officially launched dotRights, a comprehensive set of materials and tools to learn about, and act upon, privacy and free speech on the Internet. Complete with an interactive village covering topics from cloud computing to e-book privacy, this website and campaign represent a game-changing resource for anyone (company, activist, regulator, or consumer) who cares about privacy and free speech on the Internet. Congratulations and great work!

PS: You can follow the campaign on Facebook and Twitter. Read more about ACLU of Northern California Launches dotRights


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