Government Surveillance

The fact that we are under surveillance is a kind of shared awareness in the modern society. Maybe for some who are absolutely not care about being watched by others, surveillance could never become a concern. But people started to gain a deeper understanding on the government’s surveillance and its impact, especially after Snowden’s revelation.

1) Can you hear me now?

It was reported and revealed that the US government and NSA was collecting caller information from Verizon, AT&T, and Bellsouth from 2001. The fact maybe unacceptable since the government ordered those companies to hand over detailed call information which includes time and location. However, the unpleasant truth is that, based on the America’s Law, the telecommunications providers have to build the networks in ways that “make the surveillance and interception possible (Richards, 2013, p. 1941)”.

Though the US officials claimed that such surveillance was legal and necessary to keep the nation secure, I am not surprised that many citizens would argue that the action went too far. Because information as personal phone calls is considered very “private”, let alone telephone wiretapping. If the case was like the FBI listened to Dr. King’s telephone conversation in order to seek the blackmail information, it would be more understandable, but apparently, the government can get all of our records. Therefore, Richards points out in the article that total surveillance is illegitimated, and must be “subjected to meaningful judicial process before it is authorized (p. 1961)”.

2) Yes we scan

According to the secret PowerPoint leaked by Snowden, the NSA’s was involved in a clandestine program called PRISM, in which the NSA collects data including email content, search histories and file transfers, etc. With its collaborated internet companies’ names listed, almost all the digital activities we conduct online could be known to the government. When the program was exposed, it was criticized for its ability to collect data “unintentionally”. Just as what is mentioned by Richards—secret surveillance is illegitimated—citizens should have the right to know what is watched by the government.

Richards also points out the information flow between the government and private companies—“Government and nongovernment surveillance support each other in a complex manner that is often impossible to disentangle (p. 1940)”. Apparently, in most times, the government turned to those private internet companies to ask for detailed, personal information. So in order to protect users’ privacy, restrictions should also be placed among those companies.

The surveillance of those personal digital activities may also results in bad consequence like blackmail, since it “gives the watcher greater power to influence (Richards, 2013, p. 1953)”. It reminds me of the drama Shut Up and Dance in Black Mirror, in which the victims are controlled and even forced to commit crimes by anonymous watcher, who threatening them to reveal their embarrassing secrets—some were released through email, some were recorded from the laptop’s camera.


Crowdsourcing Earthquake Map: Did you feel it?

The site I would like to discuss is Did you feel it?—a real-time earthquake map sourced from the mass. The very basic function it serves is to view a map of latest earthquakes or to report a felt earthquake for its viewers. As it is described on Toolkit, despite of certain challenges exist, the site has somewhat reached the success—the data updated on Feb, 23rd this year shows that through the crowdsourcing earthquake map, the U.S. Geological Survey has received more than 2.8 million responses and the data provide comprehensive earthquake coverage across the country.

When comparing the web to the emergency reporting cases mentioned in Asmolov (2015)’s article, the similarity of “bring the information from hundreds of sources” is obvious. It asks the volunteers who feel the earthquakes to fill out an online form with the location and their experiences of the shaking and effects. It also fit the 3 types of “classification regime” (informing, alerting, engagement) very well, both construct its viewers as responders and spectators, since the mainly purpose of the map is to let the public and responders better understand the effects of an earthquake—the site provides data for earthquake detection and issues a public alert.

The site has launched a mobile app, too. If the users want to make a report, they can then look into the listed earthquakes or report an unknown event. While reporting where and how strongly they have felt the earthquake, like the Emergency Aus app, the users are asked to describe what a particular sense indicates. If the users just want to see the map reported by others, they can simply click on the “Did you feel it” button. Like the Fire Ready app, the search catalog serves as folksonomy—the information is classified as different date, geographic regions, etc.


As for the people’s motivation of participation, unlike the Next Stop design case described in Brabham (2012)’s article, the site is not designed for a crowdsourcing completion—it gathers rather “information” than “ideas”, collects data without sort or rank them (let alone compensation like cash prize for winners). So the users are much more motivated intrinsically, according to the SDT. They are likely to gain an “inherent satisfaction” for reporting the information to the public, such as, they would probably believe that their contribution matters since the public needs the information of earthquakes, and they may feel their reports valuable when viewed by other users, as well as the USGS (applied of “participatory culture”). Also, the low barriers to entry the site and use the app also count.

Mobile Internet, the future info platform

Mobile internet is regarded indispensable now due to its features with less restriction from locales and facilities than computers. I concluded two listed of the uses of the mobile internet discussed in two articles except basic functions of talks and texts:

  • Communication features: e-mails, instant messaging
  • SNS: Facebook, to transfer photos, etc.
  • Web browsing activities
  • GPS
  • Downloading (Wijetunga, 2014)
  • ———-
  • Transferring money
  • Checking market prices
  • Sending and receiving public health or emergency messages
  • Taking photos, making films
  • Searching the internet
  • SNS: Facebook, Twitter, (some used it to discuss public affairs)
  • Monitoring elections and the government
  • Facilitating political participant and deepening democracy, activists used it for protests (Wasserman, 2011)

Among the selected groups of people both in Sri Lanka and South Africa, they all used the mobile internet to get access on social media, as well as the web browsing, which is, I remember, also my first attempt when I first had the physical access to a handset. However, since Wijetunga went through lots of activities of the underprivileged teenagers in Sri Lanka, they stick more on the basic affordances of a handset due to the lack of both language ability and prior exposure to computers (which leads to a lack of knowledge to use the sophisticated features of a smartphone). Meanwhile, people in South Africa use the mobile internet more proficiently, the biggest difference raised by Wasserman is that people there use it to better participate in political activities.


I would like to conduct a study to empirically examine the mobile internet using situation in China. More specifically, I would like to see people’s ways to access to news and other immediate information via the internet instead of traditional media. The study aims to answer two research questions:

  1. How have the ways of accepting news and immediate information been changed among the youths with the emergence of mobile internet?
  2. What are the differences of getting news and information from mobile phones among the youths with different backgrounds, and therefore how they would likely to response to those news and social events via the mobile internet?

The sample population would be teenagers from six grade in primary schools to high school’s graduates in China. The sample groups of teenagers would be better picked up in mainly two different provinces, such as Shanghai vs. Guizhou. Because digital divide exists apparently in China between provinces with different economic conditions and education qualities. I would like to see the current ways of using the mobile internet to get access with news among them, because the younger generations would always be the target population to take care of, considering the future development of the society. Nowadays, the news companies and organizations are making more efforts conducting apps and new ways to attract audience with their news. To see the results of the study, they can therefore have a more effective series of strategies doing that. And teenagers with different backgrounds may better receive the information from their handsets.

Remix: BGM tests–the importance of BGMs

Remixes or mashups are popular among fans, and I used to do that, too. Themes can vary from accompany, to encouragement, to a collection of wonderful moments, to creation of new plot lines of a story, etc. And bilibili is a popular platform for those kinds of remixes.

In the video, I did some BGM tests for the same  guy, which can lead to totally different video styles, and discussed the importance of selecting BGMs while conducting different types of mashups.

Digital Outlaws: Hackers & (non-) Rival Goods

Hacker is a noun heard a lot by individuals in this digital age, but I did acquire a more concise and clear cognition of the words hacker and hacktivism in Söderberg’s article and online research.

A hacker is a “very clever programmer (The New Hacker’s Dictionary)” and knows pretty much about computers (with sufficient technical knowledge). A hacker has the ability to find the weakness of computers and breaks into those systems with specific purposes (people with the only action of breaking into systems are more commonly referred to as “cracker”) WITHOUT permission. This somewhat leads to the society’s stereotype treating hackers as criminals because the word “hacker” is always bounded with the illegal behaviors.

With the development of the internet, there emerges an online anarchism, hackers are the very extreme representatives of those online anarchists. But when it comes to hacktivism, it has something to do with the political engagement of hackers—the group of people are therefore described as hacktivists, using computers promoting a political agenda. Many of its cases are related to human-rights issues—“although the notion of being apolitical has a long tradition in this setting, many have become politicised in recent years in response to new intellectual property laws, the spread of DRM and so on” (Söderberg, 2013, pp. 1278).


John explained in details the different interpretations of “sharing” in his article. When it comes to online file sharing, people have to distinguish the meaning of sharing which is referred in it—whether it is providing a free access to others, or it is a reproduction of files.

With the comparison of zero-sum type of sharing and non-zero-sum type of sharing, here comes the concepts of the rival and non-rival “goods”. The rival goods refer to as the goods which their original purchaser would experience a tangible loss if they are gained or used by someone else, so the examples are more likely to be physical goods and products—physical media such as hard disks when comes to the situation of file sharing. While non-rival goods won’t cause a loss to the original owners while being copied, such as digital music and movies distributed via networks—which I often do so since it is free for me to get access to the resource.

Though John noted that a scholar named Litman argues that“sharing digital objects is less like sharing cookies (John, 2014, pp.201)”, there is rarely cases in which the products can truly distributed as non-rival goods. They would probably do harm to the creators’ benefit. That may also explain the reason why entertainment industry and the government would prefer using the word “piracy” instead of “file sharing” to give the audience a sense of “stealing”.

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Viral online media: the Belly Button Challenge

    It seems to be true that, in the information society, virality somewhat represents the effectiveness of online massages (Alhabash & McAlister, 2015). The case I choose this week is the belly button challenge, which is reported widely by a variety of news sites. (click link here)



    This social media trend first started in China at June, 2015. Someone exposed on Weibo that to reach behind your back and around waist to touch your belly button to prove you are skinny enough to do so and show your good body figure in photos. The challenge post claims that, according to a “scientific study from US”, one should lose weight if fails to complete it. The trend soon exploded on China’s social media platforms and spilled to the Western societies. Hashtag as #BellyButtonChallenge appeared on Twitter.


    The trend started on Weibo, which means it can be easily and widely access by various amount of users thanks to the platform’s affordance. Based on Alhabash & McAlister’s idea of “viral reach” and “affective evaluation”, people are likely to “like” the content because it contains the idea of they may probably have interests in, like fitness, body shape, etc. and they are likely to share or forward the message with their online or offline social networks instead of simply viewing it and passing it (2015). As for me, though I didn’t participate the challenge or disclose my selfie online, but when the trend went viral, my roommates and I did try it offline and talked about it with others.

    One another reason for this viral meme to take the internet is it accomplished a two-way interaction between online viewers. As Alhabash & McAlister point out, the SNS motivations including entertainment, social connection, etc. (2015) So in the case with the chance to have a response, show off one’s body shape and fun at the same time, the audiences would participate proactively. It is also proved in Berger & Milkman’s article—the content’s valence of the case is positive, and it evoked high-arousal emotion (refers to amusement here). The case was entertaining, it was more viral and likely to be shared (2012). Also, the self-presentation motives accounts in shaping transmission.

    The celebrities like Mi Yang and Oh Se Hun’s post promoted the diffusion, too. The trend went viral accidentally, so the content does not contain identity, humor, nostalgia, etc. that mentioned by Jonah Peretti, but tips like capturing the moment and considering mobile should always be applied.

    The case ended up when some experts stood out opposing to try the challenge, in response to doubts from some people, who argued that this should have something to do with one’s arm length instead of body shape. The experts claimed that the challenge is actually a test of shoulder flexibility, and may somewhat hurt your body.

Algorithms: How Google Maps helps me

If an 8-year-old boy asks me what is an algorithm, I would take his favorite transformers toy as an example. In order to set the model up, we would need all its parts. We have to set up its base first, and then add other parts on that step by step. If we set up one part incorrectly, we have to start it over. The process is interpretable. And finally, we would therefore have an integrated transformer outcoming. Similarly, for an algorithm, we also have to use the contributing items and follow by a particular order to accomplish a certain desire.

Algorithms are designed to help guide individual’s behavior among daily activities. I always have the problem recognizing roads and directions. In the past, I should stick to paper maps, things could be much more inconvenient when I use public transportation.

I rely on the Google Maps since I first used it. The GPS-based service can locate my current position and my destination, guide me with a fastest route (not only considering the shortest, but also the traffic condition). If I choose the public transportation, it can show me the detailed steps taking buses or subways. Obviously, the affordances function from a set of algorithms, based on a large amount of data collected, though they are opaque and inaccessible to me (Wilton, 2016). It contains 3D images, too.

The app is suitable for mobile devices, pushed by some algorithms, which make it more attractive to users—we are likely to take phones to every places with us. And I like the way it “interacts” with me—the more times I use it, it recognizes the places I usually go, like the nearest food market.

Nonetheless, limitation exists. Because it always guides me to fastest place that meets my request, if I want to stop by at a bookstore on my way home, the Google Maps would thus guide me to the store that I can first reach in the shortest time, but the store may turn out to be in a reversed direction from my final destination.

Crawford discusses in the article about the scenes that algorithms might affect the real life (2016). I picked up the No. 5 scene as it reminds me of another case I have experienced.

In the June, 2016, the Korean pop star and well-known actor Park Yoochun was accused of sexual assault. The information first emerged on a small news site, a while afterwards, the Korea’s biggest searching engine was full of his name in the top hot searching contents, with the related words as sexual assault and crimination. Due to some algorithms of the searching websites, Park was exposed to the society with the sexual scandal. When the news disseminates to the social media platforms in China like Weibo, the unconfirmed news seemed to be the fact. Due to his popularity, a severe response emerged, audiences expressed disappointment and anger. Then hashtags as #ParkYoochunSexualAssault appeared on the trend and more people take it for the truth even though disputes exist. The news lasted for nearly two months when Park was claimed to be acquitted by Seoul police agency. The society was shamed. Nonetheless, a man fell from grace because of a combination of algorithms and audience’s interests, and may not fully recover his reputation again.

Privacy: As long as it reaches my needs

Though I occasionally get astonished when I see advertisements on a webpage which exactly aim the item I am recently interested in, I never had the idea how huge and complex a web of sites can be there tracking me. Sometimes it isn’t a bad thing while I may surprisingly find a related book that just fit my preference. But it ought to be an issue to concern.

Dailymotion is one of the online video sharing websites that I view the most, since it always has the newest updates of drama series. The videos are uploaded by individuals. As other video sharing websites, users have to bare a 15-60 seconds long advertisement before viewing a clip. what I do is always choose to watch the one, if there are several same pieces, with fewer views. Because more popular a video clip is, much advertisement time I need to go through—why is that? How do those advertisers know?

Though I have registered for the website for over a year, it’s the first time to read the site’s private policy. Not surprisingly, we are under surveillance.


Dailymotion gives its users free access to video resources to accumulate prosumers, and sell the information for profits. Based on the policy, the site allows third-party companies to collect information and serve ads about “goods and services likely to be of greater interest to you”. We are therefore exploited (Fuchs, 2012).

The policy claims they collect data that is voluntarily provided, and would not transmit it to third parties in case to protect Dailymotion’s rights and interests. However, small amounts of organizations can protect the privacy when privacy regulation is voluntary (Fuchs, 2012). And I noticed the policy is opt-out, too, for company’s profit. Nonetheless, the users have to accept it in order to use the platform.

Actually, except for the data that is automatically collected, I also release personal information on different social webs. The main predictor may be my general willingness.

The information I diffuse varies from different webs and platforms, considering the actual extent and accessibility of the sites (Taddicken, 2014). For instance, I would like to provide my date of birth on Twitter and Weibo, due to the function of notifying friend’s birthday, I would therefore receive much more wishes. But I may not release sensitive or intimate information on the platform because it is accessible for unknown audience. I won’t provide information like the driver’s license number or home address on an online forum, but would fill them in in details on an auto insurance website because I know they’re totally protected. And I tend to disclose my personal life on Wechat as my friends and acquaintances also use it.

Gary Kovacs states that the loss of privacy should not be the price to accept by getting on the Internet. But for me, the privacy is best described as the right to determine to whom and when which information is accessible, I like what Taddicken says about the “ideal degree of privacy”, as long as it reaches a balance between what I want to disclose and my need for privacy, it is just fine.