Apple iOS 6 and Privacy

privacy, policy

My first blog post as part of my new job just went up.

In case you missed it, I'm the new senior staff technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology. In addition to research and tech. translation, we also aim to put out some regular blog posts on interesting issues... this time about the privacy features of Apple's new mobile operating system, iOS 6:

Apple iOS 6 and Privacy

When iOS 6 was released last week, the "big news" was Apple's decision to drop Google Maps. In the uproar that followed, iOS 6's privacy features received little fanfare, despite receiving a major overhaul. Many changes CDT has advocated for?including giving users more control over tracking and increasing the visibility of and options in the privacy settings?have been adopted in the new version.

In Settings, Apple has created a new Privacy tab (see the images below). It contains the familiar Location Services tab, allowing users to determine which apps have access to the device?s location. The Privacy tab also lists a number of other types of data that will now require explicit requests to the user for data sharing, including Contacts, Calendars, Reminders, Photos, and Bluetooth. (Android, by contrast, lists all information and services that an app can access during installation, although they can't be changed later without a manual app update and a permissions notice to the user.)


Braille vs. OCR in Business Cards

accessibility, photos, usability

A researcher at NIST recently gave me a rather unique business card, with Braille text embossed on the card!

Cool! This would be a great thing for those of us that work with people with visual disabilities.

One catch, though: OCR-reading software such as WorldCard Mobile (on iOS or Android) doesn't like the Braille indentations much... which means that people with visual impairments that can't read Braille -- most of them! -- will stump their OCR software on these cards.

(I realize that the Braille can be read despite my blurring the visual printing on the card. If you can read it, point the researcher to this post!)

Time-stamp at the Bottom of HTML files with Emacs


Do you edit HTML in Emacs? If so, this might be interesting to you:

The Emacs Wiki has a great little hint that will update a time-stamp at the bottom of an HTML file when you save it. Pretty useful if you hand-edit HTML files and want automatic time-stamp updating but not at the top of the file (time-stamp in Emacs only looks at the first 8 lines of a file).

The idea is to use Emacs local variables to tell the time-stamp function to look at the last few lines instead of the first few. I modified the example linked to above as I also wanted it to stamp according to my current time zone and leave the username out of the stamp.

Here's what you do:

  1. Add the following lines to your .emacs file so that Emacs knows to update the time stamp and also that you'll be modifying the default format:

    (add-hook 'write-file-hooks 'time-stamp)
    (setq time-stamp-pattern nil)
  2. Add the following to the bottom of your HTML file:

           <p>Last modified: ()</p>
        <!-- Local Variables: -->
        <!-- time-stamp-pattern: "-10/Last modified:[ \t]+\\\\?[\"(]+%:y-%02m-%02d %02H:%02M:%02S %Z\\\\?[\")]" -->
        <!-- time-stamp-time-zone: `current-time-zone' -->
        <!-- End: -->
    If you copy and paste this, it should copy fine... The blog might cut the pattern off. Note: the text of the time-stamp-pattern here is
    -10/Last modified:[ \t]+\\\\?[\"(]+%:y-%02m-%02d 
    %02H:%02M:%02S %Z\\\\?[\")]
    but all one line with a space between the two parts.

  3. Now close Emacs entirely and reopen the file in question... make a modification and save the file; the time-stamp should update automatically.

Revisualizing the NTIA MSH Polling Data

hacks, policy, privacy, usability

The NTIA today released notes from the first MSH meeting on consumer privacy today. However, I couldn't easily understand the format they reported their data (PDF) in... so, I turned it into a bunch of sparklines -- itty-bitty bar graphs:

Let me know if you have any suggestions or corrections.

ATLAS.ti Software Compatibility

wtf?, research, usability

This is a rant; you may want to move on.

As part of my work, I interact regularly with a piece of software, ATLAS.ti, that permits various forms of qualitative data analysis. Think of a project where researchers collect 30 or so interview transcripts and want to "code" the transcripts to note common themes and ideas across individual interviewees. ATLAS.ti is exceedingly expensive, costing my grant $600 for an educational license (but $2,300 if you're not educational or governmental/non-profit).

While ATLAS can be pretty damn frustrating, much of the functionality is pretty unique to and particularly powerful for these kinds of analyses, so many of us just frown and bear it when things don't work, are very complicated to get to work or are simply missing, as in this case after clicking on "Relevant Text Search":

WTF? This error message (and another, more cryptic one) should have served as a warning that this is very expensive but not-fully-baked software.

And now I'm pissed because a separate, fundamental problem in the ATLAS.ti software (and business) model has become a serious problem in my research work with other collaborators.

Here's the crux: When you install a new version of Microsoft Office, you can save documents in the file format for the new version and at least the old version (if not a format, like RTF, that can be opened by very old versions of the software). The reason this makes sense is that you want people to be able to transfer documents with little trouble and get work done. What if you were to buy an upgrade to software like MS Office and only the new version could open the file format in which it saves files? No one would upgrade as everyone would want to "speak" the common tongue of the old format. (Of course, newer MS Word programs save in DOCX instead of DOC, but they always include a way to "Save As..." DOC.)

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