Archive for October, 2013

Introducing Anonymity to Youtube

The video sharing giant, YouTube has introduced a long needed feature to protect peoples anonymity – the ability to blur peoples faces.  For many years activists and protestors living in police states and under dictators have used social media sites to inform the world of events in their countries.  Often with communications locked down and extensive surveillance in place these sites are the only ways that people can communicate with the outside world.  Unfortunately in countries like Syria, Iran and many of the ex-Russian states the authorities use these videos for their own security requirements.

Just think about it – these protest videos will commonly involve activists speaking out against regimes, close pictures and video streams of protests – all identifying leading activists and protesters.  All the regimes have to do is identify them and go and pick them up.  They also use them for real time security operations, videos are often uploaded live during meetings and protests.  Security services can use them to quickly identify locations and send people in to disrupt or arrest individuals involved.

There are no specific figures on how many people have been arrested across the world because of these videos, but it is certainly in the thousands judging on the number of stories that circulate.  Giving users the ability to quickly blur faces and other recognisable features in a video will go a long way to protecting the safety of activists in countries like Iran.  It of course doesn’t offer the true panacea of online anonymity that sites like this aspire to – http://www.onlineanonymity.org/  but it offers an important level of protection.  It also raises awareness of the dangers that posting these videos online can cause.  Many videos are uploaded by bystanders or angry young people who perhaps don’t consider the consequences of identifying activists on the front line.

There are other issues with uploading and identifying individuals online, there are definitely other dangers too.  Many people fail to consider that their IP address is logged, by many different servers while they are online.  Records exists in ISPs and on the web servers you connect to.  The only way to protect this is to obscure your real IP address and encrypt your connection.   Ironically although not advocated as a security precaution – this video about watching the BBC outside the UK  http://www.iplayerabroad.com/, demonstrates one method of uploading videos anonymously.

The technology is not quite perfect and we are unsure behind the effectiveness of the algorithm that detects and blurs the faces.  This is not a selective technology either at the moment with YouTube only offering the facility to blur all faces (not select which to blur and which to leave). Whatever it’s initial shortcomings though, it’s certainly an important step in offering some level of privacy online and hopefully we’ll see similar measures being implemented at other video and photo sharing sites shortly.

 

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Introducing the Monty Hall Problem

I’m sure many of you are familiar with this problem before because it’s pretty famous.  But just in case you haven’t here’s a great little video explaining the ’Monty Hall Problem’.

The vast majority of people first assume that switching choices after the first stage makes no difference.  Simply because the choices left would suggest that you still have a 50/50 chance of choosing the prize.  Hopefully that video explains why you would be much better to switch than stick with your original choice.

The best explanation I’ve seen is on the BBC web site by my favorite TV mathematician Marcus du Sautoy.  You can catch the show on  the BBC website at this address – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24045598 – here they actually run a small experiment to demonstrate the logic behind this problem.

Soem people may have problems watch the BBC video from outside the UK as it’s linked to a BBC show about Mathematics.  Apparently there are some licensing restrictions and stuff which prevent you accessing the video content – try this site which can with issues like how you can watch British TV even when in the USA or outside the UK – http://www.onlineanonymity.org/uk-tv/how-to-watch-uk-tv-in-usa/.

It’s a great little problem though for anyone interested in probability and for anyone fooled into the 50/50 assumption don’t worry – many famous mathematicians made the same mistake first.  It’s so counter intuitive to our understanding of probability theory on first sight it’s easy to see why it’s so confusing.

 

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