The Roundup for February 3-9, 2018 Edition

Layers, 2018, Toronto by Christopher Parsons

We generate a vast amount of digital exhaust which imperceptibly lingers around us. The metadata and content that’s left behind us is typically regarded as harmless until it’s used or abused, or until it’s misappropriated by someone.

Part of this exhaust follows from our regular shifting between services as our tastes, interests, attitudes, ambitions, and desires change. Social media platforms are adopted and abandoned. Fitness tracking systems that were exciting one year are dull the next and then forgotten, with the tracker consigned to a trash bin or electronics drawer and data residing in perpetuity with whatever service was collecting it. The data we’ve contributed to all those services lingers: it can come back to haunt us in ways we don’t understand or appreciate when signing up for the service, and it can be challenging to undo the associated harms when they befall us.

As part of my ongoing effort to clean up some of the exhaust I’ve left behind, I deleted an old Fitbit account a few weeks ago. It was a bit annoying — you need to contact support, click yes to some emails, and then support will delete the information — but after ten minutes or so the account and its data was consigned to the dustbin of the Internet. Similarly, I blew away over 32,000 tweets this week. I left the last six months data behind or so, but it means that there’s a long trace of exhaust that’s gone.1 And I’ll be undertaking similar operations for the rest of the year, or at least so I’ve planned.

In the case of the Fitbit data, it now rests securely in Apple Health, giving me a broader understanding of changes to my fitness activities than I previously enjoyed. I downloaded a copy of my tweets before wiping them away. And for personal blogs, I’m either consolidating them here or into a semi-local digital journal so I don’t lose what I’ve previously written. But if I’m serious it’s unlikely that I’m going to re-read (that many) of my old blogs. And I’m not looking at daily variations between today’s fitness regime and that of 2008. The data could do a lot more in other persons’ hands to harm me than in my own hands to benefit me, especially as I’ve moved away from where those blogs were active and the fitness communities where members engaged with one another.

The only thing that bothers me is that, in removing things from the Internet, I’m breaking the links that were inbound to those respective pieces of content. But…did anyone really link back to old tweets and, if they did, do I have a responsibility for their linking to what I tend to perceive as off-hand comments? Do I have to maintain and support now long-abandoned accounts on the presumption that someone might someday want to follow a link?

For a long time I would have said ‘yes’ to either of those statements. But I just don’t think that that’s a healthy attitude: humanity forgets. And then we rebuild the old it is in slightly different formats and in the (perceived) image of the past. I can’t imagine those old tweets, blogs, or fitness tracking data being so important that anyone will want to rebuild or remake what they once were and, if that is the case, then they’re welcome to follow in humanity’s ancient footsteps of imaging the past and superimposing their own aspirations, dreams, desires, and fears upon it.


Inspiring Quotations

Writing for friends and yourself can clear your thoughts, help you plan and invite the discovery of new ideas. Writing with the intention to put your thoughts out there leads to real writing. Writing gets real when it is read. Before that, it is a dream in letters. Writing to get read makes you careful, responsible, and considerate. It forces you to think as simply, clearly and understandably as possible. It forces you to think about how what you say may look and feel from the outside. Writing to be read may not be desirable for everybody. But if you feel that you have something to say, write to be read. Don’t search for something to write because you want to be famous or rich. If you want fame jump from a cliff into a butter bucket on YouTube. If you want to be rich, get into finance.

New Apps and Great App Updates from this Week

Great Photography Shots

I love these shots of Ice Caves in Iceland.

Photography by Matěj Kříž
Photography by Matěj Kříž
Photography by Matěj Kříž

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

Cool Things

Footnotes

  1. Of course if a company or organization has previously scraped that data, which does happen, then those records will persist beyond my public deletion of the tweets.
  2. I’m really finding this great background music for just getting work done. Great moody music.
Aside

2018.1.16

I’ve swapped between a bunch of different fitness trackers (and companies) over the past several years. I love how Apple Health manages to bring all of them together…except for my historical Fitbit data. But I found (and installed and ran) myFitnessSync for Fitbit – Fitbit to Apple Health and now I finally have all of my data stored in Apple Health. And, also, I can now blow away my old Fitbit account!

Image

I’m really not clear why the hell a fitness application needs to be able to read who is calling me and to be able to track my outbound phone calls.

Thus far I’ve spoken via Twitter with their mobile developer, who says that the permissions request is an error on his part. I’ve also gone back and forth – repeatedly – with Fitbit’s technical support team. The first response wasn’t in parseable English, and the subsequent messages haven’t clarified why this particular permission is needed.

So, after several days of trying to learn why Fitbit is requesting these Android permissions – and what data they’re collecting – I’m not really any closer to understanding the situation than I was when I started this whole process. I’m thinking that it’s about time to exercise my rights as a Canadian and start requesting copies of all data that the company has captured about me….and then see if they’re willing to comply with Canadian privacy laws.

Link

Keeping Fitbit safe from hackers and cheaters with FitLock

The ability to hack these devices, at the outset, seems silly: who would bother?

But as more and more organizations provide these to employees, to individuals they insure, and so forth, the desire to ‘game the system’ will increase. The problem is less along the lines of ‘you can capture this data’ – though that is a privacy concern – and more along the lines of ‘how can I beat the system reliably to advantage myself’.