What am I missing…

While listening to public radio, my ears perked up when I heard a story about how the first MP3 was created. It seems that in 1987, Tom’s Diner by Suzanne Vega was the first song that was compressed into what we now know as the current MP3. It seems that to create an MP3 the file is compressed and that some of the audio data is lost in the process. While the current technology seems to give us acceptable losses, there are losses none the less. Ryan Maguire’s Ghost in the MP3 project examines this lost information and presents this lost data as an oddly beautiful piece of music, a sort of phoenix from the ashes. In addition, our cell service is regularly flattened which has the effect of removing the emotion out of the voice we are listening to while supposedly reducing background noise, it also removes some of the emotional content of the voice- possibly one of the few remaining things that we have that computers can not yet replicate.
While these losses may seem insignificant, it reminds me of the poem by Martin Niemoller, “First They Came” how one by one the Nazis purged groups until there was no one left to protest when at last they came for the author, no one was left to hear his protests. What exactly are we compressing, do we know what we loose over the thundering goosestepping of technology. While I like to think we have learned from our mistakes if we wait too long our calls of protest will be devoid of emotion content in the interest of reducing the background noise.


Accountable to no one.

(Many thanks to Mr. Michael (Fletch) Reed for being a guest blogger this week)

Last week, Vizio was hit with a $2.2 million fine for collecting information about the viewing habits of people who used their televisions. Vizio not only collected the information but sold it to third parties. This aggregation and selling of data are not new. Google and Facebook make it a part of their license agreements that they will do this which is common in the industry to spell out what is being collected. However, in this case, Vizio was secretly collecting the data while the consumer was completely unaware that this was happening. This is patently wrong and a violation of the consumer’s privacy.

I have a friend who works in the development group at a software company. (Let’s call the company MFC). MFC collects information about people who use their software but allows the users to opt out if they chose to do so. Additionally, the information MFC collects is solely about the usage of MFC’s software to allow the company to decide which features to invest in and to determine what features are lagging in use.

What is the key difference between Vizio and MFC? The developers at MFC actually decided which information would help them make decisions about the usage of the software and the software only. There was little to no input from the marketing and sales departments. The developers exercised a level of restraint and ethics. But how common is this in the software industry if Vizio was collecting the information on the sly?

Other professional groups such as lawyers, doctors, and accountants have a code of ethics in place. Shouldn’t software developers be held accountable, be required to maintain a set of ethics to safeguard the consumer’s privacy?