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Exploring the science and magic of Identity and Access Management
Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Everyone is a spidergram now

Freedom, Privacy
Author: Mark Dixon
Thursday, April 19, 2018
12:46 pm

Has mis-use of surveillance and analytics technology become ingrained in our culture?  Not long ago, it was the NSA surveillance scandal the rocked our sensibilities.  Now Facebook and and Cambridge Analytics are in the forefront of public consciousness.  And what technology did Cambridge Analytica use to process the data taken from Facebook? Palantir – a data analytics company that claims “We believe in augmenting human intelligence, not replacing it.”

A somewhat chilling Bloomberg article, “Palantir Knows Everything About You,” the authors claim,

Peter Thiel’s data-mining company is using War on Terror tools to track American citizens. The scary thing? Palantir is desperate for new customers.

The article further explains:

Founded in 2004 by Peter Thiel and some fellow PayPal alumni, Palantir cut its teeth working for the Pentagon and the CIA in Afghanistan and Iraq. The company’s engineers and products don’t do any spying themselves; they’re more like a spy’s brain, collecting and analyzing information that’s fed in from the hands, eyes, nose, and ears. The software combs through disparate data sources—financial documents, airline reservations, cellphone records, social media postings—and searches for connections that human analysts might miss. It then presents the linkages in colorful, easy-to-interpret graphics that look like spider webs.

This leads to my favorite sentence from the article, “Everyone is a spidergram now.”

Imagine that you are at the center off a spidergram like the one for Peter Thiel, but that your relationships and connections are shown, not his. How would you like such information to be revealed? 


How is it possible that a company founded to help protect citizens of the United States could mis-use technology to spy on the very citizens it was supported to protect?

I think the article got it right, “The scary thing? Palantir is desperate for new customers.”

In my observation, any mis-use of technology can be traced directly to the desire for money or power, and often both. If we want to understand the motivation behind such mis-use, just remember the famous words of Rod Tidwell (Cuba Goodiing, Jr.) in the film Jerry Maguire …

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Benjamin Franklin – Electricity and Freedom!

Freedom, History
Author: Mark Dixon
Friday, June 10, 2016
1:54 pm

Today, June 10, 2016, is the 264th anniversary of Benjamin Franklin’s electrifying experience of flying a kite in a thunderstorm and capturing a lightning strike in a Leyden Jar.  He is fortunate that he wasn’t killed!


Franklin’s fascination with electricity is the one of the reasons he is a personal hero to me. I share his interest in electricity, but I was able to learn about it in safer environment.

Another, more significant reason Benjamin Franklin is a hero to me was his commitment to the cause of Freedom.  He is the only one of the Founding Fathers who signed all four documents fundamental to the creation of the U.S.: the Declaration of Independence (1776), the Treaty of Alliance with France (1778), the Treaty of Paris (1783), which established peace with Great Britain, and the U.S. Constitution (1787).

A print of one of my favorite paintings by Del Parson hangs in our living room. Entitled “The Old Man Wept,” it depicts Benjamin Franklin shedding a tear as he signs the Constitution of the United States.


Thank you, Mr. Franklin!

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Tiananmen Square, the Internet and Freedom

Communications, Freedom, History
Author: Mark Dixon
Friday, June 3, 2016
11:10 am

Twenty-seven years ago today, on June 3, 1989, government officials in the People’s Republic of China authorized its soldiers and tanks to reclaim Beijing’s Tiananmen Square from protesting students and others seeking democratic reform. By nightfall on June 4, Chinese troops had forcibly cleared the square, killing hundreds and arresting thousands of demonstrators and suspected dissidents.


During this time, a graduate student from China was working at the same company where I was employed.  I witnessed him using the Internet to exchange messages with freedom-loving compatriots all over the world.  He was somewhat frightened that the Chinese government would discover what he was doing and harm his family back in China, so he asked me to not tell others what he was doing at that time.

As I watched what he was doing, I realized what a powerful force global electronic communications could be in the support of personal freedom. I’m sure the tremendous advances in personal freedom that have occurred in China since that time are due at least in part, to interpersonal communications via the Internet.  If people can communicate, it is really difficult for governments to suppress them and deny freedom.

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Happy Fourth of July!

Author: Mark Dixon
Thursday, July 4, 2013
7:46 am

Parades, flags, patriotism, freedom … Happy Fourth of July!  To all who serve or have served to establish and protect our great nation and the freedoms we enjoy, please accept my heartfelt thanks!


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Orwell was a Prophet

Freedom, Privacy
Author: Mark Dixon
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
10:33 pm

I read a chilling article in the Wall Street Journal this evening, entitled, “U.S. Terrorism Agency to Tap a Vast Database of Citizens.

Yep … that means you and me – data about us law abiding citizens will now be analyzed by government officials, all without judicial warrant or probable cause.

Counterterrorism officials wanted to create a government dragnet, sweeping up millions of records about U.S. citizens—even people suspected of no crime. …

The rules now allow the little-known National Counterterrorism Center to examine the government files of U.S. citizens for possible criminal behavior, even if there is no reason to suspect them. …

Now, NCTC can copy entire government databases—flight records, casino-employee lists, the names of Americans hosting foreign-exchange students and many others. The agency has new authority to keep data about innocent U.S. citizens for up to five years, and to analyze it for suspicious patterns of behavior.

It was way back in my high school days when I read and was terrified by the prospects of George Orwell‘s novel Nineteen Eighty Four.  Orwell might have predicted the wrong year, but what once seemed like far-fetched political satire seems disturbingly like accurate prophesy.

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NASA Photo of New York City – 9/11/2001

Author: Mark Dixon
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
6:52 am

Today, NASA posted the following photo taken from space on September 11, 2001, with these comments:

Visible from space, a smoke plume rises from the Manhattan area after two planes crashed into the towers of the World Trade Center. This photo was taken of metropolitan New York City (and other parts of New York as well as New Jersey) the morning of September 11, 2001. “Our prayers and thoughts go out to all the people there, and everywhere else,” said Station Commander Frank Culbertson of Expedition 3, after the terrorists’ attacks.

The following day, he posted a public letter that captured his initial thoughts of the events as they unfolded. “The world changed today. What I say or do is very minor compared to the significance of what happened to our country today when it was attacked.”

Upon further reflection, Culbertson said, “It’s horrible to see smoke pouring from wounds in your own country from such a fantastic vantage point. The dichotomy of being on a spacecraft dedicated to improving life on the earth and watching life being destroyed by such willful, terrible acts is jolting to the psyche, no matter who you are.”


Collective Intelligence and Global Democracy

Author: Mark Dixon
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
4:26 am

I was intrigued with the following two tweets that appeared in my Twitter stream this morning, only three tweets apart in the stream:

From @newsbrooke: RT @johnmitchinson: ‘We could be on the cusp of a whole new global democracy” Another must read from @newsbrooke: bit.ly/mSXx0k

From @gartner_inc: Creativity, Social Exchange, & Collective Intelligence will Make the Future Better than past. gtnr.it/omppJE #GartnerPCC Summit.

The first referenced Heather Brooke, who spoke about the role of social media in the UK riots

There are always going to be new ways to communicate and a democratic society shouldn’t be afraid of that. That was the whole purpose of the First Amendment [to the US Constitution]. Free communication was never the enemy, it was the liberator. …

We could be on the cusp of a whole new global democracy, where individuals have incredible power or we  could become a global totalitarian society where all of us are under surveillance at all times.

The second tweet references a speech to be given by Matt Ridley at the Gartner Portals, Content & Collaboration Summit on September 21, 2011:

Matt Ridley argues that for most people in the world, the future is going to be inexorably better than the past for the following reasons. 1. Despite recessions and wars, human society has been getting wealthier, healthier, happier, cleverer, cleaner, freer, kinder, more peaceful and more equal. 2. Though we repeatedly expect this improvement to cease, yet it keeps defying the pessimists. 3. There is a reason that this happens – through exchange and specialization, a process that allows us to work efficiently for each other in an increasingly interdependent way that creates a sort of collective intelligence.

The two phrases that caught my attention were “global democracy” and “collective intelligence”.  I agree with Ms. Brooke that social networking does enhance the democratic voice of the people, and can be a powerful influence against totalitarianism.  The same phenomenon will contribute to our collective intelligence as we share ideas.   The challenge and opportunity is to sort through all the noise and ultimately find truth.

Back in 1995, following the advice of Stephen R. Covey, I established a personal mission statement.  One line in that statement is “Enhance Human Freedom through Global Electronic Communications.”  I like to think that my small participation in social media will indeed contribute to human freedom through sharing ideas in the ever-expanding network of people interconnected with global electronic communications.

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Happy Memorial Day – God Bless the USA!

Author: Mark Dixon
Monday, May 30, 2011
12:48 pm

A neighbor friend of mine, Keith Ferrin, a retired US Air Force fighter pilot and flight instructor, surprised me last week by dropping by our home to give me this wonderful wood carving.  He made this 8-inch diameter beauty by hand, using a scroll saw.   This shall always be a treasured reminder of the ultimate sacrifice of those who died in defense of liberty, and of those who lived and serve in defense of liberty today.

Thank you Keith!  Thanks to all of you who died and live in defense of freedom.

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