Searching for the Super Human

I had the great pleasure of being interviewed today by Ms Anja Taylor in Los Angeles today. Anja works for Wildbear Entertainment that does co-productions with all the major television channels in Australia. She was formerly a researcher and presenter on Catalyst. This interview will form a part of the documentary series: “Searching for the Super Human” that will air on ABC in Australia later this year.


Here are some of the topic Anja and I talked about:

  1. Brief discussion about the internet of things and the emergence of big data. What effect / impact this is having on society.

  2. You have mentioned “ambient intelligence” in your articles - what is it?

  3. What are “insertable chips” and what is their brief history? What types of new insertable chips are starting to emerge?

  4. Recently we have seen trials for insertable chips which can be used to open doors or pay for public transport, the trials found largely that people found them useful and painless – do you have concerns with these?

  5. What smart chips are you most concerned with?

  6. We are already being tracked with our smartphones – is this different?

  7. Our pets are now chipped as a matter of course – do you see this happening with humans? What are the implications?

  8. Can we not just opt out? Can it be done responsibly?

A special thank you to Luke for filming.

Is it the end of privacy?

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Citation: Katina Michael with Eric Gyors, March 28, 2018, "Is it the end of privacy?", EPISODE: Wednesday Drive – 4:00pm 28th Mar 2018


Psychometrics, big data, data-driven approaches, microtargetting, and you

The damning evidence is mounting on CA. Today it was announced that CEO Alexander Nix has been suspended from his position given a Channel 4, UK covert sting recording.

Citation: Katina Michael with Cassie McCullagh, March 21, 2018, "Psychometrics, big data, data-driven approaches, microtargetting, and you", ABC Sydney Radio: FOCUS:

US ESTA VISA Form Now Requesting Social Media Data

Social media profiles are currently on request by US Customs and Border protection, so at the moment this is optional, but for those wanting temporary visas, it looks like the US will be requiring a social media profile as condition of entry.  Roderick spoke with Professor Katina Michael - Associate Dean at International Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences at University of Wollongong, who says that this has far-reaching implications for privacy and human rights.

Full Citation: Katina Michael and Roderick Chambers, "Social media profiles needed for US temporary visas", The Daily-2SERFM, 30 December 2016, 10.47-10.58am. Available:

Rattenbury to raise warrants for MyWay data with Attorney-General


Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury will discuss the introduction of additional privacy safeguards on AFP access to data retained on MyWay cards with Attorney-General Simon Corbell, despite ACT Policing insisting it is an acceptable investigative tool.
The Minister for Territory and Municipal Services' decision comes after revelations the AFP has requested data retained on the cards 27 times since the introduction of the scheme in 2010. with 16 requests resulting in information being handed over to police. 

While ACT Policing would not detail how many arrests had resulted from access to the data, a spokeswoman said the information obtained had assisted investigations into murder and under-age sex crimes.
"We can disclose that the data generated has assisted in some very serious investigations, including murder, aggravated robbery, stalking, sexual intercourse with a young person under the age of 16 and assault," she said. "It has also assisted in seeking missing persons."

MyWay data held by the ACT government - which is retained for a minimum of seven years - can be disclosed to  federal agencies including the AFP, Australian Tax Office, Centrelink - and as needed in law enforcement, collection of fines or protection of public revenue.
AFP investigators do not need warrants to access MyWay data. and are only required to comply with Australian privacy laws. 

Mr Rattenbury said he was "always concerned to ensure that data privacy is appropriate".
"This is a matter I will discuss with Attorney [General Simon Corbell]; however I would note that any change, to be consistent, would need to be applied to all data across government - as the same protocols apply across the board," he said.

"ACTION is using the same protocols and requirements that apply across all ACT government agencies."

But ACT Policing said the introduction of warrants on access to MyWay data would result in an unnecessary delay on police activities and investigations into serious offences.

"Timeliness can be vital in a police investigation, particularly when a person's life or safety may be under immediate threat," said an ACT Policing spokeswoman.

The spokeswoman said police will "always look to use a variety of tools and resources in their investigations of crime and to keep the community safe".

"Governance is well-established around the acquisition of this data for investigative purposes, and police use it only when necessary to an investigation," she said.

Mr Rattenbury said there was a clear process in place for the AFP to request data obtained on MyWay cards, despite his decision to discuss additional privacy safeguards with Mr Corbell.
"They have to provide details such as the legislation under which the request is made, details of why they want it, details (such as badge number) of the person requesting it," he said.

"The form makes it clear that unless the request complies with legislation it will be refused."
Dr Tim Legrand, a lecturer at the national security college at the Australian National University, said policing agencies were likely to welcome any tool that could strengthen their ability to deter or detect crime.

"The ability to pinpoint the movements of suspects using public transport before, during or after committing an offence is certainly useful, though it should be emphasised that - as a tool - it can only complement and not replace tried-and-tested investigation methods," he said.

But associate dean at the University of Wollongong's international school of information systems and technology, Katina Michael, said it was a violation of citizens' privacy rights for public transport cards to be used in a fashion other than what they were intended for.

"Location data can reveal things about a person that should only be accessible with a warrant," she said.

"Who's to say that this kind of data will not be demanded en masse and used in ways to model a variety of human behaviour using big data approaches?"

Thousands of similar requests for personal information and user history have been made in Queensland and Victoria in recent years, including in at least one murder investigation where police tracked a key witness to a Brisbane  suburb.

MyWay travel history has been used in the reorganisation of Canberra's bus lines and timetables, including as part of the Network 14 changes announced by Territory and Municipal Services Minister Shane Rattenbury this month.

This story was found at: http/Iwww.canberratimeAcom.aulact-news/rattenbury-to-raise-warrants-for-myway-data-with-attomeygeneral¬20140803-zzecq.html

Citation: Henry Belot, August 3, 2014, "Rattenbury to raise warrants for MyWay data with Attorney-General", Canberra Times,

Big Data or Big Brother?

And it’s not just Baker who has come to this conclusion. Many others including academics Katina Michael and Keith Miller contend Big Data will ‘change how we live in both small and large ways’. In particular, Michael and Miller have documented how Big Data has altered peoples’ modes of consumption. Businesses are using this information to ‘expose people’s hidden behavioural patterns’ and effectively suggest products for purchase. No doubt you’ve seen it before, ‘People who bought this product also bought product X’. I bet you’d be lying if you said you had never clicked through. They also observe that Big Data analysis is leading to an ‘anticipatory approach’ to fighting crime. But more on that later.

Although data analysis has been around since humans started keeping records, today’s digital era is the first time so much, and so many different types of data have been collected, stored and effectively understood. As American academic Michael Ackerman says ‘in today’s world everything is digital, and therefore everything can be considered as data’. When you can track patterns of digital behaviour, you can begin to predict what people will do, and target individuals for marketing, votes and even government surveillance. This is what makes all our online activities so extremely valuable

SO I’M TELLING you Big Data can be used to understand us as people who vote, buy, love and even commit crimes, but how? Understanding us as a consumer is generally pretty straightforward, as demonstrated by Miller and Michael above. Similarly, during an election campaign American politicians no longer want to use all their marketing resources on broadcasting TV ads. They still do a bit of this, but most of their marketing money now targets undecided voters, in election deciding states like Ohio. Baker sounded a little upset by this on the phone because during the 2012 US election ‘no-one gave a damn’ about his vote. Obama and Romney ignored him completely because Baker lives in a safe Democratic seat. Obama already had his vote, and Romney knew it wouldn’t make a difference. If he had lived in Ohio on the other hand, his vote would be worth money because it might decide the election.

The fact big companies and politicians are spying on us is hardly surprising; you could never really trust those types anyway. But what about your partner? How are they involved with this Big Data thing? I put this to Baker and he told me about a little experiment he undertook with his wife. Sorry to disappoint, but its rated PG.

Many online dating services claim to have the ‘algorithms of love’. Fill out a questionnaire and ta-da! They will show you the love of your life, your future husband or wife until death (or, increasingly, divorce) do you part. So Baker and his wife gave it a shot. They both signed up to one of these sites, filled out the survey and waited anxiously to see if they made the right decision. Sadly, they had not. The algorithm told them so. But Baker was unconvinced; ‘It matched us with all kinds of people that both of us thought, at least I hope my wife thought, were bad matches for us’. So Baker says doesn’t have the ‘algorithm of love’ but… (yes, there is a but) when he gave the site a little bit more information Steve and his wife were reunited. Perhaps these sites aren’t total scams after all.

WHILE USING Big Data to sell products and score dates may seem reasonably harmless, employing Big Data for security purposes raises some big questions. Particularly, whether Big Data surveillance is a good or bad thing for us personally, and our society as a whole. Here we enter the ethical minefield of public good vs. personal privacy.

The utopian vision, which the US government is trying so hard to spin, suggests Big Data can be used to create a safer society. In the wake of the PRISM scandal the NSA revealed its internet surveillance program had stopped fifty potential terrorist attacks. If Big Data could have prevented the Woolwich attack in Britain as well, or stopped a paedophile from interfering with children, shouldn’t law enforcement use it? These are really emotive subjects and my gut instinct is to say yes, of course terrorists should be stopped and paedophiles should be prevented! Who wouldn’t say that? Well, my good friend Stephen Baker (one extended interview is enough to be classified as friends right?).

If you’re confused like I was, Baker offered a pretty good explanation: using Big Data to profile criminals is ‘a way in which innocent people can get grouped into potentially guilty. And when you have a society that is concerned about this, perhaps the civil liberties of people might not be respected as they should be—the innocent aren’t innocent until proven guilty.’ Think of the Pre-Crime division, imagined by Phillip K. Dick in ‘Minority Report’. Dick describes a city where murder has been eliminated because people are arrested before they physically commit the crime. Except instead of sci-fi psychics stopping would-be murderers, we have a quiet little man trawling through your data. If that’s sounding a bit far-fetched, picture this; someone comes up with the profile of a potential paedophile based on interviews and studies of how convicted paedophiles act online. With these statistics, say authorities test every school teacher in the country and they found out that a music teacher at your local primary school had a forty-eight per cent chance of being a paedophile. You’ve got this information, but what do you do with the person? Should you take action and ban him from teaching, by extension accusing him of being guilty of a terrible crime he is yet to commit? Or do you do nothing, because this man is currently innocent? And if you do nothing, should you be held responsible if something does happen? Damned if you do and damned if you don’t, it seems to me.

It’s not just about abandoning a cornerstone of our democratic justice system. The knowledge of being watched in itself curtails personal freedoms. French academic Paul-Michel Foucault first wrote about the ‘panopticon’ in his 1975 book ‘Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison’. The traditional panopticon is a prison in which the inmates are watched by guards from above. Although the prisoners know they are being watched, they do not know when. In this way their behaviour is controlled by the threat of being observed. In the panopticon the potential of being watched is at the root of power and domination by a minority against the majority. While Orwell’s vision is yet to be fully realised, the power of the observing few is already beginning to encroach on our activities. For example, Michael and Miller are concerned about a kind of digital panopticon coming into play in the workplace. Corporations are increasingly watching their employees’ online activities at work in an effort to increase productivity. However, according to Michael and Miller this surveillance comes at a cost: ‘tracking employees’ every move and continuously measuring their performance against industry benchmarks introduces a level of oversight that can quash the human spirit’. Although you may not feel the oppressive force of the digital panopticon on your soul yet, I am sure you have thought twice before posting those photos from New Years’ or slagging your employer off social media. Once at a Woolworths’ induction the human resources manager told us how she enjoyed firing someone after they made some less than favourable remarks about the company online. For the few months I worked for Woolies I didn’t even put the job on Facebook for fear the HR lady would take umbrage at something I said on social media and fire me.

AFTER ALL THIS you now know a bit about Big Data. Intelligent little men are using the mind-boggling amount of data we make to help understand our lives. Big Data is impacting how businesses, governments, and perhaps even how individuals operate. It impacts consumption, surveillance, security and maybe even love. Today we are all constantly being watched by little men with big computers, but should we be worried? If we are concerned and consequentially begin to monitor and limit our digital activities to avoid being incriminated then we may as well be in a virtual panopticon of sorts. In today’s world it’s hard not to be swept up in the data-producing deluge. Just as 100 years ago you had to give up some privacy to be part of a community, even if it was just meeting in a public square, today we need to give up personal privacy to join online communities, on social media, on email and even just using search engines.

I don’t think I’ve know anyone who’s said they won’t use the internet because they want to maintain their privacy, and I don’t really expect them too. Despite his extensive research on the topic Baker still uses Google, Facebook and Microsoft. In a world increasingly driven by capitalism, he’s decided to exchange his personal data for the services these companies offer. I guess the most important question now is are you?

If you not concerned about Big Data, that’s fine. But next time you’re online, or you use a credit card, or even the next time your smartphone is in your pocket I want you to think of a little man. He wears glasses, is extremely intelligent and always taking notes, notes on you and the patterns of your life. So long as you remember he is there, that Big Data is recording your every digital move, then I guess it’s okay. The message is not so much beware as be aware, Big Data is watching. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Original Source: Matilda Marrozi, 2013, “Big Data or Big Brother?”, Nourish #94,