rDigital News: Bitcoin subpoenaed, NSA breaks rules, and Facebook makes us feel bad

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This week Bitcoin lost some of its outlaw cachet thanks to government intervention, while the government showed just how much of an outlaw it can be as more NSA offences came to light. It was a week that begged the question, “how much freedom do we want our technology to give us, and how much freedom do we want to give our technology?”

Bitcoin has allowed people to conduct business outside the jurisdiction of established governmental institutions, but that freedom can lead to plenty of illegal activity. We develop security and surveillance tech ostensibly to protect us but then get up in arms when we feel those technologies breach our sense of privacy.

The challenge is to establish how to incorporate the benefits of new technologies while offsetting the potential harm.

Here are our picks from this week’s technology headlines.

Bitcoin companies subpoenaed by financial regulator

Bitcoin (Photo by Zach Copley / Flickr user zcopley)

Twenty-two Bitcoin companies, including both start-ups and major investors were contacted by New York state’s top financial service administrator, forcing them to demonstrate that they’re taking appropriate action to prevent illegal activities and money laundering.

The regulator claims that the anonymity offered by digital currency “has helped support dangerous criminal activity, such as drug smuggling, money laundering, gun running, and child pornography.” Initially, much of the excitement over Bitcoin had to do with its lack of affiliation with any established government, offering tax-free, regulation-free investment and trade opportunities.

But as more and more government agencies turn their eye and substantive legal powers to Bitcoin, will it lose its anarchic edge? Will the gold rush of digital currency become just another tradeable asset?

We asked the same question months ago when the U.S. Treasury started publishing guidelines on incorporating Bitcoin into traditional markets.

All this isn’t to suggest that regulation of Bitcoin is entirely a bad thing; if it really is funding illegal activity, reeling it in may be wise. Once again, a technology that initially seemed so full of promise has become potentially harmful.

The NSA can’t stop getting in trouble

Revelations about the NSA have accelerated fears of a surveillance state. (Photo by Wiki user Hustvedt)
Revelations about the NSA have accelerated fears of a surveillance state. (Photo by Wiki user Hustvedt)

The Washington Post reported that internal documents revealed that the National Security Agency was breaching its own rules and overstepping the bounds of its authority “thousands of times each year” since being granted additional powers by Congress.

Language in reports was adjusted, surveillance procedures were put in practice without the appropriate authorities being informed, and unauthorized surveillance of people protected by statute.

As privacy expert Avner Levin told Ramona Pringle, people often don’t think about who is accessing and using their data, and why. He discussed how governments have interest in enabling mobile devices to “track people even though people are not aware of it.

“So, that’s a scary thought. That leads to these dystopian visions of what kind of world we’re going to live in. This brave new world of 1984.”

Learn more about privacy and cyber crime in Levin’s interview with Ramona, “What’s Your Privacy Worth?”

Share your thoughts on privacy and how much you’re willing to sacrifice it on our Facebook page or on Twitter.

Facebook makes us feel bad

The more-comforting image of social media suggests that it helps us connect and keep in touch with people around us, share stories and enjoy a sense of community. Research out of the University of Michigan, however, seems to refute that notion.

The study suggested that young people’s sense of well-being and satisfaction are hampered by the use of Facebook. The more the subjects browsed, the worse they appeared to feel, as they reported decreasing levels of general contentedness with their life.

We often ask about the effects of constant connection on our emotional and mental well-being, and discussed the merits of unplugging. As with any technology that revolutionizes how we live our lives, it’s crucial to have a conversation about balance and moderation.

By: Andrew Evans (@FakeAndrewEvans



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