Chris Kanich: Privacy on the Modern Web

Billions of people use the Internet every day for all sorts of activities, from shopping to gambling to dating to academic research. For the vast majority of users, a browser is the primary interface between them and the world wide web. Yet the very fact that browser features are so ubiquitous makes them extremely vulnerable to privacy and security compromises. Not only browser history, but all sorts of data such as browser size, location and time of day could become extremely invaluable to third parties, whether they are Internet giants like Google, Facebook and Apple or more nefarious users. Companies such as Microsoft and Mozilla have tried to combat consumers’ privacy concerns by introducing private browsing modes, but it seems that even these may not be entirely foolproof ways of surfing the Internet anonymously.

This week on The Provocateur I talk to Chris Kanich, assistant professor of computer science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, to discuss the privacy and security issues raised by the modern web. We start by exploring the history of browser features since the mid-’90s, from hypermedia to JavaScript to the fully integrated browsers of today. Then we move onto the privacy and security vulnerabilities created by ubiquitous code such as that found on Google Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Finally we investigate a range of legal and ethical implications, from the EU’s directive on the ‘right to be forgotten’ to monitoring terrorism online and even the security complications of cloud computing.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Eckersley, P. (2010) ‘How Unique is Your Web Browser?’ in Atallah, M. J. and N. Hopper (eds.) Privacy Enhancing Technologies: Proceedings of the 10th International PETS Symposium. Cham: Springer.

Snyder, P. et al. (2016) ‘Browser Feature Usage on the Modern Web’, Proceedings of the 2016 Internet Measurement Conference.

Aarti Jagannath: The Mysteries of the Body Clock

It is difficult to overstate the impact that technology has had on us, transforming our ways of life and making us more connected than ever before. Where once you had to take days or months to reach the other side of the world, now you can fly from London to Hong Kong in a matter of hours. Where not so long ago in human history we could only rely on candlelight, now artificial lighting is so ubiquitous that we take them for granted. The demand for ever faster connectedness is having unprecedented effects on our circadian rhythms: jet lag is perhaps the best known example of one way in which the body clock gets disrupted, but the problems associated with electricity are arguably even greater, precisely because our 24/7 society is completely dependent on it in order to function. Body clock disruption has been implicated in a whole range of diseases, from depression to cancer, so it is now more urgent than ever before that scientists try to understand the mechanisms of the body clock, so we are in a better position to fix it when it does go wrong.

In this episode of The Provocateur I talk to Aarti Jagannath, a research fellow at the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Oxford, to help us unravel the mysteries of the body clock. We discuss the fundamentals of the body clock and what happens when it gets disrupted in a whole range of scenarios, from shift work to divers undergoing decompression to students pulling the occasional all-nighter. We also talk about the ways in which neuroscientists are trying to figure out how to reset our natural circadian cycle and even how some biologists are coming up with innovative treatments that exploit the body clock to better target cancer cells.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Daniel Kharlas: The Power of Meditation

Many of you will probably have come across meditation and mindfulness programmes at some point in your careers, especially those of you who are (former) students. But one of the problems with modern meditative practices in the West, argues Daniel Kharlas, is the fact that they are mostly depersonalized and so lack the ability to give patients the individual empowerment they need to change their lives for the better.

In this episode, I talk to Daniel, a masters student in Psychology at the University of Western Ontario in Canada to discuss the power of meditation. We discuss the effects of meditation on social and psychological wellbeing and the ways in which the digital revolution is transforming meditation through the rise of personalized apps. Daniel also offers some personal tips on being a better meditator and even coaches me through a short mindfulness routine you can try at home.

You can listen to part one of the podcast here:

Part two is here:

Further Reading:

Goyal, M. et al. (2014) ‘Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis’, JAMA Internal Medicine 174(3), pp. 367-368.

Kharlas, D. A. and P. Frewen (2016) ‘Trait mindfulness correlates with individual differences in multisensory imagery vividness’, Personality and Individual Differences 93, pp. 44-50.

Tang, Y-Y., B. K. Hölzel and M. J. Posner (2015) ‘The neuroscience of mindfulness meditation’, Nature Reviews Neuroscience 16, pp. 213-225.