Book – Landscape Observer: London, on Pops and Democracy

London has seen a boom in inner-city developments over the past five to ten years. Large areas have been transformed, become densified in many ways and existing development has been replaced to make way for huge investments. Along it came a number of landscape projects to design pleasing outdoor spaces.

London is comparably green for its size with many streets tree-lined and many public parks. However, the everyday location in this bustling city is still dominated by hard surfaces. Greenery is rare and often not maintained. Especially with the government’s ongoing austerity programmes, the local councils struggle to keep up maintenance.

To distinguish themselves investors invest big in the design of the surroundings of their buildings. It underlines the quality to justify sky-high rents. The public is invited in to generate footfall for rented spaces. Where previously private property was fenced off, investors have discovered the potential of beautiful spaces. It seems a win-win situation, the public gets more greened spaces, the local councils get well maintained outdoor spaces and the investors can secure their investment.

The numerous places that have sprung up across London are now documented in a new JOVIS publication Landscape Observer: London by Vladimir Guculak. The book acts as a guide, but also a repository of not just a handful, but some 89 projects. Ranging from large-scale projects like Kings Cross redevelopment in central London to the Cutty Sark Gardens in Greenwich and other smaller projects.


Image own / Title page of the pubication Landscape Observer: London, by Vladimir Guculak, 2017.

Each project is in detail documented with photographs by the author, a landscape architect himself, with additional information about location, size, year, designer, nearest public transport and accessibility information. Each chapter is proceeded by a map that helps locate each open space in the context of the city.

It is a beautifully designed publication complete with artwork by the author. With the photographic documentation, the publication gives an overview of the project and a number of detail shots to highlight specific areas and in some cases construction details. Along the photos, the author does give a brief listing of plants included, materials used and other special features such a street furniture and lighting.

Image taken from London Fieldwork / Spontaneous City in the Tree of Heaven

It also features a personal favourite the Duncan Terrace Gardens (p.18). With a very inspiring artwork by London Fieldwork Spontaneous City in the Tree of Heaven. Or the nice-to-be-in-the-summer-with-kids Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park.

The weather is always extremely sunny throughout this publication and everything is documented in bloom with green lush leaves. It might seem a good idea to show summer, but landscaping has to work 12 months a year not only three or four. This is especially true for English weather and seasons. Colourful autumn leaves are as beautiful if not more so and stormy or rainy conditions can make for dramatically romantic scenes. So not why not make use of it?

However, there are some more important problems with this publication. And it’s not that something like the John Lewis Rain Garden (p.81) designed by the prominent designer (Nigel Dunnett) of the 2012 Olympic Parc in Stratford (now Queen Elizabeth Olympic Parc) features as a model “public space”. The main problem is the nonchalant attitude towards public space.

Public space is one of the most important principles to an accessible and shared city that is open to everyone. It is highly political and can be linked to the concept of the city-state in ancient Greece with the Agora, the foundation of democracy. See for example Sennett, Richard, 1998. The Spaces of Democracy, 1998 Raoul Wallenberg Lecture or Henry Lefebvre, 1974 (1991 e). The Production of Space, Blackwell. p.237-241. We don’t need to launch into a manifesto for the open city here, others have done so much more thoroughly. Nevertheless, the open and shared spaces are fundamental to living together in an open democratic city.

The problem with public spaces is the creeping rise of POPS or pseudo-public spaces. These spaces look and feel like public spaces but are in fact private spaces. They are on privately owned land and therefore are governed by a very different set of rules. Rules that are made up by the private owner and rarely publicly shared. The fact that one can access a street, a square or a riverside does not for a long shot make it public space.

The Guarding has recently run a couple of stories on the rise of pseudo-public spaces in London and together with GiGL put together a database of such spaces in the UK and especially London. The Guardian has put together a quick guide to POPs here, listing important points such as “…appear to be public but are actually owned and controlled by developers and corporations.” or “…“Pops” – are not subject to ordinary local authority bylaws but rather governed by restrictions drawn up the landowner and usually enforced by private security companies”, noting “…public access to pseudo-public spaces remains at the discretion of landowners” and “…alter them at will. They are not obliged to make these rules public.”

Image taken from the Guardian / Map shwing the pseudo-public spaces around central London. The data has been put together in colaboration between the Guardian and GiGL and is available as open data.


Image taken from the Guardian / View of Canary Square, Kings Cross with square and fountain and the UAL in the background.

One of the most prominent areas of these new breeds of urban spaces is the area around Kings Cross with Granary Square, Wharf Road Gardens, Gasholder Park and more. It has become over the past two or so years a very popular meeting place with new restaurants, soon to be open shopping, housing and the UAL at the centre of it. It is a very cleverly disguised pseudo-public space with the university at the centre, a very large square with a sort of public program and fountain as well as access to the Regents Canal, Kings Cross and St. Pancras station.

All of these are listed in the discussed publication as examples and many more such as St Pancras Square and Regents Place to list a few. Interestingly the author does make a reference to what he calls “political activists” presumably campaigning for public spaces. Examples listed on other news sites such as BigThink list some of the implications:

In 2011, Occupy protesters were removed from Paternoster Square, outside the London Stock Exchange, on the grounds that they were trespassing on private land owned by the Mitsubishi Estate Company.

In Pancras Square, part of King’s Cross Estate, lying down on the grass is okay, but not sleeping. One homeless man told the Guardian that as soon as he shuts his eyes, he is accosted by security guards.

Taking pictures is becoming increasingly problematic, with photographers being informed by security guards that they are on private land, and their activity is subject to prior permission – even in what looks like public space, such as Tower Place, adjacent to the Tower of London.

Public drinking is considered sufficient reason for removal from certain Pops.

A lot of data has been put together by GiGL and the Guardian on sites in London and has been published as open data here.

This implicates the publication and the approach to some extent. It raises serious questions about the use of terminology or the understanding put forward of public and space. But it does not question the intention of the author. It was put together from a practitioners point of view, probably aimed at peers. Focusing on materials and practices, but then was opened to a wider audience, as hinted in the foreword.

Image own / Spread of the pubication Landscape Observer: London, by Vladimir Guculak, 2017.

Not just, but especially as professionals in urban planning, landscape architecture, architecture, public officials and other roles involved in the planning and maintenance of public spaces, we have to be extremely careful and precise with the terminology to ensure and preserve these fundamentally important features of an open and accessible city, our open society and ultimately democracy are not undermined.

Never the less it is one of the most comprehensive collections of recent landscape architecture projects in the centre of London and as such a valuable contribution, even if vague regarding terminology and location mapping. Extensive preview available on the publisher JOVIS’ website

Image own / Cover of the pubication Landscape Observer: London, by Vladimir Guculak, 2017.

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Shifting Concrete – Architecture in Motion

There is motion in architecture. Not at first glance, but if one starts looking it appears in most aspects, being this the movement of people, goods or materials to building parts such as doors, windows or blinds. Even by design buildings can move. See for example designs by Frank Gerry, Himmelb(l)au or the late Zaha Hadid.

However, noting makes architecture move more than light. It continually transforms and changes the shape and appearance of buildings.

Shifting Concrete — Video Mapping. Video by WECOMEINPEACE on Vimeo.

edited, 2017-10-25

Continue reading »

Shifting Concrete – Architecture in Motion

There is motion in architecture. Not at first glance, but if you start looking it can be found in most aspects. Being this from the movement of people goods or materials to building parts such as doors, windows or blinds. Even by design buildings can move. See for example designs by Frank Gerry, Himmelb(l)au or the late Zaha Hadid.

However noting makes architecture move ore than light. It constantly transforms and changes the shape and appearance of buildings.

Shifting Concrete — Video Mapping. Video by WECOMEINPEACE on Vimeo.

Continue reading »

Cities are Many Things – Urban in Motion

Cities can be many things to its citizens. Urban as an acronym for constant change and transformation, a world to shape up dreams and visions. The artefact city as a construction and collage of layered times, hopes and desires is open to interpretation. Here on UT this has been a topic from the beginning and will continue to be.

How to read the city and how to visualise the many possible interpretation of data, charts and reports is part of the ongoing discussion shaping the building culture of the present. From smart cities to participation, technology has been branded pervasive, particularly in relation to cities and hopes have been pinned to the rise of data visualisation. There has not been a definite result, certainly a business case is pitched, but more importantly a very specific practice has emerged. A practice that is not only lauded by city officials and leading researchers, but has become part of the individual everyday. In the sense of a very early post: You are the city

An impression or interpretation thereof by the artist Saana Inari in a video installation made for Kiveaf about Belgrade back in 2013. Described as an Audiovisual installation is a study about the city of Belgrade, describing different sides of it, architecture, communication, traffic, humans…

Stop Motion Beograd. Video by Saana Inari on Vimeo.

Two to three channel vertical HD video, total duration 9 minutes. Stereo audio for the space, duration 10:30 min.
Director / Camera / Animation / Sound: Saana Inari, made for: Kiveaf, funding: Oskar Öflunds Stiftelse

Continue reading »

Cities are Many Things – Urban in Motion

Cities can be many things to its citizens. Urban as an acronym for constant change and transformation, a world to shape up dreams and visions. The artefact city as a construction and collage of layered times, hopes and desires is open to interpretation. Here on UT this has been a topic from the beginning and will continue to be.

How to read the city and how to visualise the many possible interpretation of data, charts and reports is part of the ongoing discussion shaping the building culture of the present. From smart cities to participation, technology has been branded pervasive, particularly in relation to cities and hopes have been pinned to the rise of data visualisation. There has not been a definite result, certainly a business case is pitched, but more importantly a very specific practice has emerged. A practice that is not only lauded by city officials and leading researchers, but has become part of the individual everyday. In the sense of a very early post: You are the city

An impression or interpretation thereof by the artist Saana Inari in a video installation made for Kiveaf about Belgrade back in 2013. Described as an Audiovisual installation is a study about the city of Belgrade, describing different sides of it, architecture, communication, traffic, humans…

Stop Motion Beograd. Video by Saana Inari on Vimeo.

Two to three channel vertical HD video, total duration 9 minutes. Stereo audio for the space, duration 10:30 min.
Director / Camera / Animation / Sound: Saana Inari, made for: Kiveaf, funding: Oskar Öflunds Stiftelse

Continue reading »

Book – Building as Ornament

The ornament is returning slowly to the architectural discourse. It has not really been absent though merely denied, but it is returning as a more prominent topic now.

A key text is Adolf Loos’ Ornament and crime (Ornament und Verbrechen) (1908) that was widely interpreted as at the easement of ornament in architecture. More recent interpretations (for example Gleiter, 2012) however is more differentiated. Already the title in which Loos uses and hints at this. Nevertheless ornament was denied a role in modernist architecture and is still a minefield for architects today.

BE the buildingsImage taken from designboom / A proposed project spelling out the letters ‘BE’ for buildings in Brussels by JDS in 2007.

The way for the reintroduction of ornament has been paved by technology interestingly enough. In the late 80ies and especially the 90ies CAD tools have presented the tools to begin to design with patterns including options to manipulate the pattern based on conditions. This has also the been linked to production and printed glass or pierce metals facades or even brickwork layer by robots (Bearth & Deplazes with Gramazio & Kohler, 2006).

This has been accompanied by theoretical writings, exhibitions and journals. For examples the exhibition at the SAM Re-Sampling Ornament in 2008. The architecture journals ARCH+ (1995/2002), l’architecture d’aujourd’hui (2001) or AD primers, Ornament: the politics of architecture and subjectivity (2013) for example have published on ornament during this early phase. Authors who have contributed to the now re-emerging discussion on ornament include Jörg H. Gleiter ((orig. German, 2002. Die Rückkehr des Verdrängten)), Michael Dürfeld (The Ornament and the Architectural Form (orig. in German, 2008. Das Ornamentale und die architektonische Form)) or Farshid Moussavi (The Function of Form, 2008).

The new possibilities in design and production using new technologies have allowed to re-imagine the relationship between design, production and product. Whereas at the time Loos wrote Architecture and Crime the industrialisation introduced the production of exact replicas into the thousands of one single product, the new technologies based around computers allow for a trance dent workflow and individually adapted and styled objects whilst still machine and mass produced. Hence the conditions have fundamentally changed.

What can be observed is, though very slow moving, a shift from an understanding of ornament as decoration to an interpretation of ornament as process in the sense of structure and narrative.

A special take on this is presented by Michiel van Raaij in his new publication Building as Ornament. Whilst van Raaij focuses on iconographic architecture he proposes building as ornament as a term to frame part of this discussion in a new way implying links to a theoretical discussion with references to a long tradition.

Fire station 4Image taken from 52weeks / The Fire Station 4 in Columbus by Venturi Scott Brown and Associates in 1968.

Van Raaij’s idea is to try and focus on the story the architect tries to tell through an iconic building. He argues that “Iconography is the use of images from outside architecture in architecture” and that the focus of the book is on “iconography that explains the function, social status, organisation, load-bearing structure and/or context of the building”. He makes the link to ornament using the narrative in the sense of explaining something.

The book brings together over 100 examples to illustrate this notion. This ranges from the Yokohama International Port Perminal by FOA, 2004, to the Bird’s Nest Stadium by Herzog de Meuron in 2008 or the People’s Building in Shanghai by BIG, 2004.

Whilst the book does not offer a theoretical framework for the introduced terminology or a broader discussion on the theoretical dimension of such a ‘new’ aspect of ornament in architecture, it presents a conversation. The publication is on one had a collection of projects that fit the description iconographic architecture and it is on the other hand a collection of interviews in which the author van Raaij discusses iconographic architecture with architects and architectural historians.

Signal BoxImage taken from architecture.com / The Signal Box in Basel, Switzerland by Herzog de Meuron in 1994.

The interview partners are, in order of appearance: Auke van der Would, Charles Jencks, Denise Scott Brown, Adriaan Geuze, Michiel Riedijk, Alejandro Zaero-Polo, Ben van Berkel, Steven Holl, Winy Maas and Bjarke Ingels.

All of the interview partners of course have a different angle on the topic and in some conversations the focus is more on icons, narratives, construction or material. Some do specifically discuss ornament as in the recently emerging debate, so for examples the interview with Denise Scott Brown where she discusses aspects of the design for Fire Station 4 in Columbus. She emphasises the very same topics of structure and narrative the ornament discussion is moving towards. Other interviews do however not even touch ornament.

There is loads of material and a very interesting discussion around icons in architecture and iconographic architecture to be found in this book. This is clearly the focus of van Raaij’s work and his personal interest. He has been running a blog on iconic buildings for a long time and he knows the projects in this field. The real contribution of this book is definitely to hear the architects, as described by van Raaij as the Generation OMA, to talk about icons and iconographic design processes in architecture. There are some very personal statements in these discussions that shed light on some of the famous icons this current generation of architects have developed. It demonstrates that there is more to the discussion of iconic architecture than it just being a land mark put up by an architect to make a bold statement.

Through out the book the terms ornament and icon/iconographic architecture are used interchangeably. And it turns out that ornament only plays a small role setting the stage in this nai010 publishers book. Even though one could have expected quite some potential in this take on ornaments, not as a complete explanation, but as a special case of ornament on the level of the building. More contextual material would be needed to define a clear standpoint.

However, the chosen title, it has to be said, is very cleverly chosen. It is catchy, provides a lot of historical context, touches the nerve (both of time and architects still hating ornaments, as they have been told to do in architecture school?) and it is simple enough to be self-explanatory whilst allowing room for imagination. Nevertheless for the reader who is looking for the specific topic on ornament it might mean to be disappointed, but not without discovering an interesting collection of personal discussions on iconic architecture.

Building as ornament coverImage taken from designboom / Book cover.

Van Raaij, M., 2014. Building as Ornament. nai010 publishers, Rotterdam.

Continue reading »

Book – Building as Ornament

The ornament is returning slowly to the architectural discourse. It has not really been absent though merely denied, but it is returning as a more prominent topic now.

A key text is Adolf Loos’ Ornament and crime (Ornament und Verbrechen) (1908) that was widely interpreted as at the easement of ornament in architecture. More recent interpretations (for example Gleiter, 2012) however is more differentiated. Already the title in which Loos uses and hints at this. Nevertheless ornament was denied a role in modernist architecture and is still a minefield for architects today.

BE the buildingsImage taken from designboom / A proposed project spelling out the letters ‘BE’ for buildings in Brussels by JDS in 2007.

The way for the reintroduction of ornament has been paved by technology interestingly enough. In the late 80ies and especially the 90ies CAD tools have presented the tools to begin to design with patterns including options to manipulate the pattern based on conditions. This has also the been linked to production and printed glass or pierce metals facades or even brickwork layer by robots (Bearth & Deplazes with Gramazio & Kohler, 2006).

This has been accompanied by theoretical writings, exhibitions and journals. For examples the exhibition at the SAM Re-Sampling Ornament in 2008. The architecture journals ARCH+ (1995/2002), l’architecture d’aujourd’hui (2001) or AD primers, Ornament: the politics of architecture and subjectivity (2013) for example have published on ornament during this early phase. Authors who have contributed to the now re-emerging discussion on ornament include Jörg H. Gleiter ((orig. German, 2002. Die Rückkehr des Verdrängten)), Michael Dürfeld (The Ornament and the Architectural Form (orig. in German, 2008. Das Ornamentale und die architektonische Form)) or Farshid Moussavi (The Function of Form, 2008).

The new possibilities in design and production using new technologies have allowed to re-imagine the relationship between design, production and product. Whereas at the time Loos wrote Architecture and Crime the industrialisation introduced the production of exact replicas into the thousands of one single product, the new technologies based around computers allow for a trance dent workflow and individually adapted and styled objects whilst still machine and mass produced. Hence the conditions have fundamentally changed.

What can be observed is, though very slow moving, a shift from an understanding of ornament as decoration to an interpretation of ornament as process in the sense of structure and narrative.

A special take on this is presented by Michiel van Raaij in his new publication Building as Ornament. Whilst van Raaij focuses on iconographic architecture he proposes building as ornament as a term to frame part of this discussion in a new way implying links to a theoretical discussion with references to a long tradition.

Fire station 4Image taken from 52weeks / The Fire Station 4 in Columbus by Venturi Scott Brown and Associates in 1968.

Van Raaij’s idea is to try and focus on the story the architect tries to tell through an iconic building. He argues that “Iconography is the use of images from outside architecture in architecture” and that the focus of the book is on “iconography that explains the function, social status, organisation, load-bearing structure and/or context of the building”. He makes the link to ornament using the narrative in the sense of explaining something.

The book brings together over 100 examples to illustrate this notion. This ranges from the Yokohama International Port Perminal by FOA, 2004, to the Bird’s Nest Stadium by Herzog de Meuron in 2008 or the People’s Building in Shanghai by BIG, 2004.

Whilst the book does not offer a theoretical framework for the introduced terminology or a broader discussion on the theoretical dimension of such a ‘new’ aspect of ornament in architecture, it presents a conversation. The publication is on one had a collection of projects that fit the description iconographic architecture and it is on the other hand a collection of interviews in which the author van Raaij discusses iconographic architecture with architects and architectural historians.

Signal BoxImage taken from architecture.com / The Signal Box in Basel, Switzerland by Herzog de Meuron in 1994.

The interview partners are, in order of appearance: Auke van der Would, Charles Jencks, Denise Scott Brown, Adriaan Geuze, Michiel Riedijk, Alejandro Zaero-Polo, Ben van Berkel, Steven Holl, Winy Maas and Bjarke Ingels.

All of the interview partners of course have a different angle on the topic and in some conversations the focus is more on icons, narratives, construction or material. Some do specifically discuss ornament as in the recently emerging debate, so for examples the interview with Denise Scott Brown where she discusses aspects of the design for Fire Station 4 in Columbus. She emphasises the very same topics of structure and narrative the ornament discussion is moving towards. Other interviews do however not even touch ornament.

There is loads of material and a very interesting discussion around icons in architecture and iconographic architecture to be found in this book. This is clearly the focus of van Raaij’s work and his personal interest. He has been running a blog on iconic buildings for a long time and he knows the projects in this field. The real contribution of this book is definitely to hear the architects, as described by van Raaij as the Generation OMA, to talk about icons and iconographic design processes in architecture. There are some very personal statements in these discussions that shed light on some of the famous icons this current generation of architects have developed. It demonstrates that there is more to the discussion of iconic architecture than it just being a land mark put up by an architect to make a bold statement.

Through out the book the terms ornament and icon/iconographic architecture are used interchangeably. And it turns out that ornament only plays a small role setting the stage in this nai010 publishers book. Even though one could have expected quite some potential in this take on ornaments, not as a complete explanation, but as a special case of ornament on the level of the building. More contextual material would be needed to define a clear standpoint.

However, the chosen title, it has to be said, is very cleverly chosen. It is catchy, provides a lot of historical context, touches the nerve (both of time and architects still hating ornaments, as they have been told to do in architecture school?) and it is simple enough to be self-explanatory whilst allowing room for imagination. Nevertheless for the reader who is looking for the specific topic on ornament it might mean to be disappointed, but not without discovering an interesting collection of personal discussions on iconic architecture.

Building as ornament coverImage taken from designboom / Book cover.

Van Raaij, M., 2014. Building as Ornament. nai010 publishers, Rotterdam.

Continue reading »

Book – Building as Ornament

The ornament is returning slowly to the architectural discourse. It has not really been absent though merely denied, but it is returning as a more prominent topic now.

A key text is Adolf Loos’ Ornament and crime (Ornament und Verbrechen) (1908) that was widely interpreted as at the easement of ornament in architecture. More recent interpretations (for example Gleiter, 2012) however is more differentiated. Already the title in which Loos uses and hints at this. Nevertheless ornament was denied a role in modernist architecture and is still a minefield for architects today.

BE the buildingsImage taken from designboom / A proposed project spelling out the letters ‘BE’ for buildings in Brussels by JDS in 2007.

The way for the reintroduction of ornament has been paved by technology interestingly enough. In the late 80ies and especially the 90ies CAD tools have presented the tools to begin to design with patterns including options to manipulate the pattern based on conditions. This has also the been linked to production and printed glass or pierce metals facades or even brickwork layer by robots (Bearth & Deplazes with Gramazio & Kohler, 2006).

This has been accompanied by theoretical writings, exhibitions and journals. For examples the exhibition at the SAM Re-Sampling Ornament in 2008. The architecture journals ARCH+ (1995/2002), l’architecture d’aujourd’hui (2001) or AD primers, Ornament: the politics of architecture and subjectivity (2013) for example have published on ornament during this early phase. Authors who have contributed to the now re-emerging discussion on ornament include Jörg H. Gleiter ((orig. German, 2002. Die Rückkehr des Verdrängten)), Michael Dürfeld (The Ornament and the Architectural Form (orig. in German, 2008. Das Ornamentale und die architektonische Form)) or Farshid Moussavi (The Function of Form, 2008).

The new possibilities in design and production using new technologies have allowed to re-imagine the relationship between design, production and product. Whereas at the time Loos wrote Architecture and Crime the industrialisation introduced the production of exact replicas into the thousands of one single product, the new technologies based around computers allow for a trance dent workflow and individually adapted and styled objects whilst still machine and mass produced. Hence the conditions have fundamentally changed.

What can be observed is, though very slow moving, a shift from an understanding of ornament as decoration to an interpretation of ornament as process in the sense of structure and narrative.

A special take on this is presented by Michiel van Raaij in his new publication Building as Ornament. Whilst van Raaij focuses on iconographic architecture he proposes building as ornament as a term to frame part of this discussion in a new way implying links to a theoretical discussion with references to a long tradition.

Fire station 4Image taken from 52weeks / The Fire Station 4 in Columbus by Venturi Scott Brown and Associates in 1968.

Van Raaij’s idea is to try and focus on the story the architect tries to tell through an iconic building. He argues that “Iconography is the use of images from outside architecture in architecture” and that the focus of the book is on “iconography that explains the function, social status, organisation, load-bearing structure and/or context of the building”. He makes the link to ornament using the narrative in the sense of explaining something.

The book brings together over 100 examples to illustrate this notion. This ranges from the Yokohama International Port Perminal by FOA, 2004, to the Bird’s Nest Stadium by Herzog de Meuron in 2008 or the People’s Building in Shanghai by BIG, 2004.

Whilst the book does not offer a theoretical framework for the introduced terminology or a broader discussion on the theoretical dimension of such a ‘new’ aspect of ornament in architecture, it presents a conversation. The publication is on one had a collection of projects that fit the description iconographic architecture and it is on the other hand a collection of interviews in which the author van Raaij discusses iconographic architecture with architects and architectural historians.

Signal BoxImage taken from architecture.com / The Signal Box in Basel, Switzerland by Herzog de Meuron in 1994.

The interview partners are, in order of appearance: Auke van der Would, Charles Jencks, Denise Scott Brown, Adriaan Geuze, Michiel Riedijk, Alejandro Zaero-Polo, Ben van Berkel, Steven Holl, Winy Maas and Bjarke Ingels.

All of the interview partners of course have a different angle on the topic and in some conversations the focus is more on icons, narratives, construction or material. Some do specifically discuss ornament as in the recently emerging debate, so for examples the interview with Denise Scott Brown where she discusses aspects of the design for Fire Station 4 in Columbus. She emphasises the very same topics of structure and narrative the ornament discussion is moving towards. Other interviews do however not even touch ornament.

There is loads of material and a very interesting discussion around icons in architecture and iconographic architecture to be found in this book. This is clearly the focus of van Raaij’s work and his personal interest. He has been running a blog on iconic buildings for a long time and he knows the projects in this field. The real contribution of this book is definitely to hear the architects, as described by van Raaij as the Generation OMA, to talk about icons and iconographic design processes in architecture. There are some very personal statements in these discussions that shed light on some of the famous icons this current generation of architects have developed. It demonstrates that there is more to the discussion of iconic architecture than it just being a land mark put up by an architect to make a bold statement.

Through out the book the terms ornament and icon/iconographic architecture are used interchangeably. And it turns out that ornament only plays a small role setting the stage in this nai010 publishers book. Even though one could have expected quite some potential in this take on ornaments, not as a complete explanation, but as a special case of ornament on the level of the building. More contextual material would be needed to define a clear standpoint.

However, the chosen title, it has to be said, is very cleverly chosen. It is catchy, provides a lot of historical context, touches the nerve (both of time and architects still hating ornaments, as they have been told to do in architecture school?) and it is simple enough to be self-explanatory whilst allowing room for imagination. Nevertheless for the reader who is looking for the specific topic on ornament it might mean to be disappointed, but not without discovering an interesting collection of personal discussions on iconic architecture.

Building as ornament coverImage taken from designboom / Book cover.

Van Raaij, M., 2014. Building as Ornament. nai010 publishers, Rotterdam.

Continue reading »

Book – Inside Cern Science Lives

What does science look like? This might evoke black and white images of the cities and sixties showing male scientists in white lab coats bent over a table where some assistant has layed out various tools and models. Materials are steel, chrome, glass and colourful plastic. Shown in the background is probably a black board with some formulas and equations written on.

But what does science really look like, today? In a new Lars Müller Publishers publication Andri Pol shows the reader some inside glimpse of one of the biggest scientific research labs in the world. In Inside CERN: European Organization for Nuclear Research he has been documenting work and live in and around CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research.

Inside Cern 'layered equations' p.233Image taken from uncubemagazine / ‘layered equations’ p.233.

Andri Pol is a Swiss freelance photographer with a specific focus on the everyday. This is also how he portraits the places, labs, offices, scientists and atmospheres at CERN, with great curiosity and respect.

There are no pretty pictures to be found in this documentation and there are no glorious moments. Its all about the effort, the struggle and the dedication. Flipping though the pages only unveils a great range of colours and oddly chosen angles or frames. The book does not work that way. The photographs are actually rather complex compositions with a lot of depth each with not just one but often a number of aspects.

Whilst there is a lot of equipment and machines visible there is an emphasis on the people who are involved at CERN in some way. Being this the scientists, indeed sometimes in white overcoats and blue shoe protectors, technical staff or students. People from all over the world come together at CERN working in teams. This is often shown, science is discussion and exchange.

The documentation portraits also the atmosphere at CERN. Beside the highly technical installations there is very little shiny and new infrastructure. In fact most of the facilities seem to be rather pragmatic and often improvised. It is clear the focus is somewhere else. This place is not about design and style, but about customablilty, flexibility and improvisation. That does not mean that self expression is absence. On the contrary the numerous portraits of individualised desks, doors, books and computers themselves tell a story.

Inside Cern 'calibrate' p.243Image taken from klatmagazine / ‘calibrate’ p.243.

Only on the last few pages the photographs stet to show some of the machinery of the actual Large Hadron Collider (LHC), photographs that look similar to what is usually circulated in the meadia. By that point the reader is already so deep immersed in the atmosphere at CERN that is seems to be most natural thing to walk past this monster of infrastructure that doesn’t even fit on a photograph. In many ways all the other photographs tell a much more telling tale of the LHC than the tons of steel, cable and concrete.

Inside Cern 'thinking' p.249Image taken from uncubemagazine / ‘thinking’ p.249.

This being a Lars Müller Publisher publication it does not come as a surprise that this is a very beautifully made book. A lot of care has gone into the design of the book and the selection of the photographs. Even though it is mainly a picture book a real narrative is being told here something that captivates the reader. This book certainly tells a very different story about science today. It is of course documenting science in a unique biotope of research and collaboration creating a special place between Switzerland and France. But what it shows is the fascination and dedication of the individuals working in this field and manages to transport this.

If this is not quite yet enough. Google has collaborated with cern and it features on Street View. Try this link to go on a virtual walk around CERN and the LHC.

Inside Cern book coverImage taken from amazon.com / Book cover. More details also available on the book website at insidecern.com.

Pol, A., 2011. Inside CERN: European Organization for Nuclear Research. Lars Muller Publishers, Zürich.

Continue reading »

Book – Inside Cern Science Lives

What does science look like? This might evoke black and white images of the cities and sixties showing male scientists in white lab coats bent over a table where some assistant has layed out various tools and models. Materials are steel, chrome, glass and colourful plastic. Shown in the background is probably a black board with some formulas and equations written on.

But what does science really look like, today? In a new Lars Müller Publishers publication Andri Pol shows the reader some inside glimpse of one of the biggest scientific research labs in the world. In Inside CERN: European Organization for Nuclear Research he has been documenting work and live in and around CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research.

Inside Cern 'layered equations' p.233Image taken from uncubemagazine / ‘layered equations’ p.233.

Andri Pol is a Swiss freelance photographer with a specific focus on the everyday. This is also how he portraits the places, labs, offices, scientists and atmospheres at CERN, with great curiosity and respect.

There are no pretty pictures to be found in this documentation and there are no glorious moments. Its all about the effort, the struggle and the dedication. Flipping though the pages only unveils a great range of colours and oddly chosen angles or frames. The book does not work that way. The photographs are actually rather complex compositions with a lot of depth each with not just one but often a number of aspects.

Whilst there is a lot of equipment and machines visible there is an emphasis on the people who are involved at CERN in some way. Being this the scientists, indeed sometimes in white overcoats and blue shoe protectors, technical staff or students. People from all over the world come together at CERN working in teams. This is often shown, science is discussion and exchange.

The documentation portraits also the atmosphere at CERN. Beside the highly technical installations there is very little shiny and new infrastructure. In fact most of the facilities seem to be rather pragmatic and often improvised. It is clear the focus is somewhere else. This place is not about design and style, but about customablilty, flexibility and improvisation. That does not mean that self expression is absence. On the contrary the numerous portraits of individualised desks, doors, books and computers themselves tell a story.

Inside Cern 'calibrate' p.243Image taken from klatmagazine / ‘calibrate’ p.243.

Only on the last few pages the photographs stet to show some of the machinery of the actual Large Hadron Collider (LHC), photographs that look similar to what is usually circulated in the meadia. By that point the reader is already so deep immersed in the atmosphere at CERN that is seems to be most natural thing to walk past this monster of infrastructure that doesn’t even fit on a photograph. In many ways all the other photographs tell a much more telling tale of the LHC than the tons of steel, cable and concrete.

Inside Cern 'thinking' p.249Image taken from uncubemagazine / ‘thinking’ p.249.

This being a Lars Müller Publisher publication it does not come as a surprise that this is a very beautifully made book. A lot of care has gone into the design of the book and the selection of the photographs. Even though it is mainly a picture book a real narrative is being told here something that captivates the reader. This book certainly tells a very different story about science today. It is of course documenting science in a unique biotope of research and collaboration creating a special place between Switzerland and France. But what it shows is the fascination and dedication of the individuals working in this field and manages to transport this.

If this is not quite yet enough. Google has collaborated with cern and it features on Street View. Try this link to go on a virtual walk around CERN and the LHC.

Inside Cern book coverImage taken from amazon.com / Book cover. More details also available on the book website at insidecern.com.

Pol, A., 2011. Inside CERN: European Organization for Nuclear Research. Lars Muller Publishers, Zürich.

Continue reading »

Book – Inside Cern Science Lives

What does science look like? This might evoke black and white images of the cities and sixties showing male scientists in white lab coats bent over a table where some assistant has layed out various tools and models. Materials are steel, chrome, glass and colourful plastic. Shown in the background is probably a black board with some formulas and equations written on.

But what does science really look like, today? In a new Lars Müller Publishers publication Andri Pol shows the reader some inside glimpse of one of the biggest scientific research labs in the world. In Inside CERN: European Organization for Nuclear Research he has been documenting work and live in and around CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research.

Inside Cern 'layered equations' p.233Image taken from uncubemagazine / ‘layered equations’ p.233.

Andri Pol is a Swiss freelance photographer with a specific focus on the everyday. This is also how he portraits the places, labs, offices, scientists and atmospheres at CERN, with great curiosity and respect.

There are no pretty pictures to be found in this documentation and there are no glorious moments. Its all about the effort, the struggle and the dedication. Flipping though the pages only unveils a great range of colours and oddly chosen angles or frames. The book does not work that way. The photographs are actually rather complex compositions with a lot of depth each with not just one but often a number of aspects.

Whilst there is a lot of equipment and machines visible there is an emphasis on the people who are involved at CERN in some way. Being this the scientists, indeed sometimes in white overcoats and blue shoe protectors, technical staff or students. People from all over the world come together at CERN working in teams. This is often shown, science is discussion and exchange.

The documentation portraits also the atmosphere at CERN. Beside the highly technical installations there is very little shiny and new infrastructure. In fact most of the facilities seem to be rather pragmatic and often improvised. It is clear the focus is somewhere else. This place is not about design and style, but about customablilty, flexibility and improvisation. That does not mean that self expression is absence. On the contrary the numerous portraits of individualised desks, doors, books and computers themselves tell a story.

Inside Cern 'calibrate' p.243Image taken from klatmagazine / ‘calibrate’ p.243.

Only on the last few pages the photographs stet to show some of the machinery of the actual Large Hadron Collider (LHC), photographs that look similar to what is usually circulated in the meadia. By that point the reader is already so deep immersed in the atmosphere at CERN that is seems to be most natural thing to walk past this monster of infrastructure that doesn’t even fit on a photograph. In many ways all the other photographs tell a much more telling tale of the LHC than the tons of steel, cable and concrete.

Inside Cern 'thinking' p.249Image taken from uncubemagazine / ‘thinking’ p.249.

This being a Lars Müller Publisher publication it does not come as a surprise that this is a very beautifully made book. A lot of care has gone into the design of the book and the selection of the photographs. Even though it is mainly a picture book a real narrative is being told here something that captivates the reader. This book certainly tells a very different story about science today. It is of course documenting science in a unique biotope of research and collaboration creating a special place between Switzerland and France. But what it shows is the fascination and dedication of the individuals working in this field and manages to transport this.

If this is not quite yet enough. Google has collaborated with cern and it features on Street View. Try this link to go on a virtual walk around CERN and the LHC.

Inside Cern book coverImage taken from amazon.com / Book cover. More details also available on the book website at insidecern.com.

Pol, A., 2011. Inside CERN: European Organization for Nuclear Research. Lars Muller Publishers, Zürich.

Continue reading »

Book – Inside Cern Science Lives

What does science look like? This might evoke black and white images of the cities and sixties showing male scientists in white lab coats bent over a table where some assistant has layed out various tools and models. Materials are steel, chrome, glass and colourful plastic. Shown in the background is probably a black board with some formulas and equations written on.

But what does science really look like, today? In a new Lars Müller Publishers publication Andri Pol shows the reader some inside glimpse of one of the biggest scientific research labs in the world. In Inside CERN: European Organization for Nuclear Research he has been documenting work and live in and around CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research.

Inside Cern 'layered equations' p.233Image taken from uncubemagazine / ‘layered equations’ p.233.

Andri Pol is a Swiss freelance photographer with a specific focus on the everyday. This is also how he portraits the places, labs, offices, scientists and atmospheres at CERN, with great curiosity and respect.

There are no pretty pictures to be found in this documentation and there are no glorious moments. Its all about the effort, the struggle and the dedication. Flipping though the pages only unveils a great range of colours and oddly chosen angles or frames. The book does not work that way. The photographs are actually rather complex compositions with a lot of depth each with not just one but often a number of aspects.

Whilst there is a lot of equipment and machines visible there is an emphasis on the people who are involved at CERN in some way. Being this the scientists, indeed sometimes in white overcoats and blue shoe protectors, technical staff or students. People from all over the world come together at CERN working in teams. This is often shown, science is discussion and exchange.

The documentation portraits also the atmosphere at CERN. Beside the highly technical installations there is very little shiny and new infrastructure. In fact most of the facilities seem to be rather pragmatic and often improvised. It is clear the focus is somewhere else. This place is not about design and style, but about customablilty, flexibility and improvisation. That does not mean that self expression is absence. On the contrary the numerous portraits of individualised desks, doors, books and computers themselves tell a story.

Inside Cern 'calibrate' p.243Image taken from klatmagazine / ‘calibrate’ p.243.

Only on the last few pages the photographs stet to show some of the machinery of the actual Large Hadron Collider (LHC), photographs that look similar to what is usually circulated in the meadia. By that point the reader is already so deep immersed in the atmosphere at CERN that is seems to be most natural thing to walk past this monster of infrastructure that doesn’t even fit on a photograph. In many ways all the other photographs tell a much more telling tale of the LHC than the tons of steel, cable and concrete.

Inside Cern 'thinking' p.249Image taken from uncubemagazine / ‘thinking’ p.249.

This being a Lars Müller Publisher publication it does not come as a surprise that this is a very beautifully made book. A lot of care has gone into the design of the book and the selection of the photographs. Even though it is mainly a picture book a real narrative is being told here something that captivates the reader. This book certainly tells a very different story about science today. It is of course documenting science in a unique biotope of research and collaboration creating a special place between Switzerland and France. But what it shows is the fascination and dedication of the individuals working in this field and manages to transport this.

If this is not quite yet enough. Google has collaborated with cern and it features on Street View. Try this link to go on a virtual walk around CERN and the LHC.

Inside Cern book coverImage taken from amazon.com / Book cover. More details also available on the book website at insidecern.com.

Pol, A., 2011. Inside CERN: European Organization for Nuclear Research. Lars Muller Publishers, Zürich.

Continue reading »

Book – Urban Fabrics Inside Out

Two new publications set out to investigate the urban structure from a different angle than the ever same physical structure perspective. Whilst it might not as such mark a general shift in the way cities or urban areas are investigated these two publication both take a very strong position stressing the social aspects, the experiential and the lived city. It is about people, individuals as much as society and culture.

Both books are part of much larger ongoing research project supported by large national bodies, but operating internationally.

The first of the two books is Suburban Constellations. Governance, Land and Infrastructure in the 21st Century. edited by Roger Keil published by Jovis. It is in fact some kind of half time summary of the ongoing project (2010-2017) Global Suburbanisms: governance, land, and infrastructure in the 21st century. Here the group not only reports on findings, but it is also a tool to define the status quo and look ahead at what is to be achieved further down the line. The project is mainly supported by Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada but investigates case studies from around the world. One of the very striking themes in this project is to bring case studies of all those areas of urban sprawl from around the globe together and compare/contrast them.

The second book is Handmade urbanism: from community initiatives to participatory models : Mumbai, São Paulo, Istanbul, Mexico City, Cape Town edited by Marco L. Rosa and Ute E and published by Jovis. Weiland and is a publication that draws on the Urban Age project at home at LSE and famously sponsored by Deutsche Bank. Here the Project is already into its sixth year and a number of books where published in its context. Most prominently the Endless City (2008) and Living in the Endless City (2011) both by Burdett and Sudjic. This new publication specifically focuses on the Urban Age Award which is organised by the Alfred Herrhausen Society as part of the Urban Age Conferences. With a focus on what is happening on the ground it is based on interviews with different stakeholders in each of the projects world cities. Those five cities are Mumbai, Sao Paulo, Mexico City and Cape Town. The editor of this new publication Ute Weiland has for the past five years coordinated said awards and worked closely with the local contributors in all five cities.

What is special on those two publications is the angel they portrait the urban world and the focus they chose for the respective research projects. The main topic is the rapid urbanisation, the fact that 80% of the world’s population will be living in urbanised areas by 2050 that urban means collective and that cities are in constant flux.

The publisher house Jovis has already a bit of a history with similar publications. There is for example Matthew Gandy’s Urban Constellations (2011) as one of the recent publications in this area. In fact Keil does specifically refer to Gandy in his introduction and the two books even share partly the same title.

Suburban Constellations. Governance, Land and Infrastructure in the 21st Century. being a work in progress brings together a body of writings much more experimental and investigative in comparison. Whilst this might be interpreted as a lack of focus or clear scope at times, it does surprise the reader with raw concepts and very direct lines thought making for a joyful read. Further more it does not require to be read from cover to cover, rather it can be picket up to read just one of the essays and read others maybe later.

It is structured along four topics: Foundations, Themes, Essay and Images and Regions. The first topic presents some ‘foundational thinking on suburbanisation’. The second topic ‘elaborated on those themes with emphasis on redevelopment, risk, boundaries, water, sewage, and transportation. These topics intertwined with the research project’s main points of Land, Governance and Infrastructure. Whilst this organisational structure whilst they might make sense from a project point of view it not as easily accessible for the generally interested reader.

book coverImage taken from the bad-news-beat.org / The waste lands of Fort Mcmurray AB.

The are pieces like “Forth McMurray, the Suburb sat the End of the Highway” by Clair Major describing the context of one of Canada’s two purely business driven settlements just north of Edmonton fuelled by the large oil sands. Or on the other hand an Essay by Alan Mabin “Suburbanisms in Africa” where he discusses not just the suburbs as places but mainly suburban as a term and its meaning in a culturally very different context. He for example points out how difficult it is to translate the term suburb or indeed suburbanises to other languages. For example in places such the urbanised areas of South Africa where beside the local/traditional languages plus English, French and Portuguese all compete for the meaning full expression such terminologies become very fluid in deed creating a complex concept of their own undermining all efforts to frame the topics with key terms.

The project plans a very comprehensive dissemination strategy including conferences and article, but also summer schools. So there will be much more to come from this project and research collective. Preview PDF for this publication is available HERE.

book spreadImage taken from the perfact.org / Book spread Handmade Urbanism showing sketch illustrations.

Handmade urbanism: from community initiatives to participatory models : Mumbai, São Paulo, Istanbul, Mexico City, Cape Town has its focus on what is happening on the ground in each of the five metropolis regions and is being supported by the worldwide operating initiative Urban Age Award sponsored by Deutsche Bank.

The premise of the initiative is that empowering the local population and supporting them to organise their own projects will lead to more sustainable and lasting projects and increases the communities resilience. These aspects are investigated through the interviews and discussions each locations is portrayed by. This is frased by Wolfgang Nowak, the initiator of the Deutsche Bank Urban Age Award in his interview as: “I am not one of these people, like a Florence Nightingale, who stands and gives out soup to the poor (she has in fact done a whole lot more, for people and science). What we want is to enable the poor no longer to accept soup queues and produce their own soup.” (annotation added)

The book structure is organised along the cities. This main body is introduced by a series of essays creating a context for the project. These are by Wolfgang Nowak, Ute E. Wieland and Richard Sennett. These essays are not extensive in length, but try to be very concise.

The main part of the book presents a range of information about each location. There are basic statistics and data key figures information, and a short introduction to each of the three shortlisted projects. This is then followed by a series of interviews with local stakeholders. Experts from the jury, the local government as well as the project initiators.

The book also comes with a cd so you can in addition watch the documentary about the award and hear a bit more about community-driven initiatives. Runtime only 5:30. Also the publisher offers a online preview in PDF for this publication, available HERE.

Both books provide a good overview and outline of these kind of projects. Both projects have a large scope but the struggle between global level of organisation and local level of operation is very apparent. It leaves the reader wondering what exactly do we take from all this? Urban Constellations is the one that makes for a good read with experimental thoughts and Handmade Urbanism is the more descriptive discussion type of publication.

Graphically the two books have very different approaches. Handmade Urbanism translates the topic literally and all illustrations are hand drawn sketches and symbols. Urban Constellations makes extensive use of photographs documenting places mainly views onto or into suburbs. It however a rather weak part of the book, the illustrations do not live up to the surprises the essays manage to challenge the readers with.

book coverImage taken from the Perfact / Handmade Urbanism book cover.

Keil, R. ed., 2013. Suburban Constellations. Governance, Land and Infrastructure in the 21st Century., Berlin: Jovis Verlag.
Rosa, M.L. & Weiland, U.E. eds., 2013. Handmade urbanism: from community initiatives to participatory models : Mumbai, São Paulo, Istanbul, Mexico City, Cape Town, Berlin: Jovis Verlag.

Continue reading »

Book – Urban Fabrics Inside Out

Two new publications set out to investigate the urban structure from a different angle than the ever same physical structure perspective. Whilst it might not as such mark a general shift in the way cities or urban areas are investigated these two publication both take a very strong position stressing the social aspects, the experiential and the lived city. It is about people, individuals as much as society and culture.

Both books are part of much larger ongoing research project supported by large national bodies, but operating internationally.

The first of the two books is Suburban Constellations. Governance, Land and Infrastructure in the 21st Century. edited by Roger Keil published by Jovis. It is in fact some kind of half time summary of the ongoing project (2010-2017) Global Suburbanisms: governance, land, and infrastructure in the 21st century. Here the group not only reports on findings, but it is also a tool to define the status quo and look ahead at what is to be achieved further down the line. The project is mainly supported by Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada but investigates case studies from around the world. One of the very striking themes in this project is to bring case studies of all those areas of urban sprawl from around the globe together and compare/contrast them.

The second book is Handmade urbanism: from community initiatives to participatory models : Mumbai, São Paulo, Istanbul, Mexico City, Cape Town edited by Marco L. Rosa and Ute E and published by Jovis. Weiland and is a publication that draws on the Urban Age project at home at LSE and famously sponsored by Deutsche Bank. Here the Project is already into its sixth year and a number of books where published in its context. Most prominently the Endless City (2008) and Living in the Endless City (2011) both by Burdett and Sudjic. This new publication specifically focuses on the Urban Age Award which is organised by the Alfred Herrhausen Society as part of the Urban Age Conferences. With a focus on what is happening on the ground it is based on interviews with different stakeholders in each of the projects world cities. Those five cities are Mumbai, Sao Paulo, Mexico City and Cape Town. The editor of this new publication Ute Weiland has for the past five years coordinated said awards and worked closely with the local contributors in all five cities.

What is special on those two publications is the angel they portrait the urban world and the focus they chose for the respective research projects. The main topic is the rapid urbanisation, the fact that 80% of the world’s population will be living in urbanised areas by 2050 that urban means collective and that cities are in constant flux.

The publisher house Jovis has already a bit of a history with similar publications. There is for example Matthew Gandy’s Urban Constellations (2011) as one of the recent publications in this area. In fact Keil does specifically refer to Gandy in his introduction and the two books even share partly the same title.

Suburban Constellations. Governance, Land and Infrastructure in the 21st Century. being a work in progress brings together a body of writings much more experimental and investigative in comparison. Whilst this might be interpreted as a lack of focus or clear scope at times, it does surprise the reader with raw concepts and very direct lines thought making for a joyful read. Further more it does not require to be read from cover to cover, rather it can be picket up to read just one of the essays and read others maybe later.

It is structured along four topics: Foundations, Themes, Essay and Images and Regions. The first topic presents some ‘foundational thinking on suburbanisation’. The second topic ‘elaborated on those themes with emphasis on redevelopment, risk, boundaries, water, sewage, and transportation. These topics intertwined with the research project’s main points of Land, Governance and Infrastructure. Whilst this organisational structure whilst they might make sense from a project point of view it not as easily accessible for the generally interested reader.

book coverImage taken from the bad-news-beat.org / The waste lands of Fort Mcmurray AB.

The are pieces like “Forth McMurray, the Suburb sat the End of the Highway” by Clair Major describing the context of one of Canada’s two purely business driven settlements just north of Edmonton fuelled by the large oil sands. Or on the other hand an Essay by Alan Mabin “Suburbanisms in Africa” where he discusses not just the suburbs as places but mainly suburban as a term and its meaning in a culturally very different context. He for example points out how difficult it is to translate the term suburb or indeed suburbanises to other languages. For example in places such the urbanised areas of South Africa where beside the local/traditional languages plus English, French and Portuguese all compete for the meaning full expression such terminologies become very fluid in deed creating a complex concept of their own undermining all efforts to frame the topics with key terms.

The project plans a very comprehensive dissemination strategy including conferences and article, but also summer schools. So there will be much more to come from this project and research collective. Preview PDF for this publication is available HERE.

book spreadImage taken from the perfact.org / Book spread Handmade Urbanism showing sketch illustrations.

Handmade urbanism: from community initiatives to participatory models : Mumbai, São Paulo, Istanbul, Mexico City, Cape Town has its focus on what is happening on the ground in each of the five metropolis regions and is being supported by the worldwide operating initiative Urban Age Award sponsored by Deutsche Bank.

The premise of the initiative is that empowering the local population and supporting them to organise their own projects will lead to more sustainable and lasting projects and increases the communities resilience. These aspects are investigated through the interviews and discussions each locations is portrayed by. This is frased by Wolfgang Nowak, the initiator of the Deutsche Bank Urban Age Award in his interview as: “I am not one of these people, like a Florence Nightingale, who stands and gives out soup to the poor (she has in fact done a whole lot more, for people and science). What we want is to enable the poor no longer to accept soup queues and produce their own soup.” (annotation added)

The book structure is organised along the cities. This main body is introduced by a series of essays creating a context for the project. These are by Wolfgang Nowak, Ute E. Wieland and Richard Sennett. These essays are not extensive in length, but try to be very concise.

The main part of the book presents a range of information about each location. There are basic statistics and data key figures information, and a short introduction to each of the three shortlisted projects. This is then followed by a series of interviews with local stakeholders. Experts from the jury, the local government as well as the project initiators.

The book also comes with a cd so you can in addition watch the documentary about the award and hear a bit more about community-driven initiatives. Runtime only 5:30. Also the publisher offers a online preview in PDF for this publication, available HERE.

Both books provide a good overview and outline of these kind of projects. Both projects have a large scope but the struggle between global level of organisation and local level of operation is very apparent. It leaves the reader wondering what exactly do we take from all this? Urban Constellations is the one that makes for a good read with experimental thoughts and Handmade Urbanism is the more descriptive discussion type of publication.

Graphically the two books have very different approaches. Handmade Urbanism translates the topic literally and all illustrations are hand drawn sketches and symbols. Urban Constellations makes extensive use of photographs documenting places mainly views onto or into suburbs. It however a rather weak part of the book, the illustrations do not live up to the surprises the essays manage to challenge the readers with.

book coverImage taken from the Perfact / Handmade Urbanism book cover.

Keil, R. ed., 2013. Suburban Constellations. Governance, Land and Infrastructure in the 21st Century., Berlin: Jovis Verlag.
Rosa, M.L. & Weiland, U.E. eds., 2013. Handmade urbanism: from community initiatives to participatory models : Mumbai, São Paulo, Istanbul, Mexico City, Cape Town, Berlin: Jovis Verlag.

Continue reading »

Book – Urban Fabrics Inside Out

Two new publications set out to investigate the urban structure from a different angle than the ever same physical structure perspective. Whilst it might not as such mark a general shift in the way cities or urban areas are investigated these two publication both take a very strong position stressing the social aspects, the experiential and the lived city. It is about people, individuals as much as society and culture.

Both books are part of much larger ongoing research project supported by large national bodies, but operating internationally.

The first of the two books is Suburban Constellations. Governance, Land and Infrastructure in the 21st Century. edited by Roger Keil published by Jovis. It is in fact some kind of half time summary of the ongoing project (2010-2017) Global Suburbanisms: governance, land, and infrastructure in the 21st century. Here the group not only reports on findings, but it is also a tool to define the status quo and look ahead at what is to be achieved further down the line. The project is mainly supported by Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada but investigates case studies from around the world. One of the very striking themes in this project is to bring case studies of all those areas of urban sprawl from around the globe together and compare/contrast them.

The second book is Handmade urbanism: from community initiatives to participatory models : Mumbai, São Paulo, Istanbul, Mexico City, Cape Town edited by Marco L. Rosa and Ute E and published by Jovis. Weiland and is a publication that draws on the Urban Age project at home at LSE and famously sponsored by Deutsche Bank. Here the Project is already into its sixth year and a number of books where published in its context. Most prominently the Endless City (2008) and Living in the Endless City (2011) both by Burdett and Sudjic. This new publication specifically focuses on the Urban Age Award which is organised by the Alfred Herrhausen Society as part of the Urban Age Conferences. With a focus on what is happening on the ground it is based on interviews with different stakeholders in each of the projects world cities. Those five cities are Mumbai, Sao Paulo, Mexico City and Cape Town. The editor of this new publication Ute Weiland has for the past five years coordinated said awards and worked closely with the local contributors in all five cities.

What is special on those two publications is the angel they portrait the urban world and the focus they chose for the respective research projects. The main topic is the rapid urbanisation, the fact that 80% of the world’s population will be living in urbanised areas by 2050 that urban means collective and that cities are in constant flux.

The publisher house Jovis has already a bit of a history with similar publications. There is for example Matthew Gandy’s Urban Constellations (2011) as one of the recent publications in this area. In fact Keil does specifically refer to Gandy in his introduction and the two books even share partly the same title.

Suburban Constellations. Governance, Land and Infrastructure in the 21st Century. being a work in progress brings together a body of writings much more experimental and investigative in comparison. Whilst this might be interpreted as a lack of focus or clear scope at times, it does surprise the reader with raw concepts and very direct lines thought making for a joyful read. Further more it does not require to be read from cover to cover, rather it can be picket up to read just one of the essays and read others maybe later.

It is structured along four topics: Foundations, Themes, Essay and Images and Regions. The first topic presents some ‘foundational thinking on suburbanisation’. The second topic ‘elaborated on those themes with emphasis on redevelopment, risk, boundaries, water, sewage, and transportation. These topics intertwined with the research project’s main points of Land, Governance and Infrastructure. Whilst this organisational structure whilst they might make sense from a project point of view it not as easily accessible for the generally interested reader.

book coverImage taken from the bad-news-beat.org / The waste lands of Fort Mcmurray AB.

The are pieces like “Forth McMurray, the Suburb sat the End of the Highway” by Clair Major describing the context of one of Canada’s two purely business driven settlements just north of Edmonton fuelled by the large oil sands. Or on the other hand an Essay by Alan Mabin “Suburbanisms in Africa” where he discusses not just the suburbs as places but mainly suburban as a term and its meaning in a culturally very different context. He for example points out how difficult it is to translate the term suburb or indeed suburbanises to other languages. For example in places such the urbanised areas of South Africa where beside the local/traditional languages plus English, French and Portuguese all compete for the meaning full expression such terminologies become very fluid in deed creating a complex concept of their own undermining all efforts to frame the topics with key terms.

The project plans a very comprehensive dissemination strategy including conferences and article, but also summer schools. So there will be much more to come from this project and research collective. Preview PDF for this publication is available HERE.

book spreadImage taken from the perfact.org / Book spread Handmade Urbanism showing sketch illustrations.

Handmade urbanism: from community initiatives to participatory models : Mumbai, São Paulo, Istanbul, Mexico City, Cape Town has its focus on what is happening on the ground in each of the five metropolis regions and is being supported by the worldwide operating initiative Urban Age Award sponsored by Deutsche Bank.

The premise of the initiative is that empowering the local population and supporting them to organise their own projects will lead to more sustainable and lasting projects and increases the communities resilience. These aspects are investigated through the interviews and discussions each locations is portrayed by. This is frased by Wolfgang Nowak, the initiator of the Deutsche Bank Urban Age Award in his interview as: “I am not one of these people, like a Florence Nightingale, who stands and gives out soup to the poor (she has in fact done a whole lot more, for people and science). What we want is to enable the poor no longer to accept soup queues and produce their own soup.” (annotation added)

The book structure is organised along the cities. This main body is introduced by a series of essays creating a context for the project. These are by Wolfgang Nowak, Ute E. Wieland and Richard Sennett. These essays are not extensive in length, but try to be very concise.

The main part of the book presents a range of information about each location. There are basic statistics and data key figures information, and a short introduction to each of the three shortlisted projects. This is then followed by a series of interviews with local stakeholders. Experts from the jury, the local government as well as the project initiators.

The book also comes with a cd so you can in addition watch the documentary about the award and hear a bit more about community-driven initiatives. Runtime only 5:30. Also the publisher offers a online preview in PDF for this publication, available HERE.

Both books provide a good overview and outline of these kind of projects. Both projects have a large scope but the struggle between global level of organisation and local level of operation is very apparent. It leaves the reader wondering what exactly do we take from all this? Urban Constellations is the one that makes for a good read with experimental thoughts and Handmade Urbanism is the more descriptive discussion type of publication.

Graphically the two books have very different approaches. Handmade Urbanism translates the topic literally and all illustrations are hand drawn sketches and symbols. Urban Constellations makes extensive use of photographs documenting places mainly views onto or into suburbs. It however a rather weak part of the book, the illustrations do not live up to the surprises the essays manage to challenge the readers with.

book coverImage taken from the Perfact / Handmade Urbanism book cover.

Keil, R. ed., 2013. Suburban Constellations. Governance, Land and Infrastructure in the 21st Century., Berlin: Jovis Verlag.
Rosa, M.L. & Weiland, U.E. eds., 2013. Handmade urbanism: from community initiatives to participatory models : Mumbai, São Paulo, Istanbul, Mexico City, Cape Town, Berlin: Jovis Verlag.

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The End of the Virtual? – Touch ID on the New iPhone 5s for the Real Online Self

Since the announcement of the new Apple iPhone 5s and the built in fingerprint scanning technology branded ‘Touch ID’ the discussion around security, data protection and privacy has been relaunched. It is an ongoing topic in the industry, both on the hardware side amongst producers of devices and the software side with developers of applications and services, but specifically for end users and consumers.

Until now, it was the password, or PIN, that protects and restricts access to the virtual world of data. This has led many of us to come up with creative procedures to create and remember a complicated sequence of letters, numbers and symbols in order to keep personal information secure. It has always been the debate as to how complicated these passwords need to be and how user-friendly this practice is, and often ‘better’ and ‘easier’ solutions for users were wished for.

Now Apple has implemented such a solution with their latest top of the range device. The iPhone 5s features a fingerprint scanner in the ‘Home’ button to uniquely identify a user (up to five different prints can be set up) and grant access. The ‘fingerprint identity sensor’ also allows users to shop on the iTunes Store, Apps Store and iBooks Store where the Touch ID approves purchases.

The new feature is branded by Apple as ‘convenient, highly secure and ahead of the future’. However, the technology and its implementation in mobile devices is nothing new. Motorola’s Atrix smartphone was introduced back in 2011, but also laptop manufacturers have trialled and implemented fingerprint scanner technology in the past decade [REF]. Other manufacturers, namely HTC, are gearing up to release gadgets with similar technology and features.

Although the technology is not new, it is the fact that it is being introduced on such a large scale that makes it a ‘hot topic’. According to TechCrunch, Apple has currently (2013) an estimated user base of 147 million iPhone users, plus about 48 million iPad users. Of the new iPhones (iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c), Apple sold 9 millions in just three days after their launch on the 20iest of September 2013. This is a new record, as previous implementations settled on a much smaller scale. This means that the iPhone 5s is already used by a large number of people. It could therefore be classified as ‘mainstream’ and ‘cultural commodity’. The introduction of this technology can therefore be expected to be used by a much larger customer base as any other similar implementation of biometrics so far.

In this context, the introduction of a unique and personal identifier, the fingerprint, is a smart move. Smart, because everybody knows and understands the idea of the fingerprint. It is in use as signature and plays an important role in crime investigation and law enforcement for over a century. Through its use in detective stories and crime thrillers it has also found its way into everyday culture. It is this very idea of the fingerprint as a unique identifier – ‘’your iPhone reads your fingerprint and knows who you are’’ – that Apple has turned into a selling point to the products advantage.


Image taken from fingerprintingscottsdale / Fingerprint identification plate.

It can be speculated that with the introduction of Touch ID, similarly to the introduction of the touch screen, Apple changes, once again, the way we access electronic devices and use the Internet. Whether this is intentional and whether the use of the fingerprint has played an main role in the development of the newest iPhone generation can only be speculated. A range of problematic aspects in connection to the use of this technology in electronic devices shall be discussed in the following. The points raised function only as an introduction since the topic is vast and might have implications that are yet to be discovered. We debate if the technology used in the iPhone 5s might even be the ‘End of the Virtual?’.

..Security concerns

Official concerns regarding the introduction of the Touch ID were raised amongst others by US Senator Al Franken (Chairman Senate Judiciary Subcommittee) in an open letter to Apple’s CEO Tim Cook (PDF, WEB). The letter states “…while Apple’s new fingerprint reader, Touch ID, may improve certain aspects of mobile security, it also raises substantial privacy questions for Apple and for everyone who may use your products”. Al Franken supports his concerns by saying that “Passwords are secret and dynamic; fingerprints are public and permanent”. This means, once someone has access to someone else’s fingerprint, this access cannot be reversed and the security token can not be changed. ‘’…if hackers get hold of your thumbprint, they could use it to identify and impersonate you for the rest of your life’’.


Image taken from maskable / The Touch ID explained during the introduction of the new iPone 5s at conference key note.

In this context, Al Franken also questions the filing and transferring of the fingerprint data. He demands to know if the fingerprint data stored on the phone is also being transmitted electronically to either Apple or others, and if this data is being saved on computers used to back up the device (referring to the earlier iOS version that stored unencrypted location information recorded by the device in backup files on computers). He wonders further how iTunes, iBooks and AppStore and potential future services interact with Touch ID.

These practical concerns are connected to the only recently refreshed high level discussion on data privacy with information on mass surveillance programs leaked by Edward Snowden, an American computer specialist and former CIA and NSA employee, to the Guardian in May 2013 [REF ] regarding the secret PRISM program. Similar discussions have been on the table in recent years specifically related to social media and the challenged public/private practices in an online context (Neuhaus und Webmoor, 2012, earlier blog post on urbanTick, 2011).

It seems that Senator Franken’s concerns are not ungrounded. ‘Apple’s fingerprint scan technology has been hacked’ was announced by the Computer Chaos Club, CCC, only two days after the iPhone 5s had gone on sale. The claim was backed up with a video demonstrating that ‘fingerbiometrics is unsuitable as access control method’. This ‘hack’, however, focused on the physical reproduction of a fingerprint and did not bypass the new Touch ID technology. Despite this, the attack by CCC proves how easily the new security system can be tricked and everyone with a camera, scanner, printer and a good stock of graphite powder, glycerene, and wood-glue/super-glue/theatrical-glue can repeat the procedure.

The ‘iPhone touch defeat’ also proves that users’ fingerprints are not secret, meaning that anything touched by users will have fingerprints on it, including the new phone. Senator Franken has referred to this with the ‘fingerprint being public’. And here is the real flaw of the technology. If someone gets hold of the device, he or she has basically access to ‘the lock and the key’, as the phone will be covered with fingerprints that can be reproduced to unlock the security system. Even though the chances of guessing the correct fingerprint is 1:50’000 compared to 1:10’000 with a normal 4 digit numeric key (except 1234, source Apple), now that the ‘key’ is on the phone in the form of ‘touches’ this number is meaningless, or at least reduced to 1:10.

Another question raised by the introduction of Touch ID is the digital reproduction of the fingerprint. Apple has explained that the information is not stored as a digital image. Instead it is being translated by the device into a sequence of numbers (a mathematical representation of the fingerprint derived by an specific algorithm). This implies that the print can only, if at all, re-engineered with physical access to the device. This is being discussed extensively on tech blogs, for example on The Unoffical Apple Weblog (source TUAW). In reference to these statements, it seems only a question of time until the A7 chip inside the phone is cracked.

However, the main argument highlighted by Apple is not security, but convenience. ‘’You check your iPhone dozens and dozens of times a day. Entering a passcode each time just slows you down’’. It seems as if it is annoying for customers to input four digits, or on Android models a swipe pattern. In this context, the fingerprint scanner is put forward as the user-friendly solution. With just one touch the phone is activated, unlocked and ready to use. However, when considering the security concerns discussed above, it is questionable if winning a few seconds to start up the phone is important and desirable.

..Security versus convenience

CNet askes on its website: “Should we trade our biometric data and privacy for the sake of convenience?”. The answer to this question seems straightforward: Biometrics, or biometric authentication, can be useful, but it should not be used in mobile devices as the technology is not yet error-prone and these devices can easily be lost or stolen. This seems the common agreement amongst security experts (for example in Der Spiegel). In addition, as Schneier, then President of Counterpane Systems, argued in 1998, ‘’biometrics are unique identifiers, but not secrets’’. This means, they are easy to steal and reproduce. ‘’Once someone steals your biometric, it remains stolen for life; there is no getting back to a secure situation’’. So the big question a lot of people should be asking themselves is not how quick they can access their data, but what they are giving away when using Touch ID.

In this context, it seems important to repeat that Touch ID does not actually store an image of the fingerprint, and the data is not available to any other application other than Apple apps nor stored at Apple’s servers or backed up via iCloud. For now, at least. There is no guarantee that this will be the same in the future, especially as the prospect of a vast biometric database is the dream of any national security agency, marketing company and hacker community. This means third parties will pay a lot of attention to these developments and probably exert some force to get access to some of this data. It would therefore be important to know ‘how does Apple see the actual fingerprint data and how are they going to handle it, now and in the future?’.

Whilst there are regulations as to when third parties can be forced to hand over data in connection to crime investigation, it is a complicated matter with Touch ID as the technology enables new ways of ‘tracking’ people. For example, a user logging in with Touch ID does not only confirm his or her location, but also his or her identity. This means the iPhone 5s could act as a means of evidence – ‘I was here’. So far, Apple has stated that they do not share any information with others – although the technology can be used to verify purchases. The question is therefore, as Senator Franken asks: ‘’Does Apple believe that users have a reasonable expectation of privacy in fingerprint data they provide to touch ID?’’.

There might also be some legal implications for the user of the Touch ID technology. It has been pointed out, for example by Marcia Hofmann of Wired, that the shift from PIN as an ‘known’ key to a fingerprint as a ‘what we are’ key might strip users of the right to the in the US called 5th. This Amendment protects the individual from giving evidence against him/her self. At the moment, this only applies to things one knows, knowledge, thoughts, so on and not to things one has, keys, written notes (if you write down the password on a piece of paper) or is, biometrics. Hence, on trial a person can not be forced to provide the password to a device or to decrypt information since the password is something he/she knows. A key, however, would be something the person has and this object, according to current law, can be requested. The fingerprint belongs to the person, it is part of the human body, a thing, and hence it belongs do the category of information that can not be withhold. This means access to devices or data via fingerprint scan can be enforced. This fact, in connection to Touch ID, might mean that consumers need to give up on one of their basic (human) rights, the right to withdraw information.

..Personal data and biometrics becomes mainstream

A further concern connected to Touch ID is that biometrics are becoming mainstream. Currently, the use of biometrical authentication in the public sphere is limited. Its main use is in passport and immigration control, where retina and fingerprint recognition, actual or as part of a passport, is used to identify ‘travellers’ and reduce queues at border control. Here, the data is usually linked up with secondary information or other means of verification. For example, users of a retina scan machine need also to provide their passport for optical scanning. This means, the replication of a retina scan alone does not provide access to ‘free travel’.

However, the implications of ‘normalising’ biometrics and using biometrics in everyday applications are not only connected to the risk of individuals being permanently tracked and surveilled, but also to the risk of biometrics becoming unsafe. As Schneier argued, ‘’Just as you should never use the same password on two different systems, the same encryption key should not be used for two different applications’’. This means, it is not a good idea to use your thumbprint to access your mobile phone, open your front door and unlock your file cabinet at work, as data theft would automatically lead to a catastrophe.

It could therefore be said that biometrics are not safer than other security means. With Apple suggesting to customers that ‘’Your fingerprint is one of the best passcodes in the world’’ seems therefore misleading. The question really is how much consumers are willing to trade their personal information and data for the ultimate and smooth technology experience.

In addition, in today’s context the distribution of personal information is no longer directly manageable by the individual, as user information is being left behind with every move online and regular real world services. Shopping online, borrowing books at the local library, and visiting the GP, all activities leave a ‘digital footprint’. It has become complicated to the point where it is impossible for the user to understand and control what information is left behind when using a mobile device, especially when using online and server connected apps and services. These apps are often pre-installed on the device and updated automatically. Also, the companies behind those apps are often unknown and it is unclear what kind of information they collect, store and and how this information is used or shared with third parties.

In this context, the introduction of a truly unique identifier, the fingerprint, will not only add to the information left by users, but also add to the possibility of users being personally identified across the entire range of services. This in turn changes not only the discussion around online security but also online identity. Until now, users could ‘create’ their online identity by using a pseudonym and an avatar (an icon-sized graphic image). This ‘chosen’ identity could then be adjusted or changed, any time. In the beginning of the Internet, individuals would often create and use a whole range of online identities. This has changed. Nowadays users prefer online interactions supported by ‘authentic identity’ as reported by the Guardian. This means they want to know with whom they communicate.

This practice has been taken to a new level by Google with the Google ID, an unique ID tied to an individual/account which was introduced in connection to Google+ in 2011. Facebook uses a similar user identification. Both sites, Google and Facebook, make it difficult for users to create and use multiple accounts, and it can be assumed that through this the number of IDs per individual has been dramatically reduced. This of course makes it also a lot simpler for Google and Facebook, and their respective partners, to target marketing and individual advertisement. Despite this, users often create and use different accounts for their private and professional networking. With the new Touch ID, this will no longer be possible. They will have only one account.

How individuals are uniquely identifiable online through the use and manipulation of devices is being researched widely. Besides the PIN and the here discussed biometric identification, alternative methods to provide security, in particular in connection with mobile devices, is being developed under the umbrella term of “Implicit Authentication” (via Quarz). In this case, the security is based on an ongoing security check as opposed to the one-off security check at the start of a session, for example by unlocking the phone. The idea, for example focused on by researchers at the Palo Alto Research Centre, is that the individual user displays very specific, habitual characteristics in behaviour and usage or even movement pattern that can be used to continuously monitor the usage. This will allow to determine sudden change in which case the device will immediately shut down and deny access. Such parameters being researched include location and movement patterns, the way we walk, speed and style of data input on the device, activity pattern and timing, or the subtle way the user’s hand shakes.

These methods seem, as the research shows, to deliver reliable results. At the same time, however, this extends on the privacy discussion, as data is collected on users’ bio-sensorial functions. The technology also puts pressure on individual to profile themselves. The security of such a dataset is a very different issue again, including and extending into the field of personal health and medical information. Nevertheless it represents a big move towards the identification of ‘unique’ individuals and verifying much more than the Touch ID in itself does.

..The end of the virtual?

The introduction of Touch ID or alternative biometric/behavioural authentication methods will prevent users from creating different online identities, as the fingerprint is ‘THE ID’. This means it is really you, who bought that song on iTunes, uploaded that image on Flickr and accidentally deleted that file on Prezi. And it is the very same person who called the client on Skype and tweeted about Beyonce’s concert on Twitter. It is also the same individual who banks with HSBC, shops with Sainsbury’s and hangs out at the Barbican. The point is that ‘being online’ becomes very much like ‘being offline’. Events, happenings and activities become uniquely and reliable tied to users, the individual becomes authentic and unique. Is this the end of virtual?

When looking at the introduction of Touch ID it seems so. It really is the case of as Apple put it ‘’your iPhone reads your fingerprint and knows who you are’’. Subsequently any activity becomes real and unique, and also identifiable as such by online friends and fellow users as well as service providers and traders. However, as suggested by Apple, this does not only make your life easier, but also that of marketing and consumer related businesses. At the same time, it too makes the individual responsible for his or her online activities not dissimilar to the responsibility one enjoys in person as an individual in the real world. It will no longer be possible for users to hide behind one or multiple pseudonyms or avatars. This will certainly transform practice, as both, providers and users, will have to accommodate this ‘new authentic self’ and a completely new reality of online practice.

In many ways, this discussion is related to the ‘Internet of Things’ concept which has enjoyed raising attention over the past five years. Whilst the Internet of Things is about ‘real’ objects being connected to the web, to each other and to ‘users’, Touch ID is about ‘real’ humans. An interesting aspect raised by the Tales of Things project at CASA UCL was the fact that the ‘real’ object was required to access information. This means, access to content is based on ‘real world interaction’. With Touch ID, it is very similar. It requires me, the user, to unlock information (at least once, until may fingerprint has been ‘hacked’) and interact, both online and offline. This ultimately connects the online world to reality.

This means, with and through Touch ID the online experience becomes real in the sense that it confirms that the person logging in at this moment, at this location really is the specific individual and not someone else or a bot. At a first glance, this seems great. From a security and privacy point of view, however, this raises a whole bunch of new questions and concerns that need to be addressed to enjoy this ‘brave new online world’ with yet new possibilities for both users and services. For example, national agencies and businesses might be extremely interested in this kind of data as it is the ultimate proof of someone’s activities at a given time and location. Hence, this information on habitual activities individually verified seems much more desirable for ‘outsiders’ than the actual fingerprint. Touch ID reveals what, when and where a user has been, all confirmed by his or her own fingerprint whilst unlocking or just using the device – meaning the virtual has become its realest so far with consequences and possibilities we can only begin to speculate on.


Image taken from mymodernmet / Real life person and their avatars by Robbie Cooper.

..Summary

Since the launch of the new iPhone 5s by Apple, the discussion revolving around online security and privacy has been re-activated. Experts agree that with the introduction of Touch ID the use of biometrical data as a security measure in mobile devices needs to be regulated, especially in terms of storage, handling and exchange of the biometric data processed. However, when looking closer at the implications of the finger-scan-technology developed and introduced by Apple, it becomes clear that the technology not only influences the usage of our personal data, the law and rights users have, but also the way we are present online. Especially since the fingerprint, or any other to be implemented biometric or personal pattern based verification, is ‘THE ID’. With biometrical authentication, there is no way of hiding behind a pseudonym or an avatar. It is really you, the user, who activates and uses the device (at least once, before the device is ‘hacked’). This means, the new iPhone 5s links the virtual world with reality and brings them as close as they have not been before, almost merging them in practice and consequence. The online self becomes authentic. As speculated in the article, this could be the end of the virtual and the beginning of a new web and online experience where we meet real people, make real conversations, buy real goods, but also carry real responsibility.


Image taken from mymodernmet / Real life person and their avatars by Robbie Cooper.

Article written by Sandra Abegglen and Fabian Neuhaus Simultaneously published on Everyday Click and urbanTick.

Continue reading »

The End of the Virtual? – Touch ID on the New iPhone 5s for the Real Online Self

Since the announcement of the new Apple iPhone 5s and the built in fingerprint scanning technology branded ‘Touch ID’ the discussion around security, data protection and privacy has been relaunched. It is an ongoing topic in the industry, both on the hardware side amongst producers of devices and the software side with developers of applications and services, but specifically for end users and consumers.

Until now, it was the password, or PIN, that protects and restricts access to the virtual world of data. This has led many of us to come up with creative procedures to create and remember a complicated sequence of letters, numbers and symbols in order to keep personal information secure. It has always been the debate as to how complicated these passwords need to be and how user-friendly this practice is, and often ‘better’ and ‘easier’ solutions for users were wished for.

Now Apple has implemented such a solution with their latest top of the range device. The iPhone 5s features a fingerprint scanner in the ‘Home’ button to uniquely identify a user (up to five different prints can be set up) and grant access. The ‘fingerprint identity sensor’ also allows users to shop on the iTunes Store, Apps Store and iBooks Store where the Touch ID approves purchases.

The new feature is branded by Apple as ‘convenient, highly secure and ahead of the future’. However, the technology and its implementation in mobile devices is nothing new. Motorola’s Atrix smartphone was introduced back in 2011, but also laptop manufacturers have trialled and implemented fingerprint scanner technology in the past decade [REF]. Other manufacturers, namely HTC, are gearing up to release gadgets with similar technology and features.

Although the technology is not new, it is the fact that it is being introduced on such a large scale that makes it a ‘hot topic’. According to TechCrunch, Apple has currently (2013) an estimated user base of 147 million iPhone users, plus about 48 million iPad users. Of the new iPhones (iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c), Apple sold 9 millions in just three days after their launch on the 20iest of September 2013. This is a new record, as previous implementations settled on a much smaller scale. This means that the iPhone 5s is already used by a large number of people. It could therefore be classified as ‘mainstream’ and ‘cultural commodity’. The introduction of this technology can therefore be expected to be used by a much larger customer base as any other similar implementation of biometrics so far.

In this context, the introduction of a unique and personal identifier, the fingerprint, is a smart move. Smart, because everybody knows and understands the idea of the fingerprint. It is in use as signature and plays an important role in crime investigation and law enforcement for over a century. Through its use in detective stories and crime thrillers it has also found its way into everyday culture. It is this very idea of the fingerprint as a unique identifier – ‘’your iPhone reads your fingerprint and knows who you are’’ – that Apple has turned into a selling point to the products advantage.


Image taken from fingerprintingscottsdale / Fingerprint identification plate.

It can be speculated that with the introduction of Touch ID, similarly to the introduction of the touch screen, Apple changes, once again, the way we access electronic devices and use the Internet. Whether this is intentional and whether the use of the fingerprint has played an main role in the development of the newest iPhone generation can only be speculated. A range of problematic aspects in connection to the use of this technology in electronic devices shall be discussed in the following. The points raised function only as an introduction since the topic is vast and might have implications that are yet to be discovered. We debate if the technology used in the iPhone 5s might even be the ‘End of the Virtual?’.

..Security concerns

Official concerns regarding the introduction of the Touch ID were raised amongst others by US Senator Al Franken (Chairman Senate Judiciary Subcommittee) in an open letter to Apple’s CEO Tim Cook (PDF, WEB). The letter states “…while Apple’s new fingerprint reader, Touch ID, may improve certain aspects of mobile security, it also raises substantial privacy questions for Apple and for everyone who may use your products”. Al Franken supports his concerns by saying that “Passwords are secret and dynamic; fingerprints are public and permanent”. This means, once someone has access to someone else’s fingerprint, this access cannot be reversed and the security token can not be changed. ‘’…if hackers get hold of your thumbprint, they could use it to identify and impersonate you for the rest of your life’’.


Image taken from maskable / The Touch ID explained during the introduction of the new iPone 5s at conference key note.

In this context, Al Franken also questions the filing and transferring of the fingerprint data. He demands to know if the fingerprint data stored on the phone is also being transmitted electronically to either Apple or others, and if this data is being saved on computers used to back up the device (referring to the earlier iOS version that stored unencrypted location information recorded by the device in backup files on computers). He wonders further how iTunes, iBooks and AppStore and potential future services interact with Touch ID.

These practical concerns are connected to the only recently refreshed high level discussion on data privacy with information on mass surveillance programs leaked by Edward Snowden, an American computer specialist and former CIA and NSA employee, to the Guardian in May 2013 [REF ] regarding the secret PRISM program. Similar discussions have been on the table in recent years specifically related to social media and the challenged public/private practices in an online context (Neuhaus und Webmoor, 2012, earlier blog post on urbanTick, 2011).

It seems that Senator Franken’s concerns are not ungrounded. ‘Apple’s fingerprint scan technology has been hacked’ was announced by the Computer Chaos Club, CCC, only two days after the iPhone 5s had gone on sale. The claim was backed up with a video demonstrating that ‘fingerbiometrics is unsuitable as access control method’. This ‘hack’, however, focused on the physical reproduction of a fingerprint and did not bypass the new Touch ID technology. Despite this, the attack by CCC proves how easily the new security system can be tricked and everyone with a camera, scanner, printer and a good stock of graphite powder, glycerene, and wood-glue/super-glue/theatrical-glue can repeat the procedure.

The ‘iPhone touch defeat’ also proves that users’ fingerprints are not secret, meaning that anything touched by users will have fingerprints on it, including the new phone. Senator Franken has referred to this with the ‘fingerprint being public’. And here is the real flaw of the technology. If someone gets hold of the device, he or she has basically access to ‘the lock and the key’, as the phone will be covered with fingerprints that can be reproduced to unlock the security system. Even though the chances of guessing the correct fingerprint is 1:50’000 compared to 1:10’000 with a normal 4 digit numeric key (except 1234, source Apple), now that the ‘key’ is on the phone in the form of ‘touches’ this number is meaningless, or at least reduced to 1:10.

Another question raised by the introduction of Touch ID is the digital reproduction of the fingerprint. Apple has explained that the information is not stored as a digital image. Instead it is being translated by the device into a sequence of numbers (a mathematical representation of the fingerprint derived by an specific algorithm). This implies that the print can only, if at all, re-engineered with physical access to the device. This is being discussed extensively on tech blogs, for example on The Unoffical Apple Weblog (source TUAW). In reference to these statements, it seems only a question of time until the A7 chip inside the phone is cracked.

However, the main argument highlighted by Apple is not security, but convenience. ‘’You check your iPhone dozens and dozens of times a day. Entering a passcode each time just slows you down’’. It seems as if it is annoying for customers to input four digits, or on Android models a swipe pattern. In this context, the fingerprint scanner is put forward as the user-friendly solution. With just one touch the phone is activated, unlocked and ready to use. However, when considering the security concerns discussed above, it is questionable if winning a few seconds to start up the phone is important and desirable.

..Security versus convenience

CNet askes on its website: “Should we trade our biometric data and privacy for the sake of convenience?”. The answer to this question seems straightforward: Biometrics, or biometric authentication, can be useful, but it should not be used in mobile devices as the technology is not yet error-prone and these devices can easily be lost or stolen. This seems the common agreement amongst security experts (for example in Der Spiegel). In addition, as Schneier, then President of Counterpane Systems, argued in 1998, ‘’biometrics are unique identifiers, but not secrets’’. This means, they are easy to steal and reproduce. ‘’Once someone steals your biometric, it remains stolen for life; there is no getting back to a secure situation’’. So the big question a lot of people should be asking themselves is not how quick they can access their data, but what they are giving away when using Touch ID.

In this context, it seems important to repeat that Touch ID does not actually store an image of the fingerprint, and the data is not available to any other application other than Apple apps nor stored at Apple’s servers or backed up via iCloud. For now, at least. There is no guarantee that this will be the same in the future, especially as the prospect of a vast biometric database is the dream of any national security agency, marketing company and hacker community. This means third parties will pay a lot of attention to these developments and probably exert some force to get access to some of this data. It would therefore be important to know ‘how does Apple see the actual fingerprint data and how are they going to handle it, now and in the future?’.

Whilst there are regulations as to when third parties can be forced to hand over data in connection to crime investigation, it is a complicated matter with Touch ID as the technology enables new ways of ‘tracking’ people. For example, a user logging in with Touch ID does not only confirm his or her location, but also his or her identity. This means the iPhone 5s could act as a means of evidence – ‘I was here’. So far, Apple has stated that they do not share any information with others – although the technology can be used to verify purchases. The question is therefore, as Senator Franken asks: ‘’Does Apple believe that users have a reasonable expectation of privacy in fingerprint data they provide to touch ID?’’.

There might also be some legal implications for the user of the Touch ID technology. It has been pointed out, for example by Marcia Hofmann of Wired, that the shift from PIN as an ‘known’ key to a fingerprint as a ‘what we are’ key might strip users of the right to the in the US called 5th. This Amendment protects the individual from giving evidence against him/her self. At the moment, this only applies to things one knows, knowledge, thoughts, so on and not to things one has, keys, written notes (if you write down the password on a piece of paper) or is, biometrics. Hence, on trial a person can not be forced to provide the password to a device or to decrypt information since the password is something he/she knows. A key, however, would be something the person has and this object, according to current law, can be requested. The fingerprint belongs to the person, it is part of the human body, a thing, and hence it belongs do the category of information that can not be withhold. This means access to devices or data via fingerprint scan can be enforced. This fact, in connection to Touch ID, might mean that consumers need to give up on one of their basic (human) rights, the right to withdraw information.

..Personal data and biometrics becomes mainstream

A further concern connected to Touch ID is that biometrics are becoming mainstream. Currently, the use of biometrical authentication in the public sphere is limited. Its main use is in passport and immigration control, where retina and fingerprint recognition, actual or as part of a passport, is used to identify ‘travellers’ and reduce queues at border control. Here, the data is usually linked up with secondary information or other means of verification. For example, users of a retina scan machine need also to provide their passport for optical scanning. This means, the replication of a retina scan alone does not provide access to ‘free travel’.

However, the implications of ‘normalising’ biometrics and using biometrics in everyday applications are not only connected to the risk of individuals being permanently tracked and surveilled, but also to the risk of biometrics becoming unsafe. As Schneier argued, ‘’Just as you should never use the same password on two different systems, the same encryption key should not be used for two different applications’’. This means, it is not a good idea to use your thumbprint to access your mobile phone, open your front door and unlock your file cabinet at work, as data theft would automatically lead to a catastrophe.

It could therefore be said that biometrics are not safer than other security means. With Apple suggesting to customers that ‘’Your fingerprint is one of the best passcodes in the world’’ seems therefore misleading. The question really is how much consumers are willing to trade their personal information and data for the ultimate and smooth technology experience.

In addition, in today’s context the distribution of personal information is no longer directly manageable by the individual, as user information is being left behind with every move online and regular real world services. Shopping online, borrowing books at the local library, and visiting the GP, all activities leave a ‘digital footprint’. It has become complicated to the point where it is impossible for the user to understand and control what information is left behind when using a mobile device, especially when using online and server connected apps and services. These apps are often pre-installed on the device and updated automatically. Also, the companies behind those apps are often unknown and it is unclear what kind of information they collect, store and and how this information is used or shared with third parties.

In this context, the introduction of a truly unique identifier, the fingerprint, will not only add to the information left by users, but also add to the possibility of users being personally identified across the entire range of services. This in turn changes not only the discussion around online security but also online identity. Until now, users could ‘create’ their online identity by using a pseudonym and an avatar (an icon-sized graphic image). This ‘chosen’ identity could then be adjusted or changed, any time. In the beginning of the Internet, individuals would often create and use a whole range of online identities. This has changed. Nowadays users prefer online interactions supported by ‘authentic identity’ as reported by the Guardian. This means they want to know with whom they communicate.

This practice has been taken to a new level by Google with the Google ID, an unique ID tied to an individual/account which was introduced in connection to Google+ in 2011. Facebook uses a similar user identification. Both sites, Google and Facebook, make it difficult for users to create and use multiple accounts, and it can be assumed that through this the number of IDs per individual has been dramatically reduced. This of course makes it also a lot simpler for Google and Facebook, and their respective partners, to target marketing and individual advertisement. Despite this, users often create and use different accounts for their private and professional networking. With the new Touch ID, this will no longer be possible. They will have only one account.

How individuals are uniquely identifiable online through the use and manipulation of devices is being researched widely. Besides the PIN and the here discussed biometric identification, alternative methods to provide security, in particular in connection with mobile devices, is being developed under the umbrella term of “Implicit Authentication” (via Quarz). In this case, the security is based on an ongoing security check as opposed to the one-off security check at the start of a session, for example by unlocking the phone. The idea, for example focused on by researchers at the Palo Alto Research Centre, is that the individual user displays very specific, habitual characteristics in behaviour and usage or even movement pattern that can be used to continuously monitor the usage. This will allow to determine sudden change in which case the device will immediately shut down and deny access. Such parameters being researched include location and movement patterns, the way we walk, speed and style of data input on the device, activity pattern and timing, or the subtle way the user’s hand shakes.

These methods seem, as the research shows, to deliver reliable results. At the same time, however, this extends on the privacy discussion, as data is collected on users’ bio-sensorial functions. The technology also puts pressure on individual to profile themselves. The security of such a dataset is a very different issue again, including and extending into the field of personal health and medical information. Nevertheless it represents a big move towards the identification of ‘unique’ individuals and verifying much more than the Touch ID in itself does.

..The end of the virtual?

The introduction of Touch ID or alternative biometric/behavioural authentication methods will prevent users from creating different online identities, as the fingerprint is ‘THE ID’. This means it is really you, who bought that song on iTunes, uploaded that image on Flickr and accidentally deleted that file on Prezi. And it is the very same person who called the client on Skype and tweeted about Beyonce’s concert on Twitter. It is also the same individual who banks with HSBC, shops with Sainsbury’s and hangs out at the Barbican. The point is that ‘being online’ becomes very much like ‘being offline’. Events, happenings and activities become uniquely and reliable tied to users, the individual becomes authentic and unique. Is this the end of virtual?

When looking at the introduction of Touch ID it seems so. It really is the case of as Apple put it ‘’your iPhone reads your fingerprint and knows who you are’’. Subsequently any activity becomes real and unique, and also identifiable as such by online friends and fellow users as well as service providers and traders. However, as suggested by Apple, this does not only make your life easier, but also that of marketing and consumer related businesses. At the same time, it too makes the individual responsible for his or her online activities not dissimilar to the responsibility one enjoys in person as an individual in the real world. It will no longer be possible for users to hide behind one or multiple pseudonyms or avatars. This will certainly transform practice, as both, providers and users, will have to accommodate this ‘new authentic self’ and a completely new reality of online practice.

In many ways, this discussion is related to the ‘Internet of Things’ concept which has enjoyed raising attention over the past five years. Whilst the Internet of Things is about ‘real’ objects being connected to the web, to each other and to ‘users’, Touch ID is about ‘real’ humans. An interesting aspect raised by the Tales of Things project at CASA UCL was the fact that the ‘real’ object was required to access information. This means, access to content is based on ‘real world interaction’. With Touch ID, it is very similar. It requires me, the user, to unlock information (at least once, until may fingerprint has been ‘hacked’) and interact, both online and offline. This ultimately connects the online world to reality.

This means, with and through Touch ID the online experience becomes real in the sense that it confirms that the person logging in at this moment, at this location really is the specific individual and not someone else or a bot. At a first glance, this seems great. From a security and privacy point of view, however, this raises a whole bunch of new questions and concerns that need to be addressed to enjoy this ‘brave new online world’ with yet new possibilities for both users and services. For example, national agencies and businesses might be extremely interested in this kind of data as it is the ultimate proof of someone’s activities at a given time and location. Hence, this information on habitual activities individually verified seems much more desirable for ‘outsiders’ than the actual fingerprint. Touch ID reveals what, when and where a user has been, all confirmed by his or her own fingerprint whilst unlocking or just using the device – meaning the virtual has become its realest so far with consequences and possibilities we can only begin to speculate on.


Image taken from mymodernmet / Real life person and their avatars by Robbie Cooper.

..Summary

Since the launch of the new iPhone 5s by Apple, the discussion revolving around online security and privacy has been re-activated. Experts agree that with the introduction of Touch ID the use of biometrical data as a security measure in mobile devices needs to be regulated, especially in terms of storage, handling and exchange of the biometric data processed. However, when looking closer at the implications of the finger-scan-technology developed and introduced by Apple, it becomes clear that the technology not only influences the usage of our personal data, the law and rights users have, but also the way we are present online. Especially since the fingerprint, or any other to be implemented biometric or personal pattern based verification, is ‘THE ID’. With biometrical authentication, there is no way of hiding behind a pseudonym or an avatar. It is really you, the user, who activates and uses the device (at least once, before the device is ‘hacked’). This means, the new iPhone 5s links the virtual world with reality and brings them as close as they have not been before, almost merging them in practice and consequence. The online self becomes authentic. As speculated in the article, this could be the end of the virtual and the beginning of a new web and online experience where we meet real people, make real conversations, buy real goods, but also carry real responsibility.


Image taken from mymodernmet / Real life person and their avatars by Robbie Cooper.

Article written by Sandra Abegglen and Fabian Neuhaus Simultaneously published on Everyday Click and urbanTick.

Continue reading »

The End of the Virtual? – Touch ID on the New iPhone 5s for the Real Online Self

Since the announcement of the new Apple iPhone 5s and the built in fingerprint scanning technology branded ‘Touch ID’ the discussion around security, data protection and privacy has been relaunched. It is an ongoing topic in the industry, both on the hardware side amongst producers of devices and the software side with developers of applications and services, but specifically for end users and consumers.

Until now, it was the password, or PIN, that protects and restricts access to the virtual world of data. This has led many of us to come up with creative procedures to create and remember a complicated sequence of letters, numbers and symbols in order to keep personal information secure. It has always been the debate as to how complicated these passwords need to be and how user-friendly this practice is, and often ‘better’ and ‘easier’ solutions for users were wished for.

Now Apple has implemented such a solution with their latest top of the range device. The iPhone 5s features a fingerprint scanner in the ‘Home’ button to uniquely identify a user (up to five different prints can be set up) and grant access. The ‘fingerprint identity sensor’ also allows users to shop on the iTunes Store, Apps Store and iBooks Store where the Touch ID approves purchases.

The new feature is branded by Apple as ‘convenient, highly secure and ahead of the future’. However, the technology and its implementation in mobile devices is nothing new. Motorola’s Atrix smartphone was introduced back in 2011, but also laptop manufacturers have trialled and implemented fingerprint scanner technology in the past decade [REF]. Other manufacturers, namely HTC, are gearing up to release gadgets with similar technology and features.

Although the technology is not new, it is the fact that it is being introduced on such a large scale that makes it a ‘hot topic’. According to TechCrunch, Apple has currently (2013) an estimated user base of 147 million iPhone users, plus about 48 million iPad users. Of the new iPhones (iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c), Apple sold 9 millions in just three days after their launch on the 20iest of September 2013. This is a new record, as previous implementations settled on a much smaller scale. This means that the iPhone 5s is already used by a large number of people. It could therefore be classified as ‘mainstream’ and ‘cultural commodity’. The introduction of this technology can therefore be expected to be used by a much larger customer base as any other similar implementation of biometrics so far.

In this context, the introduction of a unique and personal identifier, the fingerprint, is a smart move. Smart, because everybody knows and understands the idea of the fingerprint. It is in use as signature and plays an important role in crime investigation and law enforcement for over a century. Through its use in detective stories and crime thrillers it has also found its way into everyday culture. It is this very idea of the fingerprint as a unique identifier – ‘’your iPhone reads your fingerprint and knows who you are’’ – that Apple has turned into a selling point to the products advantage.


Image taken from fingerprintingscottsdale / Fingerprint identification plate.

It can be speculated that with the introduction of Touch ID, similarly to the introduction of the touch screen, Apple changes, once again, the way we access electronic devices and use the Internet. Whether this is intentional and whether the use of the fingerprint has played an main role in the development of the newest iPhone generation can only be speculated. A range of problematic aspects in connection to the use of this technology in electronic devices shall be discussed in the following. The points raised function only as an introduction since the topic is vast and might have implications that are yet to be discovered. We debate if the technology used in the iPhone 5s might even be the ‘End of the Virtual?’.

..Security concerns

Official concerns regarding the introduction of the Touch ID were raised amongst others by US Senator Al Franken (Chairman Senate Judiciary Subcommittee) in an open letter to Apple’s CEO Tim Cook (PDF, WEB). The letter states “…while Apple’s new fingerprint reader, Touch ID, may improve certain aspects of mobile security, it also raises substantial privacy questions for Apple and for everyone who may use your products”. Al Franken supports his concerns by saying that “Passwords are secret and dynamic; fingerprints are public and permanent”. This means, once someone has access to someone else’s fingerprint, this access cannot be reversed and the security token can not be changed. ‘’…if hackers get hold of your thumbprint, they could use it to identify and impersonate you for the rest of your life’’.


Image taken from maskable / The Touch ID explained during the introduction of the new iPone 5s at conference key note.

In this context, Al Franken also questions the filing and transferring of the fingerprint data. He demands to know if the fingerprint data stored on the phone is also being transmitted electronically to either Apple or others, and if this data is being saved on computers used to back up the device (referring to the earlier iOS version that stored unencrypted location information recorded by the device in backup files on computers). He wonders further how iTunes, iBooks and AppStore and potential future services interact with Touch ID.

These practical concerns are connected to the only recently refreshed high level discussion on data privacy with information on mass surveillance programs leaked by Edward Snowden, an American computer specialist and former CIA and NSA employee, to the Guardian in May 2013 [REF ] regarding the secret PRISM program. Similar discussions have been on the table in recent years specifically related to social media and the challenged public/private practices in an online context (Neuhaus und Webmoor, 2012, earlier blog post on urbanTick, 2011).

It seems that Senator Franken’s concerns are not ungrounded. ‘Apple’s fingerprint scan technology has been hacked’ was announced by the Computer Chaos Club, CCC, only two days after the iPhone 5s had gone on sale. The claim was backed up with a video demonstrating that ‘fingerbiometrics is unsuitable as access control method’. This ‘hack’, however, focused on the physical reproduction of a fingerprint and did not bypass the new Touch ID technology. Despite this, the attack by CCC proves how easily the new security system can be tricked and everyone with a camera, scanner, printer and a good stock of graphite powder, glycerene, and wood-glue/super-glue/theatrical-glue can repeat the procedure.

The ‘iPhone touch defeat’ also proves that users’ fingerprints are not secret, meaning that anything touched by users will have fingerprints on it, including the new phone. Senator Franken has referred to this with the ‘fingerprint being public’. And here is the real flaw of the technology. If someone gets hold of the device, he or she has basically access to ‘the lock and the key’, as the phone will be covered with fingerprints that can be reproduced to unlock the security system. Even though the chances of guessing the correct fingerprint is 1:50’000 compared to 1:10’000 with a normal 4 digit numeric key (except 1234, source Apple), now that the ‘key’ is on the phone in the form of ‘touches’ this number is meaningless, or at least reduced to 1:10.

Another question raised by the introduction of Touch ID is the digital reproduction of the fingerprint. Apple has explained that the information is not stored as a digital image. Instead it is being translated by the device into a sequence of numbers (a mathematical representation of the fingerprint derived by an specific algorithm). This implies that the print can only, if at all, re-engineered with physical access to the device. This is being discussed extensively on tech blogs, for example on The Unoffical Apple Weblog (source TUAW). In reference to these statements, it seems only a question of time until the A7 chip inside the phone is cracked.

However, the main argument highlighted by Apple is not security, but convenience. ‘’You check your iPhone dozens and dozens of times a day. Entering a passcode each time just slows you down’’. It seems as if it is annoying for customers to input four digits, or on Android models a swipe pattern. In this context, the fingerprint scanner is put forward as the user-friendly solution. With just one touch the phone is activated, unlocked and ready to use. However, when considering the security concerns discussed above, it is questionable if winning a few seconds to start up the phone is important and desirable.

..Security versus convenience

CNet askes on its website: “Should we trade our biometric data and privacy for the sake of convenience?”. The answer to this question seems straightforward: Biometrics, or biometric authentication, can be useful, but it should not be used in mobile devices as the technology is not yet error-prone and these devices can easily be lost or stolen. This seems the common agreement amongst security experts (for example in Der Spiegel). In addition, as Schneier, then President of Counterpane Systems, argued in 1998, ‘’biometrics are unique identifiers, but not secrets’’. This means, they are easy to steal and reproduce. ‘’Once someone steals your biometric, it remains stolen for life; there is no getting back to a secure situation’’. So the big question a lot of people should be asking themselves is not how quick they can access their data, but what they are giving away when using Touch ID.

In this context, it seems important to repeat that Touch ID does not actually store an image of the fingerprint, and the data is not available to any other application other than Apple apps nor stored at Apple’s servers or backed up via iCloud. For now, at least. There is no guarantee that this will be the same in the future, especially as the prospect of a vast biometric database is the dream of any national security agency, marketing company and hacker community. This means third parties will pay a lot of attention to these developments and probably exert some force to get access to some of this data. It would therefore be important to know ‘how does Apple see the actual fingerprint data and how are they going to handle it, now and in the future?’.

Whilst there are regulations as to when third parties can be forced to hand over data in connection to crime investigation, it is a complicated matter with Touch ID as the technology enables new ways of ‘tracking’ people. For example, a user logging in with Touch ID does not only confirm his or her location, but also his or her identity. This means the iPhone 5s could act as a means of evidence – ‘I was here’. So far, Apple has stated that they do not share any information with others – although the technology can be used to verify purchases. The question is therefore, as Senator Franken asks: ‘’Does Apple believe that users have a reasonable expectation of privacy in fingerprint data they provide to touch ID?’’.

There might also be some legal implications for the user of the Touch ID technology. It has been pointed out, for example by Marcia Hofmann of Wired, that the shift from PIN as an ‘known’ key to a fingerprint as a ‘what we are’ key might strip users of the right to the in the US called 5th. This Amendment protects the individual from giving evidence against him/her self. At the moment, this only applies to things one knows, knowledge, thoughts, so on and not to things one has, keys, written notes (if you write down the password on a piece of paper) or is, biometrics. Hence, on trial a person can not be forced to provide the password to a device or to decrypt information since the password is something he/she knows. A key, however, would be something the person has and this object, according to current law, can be requested. The fingerprint belongs to the person, it is part of the human body, a thing, and hence it belongs do the category of information that can not be withhold. This means access to devices or data via fingerprint scan can be enforced. This fact, in connection to Touch ID, might mean that consumers need to give up on one of their basic (human) rights, the right to withdraw information.

..Personal data and biometrics becomes mainstream

A further concern connected to Touch ID is that biometrics are becoming mainstream. Currently, the use of biometrical authentication in the public sphere is limited. Its main use is in passport and immigration control, where retina and fingerprint recognition, actual or as part of a passport, is used to identify ‘travellers’ and reduce queues at border control. Here, the data is usually linked up with secondary information or other means of verification. For example, users of a retina scan machine need also to provide their passport for optical scanning. This means, the replication of a retina scan alone does not provide access to ‘free travel’.

However, the implications of ‘normalising’ biometrics and using biometrics in everyday applications are not only connected to the risk of individuals being permanently tracked and surveilled, but also to the risk of biometrics becoming unsafe. As Schneier argued, ‘’Just as you should never use the same password on two different systems, the same encryption key should not be used for two different applications’’. This means, it is not a good idea to use your thumbprint to access your mobile phone, open your front door and unlock your file cabinet at work, as data theft would automatically lead to a catastrophe.

It could therefore be said that biometrics are not safer than other security means. With Apple suggesting to customers that ‘’Your fingerprint is one of the best passcodes in the world’’ seems therefore misleading. The question really is how much consumers are willing to trade their personal information and data for the ultimate and smooth technology experience.

In addition, in today’s context the distribution of personal information is no longer directly manageable by the individual, as user information is being left behind with every move online and regular real world services. Shopping online, borrowing books at the local library, and visiting the GP, all activities leave a ‘digital footprint’. It has become complicated to the point where it is impossible for the user to understand and control what information is left behind when using a mobile device, especially when using online and server connected apps and services. These apps are often pre-installed on the device and updated automatically. Also, the companies behind those apps are often unknown and it is unclear what kind of information they collect, store and and how this information is used or shared with third parties.

In this context, the introduction of a truly unique identifier, the fingerprint, will not only add to the information left by users, but also add to the possibility of users being personally identified across the entire range of services. This in turn changes not only the discussion around online security but also online identity. Until now, users could ‘create’ their online identity by using a pseudonym and an avatar (an icon-sized graphic image). This ‘chosen’ identity could then be adjusted or changed, any time. In the beginning of the Internet, individuals would often create and use a whole range of online identities. This has changed. Nowadays users prefer online interactions supported by ‘authentic identity’ as reported by the Guardian. This means they want to know with whom they communicate.

This practice has been taken to a new level by Google with the Google ID, an unique ID tied to an individual/account which was introduced in connection to Google+ in 2011. Facebook uses a similar user identification. Both sites, Google and Facebook, make it difficult for users to create and use multiple accounts, and it can be assumed that through this the number of IDs per individual has been dramatically reduced. This of course makes it also a lot simpler for Google and Facebook, and their respective partners, to target marketing and individual advertisement. Despite this, users often create and use different accounts for their private and professional networking. With the new Touch ID, this will no longer be possible. They will have only one account.

How individuals are uniquely identifiable online through the use and manipulation of devices is being researched widely. Besides the PIN and the here discussed biometric identification, alternative methods to provide security, in particular in connection with mobile devices, is being developed under the umbrella term of “Implicit Authentication” (via Quarz). In this case, the security is based on an ongoing security check as opposed to the one-off security check at the start of a session, for example by unlocking the phone. The idea, for example focused on by researchers at the Palo Alto Research Centre, is that the individual user displays very specific, habitual characteristics in behaviour and usage or even movement pattern that can be used to continuously monitor the usage. This will allow to determine sudden change in which case the device will immediately shut down and deny access. Such parameters being researched include location and movement patterns, the way we walk, speed and style of data input on the device, activity pattern and timing, or the subtle way the user’s hand shakes.

These methods seem, as the research shows, to deliver reliable results. At the same time, however, this extends on the privacy discussion, as data is collected on users’ bio-sensorial functions. The technology also puts pressure on individual to profile themselves. The security of such a dataset is a very different issue again, including and extending into the field of personal health and medical information. Nevertheless it represents a big move towards the identification of ‘unique’ individuals and verifying much more than the Touch ID in itself does.

..The end of the virtual?

The introduction of Touch ID or alternative biometric/behavioural authentication methods will prevent users from creating different online identities, as the fingerprint is ‘THE ID’. This means it is really you, who bought that song on iTunes, uploaded that image on Flickr and accidentally deleted that file on Prezi. And it is the very same person who called the client on Skype and tweeted about Beyonce’s concert on Twitter. It is also the same individual who banks with HSBC, shops with Sainsbury’s and hangs out at the Barbican. The point is that ‘being online’ becomes very much like ‘being offline’. Events, happenings and activities become uniquely and reliable tied to users, the individual becomes authentic and unique. Is this the end of virtual?

When looking at the introduction of Touch ID it seems so. It really is the case of as Apple put it ‘’your iPhone reads your fingerprint and knows who you are’’. Subsequently any activity becomes real and unique, and also identifiable as such by online friends and fellow users as well as service providers and traders. However, as suggested by Apple, this does not only make your life easier, but also that of marketing and consumer related businesses. At the same time, it too makes the individual responsible for his or her online activities not dissimilar to the responsibility one enjoys in person as an individual in the real world. It will no longer be possible for users to hide behind one or multiple pseudonyms or avatars. This will certainly transform practice, as both, providers and users, will have to accommodate this ‘new authentic self’ and a completely new reality of online practice.

In many ways, this discussion is related to the ‘Internet of Things’ concept which has enjoyed raising attention over the past five years. Whilst the Internet of Things is about ‘real’ objects being connected to the web, to each other and to ‘users’, Touch ID is about ‘real’ humans. An interesting aspect raised by the Tales of Things project at CASA UCL was the fact that the ‘real’ object was required to access information. This means, access to content is based on ‘real world interaction’. With Touch ID, it is very similar. It requires me, the user, to unlock information (at least once, until may fingerprint has been ‘hacked’) and interact, both online and offline. This ultimately connects the online world to reality.

This means, with and through Touch ID the online experience becomes real in the sense that it confirms that the person logging in at this moment, at this location really is the specific individual and not someone else or a bot. At a first glance, this seems great. From a security and privacy point of view, however, this raises a whole bunch of new questions and concerns that need to be addressed to enjoy this ‘brave new online world’ with yet new possibilities for both users and services. For example, national agencies and businesses might be extremely interested in this kind of data as it is the ultimate proof of someone’s activities at a given time and location. Hence, this information on habitual activities individually verified seems much more desirable for ‘outsiders’ than the actual fingerprint. Touch ID reveals what, when and where a user has been, all confirmed by his or her own fingerprint whilst unlocking or just using the device – meaning the virtual has become its realest so far with consequences and possibilities we can only begin to speculate on.


Image taken from mymodernmet / Real life person and their avatars by Robbie Cooper.

..Summary

Since the launch of the new iPhone 5s by Apple, the discussion revolving around online security and privacy has been re-activated. Experts agree that with the introduction of Touch ID the use of biometrical data as a security measure in mobile devices needs to be regulated, especially in terms of storage, handling and exchange of the biometric data processed. However, when looking closer at the implications of the finger-scan-technology developed and introduced by Apple, it becomes clear that the technology not only influences the usage of our personal data, the law and rights users have, but also the way we are present online. Especially since the fingerprint, or any other to be implemented biometric or personal pattern based verification, is ‘THE ID’. With biometrical authentication, there is no way of hiding behind a pseudonym or an avatar. It is really you, the user, who activates and uses the device (at least once, before the device is ‘hacked’). This means, the new iPhone 5s links the virtual world with reality and brings them as close as they have not been before, almost merging them in practice and consequence. The online self becomes authentic. As speculated in the article, this could be the end of the virtual and the beginning of a new web and online experience where we meet real people, make real conversations, buy real goods, but also carry real responsibility.


Image taken from mymodernmet / Real life person and their avatars by Robbie Cooper.

Article written by Sandra Abegglen and Fabian Neuhaus Simultaneously published on Everyday Click and urbanTick.

Continue reading »

The End of the Virtual? – Touch ID on the New iPhone 5s for the Real Online Self

Since the announcement of the new Apple iPhone 5s and the built in fingerprint scanning technology branded ‘Touch ID’ the discussion around security, data protection and privacy has been relaunched. It is an ongoing topic in the industry, both on the hardware side amongst producers of devices and the software side with developers of applications and services, but specifically for end users and consumers.

Until now, it was the password, or PIN, that protects and restricts access to the virtual world of data. This has led many of us to come up with creative procedures to create and remember a complicated sequence of letters, numbers and symbols in order to keep personal information secure. It has always been the debate as to how complicated these passwords need to be and how user-friendly this practice is, and often ‘better’ and ‘easier’ solutions for users were wished for.

Now Apple has implemented such a solution with their latest top of the range device. The iPhone 5s features a fingerprint scanner in the ‘Home’ button to uniquely identify a user (up to five different prints can be set up) and grant access. The ‘fingerprint identity sensor’ also allows users to shop on the iTunes Store, Apps Store and iBooks Store where the Touch ID approves purchases.

The new feature is branded by Apple as ‘convenient, highly secure and ahead of the future’. However, the technology and its implementation in mobile devices is nothing new. Motorola’s Atrix smartphone was introduced back in 2011, but also laptop manufacturers have trialled and implemented fingerprint scanner technology in the past decade [REF]. Other manufacturers, namely HTC, are gearing up to release gadgets with similar technology and features.

Although the technology is not new, it is the fact that it is being introduced on such a large scale that makes it a ‘hot topic’. According to TechCrunch, Apple has currently (2013) an estimated user base of 147 million iPhone users, plus about 48 million iPad users. Of the new iPhones (iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c), Apple sold 9 millions in just three days after their launch on the 20iest of September 2013. This is a new record, as previous implementations settled on a much smaller scale. This means that the iPhone 5s is already used by a large number of people. It could therefore be classified as ‘mainstream’ and ‘cultural commodity’. The introduction of this technology can therefore be expected to be used by a much larger customer base as any other similar implementation of biometrics so far.

In this context, the introduction of a unique and personal identifier, the fingerprint, is a smart move. Smart, because everybody knows and understands the idea of the fingerprint. It is in use as signature and plays an important role in crime investigation and law enforcement for over a century. Through its use in detective stories and crime thrillers it has also found its way into everyday culture. It is this very idea of the fingerprint as a unique identifier – ‘’your iPhone reads your fingerprint and knows who you are’’ – that Apple has turned into a selling point to the products advantage.


Image taken from fingerprintingscottsdale / Fingerprint identification plate.

It can be speculated that with the introduction of Touch ID, similarly to the introduction of the touch screen, Apple changes, once again, the way we access electronic devices and use the Internet. Whether this is intentional and whether the use of the fingerprint has played an main role in the development of the newest iPhone generation can only be speculated. A range of problematic aspects in connection to the use of this technology in electronic devices shall be discussed in the following. The points raised function only as an introduction since the topic is vast and might have implications that are yet to be discovered. We debate if the technology used in the iPhone 5s might even be the ‘End of the Virtual?’.

..Security concerns

Official concerns regarding the introduction of the Touch ID were raised amongst others by US Senator Al Franken (Chairman Senate Judiciary Subcommittee) in an open letter to Apple’s CEO Tim Cook (PDF, WEB). The letter states “…while Apple’s new fingerprint reader, Touch ID, may improve certain aspects of mobile security, it also raises substantial privacy questions for Apple and for everyone who may use your products”. Al Franken supports his concerns by saying that “Passwords are secret and dynamic; fingerprints are public and permanent”. This means, once someone has access to someone else’s fingerprint, this access cannot be reversed and the security token can not be changed. ‘’…if hackers get hold of your thumbprint, they could use it to identify and impersonate you for the rest of your life’’.


Image taken from maskable / The Touch ID explained during the introduction of the new iPone 5s at conference key note.

In this context, Al Franken also questions the filing and transferring of the fingerprint data. He demands to know if the fingerprint data stored on the phone is also being transmitted electronically to either Apple or others, and if this data is being saved on computers used to back up the device (referring to the earlier iOS version that stored unencrypted location information recorded by the device in backup files on computers). He wonders further how iTunes, iBooks and AppStore and potential future services interact with Touch ID.

These practical concerns are connected to the only recently refreshed high level discussion on data privacy with information on mass surveillance programs leaked by Edward Snowden, an American computer specialist and former CIA and NSA employee, to the Guardian in May 2013 [REF ] regarding the secret PRISM program. Similar discussions have been on the table in recent years specifically related to social media and the challenged public/private practices in an online context (Neuhaus und Webmoor, 2012, earlier blog post on urbanTick, 2011).

It seems that Senator Franken’s concerns are not ungrounded. ‘Apple’s fingerprint scan technology has been hacked’ was announced by the Computer Chaos Club, CCC, only two days after the iPhone 5s had gone on sale. The claim was backed up with a video demonstrating that ‘fingerbiometrics is unsuitable as access control method’. This ‘hack’, however, focused on the physical reproduction of a fingerprint and did not bypass the new Touch ID technology. Despite this, the attack by CCC proves how easily the new security system can be tricked and everyone with a camera, scanner, printer and a good stock of graphite powder, glycerene, and wood-glue/super-glue/theatrical-glue can repeat the procedure.

The ‘iPhone touch defeat’ also proves that users’ fingerprints are not secret, meaning that anything touched by users will have fingerprints on it, including the new phone. Senator Franken has referred to this with the ‘fingerprint being public’. And here is the real flaw of the technology. If someone gets hold of the device, he or she has basically access to ‘the lock and the key’, as the phone will be covered with fingerprints that can be reproduced to unlock the security system. Even though the chances of guessing the correct fingerprint is 1:50’000 compared to 1:10’000 with a normal 4 digit numeric key (except 1234, source Apple), now that the ‘key’ is on the phone in the form of ‘touches’ this number is meaningless, or at least reduced to 1:10.

Another question raised by the introduction of Touch ID is the digital reproduction of the fingerprint. Apple has explained that the information is not stored as a digital image. Instead it is being translated by the device into a sequence of numbers (a mathematical representation of the fingerprint derived by an specific algorithm). This implies that the print can only, if at all, re-engineered with physical access to the device. This is being discussed extensively on tech blogs, for example on The Unoffical Apple Weblog (source TUAW). In reference to these statements, it seems only a question of time until the A7 chip inside the phone is cracked.

However, the main argument highlighted by Apple is not security, but convenience. ‘’You check your iPhone dozens and dozens of times a day. Entering a passcode each time just slows you down’’. It seems as if it is annoying for customers to input four digits, or on Android models a swipe pattern. In this context, the fingerprint scanner is put forward as the user-friendly solution. With just one touch the phone is activated, unlocked and ready to use. However, when considering the security concerns discussed above, it is questionable if winning a few seconds to start up the phone is important and desirable.

..Security versus convenience

CNet askes on its website: “Should we trade our biometric data and privacy for the sake of convenience?”. The answer to this question seems straightforward: Biometrics, or biometric authentication, can be useful, but it should not be used in mobile devices as the technology is not yet error-prone and these devices can easily be lost or stolen. This seems the common agreement amongst security experts (for example in Der Spiegel). In addition, as Schneier, then President of Counterpane Systems, argued in 1998, ‘’biometrics are unique identifiers, but not secrets’’. This means, they are easy to steal and reproduce. ‘’Once someone steals your biometric, it remains stolen for life; there is no getting back to a secure situation’’. So the big question a lot of people should be asking themselves is not how quick they can access their data, but what they are giving away when using Touch ID.

In this context, it seems important to repeat that Touch ID does not actually store an image of the fingerprint, and the data is not available to any other application other than Apple apps nor stored at Apple’s servers or backed up via iCloud. For now, at least. There is no guarantee that this will be the same in the future, especially as the prospect of a vast biometric database is the dream of any national security agency, marketing company and hacker community. This means third parties will pay a lot of attention to these developments and probably exert some force to get access to some of this data. It would therefore be important to know ‘how does Apple see the actual fingerprint data and how are they going to handle it, now and in the future?’.

Whilst there are regulations as to when third parties can be forced to hand over data in connection to crime investigation, it is a complicated matter with Touch ID as the technology enables new ways of ‘tracking’ people. For example, a user logging in with Touch ID does not only confirm his or her location, but also his or her identity. This means the iPhone 5s could act as a means of evidence – ‘I was here’. So far, Apple has stated that they do not share any information with others – although the technology can be used to verify purchases. The question is therefore, as Senator Franken asks: ‘’Does Apple believe that users have a reasonable expectation of privacy in fingerprint data they provide to touch ID?’’.

There might also be some legal implications for the user of the Touch ID technology. It has been pointed out, for example by Marcia Hofmann of Wired, that the shift from PIN as an ‘known’ key to a fingerprint as a ‘what we are’ key might strip users of the right to the in the US called 5th. This Amendment protects the individual from giving evidence against him/her self. At the moment, this only applies to things one knows, knowledge, thoughts, so on and not to things one has, keys, written notes (if you write down the password on a piece of paper) or is, biometrics. Hence, on trial a person can not be forced to provide the password to a device or to decrypt information since the password is something he/she knows. A key, however, would be something the person has and this object, according to current law, can be requested. The fingerprint belongs to the person, it is part of the human body, a thing, and hence it belongs do the category of information that can not be withhold. This means access to devices or data via fingerprint scan can be enforced. This fact, in connection to Touch ID, might mean that consumers need to give up on one of their basic (human) rights, the right to withdraw information.

..Personal data and biometrics becomes mainstream

A further concern connected to Touch ID is that biometrics are becoming mainstream. Currently, the use of biometrical authentication in the public sphere is limited. Its main use is in passport and immigration control, where retina and fingerprint recognition, actual or as part of a passport, is used to identify ‘travellers’ and reduce queues at border control. Here, the data is usually linked up with secondary information or other means of verification. For example, users of a retina scan machine need also to provide their passport for optical scanning. This means, the replication of a retina scan alone does not provide access to ‘free travel’.

However, the implications of ‘normalising’ biometrics and using biometrics in everyday applications are not only connected to the risk of individuals being permanently tracked and surveilled, but also to the risk of biometrics becoming unsafe. As Schneier argued, ‘’Just as you should never use the same password on two different systems, the same encryption key should not be used for two different applications’’. This means, it is not a good idea to use your thumbprint to access your mobile phone, open your front door and unlock your file cabinet at work, as data theft would automatically lead to a catastrophe.

It could therefore be said that biometrics are not safer than other security means. With Apple suggesting to customers that ‘’Your fingerprint is one of the best passcodes in the world’’ seems therefore misleading. The question really is how much consumers are willing to trade their personal information and data for the ultimate and smooth technology experience.

In addition, in today’s context the distribution of personal information is no longer directly manageable by the individual, as user information is being left behind with every move online and regular real world services. Shopping online, borrowing books at the local library, and visiting the GP, all activities leave a ‘digital footprint’. It has become complicated to the point where it is impossible for the user to understand and control what information is left behind when using a mobile device, especially when using online and server connected apps and services. These apps are often pre-installed on the device and updated automatically. Also, the companies behind those apps are often unknown and it is unclear what kind of information they collect, store and and how this information is used or shared with third parties.

In this context, the introduction of a truly unique identifier, the fingerprint, will not only add to the information left by users, but also add to the possibility of users being personally identified across the entire range of services. This in turn changes not only the discussion around online security but also online identity. Until now, users could ‘create’ their online identity by using a pseudonym and an avatar (an icon-sized graphic image). This ‘chosen’ identity could then be adjusted or changed, any time. In the beginning of the Internet, individuals would often create and use a whole range of online identities. This has changed. Nowadays users prefer online interactions supported by ‘authentic identity’ as reported by the Guardian. This means they want to know with whom they communicate.

This practice has been taken to a new level by Google with the Google ID, an unique ID tied to an individual/account which was introduced in connection to Google+ in 2011. Facebook uses a similar user identification. Both sites, Google and Facebook, make it difficult for users to create and use multiple accounts, and it can be assumed that through this the number of IDs per individual has been dramatically reduced. This of course makes it also a lot simpler for Google and Facebook, and their respective partners, to target marketing and individual advertisement. Despite this, users often create and use different accounts for their private and professional networking. With the new Touch ID, this will no longer be possible. They will have only one account.

How individuals are uniquely identifiable online through the use and manipulation of devices is being researched widely. Besides the PIN and the here discussed biometric identification, alternative methods to provide security, in particular in connection with mobile devices, is being developed under the umbrella term of “Implicit Authentication” (via Quarz). In this case, the security is based on an ongoing security check as opposed to the one-off security check at the start of a session, for example by unlocking the phone. The idea, for example focused on by researchers at the Palo Alto Research Centre, is that the individual user displays very specific, habitual characteristics in behaviour and usage or even movement pattern that can be used to continuously monitor the usage. This will allow to determine sudden change in which case the device will immediately shut down and deny access. Such parameters being researched include location and movement patterns, the way we walk, speed and style of data input on the device, activity pattern and timing, or the subtle way the user’s hand shakes.

These methods seem, as the research shows, to deliver reliable results. At the same time, however, this extends on the privacy discussion, as data is collected on users’ bio-sensorial functions. The technology also puts pressure on individual to profile themselves. The security of such a dataset is a very different issue again, including and extending into the field of personal health and medical information. Nevertheless it represents a big move towards the identification of ‘unique’ individuals and verifying much more than the Touch ID in itself does.

..The end of the virtual?

The introduction of Touch ID or alternative biometric/behavioural authentication methods will prevent users from creating different online identities, as the fingerprint is ‘THE ID’. This means it is really you, who bought that song on iTunes, uploaded that image on Flickr and accidentally deleted that file on Prezi. And it is the very same person who called the client on Skype and tweeted about Beyonce’s concert on Twitter. It is also the same individual who banks with HSBC, shops with Sainsbury’s and hangs out at the Barbican. The point is that ‘being online’ becomes very much like ‘being offline’. Events, happenings and activities become uniquely and reliable tied to users, the individual becomes authentic and unique. Is this the end of virtual?

When looking at the introduction of Touch ID it seems so. It really is the case of as Apple put it ‘’your iPhone reads your fingerprint and knows who you are’’. Subsequently any activity becomes real and unique, and also identifiable as such by online friends and fellow users as well as service providers and traders. However, as suggested by Apple, this does not only make your life easier, but also that of marketing and consumer related businesses. At the same time, it too makes the individual responsible for his or her online activities not dissimilar to the responsibility one enjoys in person as an individual in the real world. It will no longer be possible for users to hide behind one or multiple pseudonyms or avatars. This will certainly transform practice, as both, providers and users, will have to accommodate this ‘new authentic self’ and a completely new reality of online practice.

In many ways, this discussion is related to the ‘Internet of Things’ concept which has enjoyed raising attention over the past five years. Whilst the Internet of Things is about ‘real’ objects being connected to the web, to each other and to ‘users’, Touch ID is about ‘real’ humans. An interesting aspect raised by the Tales of Things project at CASA UCL was the fact that the ‘real’ object was required to access information. This means, access to content is based on ‘real world interaction’. With Touch ID, it is very similar. It requires me, the user, to unlock information (at least once, until may fingerprint has been ‘hacked’) and interact, both online and offline. This ultimately connects the online world to reality.

This means, with and through Touch ID the online experience becomes real in the sense that it confirms that the person logging in at this moment, at this location really is the specific individual and not someone else or a bot. At a first glance, this seems great. From a security and privacy point of view, however, this raises a whole bunch of new questions and concerns that need to be addressed to enjoy this ‘brave new online world’ with yet new possibilities for both users and services. For example, national agencies and businesses might be extremely interested in this kind of data as it is the ultimate proof of someone’s activities at a given time and location. Hence, this information on habitual activities individually verified seems much more desirable for ‘outsiders’ than the actual fingerprint. Touch ID reveals what, when and where a user has been, all confirmed by his or her own fingerprint whilst unlocking or just using the device – meaning the virtual has become its realest so far with consequences and possibilities we can only begin to speculate on.


Image taken from mymodernmet / Real life person and their avatars by Robbie Cooper.

..Summary

Since the launch of the new iPhone 5s by Apple, the discussion revolving around online security and privacy has been re-activated. Experts agree that with the introduction of Touch ID the use of biometrical data as a security measure in mobile devices needs to be regulated, especially in terms of storage, handling and exchange of the biometric data processed. However, when looking closer at the implications of the finger-scan-technology developed and introduced by Apple, it becomes clear that the technology not only influences the usage of our personal data, the law and rights users have, but also the way we are present online. Especially since the fingerprint, or any other to be implemented biometric or personal pattern based verification, is ‘THE ID’. With biometrical authentication, there is no way of hiding behind a pseudonym or an avatar. It is really you, the user, who activates and uses the device (at least once, before the device is ‘hacked’). This means, the new iPhone 5s links the virtual world with reality and brings them as close as they have not been before, almost merging them in practice and consequence. The online self becomes authentic. As speculated in the article, this could be the end of the virtual and the beginning of a new web and online experience where we meet real people, make real conversations, buy real goods, but also carry real responsibility.


Image taken from mymodernmet / Real life person and their avatars by Robbie Cooper.

Article written by Sandra Abegglen and Fabian Neuhaus Simultaneously published on Everyday Click and urbanTick.

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Book – Contagious Architecture

Computers have changed the architectural process fundamentally. In most areas the practice has embraced the possibilities of the software tool and has alongside the technology transformed not just the way architecture is produced but foremost the way architecture is thought.

Whilst CAD offers flexibility and speed, 3D software visualises models and simulation tools are employed to help with strategic design decisions, its the algorithm used in parametric design where the computer code actually becomes part of the process of designing.

A new The MIT Press publication by Luciana Parisi. Parisi is senior lecturer at the centre for cultural studies at Goldsmith, University of London. She publishes a comprehensive and thought provoking discussion of the practice and the thinking of parametric design in the field of architecture. However in this text Parisi does not just simply present the software logic and practice. Instead, as she states right at the beginning:

“Algorithms do not simply govern the procedural logic of computers: more generally, they have become the objects of a new programming culture. The imperative of information processing has turned culture into a lab of generative forms that are driven by open-ended rules.”

A definition of Algorithms is provided in the notes of the book referring to David Berlinski, ” an algorithm is a finite procedure, written in a fixed symbolic vocabulary, governed by precise instructions, moving in discrete steps, 1, 2, 3, whose execution requires no insight, cleverness, intuition, intelligence, or perspicuity, and that sooner or later comes to an end.” (Berlinsky, D. (2000). The Advent of the Algorithm: The Ideas that Rule the World. New York: Harcourt.)

Whilst the book is heavy on theory a few examples are provided. All examples are carefully chosen and do not at all make up a showcase. They illustrate specific points of discussion in the text and at the same time serve are points of reference to push the thinking forward.

Image taken from archdaily.com / Kokkugia, Taipei Performing Arts Centre, 2008. Roland Snooks + Robert Stuart-Smith. The competition was won by OMA.

Image taken from corpora.hu / DoubleNegatives Architecture (dNA) Yamaguchi Centre for the Arts and Media, 2007. Sota Ichikawa.

Image taken from new-territories.com / R(&)Sie(n), Une Architecture des humeurs, 2010-2011.

What is most interesting about the concepts of algorithmic architecture discussed in this book is the fact that from the very beginning time and space are folded into one and remain present aspects of the process at any time. Whilst the use of digital tools in architecture has transformed the practice in many ways, the continuous presence of time and space as one in architectural theory is probably the most fundamental. This transforms the way architecture is thought of from a physical object to a transformative process.

This is a very specialist book and runs deep on the theory of parametric architecture and algorithm based design. It is however not just for architects and experts who work with algorithms themselves, but is definitely interesting experts from a range of fields including theoretical works. The way Parisi pushed the thinking ahead creates successfully a niche in timespace for parametric design to develop an identity.

Image taken from the MIT Press / Book cover.

Parisi, L., 2013. Contagious architecture: computation, aesthetics, and space, Cambridge MA: The MIT Press.

Continue reading »

Book – Contagious Architecture

Computers have changed the architectural process fundamentally. In most areas the practice has embraced the possibilities of the software tool and has alongside the technology transformed not just the way architecture is produced but foremost the way architecture is thought.

Whilst CAD offers flexibility and speed, 3D software visualises models and simulation tools are employed to help with strategic design decisions, its the algorithm used in parametric design where the computer code actually becomes part of the process of designing.

A new The MIT Press publication by Luciana Parisi. Parisi is senior lecturer at the centre for cultural studies at Goldsmith, University of London. She publishes a comprehensive and thought provoking discussion of the practice and the thinking of parametric design in the field of architecture. However in this text Parisi does not just simply present the software logic and practice. Instead, as she states right at the beginning:

“Algorithms do not simply govern the procedural logic of computers: more generally, they have become the objects of a new programming culture. The imperative of information processing has turned culture into a lab of generative forms that are driven by open-ended rules.”

A definition of Algorithms is provided in the notes of the book referring to David Berlinski, ” an algorithm is a finite procedure, written in a fixed symbolic vocabulary, governed by precise instructions, moving in discrete steps, 1, 2, 3, whose execution requires no insight, cleverness, intuition, intelligence, or perspicuity, and that sooner or later comes to an end.” (Berlinsky, D. (2000). The Advent of the Algorithm: The Ideas that Rule the World. New York: Harcourt.)

Whilst the book is heavy on theory a few examples are provided. All examples are carefully chosen and do not at all make up a showcase. They illustrate specific points of discussion in the text and at the same time serve are points of reference to push the thinking forward.

Image taken from archdaily.com / Kokkugia, Taipei Performing Arts Centre, 2008. Roland Snooks + Robert Stuart-Smith. The competition was won by OMA.

Image taken from corpora.hu / DoubleNegatives Architecture (dNA) Yamaguchi Centre for the Arts and Media, 2007. Sota Ichikawa.

Image taken from new-territories.com / R(&)Sie(n), Une Architecture des humeurs, 2010-2011.

What is most interesting about the concepts of algorithmic architecture discussed in this book is the fact that from the very beginning time and space are folded into one and remain present aspects of the process at any time. Whilst the use of digital tools in architecture has transformed the practice in many ways, the continuous presence of time and space as one in architectural theory is probably the most fundamental. This transforms the way architecture is thought of from a physical object to a transformative process.

This is a very specialist book and runs deep on the theory of parametric architecture and algorithm based design. It is however not just for architects and experts who work with algorithms themselves, but is definitely interesting experts from a range of fields including theoretical works. The way Parisi pushed the thinking ahead creates successfully a niche in timespace for parametric design to develop an identity.

Image taken from the MIT Press / Book cover.

Parisi, L., 2013. Contagious architecture: computation, aesthetics, and space, Cambridge MA: The MIT Press.

Continue reading »
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