Archive for the ‘ LIS594 (2010) ’ Category

The Roommate Agreement

As well as being one of the most entertaining and popular sitcoms on television, Big Bang Theory also offers an amusing insight about records management in the form of Sheldon and Leonard’s “Roommate Agreement”.  The Roommate Agreement is alluded to frequently over the course of the series, typically when Leonard does something that Sheldon feels infringes on his rights as a roommate (e.g. priority couch seating, overnight visitors, scheduled bathroom use, etc.)  Not only is it entertaining to witness Sheldon’s neurotic behavior in action, but the roommate agreement provides a clever solution for anyone who has ever found him/herself sharing an apartment.

I’m sure everyone who has ever had a roommate can testify that, at times, the sharing of your living space can often be irritating, and sometimes lead to unpleasant confrontation.  We all have personal preferences and expectations when it comes to the domestic sphere, and when those preferences and expectations clash, conflict naturally ensues.  The idea of a roommate agreement—in theory—is genius, really, since such a document establishes the parties’ expectations from the outset.  In practice, at least as seen in Big Bang Theory, such a record only emphasizes the tension and breeds more conflict, usually to hilarious effect (probably not as funny for Leonard as it is for the casual observer).

In a recent episode entitled “The Boyfriend Complexity”, the issue of the roommate agreement comes up yet again.  Under the impression that Leonard and Penny are once again a couple, Sheldon presents proposed changes to the agreement for Leonard to sign.  The changes are written to address Penny’s “annoying personal habits” (of which Sheldon has naturally compiled a lengthy list—I’m assuming it is attached to the agreement as an appendix).  Sheldon makes it clear that Penny has no say in the agreement or the discussion of her personal habits, since Leonard is the signatory and thus “bears responsibility for all [her] infractions and must pay all fines”.  Leonard, upon inquiring about the fines, is told that if Penny is to resume spending nights in the apartment he’ll have to set up an escrow account (apparently the possibility that Penny might correct her annoying personal habits is not a thought that occurs to Sheldon).  Leonard signs, even though he and Penny aren’t actually back together.  Sometimes the path of least resistance is the best approach in a compromise.

The agreement essentially reduces the roommate experience to the level of transactions.  This is quite literally apparent in the example above—Penny annoys Sheldon, Leonard must pay a fine.  No doubt Sheldon has dollar amounts associated with each infraction as it appears in the appended list of “annoying personal habits”, in direct relation to the degree that Sheldon finds them annoying.  It seems ridiculous when you hear it, but I can personally think of a few situations in my experience when the existence of such an agreement would have made my life a lot easier; I can certainly recall occasions when I’d wished I could collect fines for the irritating habits of a roommate.  And while it might still seem absurd, consider this: isn’t it just another example of the sort of contracts we enter into every day with our landlords, insurance providers, health providers, phone and internet service providers, utility companies, employers, employees and unions, educational institutions, and governments?

Lots of posts

You may be wondering why I’m posting crazy amounts this week.  It’s because the journal assignment is coming due (technically it already came due– but I got a weekend extension).  I’m down to my last entry on records management, and it’ll be a good one.  I don’t want to give away too much, but I’ll be writing about the Big Bang Theory roommate agreement.  Big, important, big stuff.  Stay tuned.

Too Much Information, part 2: Recontextualization

The second article I want to discuss is “Data as a natural resource” by Matthew Aslett, and deals principally with the idea of transforming data—records decontextualized—into products (records recontextualized as commodities).  Aslett introduces the concept of the “data factory”, a place where data is “manufactured”.  He also highlights this in the context of “Big Data”—the current trend of accomodating larger and larger collections of information.  The problem is, “Big Data” are useless unless you can process them, analyze them, contextualize them.  Aslett suggests that the next big trend will be “Big Data Analytics”, which will focus on harnessing data sources and transforming them into products.  Assigning meaning to the raw, free-floating information, as it were.

One of the things I like about Aslett’s article is his analogy between data resources and energy resources, comparing the “data factory” with the oil industry.  Data is the new oil; useable data can be very valuable, as eBay and Facebook (Aslett’s two main examples) demonstrate.  What’s interesting about both eBay and Facebook, and why Aslett draws attention to them in particular, is that they don’t in themselves produce the data; they harness pre-existing data streams (the data “pipeline”), building on transactions that already take place, automate these transactions for their users, and parse their user data into saleable products.  In the case of Facebook, this comes in the form of ad revenue from targetted marketing, based on the most comprehensive demographic information available online (a user base of 500+ million); for eBay, it is the combination of transactional and behavioural data that identifies its top sellers and leads to increased revenue for them.  If Facebook or eBay didn’t exist, as Aslett points out, people would still communicate, share photos, buy and sell products.  They have just automated the process, and acquired the transaction records that are associated with such interactions in the process.

This makes me wonder about the ownership implications, once again, and about the Facebook terms of use I trotted out in a previous blog entry.  Is it fair for Facebook to profit off your personal information in this way?  To control your data?  Isn’t it a little worrisome that eBay and Amazon track what I buy online well enough to make quite accurate recommendations?  In terms of IAPP discussed in the last class and of David Flaherty’s list of individual rights, it is troubling to consider that, if the countless disparate traces of me online were somehow pulled together and processed, someone could construct a reasonable facsimile of me, my personality, my identity.  And isn’t this what Aslett is really talking about when he uses the word “analytics”?

Aslett, M. (2010, November 18).  Data as a natural energy source.  Too much information. Retrieved on November 26, 2010 from http://blogs.the451group.com/information_management/2010/11/18/data-as-a-natural-energy-source/

Too Much Information, Part 1: e-Disclosure

Today I’m going to write about a RIM blog I have discovered thanks to the ARMA website links, “Too Much Information” by The 451 Group.  In particular, I want to discuss two articles from different authors, on quite different topics.  Given the word length limit on entries for the journal assignment, I’ll be splitting my writing up into two seperate entries.

The first article, by Nick Patience, is a review of the topics discussed at the 6th Annual e-Disclosure Forum in London, dealing primarily with UK law.  Patience identifies key themes that came up during the forum.  The first of these is “Practice Direction 31B”, which is an amendment to the rules of civil procedure in the disclosure of electronic documents.  Of the changes, Patience identifies the addition of a 23-question questionnaire to be used in cases that involve a large number of documents, and emphasizes how this would be useful both in getting parties organized for proceedings and as a pre-emptive method for organizations to prepare records in the event of future litigation.  In Canada we have some standard guidance in the form of the Sedona Canada Principles, the Sedona Working Group, and provincial task forces working on refining e-Disclosure practices.  I suspect there are discrepancies in practices between provinces, simply due to the nature of the Canadian legal system, which might make it difficult to apply a detailed questionnaire as common resource (conjecture on my part, since I’m certainly not an expert in law), but I certainly agree with Patience about the potential benefits of such a resource.  In reviewing the case law digests, it is clear that one of the great challenges of e-Disclosure is limiting the scope on what constitutes evidence, which is, I believe, at the court’s discretion.  Examples that I’ve found are:

Dulong v. Consumers Packaging Inc., [2000] O.J. No. 161 January 21, 2000 OSCJ Commercial List Master Ferron.. The court held that a broad request from a plaintiff that the corporate defendant search its entire computer systems for e-mail relating to matters in issue in the litigation was properly refused on the grounds that such an undertaking would, “having regard to the extent of the defendant’s business operations, be such a massive undertaking as to be oppressive”. (para 21).

Optimight Communications Inc. v. Innovance Inc., 2002 CanLII 41417 (ON C.A.), Parallel citations: (2002), 18 C.P.R. (4th) 362; (2002), 155 O.A.C. 202, 2002-02-19 Docket: C37211. Moldaver, Sharpe and Simmons JJ.A. The appellants appeal a Letter of Request issued in a California court seeking the assistance of Ontario courts in enforcing an order for production of 34 categories of documents by Innovance, Inc. Appellate Court limited the scope of production and discovery. Schedule A details the electronic sources and search terms.

Sourian v. Sporting Exchange Ltd., 2005 CanLII 4938 (ON S.C.) 2005-03-02 Docket: 04-CV-268681CM 3. Master Calum U.C. MacLeod. Production of information from an electronic database. An electronic database falls within the definition of “document” in our (Ontario) rules. The challenge in dealing with a database, however, is that a typical database would contain a great deal of information that is not relevant to the litigation.  Unless the entire database is to be produced electronically together with any necessary software to allow the other party to examine its contents, what is produced is not the database but a subset of the data organized in readable form.  This is accomplished by querying the database and asking the report writing software to generate a list of all data in certain fields having particular characteristics.  Unlike other documents, unless such a report is generated in the usual course of business, the new document, the requested report (whether on paper or on CD ROM) would have to be created or generated. Ordering a report to be custom written and then generated is somewhat different than ordering production of an existing document.  I have no doubt that the court may make such an order because it is the only way to extract the subset of relevant information from the database in useable form. On the other hand such an order is significantly more intrusive than ordinary document production. A party must produce relevant documents but it is not normally required to create documents.  Accordingly such an order is discretionary and the court should have regard for how onerous the request may when balanced against its supposed relevance and probative value. (Italics P.D.)

[These only represent the first three cases I found in the LexUM Canadian E-Discovery Case Law Digests (Common Law) online, under “Scope of production and discovery”. http://lexum.org/e-discovery/digests-common.html#Scope]

What this news about UK policy makes me wonder, though, is precisely why we haven’t implemented a better national standard.  The Sedona Principles are wonderful for what they are—recommendations from a think tank drawing on the experience of lawyers, law-makers, technology and information professionals—but in order for it to really mean anything, it has to be enacted in policy.  Naturally, that kind of legislation doesn’t happen overnight.

Another theme Patience identifies is the growing trend of cloud computing, and the problems therein.  This sort comes back to my frequent rants about web records; the conference participants agreed that service level agreements (SLAs—precisely the kind of agreements I noted in my last entry) by cloud service providers did not provide sufficient guarantee as to the control and security of a user’s records (in this case, the user being an organization).  Patience describes this quality of the SLA as lacking the “necessary granularity”—you need to know that you can search for, find, and retrieve your data in a form that you can use.  As Patience says, not having that guarantee is a “dealbreaker”.  This seems like a very important counterpoint to the ever-growing buzz about cloud computing, and re-enforces the need for organizations to exercise caution before making a decision about how they want to manage their data.

 

Resources:

ARMA International

E-Discovery Canada

Patience, N.  (2010, November 16). e-Disclosure – cooperation, questionnaires and cloud. Too Much Information. Retrieved on November 26, 2010 from http://blogs.the451group.com/information_management/2010/11/16/e-disclosure-cooperation-questionnaires-and-cloud/

The Flipside of Information-Control on the Web

Today I read the following article:

On the evening of 25 November, Facebook.com disabled “We Are All Khaled Said” page which got more than 300,000 followers. The page was created after the 28-year-old Egyptian man named Khaled Said was beaten to death in Alexandria by two police officers who wanted to search him under the emergency law, according to El Nadim Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, local rights group.

The page administrator utilized the page to post updates on the flow of the case before the court and relevant information related to the incident that happened on the 6th of June 2010, as well as mobilizing people to join peaceful assemblies that took place against torture in Egypt and supporting victims of violence. …

http://advocacy.globalvoicesonline.org/2010/11/25/egypt-facebook-disables-popular-anti-torture-page/

This story came to me via Twitter, in a retweet that read “Reminder: making Facebook your publishing platform gives Facebook the right to delete what you say” (DanGillmor, RT by cascio). This reminder reemphasizes the point I keep coming back to about web records: you don’t control your information once it’s on the web.  I’ve spent a lot of time underlining how once someone publishes information on the web it might as well be there forever, particularly in my paper about ECCA and in previous journal entries about Twitter and blogging.  But maybe that’s not entirely accurate, or at least it only illustrates half of the point.

The flipside of the issue of information-control on the web is that whoever owns the rights to the server controls the information, and thus the disposition of the record—the “heaven” of perpetuity and the “hell” of the shredder, as we’ve learned in class (though, when it comes to the web, I suspect in many cases—at least retrospectively—the descriptors “heaven” and “hell” are reversed).  The case of “We Are All Khaled Said” aptly demonstrates how the server owner controls the disposition of information, even when one administrator and 300,000 users lay some intellectual claim to it.  The information can just as easily be destroyed when the author would wish it saved, as saved when he/she would wish it destroyed.

The real point about web records is that whenever you publish information using a third-party, such as Twitter, or WordPress, or Facebook, or MySpace, etc, etc, you’re compromising certain intellectual property rights.  Obviously, as a user you can access your web space through these services and add, edit, and delete your information however you like.  But the service provider, the server owner, the third-party reserves the right to either freeze, save or delete any or all of the content you publish.  Typically, this ceding of your intellectual property is written plainly (though often obliquely) in the end-user agreement or statement of terms, the same place you’ll find statements that free the third-party from any liability as well as privacy statements.  Here’s an example from the Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities:

 

Sharing Your Content and Information

 

You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings. In addition:

 

1. For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (“IP content”), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (“IP License”). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.

2. When you delete IP content, it is deleted in a manner similar to emptying the recycle bin on a computer. However, you understand that removed content may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time (but will not be available to others).

http://www.facebook.com/?ref=logo#!/terms.php

While the statement claims that you “own” and “control” all of the information on your Facebook page, a careful reading makes it quite evident that it is Facebook that actually controls both the license and the final disposition of all your published content.

 

This is no different than the deletion of user comments by moderators on news sites or message boards.  And that’s why this issue lies in an expanding frontier of grey area: most people would agree that the owner of the website has the right to control what information is published there.  But who owns the social network?

ECCA Paper and a brief update

You may wonder why for over a month between October and November the blog went without an update.  That’s because, rather than working on the journal entries, I was focused on writing the term paper for Records Management.  My paper deals with Envision Edmonton, the Edmonton City Centre Airport debate, the municipal election, and the role web records played.  It’s useful if for no other reason than because my reference list is exhaustive and almost exclusively contains online material (which was half the point).

I’ve since gotten the paper back and I’m pleased to note I got an A.

Here’s a copy of the paper in PDF, The Tangled Web We Weave: Envision Edmonton and the Challenge of Managing Web Records.

Record-Keeping Processes for Child Care Program Inspectors

The Alberta Auditor General’s October report revealed that Alberta Children’s Services’ record-keeping was inconsistent and made it impossible to determine if child care programs were meeting provincial standards (Kleiss, 2010).  The report identifies that the problem occurs with the documentation (or lack thereof) of “low-risk” breaches of existing standards, which are often handled with a “verbal warning”, or recorded inconsistently by inspectors.  The Auditor General quite correctly notes that this poses a safety risk to the children in these programs (2010, 33-34).

My first question is why there is no consistency already in how inspectors are reporting breaches.  One would hope that such an important role in our society, the people responsible for holding accountable the services that provide our child care, would function like a well-oiled machine.  Is it a lack of training, i.e. human error?  Is it a poorly designed reporting system, i.e. system error?  How does this happen?

There are clearly existing procedural regulations in place for inspectors.  The Auditor’s report acknowledges the following about the inspection activity:

Authorities’ licensing officers inspect these programs at least twice a year and inspect in response to complaints and program reported critical incidences such as child injury. If a program is not complying with regulatory requirements, through delegation from the Statutory Director for Child Care, a licensing officer may:

  • issue a verbal warning to correct non-compliance
  • issue an order to remedy non-compliance
  • impose conditions on a license
  • vary a provision of a license
  • suspend a license and issue a probationary license
  • cancel a license

Enforcement action will vary depending on the severity of the non-compliance. Low risk non-compliance may warrant more serious enforcement action if frequently repeated or identified as part of a pattern of ignoring requirements. (35)

It goes on to describe how the lack of records tracking verbal warnings, as well as inconsistency in acquiring and providing evidence of non-compliance when issuing an order to remedy problematized the task of following-up in cases when further action would be required.  It is not clear if this type of documentation has always been inconsistent, but the Auditor’s report made three recommendations:

1. Review and improve documentation and training to ensure all program requirements are being met.

2. Improve the consistency of monitoring by correcting systems that ensure compliance with processes.

3. Improve follow-up processes by ensuring that all verbal warnings are adequately documented and resolved.

While the report seems to me the perfect example of why good records management is critical, it made me wonder how the office of the Auditor General conducted its audit, and how it came to draw the conclusions it did.  According to the report:

Our audit procedures included reviewing relevant legislation, standards, policies and procedures, interviewing senior staff at the Department and five Authorities, shadowing licensing officers as they inspected programs, reviewing inspection reports, and examining the Department’s Child Care Information System (CCIS). (33)

The mention of CCIS, an ERMS, made me wonder precisely what sort of information was recorded in it.  After all, CCIS must be counted among the “systems” and “processes” identified in the recommendations.  The report (which, if you have not realized by now, is remarkably thorough) describes CCIS as follows, in the context of recommendation 1:

Authorities record enforcement actions in CCIS, link it to the corresponding regulation, and do some analysis of that data. However, more detailed trend analysis of this data may reveal the location, timing, and types of non-compliance, as well as help in planning future monitoring or training actions. For example, in our sample, we identified a pattern across Alberta of non-compliance with a requirement for maintaining portable emergency records. This could indicate a need for training or stricter enforcement action in this area. (36)

The report also identifies, in the context of recommendation 3, that while “Orders to Remedy” were consistently entered in CCIS, “verbal warnings” were not, and there was no way to tell if any remedial action was taken in cases where verbal warnings were given.

Other “records” in this story worth noting:

  • The legislation, provincial standards and statuatory requirements that govern child care in Alberta
  • The Auditor General’s Report itself (and what it says about the governmental review process in our province)

(apologies for the unoriginal title)

________________________

References

Auditor General Alberta. (2010, October). Report of the Auditor General of Alberta—October 2010.  Retrieved on November 15, 2010 from http://www.oag.ab.ca/files/oag/OAGOct2010report.pdf

Kleiss, K.  (2010, October 28).  Better Paperwork Expected of Daycare Inspectors.  EdmontonJournal.com. Retrieved on November 15, 2010 from http://www.edmontonjournal.com/life/Better+paperwork+expected+daycare+inspectors/3737004/story.html