Why we can’t have nice things

Subtitle: How we get nice things and then they make them too expensive.

Recently contractors for Comcast/Xfinity have been all over Louisville drilling holes along the utility easement to lay conduit for fiber optic cabling for Internet and cable. The city has a brief here on the project which is supposed to be complete by the end of October 2018. Bad news if you are a customer in the service area, the city release says:

Comcast customers will experience an outage from 30 minutes to 6 hours with the typical outage being 2 ½ hours. Any outages for this kind of scheduled work is typically done between 7:00 AM and 4:00 PM.

The full Comcast Q&A/FAQ is here.

Once the conduit/piping was laid at my house along the outside of back fence, things went quiet. Then today there were literally 15 trucks outside and across the street while they had a team meeting.

If you are stuck with little more than dial-up modem Internet speed, either because of cost, or because a faster service is not available to you, no doubt you’d think this is great. I already have CenturyLink 1Gbps fiber service, and this will likely be very good in the short term as competition drives down prices.

In the long term, this isn’t good news. The only winners will be Comcast.

Legislating hacking/data exposure responses

I don’t know enough about the European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) but at least on basic reading it seems inadequate in meaningful individual action requirements and legislation that benefits the actual user/person whose information has been exposed.

I’ve been signed up for haveibeenpwned an excellent website by Troy Hunt. You enter your email, and it tells you what breaches your personal information has been found in.

I was going to say “if any”. But of course your data will be there, especially after breaches like the River City Media (RCM) “spammer gate” where 1.4 billion peoples’ email accounts, full names, IP addresses, and often physical address, were exposed. Suffice to say, my two primary email addresses have been exposed in more than 20-breaches.

haveibeenpwned was a great start. CapitalOne, at least among my financial providers, has stepped up the game significantly. Their creditwise arm has incorporated Credit & Identity Alerts in to the app and website. Numerous times recently I’ve received alerts, and while initially the alerts didn’t contain enough information to take action, the most recent alerts have had all the detail I needed.

Creditwise Email
Email alert from Creditwise
Creditwise Alert
via website or app

Among the websites my data has been exposed this year include:

  • linkedin.com
  • kickstarter.com
  • ticketfly.com
  • bitly.com
  • myspace.com
  • last.fm
  • zomato.com

Some of these websites did individually send emails disclosing the breach. Of these, only ticketfly had any form of financial data that might have been breached. I have all my emails from them going back to 2012. Not a single word about a data breach or other exposure of my personal data.

The same is true for more sites than not. No notification. When you login to the site to at the very least, change your password to a new unique one, they more often than not also give you no indication. For many of them it’s also nearly impossible to find out how to delete your account. In the case of ticketfly, I submitted a trouble ticket asking how to delete my account but retain tickets for future events, so far nothing but a generic ‘we’ll get back to you’ response.

It’s time for legislation about what websites/businesses are required to do when they find a data breach. They must be held accountable, and not just through financial penalties that mostly just go into government coffers.

I’d like to see at a minimum:

  1. Mandatory requirement to notify by email, and if the business has a real mail address, by mail.
  2. A default opt-out and deletion period. At discovery, if data breached includes significant personal and/or financial data, the account must be deactivated. After notification, if the business has not heard from the user whose data is breached within 14-days, and the account is not already deactivated, it should be deactivated.
  3. Recovery of a deactivated account should NOT depend on any data exposed in the breach.
  4. When the user whose data is breached logs-in to their account following notification or during account recovery, they must be presented with clear information on what data was exposed. Two, they must be given a simple option at this point to permanently delete their account.
  5. If the user opts to delete their account, any consequences of the deletion must be made obvious at that time. For example, in the case of ticketfly, where I’ve already paid for tickets to future events, those tickets must still be available to me, even after my account is deleted.

In the era of “big data” and “everything online” the only way these businesses/websites will really put privacy and security first is not fines. It’s the actual loss of the customer/user and their data. These companies are often over valued, and paying government fines is just moving magic money from one bucket to another. It has a short term impact on their profitability, their quarterly results, not much else.

Google and Voice

You’d think given the proliferation of voice activated home technology like Alexa, Siri, Google Voice Assistant, Cortana etc. we’d be on the home stretch for voice activation in cars, where distraction is a real life threatening problem.

I don’t travel much now, I don’t drive more than 6k miles per year, which is a good thing based on today’s experience with Google. I’ll admit, I didn’t do any scientific research, I’ve no idea what other brands do, but I got stuck in traffic today heading into Boulder. I asked Google Assistant to read a web article from Vox.

My Google Pixel 2 phone is running android pie 9, I’m a Google ProjectFi cellphone network subscriber, and the phone is paired via Bluetooth to my 2013 Mercedes Benz. I switched the car audio via a car hardware button to Bluetooth. And asked Google Assistant to read what was on my screen.

It soon started to read out loud over bluetooth, HTML and CCS. This got pretty pointless, pretty quick. I switched back to FM Radio.

I called my wife using nothing but voice activation on the Mercedes with the paired bluetooth phone. While we were talking another call came in. I ignored it, it went to voicemail. When I’d finished talk to my wife, I pressed a button on the car to end the call.

I asked the Mercedes to “call voicemail” it did. The first thing the Project Fi voicemail system asked was for my voicemail PIN. There is no way around this, I sat there trying to get Fi to recognize the PIN by saying
nine, seven, nine, six, nine, five(*1)
It was pointless… it wasn’t enabled for voice prompts. I pulled over, pressed the phone buttons for the PIN followed by the # key. I went straight to the options key-4, and there was no voice activation option.

Next-up, I tried the Google Assistant to try.

OK Google, call my voicemail

I said in my best English accent, with my best annunciation and trying not to sound “mockney“.

Google Assistant: calling

Project Fi: to access your voicemail, please enter your PIN. followed by the # key

ME: nine, seven, nine, six, nine, five

Suffice to say, it didn’t work.

Even if it had, worryingly, even when you use the keypad to logon and navigate your voicemail, after hearing individual voicemails, the only options are:

mark this message as read press 7
keep this message as new press 9

There is a more options, it’s just message details, and play message again.

If you press 7, you go back to the main menu, where the only option is 4, change your settings. No ability to re-hear messages marked as read.

All in all a pretty disappointing experience. Especially true given it’s a 100% Google experience, add in the heightened requirement to reduce distracted driving and the fact that touching your phone while driving is illegal in my cities, States and Countries.

I know for sure that 10-15 years ago, voicemail could be voice driven.
To listen to your voicemail, press or say 1.

To delete the voicemail, press or say 3

etc.
Android phone app voicemail screenYes, I do know that I can press the voicemail button on the phone app in Android, and that would bring up a screen like this with a voice to text translation of the voicemail, the ability to play the voicemail, and the ability to delete it… but that all requires physical interaction with the phone.

*1 PIN isn’t really this…

Europe vs Facebook

The questions that Zuckerberg never answered, including this:

How will you be remembered: As one the three big internet giants along with Steve Jobs and Bill Gates who have enriched our world, or as the genius who created a digital monster that is destroying our democracy and society?

https://gizmodo.com/mark-zuckerberg-played-parliament-for-fools-and-theyre-1826227452

The Popularity Of ‘Westworld’ Points To Our Anxiety About AI

“If things play out with AI the way that they have done with Facebook, we’re in a lot of trouble.” Jonathan Nolan

Source: The Popularity Of ‘Westworld’ Points To Our Anxiety About AI, The Show’s Creators Say | Here & Now

The Facebook scramble to rewrite history

As Facebook scramble to try to head off prohibitive legislation in the UK, Europe and the USA, it’s trying to reinvent it’s history and mission.  I’m no Facebook historian, developer, professional watcher but it’s worth remembering some of it’s actual history, bugs, screw-ups and the often terrible defaults it implemented with new features.

I’d long imagined that Mark Zuckerberg was the embodiment of Zeke Hawkins character in the 1993 movie, Sliver. One of the things Hawkins said in the movies about his surveillance was the Google-esq:

We’ll do only good things.

All of the recent disclosures about access to Facebook data isn’t about hacking or other malicious activity, it is about poor design decisions; defaults in privacy that were good for Facebook but not for the user; and ultimately necessary for Facebook’s’ business model. They were not, as Facebook and Zuckerberg oft refer to them as data breaches.

As the voiceover says at the end of the Sliver trailer:

The view from the outside is nothing…. compared to the view…. inside.

My history with Facebook goes back to when it was “thefacebook”. I’d been a regular speaker and panelist at the Silicon Valley World Internet Center between 1998 and 2003 when I gave my last session on Open Source. The center was housed at Stanford University. Over my time there, I made contacts with many professional and personal contacts.

I started using livejournal as an emerging platform for “blogging” and tracking news for my then key triathlon interests in January 2004.  That April, through one of the contacts I’d made at the World Internet Center, I was offered a userid to take a look at “thefacebook”. I didn’t spend much time on it, it was fascile, juvenille and voyeristic. I wasn’t surprised to hear that in 2003, the Harvard University administration had charged Zuckerberg with breach of security, violating copyrights, and violating individual privacy.

That set the path that Facebook has followed since then, their design decisions, their defaults, everything has been aimed at making your information publicly available, searchable and collectable. As I texted a few days ago, none of this need happened if Facebook actually cared about privacy. Each and every time they implemented a new feature, they did so by setting the user privacy to the least private allowed.

While Facebook claimed they were not selling data, which was probably legally true, but they were always selling access to the data. If privacy was really central to Facebooks management of data, then they would have made the defaults very different than they did.

All those infuriating apps and quizzes that your “friends” were playing Farmville, Candy Crush, etc. let alone the apps that wanted to know actual personal information, like where you’d travelled to etc. For a while in 2007 there was even a class at Stanford known as the “Facebook class” where students, many of whom went on to make hundreds of thousands of US Dollars, were instructed on how to make Facebook apps.

As early as 2010, many of us were imploring people not to give companies like OK Cupid and apps like Lover of the Day access to your data, it was only ever going to end badly for someone.

Lover of the Day was installed nearly a million times. If every user that installed it had at least one hundred “friends” on Facebook,  that meant through a single app, four hundred million facebook users data could have been exposed and scraped. Even if “Lover of the Day” hadn’t overtly exploited this, it was totally naive rather than malicious.

By the end of 2010, there were hundreds of website scams that were, as far as I can see, just there to harvest your data, and that of your friends. There were numerous websites set up to track these, of which Facecrooks, was and still is one of the best.

When I got my Facebook data, before #DELETEFACEBOOK, I spent an hour searching through the data and my timeline to find interesting posts, pleas that I’d made to my friends about the lax controls, bad defaults and bad app choices they were making.In 2010 alone, I posted the following on my wall.

January 10th: “Well get used to it, the Facebook founder says your privacy is a relic of the past, everything should be public!”

March 2010: “So, not paying attention to the FB Privacy issue? Well last night the dumb ass’s made a change which made everyone’s email address public for about 30-mins even if you said not to or your settings… “

May 2010: “So yesterday Facebook blew their privacy yet again revealing private friend to friend conversations, allowing one friend to see outstanding friend requests of other friends…”

May 2011: When discussing the Symantec revelation that Facebook was leaking information to Third parties, I ended the post with – friends don’t give their friends personal information to strangers, don’t do the same on facebook!

By 2011, music streaming startup, Spotify, was known to be aggressively using and promoting their business through facebook by exploiting the weak/lax Facebook privacy. If anything, the US Government Federal Trade Commision hearings lead to facebook changes that were in marketing speak “more transparent” but reality, more opaque. They made it easier to stop sharing, but harder to know what was being shared.

In 2015, the scraping of user data was still rampant, I found a number of examples of warnings, mostly in so called “Big company” giveaways.

March 2015: Friends don’t invite friends invite to the SW Airlines ticket give away. It’s scam, they are harvesting Facebook id’s, friends lists and email addresses and who knows what else!

It was followed by a long bullet list of ways you could tell if the giveaway was a scam. My post ended in

If don’t doesn’t have at least two of those it’s a scam… It’s not harmless, it’s like showing up at an orgy and not using a condom.

When Zuckerberg and Facebook try to rewrite history claiming these were a breach of trust, or they didn’t sell data, or they acted as soon as they were notified, I don’t know what the hell they are talking about. They knew, they just didn’t care until the politicians got hurt, and now the optics look really bad.

Next. What should be done.

The Data that Google has

In the push-back over the Facebook privacy scandal, many are also asking questions about the data other platforms have. Many commentators draw a parallel to Google. For my part, this is valid at least as far as tracking, visiting locations etc. goes. Since I have a Google Phone, with a Google Fi service, and I use Google Maps, I pretty much expect them to track me.

GoogleIn addition, in my prior home I had Google Fiber, plus add in all the Youtube videos, if you watch movies or listen to music on Google Play; they have my calendar; all my files in Google Drive; as much as I try not to have my photos in the cloud, they’ve almost certainly got some of them in Google Photos. I typically avoid using Google Search directly, as for the most part, my search history seems a definitive list of things I’m interested in, but it’s much more subjective than that. I prefer startpage for search.

I don’t read ebooks, but they’d have them if I did; of course I use a few Google Groups; and so on. So, it’s a pretty exhaustive list. You do need to take care if you decide to download your Google information from google.com/takeout – It can get pretty big, pretty quickly if you’ve purchased books, films, music and make extensive use of drive, in addition to all the metadata, you’ll also get all the content.

Despite all this, I feel like Google have not crossed the trust boundary. They may be using and aggregating all this data to sell to advertisers, but it’s not all clear how. It certainly isn’t obvious from the adverts. So for now, I trust Google to “Don’t be evil“.

Zuckerberg/Facebook called to UK Parliament

Of course as a US Citizen, Zuckerberg can’t be compelled to attend. There can be so many serious consequences to not attending that Rubert Murdoch and other News International Executives attended when they were called.
 

FCC and Net Neutrality – Fraud in your name?

After this weeks hugely disappointing repeal of the net neutrality. The ACLU has their take on the repeal, here.

I’m more concerned though with the claim that up to 2-million comments supporting the repeal were submitted to the FCC using fraudulent identities. I actually don’t don’t think it would have made any difference given what we know about the commission members who voted in favor of repeal.

Still, I wanted to be sure my comment was actually the comment I submitted, and no one else had submitted a comment using my identity. You can check here. Simply add your name to the form and click search. You’ll have to go through the comments submitted by people with the same name to check your comment is there, or that a comment was submitted on your behalf. Make sure to check all the people with your name, lots of comments seem to have been submitted using older addresses.

If you find a comment submitted that claims to be from you, that you did not authorise someone else to submit, or did not submit your self, please do 2-things

  1. Complete the remainder of the form to lodge a complaint
  2. Write, preferably a paper letter, to you States Attorney General.

A number of US States Attorney Generals are suing the Federal government over this issue. However, many have not joined that effort, including mine, Colorado.

Here is my comment, as submitted.

US Broadband and cable Internet access is already one of the most expensive in the developed world. It is also fragmented and suffers from overcharging for access to services. This proposal will only allow this to get worse, and potentially hamper both the development of small business services, and the use and consumption of both those and existing services. This must NOT be allowed to proceed. I write as a former IBM Distinguished Engineer and Member of the IBM Academy of Technology, and more recently, a Senior Distinguished Engineer and Executive Director at Dell Inc.

And finally the Presidents Tweet. Because I assume #NetNeutrality is too complex for him to understand, he assumes it’s too complicated for everyone else. Note the #NetNeutality auto-correct/mistype in the Presidents tweet. Explain it? He can’t even type it.

Fear of Automation

ZDNet has a good summary of a few recent reports on automation, a subject I’ve covered here more than once.

The more interesting survey report is from a Harris Poll for ZipRecruiter, an online employment marketplace.

ZipRecruiter’s nationwide data shows 60% of job seekers believe fears around robots taking away jobs are overhyped while 2 in 5 employed job seekers (41%) believe their current job will be automated within their lifetime.

This is more than likely because workers asked, don’t see the big picture. They don’t get involved with decisions and discussions about how to cut cost and risk from their workflow.

I’m not saying that we’ll wake up one day and everything will be taken over by robots, that’s not the case at all. It’s worse than that, automation is insidious and for the most part, invisible.

The ZDNet article by  for Robotics also links to recent reports from MckInsey and Redwood Software. Greg points out that:

  • 4 in 5 job seekers agree that the current technology boom has left certain people (84%) and cities (78%) behind.
  • Half of job seekers (50%) say the introduction of the Internet has generally done more harm than good. Employed job seekers are more likely to agree with this sentiment than unemployed job seekers (53% employed vs. 40% unemployed).
  • 2 in 5 job seekers (44%) believe there is no such thing as a bad technological advancement.

What this ignores, for the 50% that thinks the Internet is good, is that without it, and the automation and communication it has enabled, the workplace would be very different today. And that is one way the creep of insidious automation has been taking over.