Archives For November 2012

Windows 8 Needs Some Love!

It turns out Microsoft was so focused on touch screens that they forgot the PCs needed to be manipulated with a keyboard and mouse! Oops! Well, they spent a lot of money on this from designers to paid app developers alike – so, it better get used on more platforms than just the ones with touch interfaces!

Now what? Well, Microsoft needs some serious love! Particularly Win 8! It does make you wonder how much of a mess up this really was vs a strategy to popularize the platform :)!

Clearly, you only need to write sensational articles – facts are a minor inconvenience that can be worked around!  If you wrote sensational rants, your popularity will increase and ranking algorithms will increase your visibility and your popularity will increase further!

So, Lifehacker is at it again – this time on how to maintain email privacy! Just to clarify, I don’t actually seek and read Lifehacker articles. But, apparently, Pulse’s ranking and rating mechanisms allow these articles to be part of “Best in Technology” category.  I get enough value from this category to keep it, but that means that every now and then, I read the hideous reports on Lifehacker and rant about it!

This time around, they’ve put in enough disclaimers and given themselves enough outs (which alone should make this a useless article), so, good CYA efforts there! But, that article has some fundamental issues.  First, we are talking about a case involving a senior CIA member where personal information was revealed with FBI help. And the article talks about how to stop that from happening to you. Who is this “you” they are referring to? Presumably the common user? And, are we talking with or without help from the FBI?

The article goes on to make so many assertions about using VPNs or separate email providers to do various things.  Including using a VPN provider that won’t give up your IP address as easily as Google would.  Is this because different Federal requirements apply to VPN providers? Or because some providers are willing to take the risk on behalf of their users?

Anonymity, privacy and security are all related but different aspects.  Reality shows that there is no perfect solution that scales to the common user. And more importantly, it is one thing to protect against a casual observer who is really not interested in your data anyway; a totally different thing to protect against a funded, motivated attacker (or protector, as the case may be) who is dedicated to cracking through the mechanisms in place.

The problem is that most common readers will miss the different types of users and attackers.  Unlike the peer rating mechanism popularized by eBay like companies that has found a way to sustain itself due to sufficient incentives and distribution of responsibilities (although not perfect), the current ‘likes’ mechanism popularized by Facebook is simply ridden with challenges.  In other words, it cannot be as easily used as a measure of authenticity of any sort.  For some definition of “popularity”, it serves a purpose, but when articles like this bubble up to the “Best of Technology” categories of highly popular news aggregators, you are sending a message to millions of readers vouching the credibility of these sources.

But then, whose responsibility is it to balance the sensation with the facts? No one has claimed it yet…

I just think LifeHacker has bad articles! Here’s one – on Internet Suicide and deleting yourself from the web.  Seriously?!  In this age where data proliferates via innumerable untrackable links and is still quite unstructured in various parts of the web, someone believes that it is possible to delete everything?  It has a certain entertainment value to talk about this – but that’s where it stops.  

Until the entire web evolves to linked data and we are talking well structured references that can be traced and pruned, there is no such thing as complete deletion of data.  And then you add up things like this effort from Foursquare and you know it only gets worse! In short, Foursquare now allows check-ins with people that are not on Foursquare.  You know everyone is going to do this.  I’m surprised there isn’t more of this already. 

So, what does all this mean? You will be on the web without any effort on your part and you may never even know it! The people who are into sharing are into sharing and there is no stopping them! I’m one of those people that shares the paranoia of putting too much information on the web.  I resisted tagging or being tagged on pictures on Facebook for a while. I even spent a lot of time trying to make sense of their privacy settings and being as private as possible and disallowing as many publicizing efforts by others as possible.  I still could not stop my friends from tagging me. I eventually gave up! If this is what happens to a tech savvy person that works on topics like privacy and identity management for a living, where is the hope for the other several millions of users?!

Let’s face it. There’s data about you on the web whether or not you created it. It increases with every online interaction you do. It multiples rapidly with having active social net zombies as friends or colleagues or even just acquaintances.  There is nothing you can do about it. There is no deleting it.  Privacy will be fuzzy and get even fuzzier.

Hey, on the bright side, maybe this is all designed to make us good citizens and not have anything negative about us to begin with?! Wait, but what about the people that hate me anyway for no fault of mine, you ask! Hmmm…