This wasn’t the internet we envisaged

The debate over privacy on Facebook got me thinking about the internet we envisaged. Reading media commentary on Tim Cook’s recent address at Duke University prodded me into action.

What do I mean by we? I mean the people who:

  • Wrote about the internet from the mid-1990s onwards
  • Developed services during web 1.0 and web 2.0 times

I’ve played my own small part in it.

At the time there was a confluence of innovation. Telecoms deregulation and the move to digital had reduced the cost of data and voice calls. Cable and satellite television was starting to change how we viewed the world. CNN led the way in bringing the news into homes. For many at the time interactive TV seemed like the future of media.

Max Headroom

Starship Troopers

The Running Man

Second generation cellular democratised mobile phone ownership. The internet was becoming a useful consumer service. My first email address was a number@site.corning.com format email address back in 1994. I used it for work, apart from an unintended spam email sent to colleagues to offload some vouchers I’d been given.

My college email later that year was on a similar format of address; on a different domain. I ended up using my pager more than my email to stay in touch with other students. At college I signed up for a Yahoo! web email. I had realised that an address post-University would be useful. Yahoo! was were I saw my first online ads. They reminded me of garish versions of ads in newspapers.

I used to go to Liverpool at least once a week to go to an internet cafe and check my email account. I found out that I had my first agency job down in London when I was called on my cell phone whilst driving. The internet was as much as an idea as anything else and the future of us netizens came alive for me in the pages of Wired and Byte. Both were American magazines. Byte was a magazine that delved deeper into technology than Ars Technica or Anandtech. Wired probed the outer limits of technology, culture and design. At the time each issue was a work of art. They pushed typography and graphic design to the limits. Neon and metallic inks, discordant fonts and an early attempt at offline to online integration. It seemed to be the perfect accompanyment to the cyberpunk science fiction I had been reading. The future was bright: literally.

Hacking didn’t have consumers as victims but was the province of large (usually bad) mega corps.

I moved down to London just in time to be involved in the telecoms boom that mirrored the dot com boom. I helped telecoms companies market their data networks and VoIP services. I helped technology companies sell to the telecoms companies. The agency I worked for had a dedicated 1Mb line. This was much faster than anything I’d used before. It provided amazing access to information and content. Video was ropey. Silicon.com and Real Media featured glitchy postage stamp sized clips. My company hosted the first live broadcast of Victoria’s Secret fashion show online. It was crap in reality, but a great proof of concept for the future.

I managed to get access to recordings of DJ sets by my Chicago heroes. Most of whom I’d only read about over the years in the likes of Mixmag.

All of this pointed to a bright future, sure there were some dangers along the way. But I never worried too much about the privacy threat (at least from technology companies). If there was any ‘enemy’ it was ‘the man’.

In the cold war and its immediate aftermath governments had gone after:

  • Organised labour (the UK miners strike)
  • Cultural movements (Rave culture in the UK)
  • Socio-political groups (environmentalists and the nuclear disarmament movement)

I had grown up close to the infamous Capenhurst microwave phone tap tower. Whilst it was secret, there were private discussions about its purpose. Phil Zimmerman’s PGP cryptography offered privacy, if you had the technical skills. In 1998, the European Parliament posted a report on ECHELON. A global government owned telecoms surveillance network. ECHELON was a forerunner of the kind of surveillance Edwards Snowden disclosed a decade and a half later.

One may legitimately feel scandalised that this espionage, which has gone on over several years, has not given rise to official protests. For the European Union, essential interests are at stake. On the one hand, it seems to have been established that there have been violations of the fundamental rights of its citizens, on the other, economic espionage may have had disastrous consequences, on employment for example. – Nicole Fontaine, president of the european parliament (2000)

I advised clients on the ‘social’ web since before social media had a ‘name’. And I worked at the company formerly known as Yahoo!. This was during a brief period when it tried to innovate in social and data. At no time did I think that the companies powering the web would:

  • Rebuild the walled gardens of the early ‘net (AOL, CompuServe, Prodigy)
  • Build oligopolies, since the web at that time promised a near perfect market due to it increasing access to market information. Disintermediation would have enabled suppliers and consumers to have a direct relationship, instead Amazon has become the equivalent of the Sears Roebuck catalogue
  • Become a serious privacy issue. Though we did realise by 2001 thanks to X10 wireless cameras that ads could be very annoying. I was naive enough to think of technology and technologists as being a disruptive source of cultural change. The reason for this was the likes of Phil Zimmerman on crypto. Craig Newmark over at Craigslist, the community of The Well and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The likes of Peter Thiel is a comparatively recent phenomenon in Silicon Valley

We had the first inkling about privacy when online ad companies (NebuAd and Phorm) partnered with internet service providers. They used ‘deep packet inspection’ data to analyse a users behaviour, and then serve ‘relevant ads.

Tim Cook fits into the ‘we’ quite neatly. He is a late ‘baby boomer’ who came into adulthood right at the beginning of the PC revolution. He had a front row seat as PCs, nascent data networks and globalisation changed the modern world. He worked at IBM and Compaq during this time.

Cook moved to Apple at an interesting time. Jobs had returned with the Next acquisition. The modern macOS was near ready and there was a clear roadmap for developers. The iMac was going into production and would be launched in August.

Many emphasise the move to USB connectors, or the design which brought the Mac Classic format up to date. The key feature was a built in modem and simple way to get online once you turned the machine on. Apple bundled ethernet and a modem in the machine. It also came with everything you needed preloaded to up an account with an ISP. No uploading software, no drivers, no DLL conflicts. It just worked. Apple took care selecting ISPs that it partnered with, which also helped.

By this time China was well on its way to taking its place in global supply chains. China would later join the World Trade Organisation in 2001.

The start of Tim Cook’s career at Apple coincided with with the internet the way we knew it. And the company benefited from the more counter culture aspects of the technology industry:

  • Open source software (KDE Conqueror, BSD, Mach)
  • Open standards (UNIX, SyncML)
  • Open internet standards (IMAP, WebCAL, WebDav)

By the time that Facebook was founded. Open source and globalisation where facts of life in the technology sector. They do open source because that’s the rules of business now. It is noticeable that Facebook’s businesses don’t help grow the commons like Flickr did.

Businesses like Flickr, delicious and others built in a simple process to export your data. Facebook and similar businesses have a lot less progressive attitudes to user control over data.

Cook is also old enough to value privacy, having grown up in a less connected and less progressive age.  It was only in 2014 that Cook became the first publicly gay CEO of a Fortune 100 company. It is understandable why Cook would be reticent about his sexuality.

He is only a generation younger than the participants in the riots at the Stonewall Inn.

By comparison, for Zuckerberg and his peers:

  • The 1960s and counterculture were a distant memory
  • The cold war has been won and just a memory of what it was like for Eastern Europeans to live under a surveillance state
  • Wall Street and Microsoft was their heroes. Being rich was more important than the intrinsic quality of the product
  • Ayn Rand was more of a guiding star than Ram Dass

They didn’t think about what kind of dark underbelly that platforms could have and older generations of technologists generally thought too well of others to envisage the effects. You have to had a pretty dim view of fellow human beings.

More information
Tim Cook brought his pro-privacy views to his Duke commencement speech today | Recode
Bugging ring around Ireland | Duncan Campbell (1999) PDF document
The ECHELON Affair The EP and the global interception system 1998 – 2002 (European Parliament History Series) by Franco Piodi and Iolanda Mombelli for the European Parliament Research Unit – PDF document
Memex In Action: Watch DARPA Artificial Intelligence Search For Crime On The ‘Dark Web’| Forbes
X10 ads are useless – Geek.com
Disintermediation – Wikipedia

ICYMI | 万一你错过了| 당신이 그것을 놓친 경우

Naughty List – Secured.fyi – Alpha – great simple checklist for n00bs. The answer per platform needs more nuance

Justice Dept. Revives Push to Mandate a Way to Unlock Phones – The New York Times – Clipper Chip style bullshit that is bad for consumers and governments since it will be broken and used by criminals and state actors

Sex Workers Say Porn on Google Drive Is Suddenly Disappearing – Motherboard – don’t assume that the contents of your Google Drive hasn’t been thoroughly examined by Google. Adult entertainment is merely the canary in the coal mine for privacy.

Is Facebook Really Scarier Than Google? | Nautilus – worthwhile reading about the effect of Google – of course they both have an impact otherwise you wouldn’t advertise on it. The question needs to be does the utility justify the impact? I think search has a better case than a social network, but both have merits

The unparalleled joy of writing with a fountain pen – and five beautiful pens to inspire you – Country Life – Among the obituaries of a former Conservative Minister a few years ago, there was one delightful snippet. A line in The Daily Telegraph described how, when she received the letter from Mrs Thatcher appointing her to the Lords, Lady Blatch initially believed it to be a hoax, because the letter was signed in Biro and she had been ‘brought up to believe that nobody who matters uses a Biro’.

Why Nothing Is Going To Happen To Facebook Or Mark Zuckerberg | Buzzfeed – consumers don’t care enough

China’s Huawei Technologies reshuffles board for first time since 2012 – I presume the reason why Mr Ren is getting back behind the wheel is that overall and smartphone revenue figures for 2017 was Huawei’s slowest growth in four years. I am not convinced that  premium products will be the way forward when they are locked out of the North American retail system. I am also not sure why the management team at Huawei Mobile Devices hasn’t been refreshed

Cloak and Data: The Real Story Behind Cambridge Analytica’s Rise and Fall – Mother Jones – probably the best account yet by the media

Restricted By YouTube, Gun Enthusiasts Are Taking Their Videos To Pornhub | NPR – Pornhub is starting to turn into a libertarian YouTube

Has Marketing Gone Too Digital? | Mediapost – a good read, send it to your clients and your agency folk

Cigarettes are the vice America needs | FT Alphaville – Cigarette smoking is essentially the anti-Facebook. While Facebook is a fundamentally misanthropic venture that pretends to be a community, smoking is a community activity for people who pretend to be misanthropes.  The activity itself is fundamentally pro-social! It gives people reasons to interact with strangers (“got a light?”). And since it was banned indoors — undeniably a good choice — it gives people a reason to go outside and make idle small talk, all while pursuing a common activity. And unlike alcohol, cigarettes alone don’t often lead to property damage or missed days of work (paywall)

China’s young consumers are snubbing foreign brands amid growing national pride, says Credit Suisse | SCMP – this should share the shit out of MNCs

Google has reportedly acquired Lytro, the Leader in Light Field Imaging Technology for Photography and VR Content – interesting, Apple had a patent licence from them

Interpublic Upgrades U.S. Ad Spending Growth To 5.5% This Year – which looks much more like what I would expect the advertising market to be with the Winter Olympics and forthcoming World Cup and an ok global economy

Building for the modern web is really, really hard | O’Reilly – average website clocks in at 4MB with 100s of elements including 3rd, 4th and 5th party based interactions – which also explains page load times – and slow AF ad related technology such as trackers

Mobike to charge bad riders more | Techinasia – a la eBay, Uber etc

Study: Smart Speakers are Changing the Way We Select Products – interesting how this is impacting retail. FMCG brands in particular should be really concerned as this is far beyond what supermarkets could do with dodgy shelving layouts and look-a-like private label brands

The Valley of Death: the students vying to be millionaires | Telegraph – In 2015 Oxford, the UK’s number one university for research, produced four spin-outs. Not per professor. That was for the whole university. The situation was not better elsewhere. Data on British university spin-outs is not in any publicly available league table. But it exists, via what’s called the HE-BCI survey (it stands for Higher Education – Business and Community Interaction). For 2015-16, Cambridge University recorded a total of two spinouts in the HE-BCI survey. Imperial College London, another of this country’s most vaunted research universities, listed three. Of 160 institutions, 59 officially produced no spinouts at all.

Does it Really Matter if James Jebbia is Not a “Fashion Designer”? The Fashion Law – Supreme is an anti-consumerism consumer brand. Its now going into luxury baskets, it doesn’t have much room left in the hype beast space though

Alex Stamos, Facebook Data Security Chief, To Leave Amid Outcry – The New York Times – Some of the company’s executives are weighing their own legacies and reputations as Facebook’s image has taken a beating. Several believe the company would have been better off saying little about Russian interference and note that other companies, such as Twitter, which have stayed relatively quiet on the issue, have not had to deal with as much criticism

Our mission to buy a fake Rolex on Facebook reveals how the company is playing host to countless criminal enterprises | Business Insider – only a matter of time for this story to be written. You also have a similar problem on Instagram

Millennials: you will not be quite so special in the ‘futr’ | FT – could it be that millennials, the most scrutinised, criticised and debated generation of our time, were not that special any more? “Millennials are still important as a customer,” Ms Ganatra told me later. But there is now a “millennial mindset” that has nothing to do with age, she said. In other words, millennials may have been the first generation to have grown up in a digital world but the rest of us are catching on fast. People of all ages are now so used to shopping with a click or talking to a chatbot that retailers need to think about the needs and desires of all their customers, not just those born between 1981 and 1996 – or an artificial construct in terms of their digital uniqueness

 

ICYMI | 万一你错过了| 당신이 그것을 놓친 경우

Happy St Patricks Day, here’s the crock of gold from around the web for you.

Amazon: The Making of a Giant | WSJ – Today, the AI assistant has more than 30,000 skills available on its store and can be used to control more than 4,000 smart-home devices from 1,200 different brands. (paywall)

The battle for digital supremacy – America v China – tactical rather than the required strategic response

China’s ‘Fun Headlines’ App Considers IPO at $3 Billion Value – Bloomberg – huge risk is China’s changing media regulation landscape

Qualcomm, National Security, and Patents – Stratechery by Ben Thompson

The Seven-Year Itch: How Apple’s Marriage to Siri Turned Sour — The Information – great read (paywall)

You are not safe

IBM 360 Announcement center

I have been catching up on Halt and Catch Fire. It is a fiction based on various aspects of Silicon Valley lore. I have enjoyed watching it immensely to a point.

I was especially struck by  episode eight in the third series. One of the main characters in series three hacks his employer and releases their anti-virus software online for free. But its the mid-1980s through a thoroughly modern lens. It resonates because it speaks to our age, not to the 1980s or even the mid-1990s.

YOU ARE NOT SAFE

I, Ryan Ray, released the MacMillan Utility source code. I acted alone. No one helped me, and no one told me to do it.  I did this because ‘security’ is a myth.  Contrary to what you might have heard, my friends, you are not safe.  Contrary to what you might have heard, my friends, you are not safe.  Safety is a story. It’s something we search our children so they can sleep at night, but we know it’s not real.

Yes, there was software piracy, it was a mainstream part of computing culture which had sprung up from the ‘homebrew’ mentality.  Prior to founding Apple, Steve Wozniak used to give out the schematics of what then became the Apple I. Punched paper tapes of software used to be exchanged between members when they met up in aMenlo Park garage and later on in an auditorium at Stanford University.

Back then the narrative was overwhelmingly positive in terms of technology. The main problem was whether the Japanese, Microsoft, Intel or IBM was going to crush the rest of the technology eco-system in Silicon Valley. Consumers  had a bright new world of technology ahead of them.  Video games were still a niche interest compared to VCRs (video cassette recorders). VHS versus Betamax was as important a format war as Windows versus Macintosh.

Here’s the thing. This show (rightly or wrongly) may frame the way a lot of people think about this part of the digital age. For those who aren’t well read about the history of Silicon Valley OR didn’t live through the 1980s – it will colour their view of history. That detail rankled me a bit; I’m not quite sure why.  Part of it is knowing where we’re going is understanding where we have been in past.

That’s all very nice, but why does this matter? It provides you with perspective and the ability to critique ideas.

 

Apple Special Event and Security

@ WWDC

Apple’s facial recognition has spurred a number of discussions about the privacy trade-offs in the iPhone X.

Experts Weigh Pros, Cons of FaceID Authentication in iPhone X | Dark ReadingOne concern about FaceID is in its current implementation, only one face can be used per device, says Pepijn Bruienne, senior R&D engineer at Duo Security. TouchID lets users register up to five fingerprints. If a third party obtains a user’s fingerprint and reproduces it, and the user is aware, they could register a different unique fingerprint.

Can Cops Force You to Unlock Your Phone With Your Face? | The Atlantic – Even if Face ID is advanced enough to keep pranksters out, many wondered Tuesday if it would actually make it easier for police to get in. Could officers force someone they’ve arrested to look into their phone to unlock it?

How Secure Is The iPhone X’s FaceID? Here’s What We Know | Wired – Marc Rogers, a security researcher at Cloudflare who was one of the first to demonstrate spoofing a fake fingerprint to defeat TouchID. Rogers says he has no doubt that he—or at least someone—will crack FaceID. In an interview ahead of Apple’s FaceID announcement, Rogers suggested that 3-D printing a target victim’s head and showing it to their phone might be all it takes. “The moment someone can reproduce your face in a way that can be played back to the computer, you’ve got a problem,” Roger says. “I’d love to start by 3-D-printing my own head and seeing if I can use that to unlock it.” 

Now lets talk about the Apple Watch, which I consider to present more serious issues.
 
The Apple Watch 3 is interesting from a legislative point-of-view. The software SIM in the Apple Watch clones the number of your iPhone. The security services of the major powers generally don’t broadcast their capabilities. Politicians are generally untroubled by knowledge of what is possible. Giving politicians an inkling is likely to result in broad sweeping authoritarian power. 
Imagine what will happen when Amber Rudd goes into parliament looking for real-time access to everyone’s phones. She now can point to the Apple Watch 3 as evidence that LTE and 3G connections can be cloned. What kind of legislation will her special advisers start cooking up then?

Secondly, it will only be a matter of time before criminals either work out how to do it themselves, or co-opt mobile carrier staff. Two factor authentication that depends on SMS is already compromised. This allows it to be compromised and undetectable.

The Apple Watch 3 may have royally screwed us all.