Category: Social

Social Related Posts

Facebook “We’re not listening.” Overreach?

Facebook are currently disputing the idea that they listen in on real-world conversations through over-reaching it’s permissions to access the microphone. Yes – users want the apps to access the microphone when actively recording video or using audio – but not when having a private conversation with someone in the ‘real world’ – with the phone off.

The biggest issue I have with this is the denial. They explicitly denied listening via the core Facebook app; and also their messenger app. However, we’re all using a variety of additional apps curated and managed by Facebook.

  • Facebook.
  • Messenger.
  • Whatsapp. (need microphone for audio/video calls)
  • Instagram. (needs microphone for video)

It’s not practicable to manage access or revoke access based on individual use. What’s required here is for iOS/Android to provide better UX around which apps are accessing which features each time they’re accessed. In the same way we have the battery monitor, the OS providers should be providing an audit log of what exactly your phone has been doing.

I’m not sure what privacy campaigners are calling it yet – I need to have a read up and familiarise myself.  I’d call it overreach. We should be protected from such overreach; and the OS creators need to provide better tools by default, rather than requiring rooting and/or technological expertise to understand what a device that you’re paying for and is with you for practically 24 hours a day is doing with your data.

Why you shouldn’t be too concerned about a lack of Blockchain talent in your organisation.

The hype around Blockchain has hit fever pitch over the past 18 months, with the current trend in articles focusing on whether your business has the requisite talent to take advantage of this new technology.  I’m sure there are many guys out there sitting down to work out if they are behind the curve, and if Blockchain really is something they need to be ahead of their competitors on or not.

My advice is this; Blockchain is a relatively new technology, but it’s also not something that should hit your developers from completely left-field.  If they’re already aware of basic cryptography, I’d argue that most ‘lead developers’ can get up and running (with the level of expertise required as a ‘user’ of a system – within hours).  On the Ethereum stack, lots of good effort has been put into creating a developer toolkit that allows anyone with a little bit of experience to get up to speed and playing around with the code.

Of course, what’s becoming far more apparent is that knowing how to functionally code shouldn’t be the only prerequisite to how or who should be let loose on developing functionality.  With Blockchain and it’s associated technologies, one of the new properties of the systems being developed by your enthusiastic amateurs will be ‘immutability’ – basically an inability to delete.  If you think that you can stand up a project by passing it over to the tech team, then you really should be considering your future.

Blockchain technology is likely to be incredibly disruptive, and may also inadvertently cause completely new paradigms of ‘ethical issue’ with online, or digitised products.  In order to leverage the advantages of the immutable properties of Blockchain will have to be a better understanding of behavioural economics.  Fundamentally, Blockchain is not a technology solution, but an economic one, enabled by technology.  If you’re not prepared to invest the time to understand that further, then you probably shouldn’t be experimenting in this space.

Finally, there’s also the issue of on-chain and off-chain data stores, the related encryption, and the very legislation being passed by governments today which could undermine the security profile of any application attached to a Blockchain.  I’d urge any developer, manager, designer or product owner to really consider any attempt at obfuscation on the Blockchain is likely to be temporary; and unless the same level of diligence is given to Blockchain applications as has been given to applications such as GnuPG, OpenSSL, and other encryption libraries, then they should be considered fundamentally insecure.

It’s why I’m proud that all the work that I’ve done on Blockchain so far, both personally and professionally, has ended up being published under an Open Source Licence – and why the future of Blockchain should continue to be done out in the open.  From a talent perspective, the opportunity to get your development teams to collaborate in the open with these guys is a good first step.


Nick Timothy’s Resignation Letter

Having read through Nick Timothy’s resignation letter [read it here], this really stood out to me:

because modern campaigning techniques require ever-narrower targeting of specific voters, and we were not talking to the people who decided to vote for Labour.

This implies modern campaigning is about winning, about getting power, about putting your party ahead of the country.

When we look at the millions spent on campaigns, these are no longer used to broadly inform on policy, but have a very simple target in mind – to swing a vote; potentially even on just a single issue.  Now that we have this capability, is it ethically or morally right to fight an election with such a narrow strategy in mind; or should the manifesto have a more prominent place, making sure that all votes are ensured of a fuller context to their decision, rather than gamified with single issue targeting?

General Election 2017

I thought long and hard as to whether to publish this piece about the recent general election in Britain.  The purpose?  Potentially for something for me to read back on to understand my frame of mind this week, but also to set a benchmark for what is likely to become a tumultuous few years for those living in the British Isles.

It’s been frustrating to be waking up on the day after an election and feeling upset at the result.  That’s the way I’ve felt for the past few elections.  This time was different.  I hadn’t cast my vote for the winner, but I finally felt as though the opposition in the UK had finally found a voice against an ever right-leaning Conservative agenda.  The irony is not lost on the fact that in order to hold onto her fragile leadership, Theresa May is now looking to form a coalition with a DUP that many would consider more extreme than UKIP.  UKIP were the bumbling fools, with a single policy that is now irrelevant.  The DUP are no bumbling fools.

Let’s go back to before the election.  Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t been a strong opposition before he began this election campaign.  His party has been fracturing, and he is not a ‘statesman’ – or wasn’t seen as one before this campaign.  A campaign fought not on demonising a person (which he could easily have done), but on criticising the implications of past policy decisions is exactly the type of politics that I want to support.  Let’s stop attacking people on who their appearance, and instead focus on the content of their endeavours.

I admire his comments Nuclear disarmament; what’s the point in agreeing to fire second; at this point the game is up and we’ve already failed.

What JC has done for me is to put the people first in politics.  Since graduating from University, I’ve had to fight my way through an economy restricted by austerity.  Austerity put in place due to the fact that much of my generation’s tax receipts appear to have already been spent.  I don’t want to be sat here in 18 years time explaining to my children why we’re still stuck in austerity.  An economic policy for the term of a parliament doesn’t make sense; Osborne failed spectacularly at keeping his short-term promises.  I can’t go back and suggest that not having austerity would have been any way a better path – but for where we find ourselves today, we seriously need to consider a different approach.

This different approach shouldn’t be built on doing the opposite of austerity – but setting a very clear long-term vision for the country.  Can we put down a marker to say – “This is what we expect our society to look like in 2050” and making decisions to make progress towards that vision.  We also need to draw a line between macro and micro economics.  I’m not well read enough (yet!) on this subject (please suggest books for me to read in the comments) – but I’m anecdotally aware of the impact of viewing micro-economic policies through a macroeconomic lens – and this doesn’t work well.

I also think we need to review our ethical framework for progress.  Theresa May has been working to abolish the Human Rights Act – I think it needs extending.  We have already built technology that is ethically questionable, without any controls or even awareness of the full implications.  The standard technologist experimentation cycle of “build, measure, adapt” is no longer ethically sound when the subject of the experiment is the global population.  It always astounded me, having studied Psychology at University, that the experts’ hands are tied when it comes to experimentation, but an enthusiastic amateur could be more than capable of running far more dangerous experiments with no trained expertise.

At WebSummit last year I attended a panel on the ethics of humanoid robots, and the challenges they face due to the ‘humanoid’ element.  When you look at the mechanism through which you’ve communicated with your loved ones over the past few weeks, what % of that communication has been “humanoid = eg, face to face” versus “digital” – and when you consider your digital interfaces, how simply could the response have been a computer?

For all of this technological advancement, we need a long-term lens through which to review it, so we can make sure that we are continuing to build a society, and not take society for granted. We’ve lived through a period of immense relative stability, and we’re now starting to see the cracks appearing.  People often used the phrase “Standing on the shoulder of giants,” for the great advancements in this world.  What I feel at the moment is that we’re climbing up the giant’s back with pickaxes, damaging the fabric of the thing we’re supposed to be building upon, and breaking the backs of the giants beneath us.

The result of this election has left our government in the balance.  We don’t have a vision for our country, so we don’t know what Brexit looks like.  I’d ask all politicians to get ready to set out that long term vision before the next election is likely to be called so that we can all vote on the type of society we wish to live in.  I hope it’s a society that provides care for others, by investing in the NHS to allow it to continue to develop; a society that looks out for those who cannot helps themselves, and rewards those for helping others.  A society that can attract the very best, but also continues to give back to where the very best have come from.  Where we can develop new ideas, technologies and medicines, but for the benefit of those both within and without our borders; and where national pride isn’t limited to the pride that we feel for ourselves, but the respect and envy we receive from others.

Blockchain; gateway to cryptography?

“What is a blockchain?” is probably one of the most frequent questions I’ve had to answer in the last 12 months.  What makes it more difficult is the answer more often than not has to take into account the varied knowledge and experience of the inquirer.

I’ve got a reasonable background in understanding the cryptography ecosystem from my days at a systems administrator, and having to secure everything from PII through to credit card data.  What I am not though, is a cryptography expert.  It’s a perfect example of  where you can rely on the experiences and expertise of other people in the open source community, rather than mixing your own flawed implementation.

What I’ve realised is that Blockchain is pretty much a gateway to cryptography.  Many people up until now will have used the simple padlock system in the top left of the address bar as their only real exposure to cryptography; but with cyber attacks becoming more and more frequent, the tacit knowledge required for the average user probably needs to improve.

To that end; when people are now asking for me to explain blockchain so they can understand it; I sort of reverse the question.  The ‘distributed ledger’ is a pretty easy concept to explain with an append-only google docs spreadsheet.  Where I think the general knowledge starts to falter is on hashes.  I’m not going to cover it in this article, but looking up what one-way cryptographic hashes are is probably the first element of Blockchain 101.

Once you’ve got a grasp of what a hash is, it’s then worth understanding how to secure them. The simplest answer (in my experience) is to rely on someone with experience to tell you which is the best hashing strategy to use, and get them to cite the source for that decision.  Internet security is rapidly evolving, so the right answer 2 years ago is the wrong answer now, but in starting to understand how the answers are reached, even non-technical participants can start to look for warning signs on outdated cryptographic techniques.

The second thing that I suggest people then look at is the concepts of Merkle trees. You can use both of these principles to either create a daily hash of your accounts spreadsheet file, or a Merkle root of the file as a representation of a semi-manually computed blockchain.  Simply share/publish your calculation at the end of each day so another party has access, and you can begin to understand the trust mechanisms that operate once the system starts to scale up.

Finally, you end up with the genesis block (ironic that genesis is at the end of my explanation) – and understand that everything starts from an agreed ‘state’ – not necessarily 0.  Once these three concepts are covered, you should have a working knowledge of blockchain.  If there’s more you want to know (or disagree with me on) – please let me know in the comments.