Public Service Internet monthly newsletter (Mar 2021)

traveling with a passport and boarding pass

We live in incredible times with such possibilities that is clear. Although its easily dismissed, hearing Bill Maher rip through a bunch of websites and people looking for new ways to track users now 3rd party tracking is on its way out?

To quote Buckminster Fuller “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

You are seeing aspects of this with more nuanced privacy depth being discussed, participating in Mozilla’s challenges moment and hearing Solana talk through the internet health report.


The background story of Tony Abbotts boarding pass

Ian thinks: We all heard the story about the former Australian minster who was hacked after posting his boarding pass on instagram but here is the incredible background story, told by the hacker.

Vaccine passports are not as simple as the media are suggesting

Ian thinks: Heather gives plain and clear reasons why vaccine passports are not the panacea its being made out to be. Its also great to hear Lillian Edwards framework mentioned (May 2020 newsletter) as a way forward.

Gamestop? Rethinking the whole rigged system

Ian thinks: Douglas Rushkoff’s monologue about gamestop needs a listen for a different view, but stay around for the interview with Yaël, previous head of political advertising at Facebook. She tells all and I like the approach of trying to fix it before criticising.

Lets talk about Sharenting

Ian thinks: Shareting is when parents share their kids photos and private information without their consent. Its become a real problem now the millennials are growing up with a digital footprint without knowing.

How Facebook joined the splinter-net while Google throw the open web under the bus?

Ian thinks: Hearing about the absolute mess over news in Australia, its easy to point fingers. But its important to look deeper at whats really happening for the sake of profits not people. I’m with Shoshana Zuboff and others, but I know many people get their news from these massive corps.

A big step for gigworkers, but lets be diligent of next steps

Ian thinks: The Uber case is great news but in a similar legal play to Facebook & Google with Australia, there might be more going on that most are reporting? We got to look a little deeper as monopoly is Uber’s end game.

Ian thinks: This is a devious way to force a take-down of a live stream or any recorded footage. Theres got to be a better way and I think its related to using alternative platforms or self hosting with syndication.

The centralisation of power is the problem

Ian thinks: I like this summary of so many of the problems with Facebook, but it misses the important point of centralisation. It also highlights Noam Cohen’s quote “Mark Zuckerberg is deluded by his own faith in Facebook’s ability to be a force for good in the world”

Public value and purpose into the future

Ian thinks: Mariana is on fire and this summary of work around the BBC puts value under a microscope. I love this line “Value is not just the income generated at the end of the innovation chain–– it is also the creative input at the upstream end, the vital investment in talent, content creation, digital innovation and R&D at the early stages

Google fires another outspoken AI research, who will be next?

Ian thinks: Margaret Mitchell and Timnit Gebru show there is something going on with Google AI research. It doesn’t take a lot to guess what is actually going on behind close doors.


Find the archive here

Schedule messages on Android

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Happy to see Google messages getting schedule messages at long last. Its been a long time in coming after Gmail’s schedule send last year.I have been using the beta and enjoying sending messages at 1am for a quite some time now.

Be great if Signal also added scheduling, although I did buy tasker to solve the scheduling of text and signal but haven’t sat down and played with it yet.

Could a Estonian PO Box help to keep data on European servers?

old EU map showing GDPR affected countries
Obviously in 2021, the UK will not be part of Europe any more

When we leave the EU in the new year, its clear almost all the American corps will shift UK data from their European servers to American ones. Not only because of cost but GDPR is a pain for them (boohoo).

Facebook are not the only ones, (Google too) but I certainly am considering removing a lot of data from Facebook before this happens. I already moved a lot out of google over the year. But I’m also considering  maybe its time to get that Estonian PO Box address?

I have been weighing up options and it seems all possible.

First I spotted there is a PO Box service for Estonia e-residents. It does seem to mean setting up a business however? Something I’ve been thinking about for a good 10+ years.  Its currently 10 euros a month

Spotted someone on Reddit who was just looking to set up a PO Box a couple years ago.

Registering a P.O Box in Estonia? from Eesti

If I find other options or anyone knows other ways, do comment or tweet me.

Still not 100% that Google, Facebook, etc will accept the PO box but its worth it at least to document it for others thinking the same.

 

 

Apple and their form of privacy

Apple's smug new iPhone ad says privacy matters, just ...

Ummmm right…

I get Apple are more private about data than others like Google (which pings Android phones so much people are suing for data charges) but there is something about misplaced trust with Apple which always bugs me. These latest adverts and recent news stories say it all.

Downloads outage down issues which is all around Apples Gatekeeper privacy and Apple’s latest OS update Big sur network traffic bypass.

Of course this is all clear reasons why I’m very much in the open source camp. Maybe I won’t understand the code, but someone will and can inspect it or track down the issue without signing an NDA. I urge for people to not blindly trust. Always look out for open code, zero-knowledge security, no logging, transparency, etc

Public Service Internet monthly newsletter (Oct 2020)

the social dilemma

We live in incredible times with such possibilities that is clear. Although its easily dismissed seeing the endless press about Bytedance’s tiktok distracting us from the more important developments.

To quote Buckminster Fuller “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

You are seeing aspects of this happening with people rethinking systems they are using such as Zoom for Education and android without google.


The net of a thousand lie in full

Ian thinks: Cory pretty much covers Surveillance Capitalism but then turns to focus on the problem of monopolies as the heart of the problem. He’s got a real point which he builds very nicely on throughout this free book. I know Cory’s kickstarter for the next little brother book could do with some support too.

The start of a manifesto for digital autonomy?

Ian thinks: This sums up a lot of the issues people have with technology today by seeking to empowering people, focus on privacy by design, increase legibility and avoiding lock-in. Its version 0.1, and can learn more in their talk.

Mozilla CEO urges EU Commission to double down on a better internet

Ian thinks: Mozilla’s interest in Europe is clear to see. The recommendations from Mitch Baker are well reasoned although I haven’t heard much since. One to watch for the future.

Ransomware isn’t just painful its a killer

Ian thinks: Its clear the ransomware wasn’t deliberately sent to kill but the death in Germany does raise a possible scary future. Man slaughter, murder, what would you call this?

The thriving and wilting worlds

Ian thinks: Been recently discovering Anand Giridharadas and this brave talk to the wealthy Aspen Institute criticising them is where his book winner takes all started.

How Tiktok works and how it fits with the splintered internet

Ian thinks: I wasn’t going to talk about Tiktok but I found this Vox video documentary raised much deeper profound questions about the splinternet.

Refreshing look at Citizenship

Ian thinks: Its always refreshing to hear important discussions in different places. Citizenship discussed on the guilty feminists podcast is a mix of fun and deeper conversations. Well worth listening to, always but especially this one.

New open source tool for Tracking Disinformation

Ian thinks: Mozilla are regulars in my public service internet notes and for good reason. The Social Media Analysis Toolkit (SMAT) could be extremely powerful to shine a light on the social dilemma we all face looking at in our timelines. On a related note is data futures lab launch.

Our social dilemma?

Ian thinks: Good Netflix documentary, however I felt like it wasn’t as good as the HBO’s after truth. The family sections make it more tangible but I felt the dilemma was being told the problem by creators and investors of the problems. Problematic? I’m not the only one. Also worth listening to Team Humans writer Douglas Rushkoff’s thoughts too.


Find the archives here

The/our social dilemma documentary

The social dilemma

I just watched the social dilemma.

I have to say its actually very well produced and gets the points across in a way which I feel might actually cause some thought. We have heard this before in many different places but I liked the family story which gave it some well needed context. Although it does go maybe a bit too far in the story. Heck I was wondering if the son was about to get himself a gun…

My only really issue is its very American focused except Myanmar which received a short segment. The insiders don’t reflect the diversity of wider society but of course that speaks volume. But Cathy O’Neil said it best,

Do we really want to hand this problem over to technologists who helped create this problem?

Unfortunately that kind includes the well meaning Tristan Harris and many others on the documentary. Its interesting who isn’t in the documentary, such as people like Douglas Rushkoff, Doc Searls, Clay Shirky, etc.

Is it the business model, is it the economic model, shareholder value, lack of governmental pressure, legal regulation, monopolistic practices, undemocratic markets? Or is it actually a bit of all of them?

So its a 7/10 its good but I feel After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News (2020) has the edge.

I guess the biggest question is what happens next? Will people actually act after seeing the documentary? Thats the big question.

Little note: I enjoyed the older sister reading The Age of Surveillance Capitalism on the sofa. I didn’t spot Cathy’s Weapons of math destruction and there was attribution to Natasha Schüll’s Addicted by design

Epic games serves up some 1984 on the app stores

 

Epic battle unfolds

Its been a Epic (Pun intended) battle going back and forth for Epic games and the app stores (Apple & Google).

For mobile developers the 30% cut has been a talking point for a long while but the fact you can’t use other payment systems really put the foxes in the hen house. I won’t get into details as there are others which do a much better job. I love this timeline

But I found the Fortnite 1984 trailer absolutely spot on. Pointing directly at Apple and their classic 1984 advert.  Although to be fair like most big companies, Epic isn’t clean in this area but the monopoly & closed doors of the app stores is a big deal. Its very clear Epic games planned the lawsuit, the 1984 and the trigger event in a perfectly planned check move (chess).

Shall we get the popcorn ready for this clash of the titans?

Regardless of what happens, I’m sure mobile developers will massively benefit from Epic pulling the trigger. Of course many other big names have also jumped in behind Epic.

Google silently puts a knife into the Pixel 4

The view of the red moon through my window
Shot on a Google Pixel4 through my living room glass with nothing special

The Google pixel 4A looks like a really good phone and reminds me of the Nexus 5x in price and style. I won’t lie, the battery size and onboard storage certainly impressive compared to the Pixel4.

I’m still impressed with the Pixel4’s camera and its still good for me so far. But I noticed its currently leaving me with 50% battery at the end of the day. Its ok but remember I’m not really going out much at the moment. No idea what it would be like when I’m out and about again?

Its clear to me, that although I like the Pixel range, I would go for something like the One plus phone next time around. I mean look at the Pixel4a vs the Oneplus Nord?

One decision I have made is I will most likely this time around fit a new battery in the next 9 months. No idea why I didn’t do it for the Pixel2.

 

Why NHS’s world-beating app was always a going to be awful but 10+ million!

Contact tracing api
Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

Even if you forget the thoughts are coming from a ex-googler who has interests elsewhere this blog is pretty damming and I  can imagine how the NHS really bought their own nonsense about it being world beating. Of course in the end they had to back pedal and use the Google & Apple decentralised contact tracing api.

But there are parts even I was shocked at…

It worked 4% of the time.

Thats not even funny, its not just unreliable but a total waste of time. Even if thats exaggerated, double would still be a bad joke at 8%

The British effort did find workarounds that most other developers could not: They used “keepalives” (messages sent by one device to another) to circumvent restrictions on having apps in the background on iOS. Notifications were sent between two Apple devices running the app to keep the connection between the devices alive and therefore having the ability to detect each other’s keys. The NHS tried to develop with a hacker’s mentality and shared its progress through its GitHub page.

There is a reason why keepalives are a bad idea, battery is one of the number one reasons why people find their smartphones deeply frustrating. Having a app keeping the system awake is just a terrible news. Although I assume as most people are staying at home, they will be closer to a charger at least

in May it was reported by the Financial Times that the British government was simultaneously exploring a solution with Apple and Google’s decentralized system as a backup, indicating that, even within the government, there were doubts that the centralized effort could work.

And this is when I heard they were testing both systems, leading to the fact they were going to drop the centralised app soon. This would be fine but…

The development of the app has taken months and cost millions of pounds from taxpayers…

…around $15 million spent…

I have no words to sum how I feel about the UK government throwing this money down the drain in the middle of a pandemic where people are losing their jobs and dying. Its not just wasteful, its incredibly disgraceful and pretty much sums up the UK government right now.

Flokk contacts app

I recently gave flokk a run on my laptop as a snap. I was surprised how different a concept it is and also the decisions they made.

Its simply a google contact manager but its focused around social. Its not perfect but I wasn’t sure about it at first, I didn’t want to enter in additional information if it wasn’t actually syncing with my google contacts. I checked and all the details I entered into my contacts were correctly synced and not dumped into additional data. They were!

Quite a few friends have complained that I don’t follow them on twitter. This is a really neat way to see what they up.

Its got some work to do on the contact management but as a social tool its good. Currently it only supports Twitter and Github but I can imagine Mastodon could be easily added in the future. I know Facebook would be interesting for other people too I guess.

Looking at flutter more and more now

I may reconsider getting a Google home mini now

Google local apk diagram

When I got my Pixel 2 it came with a Google home mini. I decided I would give it a shot so other people can control the Hue lights in my flat.

However I was deeply disappointed to find I could only make it work if I open up two holes in my firewall, allowing Google Home mini to talk to Google then Google talking to Philips who then talk through my other hole in my firewall to my Hue lights!

Even saying the above is a clear sign of how stupid the whole thing is…

So annoyed I sold it straight away. But it looks like I wasn’t the only one who fed back to Google how stupid this all was and early last year they included some code in their SDK to include local access.

Now it looks like its ready and I noticed Philips Hue and TPlink are one of the first lot of services to support this.

If this works as it says I may buy a Google home mini or I noticed the Google home hub is going for half price right now. Of course I’ll make sure the firewall stay closed and will be watching how people find the local access. What a field day people will have if Google screw this one up…!

Only 5 months later and face unlock is fixed

Its one of those things which I wasn’t happy about with my Pixel4. Who on earth over looked the fact you could use the face unlock without your eyes open! It doesn’t take a lot to think about the abuses including spouses with trust issues.

Finally over the last few days Google rolled out a fix which requires your eyes open if you enable it! Only 5 moths later

It was the first thing I did when I installed the update. Till that point I’ve been enabling lockdown mode when going through sensitive areas like airport security

Any interest in buying a HP Chromebook 14?

I finally got my Pixel reward, a HP Chromebook 14.

Its taken 4 months to reach me and I’m wondering if its worth it, but its going up on ebay pretty soon. It will be in its original box, untouched, unused and If anyone is interested do get in touch. Otherwise I’ll post the ebay link soon.

I have sold the untouched chromebook sorry…

Do I agree to Google’s new privacy terms?

Google's new privacy termsGoogle is making some changes to its privacy terms and is urging us to read them.

We know it’s tempting to skip these Terms of Service, but it’s important to establish what you can expect from us as you use Google services, and what we expect from you.

I’m slowly making my way through the terms but one thing I’m certainly going to do is related to the location of my data in googles data centres.

I’m not down with this part… I understand why they would do it but in the same way I voted to stay within a block of countries with harden data privacy laws. I need to personally do something.

Because of this I’m switching away from Gmail and deleting lots of archived emails. I’m also going to start using encryption more with google drive. I have been a bit lazy with this all, weighing up the balance of convenience and effort. Google provide a lot of useful things to me, but I think its time to move some more critical parts way, starting with email.

So I’m torn between Protonmail and Tutanota but also been looking at others.

/e/OS: The beauty of open source

/e/os on a phone

I was quite impressed with the /e/OS project. I hadn’t really heard of it before but as I’m considering the balanced of google service and data in my life; especially with the plans to move UK citizens data/accounts outside the EU.

Taking the AOSP Android Open Source project and removing all the google parts is quite impressive. A real testament to the power of open source.

The interview with itsfoss is a good read, starting off with the question of what and why

Why did you create this Eelo or /e/ project in the first place?

Gael: In 2017, I realized that using Android and iPhone, Google and many mobile apps was not compatible with my personal privacy.

A later study by a US University confirmed this: using an iPhone or and Android phone sends between 6 to 12 MB of personal data to Google servers, daily! And this doesn’t count mobile apps.

So I looked for reasonable alternatives to iPhone and Android phones but didn’t find any. Either I found options for hobbyists, like Ubuntu Touch, that were not compatible with existing apps and not fully unGoogled either. Or there were alternative ROMs with all the Google fat inside, and no associated basic online services that could be used without tweaking the system.

Therefore, an idea came to mind: why not fork Android, remove all the Google features, even low level, such as connectivity check, DNS…, replace default apps with more virtuous apps, add basic online services, and integrate all this into a consistent form that could be used by Mum and Dad and any people without tech or expert knowledge?

I’d be interesting in what apps run on the operating system, as Google really have embedded Play services into everything now. When I first got my recent e-reader, it came with its own app store till you enable play services. That store was super small but it doesn’t have to be that way if you look at F-droid for example.

If I still had my Nexus 5x, I would likely give /e/os a try. I could run it on my Nexus 5 I guess but the screen is maybe too broken.

I have been thinking, following my use of Firefox multiple account containers use. Maybe something of a mashup of Blackberry’s Android profiles (anyone remember this?) and Firefox containers.

This certainly feels like a design challenge which could be massively beneficial to many, and showcase the beauty of opensource