Public Service Internet monthly newsletter (July 2021)

We live in incredible times with such possibilities that is clear. Although its easily dismissed seeing Amazon’s destroying unsold goodsICO’s concerns over facial recognition and Tiktok sneakily changing there privacy policy.

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 ethical ratings for fashion brandsthe introduction of the solar protocol and even Google has temporarily halted their privacy sandbox plans.


The future of the browser conference

Ian thinks: There is so much to take away from this community run conference, as I wrote in a blog. I’m sure you will find lots to take away too.

We know what you did last lock down

Ian thinks: The FT’s short black mirror like interrogation feels like drama but its all real and possible now with the cloud of always on IOT devices. Makes some seriously good points

Report those dark patterns

Ian thinks: The Electronic Frontier Foundation goes on the offensive asking you to report those dark patterns. Similar to what Mozilla and others have done too.

Vestager’s vision for the a digital Europe

Ian thinks: I highly recommend the Re:publica conference and seeing Margrethe Vestager again in her new role outlining her vision (with some tech hiccups) is good. I also recommend looking around the playlists to find other good talks including these audio essays and this talk about Silicon values.

Ian thinks: The ICO makes a big change to the EU cookie banner, interesting to hear the American tech view on this all.

When people can sit together

Ian thinks: Enabling physical public spaces with more thought and care for the community. You can’t help but smile and wish playful public spaces existed near you too.

Mozilla puts your data to use for a better society

Ian thinks: This is impressive, although not completely new there no better time to have a trusted company shepherding your data into good causes you choose.

Another internet outage, raises questions

Ian thinks: The outage of Fastly earlier this month has stoked fires about how centralised the internet is for lots of people. I personally didn’t notice much due to the decentralised services I use.

Social graph as a key to change?

Ian thinks: Every once in a while a start up makes some bold but well meaning claims. The notion of the social graph on a blockchain although not new is worth keeping an eye on to see where it goes.

Experience some fairly intelligent machine learning

Ian thinks: A.M. Darke’s piece makes all those silly harmless throw away decisions, very real by the end. There is also a Q&A hosted by the ODI well worth watching to understand more.


Find the archive here

Public Service Internet monthly newsletter (June 2021)

Mozilla's instagram adverts

We live in incredible times with such possibilities that is clear. Although its easily dismissed seeing Google’s new dermatology system wasn’t built with darker skin ,the relative landmass the big tech corps are taking in make believe maps and seeing Mob-rule encouraged by the Citizen app.

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 Google finally processing dark skin betterco-ops changing the gig economy and seeing the number of iOS 14.5 users taking back their privacy.


Digital inclusion in the UK

Ian thinks: OFCOM’s report highlights the importance of digital inclusion which most assume is pretty much over, judging by the general press coverage.

Mozilla on the transparency march

Ian thinks: Mozilla picks up where Signal and Facebook left off with creepy personalised adverts in Instagram. They also did a good job explaining the signals which are used in Youtube’s recommendation.

A Planetary-Scale, Pluralist and cooperative commonwealth for the Digital Economy

Ian thinks: Such a interesting read starting with an alternative to Amazon and ending up rethinking everything. This is the kind of thinking we need more of.

Thorp attempts to make a statement

Ian thinks: Our European friends in the publicspaces collation take on the messaging and (small S) social networking big tech giants with a new matrix based server service which promises to be exciting.

The public interest internet

Ian thinks: The Electronic Frontier Foundation starts a series of postings around the concept of the public interest internet. Similar in many ways to the public service internet I do believe.

The Knight institute asks us to Re-imagining the internet

Ian thinks: There were some good sessions and like most online conferences, you can catch up with everything. I normally would point at one or two but they were all worth watching.

Smart contracts or Smart coins?

Ian thinks: I’m always interested in whats possible with DID’s and smart contracts and this high level Identity talk around Chia raises many ideas for non-commercial use.

The stress of digital currency on our existing banking sector

Ian thinks: The economist outlines the massive power struggle going on with company digital money, p2p cryptocurrency and government backed Central Bank Digital Currency

Why Recapture is getting much harder for humans

Ian thinks: If the captures are annoying now, don’t worry because behavior recognition will judge us all, all the time. Feedback loops make this a reality forever more.

The opt out game

Ian thinks: Its rare I mention a game but this frustrating trip through opt-out web interfaces/dark patterns that we all loath so much, is worth it. Even I have to admit to not getting 5 of the opt-outs correct!


Find the archive here

We got to do better than this… Webcam covers

Camera cover on the new XPS13
How attractive on a new laptop

I agree this is a privileged thing but I got a replacement for my aging Dell XPS 13 work laptop. Another Dell XPS 13 but the updated version with much better support for Ubuntu. Its a great machine!

Dell XPS13 with that camera cover
My Dell XPS13 with that SD card, I mean camera cover sticking out

One thing I did look forward to was the new position of the webcam from the hinge alongside the keyboard. To the top of the screen like most laptops. There is a problem however, as the bezels get smaller the camera covers are not keeping up.

This isn’t just my new Dell XPS but also the Chromebook I got last year.

Chromebook camera cover sticking out
Looks like there is a SD card sticking out of my Chromebook

I gather there is sticker packs which don’t leave that usual glue stuff, which I’ll give a try but I certainly feel like I’m putting a plaster (literately) on a much deeper rooted problem. Camera should never be possible to enable without the light coming on full stop.

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

Bumble, their retention policy and my GDPR

Bumble launches "Dating Just Got Equal" campaign
I’m sure I have said this multiple times, I really want to like Bumble but every-time I try it again, I’m left with a bad after taste (like poor chocolate). I must learn dating apps don’t get better just worst.
Out of frustration, not with the people on the site (thats a whole different story). The mechanism was painful and annoying to say the least (not because of the females pick first).
So I deleted the app and requested my data from Bumble under GDPR law, as I have done for others previously.
Sent the request on 21st Jan, got the first reply on 23th Jan with the usual identity check. I replied on 24th Jan with the credentials which was made easy with my emails asking Bumble to change a profile element in late 2020. Then on 26th Jan I got this…
Hello,

Just to let you know, I have passed your email on to my supervisor here at Bumble who will get back to you as soon as possible.

We’re currently experiencing an incredibly high volume of emails, so it might take a little while longer than normal to get a response from a supervisor.

While we are working super hard to get to everyone, it may be tempting to send a chase regarding the status of your query. However, please bear in mind that we work on a queue-based system here. This means that sending an additional email may push your query further down in the queue and create a longer delay than we’d like.

Please know we haven’t forgotten about you and we really appreciate your patience during this busy time!

Joel
Bumble Feedback Team

Usually I would be on this like a hawk but I kind of forgot as I lost faith in OKCupid and others too. So Bumble sneaked under my radar till the 26th Feb when I finally received this email.
Hello,

Thank you so much for your patience in waiting for our response.

We’ve been dealing with an incredibly high volume of emails recently and have been working hard to get to your query.

Unfortunately, we are unable to proceed with your request as it appears as though your account was deleted more than 28 days ago.

In line with our retention policy, we begin to erase or anonymise your information upon the deletion of your account, following the safety retention window.

Please see our Privacy Policy for more information about how we use your data and your rights. You can read more about our privacy policy at: https://bumble.com/privacy

Please note that this only pertains to the profile registered to the email address you’ve contacted us from. If you have any profiles registered on Bumble with different contact details, please contact us using the relevant methods linked to those accounts.

Hila
Bumble Feedback Team

This answer absolutely drove me to rage because Bumble are hiding behind their retention policy. The only reason their retention policy kicked in is because they left it over 28 days. Its outrageous and I’m not standing for it.

I have given them 3 days to change their stance before I report them to the ICO. Although I still didn’t hear anything else from the ICO about Houseparty.

Expect to hear more soon!

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

Amazon halo…be afraid be very afraid

There is so much I wanted to say about the Amazon Halo health/fitness tracker. The Twit.tv video above pretty much sums up my thoughts. I haven’t read through the halo privacy policy yet, but others are picking bit out already.

Amazon Halo privacy concerns

Wherever there are body scans, always-on microphones and a tech giant in the same service, there’s bound to be security concerns. Amazon knows this, and has already outlined what privacy will look like for future Halo users.

Halo health data is encrypted in transit and in the cloud, and sensitive data, like body scan images, are deleted once processed. Meanwhile, voice analysis is processed entirely on the user’s smartphone and deleted after. Nothing is recorded for playback — users can’t even listen to their own speech samples.

All Amazon Halo data can be managed and deleted in the Halo app. Your Halo account is also separate from your Amazon Prime one, so anyone you share your Prime account with won’t be able to access your private health information.

This for me is one of the things people in the Quantified Self movement were always worried about.

Do you trust Amazon with this much personal data?
Whats the actual pay off?
Is it all actually worth it?

Then you have to ask the question what makes it different from other quantified self devices and systems?

Signal what are you up to?

I love Signal and never used Whatsapp because of many reasons included in this great opinion piece. Its gotten better and better but the recent pin number is a worry. I’m not the only one.

“Notably, things we don’t have stored include anything about a user’s contacts (such as the contacts themselves, a hash of the contacts, any other derivative contact information), anything about a user’s groups (such as how many groups a user is in, which groups a user is in, the membership lists of a user’s groups), or any records of who a user has been communicating with,” Signal wrote in 2016.

That, according to critics, has now changed.

“They should have a dumb network that knows nothing because it can’t be compromised then,” The Grugq told Motherboard. “[Having contacts] is a lot. It isn’t messages, sure. But I don’t like it. I don’t want them to have anything. Make the networks dumb and the clients smart.”

I do understand why they have done it, but I don’t know where its going next. Marlnspike (head dev of Signal) replies.

Marlinspike defended the decision to enable PINs and give users a way to migrate to a new device and keep certain data, and will increase the security of users’ metadata, “new features Signal users have been asking for.”

“The purpose of PINs is to enable upcoming features like communicating without sharing your phone number. When that is released, your Signal contacts won’t be able to live in the address book on your phone anymore, since they may not have phone numbers associated with them,” Marlinspike told Motherboard. “For most users, this also increases the security of their metadata. Most people’s address book is syncing with Google or Apple, so this change will prevent Google and Apple from having access to your Signal contacts.”

Smartphone use
Photo by Gilles Lambert on Unsplash

The changes Signal has made show how there can be a tension between messenger usability and feature set and security. It’s too early to say whether you should stop using the messenger. For most users’ threat models, it’s still one of the best options. But one of the key things that set Signal apart—that it collects almost no information about its users, appears to be changing.

Convenience is the enemy of security and I would say privacy. I wouldn’t be surprised if signal gets forked.

It was always clear to me Twitter direct messages was never secure in anyway, hence why I tried to move private conversations over to another medium. If thats not email or signal what else? Recently I have been looking at a couple others…

Session which is decentralised messaging and Criptext, which is actually secure email. Both need work but have decent security.

The Houseparty is over, time for the GDPR to kick in the front door?

houseparty gdpr request email

I requested my GDPR personal data from Houseparty/Epic games over a 2 months ago when I signed up under my spam email and slight social pressure from friends. I read the privacy policy and almost spat out my tea.

However I found I could use houseparty in a clean browser (chromium) – app.houseparty.com. as there was absolutely no way I was going to install the app on my pixel phone. After trying to play a game with friend I found the video worked but not the actual game.

As we moved on to using boardgamearena.com. I decided I wanted to delete my account and got interested to know how much data they had collected about me in my short time in houseparty.

Outcomes my GDPR request, I send it to data-requests@lifeonair.com and nothing. I resend it to support@houseparty.com and get my response. Back and forth then finally…

Houseparty Support

May 08, 2020, 20:46 +0100

Hello Ian,

Thank you for your response.

I’m glad that you’ve reached us regarding your request. We received your data request. Our team is working on pulling the data, and you will receive your data within 30 days.

Please feel free to contact us if you need any further assistance.

Regards,
Romeo Tango

As you see can see the date of May 8th was 34 days ago and yes I get Covid19 but I’m not expecting the much data back. Unless there is a ton coming my way?

Either way I’m annoyed at being messed around at the start and also them not taking it seriously. I’m still not convinced Romeo Tango is real to be honest.

ICO submission

So enough, I’ll let the ICO deal with it all.

 

I lost all trust for Zoom yesterday…

British PM on Zoom
Wonder how many people have tried to dial into that zoom id?

Yesterday I was on a zoom call which was hijacked or zoombombed with something not just horrible but totally illegal. Because of this I have pretty much lost all trust in zoom.

This is of course very difficult as its what we use at work and of course being in the middle of the covid19 lockdown, makes things tricky. Because of this, I’m going to still use it but with much more caution and I’m going to be a lot more forceful about the hosting side of it.

Its clear war-dialers for public Zoom meetings is so easy and well used by inscrutable groups of people. Zoom could make sharable links much more difficult to war dial, similar to the way Google docs uses combinations of characters and numbers to make a much longer url, a lot harder to war-dial.

The defaults of Zoom, is setup for a semi trusted corporate environment. I understand the covid-19 pandemic changed everything but there has been many updates and only now is the defaults only just safe. Their share prices have rocketed but they are only now focused on security ahead of more features?

Their idea of end to end encryption is a total dump on top of the security findings saying some calls are being routed via China.. Today they announce you can choose your routing but you need to pay for it. More governments and companies are blocking zoom because they just don’t trust it.

Likewise neither do I… but I will use it… with caution.

I have been thinking about an equivalent, and thought about two.

  1. I lost trust in Facebook a long while ago but still use it for volleyball events and the occasional post about something I feel could be important for friends, family and the public who don’t read my blog (as its posted on the internet already, I post publicly adopting the indieweb Posse approach, much to the surprise of some friends). For example I posted what happened on zoom yesterday there today.
    Facebook was hardly trustworthy to start with and over and over again they took the living daylights with our data.
  2. There was a point when Windows Vista pushed as the step/edition of Windows XP and I didn’t like what Microsoft had done to it. To be fair I didn’t trust them and saw shadows of where things were heading. So I switched to Ubuntu.I know the new Microsoft is quite different of course but the damage was done.

If you are hosting a Zoom call, please do lock it down theres a number of guides to help including this one.

Dropping Rescuetime for ActivityWatch

Activity Watch logo

I tend to weigh up different systems and applications I use every once in a while. Especially weighing up the benefits to me.

One such application is Rescue time.

I used it in the past and over the last few months reinstalled it again. However this time I tried to automate the reports out of the free account and pretty much failed. The only way I could really do it is if I paid for the pro account at the cost of (a discounted) $6.75 per month.

So enough I thought… A little look around alternative to and decided to give Activity Watch a try.

ActivityWatch is an app that automatically tracks how you spend time on your devices.

It is open sourceprivacy-firstcross-platform, and a great alternative to services like RescueTime, ManicTime, and WakaTime.

It can help you keep track of time spent on different projects, kick bad screen habits, or just understand how you spend your time.

Its pretty good and doesn’t drain my laptop while watching my laptop. Of course being local and under my control only, I don’t really need to worry so much about whats collected. You can of course limit things as you go, turn off tracking or just delete the data any time.

I have it on my Dell XPS laptop and on my work phone and its good except one thing. Currently there is no sync server, so each device has its own server. But they are working on this… Once they do, I’ll likely install it on my server and put the client on more of my devices.

The other thing I’m hoping for is to see more use of the stopwatch activity watch bucket (buckets are the pools of data collected). Since Project hamster is currently being rethought and I like to track my work progress alongside my activity.

As a whole the project has a lot of potential and worth the wait I hope for the features expressed above.

Public Service Internet monthly newsletter (Oct 2019)

Carole Cadwalladr & Paul-Olivier Dehaye's deep dive into the great hackCarole Cadwalladr & Paul-Olivier Dehaye's deep dive into the great hack

We live in incredible times with such possibilities that is clear. Although its easily dismissed by looking down at our feet or at the endless twitter fighting.

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 Matt Mullenweg’s comments about a open and diverse web after buying tumblr.

Don’t forget if you find this useful, you will find “Public Spaces, Private Data: can we build a better internet?” at the RSA London on 21st October  2019, right up your street.

 

Watching the labrats scurrying away

Ian thinks: Recently read Labrats book after seeing Dan Lyons at Thinking Digital. Its quite a raw insider view on silicon valley culture, the laughable and the horrific sides in equal lashings.

The Great Hack Workshop from Mydata 2019

Ian thinks: This was one of the highlights of Mydata 2019. Carole Cadwalladr & Paul-Olivier Dehaye’s deep dive into the build up to the great hack was fascinating. Lots of useful resources were revealed.

Are Boris Johnson’s PR People Manipulating Google Search?

Ian thinks: True or not, our dependence on a single search engine/service makes any potential manipulating even more impactful.

Ted Nelson on Hypertext, Douglas Englebart and Xanadu

Ian thinks: Its always amazing to see pioneers who narrowly missed out pushing concepts which were too early, but could come back.

Look out here comes the hyperledgers

Ian thinks: More ledger/blockchain projects to power your projects than you can shake a stick at. Very happy at least some are open-source.

ReasonTV’s look at the Decentralised web

Ian thinks: I was expecting something light touch but having Cory Doctorow mainly interviewed means its got some depth.

Etiquette and privacy in the age of IoT

Ian thinks: Etiquette tends to be forgotten in the advancement of  technology. I don’t consider it rude to shut off a Alexa, I’m sure others will disagree.

Tipping etiquette set by user interface

Ian thinks: Talking about etiquette, very interesting to see norms set by user interface design decisions. Obviously set to benefit the company but its stuck now.

Exploiting technology or exploited by technology?

Ian thinks: Curious tale, but it does raise a question about digital access and backups. Least we forget about power and when things go technically wrong.