Users Aren’t Always the Best Judges of Risk

As is the case with lots of categories of news, little in the mainstream tech journalism follows the really important stories. More often, coverage focuses on new product announcements and sensationalism. One important topic, however, does appear frequently in mainstream tech news, namely privacy. There is broad awareness that our new digital lifestyle brings with it a host of potential problems in keeping ourselves at our information secure. Poor management of privacy and information use by some of the industry’s biggest players (like Google), recent congressional debates on the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) and Facebook’s impending IPO have kept these issues in the limelight.

But, of course, there will always be people who push back against prevailing winds.  Reflecting on some Talks that he recently attended, Steve Wildstrom suggests that the over-arching angle in the effort to deal (updated) with privacy is misplaced.

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Innovation and Failing the Customer

One of the key problems with innovating is that you frequently run into problems that were totally unforeseen. That’s why engineering practice—driven my robust professional ethics commitments—require that systems be tested and reevaluated both during the creation phase and after deployment in order to catch problems as they arise. This process drives companies to do physical product recalls and software updates. Innovation requires thoughtful consideration of possibilities, good and bad. It also requires a boatload of humility, because you will make mistakes.

Failing to account adequately for unforeseen consequences is one thing. Failing to account for known negative consequences is something altogether different.

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Seriously? Transparency Isn’t Our Strong Suit

From Canadian copyright expert Michael Geist:

[United States Trade Representative] Ambassador Ron Kirk has responded to a letter signed by dozens of legal academics (I signed on) expressing concern with the lack of transparency associated with the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations. Kirk says he is “strongly offended by the assertion that our process has been non-transparent and lacked public participation.”

Ah, you have to love the rhetoric. A couple of years ago, President Obama refused to make public the ACTA antipiracy legislation that he was working out with European countries, citing national security interests. People found out about it only through leaks. The SOPA/PIPA legislation made it to the floors of the House and Senate without the public knowing about it. When people found out, the only possible way to do “public commment” was a massive online campaign, including taking sites like Wikipedia dark in protest. The CISPA legislation was passed by the house last month in a rush before anyone had a chance to contact their representatives. On the face of it, these seem to support the plain sense meanings of both “non-transparent” and “lacking in public participation”.

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It’s a Problem With Law, Not Technology

Early pioneers of cyberspace reveled in the anonymity and potential.  The feeling of “wild west” style lawlessness was a bit of a rush—all that space and no one to answer to.  That was then…

but this is now. If you are under any impression that things are still like that, check out some of the stories circulating lately on the FBI’s desire for a “wiretap ready” web.  Back in February, FBI general counsel Valerie Caproni complained that criminals no longer used the technologies that law enforcement could legally intercept.  As a result, it is easy for criminals to “go dark” and avoid the kind of surveillance in the analog world that is routinely used to catch criminals before the act.

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Helping Future Brits Breath Easier

So far, the tech and media news from the London Olympics has been about streaming media (all of it, all the time) and sponsor branding police (all of it, all the time). Now, there’s much cooler news that researchers are going to use the Olympics as an occasion to plan for air pollution.

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Yes, But It’s Never Gonna Happen

Andrew Feinberg at Hillicon Valley reported that the media watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has asked the Commerce committees in the House and Senate to hold hearings on whether or not the broadcast licenses for Fox should be revoked. As it turns out, there is a “character clause” in the FCC’s public spectrum licensing agreement that requires that license holders (persons, conglomorates, or corporations) must be citizens of good character. Essentially, if you are going to get to broadcast on the public airwaves, you have to be the kind of person who can reasonably be trusted to serve the public interest.

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