Archive for the ‘tech’ Category
Public and private surveillance are in a curious symbiosis with each other.
A few weeks ago, the sociologist Janet Vertesi gave a talk about her efforts to keep Facebook from learning she was pregnant. Pregnant women have to buy all kinds of things for the baby, so they are ten times more valuable to Facebook’s advertisers.
At one point, Vertesi’s husband bought a number of Amazon gift cards with cash, and the large purchase triggered a police warning. This fits a pattern where privacy-seeking behavior has become grounds for suspicion. Try to avoid the corporate tracking system, and you catch the attention of the police instead.
As a wise man once said, if you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.
But there are also dangerous scenarios that don’t involve government at all, and that we don’t talk enough about.
I’ll use Facebook as my example. To make the argument stronger, let’s assume that everyone currently at Facebook is committed to user privacy and doing their utmost to protect the data they’ve collected.
What happens if Facebook goes out of business, like so many of the social networks that came before it? Or if Facebook gets acquired by a credit agency? How about if it gets acquired by Rupert Murdoch, or taken private by a hedge fund?
What happens to all that data?
[Great piece. Beautifully expresses so many of my worries about the current trend in technology.]
This is not building anything new — it’s discriminating and restricting what we already have.
This is not making anything faster — it’s allowing ISPs to selectively slow down traffic that they don’t strategically or financially benefit from, and only permit traffic from their partners to run at the speeds that everything runs at today.
It’s ostensibly the FCC’s job to see through this bullshit language and do what’s right for the country and the people, but only the fool who believed that ISPs are trying to build something beneficial here would believe that the FCC gives a damn about what’s best for American citizens.
And 52.9% of us were that fool for believing in another big, empty political marketing campaign.
[Our government is so biased.]
As a sharp-witted Be engineer liked to remark: “It costs more… But it does less.”
Carriers take too much money for a user-hostile experience simply because they can. In most locations, cable companies have little or no competition, so there’s no reason for them to do anything more than milk the most profit from a cheap infrastructure. As Apple Insider’s Neil Hughes reminds us, the user experience isn’t a priority for cable providers. Indeed, as I write this from Paris, I have to juggle set-top box restarts and malfunctioning secondary content subscriptions only reluctantly allowed by the main provider.
It doesn’t have to be that way. No miracle is required to make our Cable TV experience easy and gratifying.
[Maybe the Comcast deal is good one if they really want to be a technology company. They would grasp at the upside of delivering services this way and go nose to nose with Google, Apple, etc.]
For almost 20 years, AT&T, Verizon and the other big players have collected hundreds of billions of dollars through rate increases and surcharges to finance that ambitious plan, but after wiring the high-density big cities, they now say it’s too expensive to connect the rest of the country. But they’d like to keep all that money they banked for the project.
In 2010, the Federal Communications Commission announced the National Broadband Plan, which promised to provide 100 million American households with high-speed cable by 2020. Verizon has been expanding FiOS in major markets, and AT&T has been expanding its U-verse service. And now, instead of spending that war chest digging up streets and laying fiber cable, the cable and telephone companies have invested in a massive and very successful lobbying push. They are persuading state legislatures and regulatory boards to quietly adopt new rules—rules written by the telecoms—to eliminate their legal obligations to provide broadband service nationwide and replace landlines with wireless. This abrupt change in plans will leave vast areas of the country with poor service, slow telecommunications and higher bills.
This is good news if you own stock in Verizon, but very bad news if you have a small business that’s not in a city already wired up.
The federal government’s official broadband map shows vast areas of America still have little or no service, and many areas will never get it under the current plan. “Small business customers, people who work at home and rural communities across the country need to wake up before it is too late,” says Regina Costa, telecommunications research director for the Utility Reform Network in California. “Verizon and AT&T are aggressively moving to dump a large percentage of their landlines and force customers to wireless networks [that] are expensive, restrictive, incompatible with medic-alert services, less reliable for 911 calls and will not hold up during power outages—and in a lot of places wireless just won’t work.”
[It ought to be criminal, but it's nothing if not corrupt. I'm not a big fan of the Feds taking on projects, but this is one they should. Take the money back form the telcos that aren't interested, and like the rural telephone work, get the whole country wired with fiber. Probably can be done with a rounding error off the budget... how stupid can we be?]
Putting aside the particulars of Bitcoin, the potential it represents is absolutely a very big deal.
Bitcoin and the breakthrough it represents, broadly speaking, changes all that. For the first time something can be both digital and unique, without any real world representation. The particulars of Bitcoin and its hotly-debated value as a currency I think cloud this fact for many observers; the breakthrough I’m talking about in fact has nothing to do with currency, and could in theory be applied to all kinds of objects that can’t be duplicated, from stock certificates to property deeds to wills and more.
That’s not the case with Bitcoin though. Anticipating the amount of power that would be thrown at mining Bitcoin, Satashi Nakamoto built in a simple escalator that ensured new Bitcoin would be released about every 10 minutes no matter the amount of power being applied to mining/verification. This has effectively locked Bitcoin miners into a zero sum contest wherein greater and greater computing power serves only to steal opportunity from fellow miners; there is no corresponding increase in Bitcoin to be had.
[I remain unconvinced of Bitcoin as currency. But the uniqueness is interesting...]
Last year, Ars Technica gave three experts a 16,000-entry encrypted password file, and asked them to break as many as possible. The winner got 90% of them, the loser 62% — in a few hours. It’s the same sort of thing we saw in 2012, 2007, and earlier. If there’s any new news, it’s that this kind of thing is getting easier faster than people think.
[It's not going to get easier for a while...]
My brain almost exploded when I realized this. While 5G is a big leap in performance from existing 4G technology, it doesn’t provide any fundamentally new capabilities to us. Wireless power, though would be a total game-changer. What would the implications be?
- Consumer electronics that never need to be plugged in again – phones, tablets, laptops, televisions could all be powered wirelessly in the home and office.
- With transmission towers spaced every kilometer along major highways, electric cars would not need massive, expensive batteries. Everyone could afford a Tesla, and the demand for oil would drop.
- With transmitters on a few rooftops in a city, you could have drones and quadcopters delivering groceries and mail, again without heavy batteries that limit their flying time.
- You could build an electrical grid that’s a wireless mesh network, especially in developing countries, and have excess power from solar panels beamed to other locations which need it.
There are probably a slew of other ideas that I haven’t even considered – readers, please comment below!
[A potentially amazing new technology, even if all it allows is streaming of 4k programming. If Verizon wants to get involved in wireless over fiber (don't be fooled, they serve different needs) let's see them roll out some of this in an aggressive game changing way.]