Tag: privacy

The Unintended Consequences of the GDPR

Thursday, 17 May, 2018

The blogger Yeats, as opposed to the poet Yeats, might say that the “rough beast” of the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), “its hour come round at last,” slouches towards us to be born on 25 May. For Rainy Day, which runs on WordPress 4.9.5, this will have implications. Our hosting service, WP Engine, had this to say earlier today:

“With WordPress 4.9.6 coming this week, we will be seeing a few new features built around GDPR compliance. This release is different in that it is introducing new features in a Maintenance/Security update, and that it applies only to websites already running WordPress 4.9 and higher. While this is atypical of a release, it is important to include these new features because they provide an essential toolkit for handling GDPR compliance. We have weighed the risk in introducing these new features and since they are not manipulating or impacting existing WordPress features, we feel that this release is not only safe but also important in enabling you to make your site GDPR compliant.”

The Law of Unintended Consequences lays out three outcomes: Unexpected Benefit, Unexpected Drawback or Perverse Result. Which one the will the GDPR deliver? Well, the reality is that the EU can only enforce the GDPR against entities that do business in the EU. Any website hosted outside the EU doesn’t have to comply with the GDPR and the EU cannot compel China, say, to accept its notion of privacy. Companies that want to keep tracking users will either ban EU customers and visitors, or move outside the EU and do business elesewhere.

And, if a company’s servers are in the US and if it doesn’t have any EU assets, it can keep tracking EU visitors. Brussels can’t do anything about this because US courts are not going to uphold EU law against US citizens who have not broken US law. In other words, because the web is worldwide, one consequence of the GDPR will be the creation of a false sense of privacy.


“We’re building a world-size robot”

Monday, 20 March, 2017 0 Comments

So says Bruce Schneier, the cryptographer, security professional and privacy specialist. His robot alarm is expressed in a New York magazine piece with the very clickbait title “Click Here to Kill Everyone.” Schneier is worried about the Internet of Things (IoT)and says we should think twice about what we connect to the net and reverse the trend to connect everything to it. With the IoT, we’ve started building a world-size robot, he claims, but we haven’t stopped to think about how we might control it. Bottom line:

“The world-size robot we’re building can only be managed responsibly if we start making real choices about the interconnected world we live in. Yes, we need security systems as robust as the threat landscape. But we also need laws that effectively regulate these dangerous technologies. And, more generally, we need to make moral, ethical, and political decisions on how those systems should work. Until now, we’ve largely left the internet alone. We gave programmers a special right to code cyberspace as they saw fit. This was okay because cyberspace was separate and relatively unimportant: That is, it didn’t matter. Now that that’s changed, we can no longer give programmers and the companies they work for this power. Those moral, ethical, and political decisions need, somehow, to be made by everybody. We need to link people with the same zeal that we are currently linking machines. ‘Connect it all’ must be countered with ‘connect us all.'”

Some of these issues will be discussed this afternoon in Hannover by the CeBIT panel on The future of IoT and society/technology/policy. Participants include Kenichiro Yamanishi, Chairman, Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, Ammar Alkassar, CEO, Rohde & Schwarz Cybersecurity, and Henning Kagermann, Global Representative and Advisor Plattform Industrie 4.0.


WhatsApp: privacy vs. transparency

Wednesday, 6 April, 2016 1 Comment

“We live in a world where more of our data is digitized than ever before. Every day we see stories about sensitive records being improperly accessed or stolen. And if nothing is done, more of people’s digital information and communication will be vulnerable to attack in the years to come. Fortunately, end-to-end encryption protects us from these vulnerabilities.”

So say WhatsApp co-founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton in their latest blog post, which is about their decision to protect messages between WhatsApp users with an end-to-end encryption protocol so that third parties and WhatsApp cannot read them, meaning that the messages can only be decrypted by the recipient.

In light of the Panama Papers exposé, the debate about privacy vs. transparency has reached a new level. Would Mossack Fonseca have profited from end-to-end encryption of communications between their officers and clients? Public opinion suggests that the massive leak of the Panamanian law firm’s data is a civic benefit and that transparency is the greater good. Jan Koum and Brian Acton, however, are now promising that the end-to-end encryption protocol they’re deploying will make it impossible for “third parties” (police, journalists, etc.) to access chats, group chats, images, videos, voice messages and files on their platform. Given this, will it be possible for people to have a consistent position on privacy vs. transparency? Can both co-exist?

Update: privacy vs. transparency: Meet the ‘Drone Vigilante’ Who Spies on Sex Workers.


Apple, the FBI, terror and privacy

Tuesday, 23 February, 2016 0 Comments

“The San Bernardino litigation isn’t about trying to set a precedent or send any kind of message. It is about the victims and justice. Fourteen people were slaughtered and many more had their lives and bodies ruined. We owe them a thorough and professional investigation under law. That’s what this is.” So writes James Comey, the Director of the FBI, in a short opinion piece published in Lawfare.

Apple rebutted with an FAQ that addresses a variant of the “one-phone/one-time” question many people are asking: “Could Apple build this operating system just once, for this iPhone, and never use it again?” The answer:

“Law enforcement agents around the country have already said they have hundreds of iPhones they want Apple to unlock if the FBI wins this case. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks. Of course, Apple would do our best to protect that key, but in a world where all of our data is under constant threat, it would be relentlessly attacked by hackers and cybercriminals. As recent attacks on the IRS systems and countless other data breaches have shown, no one is immune to cyberattacks.”

Most Americans, however, don’t see it like that. They want to see this iPhone unlocked and their sympathy lies with the victims of the terrorists and not with Apple or those who are arguing the privacy case.

And this brings us to the bigger picture. As regular Rainy Day readers know, digital technology is expanding dramatically and the much-heralded Internet of Things (IoT) is on the way to making human-machine connectivity ubiquitous. Soon, every new home and apartment that’s built will come with embedded sensors, Bluetooth-enabled door locks and motion-activated security cameras. Family members will use their smartphones to manage domestic devices and appliances remotely; autonomous cars will be filled with digital technology, while wearable tech such as health trackers, augmented glasses and smart watches will record user activity. All of this will have a huge impact on privacy because these technologies could allow private and public agencies to monitor movement and interaction. That Samsung TV might be listening to family discussions, after all. Do people want governments, technology firms and insurance companies to have unlimited access to their homes, cars and personal life?

Seen from this perspective, the FBI is not just requesting a “back-door” into an iPhone; it’s establishing a precedent to capture and analyse a person’s data stream, regardless of the source. If the US concedes the human right to personal privacy, goes the argument, other nations will follow and Russia and China will use “security” to justify their authoritarian regimes. And the terrorists? They’ll continue to be early adopters, using the latest technologies to stay ahead of the law.

This just in: Bill Gates Is Backing the FBI in Its Case Against Apple


The Silicon Valley of the Squinting Windows

Wednesday, 26 February, 2014 0 Comments

It’s 1918 and The Valley of the Squinting Windows, a novel by Brinsley MacNamara and set in a fictional village in Ireland, is published. It tells of status anxiety, secrets, privacy and the power of gossip. The reaction is swift. The author’s schoolmaster father is boycotted and has to emigrate; there’s a high-profile court case brought by those who thought they had been described in the work and the novel itself is burned in public.

It’s 2014, and Nick Denton, the founder and owner of a string of gossip websites called Gawker Media, sits down to talk to Playboy. At a time when parents are spending sleepless nights worrying about what their kids are posting on Snapchat, when the NSA is said to be hoovering up all our data, when German newspapers are using Nazi-era caricatures to depict Facebook, when surveillance appears to be omnipresent, this is the right moment to talk about paranoia. Snippet:

DENTON: You could argue that privacy has never really existed. Usually people’s friends or others in the village had a pretty good idea what was going on. You could look at this as the resurrection of or a return to the essential nature of human existence: We were surrounded by obvious scandal throughout most of human existence, when everybody knew everything. Then there was a brief period when people moved to the cities and social connections were frayed, and there was a brief period of sufficient anonymity to allow for transgressive behavior no one ever found out about. That brief era is now coming to an end.

PLAYBOY: That doesn’t jibe with your other theory about how we’ll judge one another more kindly when we have no privacy. Human history is not a history of tolerance for deviation from the norm.

DENTON: You don’t think there was a kind of peasant realism? You hear these stories about a small town, seemingly conservative, and actually there’s a surprising amount of tolerance. “So-and-so’s a good guy. Who cares if he’s a pig fucker? His wife brought a really lovely pie over when Mama was sick.”

Denton is right, of course, in saying that small-town life is an open book, but he’s wrong in thinking that it’s available for all to read in the public library. Seen from the vantage point of the West Village, gossip is good, especially when it makes one rich and famous; seen from point of view of the normal villager, privacy is still worth protecting because life must be lived forwards, as Kierkegaard put it, and a lot of ugly stuff from the present and the past can get in the way of the future. Ours is now a global valley of squinting windows, but that does not mean that Nick Denton has the right to decide what should be public and what should not be private.

Note: Pope Francis has given his new cardinals a code of conduct that differs radically from the Denton principle: “no intrigue, gossip, power pacts, favoritism.” AP

Bavarian windows


“What hath night to do with sleep?”

Tuesday, 25 June, 2013 0 Comments

That’s what John Milton asked in Paradise Lost. Ichiro Tanaka, 45, who commutes daily to Tokyo from Kumagaya City in Saitama Prefecture, may never achieve Milton’s level of immortality but his Zukai: Densha Tsukin no Sakuho (An illustrated guide to accomplishing rail commuting) has the potential for posterity. Do not close the book you are reading, look out the window at the platform or make a phone call is his advice to seated passengers on how to avoid giving a false sense of hope to the standing masses that they’ll be getting your seat at the next station.

Tokyo Dreams, “a journey behind closed eyelids”, in which the British filmmaker Nicholas Barker “contemplates the stillness and vulnerability of his fellow passengers and wonders whether they will wake in time for their stop”, is an absorbing clip about sleeping commuters in Tokyo, but it does raise some disquieting questions about privacy. Are all our public appearances now fodder for the filmmaker? What right to solitude does the unconscious person have? And, importantly, what aspectbs of personal dignity remain within the control of the individual today?