Tag: encryption

Allo, Allo, Allo: Productivity vs. Privacy vs. Pizza

Wednesday, 5 October, 2016 0 Comments

“The last 10 years have been about building a world that is mobile-first, turning our phones into remote controls for our lives. But in the next 10 years, we will shift to a world that is AI-first, a world where computing becomes universally available — be it at home, at work, in the car, or on the go —and interacting with all of these surfaces becomes much more natural and intuitive, and above all, more intelligent.” Sundar Pichai, Google CEO, yesterday.

The occasion was the announcement of the gorgeous new Pixel phone with its in-built artificial intelligence assistant. But there’s a price to be paid for the beauty and the smarts because AI will enable tech companies to gather even more information about us, and our data will be less protected than ever.

Allo, Allo, Allo

Google’s AI apprentice, which beavers busily inside the new messaging app Allo, will answer questions about sports, the weather, or for directions to the nearest café. Pichai pointed out yesterday that this is just the beginning. Google’s AI will learn about our preferences to better present personalized results and to answer more specific questions. It will get smarter, faster and more accurate every day. It will never rest.

Pixel To do this, it will gather data, endlessly. The places you visit, the foods you prefer, your thoughts about Trump will be collected. It can do this only by accessing all the information on everything stored on the phone, and it can also access “content on your screen”. To provide more accurate recommendations, the AI must gather and analyse our data, but for this to happen, our messages need to be unencrypted. Yes, Google offers best-of-breed encryption within Allo, but if you turn on encryption, you turn off the AI.

Here’s the reality: to stay competitive, the tech giants will have to provide AI-powered assistants. This is an arms race and the choice is fight or flight. Facebook’s Messenger also has opt-in encryption that’s regarded as the gold standard, but if users want to call an Uber from within the app, their messages have to be unencrypted.

AI is fun. But it’s also serious because it’s a potential revenue stream that will only flow if it’s filled with data. Investors in Google and Facebook know that an assistant that presents sponsored results when someone asks it to order that Pepperoni Feast could be huge for Alphabet and Domino’s. Yes, they offer people serious options to protect their data, but that means going without the sorcerer’s apprentice. Tech is betting that productivity and pizza, not privacy, will win.


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 is losing more than the name game

Tuesday, 22 March, 2016 1 Comment

With the announcement of a new phone, called the iPhone SE, and a new iPad Pro, “we now have a dizzying number of choices to make when considering which Apple smartphone or tablet to buy, and all have almost identical sounding names,” wrote Nick Statt yesterday in a Verge article titled Apple is losing the name game. But it’s not just the name game that’s being lost. The thrill is gone, as the late, great B.B King put it.

A smaller iPhone, a cheaper watch, a new iPad Pro… It was as everyone had expected. On the social media channels, one could feel the lack of excitement and the eagerness for the event to end. Truly, the Steve Jobs era is over. Yesterday’s highlight, if one could call it that, was Tim Cook’s criticism of the FBI.
Apple Watch The Apple CEO hit the US intelligence and security service hard right from the start of his keynote, challenging the agency on unlocking the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino terrorists. This was the wealthy, powerful Cook playing the underdog, the good guy in a fight with the bad guys. But following this morning’s terror attacks in Brussels, we can expect more demands for even more power for the intelligence and security services as the fanatics seek to turn our cities into war zones. And it won’t stop at unlocking their phones, either.

Apple has built its devoted following on people who delight in cool new things. Encryption is very important, no doubt, but Tim Cook’s job is to develop and deliver products that will actually enthuse Apple’s customers. He’s not doing that. Tellingly, Jony Ive, the company’s Chief Design Officer, did not attend yesterday’s event. Maybe he was at his desk, designing something that will bring back the thrill that’s gone.