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social commentary tech gripes

Daring or Dangerous?

This is the last lost draft I’m dredging up to publish. (it’s not that old)

I’ve been involved with computers for a long time. And have picked up a lot of bits of knowledge about a lot of things along the way. Human psychology seems to pervade most industries and affect how they work – computers are similar in that every industry that adopts them changes forever in ways incomprehensible to those who were in it before.

I’ve been in the position of deciding whether or not I wanted to allow public postings on sites I manage and am therefore legally responsible for. And I’ve watched as sites such as Napster, YouTube, and Facebook took decisions opposite to what I’d make regarding open-ness and allowing the public to decide on the content.

It appears that the credo of ‘move fast and break things’ that Facebook had works to grow your business enormously. Leaving the inevitable work to rein in rampant abuse to a time down the road when you’re better equipped financially and experiential-ly to deal with it.

It also appears that the problem with (not) actually doing it that way is also a human psychology one – by the time you’re in a position to need to do something about it you’re focused on other things like growth, marketing, trying to please the investors, trying to appear your best for your IPO.

So the hard work on these issues that needs to get done gets short shrift.

Being tech companies they all seem to think that they can throw tech resources at it to manage the problem better. Better Data to make Better Decisions and Plans. Meaning more code to monitor and analyze human / system interactions. And lately that means an AI.

If you become embroiled in a dispute on YouTube or Amazon you find yourself in a system that doesn’t appear to care that you’re an honest producer / seller / broker because you almost never get to hear from a human. The system can be gamed by those who know how its done and that can be painful for those victims who don’t.

For some reason they seem to be averse to actually deploying more people to handling people problems. Possibly because they are technology oriented rather than people oriented. Even the vanguard ‘social network’ Facebook appears to be using humans in ways that make them appear like replaceable modules. By that I mean they took a while to get around to deploying more humans to monitor content and then didn’t back those staff up with proper support for when they suffered repercussions from what they were exposed to in their jobs.

This article in the Verge “Prime and Punishment” shows how the online marketplace that is Amazon has evolved into a nasty jungle rife with dirty dealing denizens if you’re a seller.

Rivals can engage in dirty tricks, various versions of identity theft of your trademark, product or company name and it can cost you lots of time, money and anguish to fix something that a half hour conversation with a human being could solve.

Considering that this anguish might entail a number of people who work for you losing their jobs and you losing your company this behaviour is problematic at best and dangerous at worst.

If this was a government people could petition to get things changed. They could express their displeasure at the voting booths. Politicians would be bending over backwards to let voters know that they will not stand for this and will do their best to fix it.

Because it’s a commercial concern there’s not much that can be done. You can bitch and complain to Amazon but until a human being hears your plea nothing will get done. Just having reached a human is still not enough to get things changed however. To do that you’d have to get someone high up, like Jeff Bezos, to make changes happen. From everything I’ve heard about Jeff he’s not all that inclined to get involved with human beings with problems. And that’s not likely to change until something comes along that does listen to humans and threatens Amazon’s monopolistic position in the online marketplace.

So don’t hold your breath . . . until that happens you have to daring to bet your future on the dangerous marketplace that Amazon has become. And if you’re thinking of ever running for public office you have to be wary of being daring in your public postings and comments because those have a dangerous way of coming home to roost later on when you least expect them.

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Fallout and Blowback from the NSA revelations

With the recent spate of revelations about the scope of the US government’s intelligence gathering activities many thoughts have been expressed with most centering on either the legality, the security or the leaker.

One thing that occurred to me that has not gotten as much media coverage has to do with the damage to the reputations and futures of those major companies identified as having an NSA vacuum stuck up their butts.
Sure the government can indemnify them from legal actions but can it protect them from consumer backlash?

Case in point: Microsoft, reported as the first one ‘signed on’ to PRISM.
The first leaked item was the VERIZON news that mentioned that the NSA was gathering only Metadata about phone calls and not the calls’ contents.
Since the wiretapping laws refer to telephone conversations and not internet ones that policy ‘obeys the law’.

Now consider Microsoft, the owner of Skype.
IF you’re not a US citizen but you are a Skype user you can be confident in feeling that the NSA has a copy of ALL of your Skype conversations.

Then there’s the latest product from Microsoft, the XBOX One.

It has a Kinect camera built in.
And this version wants to be on and watching All The Time.

  • Automatically sign in when you enter the room‘ – meaning it finds and detects faces.
  • navigate through your favorite TV shows with the sound of your voice‘ – meaning it listens and pays attention to what’s being said.
  • Advanced noise isolation lets Kinect know who to listen to, even in a crowded room‘ – particular attention
  • An all-new active IR camera enables it to see in the dark‘ – no hiding without covering the camera.

I have heard it can watch and track 5 or 6 people in the room simultaneously … Oh, and it wants to online and connected all the time.

So if you are NOT a US citizen living within the USA you can never be sure what the US Intelligence services are gathering about you and your friends or what they think.

Many people say if you’re not a bad person you have nothing to hide so why worry?
Leaving that argument aside I would suggest that if you’re a company that depends on the trust and goodwill of customers to buy your stuff then the recent revelations should give YOU cause to worry.

To Microsoft I’d say:
I wonder how this will affect your sales outside the USA?
You’ve already caused controversy with your used game policies and now you’ve been exposed as a conduit for the secret police of the US government.
In many countries around the world they don’t like secret police … the very concept scares them. And even those who aren’t bad guys would have to get used to the feeling that their living rooms are no longer quite theirs anymore. Perhaps that will be enough to cause them to spend their money on your competitors systems because these kinds of purchasing decisions are heavily affected by ‘gut feelings’.

Aside from the XBOX and gamers, what about corporate customers?

IF you’re a legal firm representing anyone or any company that has a beef with the US government, the security establishment OR a major competitor to some US company that is deemed ‘too big to fail’ and considered critical to US national economic interests … how are you going to feel about using Skype? Using Microsoft Office in the Cloud?
To those that label this as paranoia I’d suggest you research the reasons for the fall of the Allende government of Chile in the 1970s and pay close attention to what is said about ITT and the desire of the government to nationalize the telephone system. Many say that is the reason for the coup … US history has many stories about military action taken on behalf of American Corporate interests. Many might be familiar with the phrase ‘Gunboat Diplomacy‘ … there is another phrase that owes its origin to the American version called ‘Big Stick Diplomacy‘. That is shown, for example, in the behavior of the US government with respect to dealing with ‘threats’ by local, national, governments to US fruit companies operating in Central America.

And after the Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed the CIA redefined its role and for a while they were selling their declassified take and analysis to Corporations – US ones of course. National health follows from Economic health; can it be that hard to see some making the leap to national interests follow from corporate interests?

So what’s a big corporation to do once it’s been exposed as being a shill and conduit for the secret police?

Time will tell …