Privacy.

This is a long entry because I’m passionate about digital rights. Please take a moment to read. Thank you.

Imagine this: you run errands and come across a “magic” nightstand at your local department store. We’ll call said department store “Bigmart”. The magic part of the nightstand is that it transports a copy of whatever you put in that nightstand to a warehouse owned by Bigmart. The popular store chain is up front about how it works in that they own the warehouse, you don’t. The warehouse is secure and they claim they can’t see the contents of the warehouse, but they can unlock something if you lose your original copy and want to retrieve the latest copy of whatever was manually transported to the warehouse. They also let you know that because this warehouse can be used by thousands or millions of people, some of whom may not be the most morally grounded folks around, they’ll scan the contents from time to time to make sure you’re not doing anything illegal or shady with the contents you’re storing in their warehouse. They’re up front about all of this and you decide whether you want to put contents in the magic nightstand, knowing that whatever is transported to the warehouse plays by these rules.

Now, imagine Bigmart decides to change the rules. They have decided that in addition to scanning the copies that are magically transported to the warehouse, they’re also going to stop by your house every few hours and go looking through your nightstand. Now, they promise they’ll only look straight ahead when they enter your private dwelling and they will not look at anything other than the contents of the nightstand. They want to see what you have put in your nightstand for magic transport before it’s been actually transported to the warehouse.

Would you let the big company into your home and allow them to look at the contents of the nightstand? I can’t answer for you, but I will say that I would not allow this. I have no guarantee that Bigmart is looking at only the contents of the nightstand because I can’t see what they’re doing. I have to trust them, even after they’ve changed the rules of the transaction, because they use magic to transport and to get in and outside my house. I’m not allowed to see what they’re doing while they’re doing it.

Now, I know Bigmart is doing this for a good reason. They’re looking for nefarious material that could be harmful to other people, particularly children. They want to make sure I’m not using the magic nightstand to do illegal things. Instead of checking when these things arrive at the warehouse, they want to check before they get to the warehouse. And they don’t even have a list of what’s illegal, they’re just comparing the “fingerprint” of these things to a list of fingerprints. There’s one in a trillion chance the item’s fingerprint could wrongly match something on the list. They don’t even own the list. They’re just one of several companies that uses this third party list to check fingerprints.

I would still not allow Bigmart to come into my home and rifle through my nightstand, regardless of their intent. As an American, that feels a little too much like guilty before proven innocent to me, and while of course I don’t want anything illegal transported through my magic nightstand, they always said they would scan my stuff when it arrived at the warehouse, not come into my home and go through the nightstand first.

Apple announced they would start scanning photos destined for iCloud Photos (their cloud-based storage service) on each user’s iDevice (iPhone, iPad, etc) before it is uploaded to iCloud. This practice will begin in a future update. They’re doing this in the name of privacy and they’re doing this to save the children.

I’m all for saving children. This is a fact that is absolute, without question, and without hesitation. But I’m also really big on privacy. And scanning my files, even if they’re in a special bucket headed for iCloud, before they’ve actually arrived on the iCloud servers feels very creepy to this paranoid geek. Because Apple uses “closed source” software, meaning we can’t see how it works or when it’s doing these things, we the users have no idea as to what’s really happening. How do we know a cranky regime somewhere in the world isn’t going to add to the third party list of bad photos? Imagine if a dictator decided he or she (or they) wanted to know who has photos of adult, consenting, homosexual content on their phones? What if the FBI or CIA decided they didn’t want to limit the scanning of this nature to only photographs destined to be stored in iCloud? What if they wanted to see the contents of text messages or any other files on the user’s phone? What if someone hacks into your phone and puts something bad on it? The list can go on and on and on.

On the surface, Apple’s plans ding a person’s privacy quite a bit but when shrouded with the “but the children!” argument, users may not have a problem with the practice. I get that. But it’s a slippery slope. It’s a very slippery slope. And for years Apple has been selling their devices on the promise of them being the most privacy conscious company in tech.

It’s like they did a 180 overnight.

When we give up a little bit of privacy, we have the potential of giving up all of our privacy. We need to keep our children safe, no question.

But we need to keep our privacy safe as well.

Security.

I’ve been watching security videos from this website AllThingsSecured.com. Josh shares some really good ideas here. In particular, I enjoyed his video on password security.

I use a password manager called Bitwarden. Instead of relying on my iCloud password manager/keychain, Bitwarden allows me access to a different random password for each of my online accounts and it’s available from all operating systems. It doesn’t matter if I’m using my Mac or iPhone, my iPad, my Windows gaming computer, or any one of the Linux computers I have scattered about. Bitwarden has a client for each of these, as well as plugins for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. My accounts each have their own unique password, usually 24 to 30 random characters. I just click the icon when it’s time log in and off I go.

Not using the same password for every account is very important. Having “dictionary” words, or even a combination of dictionary words, is dangerous. Do yourself a favor and check out a password manager like Bitwarden. Another option is 1Password.

Now, to get really into the weeds on password security, here’s a guy I don’t know but he knows his stuff. It’s Josh.

Hooked.

So ten days or so ago I proclaimed I was done with Twitter and had deactivated my account. Here’s where Twitter hooks you in; if you deactivate your account you have 30 days to reactivate your account. And that’s what I did.

However, I have not installed the app on my iPhone and I’ve opted to go with Tweetbot on my iPad Pro.

Here’s the thing. Cutting myself off from Twitter completely made me realize how many things I monitor through the service: CTA Train alerts, the National Weather Service (as long as it’s not compromised by the Trump Administration), and most importantly, the aviation adventures of pilot friends I’ve made over the years. In addition, I’ve been on Twitter since its early days and I have a good number of people I’ve met via the service over the years and unfortunately I don’t have any other way to get a hold of them.

Twitter has me hooked.

I’m still culling my followers list to make sure I’m not getting depressed the service and I’m not following it on the phone, so I think I can keep the chaos at bay.

I wish myself luck.

Corporate Independence.

One of the many thing I admire about my father is that he was self employed for the majority of his work history. As part of a family business, it was their hard work that determined whether or not there was going to be bread on the table. It was their decisions, investments and the like that determined whether they were going to make it or if they were going to fail. Considering that everyone had been able to retire (assumedly) comfortably, I would deem this endeavor as a success.

I have always wanted to be self-employed. Earl and I made a stab at this back in the late 1990s with our little fast food restaurant, but the timing wasn’t quite right. Perhaps I wasn’t in the right place in my life at the time, among other factors, but I’m proud of the fact that we made a go of it and at least can say that we did it without ever having to declare bankruptcy after determining that the business was sinking.

I like the idea of corporate independence. This is kind of ironic, because I now work for a rather large telecommunications company and because of this, we are able to have a pretty good life these days. The bureaucracy of the corporation I work for is pretty minimal compared to others places that I have worked. At least it’s minimal in my neck of the woods or maybe I’m just oblivious to it all, because I tend to exist in my own little word without little intentional notice of what’s going on around me.

I mentioned in an earlier blog entry that one of the FCC commissioners is going to work for Comcast/NBCUniversal after helping push that huge corporate merger through earlier this year. This irks me for many reasons, one of them being that there was a huge conflict of interest going on there, but more so because of the control this large corporation has. I’m wary of large corporations having huge amounts of power, especially in their ties to government. I hope that many people feel the way I do about this. It’s one of the reasons that I am sad when I look out over this parking lot at lunch and I see one locally owned restaurant to the six chain restaurants within eyesight. When Earl took me to lunch the other day, we went to that locally owned restaurant. We once drove half way across the country and back, enjoying only the locally owned places. We gain a few pounds be we gained them happily. This corporate independence that I strive for makes me feel guilty when I go to Target instead of a local computer store to pick up a mouse and a pair of speakers for the computer, or makes me feel bad when I go to Lowe’s instead of to the locally owned hardware store.

I’m also starting to become wary of the corporate interests in the Internet. I always crow about how great Apple products are and I’m an avid user of Google’s calendar, reader and Gmail services. I actually like putting my life out here on the internet for others to observe and the like. I probably do it more than most people are comfortable with, so one would think that I don’t really care about the corporate backing behind many of these services, but the truth of the matter is, I do wear a tinfoil hat when it comes to using some of the “free” services. I know that Google is scanning my Gmail for keywords so that they can target ads at me. I know that there are tons of corporate minded folks on Twitter that know that I love Linux, I’m rather quirky in my thinking, I like to make witty remarks and that I have more than a passing obsession with facial hair. Facebook is no different, though I tend to behave myself a little more on there because I know which members of my family are watching at any given moment. Ignorance is bliss.

One of the things that bothers me the most about these ad-supported, “freemium” services is the fact that they are tied to advertising. I despise advertising. If Earl is running the remote control while we’re watching television and he neglects to fast forward through the commercials on “Private Practice” I silently become unglued. I know what products I want and how I want to obtain them, I don’t need constant reminders or suggestions to do differently. That’s why I’m trying to focus on corporate independence today. We are not going to Friendly’s because the telly told to, we are going to Nicky Doodles’ because they are locally owned and we want to give the local guy a chance.

I’m going to try to take a step and ween myself off some of the ad supported services I am using online. First order of business is Gmail. I’d rather pay for a service via a yearly fee that promises not to scan my email for keywords and gives me advertising versus having a few suggestions as to what brand of computer I should buy based on what I said in my email to my mother (who was struggling with her computer). I have found a suitable replacement; my jpnearl account was already forwarding to Gmail so I’m just going to turn the forwarding off and put a better spam solution in place. Next order of business will be Google Calendar. That one is going to be a little bit more of a challenge.

I have found myself driving the back roads lately and noticing a lot of empty storefronts in the downtown village areas as people opt to drive to the outskirts to the latest super center. This is kind of sad. I miss the days when you waved at your neighbor on the sidewalk instead of running in the other direction away from the television monitors hanging from the ceiling telling you what cat litter to buy.

I’m searching for a little more corporate independence. I hope that I am able to find it.

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Microsoft and NYS Election Law.

According to this blog entry (link), Microsoft is actively trying to get a relatively new New York State Election Law to be changed. This is pissing me off.

I was unaware but am quite happy to see that the Empire State has some of the strictest regulations in the country regarding electronic voting machines. One of the regulations is that the software must be “open source”, which means that anyone can take a look at the programming code that makes up the software and observe as to what makes the program tick. This removes any doubt about vote tampering through back-door and other unscrupulous means.

Microsoft doesn’t like open source software all that much; all versions of Windows and the vast majority of Microsoft programs are “closed source”, which means that only Microsoft knows what goes on inside their programs. This has made me nervous in the past, as I’ve worked for a computer company and I know what goes on inside corporate walls. The NYS election law requires that any software used on electronic voting machines must be “open source”, and that would include the Windows operating system that it’s running on. Microsoft doesn’t like that. Electronic voting machines would have to run Linux or FreeBSD (both open source, to the best of my knowledge) in order to comply with the election law.

Small wonder I stick to my aging Mac PowerBook G4 instead of using Windows Vista on my HP laptop.

My question is: why do we have to use electronic voting machines at all? The lever and flip the switch machines that we’ve used in New York have worked fine for a good number of years. Why this huge push to change to something else? They’re basically used just once a year, I’m sure someone somewhere could maintain and repair these machines for their annual duty.