Apple v FBI – What supporters are saying

I’m a big fan of Techdirt, I think that they do some really great work in digging into the shit going on around technology, policy, and laws. They put together a nice read through of the amicus briefs supporting Apple in the case against the FBI. They read through the 20 briefs and pulled out some really interesting gems, such as the fact that this software the FBI is trying to force Apple to produce will likely be flawed and insecure because it won’t go through all the proper QA processes that normal software will go through. They will likely try to just break the part that the FBI is requesting without changing much else, which means they won’t really thoroughly test the impacts on other parts of the OS.

Techdirt also has looked through the briefs supporting the FBI. These ones actually undermine the FBI in a few ways. First, other law enforcement groups essentially throw out the illusion of one phone. In fact the Manhattan DA is planning on using the compromised iOS to get into something like 120 iPhones. They will likely use this precedent to force Apple to write comparable versions of the OS for the newer versions of iPhones that this break isn’t expected to work on.

The last brief is from the DA in San Bernardino which really shows that this truly is a fishing expedition. They are worried about a “cyber pathogen” which is pretty crazy, because there is no reason to really believe anything like that would even exist. The DA also raises the specter of a third shooter even though there no evidence of it and there’s clearly never been a third shooter. Simply speculating that these things are there and making up more reasons to break the encryption of the phone when there is no evidence to support any of these speculations doesn’t provide more weight to the argument. In fact, it likely casts further doubt on the likelihood of finding anything useful on the phone. Truly showing that this is a waste of time and effort.

 

Privacy, Government, and Business

This week there were two big moments for privacy. First, was a ruling by a court that Apple had to unlock in some manner, call it decrypt or creating a backdoor into this specific phone. Second, was the fact that Apple, and now Google, has given the state a big middle finger saying “No!” These are important because of the gravity of both of these. The FBI is using “The All Writs Act” something from the 18th century and definitely not written to support dealing with difficult technological issues on technology that would appear to be magic to the author’s of the act. This is definitely stretching this law to its limits and likely beyond what is realistic, but it sets a precedence which is dangerous. The second part is important as both of these companies have been working with the government to provide data to them in the past.

While both of these companies are standing up to the government is great, it’s not enough. With a limited number of powerful players, it’s only a matter of time before they lose to the government or be threatened in some way that will require them to play ball with the government. On the other hand, smaller companies won’t have the money to fight the government, so even if you want to support a smaller company with privacy as its core values, there is no guarantee that they will be able to follow through. Furthermore, if the government forces the company to re-write its operating system, like Apple effectively has to do, the company might go bankrupt. With a precedence set by the Apple decision, a small phone company like Silent Circle and their Blackphone, would be forced to capitulate unless they were able to show that this was unduly burdensome.

The other issues with this case is that businesses are only fighting for what is “right” here because it will help them improve their bottom line. Of course, they are also fighting for their own personal privacy as an employee of the company and consumer of its products, but the goal is to improve profitability. Across the world it has been shown that privacy and protection from agencies like the NSA (US) and GCHQ (UK) is something that people are willing to pay for. Apple learned this from Blackberry during the Arab Spring – they emulated the encryption of the Blackberry Messenger with their iMessage application. This help transition some of the last hold-outs to Apple and eventually spurred other similar apps.

I believe it is likely that the Electric Frontier Foundation will be a strong advocate for Apple, so if you want to support Apple in their battle with the government I recommend donating to the EFF, especially if you don’t support Apple for its other business practices. I know I will.

Customers Don’t Know What They Want, But You Don’t Know What They Want Either

This is part of my ongoing series on Lean, Lean Startup, Agile, Innovation, and Disruption.

This topic always gets a lot of press and it is truly covered in just about any business book these days. In fact the Disruption perspective offers the suggestion that a product is hired to do a given job, so you need to understand what the customer is trying to do and then start figuring out what how to best solve that problem.

Typically, people start with the solution. Engineers, designers, programmers have an idea for a solution a product that they think people will like because they find the solution to be a cool idea. So without consulting true customers through interviews they do other “market” research which may or may not really ask the right questions because they might not truly understand the problem that they are truly trying to solve. A solution might sound good and people might say they are interested in it, but if it truly doesn’t address their problem. This is why the Lean Canvas is powerful, because if forces you to truly confront the problem your solution is trying to attack.

The point isn’t that you or anyone else know better than your customers, you truly don’t. You might have an idea that could be something that your customers could use. You don’t truly know. Having confidence if vital for success, but you truly need to test that through interviews and planned conversations.

The iPhone wasn’t successful because it was truly novel It really wasn’t, the phone wasn’t able to handle 3G, it didn’t have copy and paste and many other features that Blackberries had for years. Things that standard businessmen needed. However, that wasn’t the market Apple was going after initially. They were going after high value customers that were not having their needs met with existing smart phones. They knew their customers would be willing to pay a premium because of the more and more advanced iPods the company was selling. Apple was able to look at the competition and see what was working well, what was not working well, and what features customers truly needed. The first iPhone was truly an MVP, but the problem Apple was trying to solve was different than Blackberry or what Nokia was thinking of solving. This is why they were successful. They understood the problems their customers had. They didn’t have the most innovative phone on the market from the hardware perspective. They figured out how to attract customers through an easy to use UI. The problem people had with with Smart Phones was that it was terrible to use. Solve that simply and elegantly, you can rapidly expand into different customer segments. Then quickly move into those other segments as businessmen bought the iPhone as a personal phone and wanted to replace their Blackberry.

Assuming arrogantly that you know what the customer wants will likely lead to failure as much as asking the customer what they want/need. Identifying a viable problem and validating through experimentation is the best way to determine if it’s truly something your customer wants.

Review: The Innovator’s

Written by Steve Jobs Biographer Walter Isaacson this book takes a look at how we got to now in the computing world. Starting with Ada Lovelace and ending with the pair of Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Isaacson covers dozens of the people that have enabled our world to be what it is today. He came to an non-intuitive result throughout his research, the lone inventor didn’t exist. He found that the most successful company or organization actually had a mixture of personalities and passions leading to success. His history is full of the men and women that made computing happen. Interestingly, it wasn’t until the 70’s and 80’s that women were no longer prominent in the history of computing. This is unfortunate as many of their contributions are still crucial to software development today. COBOL, subroutines, and most of the rules around software development were developed by women working either in the Navy or at some of the institutions that partnered with the military.

Much of this book was not new to me as I had read the history of Bell Labs and the history of Xerox PARC however a great deal of the book was news to me. He didn’t completely focus on the US even though a great deal of the history of computing took place here. He also explored the impact of the Germans, the British, and a bit of the Chinese.

If you’re a fan of computers and like the history of technology this book is definitely for you. Isaacson discusses the culture of the organizations that allowed technology to flourish (Intel) and the types of environments where it did not (Shockley Semiconductor). How no company created anything in a vacuum and that many ideas are, in fact, independently co-created.

Technology is a messy collaborative thing that could have been very different depending how just a few changes. Without collaboration, risk taking, and some big personalities we wouldn’t have the computers we have today.

When we buy something do we control anything?

In new routers Comcast has decided to enable another WiFi signal that is public, but separate from your network, but still using your data. Initially, you were able to fairly easily turn off the the second network, however, Comcast has started to make it much more difficult. This raises the question in my mind, around if you’re paying for a service, shouldn’t you be able to control what is happening with that service within your house? It also raises the concern in my mind that the second network will use your data cap in the areas that have data caps – and Comcast plans to expand those caps even though we hate them.

Similarly, Uber, has done some pretty horrible things around data privacy of their users. Similarly, Facebook has conducted experiments on their users and what they display. In Uber’s case you buy the service, in Facebook, you pay for it through seeing ads. In each case you do not control anything done with your data once you enter the agreement to use their services.

Apple has been accused, and admitted to, deleting songs added to an iPod by a non-iTunes service. This is even more problematic in my mind than Amazon deleting something from your Kindle, because the iPod is a physical object that you own that was only updated whenever you connected the iPod to your computer. Furthermore, Apple was deleting things you owned without your consent from a product that you own because they didn’t want their competitors content on a product in their ecosystem. It is likely many people didn’t notice because you can have so many songs on the device, but I’m sure some people were confused.

Then there is the “licensing” that happens whenever you buy software, even whenever you buy a physical copy, companies like Autodesk have sued over the right to sell that “license” again. They sued and won over someone selling their physical disks, which is pretty insane, but they wanted to protect their product and claimed that it violate’s their licenses.

In all of these cases, a company is doing something related to a service you purchased without your consent or input into how they use it. Effectively, you don’t really control the stuff you buy. Even though we all feel like we own everything we buy, we really don’t. We don’t have control over the services we purchase and this is going to get worse over time. It will get worse, because software is eating the world, and is now in many more traditional industries like mining equipment manufacturer Joy Mining. Michael Porter wrote a really lengthy article about how software is having serious impact on the future of competition he argues that software will be everywhere and in fact companies need to build the internal capability to create software. As users of these new technologies we need to understand how companies use our data and what control we actually have on the services and products we buy.