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.

Companies forget that they pay wages; don’t understand complexity of economy

Apparently 68 out of the top 100 retailers are concerned about flat or falling wages. Huffington Post did some poking around their 10-K forms and aggregated the top risks for the top 100 retailers. Huffpo found that low spending, unemployment, and falling or flat wages were the top 3 items. To me this is really interesting. Apple was recently identified as part of a wage fixing scheme that looks like it could have cost employees something on the order of $3.2 Billion, Wal-Mart has cut hours of their employees as to prevent themselves from paying for ObamaCare for those employees, which means that those employees have to pay for their insurance out of pocket, as they have to insurance now.

All of these things together impact the web of our economy. What we’re seeing is local optimization which leads to sub-optimization of the entire system. Companies that are cutting wages or benefits to maximize their profits are likely taking a cut out of their own revenue stream. It’s likely that many Wal-Mart employees shop there because it’s the lowest priced place in most areas for most goods. The fact that WinCo is Wal-Mart’s largest threat now, is pretty indicative that wages are falling.

When Henry Ford raised the wages of his employees to a real living wage, it wasn’t out of kindness or some perceived social good. It was so that his employees could buy his car. If a large mass of people are unable to buy a good you produce because of your own wage policies you’re creating a problem for yourself. Furthermore, economies are networks, they interact with each other. Each and everyone of those employees would then become representatives for the Ford brand and be able to show off the good they were manufacturing. With every new employee hired, Ford knew that there would eventually be one more sale.

Companies today have clearly forgotten this. Retail is one of the largest segment of our economy, with a huge number of employees. If this entire swath of our population cannot afford to buy consumer goods, then it’s likely that we’re going to be continually be at risk for another recession. People buying stuff is what keeps our economy going. If the companies that staff the most people do not pay them well enough to keep buying stuff beyond food, then we’re at a great risk.

Wages are a very difficult thing. There’s a Socialist party in Seattle that’s trying to get minimum wage up to $15, but offered a job starting at $13/hour. Employees have gone on strike to get higher wages. I’ve written about it several times, however, whenever companies are indicating that low wages are a risk to their business, it’s time for them to start looking in the mirror. There are large retail industry groups, these groups should start to investigate the root cause of these risks and propose recommendations to address these concerns.

Should the Fed look to take action to protect the companies from themselves in order to protect the economy? Should the minimum wage be increased to address the problem? Should the government take action at all, it’s the businesses fault if they fail because they didn’t pay their employees enough. What do you think?

Phone Encryption

It’s been announced that both iOS and Android are going to have fully encryptable phones which will be a huge boon for our 4th amendment rights. As well as to protect us from more mundane things like theft or simply losing your phone. Our phones these days contain as much or more personal information as our computers do these days. The average person doesn’t have any sort of two step authentication on their personal accounts on their phones. In most case people do have some sort of password protection to get into the phone, but once in it’s fairly easy to get into many applications.

For end users there’s nothing better than having a stronger security measures as in many cases companies poorly manage their security. This can be highlighted from the past week of exploits and those celebrity pictures. Encrypting phones might not prevented the celebrity leak, but in many cases it could. It’s believed that some of the hacks of Paris Hilton years ago came from hacking her phone through a BlueTooth connection, so a fully encrypted phone may have protected her from that hack.

All these things are good, however, the Washington Post has decided that this encryption is a risk to public safety because it will help criminals. This is the exact same argument that people make against BitCoin and full disk encryption. BitCoin ended up spawning SilkRoad, which has been shut down and it’s more likely that more crime is committed with dollars rather than Bitcoin. Full Disk Encryption has been used by both criminals and the more technical savvy. With the recent changes where the government can simply take your laptop at boarder crossings without any sort of warrant. Which means anyone at anytime that could have been flagged by the NSA could have their computer searched at will.

It’s more likely that encryption will protect an average person from an arbitrary search than protect a criminal. It’s likely that without everyone being encrypted, having your computer or phone encrypted would have been a huge red flag, however, with these recent changes that can’t happen. Meaning the average person will be safer as well as the fully legal with nothing to hide security conscious individuals.

The Washington Post, FBI, and other agencies are wrong. Fully encryption on our phones protects our privacy, improves our fourth amendment, and give us more control over our own devices. If the FBI and the US government is successful in creating a backdoor the encryption will be worthless and the put us more at risk as we’ll have a false sense of security.