Public policy

Discussion of public policy around technological issues, especially but not only surveillance and privacy.

August 10, 2017

Notes on data security

1. In June I wrote about burgeoning interest in data security. I’d now like to add:

We can reconcile these anecdata pretty well if we postulate that:

2. My current impressions of the legal privacy vs. surveillance tradeoffs are basically: Read more

June 14, 2017

Light-touch managed services

Cloudera recently introduced Cloudera Altus, a Hadoop-in-the-cloud offering with an interesting processing model:

Thus, you avoid a potential security risk (shipping your data to Cloudera’s service). I’ve tentatively named this strategy light-touch managed services, and am interested in exploring how broadly applicable it might or might not be.

For light-touch to be a good approach, there should be (sufficiently) little downside in performance, reliability and so on from having your service not actually control the data. That assumption is trivially satisfied in the case of Cloudera Altus, because it’s not an ordinary kind of app; rather, its whole function is to improve the job-running part of your stack. Most kinds of apps, however, want to operate on your data directly. For those, it is more challenging to meet acceptable SLAs (Service-Level Agreements) on a light-touch basis.

Let’s back up and consider what “light-touch” for data-interacting apps (i.e., almost all apps) would actually mean. The basics are:  Read more

March 1, 2017

One bit of news in Trump’s speech

Donald Trump addressed Congress tonight. As may be seen by the transcript, his speech — while uncharacteristically sober — was largely vacuous.

That said, while Steve Bannon is firmly established as Trump’s puppet master, they don’t agree on quite everything, and one of the documented disagreements had been in their view of skilled, entrepreneurial founder-type immigrants: Bannon opposes them, but Trump has disagreed with his view. And as per the speech, Trump seems to be maintaining his disagreement.

At least, that seems implied by his call for “a merit-based immigration system.”

And by the way — Trump managed to give a whole speech without saying anything overtly racist. Indeed, he specifically decried the murder of an Indian-immigrant engineer. By Trump standards, that counts as a kind of progress.

Edit (March 5): But now there is negative-seeming news about H1-B visas.

February 28, 2017

Coordination, the underused “C” word

I’d like to argue that a single frame can be used to view a lot of the issues that we think about. Specifically, I’m referring to coordination, which I think is a clearer way of characterizing much of what we commonly call communication or collaboration.

It’s easy to argue that computing, to an overwhelming extent, is really about communication. Most obviously:

Indeed, it’s reasonable to claim:

A little less obvious is the much of this communication could be alternatively described as coordination. Some communication has pure consumer value, such as when we talk/email/Facebook/Snapchat/FaceTime with loved ones. But much of the rest is for the purpose of coordinating business or technical processes.

Among the technical categories that boil down to coordination are:

That’s a lot of the value in “platform” IT right there.  Read more

February 2, 2017

There’s no escape from politics now

The United States and consequently much of the world are in political uproar. Much of that is about very general and vital issues such as war, peace or the treatment of women. But quite a lot of it is to some extent tech-industry-specific. The purpose of this post is outline how and why that is.

For example:

Because they involve grave threats to liberty, I see surveillance/privacy as the biggest technology-specific policy issues in the United States. (In other countries, technology-driven censorship might loom larger yet.) My views on privacy and surveillance have long been:

Given the recent election of a US president with strong authoritarian tendencies, that foot-dragging is much more important than it was before.

Other important areas of technology/policy overlap include: Read more

February 2, 2017

Politics and policy in the age of Trump

The United States presidency was recently assumed by an Orwellian lunatic.* Sadly, this is not an exaggeration. The dangers — both of authoritarianism and of general mis-governance — are massive. Everybody needs in some way to respond.

*”Orwellian lunatic” is by no means an oxymoron. Indeed, many of the most successful tyrants in modern history have been delusional; notable examples include Hitler, Stalin, Mao and, more recently, Erdogan. (By way of contrast, I view most other Soviet/Russian leaders and most jumped-up-colonel coup leaders as having been basically sane.)

There are many candidates for what to focus on, including:

But please don’t just go on with your life and leave the politics to others. Those “others” you’d like to rely on haven’t been doing a very good job.

What I’ve chosen to do personally includes: Read more

October 3, 2016

Notes on the transition to the cloud

1. The cloud is super-hot. Duh. And so, like any hot buzzword, “cloud” means different things to different marketers. Four of the biggest things that have been called “cloud” are:

Further, there’s always the idea of hybrid cloud, in which a vendor peddles private cloud systems (usually appliances) running similar technology stacks to what they run in their proprietary public clouds. A number of vendors have backed away from such stories, but a few are still pushing it, including Oracle and Microsoft.

This is a good example of Monash’s Laws of Commercial Semantics.

2. Due to economies of scale, only a few companies should operate their own data centers, aka true on-prem(ises). The rest should use some combination of colo, SaaS, and public cloud.

This fact now seems to be widely understood.

Read more

May 30, 2016

Adversarial analytics and other topics

Five years ago, in a taxonomy of analytic business benefits, I wrote:

A large fraction of all analytic efforts ultimately serve one or more of three purposes:

  • Marketing
  • Problem and anomaly detection and diagnosis
  • Planning and optimization

That continues to be true today. Now let’s add a bit of spin.

1. A large fraction of analytics is adversarial. In particular: Read more

May 18, 2016

Surveillance data in ordinary law enforcement

One of the most important issues in privacy and surveillance is also one of the least-discussed — the use of new surveillance technologies in ordinary law enforcement. Reasons for this neglect surely include:

One major thread in the United States is: Read more

May 18, 2016

Governments vs. tech companies — it’s complicated

Numerous tussles fit the template:

As a general rule, what’s best for any kind of company is — pricing and so on aside — whatever is best or most pleasing for their customers or users. This would suggest that it is in tech companies’ best interest to favor privacy, but there are two important quasi-exceptions: Read more

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