Surveillance and privacy

Discussion of issues related to liberty and privacy, and especially how they are affected by and interrelated with data management and analytic technologies. Related subjects include:

Petabyte-scale data management
Privacy, censorship, and freedom (in The Monash Report)

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

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

May 18, 2016

Privacy and surveillance require our attention

This year, privacy and surveillance issues have been all over the news. The most important, in my opinion, deal with the tension among:

More precisely, I’d say that those are the most important in Western democracies. The biggest deal worldwide may be China’s movement towards an ever-more-Orwellian surveillance state.

The main examples on my mind — each covered in a companion post — are:

Legislators’ thinking about these issues, at least in the US, seems to be confused but relatively nonpartisan. Support for these assertions includes:

I do think we are in for a spate of law- and rule-making, especially in the US. Bounds on the possible outcomes likely include: Read more

October 15, 2015

Cassandra and privacy requirements

For starters:

But when I made that connection and checked in accordingly with my client Patrick McFadin at DataStax, I discovered that I’d been a little confused about how multi-data-center Cassandra works. The basic idea holds water, but the details are not quite what I was envisioning.

The story starts:

In particular, a remote replication factor for Cassandra can = 0. When that happens, then you have data sitting in one geographical location that is absent from another geographical location; i.e., you can be in compliance with laws forbidding the export of certain data. To be clear (and this contradicts what I previously believed and hence also implied in this blog):

Read more

October 11, 2015

Notes on privacy and surveillance, October 11, 2015

1. European Union data sovereignty laws have long had a “Safe Harbour” rule stating it was OK to ship data to the US. Per the case Maximilian Schrems v Data Protection Commissioner, this rule is now held to be invalid. Angst has ensued, and rightly so.

The core technical issues are roughly:

Facebook’s estimate of billions of dollars in added costs is not easy to refute.

My next set of technical thoughts starts: Read more

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