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)

February 7, 2018

Some things I think about politics

When one tries to think comprehensively about politics these days, it quickly gets overwhelming. But I think I’ve got some pieces of the puzzle figured out. Here they are in extremely summarized form. I’ll flesh them out later as seems to make sense.

1. Most of what people are saying about modern tribalism is correct. But partisanship is not as absolute as some fear. In particular:

2. The threat from Trump and his Republican enablers is indeed as bad as people fear. He’s a major danger to do terrible, irreversible harm to the US and the rest of the world. To date the irreversible damage hasn’t been all that terrible, but if Trump and his enablers are given enough time, the oldest modern democracy will be no more.

All common interests notwithstanding, beating Trump’s supporters at the polls is of paramount importance.

3. I agree with those who claim that many of our problems stem from the shredding of trust. But few people seem to realize just how many different aspects of “trust” there are, nor how many degrees there can be of trustworthiness. It’s not just a binary choice between “honest servant of the people” and “lying, cheating crook”.

These observations have strong analogies in IT. What does it mean for a system to be “reliable” or to produce “accurate” results? There are many possible answers, each reasonable in different contexts.

Read more

February 7, 2018

Politics can be overwhelming

Like many people, I’ve been shocked and saddened by recent political developments. What I’ve done about it includes (but is not limited to):

As for those writings: Read more

January 22, 2018

The chaotic politics of privacy

Almost nobody pays attention to the real issues in privacy and surveillance. That’s gotten only slightly better over the decade that I’ve written about the subject. But the problems with privacy/surveillance politics run yet deeper than that.

Worldwide

The politics of privacy and surveillance are confused, in many countries around the world. This is hardly surprising. After all:

Technical cluelessness isn’t the only problem. Privacy issues are commonly framed in terms of civil liberties, national security, law enforcement and/or general national sovereignty. And these categories are inherently confusing, in that:

Data sovereignty regulations — which are quite a big part of privacy law — get their own extra bit of confusion, because of the various purposes they can serve. Chief among these are:  Read more

December 12, 2017

Notes on artificial intelligence, December 2017

Most of my comments about artificial intelligence in December, 2015 still hold true. But there are a few points I’d like to add, reiterate or amplify.

1. As I wrote back then in a post about the connection between machine learning and the rest of AI,

It is my opinion that most things called “intelligence” — natural and artificial alike — have a great deal to do with pattern recognition and response.

2. Accordingly, it can be reasonable to equate machine learning and AI.

3. Similarly, it can be reasonable to equate AI and pattern recognition. Glitzy applications of AI include:

4. The importance of AI and of recent AI advances differs greatly according to application or data category.  Read more

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

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

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