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Everyone Wants You To Have Security, But Not from Them

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In December, Google's Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt was interviewed at the CATO Institute Surveillance Conference. One of the things he said, after talking about some of the security measures his company has put in place post-Snowden, was: "If you have important information, the safest place to keep it is in Google. And I can assure you that the safest place to not keep it is anywhere else."

The surprised me, because Google collects all of your information to show you more targeted advertising. Surveillance is the business model of the Internet, and Google is one of the most successful companies at that. To claim that Google protects your privacy better than anyone else is to profoundly misunderstand why Google stores your data for free in the first place.

I was reminded of this last week when I appeared on Glenn Beck's show along with cryptography pioneer Whitfield Diffie. Diffie said:

You can't have privacy without security, and I think we have glaring failures in computer security in problems that we've been working on for 40 years. You really should not live in fear of opening an attachment to a message. It ought to be confined; your computer ought to be able to handle it. And the fact that we have persisted for decades without solving these problems is partly because they're very difficult, but partly because there are lots of people who want you to be secure against everyone but them. And that includes all of the major computer manufacturers who, roughly speaking, want to manage your computer for you. The trouble is, I'm not sure of any practical alternative.

That neatly explains Google. Eric Schmidt does want your data to be secure. He wants Google to be the safest place for your data ­ as long as you don't mind the fact that Google has access to your data. Facebook wants the same thing: to protect your data from everyone except Facebook. Hardware companies are no different. Last week, we learned that Lenovo computers shipped with a piece of adware called Superfish that broke users' security to spy on them for advertising purposes.

Governments are no different. The FBI wants people to have strong encryption, but it wants backdoor access so it can get at your data. UK Prime Minister David Cameron wants you to have good security, just as long as it's not so strong as to keep the UK government out. And, of course, the NSA spends a lot of money ensuring that there's no security it can't break.

Corporations want access to your data for profit; governments want it for security purposes, be they benevolent or malevolent. But Diffie makes an even stronger point: we give lots of companies access to our data because it makes our lives easier.

I wrote about this in my latest book, Data and Goliath:

Convenience is the other reason we willingly give highly personal data to corporate interests, and put up with becoming objects of their surveillance. As I keep saying, surveillance-based services are useful and valuable. We like it when we can access our address book, calendar, photographs, documents, and everything else on any device we happen to be near. We like services like Siri and Google Now, which work best when they know tons about you. Social networking apps make it easier to hang out with our friends. Cell phone apps like Google Maps, Yelp, Weather, and Uber work better and faster when they know our location. Letting apps like Pocket or Instapaper know what we're reading feels like a small price to pay for getting everything we want to read in one convenient place. We even like it when ads are targeted to exactly what we're interested in. The benefits of surveillance in these and other applications are real, and significant.

Like Diffie, I'm not sure there is any practical alternative. The reason the Internet is a worldwide mass-market phenomenon is that all the technological details are hidden from view. Someone else is taking care of it. We want strong security, but we also want companies to have access to our computers, smart devices, and data. We want someone else to manage our computers and smart phones, organize our e-mail and photos, and help us move data between our various devices.

Those "someones" will necessarily be able to violate our privacy, either by deliberately peeking at our data or by having such lax security that they're vulnerable to national intelligence agencies, cybercriminals, or both. Last week, we learned that the NSA broke into the Dutch company Gemalto and stole the encryption keys for billions ­ yes, billions ­ of cell phones worldwide. That was possible because we consumers don't want to do the work of securely generating those keys and setting up our own security when we get our phones; we want it done automatically by the phone manufacturers. We want our data to be secure, but we want someone to be able to recover it all when we forget our password.

We'll never solve these security problems as long as we're our own worst enemy. That's why I believe that any long-term security solution will not only be technological, but political as well. We need laws that will protect our privacy from those who obey the laws, and to punish those who break the laws. We need laws that require those entrusted with our data to protect our data. Yes, we need better security technologies, but we also need laws mandating the use of those technologies.

This essay previously appeared on Forbes.com.

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reconbot
21 hours ago
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I suppose this is why I don't own my phone.
New York City
jimwise
23 hours ago
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This.
bogorad
3 days ago
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Да он ебанулся на старости лет! Какие нахуй законы, какое нахуй государство?!
Moscow, Russia

Dress Color

7 Comments and 15 Shares
This white-balance illusion hit so hard because it felt like someone had been playing through the Monty Hall scenario and opened their chosen door, only to find there was unexpectedly disagreement over whether the thing they'd revealed was a goat or a car.
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satadru
1 day ago
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.
New York, NY
sstrudeau
1 day ago
I finally see gold & white
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Skotte
6 hours ago
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Still black and blue.
Rochester, Earth
MaryEllenCG
19 hours ago
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...I still only see blue and black.
Greater Bostonia
aaronwe
1 day ago
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Best single-panel explainer of this.
Sioux City, Iowa
jdferries
1 day ago
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Thx XKCD. Can we all get back to the ground-breaking llamas now?
Indianapolis
Michdevilish
2 days ago
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🎷🎵
Canada

aninventoryofthepossible:Huge if true

5 Comments and 19 Shares














aninventoryofthepossible:

Huge if true

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smadin
2 days ago
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god bless Cookie Monster.
Boston
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tante
44 minutes ago
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Cookie Monster wisdom.
Oldenburg/Germany
luizirber
1 day ago
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Mind blowing
East Lansing, MI
digdoug
2 days ago
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Lasagna is just spaghetti flavored cake!
Louisville, KY
WorldMaker
2 days ago
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#deepthoughts
Louisville, Kentucky

172. ISAAC ASIMOV: A lifetime of learning

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ASIMOV01

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) was a writer, known for his contribution to science fiction (including The Three Laws of Robotics, I, Robot and the Foundation series) and his staggering work in other genres and non-fiction.

Asimov had a formal education in chemistry, earning his PhD and working as a chemist for the Navy during WWII. He taught biochemistry and later became a professor at the Boston Univeristy of Medicine, all while writing stories for fantasy magazines in his spare time. He finally left the University in 1958 to focus on writing. Asimov’s output was truly mind-blowing, writing over 500 (!!!) books and 90,000 letters. He said: “Writing is my only interest. Even speaking is an interruption.”

Asimov’s non-fiction books were mostly on astronomy, but his other titles covered general science, history, mathematics, physics, Shakespeare, the Bible and mythology. He was completely self-taught in these areas and was successful for being able to take difficult scientific concepts and make them entertaining for the general public. He said he could “read a dozen dull books and make one interesting book out of them.” To get some idea of how vast Asimov’s knowledge was, his books appear in nine of the ten Dewey Decimal Classes.

The quotes used in this comic are taken from a fantastic interview Asimov did in 1988 (which you can watch on YouTube). In it, Asimov predicts how in the near-future, personal computers will help anyone learn anything ‘that strikes their fancy’ in the privacy of their own home and at their own leisure. Of course, that prediction came true with the internet, and even though the technology from The Matrix isn’t available yet, where we could upload information directly into our brain and shout “I know kung-fu!”, it has never been easier to learn whatever you want, no matter how niche. Thanks to reader Jenny for sending me the quote and the Brain Pickings article that featured the interview.

RELATED COMICS: Carl Sagan Pale Blue Dot. Richard Dawkins The Lucky Ones. Albert Einstein A Human Being is Part of the Whole. Jack London I Would Rather be Ashes Than Dust.

- I admit not having read any of Asimov’s books. Where should I start? The Foundation series? His story Nightfall was voted the best short science fiction story of all-time, so maybe that?
– Asimov said that one of only two men he knew who was smarter than himself was his good friend Carl Sagan.

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Courtney
2 days ago
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Always with the white tourists in zen pencils
Boston, MA

February 25, 2015

4 Comments and 21 Shares

In case you missed it, thanks to our patreon subscribers, old comics are now getting voteys! If we raise a bit more, I'll increase the rate to 2 a day!
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bronzehedwick
3 days ago
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Haha this is awesome.
Brooklyn NY
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norb
3 days ago
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hahaha
clmbs.oh
nrjones
3 days ago
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Fantastic
??, NC
tante
3 days ago
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Apology cards sorted by scientific discipline
Oldenburg/Germany

A different cluetrain

4 Comments and 18 Shares

Right now, I'm chewing over the final edits on a rather political book. And I think, as it's a near future setting, I should jot down some axioms about politics ...

  1. We're living in an era of increasing automation. And it's trivially clear that the adoption of automation privileges capital over labour (because capital can be substituted for labour, and the profit from its deployment thereby accrues to capital rather than being shared evenly across society).

  2. A side-effect of the rise of capital is the financialization of everything—capital flows towards profit centres and if there aren't enough of them profits accrue to whoever can invent some more (even if the products or the items they're guaranteed against are essentially imaginary: futures, derivatives, CDOs, student loans).

  3. Since the collapse of the USSR and the rise of post-Tiananmen China it has become glaringly obvious that capitalism does not require democracy. Or even benefit from it. Capitalism as a system may well work best in the absence of democracy.

  4. The iron law of bureaucracy states that for all organizations, most of their activity will be devoted to the perpetuation of the organization, not to the pursuit of its ostensible objective. (This emerges organically from the needs of the organization's employees.)

  5. Governments are organizations.

  6. We observe the increasing militarization of police forces and the priviliging of intelligence agencies all around the world. And in the media, a permanent drumbeat of fear, doubt and paranoia directed at "terrorists" (a paper tiger threat that kills fewer than 0.1% of the number who die in road traffic accidents).

  7. Money can buy you cooperation from people in government, even when it's not supposed to.

  8. The internet disintermediates supply chains.

  9. Political legitimacy in a democracy is a finite resource, so supplies are constrained.

  10. The purpose of democracy is to provide a formal mechanism for transfer of power without violence, when the faction in power has lost legitimacy.

  11. Our mechanisms for democratic power transfer date to the 18th century. They are inherently slower to respond to change than the internet and our contemporary news media.

  12. A side-effect of (7) is the financialization of government services (2).

  13. Security services are obeying the iron law of bureaucracy (4) when they metastasize, citing terrorism (6) as a justification for their expansion.

  14. The expansion of the security state is seen as desirable by the government not because of the terrorist threat (which is largely manufactured) but because of (11): the legitimacy of government (9) is becoming increasingly hard to assert in the context of (2), (12) is broadly unpopular with the electorate, but (3) means that the interests of the public (labour) are ignored by states increasingly dominated by capital (because of (1)) unless there's a threat of civil disorder. So states are tooling up for large-scale civil unrest.

  15. The term "failed state" carries a freight of implicit baggage: failed at what, exactly? The unspoken implication is, "failed to conform to the requirements of global capital" (not democracy—see (3)) by failing to adequately facilitate (2).

  16. I submit that a real failed state is one that does not serve the best interests of its citizens (insofar as those best interests do not lead to direct conflict with other states).

  17. In future, inter-state pressure may be brought to bear on states that fail to meet the criteria in (15) even when they are not failed states by the standard of point (16). See also: Greece.

  18. As human beings, our role in this picture is as units of Labour (unless we're eye-wateringly rich, and thereby rare).

  19. So, going by (17) and (18), we're on the receiving end of a war fought for control of our societies by opposing forces that are increasingly more powerful than we are.

Have a nice century!

Afternotes:

a) Student loans are loans against an imaginary product—something that may or may not exist inside someone's head and which may or may not enable them to accumulate more capital if they are able to use it in the expected manner and it remains useful for a 20-30 year period. I have a CS degree from 1990. It's about as much use as an aerospace engineering degree from 1927 ...

b) Some folks (especially Americans) seem to think that their AR-15s are a guarantor that they can resist tyranny. But guns are an 18th century response to 18th century threats to democracy. Capital doesn't need to point a gun at you to remove your democratic rights: it just needs more cameras, more cops, and a legal system that is fair and just and bankrupts you if you are ever charged with public disorder and don't plead guilty.

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beslayed
4 days ago
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axioms for the current century
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WorldMaker
2 days ago
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I… uh… urgh… um… Yes?
Louisville, Kentucky
zipcube
2 days ago
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THIS
Dallas, Texas
tante
3 days ago
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A different cluetrain
Oldenburg/Germany
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