Ahoy faithful readers. I know that there's STILL a pandemic on and everything, but at least February is symmetrical (check your calendar). Thank you 2021!
Anyway, despite all that, this week was still something I could have done without 👎. How come?
- Big Tech PR stunt
- Big Tech PR stunt (+ Rowenna Fielding’s take)
- Big Tech PR stunt
💍 Security? Better put a Ring on it
Amazon's Ring doorbells have lots of cool, high-tech features like facial recognition, motion sensors, and a companion app called Neighbor, where boomers congregate to 1up each other at paranoia. ✨ Bonus feature: partnerships with law enforcement.
I've been writing about this for ages, but this week, we learned that Ring has now partnered with over 2,000 police (and fire) departments in the US. Please allow me to clarify my stance on one minor detail: helping fire departments respond to fires quicker is a yes from me. Giving police even more power: a big fat no.
The juicy yet gruesome details:
- If you want (as in, if you're just a dick), you can use the Neighbor app to identify 'suspicious' people that are unlucky enough to trigger your camera's sensors.
- Those 'suspicious people' get to hang out together on a database — serves them right for being so not white — oh, I mean... suspicious
- Be reminded that Amazon's Rekognition is good at misidentifying people of colour
- Also be reminded that Amazon put a one year moratorium on law enforcement using Rekognition for a year, starting last summer, and yet here we are 🤷🏻♀️
- Police have their own special portal to things published in the Neighbor app, and are allowed to ask consumers to hand over footage — Ring even gives them tips and tricks on how to do this without a warrant
Do your fingers ever cramp up from typing out too many conflicts of interest in a short space of time? Maybe we should ask Jeff Bezos what he thinks about all this. Oh wait, we can't, he's stepped aside to make room for a new overlord. Actually, it's about time an Amazon worker had a break!
💆♀️ Silver lining: the Electronic Frontier Foundation have been pestering Ring to make their footage end-to-end encrypted for a year now, and it looks like they're finally making it happen. Big yikes that it wasn't already E2EE; slow clap that they are finally doing it...
If you own a Ring doorbell: throw it in the bin, you're not a drug lord — you don't need this much at-home surveillance
👩🍳 The joy of Cooking Facebook
Right... okay. Here's the GOSS. Apple now have privacy labels for their app store — I detailed this in another Horrific/Terrific but essentially it means that on an app's listing page, the developer must reveal what data it collects, and whether it's 'linked to you' or not. This is a mediocre solution at best, but what do I know.
Shockingly (like, I am SHOCKED by this), Facebook do not like these privacy labels, because it forces them to expose how much user data they collect. They are building an antitrust case against Apple over this (🤡). If I had the energy to laugh, I would. Here's a thing that Mark Zuckerberg said about it:
“Apple has every incentive to use their dominant platform position to interfere with how our apps and other apps work, which they regularly do to preference their own. This impacts the growth of millions of businesses around the world, including with the upcoming iOS 14 changes, many small businesses will no longer be able to reach their customers with targeted ads.”
Mark Zuckerberg, barely passable human
Readers, do this one thing for me: read the first sentence of that quote again, but replace 'Apple' with 'Facebook' and assume that the 'our apps and other apps' bit refers to any other app on the planet. The sentence still makes sense — you cannot deny it.
Anyway... Tim Cook's response pretty much hit the nail on the head, even if laced with virtue-signalling: "If a business is built on misleading users, on data exploitation, on choices that are no choices at all, it does not deserve our praise, it deserves reform." (not that I support his business model either... take a 30% cut of THIS 🖕, Tim).
Of course, he can say that, because his business is mostly based on selling hardware, and not selling data — let's not give him more credit than he deserves. This is all just layer after layer of PR.
To cut through the crap, I had a brief chat with a real human about this, Rowenna Fielding, who is a privacy expert. She very aptly pointed out that the PR is not for our benefit (the end user) but for advertisers — Facebook's actual customers. Here are her words, full of sense:
"They’re farming people’s attention/beliefs for adtech — that’s the biz model. Any benefit to the end user is purely a sales tool for that relationship <expletive>"
Rowenna Fielding, privacy proponent & data protection disciple, master of expletives
⛔ Australia is about to get BINGED
Australia has this new law that says: if you're going to post links to news sites on your website, you should pay them royalties. Google — who's main service is to show you links to other websites — hates this idea, so they threatened to leave.
This happened a little while back — why the hell am I talking about it now? Ah yes, because on Wednesday Microsoft chimed in with: "hey, Australia... we would never do that to you 😘".
SOME THOUGHTS (let's be brief, it's already Friday and I am BUSY):
- Microsoft, please be quiet... no one likes Bing. No one has ever favoured Bing over anything. I'd rather Tweet my question to my very small number of followers than use Bing. I had to Google 'Bing' to make sure that was even what it was called — oh the irony.
- Google, you can't hold an entire nation hostage like this. Oh wait, apparently you can.
- This entire thing is a harsh reminder that Google could cut Australia off and not even feel it, whereas all Australians will be struggling to find an alternative, because unfortunately, Google is still the best search engine.
If Google actually leaves Australia... what do you think will happen? Predict the future for me...