Thursday, September 29, 2016

Everything is logged, all the time

Assume everything you do is logged and can be accessed under the right conditions.
This is just how large computer systems work. You do something, the system takes an action, it logs the action it took. Those logs stay around for a while, to help with both diagnostics and repair. Without them, companies couldn't build or maintain large systems that span millions of devices. They couldn't detect and respond to security threats. The more reliable and high-performing the system, the more data it is likely to be logging, with more detail and more specificity.
The company may take privacy very seriously and protect those logs from improper access, but once the data is logged, the company has it, and as the article states, the government can compel companies to release it. And as a friend pointed out, that's only the company you're dealing with directly. Every web action involves a number of companies, all of which could be logging data about your actions.
This article claims that Apple should have disclosed the particular data they were logging. Maybe that would work for the article's author--a journalist who has reason to care deeply about such things--but we've all seen and ignored online Terms of Service. I think my last ToS and disclosure from Apple was 20 pages of small print, for some definition of print. Increasing that to 40 or 80 or 100 pages wouldn't help. Logging changes as engineers try to track down and fix problems, and the vast majority of users don't have the context to determine how the different pieces of logged data might be pieced together to create a larger picture.
So, just assume everything is logged. Remember that you're not operating a phone or computer by itself, but a piece of a large, highly connected system that spans continents and countries, one that records almost everything that happens, at least for a while, because those records are the nervous system and memory it needs to function.
And remember that system does not have the right to remain silent.

If your privacy needs are strict enough, learn how to protect your privacy yourself. Rather than hoping data won't be recorded, use less convenient tools that don't release the data in the first place. In the end, that will be far more effective than making sure you understand all the implications in a company's disclosures.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

The "logic" of silicon valley

Robert Reich points to teachers moonlighting as Uber drivers in Silicon Valley as an example of the perverse logic of this area. There is a perverse logic here--companies like Facebook and Google serve vast number of customers with relatively few employees, making a few rich but leaving most out--but that's not what's happening with teachers. There is no logic to that. There is a combination of overwhelming economic forces and terrible laws.

The current round of high-tech companies has been so successful that they've outgrown both the local housing market and the infrastructure that supports it. Facebook, Google, Apple, Salesforce, et al continue to be successful, continue to grow, and continue to hire. Their employees continue to look for places to live. There's only so much room. There are only so many roads, schools, parks, and teachers.

Because of Prop 13 and its descendants, there's only so much money to pay for public services and employees. Property taxes are capped. Other local taxes are nearly impossible to raise. Neither the state nor the federal government are likely to come to the aid of the country's richest areas.