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September 2018 Archives

Tim Berners-Lee’s Successor to The Internet

I hadn’t planned on posting anything of substance, today, but I came across this fresh post from Tim Berners-Lee, the founder of the modern Internet as we know it, and director of the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) and knew immediately I had to share it. He’s sharing news about his latest project, a successor to the Internet as it stands in its current form. I’ll let him explain it:

I’ve always believed the web is for everyone. That’s why I and others fight fiercely to protect it. The changes we’ve managed to bring have created a better and more connected world. But for all the good we’ve achieved, the web has evolved into an engine of inequity and division; swayed by powerful forces who use it for their own agendas.

Today, I believe we’ve reached a critical tipping point, and that powerful change for the better is possible — and necessary.

This is why I have, over recent years, been working with a few people at MIT and elsewhere to develop Solid, an open-source project to restore the power and agency of individuals on the web.

Solid changes the current model where users have to hand over personal data to digital giants in exchange for perceived value. As we’ve all discovered, this hasn’t been in our best interests. Solid is how we evolve the web in order to restore balance — by giving every one of us complete control over data, personal or not, in a revolutionary way.

The goal, to summarize those four paragraphs, is to create a more decentralized Internet where ones data isn’t kept hostage by a service provider. The owner of data is the individual and it’s up to you to allow services to access it.

On the surface, this sounds like nothing more than the next decentralized fad. I almost started laughing when I read the article because I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to put in the time to set this up for themselves when easier alternatives already exist.

Let me explain.

Stride defines a way for an individual to set up a “pod” that contains their data. These pods can be hosted in a variety of different places, provided the hosting provider supports it. If you’re more technically inclined, you’re likely to host your pod on your own.

On the surface, that all sounds great, but there are a few fundamental problems to this:

  1. What is there to stop a hosting provider from wanting to monetize this pod of data? Say Google started offering this service… you can imagine they’d go nuts trying to figure out a way to get ads in your face that have something to do with the data of yours they’re keeping. And at this point, how is this any different than the current scenario? Ok, so mainstream providers are out.
  2. Smaller joints could just as well provide pod hosting support. How are you going to vet them, and make sure they don’t go fuck it up? Are you comfortable trusting any random name to host what would eventually become a treasure trove of personal data, photos, emails, etc? Maybe that’s not a great idea, either.
  3. Ok, so host it yourself. That’s hilarious. No one’s going to want to do that, except for the nerd super-minority.

So we have some issues. Adoption is either difficult or looks closely like the current situation. There’s a snowball’s chance in hell that mainstream providers people will actually recognize will agree to let ones data travel to and fro off their servers. I don’t describing a web host, really, but that’s a term that would make a lot of folks’ eyes glaze over.

Not to mention the security implications. What Tim is proposing is a giant cache of everything a hacker would get so excited over, they’d need to change their pants. There isn’t any obvious explanations as to how this new standard would be secured.

One of the advertised benefits of Solid POD is the owner controls who can interact with the data therein. This is ripe for abuse, just as android apps can ask for permission (on older OSes) to touch anything and everything and there’s not a damned thing you, the user, can do about it.

As far as using it for identity is concerned, I would not be surprised if this goes so far as to be a form of identification on the Internet or financial transactions. See my “a hacker’s dream” comment from earlier.

A Solid POD server is Node.js-based so react to that information as you will.

My goal in picking this apart is that these things would be talked about, clarified, discussed. I love the idea of this type of information exchange. I would likely be the kind of person to host my own POD server for my family, but I can’t imagine many would be in that boat.

One of the biggest hurdles above all else will be overcoming the challenge of “how is this better/easier” than what I do, now? If it even remotely smells of more complication, people will drop the idea like a bad habit. If no one they know is doing it, they’ll pretend it doesn’t exist. The key is finding a way to establish mainstream support. The Internet as we know it now had a lot of these same challenges but with one major difference… there wasn’t an already mainstream high tech way of sharing information, cat photos, videos, memes, status updates, and the like, in real time with everyone someone cared about in an instant.

Solid has a massive uphill battle and I look forward to seeing how it progresses. If it can’t tackle the mainstream problem, though, Solid will end up relegating itself to yet another nerd corner of the Internet and eventually die out. Someone might even tweet abodut it.

In a Major Course Correction, The PlayStation 4 Will Finally See Cross-Platform Play

Ben Kuchera at Polygon:

Sony has finally stopped fighting the future: A beta for cross-platform play, including support for Fortnite, launches today.

This is a major reversal of its longstanding policy of keeping PlayStation fans segregated from the rest of the industry, after arguing that cross-platform play might even be unsafe. Others in the industry had argued that the policy was due to monetary concerns. Many publishers, including Bethesda, had been pressuring Sony to make this change, and developers such as Psyonix have already spoken openly about how easy the change would be to implement from their end.

For a long time, Sony was entirely willing to die on this hill. It sounds like the right people put on the right level of pressure. I welcome this, absolutely. I would love to see more PS4-XBOX cross-play functionality, especially in games like Destiny 2 (where I spend most of my console time, these days).

I also don’t believe they did held out for any other reason but to try to convince people to “play with their friends on PlayStation only.”

Better late than never.

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Elon Musk is Being Sued by the SEC

From The New York Times’ Emily Flitter and Matthew Goldstein:

In a lawsuit filed in federal court in New York, the Securities and Exchange Commission accused Mr. Musk of committing fraud by making false public statements with the potential to hurt investors. The suit seeks to bar Mr. Musk, who is also Tesla’s chairman, from serving as an executive or director of publicly traded companies like Tesla. Such a punishment is one of the most serious remedies the S.E.C. can impose against a corporate executive.

The S.E.C. said Mr. Musk “knew or was reckless in not knowing” that his statements were false or misleading. “In truth and in fact, Musk had not even discussed, much less confirmed, key deal terms, including price, with any potential funding source,” the S.E.C. said in its lawsuit.

I still can’t wrap my head around what he thought this would accomplish. If he really did know there was no funding, all he did was pull a shitty move to try and increase the value of his stock price. If he thought he had funding and it later fell through… then it was just an amateur move on his part.

Thing is, this kind of stunt isn’t really beyond him, anymore. I would not be surprised if Elon Musk is outed from his position of supreme control over Tesla. If the company wants to succeed long term as a car maker, they have to rein him in and I don’t think they can do that with him in the spot he’s at, now. 

That said, I’d also bet nothing happens from the company’s perspective. They’ll likely settle with the SEC and we’ll forget this ever happens. 

Update: Regarding him not settling: called it

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Facebook Breach Exposes 50 Million Accounts

From The New York Times’ Mike Isaac and Sheera Frenkel:

Facebook said on Friday that an attack on its computer network had exposed the personal information of nearly 50 million users.

The company said it discovered the breach this week. The attackers exploited a feature in Facebook’s code that allowed them to take over user accounts. Early Friday, Facebook forced more than 90 million users to log out of their accounts, a common safety measure taken when accounts have been compromised.

Facebook said it had fixed the vulnerability and notified law enforcement officials.

This explains why I had to re-login to my Facebook account this morning. I wouldn’t be surprised if this number ends up growing. 

It also doesn’t come at a very good time with the 2FA-phone-number-for-marketing shenanigans also surfacing. 

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Making A Murderer, Season 2

After the wild success of Season 1, Making a Murderer returns with a follow up 3 years later. See what happened in the aftermath of Stephen Avery and Brendan Dassey’s convictions for the murder of Teresa Halbach in 10 new episodes on October 19, 2018.

Gizmodo: “Facebook Is Giving Advertisers Access to Your Shadow Contact Information”

Kashmir Hill writing for Gizmodo:

They found that when a user gives Facebook a phone number for two-factor authentication or in order to receive alerts about new log-ins to a user’s account, that phone number became targetable by an advertiser within a couple of weeks. So users who want their accounts to be more secure are forced to make a privacy trade-off and allow advertisers to more easily find them on the social network.

The researchers also found that if User A, whom we’ll call Anna, shares her contacts with Facebook, including a previously unknown phone number for User B, whom we’ll call Ben, advertisers will be able to target Ben with an ad using that phone number…about a month later. Ben can’t access his shadow contact information, because that would violate Anna’s privacy, according to Facebook, so he can’t see it or delete it, and he can’t keep advertisers from using it either.

As it turns out, advertisers have the capability to track and advertise to you based on your phone number. You don’t even have to provide said number to Facebook, either.

And they’re not even denying it:

“It’s likely that he was shown the ad because someone else uploaded his contact information via contact importer,” a Facebook spokesperson confirmed when I told the company about the experiment.

Facebook did not dispute any of the researchers’ findings. “We outline the information we receive and use for ads in our data policy, and give people control over their ads experience including custom audiences, via their ad preferences,” said a spokesperson by email. “For more information about how to manage your preferences and the type of data we use to show people ads see this post.”

As Facebook would like to put it: sucks to be you!

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Dear Young People: Don’t Vote

Everything’s fine the way it is.

Young people make up 31% of the electorate (as of 2016) and always say they’ll vote, but they generally don’t. This ad is a great demonstration of reverse psychology, but is also painfully true. 

The government would look a lot different if the population that makes up 1/3 of the electorate by itself actually voted.

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Comcast Will Soon Own the Majority of Sky

Sara Fischer, Axios:

21st Century Fox says will sell its minority stake in Sky Broadcasting to Comcast.

Comcast just won a dramatic settlement auction over the weekend to buy a minority stake in Sky for roughly $40 billion dollars. Now, they’ll own a majority stake in the European Pay-TV and streaming company, which will dramatically increase their international footprint.

This is an interesting turn of events. This makes me wonder if we’ll see Sky make its way over the Atlantic to the United States as what I’m sure would be a part of a premium channel lineup that costs a lot of money. 

As it stands right now, one can watch Sky News for free already on some streaming platforms here in the United States (I can do so using the Sky app on my Roku). 

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How to Stop a Wildfire

This is such a good video. The science behind fighting wildfires is really quite fascinating.

(h/t: John Saddington)

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The History of Electric Guitar Distortion

Ever wondered how that crunchy electric guitar sound came to be and ended up so popular? Polyphonic dives in and explains all.

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Johnathan Lyman
Kenmore, WA,
United States
 
blogging, design, technology, software, development, gaming, photography