The Deceptive PR Behind Apple’s “Expanded Protections for Children”

My wife is pretty tech-savvy. While not a software engineer and not a computer scientist, she has a good understanding of computing technologies, statistics, formal methods, and an intuitive (but quickly growing) grasp of machine learning. She’s also able to code in R for her research, and she’s highly addicted to her iPhone 12 Mini, her iPad Pro, and her 12” MacBook, despite its slowly but steadily failing keyboard. With all this being said, I spent about 30 minutes yesterday evening trying to explain to her, what’s all the fuss about Apple’s new CSAM (child sexual abuse material) prevention features that are being introduced in iOS 15.

The point of the anecdote is of course not to show that my wife is dim, but rather to illustrate the issue with said CSAM features. In contrast to how easy it is to explain to “an average Joe” why Google’s or Facebook’s business models pose a threat to people’s privacy, it’s very hard to explain why Apple’s new mechanism is even worse.

Continue reading “The Deceptive PR Behind Apple’s “Expanded Protections for Children””

Apple’s letter about the San Bernardino case


There are basically two groups of large software companies around right now: those which make their business by collecting data, and those which make their business by licensing software. The first group has an overwhelming incentive to not support privacy too strongly. The second group has an overwhelming incentive to not allow too much openness. Until a better business model (or zero-knowledge machine learning) is found, no large for profit company can support both goals to their final conclusion. So we are left choosing one evil or the other.

Apple published a “message to customers” today, and while there’s a lot of questions this letter raises,1 the above HN comment (full thread, definitely worth reading) captures the essence of the issue at hand when it comes to computing these days. You either sell software/hardware/licenses and create incentive for the general public to pay you more money by selling things, or you give stuff away for free, and your users become the product. It appears that the situation didn’t really change much for the last couple of years, and in the end we choose what we are willing to tolerate.

update, Feb 22: Apple published some more details about the case today.

  1. What kind of backdoor does Tim Cook have in mind exactly? If it could be implemented, then how? Are other companies complying with such requests from the FBI or other agencies (wikileaks and Edward clearly point to some evidence that they do)? 

AWS Cloudformation template for OpenVPN server creation

Are you traveling for Christmas to a country where Netflix/Hulu isn’t available? Are you worried you might resort to violence against your own family once you’re fed up with them? Here’s a VPN server template to help the situation (and keep you away from prison).

Netflix is brilliant and there’s no better time to catch up on your Jessica Jones episodes than Christmas break. But what if your family resides in a country where Netflix isn’t available yet? 😱 Fear not, there’s a way to circumvent geolocation-based legal barriers that protect, in my case, Eastern Europe from excellent comic book-based television. First, you’re gonna need a fast internet connection.1 Second, a VPN server into the country where Netflix is available, e.g., Bundesrepublik Deutschland.

update Jan 6, 2016: Oh, well. VPN servers can still be useful for other purposes.

To create one really quickly and cheaply (and destroy it as easily once it’s not needed), it’s best to use Cloudformation, an orchestration/templating tool that AWS provides. With Cloudformation, all the details2 of your stack are included in one JSON file which, once uploaded via AWS Console, deploys the stack defined by the template. The JSON file below defines an EC2 instance together with a security group suited for OpenVPN: Continue reading “AWS Cloudformation template for OpenVPN server creation”

How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life

Sacco boarded the plane. It was an 11-hour flight, so she slept. When the plane landed in Cape Town and was taxiing on the runway, she turned on her phone. Right away, she got a text from someone she hadn’t spoken to since high school: “I’m so sorry to see what’s happening.” Sacco looked at it, baffled.

via How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life –

Reading this makes me wanna delete my Twitter and FB profiles. Err on the side of caution.

FastMail’s servers are in the US

FastMail’s servers are in the US: what this means for you

I love the kind of frank disclosure FastMail does here. I’ve been using their service for more than a year now, and I find it exceptional. If you don’t like GMail, or think that having your email hosted by the world’s biggest advertising company isn’t the best idea, you should definitely give FastMail a try.