the responsibility we have as software engineers

I had the chance to chat this week with the very awesome Kate Heddleston who mentioned that she’s been thinking a lot about the ethics of being a software engineer, something she just spoke about at PyCon Sweden. It brought me back to a post I wrote a few years ago, where I said: There’s this continued and surprisingly widespread delusion that technology is somehow neutral, that moral decisions are for other people to make. But that’s just not true. Lessig taught me (and a generation of other technologists) that Code is Law […] In 2008, the world turned against bankers, … Continue reading the responsibility we have as software engineers

Power & Accountability

So there’s this hot new app called Secret. The app is really clever: it prompts you to share secrets, and it sends those secrets to your social circle. It doesn’t identify you directly to your friends. Instead, it tells readers that this secret was written by one of their friends without identifying which one. The popularity of the app appears to be off the charts, with significant venture-capital investment in a short period of time. There are amazing stories of people seeking out emotional support on Secret, and awful stories of bullying that have caused significant uproar. Secret has recently … Continue reading Power & Accountability

Letter to President Obama on Surveillance and Freedom

Dear President Obama, My name is Ben Adida. I am 36, married, two kids, working in Silicon Valley as a software engineer with a strong background in security. I’ve worked on the security of voting systems and health systems, on web browsers and payment systems. I enthusiastically voted for you three times: in the 2008 primary and in both presidential elections. When I wrote about my support for your campaign five years ago, I said: In his campaign, Obama has proposed opening up to the public all bill debates and negotiations with lobbyists, via TV and the Internet. Why? Because … Continue reading Letter to President Obama on Surveillance and Freedom

a hopeful note about PRISM

You know what? I’m feeling optimistic suddenly. Mere hours ago, all of us tech/policy geeks lost our marbles over PRISM. And in the last hour, we’ve got two of the most strongly worded surveillance rebuttals I’ve ever seen from major Internet Companies. Here’s Google’s CEO Larry Page: we provide user data to governments only in accordance with the law. Our legal team reviews each and every request, and frequently pushes back when requests are overly broad or don’t follow the correct process. Press reports that suggest that Google is providing open-ended access to our users’ data are false, period. Until … Continue reading a hopeful note about PRISM

what happens when we forget who should own the data: PRISM

Heard about PRISM? Supposedly, the NSA has direct access to servers at major Internet companies. This has happened before, e.g. when Sprint provided law enforcement a simple data portal they could use at any time. They used it 8 million times in a year. That said, the scale of this new claim is a bit staggering. If the NSA has access to these 9 companies’ data, it has access to every American Citizen’s complete life. what’s really happening? I think we don’t know yet what’s happening. I’m dubious that NSA has direct access to servers at Google, Facebook, Apple, etc. … Continue reading what happens when we forget who should own the data: PRISM

Firefox is the unlocked browser

Anil Dash is a man after my own heart in his latest post, The Case for User Agent Extremism. Please go read this awesome post: One of my favorite aspects of the infrastructure of the web is that the way we refer to web browsers in a technical context: User Agents. Divorced from its geeky context, the simple phrase seems to be laden with social, even political, implications. The idea captured in the phrase “user agent” is a powerful one, that this software we run on our computers or our phones acts with agency on behalf of us as users, … Continue reading Firefox is the unlocked browser

connect on your terms

I want to talk about what we, the Identity Team at Mozilla, are working on. Mozilla makes Firefox, the 2nd most popular browser in the world, and the only major browser built by a non-profit. Mozilla’s mission is to build a better Web that answers to no one but you, the user. It’s hard to overstate how important this is in 2012, when the Web answers less and less to individual users, more and more to powerful data silos whose interests are not always aligned with those of users. To fulfill the Mozilla mission, the browser remains critical, but is … Continue reading connect on your terms

cookies don’t track people. people track people.

The news shows are in a tizzy: Google violated your privacy again [CBS, CNN] by circumventing Safari’s built-in tracking protection mechanism. It’s great to see a renewed public focus on privacy, but, in this case, I think this is the wrong problem to focus on and the wrong message to send. what happened exactly (Want a more detailed technical explanation? Read Jonathan Mayer’s post. He’s the guy who discovered the shenanigans in question.) Cookies are bits of data with which web sites tag users, so that when users return, the site can recognize them and provide continuity of service. This … Continue reading cookies don’t track people. people track people.

encryption is (mostly) not magic

A few months ago, Sony’s Playstation Network got hacked. Millions of accounts were breached, leaking physical addresses and passwords. Sony admitted that their data was “not encrypted.” Around the same time, researchers discovered that Dropbox stores user files “unencrypted.” Dozens (hundreds?) closed their accounts in protest. They’re my confidential files, they cried, why couldn’t you at least encrypt them? Many, including some quite tech-savvy folks, were quick to indicate that it would have been so easy to encrypt the data. Not encrypting the data proved Sony and Dropbox’s incompetence, they said. In my opinion, it’s not quite that simple. Encryption … Continue reading encryption is (mostly) not magic

and the laws of physics changed

Google just introduced Google Plus, their take on social networking. Unsurprisingly, Arvind has one of the first great reviews of its most important feature, Circles. Google Circles effectively let you map all the complexities of real-world privacy into your online identity, and that’s simply awesome. You can think of Circles as the actual circles of friends you have. The things that are easy to do in real life, like sharing a fun anecdote with the friends you generally go out with on Saturday nights, are easy to do in Circles. The things that are hard to do in real life, … Continue reading and the laws of physics changed