Episode 52

Fragmentation and Outrage of the Week


December 18th, 2020

1 hr 2 mins 38 secs

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About this Episode

Doc Searls and Katherine Druckman talk to Kyle Rankin about fragmentation and software development, the Amazon Halo, and surveilling school children.

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Show notes:

Katherine (41s):
The concept of fragmentation as it applies to software development.

Kyle (1m 44s):
[I]f you're an application developer today and you're writing a program, you know, 20 years ago, what you had to do is think about, well, do I want my application to run on windows, Mac, or Linux, or what combination of those? And then depending on your decision, you would pick different frameworks, different languages, maybe, and each individual platform you had, the support basically made you had the fork, the code in many cases.

Kyle (2m 31s):
I mean, depending on what, what graphical libraries you picked, but these days it's way worse. Because with mobile devices, you've added a couple of extra platforms on top of those three. So now it's not just windows, Mac, or Linux, it's also Android or iOS. And so, and then, so what ends up happening is the developer will say, well, do I want to make a mobile application or do I want to make a desktop application? And then they'll start with that standpoint. And they, or they may say, well, I want to do all of the above, but then there's a minimum of like five different platforms. They have to support them. And all of them are often in different languages, you know, different development, methodologies, different frameworks, different tools to test and build all of that stuff.

Kyle (3m 16s):
[W]e decided, well, it makes the most sense to avoid fragmentation and have the same operating system that our laptop runs just instead of sort of making an application, porting an application to the phone, let's just make the existing Linux desktop ecosystem as a whole portable to a small screen

Katherine (10m 1s):
[W]hat's happening now with the new M1 processor the whole idea is that any Mac app can now be, or rather the other way around, any iOS app is now a desktop app, which is interesting because it's sort of the opposite reality.

Katherine (16m 41s):
[I]t's almost ridiculous to me at this point that I can't just plug in my, if, if I were to have a fancy new iPhone, which I don't, but if I did, why shouldn't I just be able to plug it in? You know, it's a powerful device, it has a massive amount of computing power

Kyle (19m 43s):
If at all, you know, depending on the provider, Google has had huge problems with, you know, all of these third parties that create custom versions of Android and they never update them. So they've had to go through all of these engineering efforts to try to avoid just the fragmentation in the Android market, with all of these custom Androids that are out there.

Katherine (31m 28s):
[T]he Amazon halo wearable device because all of the coverage, even, and maybe even, especially in mainstream press outlets has been so bad. I mean, it's, you know, it's not just privacy advocates or, you know, geeks like us who are going really, who thought this was a good idea. The Washington post, which is as they even pointed out owned by Jeff Bezos is just tearing this thing apart.

Doc (31m 60s):
So the headline Amazon's new health band is the most invasive tech we've ever tested. And then the subhead is even better. It says the halo band asks you to strip down and strap on a microphone. So it can make 3d scans of your body fat and monitor your tone of voice after all that. It still isn't very helpful.

Katherine (43m 47s):
An article in Gizmodo about schools, us schools, having access to the same technology that federal law enforcement has for breaking into phones. And they use this technology to conduct warrantless searches of student phones.

Katherine (46m 6s):
[I]t knows everything that you're anxious about. It knows everything that you're curious about. It knows, you know, it knows everything. And yet somehow some school districts and in fact judges, apparently because these, these issues have gone to court, find it perfectly acceptable for a school to be able to hack into somebody’s device. So I, I find this really disturbing. I wonder, Kyle, if you could kind of maybe give us some insight about how, how potentially dangerous this is.

Kyle (46m 40s):
I mean, I've, I see this trend over and over again, where what will happen is someone will come up with a new invasive technology and it's sort of like boiling the frog kind of thing where you could not, you know, throw this against everybody. Like everyone would rise up and say, this is not okay. But so what you do instead is you start with people with the least possible agency. You can normally, if you have some sort of invasive privacy invasive tech, the first step is to either sell it for stopping terrorism or maybe pedophiles. And then after, after you get sort of a proof of concept there, then you have to expand. If you're selling a product, you need to expand your user base.

Doc (54m 21s):
Yeah. The weird thing for me is that almost nobody's worked on starting with giving us agency, you know, I mean, we should be able to say, here's privacy. Here's, here's what I've got. You can't see anything. You're not seeing anything we're doing.

Doc (57m 34s):
That's my message to all of you. We can't do that. And we need to be able to do that, that's why my preference would be for the default to be, you have to default to, I'm not collecting any of your data. Your data is yours. I'm not allowed to do it. I'm only allowed to do it. If you expressly give me informed consent to do it. And then at that point I will do it, but you, but, but if I, if you do nothing, then I can't do it. I can't take any of your data. It's yours. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it's one of the more quoted things that I've written in the last few years.

Katherine (58m 58s):
But I kind of feel like we are in the wild West. That's how I feel like when digitally, when we start talking about things like, you know, schools being allowed to quite literally digitally strip search your children, you know, people should be outraged by that

Kyle (59m 38s):
Well, but that's also because your average parent given the preference, and many of them already do put spyware on their children's phones to track their children, right. Because they want to be able to see everything that their kid did.

Kyle (1h 0m 18s):
I keep, I keep saying, it's not that people don't care about privacy, as much as they don't understand the implications of what they're giving up, you know? And so I, you know, a lot of parents don't necessarily understand the implications of, of what it normalizes.

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Episode Links

  • Preventing Fragmentation with the Librem 5 – Purism — Fragmentation is a massive problem in computer software development that has only gotten worse with mobile computers. By fragmentation I’m referring to incompatible platforms that require a developer to maintain separate forks of their code. Twenty years ago if you wanted to write software for an end user, you had to decide whether to support Windows, Macs or Linux. Each of those platforms required you to build, test, and maintain different forks of your software.
  • Amazon’s Halo Band wearable tracks your voice and body fat, but isn’t helpful - The Washington Post — The Halo Band asks you to strip down and strap on a microphone so that it can make 3-D scans of your body fat and monitor your tone of voice. After all that, it still isn’t very helpful.
  • U.S. Schools Are Buying Cellebrite Phone-Hacking Tech — While companies like Cellebrite have partnered with federal and local police for years, that the controversial equipment is also available for school district employees to search students’ personal devices has gone relatively unnoticed—and serves as a frightening reminder of how technology originally developed for use by the military or intelligence services, ranging from blast-armored trucks designed for use in war zones to invasive surveillance tools, keeps trickling down to domestic police and even the institutions where our kids go to learn.

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