Big Brother in your pocket: why your iPhone is leaking your personal details

September 3, 2012 | Leave a comment

Hacker group AntiSec:

During the second week of March 2012, a Dell Vostro notebook, used by Supervisor Special Agent Christopher K. Stangl from FBI Regional Cyber Action Team and New York FBI Office Evidence Response Team was breached using the AtomicReferenceArray vulnerability on Java, during the shell session some files were downloaded from his Desktop folder one of them with the name of “NCFTA_iOS_devices_intel.csv” turned to be a list of 12,367,232 Apple iOS devices including Unique Device Identifiers (UDID), user names, name of device, type of device, Apple Push Notification Service tokens, zipcodes, cellphone numbers, addresses, etc.

Translation: the FBI is keeping trackable Apple device IDs, and enough other data to link each device to very personal information about its owners (beyond what app developers and ad networks typically have access to). And apparently, these are left lying around in a plain-text CSV file on someone’s laptop desktop. Troubling all round. Did these details come from Apple, from an app author, or somewhere else? In some ways, it doesn’t matter: the fact that it’s possible at all says a lot about the priorities of the tech industry. Creating products that serve users should mean creating products that have their interests in mind – and that make wide-scale tracking impossible. Even if you trust the FBI to be a force to good, this means other groups have this ability as well.

AntiSec just released a million rows of data, with the most personal details removed; more details, including their full statement, over here.

Steve Jobs

October 5, 2011 | Leave a comment

Steve Jobs sold the idea that the computer, formerly just a business machine, is a tool for artists and dreamers. In doing so, he captured the imagination of the world.

He didn’t personally invent the computer, or (as ReadWriteWeb points out) anything; but he understood that if computers were to become integral to our lives, they needed to be more than commodity objects. Apple remains the only company that really successfully considers the emotional design of a product.

To put it another way, Steve Jobs humanized computers, and his legacy is that they are more emotionally accessible, they’re better designed, and they empower anyone who creates in a way that they might not otherwise have done. And he did it in a way that made a product launch feel like a life-changing event.

As Om Malik says, our Elvis is dead. He will be sorely missed.

The device is the conduit; the cloud is the platform

June 8, 2011 | Leave a comment

The other day, Steve Jobs stood up and announced iCloud, which replaces the PC as the hub in the iOS device ecosystem, demoting it to just another device. You no longer need to have a PC to activate or synchronize an iPhone or an iPad. This is right, and proper, and in some ways long overdue.

Meanwhile, Nintendo announced Wii U, which connects to your TV like virtually every home game console before it, but also has touchscreens embedded in the controllers. You can move a game from the TV to a controller in mid-flow, for example if someone wants to watch TV. It’s not a stretch to think that someone might be able to watch a streamed TV show on a controller while someone plays a game on the television.

A few days earlier, Microsoft previewed Windows 8′s new interface:

“It’s going to run on laptops, it’s going to run on desktops, it’s going to run on PCs with mouse and keyboard,” says Microsoft’s Jensen Harris after demonstrating the Windows 8 interface in the company video below. ”It’s going to run on everything.”

We’re moving towards a very different paradigm for personal computing. In this connected future, more than ever before, the device is a conduit. You can consume the content or applications that you want, when you want, where you want, on the device you want; content, data and applications are all untethered to any particular object.

This doesn’t have to be any less secure, any less powerful or any less customizable than what you’re already doing. Most consumers will get their computing through Apple and Microsoft, as they already do (Google have ChromeOS, but unless there are major, secret features primed for release, it suddenly looks small-scale compared to the alternatives). Linux users will continue to run Linux – on their PC, on their phone and on their personal open source clouds.

Importantly, virtually all of the cloud platforms on the market have some kind of web technology component (you’re going to be able to build Windows 8 apps in HTML and JavaScript, for example); it’s pretty clear where all of this is going.

I’m writing and posting this blog post on a six hour flight. The Internet is increasingly everywhere; by moving to the cloud, we’re allowing for lower up-front device costs backed up by ongoing subscriptions. The platform providers are going to do very well out of this. Whereas in the current paradigm they capture value by locking users into application compatibility bubbles (Windows apps won’t run on Mac OS X, etc), in the cloud-based future, the lock-in comes from who runs the cloud servers. When Bill Gates started out, his vision was of a computer on every desk running Microsoft software; if he was starting out today, his vision might be a connected device in every pocket running on the Microsoft cloud.

Although this is a step forward in my opinion, there are dangers. Think about how “cloud services” as we’ve known them to date (web tools like Facebook) have monetized; they mine user data. As we put more and more sensitive information into the cloud, the challenge will be to maintain ownership over our information, maintain privacy over our activity, and to ensure that no one company gets to control this brave new world.

Openness wins

January 14, 2011 | 3 comments

Android and iPhoneDan Lyons, writing in Newsweek, doesn’t think the introduction of the iPhone on Verizon will stop Android’s momentum:

Apple’s phone would have snuffed out the Android a year ago, but now Google’s device has become an unstoppable juggernaut.

[…] “Android is a global phenomenon,” [Fred Wilson] says. “The big deal is, Android is free software, and handsets that can run it are getting super-cheap. So we are going to see a massive shift from ‘dumb phones’ to ‘smart phones’ around the world this year, and iPhone will not be the big beneficiary of that trend.”

This is exactly the mistake Apple made over twenty years ago, when it let IBM walk all over the personal computer market with its open specification. Sure, the Apple Mac popularized the idea of easy-to-use home computing, but over 90% of the machines actually sitting on peoples’ desks were IBM PC compatible. Worldwide, Mac market share is less than 5%.

I’ve complained about Android in the past, but version 2.2 changed my mind; more recently, Android-only features have been saving my bacon. It’s a great system, and its open structure allows for more innovation both in hardware and software than its competitors. To build an iPhone app, I’d need to pay to join the developer program and buy a Mac. To build an Android app, I can download the SDK and get going – no matter what kind of computer I use. That’s a real difference in attitude, and one that will ultimately see Apple’s phone devices share the fate of their desktop cousins.

Illustration: Android and iPhone by Quinn Dombrowski, released under a Creative Commons license.

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