Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Perturbing news

OK, after several days of working on it, I think I'm finally caught up on reading my email. It's amazing how much your inbox fills up when you're out for 6 consecutive work days. Especially when you get 50-75 emails every weekday and another 25 or so over the weekend. Nuts...

So, I've seen two pieces of news in the past day that I feel the need to pass on. First, there's a great commentary on Ars Technica about the Bush administration removing delegates from the Inter-American Telecommunication Commission. Out of 12 delegates, four were removed, including representatives from Qualcomm and Nokia (two huge telecom companies that should be involved). What was the faux pas that these four committed? They supported the Kerry campaign. One of them actually only donated $250 to the Democratic Party. What the hell do political views have to do with addressing technical issues, such as protocol standards and cybersecurity?!? These are engineers. Not heads of industry with money, power, and influence. White House spokesman Trent Duffy is quoted as saying, "We wanted people who would represent the Administration positively." Again, this is a technical meeting and has absolutely nothing to do with representing the Administration in any manner whatsoever. There have been accusations by groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists claiming that the Administration has forced scientists to change their findings so as to match the Administration's political views. But this is political hubris taken to a new extreme that I didn't even think was possible. The Administration punishing private citizens for purely retributive purposes. There are no political views at stake here. Absolutely disgusting.

Second, there's news that Microsoft is adding a "black box" to Windows to better understand system crashes. Sounds innocuous so far, right? Well, this black box is turned on by default. When you system crashes, it will send information to Microsoft, including programs running at the time of the crash and the contents of documents that were being created. Granted, you can select what documents not to send at the time, provided you read the dialog box and really understand what it is saying. In a company setting, IT managers will also be able to set it up so that all that information will get sent to them without individual workers being able to opt out. Let me first say that these things do not concern me too much in and of themselves. If you don't want your IT manager to know about it, it should not be on your computer. Period. If you don't want the document sent to Microsoft, you should read the dialog box and remove documents you don't want sent. What concerns me is that this is turned on by default. And that dialog box, how do you know it is actually working the way it's supposed to? Here's an example scenario. Someone writes a piece of spyware or a virus that runs the next time you open Quicken. It overwrites the part of the registry that actually controls the "opting out" mechanism. So the dialog box makes you think you're not sending your banking records to Microsoft, but the box isn't working properly and those records are sent with the rest of the documents. And, just for kicks, the virus writer changed the destination of the crash report. It doesn't go to Microsoft, but rather to his own personal computer. Now, how good of an idea is this black box?

OK, so there are a couple of thoughts for the day. Hopefully I'll get back to a semi-regular posting schedule soon...


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