Wednesday, October 22, 2014

FBI and Phone Encryption

With iOS8 and Android phones, all of the phone’s data is encrypted. Since it is encrypted, this means that the phone manufacture, the phone company and even the Federal Government have no way of accessing this data.  Analyzing this quickly, it may seem like these phone manufactures are “offering the consumer a virtual fortress from law enforcement.” And with this in mind, these phones could be abused by criminals since police enforcement would just simply not be able to track some of the criminal’s actions.

But, with further review, I feel like this sort of action from a phone manufacture should not be illegal or frowned upon. In a perfect world, the Federal Government should communicate with the manufacture and can ask how certain things are transmitted and encrypted, but they have no right to control how exactly the company wants to control their user’s data. If we look at this in a simpler example, should it be illegal if someone did this encryption themselves? In my opinion, the user can do what he or she pleases with their phone and software as long as it does not hurt anyone else. It should not be considered “hurtful” to protect one’s data if they want.

As a user, it is much safer to have one’s own phone encrypted, because it gives “customers control over sensitive data stored on their own devices”. Not only does it keep police away, but encryption can help keep cyber hackers away. And with the increase of celebrity phone hacking, this may be something that can stop that completely.  Along with this, it keeps focus on improving the way that data is perceived in the modern world. Instead of data becoming a public thing, this is heading us toward having data as a public thing.

To deal with this encryption, the Federal Government and other police enforcement still have “many avenues for investigation”.  By example, one of the most important ways to track criminals, these enforcements still can listen in on user’s phone calls. Along with this, I am sure there are many other ways that enforcement can cooperate with phone companies and manufactures to help them understand how they can keep the criminals from abusing this new encryption.

Also, like most political events nowadays, this sort of encryption causes an overreaction from some people.  John Escalante, a chief director, said the iPhone would become the “phone of choice for a pedophile”. This is of course just a scaring tactic, as most of the time, police do not need to the phone data to catch a pedophile.

Continued learning for Software Developers

There are a lot of jobs out there which require a fairly static knowledge base. Software development on the other hand requires lifelong learning for an individual pursuing career in that field. Technology is always evolving, so software developers need to evolve too if they want to be the best in their field. Continued learning is an important aspect of one’s career and in a way it’s almost part of the job. The amount of changes and updates that happen in the Software industry can rarely be topped by any other industry sector. There’s no central regulating authority responsible for coming up with all the changes.

Looking back at my own career, I started with basic C++ during high school. As soon as I started college I switch to Matlab & Java because those were the languages offered for basic computer science courses at Stevens. Since freshmen year, I have been exposed to programming languages like C, C++, Scheme, Erlang and C# by just taking a different a variety of computer science courses at undergraduate & graduate level. Even during internships, I got introduced to a variety of new tools and proprietary software. I have been constantly involved in web projects which involve a lot of new frameworks like NodeJS, AngularJS, jQuery, EmberJS etc. By learning new technologies, languages & frameworks, I have been able to maintain my competitive edge and diversify my resume. While going through interviews, one of my biggest advantage over other candidates has been the breadth of technologies I have experience dealing with it.

A common problem that I have found during my internships is the reluctance by many software developers to learn new technologies. Granted my experience has been mostly in Financial Services sector, most software developers who have been working for more than five years seem to have lost their edge. They no longer keep themselves up to date with new languages like Apple’s Swift or frameworks like AngularJS unless it’s required as part of their job. Majority of times software developers point to the fact that they have don’t have time outside of their job or family priorities for not spending enough time on research. As the time passes software developers lose the drive to learn themselves. Most software developers prefer if the company they work for will allow them to take on side projects or tuition reimbursement for taking classes at local colleges.

One way for employers to encourage their employees is to support company driven education solutions which are easy to implement and affordable. Partial compensation is also a good motivation if the company cannot afford to fully compensate their employees. Companies can also formulate a policy where employees can take some time during the day to read latest Technology News or go through tutorials on new technology that can benefit the company. With the advancement of online classes, companies can also suggest their employees to take online courses on sites like Udacity, Code School, Code Academy etc. Another completely free solution is to encourage pair programming. Not only is this proven to minimize bugs and improve code quality, but seeing first-hand how another developer solves a problem is one of the best ways to learn. Additional benefits of encouraging developers to pursue further education is the impact they have on the products and the company’s longevity as a whole.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Selling your health

Selling your health
Freemium companies like Google and Amazon profit from customers using their services by collecting personal information contained within our files, searches, emails, and shopping habits. The model is popular with young people who generally feel they have no need of privacy and are loath to pay for products they don't have to. The model has made the jump to the health sector in the form of fitness and health tracking programs and hardware accessories; but what is being done by these entrepreneurs to safeguard this extremely personal data and how is it then being used to profile and target you?
Companies like FitBit, Jawbone, and Samsung now sell bracelets and watches meant to track your activities throughout the day. These inexpensive toys can measure information like blood pressure, heart rate, and sleep habits before sending it to a web/phone app where the information is viewed (sometimes with a report on how to change ones lifestyle). Contractually most of these companies have the right to all the data gathered by the applications. This data can then be sold for research, ad targeting, or simply to expand the volume of information stored on a person. While it is doubtful any company has immediate plans for the data, it is indicative of the trend of ever increasing data collection on users in the hopes that the data may at some point be used to better sell you some product.
Selling your health is not only subject to popular trends such as the activity bracelets but also extends to the genetics industry. Companies like 23andMe, DNAancestry, and deCODEgenetics provide services for finding family and lineage while others like Gene by Gene provide paternity tests and others still like Gene Planet look for susceptibility to disease. As sequencing has become cheaper and quicker these services have become much more popular and available with prices ranging anywhere from around $1000 to as low as $100. The affordability of some of these services comes with the price of selling the companies rights to your genetic code. This is still a murky area legally, with the pharmaceutical industry pushing for the right to patent genetic sequences. These could then be used to develop gene therapies for certain illnesses. The goal of curing disease is undoubtedly noble but giving a company full control over one's genetic makeup certainly smacks of distopian scifi. This is without also taking into account that companies are woefully inept at securing user data knowing the damage a hacker can perpetrate with a simple credit card number or password.

Smartphones are the New Credit Card

Though virtual payments through phones have been around for years, many have been wary about the use of paying through smartphones. As the years have progressed digital money has slowly been replacing the use of physical money in many people’s lives. While credit cards have begun to take over the use of money in everyday life it is very likely to see even the small plastic cards phased out soon enough. Instead of carrying multiple credit cards on you a person can simply pull out their smartphone, open and app and pay with a scan of their screen.
Digital payments have been around for many years. Online shopping has taken off and many people prefer to shop online then going to a store. The options of online shopping are limitless and it allows for many more options than the average person can get within basic retail stores. Online payments also can be used to pay bills which eliminate the use of checks for such payments. The use of checks has almost been completely phased out and most young people never even own a check book of their own. Checks now are mostly used in the form of presents in cards for birthdays and celebrations.
Recently investors have been investing large amounts into smartphone payment tools such as Square, which already has an investment value of 6 billion dollars. These card readers have begun to take off in popularity in the past few years, especially with small business owners, as it allows for easier payment by credit cards from shoppers. Other areas have begun to also take off in the form of digital payments such as Paypal and a Facebook one touch pay system. Apple is also expected to be releasing the ApplePay system which is available for iPhone 6 users. With this system iPhone 6 users just need to use their finger print scanner to pay and many large retailers have already jumped on board with this new system.

With the lowered use in using a credit card, Square will likely be phased out over time but payment forms such as ApplePay is likely to be the new big thing in payments. This will completely eliminate the use of the plastic card and give people direct access at all time to their payments. I feel that this new shift could be both beneficial and negative to society. In the same way that the use of credit cards caused peoples debt to soar I feel that using smartphones as a way to pay will do the same. People will be much more likely to buy something because they have their payment method likely already sitting in the palm of their hand. With the lack of having to take out a physical object people will be more likely to buy impulse purchases which can negatively affect the economy. Some positives could be the ability to add some more protection in some instances to the use of payments such as using the fingerprint scanner to be able to pay. Instead of inputting a 4 digit code which could be stolen a finger print can’t as easily be stolen. It will be interesting to see where this will progress in the near future.

Monday, October 20, 2014

So Much For Not Being "Creepy"

It wasn't long after we discussed Snapchat and its inevitable movement toward integrating ads into its business model, and its first ad rolled out this weekend has caused quite a controversy. The company expressed in a blog post that it didn't want its ads to be "creepy," however, since its first ad was for the horror movie Ouija, Snapchat managed to do quite the opposite.

As a person who goes to great lengths to avoid watching horror movies, even to the extent of changing the channel when a trailer is played on TV or muting my computer when an ad runs on Spotify, I was not pleased with the ad or its placement. I'm also seriously Type-A, so there was no way I was about to leave the icon on my "Recently Added" list, so thanks to Snapchat's "tap to skip" feature I was able to remove it from that list, but not without a little anxiety about seeing or hearing something I might not want to. (This seems silly for someone twenty years old, but seriously, I HATE horror movies!) Given my quickly negative reaction to the ad, I googled the simple phrase "Snapchat ads" and six of the nine results on the first page had headlines referring to the irony of Snapchat declaring its ads would not be creepy, when its first ad was for a decidedly creepy horror movie!

It's common knowledge that Snapchat is used by people of all ages; I know of even eleven and twelve year olds who use the app. As a middle schooler, there is no way I would've been comfortable with an ad like the one ran this weekend. Though I should mention I was an overly-anxious child, I would have been kept awake thinking about that ridiculous ad at night, even though I would have known it wasn't real, and I'm sure there were plenty of children who saw the ad who reacted the same way I'm sure I would have.

This ad prompts an important question: should Snapchat be more responsible for any content it may push, ad or not? Snapchat states in its Terms of Service that its services are intended for people aged thirteen years or older. Ouija is rated PG-13, which means even the trailer is technically suitable for those thirteen or older, but clearly the backlash of the ad shown on Twitter has shown that many users do not think the ad was appropriate. Additionally, a parent of a child who uses Snapchat who has heard of the ad may be inclined to revoke his or her child's "Snapchat privileges," since I'm sure many parents, like my own, do not let their thirteen year old see every PG-13 movie in theaters; I know for a fact my parents would not have been happy had I been exposed to that ad as a child.

Though I'm sure this ad will not deter a significant number of people from using Snapchat, I do believe the company should be more careful in their selection of ads to publish. Snapchat might feel the Ouija ad was appropriate, but really, how difficult is it to avoid running ads for horror movies? I'm sure the company had plenty of other options, and I'm puzzled as to why it chose this movie from any other options when it should have been clear it would cause a significant negative reaction.

Feeding our addiction

Naomi Kizhner, an Israeli student, designs jewelry that generates electricity from your veins.  Yes, the jewelry is embedded into your veins and uses your body's blood flow as well as your general movement in order to spin a wheel in the jewelry and generate electricity.  When I first heard of this I thought it was the plot synopsis of a new movie idea of some future distopian society where we are so desperate for energy that we need to use our own body to find electricity for electronics.  Then I thought about how this was similar to modern day.  Society now-a-days is so reliant on technology.  How many people does one see on a daily basis that doesn't have their phone connected to their hip?  How many people don't own a computer, or a television?  Nearly none.  Naomi's jewelry is also helping to show the lengths that our society goes in order to stay connected; to feed our addiction.
Naomi has created three items as of right now which include one called the blinker, that sits on the bridge of your nose and generates energy from your eyes opening and closing, and one that is inserted into your arm (based off of pictures shown) and will be connected by two spikes from the jewelry piece that will allow blood to flow into the device and generate electricity.

Naomi says that her project was created from the idea that the world would have depleting resources and that humans would have to find other means of producing electricity which may include using our own bodies.  Would society ever have to use our bodies to produce energy?  Is it a smart idea of invasive?  Or is it just down right creepy?

Estonia's Identity Experiment

In the United States, verifying your identity can be a hassle.  Every document requires a physical signature and people have to carry multiple ID cards for things like driving, social security, and health insurance.  Some countries, like Estonia, offer a digital alternative.  Every citizen in Estonia has an electronic ID card.  These cards can be used to authenticate any information that citizens need, including birth certificate, health insurance, and other legal documents[1].  They offer two-factor authentication, which means that they can be used as legally binding signatures and face-to-face identification.  The digital identities are secure, too.  The Economist[2] has reported that “no security breaches have been reported,” in the ten years that the system has been active.  Because every resident is given one of these cards when they turn 15, the country has been able to improve their efficiency and significantly decrease their reliance on paper for standard documentation.
                The only thing holding the program back from being and complete success is that international businessmen doing work within Estonia don’t have access to these ID cards, meaning their signatures are still required for legal deals.  However, this is about to change.  Estonia recently announced a new e-residency program in which people who do business in Estonia frequently will be able to purchase one of these cards for use as a legal digital identification card. 
This news is very interesting.  Estonia is the first country to not only launch this broad of a digital identity program, but also to offer it to anyone doing business in the country.   Other governments have tried to implement digital ID cards like this in the past, but public hesitance and a lack of commitment to the costs associated have caused them to scrap their programs. 
                Things may change with the public announcement of this program, however.  With a proven ten year track record, and the ability to support millions of people from other countries, the European Union is pushing a law that will make other countries support other digital IDs.  Similarly, the prevalence of identity theft and the lack of security in a signature may spark a change in how much of the world handles identities. 
                The move to digital is an important one.  Being able to prove identity, sign documents, and confirm insurance information with a single card would simplify almost everything we do on a regular basis.  Not only that, but it would also help to keep sensitive information secure and protected, which is difficult when all of your information is kept on separate cards and documents.