Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category.

Dr. Wollaston and the Case of the Smartphone Ban

Known bansturbator Dr Sarah Wollaston was reported by the BBC yesterday (before the story was subjected to some rewriting) as apparently being in favour of banning teenagers from using smartphones in order to save them from the dangers of sexting.

The original BBC story was based on the exchange between Dr. Wollaston and Norman Baker (Minister for Crime Prevention) during Home Office questions yesterday afternoon (emphasis mine):

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con):
What steps she is taking to prevent harassment through the sending of unsolicited sexual images via the internet and telephone.[902169]

The Minister for Crime Prevention (Norman Baker):
The coalition Government takes all forms of harassment, whether online or offline, very seriously. We have robust legislation in place to deal with cyber-stalking and harassment, and perpetrators of grossly offensive, obscene or menacing behaviour face stiff punishment. We will continue to work collaboratively with industry, charities and parenting groups to develop tools and information for users aimed at keeping society safe online.

Dr Wollaston:
I welcome the measures that the Government have taken to prevent sexual violence against women and girls. The Minister will be aware that many young people have been pressured into sending intimate photographs of themselves only to find that those images are sometimes posted, distributed or shared without their consent, which is an important form of bullying and harassment. What measures have been taken, and does the Minister support measures to prevent smart phone use by those who are not mature enough to understand that it can result in an important form of bullying?

Norman Baker:
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes an important point. We have given teachers stronger powers to tackle cyber-bullying by searching for and, if necessary, deleting inappropriate images or files on electronic devices, including mobile phones. It is critical to educate young people about the risks of sending intimate photographs. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre has developed a specific educational resource to tackle sexting that is designed for use by teachers. There are numerous laws in place that can be used to deal with those who behave in this appalling manner.

On the basis that we should be able to trust Hansard, I’d say that the original BBC piece (sadly now lost unless anyone managed to screen grab it) entitled “‘Sexting’ abuse: Wollaston urges teen ban on smartphones” was an accurate representation of the words spoken in the house.

However Wollaston took to twitter after the the story was published and people started to mock her to say that…

before going on to ‘clarify’ her remarks…

All of which may or may not be more reasonable but if that was what she meant, why not say so at the time (she did have follow-ups prepared before she walked into the chamber, didn’t she?) rather than having to issue her clarifications in the face of laughter from an audience all too inclined to believe that yet another MP is out of touch with reality?

The mask of civility and reason

For one of the few MPs with supposed libertarian leanings, the following tweet, even given the character limitations of twitter, hardly ranks amongst as Douglas Carswell’s finest utterings:

It doesn’t take much imagination to realise that this went down like a cup of cold sick with those who are in favour of free speech no matter how distasteful it can get and he came in for a bit of stick from them.

Carswell went on to ‘clarify’ his opening remarks in replies to some of the responses he received, saying that he’d like to be able to ‘exclude anonymous posters from one’s time line’ – an idea that perhaps (as a user-enabled setting) has legs assuming that anyone can come up with an acceptable definition of ‘anonymous’. Given that Guido and Old Holborn still use those identities even though pretty much everyone knows who Guido is these days and Old Holborn’s name was made public earlier this year, which side of the line do you place them? What about those like me who use a pseudonym as a handle but have their forename as their display name? Personally I’d place the odds of coming up with something that might suit Doug, let alone anyone else, at about the same as producing a useable internet porn filter.

The ‘explanation’ however leaves something to be desired as an optional block is a world away from wanting to sync twitter handles with the electoral roll in a cack-handed attempt to force civility on tweeters. Whilst I tend to be civil online (although my language is known to get somewhat fruity in meatspace), others are just as forthright in person as they are online so, anonymous or not, civility is not a certainty just because you know the real name of the person who has just suggested you perform some anatomically impossible act or has called you names that are slang for parts of the body.

Since Carswell is someone who has previous lauded the idea of the internet as a way of doing without big government, it is rather depressing to see him fall into the exact same trap. Is this simply the result of drinking the water in the Palace of Westminster or has his mask finally slipped?

On Spying

Like it or loathe it, espionage is part of a State’s foreign policy arsenal and any State which doesn’t practice it to some degree is missing a trick. Knowing what your allies as well as your enemies are planning before it occurs allows you to take advantage of any developing situation. Thus State spying will only cease when the whole concept of the Nation State ceases to exist…

… and even then the idea won’t die as trying to gain a jump on your competitors is only natural – corporations do it, sports teams also and so do individuals. When it takes place on the sports field or in the exam hall we call those practise it cheats – but outside?

For what we term the ‘advanced democracies’ military conflicts these days are generally remote affairs and so cross-border espionage is as likely (if not more) to be about the commercial and industrial secrets of our trading partners than state or military ones.

Any threat to these countries generally comes, these days, from single or groups of dissatisfied individuals (either internal or external) who look to conduct random acts of violence (or ‘terrorism’) against either civilian, military or governmental targets out of hatred, as a method of protest or misguided revenge, or for other petty reasons.

It is these people whom Western governments are more concerned about these days but whom it is much harder to spy upon as there are laws (and civil liberty concerns) about spying on domestic populations which simply do not apply to foreign ones.

Previously the smarter governments (UK, USA to name but two) have got around the need to have court authorisation for domestic signals intelligence (SIGINT) gathering (which they wouldn’t have got) by exchanging the information they collected on each other’s populations. The rise of the internet and changing technology has made this harder though and as a result attempts are made by governments (prompted, possibly, by their internal security apparatuses) to monitor populations directly, trampling over and, often, completely ignoring the civil liberty infringements which accompany such a move.

The problem with large-scale data collection, as laid out over at The New Liberty in regards to the ongoing PRISM relevations, is simply that so much data is transmitted electronically these days that it is highly improbable that it could all be stored by central government. Much more likely is that they store the metadata (still a not inconsiderable amount).

Secondly, governments who choose to undertake such mass surveillance have to process the data collected. By far the vast majority of what they collect will be static, stuff that needs to be filtered out in the search for useful information. Programming techniques will deal with a lot of this but they will still be left with false-positives which need to be examined by human beings before they can be safely discarded. There will also be false-negatives – and these may not be discovered until after something horrible occurs.

Even once any useful information is uncovered, governments need to have the human resources (HUMINT) in order to be able to analyse and follow-up on it – whether this means getting a court order to obtain more detailed SIGINT on the subject or just the number of warm bodies necessary to conduct long-term surveillance operations against them. Then you have to check every person the target comes into contact with just to work out whether or not there is a possible connection.

Spying on people can be a time-consuming, labour intensive and potentially fruitless task… and attacks will still happen. Attacks which will lead to calls by useful idiots and the media (but I repeat myself) for yet more surveillance, more restraints on liberties and thus more static to be sorted through in order to find the proverbial needle in the haystack…

Calling a spade a spade

It seems that someone at The Telegraph has the same opinion of Kier Starmer and his authoritarian ways as I do. I wonder if he’ll claim to be grossly offended by this?

The original image is in use on this article and (at least until they take it rename it) can be found here.

h/t @iamDarragh

It takes two three to tango

The Prat: Linney House

His “What on Earth were his parents thinking forename” aside, Linney came to the attention of the world over the weekend for posting a picture of himself on Facebook burning a poppy. Assuming that he obtained this poppy by legal means then he is perfectly entitled to dispose of it in any manner he so desires so long as he doesn’t cause harm to other people during the process. People, especially veterans or those involved with veterans’ groups, may find this distasteful and offensive but that does not mean it should be illegal.

The Fall-guys: Kent Police

Acting on a complaint received, officers from this force arrested Linney. Why they felt the need to do this rather than tell the complainant to stop wasting their time, I haven’t the foggiest. No doubt speculation on the subject will throw up the usual ‘answers’ of diversity, targets, political correctness, the need to be seen to be doing something etc etc but regardless of the reason they have hardly covered themselves in glory in this matter.

The Informant(s): @tinacasuals

If it hadn’t been for this person (or perhaps persons given the reoccurring use of the third person in tweets sent by this account) then Linney’s stupidity may have remained his personal shame. Ok, his and anyone who could see his Facebook profile – which would appear to everyone. A lesson in privacy settings for young Linney, me thinks.

It is ‘Tina’ and her like who are the problems here. Gleefully reporting people whose actions they disapprove of to the apparatus of the State – and cheered on by the useful idiots who agree with them but wouldn’t act as informants themselves – each and every one of these willing collaborators assists the State in its ongoing assault on the freedoms and liberties previously enjoyed by the population.

Somewhere the spirit of Erich Mielke is smiling at his posthumous victory.

Yet another nail in the coffin

When the CPS declined to prosecute Daniel Thomas for comments made about the diver Tom Daley last month, the Director of Public Prosecutions issued a statement saying he planned to review guidelines for prosecuting comments made on social media:

“Against that background, the CPS has the task of balancing the fundamental right of free speech and the need to prosecute serious wrongdoing on a case by case basis. That often involves very difficult judgment calls and, in the largely unchartered territory of social media, the CPS is proceeding on a case by case basis. In some cases it is clear that a criminal prosecution is the appropriate response to conduct which is complained about, for example where there is a sustained campaign of harassment of an individual, where court orders are flouted or where grossly offensive or threatening remarks are made and maintained. But in many other cases a criminal prosecution will not be the appropriate response. If the fundamental right to free speech is to be respected, the threshold for criminal prosecution has to be a high one and a prosecution has to be required in the public interest.

“To ensure that CPS decision-making in these difficult cases is clear and consistent, I intend to issue guidelines on social media cases for prosecutors. These will assist them in deciding whether criminal charges should be brought in the cases that arise for their consideration. In the first instance, the CPS will draft interim guidelines. There will then be a wide public consultation before final guidelines are published. As part of that process, I intend to hold a series of roundtable meetings with campaigners, media lawyers, academics, social media experts and law enforcement bodies to ensure that the guidelines are as fully informed as possible.

As we all know the CPS suffered two defeats in quick succession over the summer when Paul Chambers and John Kerlen (better know to many as @Sir_Olly_C) had their convictions under s127 of the Communications Act (2003) quashed and the (hopeful) thought was that after Thomas they would call a halt to prosecutions until they had finished their review.

It is ironic then that on the day that the first discussion took place, Matthew Woods was prosecuted for offensive comments about the missing girl, April Jones.

Having read some of the comments he made, I wouldn’t recommend he takes up a career in comedy but they are certainly no more distasteful or offensive than any I heard (and no doubt repeated) after Hillsborough back when I was a pre-teen.

Woods pled guilty to this ‘crime’ – on whose advice I know not as I would have thought that a competent brief would have dug the Chambers and Kerlen verdicts out – and has been sentenced to a total of 12 weeks in a young offenders institution. The presiding magistrate had this to say on passing sentence:

“The reason for the sentence is the seriousness of the offence, the public outrage that has been caused and we felt there was no other sentence this court could have passed which conveys to you the abhorrence that many in society feel this crime should receive.”

Sorry Mr. Hudson but the public being outraged is not a reason to hand a young man, however stupid he is, a criminal record and to waste taxpayers money by sending him to a secure institution for what will be no longer than 6 weeks just for typing words into a box on a social media platform.

I am regularly outraged by a lot stupid things that go on in the world but as abhorrent as I find them, I’m not going to call for the people involved to gaoled simply to fulfil my need to have them punished for their idiotic behaviour.

For the purposes of comparison it is worth noting, as I saw elsewhere, that 12 weeks is what Lord Ahmed got for dangerous driving, and I certainly can’t see how anyone could say that Woods’ actions were in any way dangerous to anyone’s life but his own.

No, the sickest joke of this entire affair is not the behaviour of Woods but that of the justice system. From the decision by the Police to arrest him ‘for his own safety’, to that of the CPS for prosecuting him and finally Mr. Hudson (who gives the impression of accepting the rule of the mob), each step has been an exercise in craven stupidity.

I hope that Matthew Woods appeals this appalling decision and wins.

Falling flat on your Face(Book)

As anyone who has not been spent the last couple of months living off the grid will be aware, social networking giant Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), the brainchild of the hoodie-wearing, university-dropout Mark Zuckerberg, has gone public.

Before it kicked off its Initial Public Offering (IPO) roadshow, FB indicated it would be selling 337.4m shares (12.3% of the company) at somewhere between $28 – $35 a share, valuing the company at $96bn if it achieved the top end of the range.

Subsequently the company raised it’s target price range to $34 – $38 a share, which would value the company at just over $104bn.

Then, on Thursday, once the IPO had closed FB confirmed the final details of its listing: 421,233,615 shares at $38 a pop, raising $16bn and confirming an initial market capitalisation of approx. $104bn.

Given that in 2011, FB made $1bn profit on a revenue of $3.7bn that means it started off trading at over 28 times earnings. Apple at its peak share price of $644 was only trading at 5 1/2 times its eventual 2011 earnings and is now down to about 4.6x. Google is currently valued at just over 5x, Microsoft 3.5x, Intel 2.4x, Amazon 2x…

Facebook makes most of its money through advertising. It is thus concerning that their click through rates are below average. You can add to this their admitted problems with trying to making money on mobile traffic.

Yet, even given what – to me – looked like a company which has been horrendously overvalued, investors and analysts were expecting a first day ‘pop’ with, at the wilder end, estimates of 50% being made.

What they got instead was a fizzle with the shares closing up a paltry $0.23 (0.61%) – having opened at $42.05 (10.6%) and briefly touched $45 (18.4%) – and it seems that the only reason they didn’t close down was that the banks who underwrote the IPO took up their option to buy an additional 63,185,042 shares.

If I’d been silly enough to buy Facebook shares I’d be looking to cut my losses ASAP.

For comparison, here are the IPO and first day close details of some other internet companies:

Company Date Shares Float Price ($) Approx. Mkt Cap ($m) Close Price ($) % rise
Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) 1997-05-15 3,000,000 18 438 23.4 30
Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) 2004-08-24 19,605,052 85 23,000 100.34 18
Groupon (NASDAQ:GRPN) 2011-11-03 35,000,000 20 12,700 26.11 30.6
LinkedIn (NYSE:LNKD) 2011-05-19 7,840,000 45 4,410 94.25 109.4
Zynga (NASDAQ:ZNGA) 2011-12-16 100,000,000 10 7,000 9.50 -5

Still, I doubt Zuckerberg will be too worried. Even after selling 30.2m shares in order to satisfy the IRS, his net worth weighs in at approx. $19bn.

Given that then you’d have thought he’d have been able to hire himself a nice suit for his wedding…

Mark Zuckerberg with wife Priscilla Chan

Free the Pontypridd One

According to news reports, a 21 year old man from Pontypridd is being held at Swansea police station following offensive remarks made on Twitter after Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the pitch yesterday afternoon.

Whilst I in no way condone what the young man said, I find it despicable that he has been arrested for it.

To quote Voltaire Evelyn Beatrice Hall*:

I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.

R.I.P. Free Speech

Update: Quote attribution changed. Thank you to @WelshToy for point this out.

* It appears I may have been wrong all these years. According to Wikipedia:

In Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s biography of Voltaire, she coined the following phrase to illustrate Voltaire’s beliefs: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Guardian press release regurgitation fail

On Tuesday the security firm Unisys released the latest results of what they call their bi-annual global Unisys Security Index, a ‘global study that provides insights into the attitudes of consumers on a wide range of security related issues‘.

Of the two questions that the survey asked, it was the second one about social media, which caught the attention of the MSM – or the Guardian anyway.

What did they ask?

During recent unrest in major UK cities, social networks such as Facebook and Twitter were used to coordinate criminal activity. Do you agree with these statements?

  • The authorities are playing catch up and need more resources to monitor online behaviour?
  • During outbreaks of unrest, providers should temporarily shut down social networks to prevent coordinated criminal activity?
  • The authorities should have open access to data about social network users in order to prevent coordinated criminal activity>
  • Providers of social networks should get more information on the people using their services before they allow use?

The Gruniad’s article on the matter says:

More than two-thirds of adults support the shutdown of social networks during periods of social unrest such as the riots in England this summer, new research has revealed.

A poll of 973 adults carried out for the online security firm Unisys found 70% of adults supported the shutdown of Twitter, Facebook and BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), while only 27% disagreed.

Which, after reading the report proper, only goes to confirm (as if confirmation were needed) that one should never take anything in the press at face value these days (if indeed one ever could).

The report says that the following percentages agreed with the four statements above: 49%, 48%, 46% and 42%.

Almost half I’ll grant you but hardly a majority, let alone 70%. Helpfully the report also gives some idea of how the responses breakdown by age. Not fully but enough to give us more of an idea of the views of each age group. It found that:

[The] desire to take strong measures rises with age:

  • More resources for police: 41% of those 18-24 to 52% of those 50-64 (seniors: 44%)
  • Temporary shut-downs during social unrest: from 28% of those 18-24 to 60% of seniors
  • Police monitoring: from 36% of those 18-24 to 52% of seniors
  • Background checks of new users: from 28% of those 18-24 to 49% of seniors.

Which shows us that a majority only exists as you go up the age scale. No surprises there. As for the 70% figure? The closest we get is for one age group on one statement.

Indeed the figure ’70’ doesn’t feature anywhere in the report, or assuming that the reporter James Ball (whose bio says that he ‘is a data journalist working for the Guardian investigations team. He joined the Guardian from Wikileaks, and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’) didn’t get beyond it, the press release either.

About the only useful bit of the Guardian article therefore is the space filling rent-a-quote:

“It’s very worrying that people would believe shutting down social networks would be in any way desirable,” said Padraig Reidy, news editor of Index on Censorship. “The vast majority of social network use during the unrest was people spreading information and helping each other get home safely. These kinds of actions would weaken the UK’s position against authoritarian regimes who censor internet access. As we live more of our lives online, people should be conscious of the amount of power they’re potentially handing over to government.”

None of which I can disagree with at all.

Sun hack to cause Murdoch more problems?

Given the issues that Sky were having in obtaining permission to broadcast the first one day international between Inda and England today what John Etheridge is suggesting in this tweet may have been true and necessary.

JohnSunCricket: TV execs desperately trying to find the official whose palm needs greasing.

However given the trouble News Corp. is in thanks to the ‘phone hacking’ scandal in the UK and the emerging ‘circulation scam‘ at the european edition of the Wall Street Journal, I’m not sure they really need one of their reporters, even if it is only the cricket correspondant of the Sun, openly suggesting bribery.

Would someone who knows more about the Bribery Act 2010 than I be able to say if such an act, if it happened, falls foul of it?