Slightly less Random Ramblings

March 18, 2016

The Process or the Product?

Filed under: crime, encryption, Police, Technology, terrorism — Tags: , , , , , — Robert Wicks @ 5:29 pm

Cipher for Telegraphic Correspondence — a code book used by Union General Joseph Hooker’s code clerk

When I was younger, I often heard people debating whether the state should attempt to ensure equality of opportunity for people or equality of outcome. This has generally focused on areas associated with race or gender. Libertarians have consistently maintained that equality of opportunity is all that the government should properly enforce. The most progressive people push for equality of outcome in some situations, though many will say that historical biases are being overcome, so it is meaningful equality of opportunity that they seek. It strikes me however, that the recent public confrontation between Apple and the FBI provides us with similar arguments being made.

The state has long had the recognized authority to seize property and search it with a warrant. Many of the discussions surrounding the iPhone in question mention that the government can issue orders to look through private property and that the iPhone in question is no different. I’ve seen comparisons, for example to breaking into a home and taking papers for examination.

This is where I think the parallels to civil rights situations can come into play. If the police take your papers, do they have the right to the intelligibility of those papers and effects, or simply to the effects themselves. That is, if the papers are in some language or code that they do not know, do they have the right to force someone to translate it or to teach them the language? In the cases of both plain English papers and the iPhone, they have the same opportunity to examine, but the lack of knowledge (of the pass code, password, or encryption key) may make the outcomes very different.

Another analogy I have seen is that of a safe. Imagine a safe with a completely impregnable lock. What does the state do? Well, there are ways to get into safes without using the lock. You could cut your way in, or blow it up. However, it is at least possible that these other methods may destroy something of value within the safe. Does the government have the right to force the  to come up with a method for opening the lock? Further, do they have the right to force  to only make locks which can be opened without the owner’s consent? In the case of the confiscated iPhone, there may well be ways to “open” the data without the owner’s consent, but those methods may destroy the information which is sought.

It is entirely possible that this case may have effects which reach outside of the world of technology. The most fundamental of notions being examined are whether the state is entitled to a process or a product? The process is the issuing of warrants and the collection of property. The seizure of property is no guarantee of specific uses of that property. And it is the specific uses that the state demands. Is it appropriate for the state to insist on a specific outcome for a policy or is it appropriate that an agreed upon process be followed? In the justice system, I have heard many times over the years that the purpose is to follow the process. Justice is the ideal outcome, but a particular outcome is not what the state promises citizens. It promises them a process. Yet, it appears as though the state is not satisfied to have the same situation in cases involving itself: it demands an outcome. As we move forward and various technologies are developed, this guarantee of outcome will necessarily create greater and greater burdens on hardware and software developers. It may be effectively illegal for a small independent developer to create an encrypted product, for example, because the day may come where each instance of a product will require some sort of individualized method for accessing whatever data is held within it. That implies a substantial data handling infrastructure which companies, and individuals, may soon be required to maintain.


January 19, 2016

A Trump Win Might Be a Boon for Apple

I just had a thought while chatting with some friends. What if Apple buys Tesla, and leverages the IP, along with moving iOS and even Mac production stateside? There has been plenty of speculation about them building cars or buying Tesla, and Donald Trump was recently reported to have said that he would make them move production back stateside. This might actually be something which would benefit Apple’s bottom line. I think they have enough IP protection to pull all of that off. And they’d have PR coups over even the American car manufacturers, which would place pressure on them to move more production back stateside. I really think, the more that I think about it, that Trump winning could make Apple more money than its ever made over a Presidential term. It could be absolutely massive. With IP, you can afford union wages, as the restricted competition means greatly increased profit margins. Considering the nationalist fervor which would accompany a Trump win, this might be a win for Apple as well.

January 29, 2010

What I’d Like to See Google Do in Response to the iPad

Filed under: computing — Tags: , , , — Robert Wicks @ 11:03 pm

Apple recently unveiled the iPad, a device with which I am more impressed than I expected. It is less expensive than I thought it would be, and it has the kind of functionality it needs to have. It has the potential to be a wonderful book, magazine, and newspaper reader. It is not without its flaws, but it absolutely has the potential to revolutionize how we read, and how we access information. It is not difficult to visualize iPads in use in doctors’ offices, libraries, and various businesses for any number of purposes, both obvious and innovative.

Google is heavily invested in Android, an iPhone OS competitor in the smartphone market. Since the iPad uses the iPhone OS, it is only natural that Android competitors to the iPad emerge. And they have. Indeed, There were Android tablets already on the market before the iPad debuted, such as the Archos 7. None of the Android tablets I have investigated so far have the appealing form factor of Apple’s however.

Google sells the Nexus One directly to customers. It essentially competes head to head with Apple in the phone market, though “compete” is taking a bit of literary license when we consider the relative sales of the two phones. Still, Android phones are increasing in popularity, and the platform is evolving rapidly. I think Google could make a real play to compete head to head with the iPad as a portable reader. Google has poured huge sums of money into digitizing books and now has a considerable library of classic works. It should leverage this by developing an Android book reader optimized for a 10 inch tablet. Then, Google should practically give them away to libraries and schools across the world. Discount them heavily, just get them out. Google should make it a corporate mission to get every middle school, high school, and college student reading books and using textbooks on an Android device.

By getting students and readers used to reading on Android devices,, Google can fuel demand for its web services and get young people accustomed to using Android as their preferred platform for accessing information. Tools are difficult things to change. Get a young person used to your tool, and you probably have a customer for life. One of the major advantage Android could offer to libraries and schools is low cost. Since Android is an open platform, other manufacturers would naturally make competing devices and compete with Google in this push into the youth market. This would drive up quality and drive down costs. A few shortcomings in the iPad which could be immediately addressed are:

  • Lack of a front facing camera. With a front facing camera, an Android tablet could be a nice Skype/IM machine.
  • Multitasking. This is an easy one, and is already present in all Android devices. Being able to use streaming audio while reading email or surfing the web is an advantage over the iPhone.
  • Flash support. Being able to use services such as Hulu and various Flash gaming sites would provide a further advantage to an Android tablet.

Make no mistake. None of these things would “kill the iPad.” Just as in the case of the iPhone, I don’t want to see them die. They are innovative products which have forced others to respond to customer demand and improve the customer experience. Even if Google did all these things, and was successful with them, I’d love to see Apple come back to outdo them, point by point. You and I are would be the biggest winners.


Friends have pointed out that this plan could be prohibitively expensive.  Looking back over it, I have to agree. The educational models should ditch the camera and Google should sell the devices at cost. Later manufacturers can come along with faster processors and additional features. And Google might actually be able to get Adobe to help defer some of the cost in exchange for promotional considerations. Adobe is desperate to have Flash on mobile devices since Apple is consistently snubbing them.

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