Surfing without the Sharks
There is a lot of buzz going on right now about encryption boosts being implemented in Apple products. Specifically, app and text data stored on these personal devices will now be encrypted, and the user will be the only one able to decrypt it. Yes, it turns out those are two different features. At the minimum, this dramatically increases the security of the devices as a whole, and it provides more legal oversight surrounding the ownership rights and access to that content. Naturally, the investigative arms of government are flapping like chicken wings over the BETTER protection. This does make their job harder, mainly because they have become spoiled to the easy access they have enjoyed previously. This is like the Fox complaining that they have added a lock to the hen house door. It makes it much harder to see if the chickens are safe.
In a related stream of discussion, there was a Kickstarter project that promised easy anonymity for the masses browsing the web. The Anonabox promised a simple device that made using the Tor network seamless. However, if you were on 3G or leeching from a public wi-fi spot, it did little for you. You can be anonymous at home, and that is a good place to start. Tor can be difficult to setup and run for those that are less than sophisticated with these kinds of things. Even for those that ARE good with it, it can still be tricky. Having a one box solution was a great idea...and according to the monetary interest of the project, it was poised to be a phenomenally popular product too. Unfortunately, the wrapping came off and it was determined that the original ideas were not so much original. In my humble opinion, there is a fine line defining original work and compilation of code for specific chipsets. I saw no issue with the project, but I can appreciate the value of a mass-produced shirt even though the paper patterns are easily available. Apparently there is a different standard at Kickstarter, and that is their cross to bear.
So, what does the increased interest of the masses in securing personal content and anonymous browsing say about the current state of the public Internet? Well, I construe the keen attention paid to both of these things to be a function of tracking and monitoring fatigue. It seems easier to just hide your stuff from prying eyes. Now don't get me wrong, I am all still for open networks and keeping most things in plain text. I am this way because I believe full text search and passive pattern matching are not necessarily a bad thing in themselves. My concern comes from over-broad government surveillance without due cause, and those notorious black hats and all their shades of grey. Historically, encryption and privacy have been the prerogative of those that take the trouble to learn how to make all that complicated stuff happen, which pointed to those with stuff to hide. Today, if you are using high privacy software and disk encryption, you are assumed to be doing something suspicious. Keeping secrets is bad. Well, the world has changed. A few years ago my opinion of a restaurant on Yelp was just that, it would not have landed me with a defamation suit or a fine that I unknowingly consented to when I ordered off their menu with the fine print. My total "influence" index was not evaluated and tracked. One book purchase would not be collated with my searches for juice extractors, my grocery shopping tendencies and a clear penchant for organically grown food. Such is not the case today. All these data points are monetized, sold, and aggregated to be sold again. My data exhaust is valuable, and I am not getting paid for any of it.
There is something to be said about big companies seeing trends and addressing unmet needs faster. I just don;t want to see it in my inbox or iPhone. Is the AppleWatch going to set alarms for my milk's expiration date? No, that would be helpful to me. They would rather send me recipes for using their milk, along with their butter, and a coupon for the flour of their sister company owned by the same giant conglomerate. When everything is hidden by everyone by default, without requiring an advanced math degree to set it all up, then the overall security of the whole ecosystem becomes stronger, and you have the freedom to buy the "outside the family" flour without the guilt of ignoring a coupon.
This means that there will be increased pressure on websites, search engines and social network to be "good guys" and respect these preferences and settings. A tall order indeed, and a bit of a pipe dream anyway. With some more wiz-bang thinking and a little bit of programming finesse, the anonymizing and encrypting toys and gadgets can actually be configured to do this for you in conjunction with your browser or operating system. With a little more thinking, this could even be managed "in the cloud" and then you can set all kinds of levels of disclosure about you and your "friends on the internet" from there. Let's face it, knowing friend from foe has only gotten harder as the open network has grown and become a trillion dollar bonanza. This is not going to change, but it does need to evolve. Encryption and privacy are the primary beasts at the top of the food chain, and we just have to figure out how to easily integrate their DNA into the devices and software at the bottom of the pile.