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Walt Mossberg's Last Column Calls For Privacy and Security Laws (recode.net) 96

70-year-old Walt Mossberg wrote his last weekly column Thursday, looking back on how "we've all had a hell of a ride for the last few decades" and revisiting his famous 1991 pronouncement that "Personal computers are just too hard to use, and it isn't your fault." Not only were the interfaces confusing, but most tech products demanded frequent tweaking and fixing of a type that required more technical skill than most people had, or cared to acquire. The whole field was new, and engineers weren't designing products for normal people who had other talents and interests. But, over time, the products have gotten more reliable and easier to use, and the users more sophisticated... So, now, I'd say: "Personal technology is usually pretty easy to use, and, if it's not, it's not your fault." The devices we've come to rely on, like PCs and phones, aren't new anymore. They're refined, built with regular users in mind, and they get better each year. Anything really new is still too close to the engineers to be simple or reliable.
He argues we're now in a strange lull before entering an unrecognizable world where major new breakthroughs in areas like A.I., robotics, smart homes, and augmented reality lead to "ambient computing", where technology itself fades into the background. And he uses his final weekly column to warn that "if we are really going to turn over our homes, our cars, our health and more to private tech companies, on a scale never imagined, we need much, much stronger standards for security and privacy than now exist. Especially in the U.S., it's time to stop dancing around the privacy and security issues and pass real, binding laws."
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Walt Mossberg's Last Column Calls For Privacy and Security Laws

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  • People willing turn over their data to these companies for use of "free" products.

    That being said, private companies will always protect data better than the government. There are real ramifications if a public company loses data.

    • Re:What privacy? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Sunday May 28, 2017 @10:04PM (#54503735)

      People willing turn over their data to these companies for use of "free" products.

      As long as the terms of the transaction are clear, there is nothing wrong with that. I use Google search, Google Docs, etc. They mine the data I give them, and I occasionally get ads for stuff I am actually interested in. If I don't want them to know about something, I use an incognito window or a different computer.

      • yes there is something wrong with it. It's a creeping ivy that climbs the healthy trees and kills them. By getting more and more people to surrender to their "free" offerings that cost of residing outside the google sphere or facebook toxic beach become prohibitive. Already there's dozens of sites I can't fully use because it takes a facebook login to us. Same with google+ registrations on many sites. Thus even though I'm willing to pay for my privacy (by using Apple products and services) I can't reac

      • by dcollins ( 135727 ) on Sunday May 28, 2017 @11:30PM (#54503937) Homepage

        "I occasionally get ads for stuff I am actually interested in."

        I have seriously never understood this apology for ad-based services. You honestly like ads intruding on your workflow while you're trying to do something else? Instead of a push-messaging model, wouldn't it be better to have a pull-messaging model where, on the day you want or need X, you search for "product X" and you get a fair and objective listing of available X's on the market from which to compare?

        • You honestly like ads intruding on your workflow while you're trying to do something else?

          The ads are going to be there anyway. I don't see more ads, just different ads.

          on the day you want or need X, you search for "product X"

          What about stuff you don't know you want or need?
          20 years ago, how many people wanted an iPhone?

          • You don't understand how each ad showing being more profitable is going to result in you being subjected to more ads? Really? How do you cross a street? I mean if you can only see what's 3ft in front of you, what if there is a car coming? Do you Always just wait for the walk signal? I was picking up some nice fatty cottage cheese for lunch and I crossed on a walk signal. I car floored it on yellow and ran the intersection. If I was you, I would be dead. Thankfully I'm a bit smarter than that.
      • As long as the terms of the transaction are clear

        They are not clear. Nowhere does Google and the rest give you a full list of what they're tracking you on. Even on their privacy terms, they only provide "examples".

        If I don't want them to know about something, I use an incognito window or a different computer.

        An incognito window means nothing since they can easily create a unique fingerprint for both normal and incognito windows. A different computer with a different IP address, different preferences et

        • As long as the terms of the transaction are clear

          They are not clear. Nowhere does Google and the rest give you a full list of what they're tracking you on. Even on their privacy terms, they only provide "examples".

          https://myactivity.google.com/myactivity [google.com]

          • Which in my case reports: "No activity. Some activity may not appear yet." I've been actively using Google services while being registered for several years.
      • As long as the terms of the transaction are clear, there is nothing wrong with that

        They never are. Even when, like Google, they're open about what they collect (as long as you bother to go and look), they're not open about the kind of inferences that they can run. For example, the Google Ads and Facebook tracking cookies let these companies know exactly which news articles you read online. If you use GMail or Facebook, they can infer which topics are important to you and likely to influence your vote. They can also infer which of the people in your social network are influenced by th

      • Have no doubt, the data you think they're collecting is only a tiny fraction of the data they have on you. We found out recently they're also collecting data from credit card companies, and be sure they're matching them against all your documents, shopping lists, calendar items, all those apparently innocuous snippets of data you're letting them see.

        In reality you're part of the problem. Google can point to you and others like you and say "see, most people are OK with our terms of service". They c

    • "...giant companies that make up today’s tech oligopoly — Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft. But, as tectonic shifts like this occur in technology, oligopolies get shaken up. For instance: today, Apple is the biggest of the group. By all reports, it’s working seriously on AR, self-driving cars and health initiatives. But its strict and admirable privacy policies make it harder for it to gather the vast amounts of data required for the best machine learning...."

      In otherwords, we

  • by Snotnose ( 212196 ) on Sunday May 28, 2017 @08:49PM (#54503535)
    Followed him for years, always thought he was my age (58). He was right more than he was wrong, but he was always interesting.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    These days most kids are used to apps tracking them all of the time. Just look at Waze that now requires you do enable location services all of the time instead of just when you're using that app. Young people just don't care about privacy since they've never really had it.

  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Sunday May 28, 2017 @09:08PM (#54503591)
    Yeah, I know that's not a nice thing to say, but you're not going to get anywhere with privacy laws while 76% of the country lives paycheck to paycheck. You just won't be able to get the kinds of people in office that'll bother. The crooks will actively oppose it and anyone decent will be too busy with more pressing matters.
    • It wouldn't matter anyway. There is just no possible way to enforce it. The only thing we can do is tell the authorities, *No privacy for me, no privacy for thee*

      • just like we do spam. Spam fines are so massive that only criminals still do it. The criminals who get big enough get caught and get jail time. Privacy violating is easier to enforce since it's only profitable to do when you've got a legit business backing it up. Either that or the government, but you can keep the gov't from violating privacy by banning people who commit violations from public office and lobbying roles.
    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Sunday May 28, 2017 @10:21PM (#54503775)

      Privacy is also a Western concern. In Asian and African countries people have very different expectations. I lived in China for several years, and I don't remember anyone ever knocking before entering a room. At the hospital I saw a nurse interrogating a patient about his impotence problem while other patients were queued directly behind him. Restrooms often had a row of toilets with no stall doors between them, although this did make it easier to ask someone to pass the toilet paper.

    • Bernie Madoff could of used better privacy laws. Problem is, the people with the most money are too damn old to learn anything about computers; that's what they have secretaries for. If I had my way, you must pass a short exam before voting on a Bill just to be sure you read it or at least bothered to look at a cheat sheet. If there's no printout of proof, you don't get to go in and you can't vote on behalf of others. If you fail the exam, you get to take it again because at least hopefully you'd of learned
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 28, 2017 @09:17PM (#54503619)

    "Personal computers are just too hard to use

    Here's the thing though. Since computers were harder to use in the 1970's and 80's, you had two kinds of people: those with no involvement whatsoever with technology, and those who more or less were technically literate.

    Now, they have become easier to perform some common "canned" tasks, but that means there are two kinds of people: and both are now computer users: technically literate people, and technically illiterate. Whereas before the technically illiterate had no impact on the evolution of technology, they now dominate the story because they are the vast majority and it is it their purchasing choices and user choices that determine where things go.

    When they insist on things being "simpler than they are", or when they decide in mass to give all their data to sad companies like Google and Facebook, that harms everyone in the end.

    I'm not so certain that making computers too easy to use has been for the better. Sure, it has allowed more people to have access, but most of them are making terrible choices.

  • He was still being paid a living wage to write... that's getting to be a difficult gig to find.

    So long, Walt, and thanks for all the fish^W columns. I always enjoyed your work.

  • Never heard of the guy and never heard of his supposedly famous pronouncement.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Never heard of the guy and never heard of his supposedly famous pronouncement.

      Probably it was filtered out from your Facebook news stream...

    • He will go down history as the man who brought together Gates and Jobs:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

      (It's an interesting video to watch even though I've posted this before.)

  • by Anonymous Coward

    As far as I care, society, or my life, is ruined.

    The police state is already here I am sure of it, which is why I call it the "looming police state". It seems so obvious that what by naive or tools like technologists are called "survaillance state" is just the police state.

    Also, if society ultimately isn't run by civilians, you can forget about democracy I think. I have nothing against democracy, but this doesn't seem to work, wars everywhere so to speak, nations just doing what they want.

    Having past 40, I

  • What did they mean by 'last'?

  • ... we need much, much stronger standards for security and privacy than now exist.

    Yes we do - but standards are meaningless without consistent, effective, swift, and powerful enforcement. We now live in an era where it's increasingly difficult for the average citizen to persuade authorities to enforce even laws when it comes to offenses committed by corporations. In that kind of climate, the only useful standard is "take your 'ambient computing' and shove it up your ass". Unfortunately, as a species we seem hopelessly addicted to convenience and shininess, even at the cost of various yok

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