Switchback: Talking Tech (Sept. 26)

Sep 26, 2014

The team from The Switch discussed everything from the latest political tech news to the gadgets you’re eyeing.

Here is a breakdancing gorilla to get us started. 

You're welcome

Any reactions to this recent item?

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: It's all about streaming these days. The only music I buy nowadays comes on large vinyl disks. No seriously, I have a hallway covered in them. 

Are any of you guys Linux users? Do you guys have any thoughts on the open source community?

I've dabbled in the past -- dual booting various Ubuntu flavors, mostly. And I use TAILS when needed. But I'm primarily on Windows machines, generally out of force of habit. 

I have a lot of respect for the open source community. But I also think there are some huge structural issues with how it functions -- it's a massive endeavor primarily run by volunteers who nearly always lack appropriate resources in terms of actual capital and human capital. These people are literally working on the infrastructures that make the Internet as we know it work -- and the fruits of their labor is routinely relied upon by major companies who don't have an incentive to help them. 

Meredith Patterson, a security researcher and open source developer, recently put up medium post that touches on some of the reasons why big tech companies aren't as involved as we might expect them to be considering the recent rash of high profile open source vulnerability: 

Google could easily throw a pile of engineers at fixing OpenSSL, but it’d never be in their interest to do it, because they’d be handing Facebook and LinkedIn and Amazon a pile of free money in unspent remediation costs. They’ve got even less incentive to fix entire classes of vulnerabilities across the board. Same goes for everybody else in the game.

Tech companies did commit millions to helping do open source security audits post-Heartbleed. But I don't think those commitments come close to helping with the systematic unbalance at play here. 

With all the commotion over Shellshock, Heartbleed and the various data breaches we've seen this year, it's worth asking whether the media has been covering IT security responsibly. To what extent do people feel the Internet is "generally" safe, and has that impression changed as we've learned about what hackers (government or otherwise) can do?

I had the chance this week to moderate a session involving many of the people working on digital inclusion issues here in the District of Columbia, and a point they made was that the issue isn't simply access, or questions of relevance, but that a lot of people find the Internet a terrifying place. I've been thinking about that a lot last week, and I do wonder whether coverage what those of us who cover these issues see as "fringe" cases read to a lot of the general public as confirmation that the online world is tremendously scary. 

Seems to me that the Internet is just a big city. There are good neighborhoods and bad neighborhoods, which isn't to say that bad things can't happen to you even if you stay in the good neighborhoods. Keep one hand on your wallet and your eyes open and don't count on the cops to keep you safe.

We actually had a similar discussion in on this topic in office this week, only using highways. There are more trusted main routes, but some digital exits you don't want to take. 

What do folks think of Ello? Have you had a chance to test it out? Are you totally confused as to what it is? Is it a Facebook killer, or is it just hype?

I think encryption is a good thing. If our data goes to the cloud, and Uncle Sam wants it, let him get a warrant, and Google/Apple will hand over the keys. It will keep snoops like TMZ from looking at our naked selfies.

The celeb nude thefts seem to have come from breaches of those users' iCloud accounts, which I don't believe are part of the same encryption switch up on the mobile side you're referring to -- so if you have autobackup to the cloud set up from your mobile device things might still be a little iffy on the non-user access situation. 

The problem is: like barbecue and other ethnic foods, some of the best stuff on the Internet is in sketchy neighborhoods.

Between Apple and Google talking about reworking their encryption set ups on mobile devices to make them more secure, and the proliferation of devices specifically presented as secure alternatives to typical consumer tech post-Snowden, it seems like tech companies are starting to use privacy as a major selling point. Is this something you take into account when considering which device to buy? 

What is it? I can't keep up with all these new social networks. I already skipped Yo and Wut. Is this something I should pay attention to?

It's attracting sincere attention in the way that Yo did not; it's inspiring a lot of navel-gazing about just what we want in our social media and whether a mission-driven app that's nevertheless funded by venture capital can really hold true to its promises never to use ads or mine your personal data. 

I'm not on it yet, but I'm intrigued.

Here's a different perspective to the linux question from earlier. I'm a longtime linux user - currently running CentOS workstations for actual work. Andrea mentioned concerns about the internal structures behind the linux distributions. This will be just one example, but I automatically received the bash bug fix yesterday, before I even knew there was a problem. My colleagues running macs haven't heard boo from Apple, and are currently trying to figure out how to recompile their shell. Run a robust, commercially supported linux, and you'll not have the issues of the bleeding edge distributions.

Oh, absolutely. The Linux distros have kicked Apple's butt on responding to the bash bug -- but I think that the long term reliance of major tech companies on many people who have other jobs and are are doing this work out of the goodness of their hearts is, well, unfair. 

Nope. Not safe, never has been. People are just now realizing it. What I don't get is why when I go visit my friends overseas, they take internet safety much more seriously - they have to use two factor ID to do online banking (and have for years) - the bank gives them a card reader for their home computer to read their ATM card, then they need a separate password.

The vulnerability in the open source software that is widely used and distributed begs for serious government interventions. From home routers to the routers on the major interconnects, these issues could make the internet completely broken, if the majority of people stop trusting sensitive data transfer or governments restrict data from across and from servers they control. The issue is two-fold though, as most of the tech hobbyists lack trust for any government, and companies as you said have zero incentive to work outside a forced investment framework. Also mitigating vulnerabilities would freak out national security types that can only image the lost benefits of attack vectors to be exploited, assuming that somehow we would be so exceptional as to be safe.

I'm going to hijack the thread and ask for thoughts on this story, which dives into the digital meltdown that the Federal Communications Commission experienced when comments flooded in during the recent public feedback period on Open Internet (read: net neutrality) rules. There's grumbling in some quarters that federal regulators worked with the 'pro-neutrality' groups to get their comments filed. 

Hi there. I am in the market for a new GPS running watch. My Garmin has stopped beeping at me (silly design flaw--who puts the speaker on a sports watch right where people are sweating?), something I need when doing interval runs. To replace it would be $300-$400, but I just can't afford that right now. Can you recommend one, preferably one that lets me input my own workouts? Thanks!

While Hayley would probably be best suited to answer this question, the helpful folks at The Wirecutter have done some extensive testing. Their favorite, and I tend to trust their reviews, is the Garmin Forerunner 220.

Check out the blog of a former DC resident- dcrainmaker.com. Reviews of any and all running (and other) gadgets you could ever want. Good price point comparisons too.

We have to peace out a little early today -- but thanks for all the questions and we'll (digitally) see you all next week. 

In This Chat
Brian Fung
Andrea Peterson
Nancy Scola
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