Social media ‘travel mode’

Maciej Cegłowski argues that given phones are somehow subject to the same invasive access as suitcases, social media developers should develop a ‘travel mode’ that severely limits access and data when activated:

Both Facebook and Google make lofty claims about user safety, but they’ve done little to show they take the darkening political climate around the world seriously. A ‘trip mode’ would be a chance for them to demonstrate their commitment to user safety beyond press releases and anodyne letters of support.

Not sure that it would really help though - he suggests it would be irrevocable once set (to thwart border agents just asking you to turn it back on), but that would seem to create a whole other set of problems (what if you have to cancel your trip at late notice with travel mode already set).

John Gruber is right, we should be fighting the entire premise:

“Travel mode” would be better than nothing, but no technical solution is a substitution for proper civil liberties. Our phones and devices should be protected against unwarranted search and seizure, period.

It will be fascinating to see what impact the election has had on US tourism at the end of all this. A planned exploration of some US National Parks is definitely off the agenda for me now, and I’m sure for many others.

Phone security at border checks

A flurry of articles recently about how secure your phone is at border checks, particularly in the US (for obvious reasons).

First a US born NASA scientist was detained returning home and told to unlock his phone - which he eventually did, not being sure what his rights were.

Turns out no-one is really sure what rights you have - specifically whether you are obliged to unlock a locked device.

One thing we can say is you have far less options to say ‘no’ if you’re non-native to the country you are entering.

It’s staggering to think that courts and laws now allow a border agent to demand you unlock a personal device, without any warrant or proof of suspicion, and that all the data on that device is fair game for them to copy and do with what they will. How did we get here?

Accordingly, here’s a very thorough guide to securing your data at border crossings. Some of it seems over the top - mailing yourself a SIM - but given the slow regression in privacy rights it’s probably all exactly right.

Metadata access denied

Ex-Sydney Morning Herald journalist Ben Grubb has had a long running legal battle with Australian telecommunications company Telstra over access to his own metadata. The Australian ‘security’ laws decree that all ISPs must retain two years of ‘metadata’ - a very poorly defined and broad concept - for ‘national security’ reasons.

Grubb set about trying to find out exactly what was in that cache of data, and has been through several court cases to establish what he is allowed to access.

Unfortunately he has been stopped at the last hurdle, with the Australian Federal Court ruling that he cannot in fact have access to his own data. Whilst the ruling seems to have been made on points-of-law rather than blanket ‘citizens can’t access their data’ grounds, it’s still incredibly disappointing.

When a local council or debt agency can collect the data but the person generating it can’t, it certainly breaks any trust we can have that the data will be protected. Especially concerning now the fears that the data may end up being used for totally non-security related issues appear to be coming true.

Securing Windows

Twitter security celebrity1 SwiftOnSecurity maintains Decent Security, providing some nice detail on how to securely install your Windows machines, and then how to maintain and recover them (particularly useful when your relatives call wondering why their browser is exploding):

This is a guide to bi-yearly maintenance for Windows 7 and higher. Although this isn’t a computer disinfection guide, it will remove many viruses and repair their damage.

Some of the info is incomplete, but it’s an excellent starting point.


  1. Talk about niche 

‘Money laundering for bias’

Maciej Cegłowski, easily one of the best writers and thinkers on privacy, on the problems with big data:

Instead of relying on algorithms, which we can be accused of manipulating for our benefit, we have turned to machine learning, an ingenious way of disclaiming responsibility for anything. Machine learning is like money laundering for bias. It’s a clean, mathematical apparatus that gives the status quo the aura of logical inevitability. The numbers don’t lie.

His six proposals to restore sanity sound exactly right.

Classic mistake

It’s not only pop music that is stymied by record company madness. Graham Abbott hosts a popular and educational series Keys to Music on ABC Classic FM each week, delving into particular styles or composers or eras. It’s only an hour long, so he plays excerpts from works during the show to illustrate the points being made.

It’s the kind of show that would be great to download for schools and people wanting to learn more about classical music. And, like the Countdown documentary, it’s a terrific primer for people to go and search out more music or the full works being discussed. But of course the industry won’t allow it because they want to be paid.

Further evidence of the music industry being stuck trying to relive their glory days, in the process missing opportunities that are right in front of them.

Do Yourself a Favour - or, if you’re the music industry, don’t

A colleague recently tweeted about the availability a great Countdown documentary ‘Do Yourself a Favour’:

Hey @ABCShop, looking for a DVD of Countdown: Do Yourself a Favour and can’t find it online. Is it ever going to be available for sale? @JaneHolley48 2 Feb 2016

Given there is currently a wave of Countdown nostalgia due to the Molly rockumentary, it would seem like the perfect time for a release. However:

sorry Jane, it won’t be sold on DVD due to the cost of music rights. @JeremyBoylin 2 Feb 2016

2016 and the music industry still don’t get it, withholding rights for a show that spent its entire run promoting and hyping the very same industry. Sales of a DVD highlighting classic bands and artists makes people go and seek that music out.

They should take Molly’s advice just like we all used to.