Notes on media, politics & technology, by Adam Wilcox.

adamwilcox.org

A Former Web Designer

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For fifteen years, I’ve worked as a website designer for hire, as a freelancer and a contractor. And now I’ve quit.

It was much easier when I started out in the mid 90s, mostly because all you really needed was a computer and the conviction you knew better than most other people. Which, was generally true 15 years ago when the guys who ran companies had no idea what a website was, except that they didn’t have one.

Web design was ludicrously easy industry to enter, a basic understanding of HTML would get you most of the way. Plenty of demand for cheap work to get you started, and you can up your price as you get better. Today, web design is considerably more complicated. Responsive design, retina images, CSS, jQuery, mobile apps, tying into social networks, backend databases. And frankly there are a lot of keen young chaps in India or Vietnam who can do the job for a lot less than I can.

I’m not saying I don’t enjoy using the tools we have to play with now, but I do not have the patience to corral these features into a unified thing that pleases someone who’s main concern is flogging overpriced driving lessons.

It wasn’t one specific client, but I’ve lost almost all interest in being a web designer for anything other than my own projects. Too many clients seem to want to sabotage their own projects with terrible design sense. I’ve had my share of clients from hell, and some commissions have been through the Oatmeal experience.

As a sideline I was never very partially happy with the responsibility of other people’s businesses relying on my hobby in my spare time. It wasn’t helped by having to support obscure browsers, and frequently receiving Word documents full of pictures and poorly spelt text, with the expectation I would be able to magic it into something acceptable. I refused to play dumb SEO games, create ugly “call to action” buttons and otherwise cock around with social media unnecessarily; you’re a care home- the core demographic are not going to to “Like” you on Facebook.

So I’ve quit. My full time job takes up more than enough of my time, and new pastimes are now my focus when I’m not working. Frankly it feels good to only be making websites that I am truly proud of.

Gunpoint - A Case of Crossed Wires

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Gunpoint is a great little noir stealth puzzle game. Here’s the trailer. Best £6 I’ve spent in a while, with a wonderful soundtrack. You can get the game on Steam for Windows, Mac and Linux.

#permalink

Apple Encryption and Washington Post Criticism

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iOS 8 comes with updated encryption of user data, both locally on the iPhone or iPad device and stored remotely via iCloud. Whereas previously only some of the data was encrypted, now much more of it is- specifically photos and text messages which tend to be of interest to the Police and Law Enforcement.

Apple’s updated privacy statement goes into more detail, but essentially data is now encrypted with a user set key and Apple does not have a way of unlocking the data without that key. So even when law enforcement obtain a search warrant, Apple cannot be compelled to turn over the data, only the user can. 1

The Washington Post reported on this in an editorial, noting that:

FBI Director James B. Comey said he could not understand why the tech companies would “market something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law.”

The problem here, is that the FBI, (and the other Five Eyes, have shown that they repeatedly place themselves beyond the law. Edward Snowden exposed the mass surveillance of phone and internet communications by our governments.

They have been actively working to degrade international standards to promote vulnerable cryptography, sweeping up huge quantities of private data and information on private citizens across the world. They have also found ways to break SSL connections; that’s the foundation of how you and I do any kind of banking and shopping securely online.

The Washington Post editorial went onto say that:

This is not about mass surveillance. Law enforcement authorities are not asking for the ability to surveil everyone’s smartphone, only those relatively few cases where there is a court-approved search warrant. This seems reasonable and not excessively intrusive.

The Washington Post said that. The paper in which Woodward and Bernstein broke the Watergate scandal. No, “law enforcement authorities are not asking for the ability to surveil everyone’s smartphone”… they already are, and have been for years, with breath-taking arrogance. This is everything about mass surveillance, and the Washington Post is losing any credibility to stand for independent, robust reporting.

The Washington Post editorial board went on to say:

How to resolve this? A police “back door” for all smartphones is undesirable — a back door can and will be exploited by bad guys, too. However, with all their wizardry, perhaps Apple and Google could invent a kind of secure golden key they would retain and use only when a court has approved a search warrant.

John Gruber’s response:

Just use their magic to help the good guys. Maybe if Apple and Google can’t figure this out, they can get help from the computer science department at Hogwarts.

The Washington Post states that “smartphone users must accept that they cannot be above the law if there is a valid search warrant.” However, Apple has not deliberately designed a system that prevents law enforcement from executing legitimate warrants. Apple have built a system that prevents anyone from getting hold of your data, be they hackers, disgruntled Apple employees, criminals, hostile foreign governments and your own government.

You can choose not to use many of the security features available on your iPhone, and you can choose more generally not to be careful about the data you provide to third parties. This is about customers being responsible for the security of their data; not Apple.

  1. That is an oversimplification, and there are caveats which cryptographer Matthew Green explains.

Antisocial - Ello and Facebook

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There is a new social networking site, Ello.co, which is “simple, beautiful & ad-free.”

Ello has been bubbling under the surface since March this year, but over the last week a number of articles have inflated its profile and non-tech people have become aware of its existence. It’s an attractive new service pitching itself under the banner of “Facebook is rubbish these days, vive la révolution!”

I’m not that old - within shambling distance of 30 - but I’ve been online for long enough to see various social networks come and go. The dominant social network currently is Facebook, with 71% of the internet using the site, and despite predictions that the site will lose up to 80% of its users within the next three years, it remains a seemingly unstoppable beast.

Ello isn’t the first anti-Facebook; I had an account on App.net and backed Diaspora on Kickstarter, but neither have gained any traction other than with the first wave nerds.

I deleted my Facebook account in November 2012, and in the almost two years since then I’ve hardly missed it. I realise I’m not normal in this regard, along with Facebook my Google account is gone. LinkedIn never sat well with me. I guess I’m just not a social network kinda guy.

I’ve stuck with Twitter, even though I’ve assumed for ages now that eventually Twitter will become unusable. I don’t know what replaces it though, if it wasn’t for the various forms of Tweetbot I’d struggle to use Twitter’s own product as it is.

Ello promises to be the new Facebook, a Facebook without adverts and selling out your data. That promise already seems questionable, as Ello has taken a $435,000 round of seed funding in January from FreshTracks Capital, a Vermont-based VC firm. VCs expect a return on investment. Ello says that it’s going to monetise by selling features. It might work, but enough to be sustainable and keep VCs happy? Not likely Andy Baio:

VCs don’t give money out of goodwill, and taking VC funding — even seed funding — creates outside pressures that shape the inevitable direction of a company.

Every social network I’ve used has either failed to gain enough traction to encapsulate the full range of people that make up ones nearest and dearest, or been forced to pivot from social utility to corporate advertising media platform.

Social Networks are “YOUR FRIENDSHIPS! (Sponsored by Subway)”. Two incompatible forces of social connectedness and corporate interests.

I can’t work up any enthusiasm for Ello. I certainly don’t intend to use Ello. Maybe I am just getting old. Or maybe social networks have had their day. Facebook is 10 years old this year, and the internet has changed so much in 10 years.

When Facebook started, communication online wasn’t particularly easy. It was message boards and forums. You could contact friends online via email and instant message. Both required a desktop computer, and often only after checking no one else needed to use the phone-line. Today email and instant message have been replaced by… email and iMessage.

My iPhone can contact anyone, anywhere, anytime. I don’t need a social network to facilitate my interactions with friends and family.

Contempt of Court

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When someone famous finds themselves in trouble with the law, it can be very tempting to hop on Twitter and crack a joke at their expense. Particularly when that individual happens to be an odious scumbag that you’ve always suspected of being up to no good.

However, by doing so, you risk committing Contempt of Court. ‘Contempt’ is the law that protects the judicial process. It covers not only misbehaviour in the courtroom itself, but also anyone making prejudicial comments that might force trials to be abandoned. Comments on social media fall into this category.

The Attorney General has made it clear that when you publish something on the internet, you are considered a journalist. The Contempt of Court Act 1981 says that there are criminal sanctions up to and including imprisonment for anyone who acts in a way ‘tending to interfere with the course of justice in particular legal proceedings regardless of intent to do so’.

How to Avoid Committing Contempt of Court.

The Contempt of Court Act 1981 kicks in once somebody has been arrested or civil proceedings have started, such as when a warrant has been issued, or they have been orally charged. If this has happened, you should avoid publishing something which creates a substantial risk of serious prejudice or serious impediment to those proceedings.

Serious Prejudice or Impediment?

So Should I Just Keep Quiet?

Well, yes and no. You are in the legal clear discussing cases in broad terms, so for example if there is a high profile case regarding domestic abuse you can discus the issues around domestic abuse, but not specific commentary on the case.

Referring to someone having allegedly committed the alleged offence is in theory safe, but unless you are Ian Hislop, or really, really sure of your ground it’s probably not worth the risk.

My thanks to David Banks, one of the UK’s leading media law trainers and consultants, for double checking this post for me.