Is Big Brother watching? Do you care? Read on for Adam's thoughts on the split between the privacy community and the rest of the world, based on novelist Neal Stephenson's keynote at CFP 2000. Adam also covers the news from Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference about Mac OS X, WebObjects, and QuickTime. Releases last week include PowerMail 3.0.1, Farallon's 11 Mbps SkyLINE wireless PC Card, and EIMS 3.0. (Please note: no issue next week!)
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Next Issue 05-Jun-00 -- Next weekend is Memorial Day in the United States, so we won't be publishing an issue on 29-May-00, although we'll still post important news items throughout the week on our Web site. Look for our next issue on 05-Jun-00, when we'll look at whatever dramatic shifts occurred in the Macintosh world during the break. (We're still smarting from Apple's purchase of NeXT, which happened during our Christmas break in December 1996; see "The NeXT Thing for Apple" in TidBITS-360.) [JLC]
Farallon Ships 11 Mbps Wireless SkyLINE Card -- Farallon Communications is now shipping its SkyLINE 11 Mb wireless networking card, which the company announced in February. The SkyLINE card enables Macintosh PowerBooks and PC laptops with PC Card support access to wireless networks based on the 802.11 networking standard, including networks using Apple's AirPort cards and base stations. The $200 SkyLINE card offers throughputs up to 11 megabits per second (though the actual throughout will undoubtedly be lower), a range of approximately 150 feet (roughly 50 meters), and multi-platform drivers for use with the PowerBook 190, 1400, 2400, 3400, 5300, and G3 Series (running Mac OS 7.5.5 or higher), plus PC laptops running Windows 95/98 or Windows NT (Windows 2000 support planned). Owners of Farallon's 2 Mbps SkyLINE card can upgrade to the 11 Mbps version for $160, although it's worth noting that if you primarily use wireless networking for Internet access, the 2 Mbps throughput of the older SkyLINE card probably isn't a bottleneck. [ACE]
PowerMail 3.0.1 Adds Manual, Fixes Bugs -- Hot on the heels of version 3.0, CTM Development has released PowerMail 3.0.1, a free upgrade that addresses numerous minor issues with the email client and adds several welcome features (see "Migrating to New Climes with PowerMail" in TidBITS-530). Foremost among the improvements are an updated manual, improved performance, broader undo capabilities, easier filter creation, and fixes for a variety of cosmetic and crashing bugs. If you're using PowerMail 3.0 or evaluating the 30-day demo (which now starts counting from your first launch of the program, rather than from PowerMail's release date), you should definitely download the 2.4 MB upgrade, which requires a PowerPC-based Mac with Mac OS 8.5 or later. [ACE]
Qualcomm Ships EIMS 3.0 -- Qualcomm has shipped Eudora Internet Mail Server (EIMS) 3.0, the latest version of Glenn Anderson's popular email server for the Mac OS. The most significant enhancement in EIMS 3.0 is support for the IMAP 4, which enables users to store messages on the server rather than on users' machines (as happens with the more-common POP3). Current versions of Eudora, Outlook Express, PowerMail, Mulberry, and Netscape Communicator support IMAP on the Macintosh. EIMS 3.0 also offers twice the throughput of version 2.x, enables the administrator to configure the port used for SMTP service (perfect for running EIMS and a mailing list server on the same machine), and other improvements. System requirements include a 68030-based Mac or better with at least 8 MB of RAM and System 7.1 or later with Open Transport 1.1.2 or later, although using IMAP may increase those requirements substantially. EIMS also has a new pricing scheme: new copies cost $400 and upgrades are $150 through mid-August, after which the prices jumps to $500 and $250, respectively. A 60-day demo is available as a 2.3 MB download. [GD]
Poll Results: Paying Your Fair Share -- Prompted by last week's article about the misappropriation activities of Gadget Software, our thoughts turned to the more common situation where people use shareware without paying for it. Reminding people that TidBITS polls are anonymous, we asked, "Of the shareware programs you use regularly on your Mac, approximate what percentage have you paid for?" The results indicate TidBITS readers are generally an honest bunch. Of the 1,180 responses, about 70 percent said they paid more than half of their shareware, with a full 22 percent claiming they pay for absolutely everything. Of the 30 percent of respondents who said they paid for less than half of their shareware, only 7 percent admitted to paying for none of it. The topic also raised some interesting points on TidBITS Talk about why people may not always pay for shareware, how shareware authors could make paying easier, and the increasingly minimal differences between shareware and commercial software. [JLC]
Poll Preview: Keeping It to Yourself -- The news media has lately been replete with stories detailing threats to consumer privacy: every day we hear about employers scanning company email, sites tracking every movement of users (and some advertising services tracking users' movements between sites!), or miscreants gaining access to home computers by guessing at an all-too-predictable password. So, this week our poll asks whether you use any specific tactics to protect your privacy online. Responses include using strong (not easily guessed) passwords, blocking or auditing cookies Web sites want to give you, using anonymous email or Web services, or using encryption to protect your data. Vote on our home page - and, yes, our polls are anonymous! [GD]
by Adam C. Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) is an odd beast with the head of a developer, the torso of a product marketing manager, and the hindquarters of a PR flack. On the surface, the conference is the penultimate Mac geek gathering (behind next month's MacHack, of course), with thousands of Macintosh developers in attendance, including many international folks from the countries that together make up about half of Apple's market and provide numerous products to the Mac community. But Apple's goal in holding the conference is as much marketing and PR as passing on technical details about forthcoming Apple technologies. Apple realizes that without a strong and enthusiastic developer community, the Macintosh is no more likely to succeed than a penguin is to fly.
However, developers are often suspicious of being the focus of a marketing effort, and Apple's frequent technology flip-flops over the years have only enhanced that minor paranoia. Given the undeniable importance of Mac developers to the entire Macintosh community, I'm mostly interested in determining the mood of the developers who have attended WWDC, since even more so than Apple, these developers are the people who will determine the success of the Macintosh as it goes forward.
Heavy Freight -- In his keynote, Steve Jobs commented that the Mac OS X train is leaving the station, and Apple hammered home that message during the entire conference. Mac OS X is the future of the Mac OS, Apple has been working on it non-stop for the last few years, and despite reasonable and necessary refinements and associated delays, it's on the track that Apple intends. There was no hint of waffling or hedging bets with the current version of the Mac OS, and developers were strongly encouraged to hold off slightly on any planned third-quarter releases of their products for Mac OS 9 and instead release fully Carbonized versions that can run on Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X early next year. As the badge on Apple's developer Web site boasted, "Last year Mac OS X was a promise. This year it's a reality."
In the last two years, the developers I've spoken with after WWDC have been cautiously optimistic about Apple's plans for Mac OS X, but they were decidedly unwilling to commit until they saw Apple's own level of commitment. Their belief that Apple won't back down from Mac OS X has been increasing over time, culminating most recently with January's Macworld Expo keynote promise that Apple would ship Mac OS X on all Macs in January of 2001. Developers don't mind taking risks on new technologies, but they want to make sure that Apple is betting heavily on the same horse.
It's clear now that Apple is going full speed ahead on Mac OS X, despite some minor delays in the schedule (such as the middle of this year seeing a "public beta" of Mac OS X rather than a "customer release" or "pre-order sales" and the January 2001 release being an "installation option" rather than "shipping on all Macs"). Remember, everything is harder than it seems, and the complexity of bringing an entirely new operating system to a 16-year-old platform boggles the mind. I'd far rather see Apple make Mac OS X functional, stable, and polished than have access to it a few months earlier.
Reports from the many sessions devoted to Mac OS X during WWDC indicate that developers have increasingly been won over, and cautious optimism has in many cases morphed into outright enthusiasm. The fact that Apple has told the same story for several years in a row and is actually showing working previews of Mac OS X also helped cut down on the complaints from previous years in large part because developers realize that the low-level technical battles have either been won or lost, and the push now is to ship.
Either way, there's little point in playing armchair quarterback, at least until the public beta ships in a few more months. Reports from one of the feedback sessions claimed Apple was investing in a system that would enable much better online feedback and support forums than they currently have for managing the feedback from the public beta process. Such a system would be a major step for Apple, which has long been known for being indifferent to external feedback, and even when the company has solicited feedback in the past, the information has been ignored and any followup forgotten.
Mac OS X Details -- Other bits of information about Mac OS X include the fact that the Developer Preview 4, which was given to all the developers at WWDC, includes a version of Microsoft Internet Explorer designed for Mac OS X, showing support from Microsoft's Macintosh Internet software team. Mac OS X will also support the Java 2 Platform, potentially making a Mac running Mac OS X a preferred Java machine, rather than a reviled one. System requirements for Mac OS X were set at any Mac using a PowerPC G3 or PowerPC G4 processor (though Macs with upgrade cards are always a question) with a minimum of 64 MB of RAM. Finally, Apple was careful to call the final release "Mac OS X 1.0," which is important because it implies that this is an entirely new product, rather than just the next in line from Mac OS 9. Since Mac OS X will change a vast amount with regard to how people interact with their Macs, it's important to reset the version counter and hopefully bring expectations line as well.
WebObjects for (Almost) Free -- The other big news at WWDC was Apple's announcement that they're lowering the price of WebObjects 4.5, the company's powerful Web application server software, from $50,000 to $700. Admittedly, that's for the version of WebObjects that allows unlimited usage on one server; some more-restricted versions of WebObjects were previously available for under $50,000. Still, there's no question that dropping the WebObjects price so significantly will create a tremendous level of enthusiasm among the consultant and integrator communities, since they can now offer WebObjects-based solutions to customers for far less than many competing products, rather than the converse.
Even if Apple has put the price of WebObjects within the reach of mere mortals, that doesn't mean WebObjects has suddenly become a user-level development environment. Though few dispute the power of WebObjects, developers I've spoken with say it's a huge and complex system that takes significant time and effort to understand fully. That's not unusual for products in its class but may not be what many Macintosh users expect.
Nonetheless, along with the price drop, Apple devoted numerous sessions at WWDC to WebObjects, making it clear that the company wants many more people to start using WebObjects, which until this point has been kept away from a large potential audience by its price, system requirements, and a lack of marketing emphasis from Apple. Apple has succeeded in the consumer, education, creative, and small business markets, so it's possible that the WebObjects price drop may signal the beginning of a long-term plan to approach the lucrative business market, something I suggested back when Apple first purchased NeXT in late 1996.
WebObjects 4.5 currently runs on Mac OS X Server, Windows NT/2000, Solaris, and HP-UX systems, although Apple announced that WebObjects 5 would be written entirely in Java to open up WebObjects to other operating systems.
The Next QuickTime -- The popular QuickTime remains one of Apple's crown jewels, and the company made sure that developers realized the importance of the technology by announcing that more than 50 million copies of the QuickTime 4 player software had been distributed for both the Mac and Windows. Apple also showed the next version of QuickTime, which included cross-platform support for MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 video, Flash 4 Web animations, and improved QuickTime VR with fully spherical views. QuickTime will also use QDesign software that support the G4 chip's Velocity Engine for significantly faster music encoding. This next version of QuickTime is due to ship sometime mid-year, and reportedly may also do away with the hated "drawer" that helped give QuickTime Player one of Apple's most awkward interfaces (along with Mac OS 9's Sherlock 2).
Looking toward WWDC 2001 -- With this year's WWDC over, the exhausted attendees are straggling home to ponder everything they've heard. From the extremely upbeat impressions I received from many developers, I think next year's WWDC may be even more heavily attended. Even this year there were numerous Unix developers curious to see if Mac OS X might be their ticket to a mass market audience, and if Apple sticks to the self-imposed schedule, Mac OS X may attract an ever-increasing number of developers to the Macintosh platform. And that's good for all of us.
by Adam C. Engst <email@example.com>
Are you afraid of Big Brother? Are you concerned that secret spy satellites monitor your every communication, from greeting the first person you see in the morning to shutting down your Mac after a long day of using email and the Web? I'm not, though some people are. And what's more, I'm still not personally concerned about Big Brother despite spending a few days at the mecca of privacy - this year's Computers, Freedom and Privacy (CFP) conference in Toronto.
Should you be concerned about Big Brother? Perhaps; perhaps not. I've long been slightly bothered by my lack of concern for my personal privacy. Perhaps it's because the life I've chosen gives me public stature only in a virtual world. It may also be that my opinions are so well known that revealing my private communications to the world would be at most embarrassing. Of course, I also feel that I have little to hide.
None of this means I don't place value on personal privacy. The mass media spotlight aimed at the personal lives of public figures shows at best an utter professional lack of manners and at worst a moral bankruptcy. In my (perhaps naive) world view, everyone is entitled to some level of privacy, and that entitlement is so basic that it shouldn't be something we have to worry about on a regular basis.
Would that it were so.
Hyenas & Big Brother -- Novelist Neal Stephenson (author of Cryptonomicon and other well-received cyberpunk novels, including the classic Snow Crash) gave a keynote at CFP that brought into focus the reason I wish I was more concerned about security. The heart of his talk looked at "threat models" - simple pie charts he used to express the things that worried people. Neal claimed that early humans suffered significantly from the depredations of hyenas, which, he said, tended to attack the belly area, rather than the throat. In short, it's a bad way to die, and regardless of the anthropological and paleontological accuracy of the claim, this scenario allowed Neal to construct the first threat model used by early people. It consisted of a pie chart, 95 percent of whose volume was labeled "Hyenas," the remaining 5 percent marked by an "Other" label. The point is that early people spent most of their time worrying about hyenas, and relatively little impinged on that concern, no matter that this fear was disproportionate to the relative threats of hyenas compared to lions, Giardia, or neighboring tribes.
Fast forward to the present. Informed by George Orwell's novels of totalitarian regimes and nurtured by very real government intelligence abuses across the globe, many people have developed a threat model that replaces hyenas with Big Brother, the all-knowing all-seeing government of George Orwell's "1984." Other concerns exist, but none compete with Big Brother. It's within the confines of this threat model that most of the rhetoric about privacy emanates, and single-mindedness of this threat model explains precisely why many of the rest of us find that rhetoric unrealistic and overblown. We may worry about Big Brother, but we also worry about many other things.
Neal explained those "other things" by borrowing some terminology from Walter Wink, who coined the term "domination systems" while writing about the effect of authoritarian structures on individuals. In essence, a domination system is any authoritarian group that has the capability to exert power over you. Domination systems, in the abstract, are morally neutral, although specific domination systems, like Big Brother, may not be; they can do both good and evil, and if they do evil, they can make up for it. Big Brother is all-encompassing, whereas domination systems have edges - you can move from the area of influence of one domination system into another, or the boundaries of the systems may change on their own.
Neal then cited, as an example of interaction among domination systems, the story of John Brodeur, a whistle-blower at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in eastern Washington State. On his way to work one morning after he'd gone public with allegations of hazardous waste leakage, Brodeur was tailed to a Hanford parking lot by a menacing "road-rager." During the confrontation in the parking lot, Brodeur drew his handgun, which caused onlookers to call the local police. The point is that two domination systems (menacing thug and the Hanford establishment unhappy about Brodeur's whistle-blowing) merged when it turned out that the "road-rager" was in fact an employee of Hanford security. Furthermore, another domination system (the local police ostensibly coming to arrest the pistol-packing Brodeur) ended up neutralizing the threat of the road-rager when they arrived and, after seeing Brodeur's concealed weapons permit, let Brodeur on his way. (Neal noted ironically that, were the story fiction, he could never have gotten away with endowing the road-rager with a hook in place of one hand - apparently a true detail!)
To tie it all together, the majority of us have a threat model whose pie chart may include Big Brother, but is filled mostly with a variety of different domination systems. We worry in small ways about our employers, the airline whose planes we most regularly use, the HMO that controls our health care, the electric companies that provide power to our houses, and the banks that safeguard our money. Even when governmental organizations appear in the threat model pie chart, they're often seen independently, as would be the case for people in the U.S. who worry about their property tax assessment, the effect of being ticketed by the police in the local speed trap, and the safety of drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Guns & Crypto -- The problem this multifaceted threat model presents to the privacy community is that normal people simply don't care sufficiently about any one threat. Sure, everyone is generally in favor of medical records remaining private, but how many people have read through their entire file at the doctor's office? And how many of those people know the rules regarding the distribution of that information? None of this means that privacy of medical records isn't tremendously important, but for a variety of reasons, that section of the threat model's pie chart is small for many people.
You can apply this lack of concern with medical records to any other aspect of privacy, and you're likely to find a similar approval of the generalities but apathy regarding the specifics. This apathy manifests itself in the trouble that privacy technologies have faced in gaining widespread adoption. For instance, in the real world Tonya and I recently mailed a packet of financial information to our accountant so he could prepare our taxes. For some unknown reason, the envelope took almost six weeks to travel the 25 miles between our house and his office, leading us to believe it had been lost in transit. Needless to say, we were upset when we heard that he hadn't received the packet since it contained copies of our financial records from 1999, but we weren't sufficiently upset to use a more reliable method of delivery for the replacement package (which ended up arriving before the original).
The same level of apathy affects use of PGP encryption. I have an older version of PGP installed on my Mac, and I've even used it within Eudora several times when sending passwords around, but it's simply too much work for me to encrypt anything less sensitive than passwords to well-known computers accessible via the Internet.
Crypto suffers from other problems as well. First off, if your threat model gives Big Brother top billing, you're probably ignoring other threats. As Neal dryly noted, solving the hyena threat model with improved weapons probably extended the average lifespan an early human by about three weeks. Similarly, concentrating all of your energies on encrypting your communications can't leave much room for handling other threats, privacy-related or not. Second, Neal quoted security expert Bruce Schneier in saying that using PGP with an extremely strong key is akin to protecting your house with a fence composed of a single picket a mile high. No one will get through that picket - but they can just walk around it.
(A quick aside: PGP's inventor, Phil Zimmerman, who was also at the conference, got up after Neal's keynote and agreed with the picket analogy, and then asked why the encryption system Neal used in Cryptonomicon was given a fictitious name. Neal replied that if he used the real name, he would actually have to bother with making its use accurate.)
Where To? This may all sound dismissive and thoroughly defeatist, but I think a threat model concerned with multiple domination systems offers the clue we need to improve privacy across the board. The difference between the Big Brother worriers and those of us who are equal-opportunity worriers is that Big Brother worriers have often been driven by their concerns to act. They use crypto; we don't. They never let their Web browsers accept any cookies; we prefer easy shopping. They refuse to provide their actual name and address on forms; we just fill in the silly things.
So far the most common approach used by the privacy extremists is public education, or the attempt to modify our threat model by increasing the size of one of the sections of the pie chart. If you assume that the threat model is the amount of time or energy spent worrying, an increase in the size of one section must require either a decrease in another section or an overall increase in the size of the pie. The first possibility is unlikely, since I'm not going to worry less about my HMO just because you tell me that the U.S. National Security Agency can read my email. And the second possibility is equally problematic - we're all short on time and energy as it stands, so trying to convince us to spend more time worrying is a hard sell. Worse, I think the public education approach tends to create a "boy who cried wolf" scenario: relatively few people can point to privacy abuses in their own lives, so the constant warnings of potential abuses tend to desensitize us and minimize the otherwise worthy message.
The recent problems with security certificates expiring in older Web browsers highlights this issue, since users can just continue through the confusing warnings and complete the transaction with no loss of security. However, continuing through not only neutralizes the only assurance that the vendor isn't a fraud, it also adds to the sense that the warnings are almost always false alarms. Moreover, many smaller merchants defeat the original point of the security certificate by using their ISP's certificate; you've learned nothing reassuring about the authenticity of the site if you think you're reaching "ishopalot.com" and you get an alert that instead identifies the vendor as "superduperhighspeed.net."
Clearly, then, solutions must fit within the size of our existing threat models. We won't expand any one section, and we won't expand the size of the pie. The only approach is to simplify privacy protection technologies and systems and build them into everyday tools. For instance, if I didn't have to go to extra effort to encrypt my email - and my recipients didn't have trouble decrypting it - then I'd be happy to keep all of my email communications encrypted. Similarly, if using Mac OS 9's Keychain to store passwords didn't interfere with my long-established manners of working (and more applications supported it) I'd be happy to use the Keychain more consistently.
Some efforts are being made in this direction; increasingly well-financed companies, like Hush Communications, Network Associates (owners of PGP), PrivacyX, and ZeroKnowledge are attempting to build such easy to use tools with varying degrees of success (particularly with respect to producing Macintosh versions of their products).
There is another way of helping the privacy situation. Improved privacy legislation, pushed through by the privacy community and well-publicized by the mainstream media, could have the effect of reducing the size of a section of the pie, which would then allow someone to devote more time and energy to another section. Or, even better, help us shrink the size of our threat model pies overall so we can devote that time to more productive or enjoyable activities.
To the privacy community then, a challenge. Simplify your tools, improve your documentation, evangelize software makers to include privacy technologies, and generally make privacy something that requires minimal effort and attention. While you're at it, continue lobbying for improved privacy legislation and increased media coverage. But my suspicion is that you'll have to do all these things because you believe in them, not because the general public will applaud or even necessarily recognize your efforts. Your results will have to be reward enough.
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