Brislen on Tech
International borders and the World Wide Web
Many years ago I received a phone call from a local pharmacy here in New Zealand. They'd been cheerfully selling goods in accordance with New Zealand law as they are a New Zealand business and were quite happy with their lot.
But then along came the internet and the opportunity to sell to people who might not want to go into a store in south Auckland (from memory) and pick goods up off the shelf.
So they set up what was quaintly called an "e-commerce shopping site" and it meant people could buy goods from them online and have them delivered.
You may be familiar with the concept.
They called me because they'd received a letter from the US Food and Drug Administration telling them to stop selling goods online at once or they'd be taken to court for various unspecified crimes.
This somewhat alarmed them as they're law-abiding, slightly conservative Kiwi chemists who were shocked to be on the wrong side of the FDA.
Their crime: selling goods that in New Zealand were legal for a chemist to sell but weren't legal for a US pharmacy to sell.
America is the world wide web, you see.
This all came home to me this week with news that Twitter had been served with a subpoena for the contact information relating to a Kiwi-based user who apparently had done something the Department of Homeland Security felt was naughty.
The user in question is a part time security researcher who had been involved with a couple of fairly high profile exposes of poor security practice - but nothing that looks under hand. Far from it - quite open and accountable in his or her dealings.
And then wham. DHS (motto: we'll deport you even if you do live overseas) jumped in. No call to the user, no request for contact, just the typical heavy handed legal serving at Twitter HQ (which did the right thing and reported it to the user) for name, address, email, phone number (hello 2FA) and of course any and all credit card details the company may have.
Twitter is fighting it but will probably have to cough it all up.
My concern isn't so much for the user in question this time (although I do have concern there) but more for just what the US DHS thinks it's allowed to do. Is it the internet's policeman now? Who appointed it so? Can I get a vote? Do I get representation at this table and if I don't get to help decide who governs the service I use, can I chose someone else?
No taxation without representation. This is the cornerstone of democracy and (since I'm writing this very nearly on Independence Day) the foundation on which the United States sought its independence from the Crown. Yet all too often we now have laws and governance of citizens in one country applied to the citizens and residents of another, seemingly with no chance for discussion about which jurisdiction applies and with little discussion about whether we should have any one country's laws dominating the internet.
This will have to be sorted out and sooner rather than later because it's not just a question of whether you're selling goods that might be prohibited in the US, it's also a matter of where these companies pay tax, how money is transferred between states and a raft of other intra-national issues.
No wall is going to fix that.
Meat: your maker
(Alternate headlines: Don't have a cow, The Yeah-Nah burger or possibly Build your own Burger gets real)
Ah, disruption, you sly minx you.
Just when we all thought disruption was something that happened to the banking sector (it's coming for you, banks. Do not underestimate it) suddenly it turns and BLAM we're talking about fake meat and MPs are calling out our national carrier (ED: I always picture someone with a handbag and a cold when I hear that phrase) for daring to offer… well, for offering a vegetarian burger.
I wonder if they've thought about the other non-meat consumables, like cheese and crackers, ice cream and wine or if they're OK because mostly they're grown or baked or stomped here in New Zild.
It's all a bit silly really because Air New Zealand (for it is they who Dare Cross The Rubicon and offer this particular non-meat meat) only offers it as an option on two flights and then only for the folk in business class.
So it's not as if it's actually going to change the world.
However, the idea that MPs from two separate political parties can be so stupid as to think that disruption isn't coming to the food supply business just makes my teeth ache. Of course we're going to see non-meat alternatives because predictions suggest we'll hit 10 billion people on the planet by 2050 and 11 billion by 2100 and somehow we have to feed all those people and growing cows for their juicy bits isn't going to cut it.
They take up too much room. They cause too much damage to the environment. Not everyone wants to eat cow. Generally speaking we need alternatives.
And artificial meat (grown in a lab) is but one alternative. These plant-based meat substitutes have a long way to go before they're as good as a medium rare New York-cut T-bone steak (mmmm, steak) but they're certainly almost good enough to be a burger or a sausage.
As a kid we used to get soy-mince (this was in Wales so, y'know) and frankly it didn't taste any better or worse than any other kind of mince. In Malaysia I've had fake bacon (facon?) and while it wasn't the real thing it was fine.
Disruption is coming and it will be at the commodity end of town. You know, the bit we make a lot of money from as we export protein powder to the rest of the world. Once they figure out how to make their own protein powder without needing cows, that market will dry up rather quickly.
So Members of Parliament, instead of fretting about whether or not the national airline should be promoting such an unpatriotic dish (seriously) how about you start encouraging our agri-scientists to look into all this new food palaver and start making sure New Zealand is at the leading edge of the movement, because if we're in second place, we're toast.
Twitter is a wonderful place full of warmth, laughter, sharing, thoughtful and intelligent conversation and happy times.
It is if you curate your feed properly and having discovered I can actually mute and block people I have a much happier feed these days.
So I was delighted when one of the tweets I saw related to today's newsletter.
"Privacy is about consent, not about hiding."
This is the fundamental truth about privacy yet all too often, privacy debates are framed in such a way that you think you're supposed to be keeping something secret.
I got asked to comment on changes to the GCSB legislation many years ago. Would giving the GCSB the right or the legal ability to spy on New Zealanders reduce our quality of life, I was asked. I said yes, because currently they're not allowed to and any move from "I don't have to consider this because it can't happen" to "I have to consider this because it can" is a move in the wrong direction when it comes to such things.
Unfortunately the panellists did not see it that way.
"Well I don't care if they do or not, I've got nothing to hide," said one who clearly did have something to hide because she wouldn't tell me her bank account number, where she lived, whether she'd be home at 4am on Tuesday next, anything at all about her health records or who she voted for last election.
It's not about hiding, it's about consent.
This is very timely because submissions on the proposed changes to the Privacy Act are finally online and they make for entertaining reading.
I know one company that always prints off submissions on relevant topics so they can read and mark up any that are of value. Submissions from organisations and companies are printed with a blue folder. Submissions from individuals are placed in a red folder. The red folders are ignored and used mainly for entertainment factor because they tend to be written by mad people who think a submission on why the Secret World Government is using cellphone radiation delivered via vaccine programmes to control the population to the select committee hearing about the Christchurch rebuild is a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
The Privacy Act has attracted a similar breed of punter.
But there's also some very valuable input, including from large data collection farms like Amazon and Facebook who warn about the difficulties inherent in today's cloud-based world. Amazon in particular is concerned that a line be drawn between those who leak data and happen to use a cloud provider like Amazon Web Services and those who leak data and ARE a cloud provider.
Fair enough, but also I hope the MPs on the committee are smart enough to see through the various interests to the real opportunity that is here and that we get a robust 21st century bill that quickly becomes law. I haven't dared check to see if our meat loving MPs with their heads in the sand are on the committee or not, mostly out of fear.
All of this is doubly important as yet more security breaches come to light. The latest - the Typeform breach - has lead to some very bizarre claims, including an email to this writer from Fortnam & Mason, an English grocer which claims that having given them my email address when purchasing a product I am now exposed to security issues because Typeform has lost control of it. This despite me be absolutely sure I have never shopped at Fortnum & Mason in my life, which begs the question how did they get hold of the email address they've since given away to scoundrels?
Techblog - Privacy bill submissions are in
NZ Parliament - Submissions and Advice
Reseller News - Facebook, AWS seek changes to New Zealand Privacy Bill
The Register - Hands up if you didn't lose data in the Typeform breach
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