infosec privacy productivity technology

Worth reading this week: Checklists, privacy and more oopses

Quote I’ve been pondering:

“Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.” – Jean-Paul Sartre

b-17-bomber-pilot-checklistDo you ever get to the grocery store and forget all of items you came to get, or miss a step in something you’re doing, or do repetitive work and sometimes lose your place? The results are inconvenient, but not catastrophic. It’s a far different story when you’re test piloting a brand new state-of-the-art airplane or landing on the moon. The Simple Genius of Checklists, from B-17 to the Apollo Missions provides a brilliant articulation of the importance of checklists. If even surgeons (who are pretty smart) can use a checklist to help improve patient safety, why would anyone think them a waste of time?

Have you read the privacy policies behind your favourite websites like Facebook, Google and the like? Me neither. And you know what… we’d probably struggle to read them even if we tried. In We Read 150 Privacy Policies. They Were an Incomprehensible Disaster, Kevin Litman-Navarro from the New York Times provides some great visuals to help articulate the readability of the privacy policies from 150 major tech and media companies. Not surprisingly, the bulk of these privacy policies are a mess that only a PhD could understand. Welcome the a world in which everyone needs to CYA.

eurofinsOops for this week: Hacked forensic firm pays ransom after malware attack. As The Guardian and BBC report, “Britain’s largest private forensics provider [Eurofins] has paid a ransom to hackers after its IT systems were brought to a standstill by a cyber-attack.” Eurofin “carries out DNA testing, toxicology analysis, firearms testing and computer forensics for police forces across the UK.” It’s probably bad for business when a company who does work for the police gets hacked and held for ransom. On the other hand, if companies associated with law enforcement can get hacked, what chance do people like my mom have?

Enjoy the heatwave and have a great weekend!



journalism privacy technology

Worth reading this week – Cherynobyl, online shopping, Google as God?, online reading tools, music playlist portability

Quote I’ve been pondering this week:

“It is by logic that we prove, but by intuition that we discover.” ― Henri Poincaré, French mathematician, theoretical physicist, and engineer

I recently watched Cherynobyl (five part miniseries from HBO). I kept hearing buzz about the series and it did not disappoint. It was really well done and it definitely instilled a healthy respect for nuclear power and has made me want to read more about the discovery and development of nuclear power. There have been many nuclear accidents over the last century, but saying “oops” and ignoring them is an impossible response as the fallout from a nuclear event will stick around long after we are gone (can you say Fukushima). The SL-1 experimental US military reactor accident in 1961 clearly demonstrates the scary power and unforgivable reactions that nuclear power can deliver:

During the accident the core power level reached nearly 20 GW in just four milliseconds, precipitating the steam explosion.


The spray of water and steam knocked two operators onto the floor, killing one and severely injuring another. The No. 7 shield plug from the top of the reactor vessel impaled the third man through his groin and exited his shoulder, pinning him to the ceiling.

With great power comes great responsibility. There are quite a few books on the advent of nuclear power (Dark Sun and The Making of the Atomic Bomb are highly rated). I’d love some recommendations to help me winnow down my choices. I’d love your feedback on what’s worth reading!

We all know that online shopping allows retailers to manipulate us and extract as much money from us as possible. How Online Shopping Makes Suckers of Us All really brings it home to us, highlighting the many ways that we really don’t have a chance in today’s increasingly data-driven economy.

google-trackHere’s a great in-depth series on our lack of privacy online:

Key quote from this series:

For as long as you’ve been using Google, Google has been building a “citizen profile” on you.

Watch for subsequent parts in this series from Patrick Berlinquette at Medium in the near future.

Think about what that means… Google knows pretty much everything about your online behaviour. Some of it is innocuous: age, income, gender, parental status, relationship status. But it can quickly get creepy:

I remember being told when I was little that God knew everything we did, everywhere we went, everyone we talked to and everything we thought. God was all knowing. Sure seems to me like Google is becoming God-like and our cell phones are the primary conduit to that reality. In today’s hyper-connected world, even atheists can no longer avoid an all-knowing, all-seeing entity in our midst.

This week, I’m wrapping up with a question and a complaint:

Question: What media do you regularly read and how do you read it? For me, I read (and in some cases pay for) a bunch of stuff regularly: NYTimes, The Economist and The Athletic are at the top of my list. I use Feedly for tracking my RSS feeds. And I use Instapaper to save long reads for times that are more convenient. What do you do?

And my complaint: Why can’t we easily transfer music playlists from one music service to another? (yes, I know this is also phrased as a question!) I am on Google Play music but I’d really like to try out Apple’s Music service. But, I’ve built up a ton of playlists that won’t port over. Why the hell not? It’s just data! How hard can it be to build a migration tool for playlists? (this is my highest priority consumer feature request at the moment!)

Thanks for reading and enjoy the weekend!



privacy technology

Worth reading this week – fake WB, men’s mental health, abortion, WWDC, privacy

Quote I’ve been pondering this week:

“You will continue to suffer if you have an emotional reaction to everything that is said to you. True power is sitting back and observing things with logic. True power is restraint. If words control you that means everyone else can control you. Breathe and allow things to pass.” – (fake?) Warren Buffett

(I couldn’t actually attribute this to WB. I suspect it’s not from him, but, can’t say for sure. Regardless, I love the quote, so here it is.)

mh-mentalhealthMen’s Health is running a series on men’s mental health. Such an under-discussed topic, even in this era of self awareness and self care. Men don’t shouldn’t need permission to think and feel how they want, but, here goes anyways:


“It’s okay to not have your shit together. It’s okay to feel depressed. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to be anxious. It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to not have everything figured out, to feel a wave of uncertainty come crashing over you and not know which way is up, or when your next gulp of air will come. These are perfectly normal feelings that every man experiences. And it’s okay to talk about it.” (link)

I’ve been pretty vocal with a few close friends about my challenges over the years – I am lucky to have had friends I can go to when things get tough. Thanks friends – you know who you are. And for any of my friends who need someone to talk to, I’m here. Reach out. To me. Or someone else. But do it. Talk. It’s an important first step.

fetusI really don’t want to get into the abortion debate and I am not going to take a stance in this post, but this article really struck a chord with me in terms of articulating government policy priorities pertaining to abortion: “So, Sam Oosterhoff, you want to make abortion ‘unthinkable’? Here’s where to start” Sam Oosterhoff is clearly playing to his base (conservative Christians), but there are clearly much more pressing issues that he could be focusing on. Thanks Julie MacLellan of Burnaby Now for this great article.

Apple made the news this week (what else is new). Lots of cool new toys released at their annual WWDC. New Mac Pros, lots of OS upgrades (all new Mac Pro, iOS 13, iPad OS, watch OS 6, and a Pro Display XDR with optional stand.) The new tech does look really cool and I’m excited by the new iPad OS and watch OS improvements. watchAs much as I want to be a digital minimalist, it’s my Apple Watch that most keeps me tethered to my digital life and I just can’t bring myself to want to part with my silent wrist partner – my watch really has made me appreciate the benefits of cyborg-type tech. However, Apple is losing the plot a bit when they sell a monitor stand for $1,000! This clearly reminds us that Apple has always been and always will be a premium play, but it is still insane to see this kind of cost for… a. monitor. stand.

And what would my weekly update be without a mention of privacy: “A Brief History of How Your Privacy Was Stolen – Google and Facebook took our data — and made a ton of money from it. We must fight back”. Thanks to the NY Times for their ongoing privacy coverage in The Privacy Project. Awareness is key.

But more important is what we do once we are aware? There is no shortage of advice and best practices online for protecting our privacy. The only real way to stay private is to stay off the grid – but that isn’t realistic for most. So, in the absence of that, here are some tips (and this is by no means exhaustive – watch for future blog posts. I’ll put together something more exhaustive in the near future):

  • Mozilla’s Firefox browser has some awesome privacy features built in. Here is some advice straight from the dragon’s mouth: When it comes to privacy, default settings matter!
  • And, an interesting article from Fast Company offers some suggestions with this scary first person account of what info the ad industry has on us (hint: pretty much anything our phone does is theirs for the taking): I left the ad industry because our use of data tracking terrified me (make sure you read to the bottom to the suggestions under the section titled “HOW TO UNWIND THIS SURVEILLANCE ECONOMY”.

So put your involuntary spy device (phone) down for a bit, get outside in this beautiful weather and have a great weekend!



infosec privacy technology

Worth reading this week – privacy, playtime and emotions

Quote I’ve been pondering this week:

“Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.” – Lao Tzu

I’m a huge security and privacy proponent. Stumbled across this great visual example of ways we all expect privacy in our everyday lives – and it highlights why our digital privacy should be no different:

And it helps that it’s an Apple ad. I’m a huge Apple fanboy. I’m a big Google user too though, so I’m really a fan of both. Especially when I see optimism in Google making strides towards better privacy protections as well. #GoPrivacy

My kids love our Springfree trampoline. Next time they say they are bored, I’m gonna go through these lists (one idea I hadn’t thought of: Make a laser course on the mat out of yarn and try not to touch it) :

Suck it up buttercup: Forget Your Feelings (summary: There’s no meaning attached to feelings)

And, a bit more privacy related goodness: Here are all of the ways that Google tracks you (I am doubtful this is ALL of the ways, but it sure looks like a good start). And here’s a great primer on removing your info from the web – mainly focused on mailing lists a la “do not call lists”.

And, I’m a bit bummed because I don’t think I’ll be able to attend my local Wordcamp Hamilton this weekend. I bought my ticket, but life sometimes gets in the way. (In this case, it’s my son’s birthday – and family comes first!)

Have a great weekend!



What can our search queries tell us about ourselves?

Is privacy just a facade? In the world of web searching, the data is in: there is no such thing as confidentiality. Recently, AOL released a list of 20 million search queries that were collected over a three month period. The data was released under their AOL Research division as an offering for academic research. According to the New York Times, the release of this data so angered privacy advocates that AOL did an about face and rescinded this data set and offered a public apology.

What’s the big deal, you say? Why should we be worried about search results? Well… let’s take a look and see.

AOL was kind enough to remove any blatant personal identifiers from this data set. Instead, they inserted a unique number that was tied to each individual AOL account. While this may make you say, “whew, at least there’s nothing personal attached to this data”, you’re mistaken. As the New York Times points out, a little sleuthing is all that’s required to identify some searchers.

While the NY Times article shared a fairly tame user’s search results, some other search results might lead to more troubling user account “outings”. Consider one example that was highlighted in an article in Slate:

The searches of AOL user No. 672368, for example, morphed over several weeks from “you’re pregnant he doesn’t want the baby” to “foods to eat when pregnant” to “abortion clinics charlotte nc” to “can christians be forgiven for abortion.”

It quickly becomes evident that our search results tell a story about our lives. Like our email, our web usage tells a lot about our interests, our desires and who we are as a person. By sifting through our internet usage patterns, one could learn to understand us almost as well as we know ourselves, warts and all.

The Slate article goes on to identify seven types of web searchers. From “The Pornhound” to “The Newbie” to “The Basket Case”, there are numerous labels that can be both descriptive and dangerous.

While I do find these search results to be quite interesting, I do see danger in the use of that data. It’s a slippery slope from academic study of search results to censorship and even to persecution. As crazy as this sounds, it is already happening in the world. Look at the media control in some communist countries. And if you think we’re immune here in the western world, well… think again. It wasn’t long ago that freedom of speech was curtailed by the church. Even the United States is experiencing a resurgence in censorship.

How long until this powerful information is abused and distorted for unethical means? I’d argue that it is already happening. What do you think?


For further information:

Techcrunch – Blog Archive – great info on sources and further info:

AOL Search data mirrors:

Working mirror (as of Tues Aug 15):