Considering the Continued Encroachment on Privacy

I keep a close eye on privacy issues because many companies are hoping we’ll all fall asleep and they’ll be able to do whatever comes to mind. I was recently appalled by a ComputerWorld article that describes a new technique that companies such as Verizon and AT&T are using to track you even when you perform tasks such as clearing your cookies. The sort of encroachment on privacy discussed in this article has nothing to do with the usual user sloppiness that I described in An Unreasonable Expectation of Privacy. (In this post I encourage people to keep their private lives private by not posting secrets on Facebook and other social media.) This new threat is different in that companies are actively circumventing your ability to remain anonymous. No matter what you do, companies are now able to snoop on your browsing habits and they’re quite open in saying that they don’t care if you mind.

The use of Unique Identifier Headers (UIDHs) should be illegal. In fact, the companies that are burdening users with this unwanted technology shouldn’t have created it in the first place because it’s a bad idea. The article tries to gloss over the fact that these companies knew full well what they were doing and are sheepishly trying to say that they never meant any harm. The organizations using the technology are stupidly placing the burden on the user to opt out, but giving themselves all sorts of outs for just ignoring the request. Opting out through organizations such as the Network Advertising Initiative (NAI) or the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) carries no legal weight. A company can choose to ignore your request and there is nothing you can do about it. If an opt out solution truly is required, it should carry some penalties for companies that choose to ignore the user’s request for privacy.

Of course, you could always question why you should care about companies snooping on your habits. After all, you have nothing to hide. Privacy is important because it allows you to do as you choose. You still have an ethical requirement to behave within the laws that society lays down, but you should also be free to browse where you want on the Internet without someone snooping on you. It’s a short trip from snooping on your browsing habits to other kinds of snooping. As society becomes inured to the snooping, companies can begin performing other sorts of snooping, some of which would be clearly inconvenient or dangerous.

Setting a precedent of allowing companies to snoop without consequence will lead to all sorts of issues in the future. As you lose your freedoms to corporations who really don’t care whether you’re free or not (actually, they’d prefer to enslave you), you begin to lose a lot of what makes our current society worthwhile. It’s time that government did step in and start controlling the use of snooping online (and not actually perform snooping itself). After all, one of the purposes of government is to protect citizens from precisely the kinds of threats that UIDHs represent. Let me know your thoughts about snooping at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

The Role of APIs in Application Development

More people are coming to understand that the PC will constitute just one of several devices that users will rely upon to perform daily computing tasks in the future. Articles such as, “Life in the Post-PC Era” are appearing more and more often because the trend is clear. However, unlike many people, I don’t see the PC going away completely. There really are situations where you need to size and comfort of a larger system. I can’t imagine myself trying to write an entire book on a tablet. If I did, the resulting Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI) would be my own fault. However, the higher reliability and slow rate of technological change also means that my systems will last longer and I won’t be buying them as often. In other words, I’ll continue to use my PC every day, but people won’t be making as much money off of me as I do it. This said, a tablet will figure into my future in performing research and reading technical materials that I would have used a PC to accomplish in the past.

The nature of computing today means that any application you write will need to work on multiple platforms. Users won’t want a unique application for each platform used. Unfortunately, new platforms arrive relatively fast today, so developers of most applications need some method of keeping their applications relevant and useful. Web-based applications are perfect for this use. These applications are the reason I chose to write CSS3 for Dummies and HTML5 Programming with JavaScript For Dummies. These books represent the future of common applications—those used by users every day to perform the mundane tasks of living and business.

When reading these two books, you’ll find a strong emphasis on not reinventing the wheel. In fact, a lot of developers are now finding that their work is greatly simplified when they rely on third party Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to perform at least some of their work. The stronger emphasis on APIs hasn’t gone unnoticed by the media either. Articles such as, “How the API Movement is Transforming the Telecom Industry” describe how APIs have become central to creating applications for specific industries. In fact, you’ll find targeted articles for API use all over the Internet because APIs have become a really big deal.

I plan to write quite a lot more about APIs because I see them as a way of standardizing application developing, creating more reliable applications, and reducing developer effort in creating the mundane parts of an application. What will eventually happen is that developers will become more creative and APIs will put the art back into the science of creating applications. However, I’d like your input too. What do you see as the role of APIs in the future? What questions do you have about them? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.