Privacy an artefact of times past

Privacy an artefact of times past

If you have learned nothing else from my many years of writing, it should be that unless extraordinary steps are taken, personal data privacy doesn't exist, except perhaps in the deluded minds of government officials. The only thing privacy laws do these days is stop you from returning someone's lost phone. In just one day in the news, I read reports about Huawei infiltrating Facebook, another Spectre CPU problem, political data harvesting in the UK, insecure military servers in the UK, Chinese hackers interested in Cambodia (and the rest of the world) along with other items about lost or hacked data. Yahoo and Google collect far more than the whole of the US spy agencies combined, though at least the latter doesn't deliberately spread it around or sell it to marketers.

We are well and truly in the information age, and for the most part agencies across the planet know more about you than you do yourself. We tend not to dwell too much on our patterns of behaviour, we just follow them. The application of analytics, however, works on patterns and predictive algorithms that figure out what you want, even before you might, and marketing apps tell you about it. Your name, address and other information sit on more servers than you can count and all of that does not even account for identity thieves deciding whether or not to target you. It has also become harder and harder to go off the grid with traditionally people-facing industries doing their best to remove any human contact between you and them. It is truly a new world and where it ends up is anyone's guess.

This has been fixed now, but if you recently had an iPhone, and tried to search for "Taiwan", your phone may have crashed even if you weren't in China. This was all due to a combination of Apple bending over backwards to sell their devices in China and a programming error. Concessions and filters added by Apple to appease the Chinese authorities were shoehorned in, mistakes were made and phones were crashed.

To complete any task, you need to have the right tools. As a programmer, the most common locations on the web to find answers are StackExchange and StackOverflow. Sometimes, they are the only place that has an answer to a difficult challenge. The same goes for useful tools like the Opensource NotePad++. This is a text editing tool that adds much to the Windows Notepad app, like telling you the line and position of where your cursor happens to be. It also supports add-on packs like XML processing that is very handy for XML editing. Now imagine what happens if the organisation you are working for bans access to such useful tools, typically driven by some overzealous security division. Productivity decreases, frustration increases, and in the end the typical programmer will bypass restrictions by using their own devices to do web searches. Extend this to the business world in general and imagine how many other tools and processes are currently banned, causing delays. All senior executives take note, your security section could be costing you a lot of money.

Later in the year, starting at around 21,600 baht or a bit more, the Google Pixel 3 phone range will come out. The Pixel is a pure Android (i.e. no added manufacturer bloatware) device that found popularity in the Pixel 2 range and before. The rumours predict the 3, 3 XL and the Google Pixel Watch running on Wear OS. Single lens rear, dual lens front cameras are expected based on leaked pics with a 5.4-inch screen for the standard version and a 6.2-inches for the XL. Some are hoping for a return of the headphone jack, an ever more scarce commodity these days. Wireless charging and a better screen would be nice along with a better water protection rating. As for any other specs we will all have to wait for October.

By the time you read this a host of bug fixes will be out from Intel, Microsoft and Adobe. Adobe has 112 fixes alone, Microsoft 53 including a number of browser patches and Intel has 12 or so including something for that latest Spectre issue. It seems that these days we are patching all the time just to keep up. I can't imagine the hell it must be for organisational IT departments.

In the world of artificial intelligence what would be one of the hardest things to try and duplicate in humans? I'll give you a hint: most humans aren't good at it either. If you picked comedy, then you are scarily correct. Some boffins at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan decided to build a machine that would make people laugh. I'm not talking falling down slapstick but crafting jokes. Yes, you guessed it, the results were terrible. After lots of training the Neural Joking Machine (NJM) tried and the results came out at a third as funny as humans, so not very funny at all.

James Hein is an IT professional of over 30 years' standing. You can contact him at

James Hein

IT professional

An IT professional of over 30 years’ standing. He has a column in Bangkok Post tech pages and has been writing without skipping a beat every week all these years.

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