The idea of privacy as a modern form of inequality has been rattling around in my head for a while, now, and I wanted to jot down some thoughts, particularly in light of the recent rise of Mastodon.
Typically, when people talk about inequality, they are focused on the obvious forms of socioeconomic inequality that result in advantages being conferred to some groups and withheld from others. The most obvious example is economic inequality–the recognition that economic benefits accrue primarily to the wealthy. But there’s a wide range of other forms of inequality out there, most of which are incredibly old and are structural in nature. For example, zoning laws frequently allow polluting industries to be built up next to minority communities, resulting in increasing environmental inequality. Jobs occupied by those lower on the economic ladder are more likely to be subject to unsafe workplaces, resulting in health inequality. And these same communities are the least likely to have the political and economic power to change these circumstances, an example of political inequality.
In the world of software and technology, we’ve seen the rise of surveillance capitalism, defined as the “widespread collection and commodification of personal data by corporations.” In this new world, individuals are, either unknowingly or voluntarily, subject to vast data collection operations which scoop up, collect, and connect these datasets. These datasets are then fed into systems designed to derive additional data about individuals–data about their economical and political interests, personal relationships, consumption patterns, and so forth.
Today, these massive apparatus are then used to deliver hyper-targeted messages intended to influence purchasing decisions, voting decisions, and so forth (though just how effective these techniques are is the subject of significant debate).
However, the uses of these data are vast, and they’ll soon be used (and in some cases are already being used) to influence things like hiring decisions, insurances rates, loan approvals, and so forth. The result is that one poor choice, one incorrectly interpreted data point, one broken or biased algorithm, could result in individuals being denied access to critical social and economic infrastructure.
Until and unless governments catch up, these trends will only continue. That means individuals have to protect themselves.
Unfortunately, protecting ones privacy requires knowledge, skills, and resources that are often the domain of a select few. As a result, privacy itself is increasingly becoming a mark of privilege.Continue reading...
A little post about how I’ve used IPv6 and a dual-stack VPS to address common networking issues when hosting services at home.
Many of the non-critical services I run–messaging, RSS, home automation–run on an Intel NUC I’ve hidden away at home. This has advantages over a VPS in that if I need additional resources, I can just add some memory or storage rather than having to move to a new service tier and paying that much more every month. Plus, given how much I’m working and using these services at home, having them hosted locally means higher perceived performance due to lower latency.
Unfortunately, connectivity for services hosted on a residential broadband connection is always a pain in the butt. While over the years my residential broadband connection has been incredibly stable, I still face the challenge of changing IP addresses. And yes, I can set up dynamic DNS, but I’ve always found it relatively fragile (not to mention an enormous hack). Additionally, you have to contend with ISPs potentially blocking ports and so forth. And finally there’s all the issues with NAT, reverse port mappings, internal and external DNS record management, and on and on. Basically it’s painful and brittle.
On what might seem like an unrelated note, IPv6 is still gradually getting deployed. Certainly mobile networks use v6 extensively, but outside that space adoption is still pretty nascent. As a result, it’s always been a bit questionable if deploying v6 at home is worth the trouble (minus the novelty and bragging rights).
But it turns out that, with a VPS and an IPv6 tunnel, you can dramatically simplify the process of hosting services on a residential broadband connection. As a result, this has proven to be the “killer app” that has driven me to truly adopt v6 at home.Continue reading...
Documenting my absurd journey to bridging an IRC client to a bunch of messaging services. Totally nuts and totally worth it.
IRC, or Internet Relay Chat, is unquestionably the progenitor of modern online chat systems. IRC preceded instant messaging platforms like ICQ or AOL Instant Messenger, and in doing so connected people in real-time in a way that would lay the groundwork, not for just those instant messaging platforms that would follow, but for modern social media platforms as we know them today. And today, while certainly diminished, IRC still plays an important role in connected communities of people, particularly in the IT space.
But IRC isn’t without its flaws, and those flaws created openings for many competitors:
- Chatting is ephemeral. If you’re not connected there’s no way to receive messages that were sent while you were away.
- Text-based. No images or giphy animations here, and file sharing is direct, client-to-client only.
- The mobile story in general, and notifications in particular, are weak.
Now, the IRC community has worked hard to address the first problem with bouncers and changes to the IRC protocol (I’ll dig into this later).
Issue two… well, bluntly, I actually view that as a benefit rather than a drawback, but obviously that’s a matter of personal taste.
As for issue three, it’s still true that the mobile story isn’t great, though there is slow steady progress (Android now boasts a few pretty decent mobile IRC clients).
But IRC also has some enormous benefits:
- It’s open and federated. Running a server yourself is trivial.
- Clients are heavily customizable for power users.
- It’s fast and lightweight.
And these various other products (like Slack, Signal, etc) have some mirror image drawbacks:
- Closed walled gardens.
- Zero ability to customize.
- Heavy, memory- and CPU-intensive clients.
And then there is the fragmentation. My god the fragmentation. Every app is its own beast, with its own UX quirks, performance issues, bugs, and so on. Even the way they issue notifications varies from product to product. And some (I’m looking at you, Whatsapp) don’t offer a desktop client product at all.
I spend every day working with these messaging products, and I wanted to find out: Is there some way I could use an IRC client of my choice to interact with these various walled gardens (recognizing that, yes, that would come with some loss of functionality)?
Well, with a lot of hacking and elbow grease, I can definitely say the answer is yes! Though… this is, as is the case with many of my projects these days, probably not for the faint of heart…Continue reading...
Did you know Calibre can turn an RSS feed into an eBook? I didnt! It turns out Calibre, tt-rss, and Wallabag make it possible to roll your own news that you can read right on your eReader!
I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll mention it again: I’m a big fan of RSS. For the uninitiated, RSS is a way to subscribe to a feed of content from a website and consume it in a reader or other tool of your choice. And despite claims that it’s dying out, I still manage to have more content in my feed reader than I possibly have time to consume.
For a long time I used Feedly as my RSS reader of choice. But back in October I decided to switch to tt-rss, a self-hosted RSS feed reading service that works on both browsers and through a mobile app. Then, in a fit of boredom, I used some self-hosted home automation tools to incorporate email newsletters into my feed. Meanwhile, I also decided to stand up an instance of Wallabag, a self-hosted website bookmarking service.
But I ran across a problem: with all this content at my fingertips, I started to fall behind, particularly on all those long-form articles and newsletters I want to read.
And then I discovered Calibre’s news scraping features and a solution presented itself!Continue reading...
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