Weekly output: smartphone-only Internet access, data discussion, Credit Karma, GDPR notices, ad agencies, Sprint and T-Mobile’s networks, live music, encryption politics, future of the FTC

I spent most of this week in New Orleans for the Collision conference–that event’s finale there, as it’s moving to Toronto next year. (The clip the organizers put together to announce the change of host cities includes a snippet at the 0:21 mark of a panel on VR and AR that I did at Collision last year, something that completely escaped my attention when they played that clip Tuesday.) I’m sad that I won’t have an obvious reason to put NOLA on my Schedule C next year, but I don’t want to complain too much after three years in a row of being able to do just that.

Meanwhile, Conference Month continues with my departure Monday for Google I/O in Mountain View. I return Thursday, and then Tuesday of the week after has me off to Toronto for RightsCon.

4/30/2018: Study: 1 in 5 American homes get broadband through smartphones, Yahoo Finance

After filing this write-up of a new Pew Research Center study from a “real” computer, my editor sent back some questions as I was boarding my flight to New Orleans. I had free Internet access on my phone thanks to T-Mobile’s deal with Gogo, so I wound up finishing this post on smartphone-only Internet access on my mobile device. My comment to my editor: “I’ve basically become one with the story.”

5/1/2018: Data do nicely: Metrics that matter, Collision

My first of four panels at Collision had me quizzing Node co-founder Falon Fatemi and Branch Metrics co-founder Mada Seghete about how their firms collect and crunch large amounts of data for various clients. About five minutes in, I realized that I only had 15 minutes’ worth of questions for this 20-minute panel–a clock-management fail I should know to avoid–and started improvising. As I watched the timer tick down and silently implored each of my fellow panelists to keep talking, I thought the situation vaguely reminded me of watching the Caps grinding out a penalty kill.

 

5/1/2018: From 0-$4bn: Building Credit Karma, Collision

Tuesday’s second panel was an onstage interview of Credit Karma co-founder Nichole Mustard. After the morning’s timing troubles, I took care to write down more questions than I thought I’d need, then didn’t have to worry about timing since my panel partner could hold forth on everything I asked about.

 

5/1/2018: Pay attention to those privacy notices flooding your email, USA Today

This column explaining why so many sites, apps and services are rolling out new privacy policies effective May 25 was one of two posts that benefited from an interview I did with the Federal Trade Commission’s Terrell McSweeny–as in, one of my Web Summit co-panelists last year–on her second-to-last day in office.

5/2/2018: The agency of tomorrow today, Collision

I had a great chat with DDB Worldwide’s CEO Wendy Clark about the state of the ad business. This panel also featured some audience questions–routed through the Slido app, so I could pick which ones to answer instead of pointing to somebody in the audience and hoping they wouldn’t begin “this question is more of a comment.”

 

5/3/2018: Why Sprint customers should hope the T-Mobile deal succeeds, USA Today

This column walked readers through four independent assessments of Sprint and T-Mobile’s networks–three of which found Sprint’s to be well behind, even after notable improvements.

5/3/2018: Tech changed consumption: What’s the next disruption?, Collision

My last Collision panel had me quizzing Ticketmaster’s Ismail Elshareef (with whom I’d worked in 2012 when I did a talk at his then-employer Edmunds) and the UCLA Center for Music Innovation’s Gigi Johnson about the state of live music. You’ll hear a couple of shout-outs from me to such current and former D.C.-area venues as the 9:30 Club and Iota.

 

5/3/2018: The Trump administration is pushing hard for smartphone backdoors, Yahoo Finance

I’m not sure what led this recap of recent developments in encryption politics to get 1,280 comments, but I’m not going to turn down that kind of attention.

5/3/2018: The agency that protects your privacy is in for big changes, Yahoo Finance

Most of my notes from the McSweeny interview went into this post, along with a few conversations with outside observers of the Federal Trade Commission.

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My no-longer-secret Bitcoin shame

Bitcoin has infested tech news lately–the cryptocurrency’s unlikely rise in value, its subsequent and unsurprising fall in value, what complete tools Bitcoin zealots can be in front of a reporter, and so on and on. I’ve watched all of this as an unwitting spectator.

Yes, I’m one of those doofuses who forgot a password to a Bitcoin wallet. At least I have a half-decent excuse: CES.

I didn’t go to the gadget show in 2014 planning on investing in Bitcoin, but one of the first events I attended featured a diverse contingent of BTC startups, one of which had a dollars-to-Bitcoin ATM. How could I not gamble a few bucks to earn an anecdote to throw into a Bitcoin explainer?

I put a $5 bill into this thing and followed an exhibitor’s advice to install the Mycelium wallet app on my phone, scan a QR code off the ATM’s screen, and set a 15-character passcode to protect my stash of .00513 BTC.

Guess what I forgot to do as I headed to my next CES appointment?

I then mostly ignored the app, except for the occasional check to see how my investment had decayed. That habit faded, and when I tried resetting my phone the next fall to fix some touchscreen bugginess, I didn’t even think about the risk of losing access to my tiny Bitcoin hoard.

By which I mean, I didn’t even think to open Mycelium until several months after that unsuccessful phone-troubleshooting exercise. Then I realized that I could no longer remember the 15 characters I’d typed on my phone’s screen two years earlier, without which I could not restore the backup I had made right after my ATM transaction.

That’s where things have remained, even as Bitcoin’s value has soared and then plummeted. It’s annoying, but at least I have two things going for me: The app won’t lock me out as I keep guessing the passcode incorrectly, and at the current exchange rate I’m only out $57 or so. I’ve done much worse gambling in Vegas.

Weekly output: “responsible encryption,” Flash and Silverlight

It’s been another week with less stories to my name than usual. I’ve done more work than the number of links would suggest–over the past two weeks, I’ve filed three pieces that have not yet been posted–but it does look bad.

10/20/2017: Why the Feds want to make it easier for them to get into your phone, Yahoo Finance

I’ve written dozens of posts about the angst of law-enforcement types over the rise of encrypted devices and apps that they can’t search, so for this one I quizzed a few different sources… and came up with the same overall conclusion as before.

10/22/2017: Why Flash and Microsoft Silverlight frustrations just won’t go away, USA Today

I had what I thought would be a decent column with meaningless quotes from publicists at three sites that still ask their users to install Flash or Silverlight–but then a publicist for Major League Baseball told me that they’d move from Flash to HTML5 video for the 2018 season, a fact they had yet to announce.

 

Weekly output: Google phones (x2), SXSL, e-mail encryption

I just watched the second presidential debate, and I was disappointed but not surprised by the lack of tech-policy banter. You?

yahoo-tech-google-phones-post10/3/2016: Why it matters that Google might be producing its own phones, Yahoo Finance

My suggestion at the end that Google might offer an installment-payment option for the new Pixel and Pixel XL phones–something analyst Jan Dawson suggested to me in an e-mail–panned out when Google introduced just that.

10/4/2016: Google’s new phones, WTOP

I spoke briefly about the Pixel and Pixel XL to the news station. One thing I wish I’d mentioned: These two new phones aren’t waterproof, unlike the iPhone 7 and the Galaxy S7.

10/4/2016: Obama gathers top tech to tackle US problems, Yahoo Finance

I spent most of Monday at the White House, which is not a bad way to while away an afternoon. This South by South Lawn event did not feature free beer (at least during the day) and so fell short of being a D.C. salute to Austin’s South by Southwest festival, but on the other hand SXSW has yet to allow me to see Rep. John Lewis (D.-Ga.) speak.

10/9/2016: How to protect your email from snooping, USA Today

Freelancing for multiple clients can sometimes lead to situations where one client asks you to write about an issue involving another.

Mail encryption has gotten less cryptic, but some usability glitches linger

I seriously underestimated you all late last year. In a Dec. 7 post about encryption, I wrote that I hadn’t gotten an encrypted e-mail from a reader in years and said I expected that streak to continue.

PGP keysIt did not. Within a week, a dozen or so readers had sent me messages encrypted with my PGP public key (under subject lines like “Have Faith!” and “Challenge Accepted”), and several others have done the same since. That’s taught me that the crypto user experience has, indeed, gotten pretty good in GPG Suite, the Pretty Good Privacy client of choice in OS X.

But at the same time, some awkward moments remain that remind me the woeful state of things in the late 1990s.

Most of the them involved getting a correspondent’s public key, without which I could not encrypt my reply. When it was attached as a file, dragging and dropping that onto the GPG Keychain app had the expected result, but when it came as a block of text in the decrypted message, I (like other users before me) wasted a few mental processor cycles looking for an import-from-clipboard command when I only had to paste that text into GPG Keychain’s window.

I should have also been able to search keyserver sites for a correspondent’s e-mail address, but those queries kept stalling out at the time. One reader did not appear to have a key listed in those databases at all, while I had to remove a subdomain from another’s e-mail address to get his key to turn up in a search.

One more reader had posted his public key on his own site, but line breaks in that block of text prevented GPG Keychain from recognizing it.

The GPGMail plug-in for OS X Mail is in general a pleasure to use. But its default practice of encrypting all drafts meant that I could no longer start a message on my computer and finish it on my phone–and one e-mail that I’d queued up in the outbox while offline went out encrypted, yielding a confused reply from that editor. I’ve since shut off that default.

It’s quite possible that the upcoming stable release of GPG Suite for OS X El Capitan will smooth over those issues. But that version was supposedly almost ready in late September, and there hasn’t been an update on that open-source project’s news page since. I suppose having to wonder about the status of a crucial software component counts as another crypto-usability glitch.

 

Weekly output: encryption explained, OS X autocorrect, DoubleClick dialog

Yes, I did get your CES PR pitch.

Yahoo Tech crypto FAQ12/7/2015: FAQ: How Encryption Works And Why People Are So Freaked Out About It, Yahoo Tech

The 1.0 version of this column was a detailed look at how encryption works in Pretty Good Privacy and in iOS 8; not for the first time, an editor said I’d gotten too far into the weeds and asked for a rewrite. After this 2.0 version ran, I was pleasantly surprised to have several readers send me PGP-encrypted messages.

If you’d like to know more about this issue, including some of the history behind this debate, see Andrea Peterson’s longer FAQ in the Washington Post.

12/11/2015: Tip: Best Way to Fix OS X’s Autocorrect? Turn It Off, Yahoo Tech

With my USA Today column no longer including a weekly tip at the end, Yahoo was happy to run this tip… which was really more of a rant.

12/13/2015: DoubleClick message should have prompted double take, USA Today

A brief snafu at Google’s advertising subsidiary may not have been sufficient material for a column, but I’d like to think that using it to remind people to be wary of strange requests from even familiar Web sites was a worthwhile exercise.

Weekly output: encryption politics, Thanksgiving tech support

I did better than I expected at avoiding work e-mail over this weekend, but I did have to set aside time to revise two Wirecutter pieces. On Monday, the latest iteration of our guide to the major wireless carriers went up, covering price shifts at Sprint and T-Mobile and improved international-roaming options at Sprint and Verizon Wireless. Then on Wednesday, we corrected last week’s guide to prepaid and resold wireless service to explain how our pick, Consumer Cellular, had begun wholesaling T-Mobile’s service as well as AT&T’s. I missed that non-trivial change, and I’m still annoyed about the oversight.

11/24/2015: The Paris Attacks Were Tragic, but Cryptography Isn’t to Blame, Yahoo Tech

I returned to the debate over whether tech companies should be required to build in back doors for law enforcement–my last such post ran in September–to argue that the argument for compromised crypto is even weaker when you look at adversaries like the Paris murderers. Who, by the way, hardly bothered to cover their tracks.

USAT Thanksgiving 2015 tech-support column11/27/2015: How to improve family’s Wi-Fi and other tech support tips, USA Today

My original concept of this column was to write a sort of greatest-hits compilation of earlier pieces, but I soon realized that this story could and should note the ways these consumer-tech problems had gotten better or worse since I’d last covered them for USAT. I’m not sure what made this piece so widely shared on Facebook–though having my column run two days early must have helped–but I’m flattered anyway.

Writing this also reminded me that I was sorely overdue to uninstall Oracle’s Java software off one laptop. I had disconnected that program from my browser long ago, but it still didn’t justify its storage footprint.