Air New Zealand Goes Hobbit

Their safety video is the first I’ve actually wanted to watch all the way to the end…


Triangulation And Butter

Supermarket butterWhy should we care about protecting small items of personal data, such as our date of birth, parents’ names, post code and so on? Why does it matter when we’re asked for them by someone with no need to know them? What does it have to do with delicious butter?

The reason is those small piece of personal information can be used for triangulation. What does that mean? Here’s a (currently completely fictional) example to explain, taken from my presentation about the Communications Data Bill.

At some time in the near future, you are at the checkout in Safeway. They scan the stick of butter you want to buy, and then you hand over your Club Card and payment. The assistant looks at the screen, then reaches for the voucher printer and pulls a form from it.  He places it on the counter and gives you a pen. “Here, sign this.” You look at it in surprise. It is a liability waiver, with your name at the top. The text says “as someone potentially at risk from cholesterol issues, I absolve Safeway of all responsibility for my butter purchase”.

How did this happen? Safeway don’t know your health status; they just know it’s in their interested to get that waiver signed. Their insurance company has used your name and address from your Club Card account like a “shared key” to identify your health records, past purchases at other stores and other information about you. As a result of the data it discovered, a heuristic that’s been trained to identify people who might pose a risk of litigation against the company has flagged you to Safeway as waiver candidate. They get a discount on their liability insurance if they get waivers from all flagged customers, hence the waiver form. It’s not to protect me; it’s to protect them.

This is triangulation. No individual data item discloses private information I care about, but gathered together it can be used without my consent and against my interests. This is why the least authority principle should inform us everywhere in our lives, why we should support data protection laws and especially why we should resist the Communications Data Bill.

Living No Longer Easy

Louvre Sunset
Summer Time has ended in Europe. That means no more fish jumpin’, daddy is definitely not rich and it would not be politic to comment on mamma. In addition, meeting times with the USA will be disrupted for the next week until the end of easy livin’ over there as we over here will no longer be rising up singing.

CDB: Not Dead Yet

tl;dr: This zombie bill no politician seems able to kill is a pandora’s box that will lead to a public panopticon.  

Since it’s still very much in play at the moment  I was invited to represent the Open Rights Group (together with Big Brother Watch) at a discussion of the pending Communications Data Bill (CDB) at the South-Central Liberal Democrat Regional Conference today.

My main point was that the Bill creates an unprecedented resource for the security services to “go fishing” in everyone’s private affairs. “Communications Data” means “everything that’s not the message” for every kind of internet use (e-mail, instant messaging, voice communication, streaming and so on), and collecting all of it from everyone in Britain on a rolling 12-month basis (with some information held indefinitely) offers a massive pool in which to use heuristics to pattern match answers to open questions.

Whatever boundaries may be placed on it now, it’s certain that its scope will creep once created, pushed one notch towards the public panopticon every time another panic-keyword-crisis occurs. Allowing CDB to proceed would be an enormous error and the thin end of a wedge that will permanently remove the assumption of privacy from all of us.

Here are the slides I used:

You can also find them at Speakerdeck; sadly, WordPress.Com doesn’t allow me to embed slides from that system, which I prefer. Let’s hope the Lib-Dems take this seriously and don’t treat it as another gaming chip like they did university fees…

Why I Left My Macbook For A Chromebook

Maybe it’s just a lustful fling, but for now, the only laptop in my life is my 3G Chromebook. Read about it on InfoWorld.

Follow The Frog

Love this video. Pass it on.


FLOSS Weekly on Baserock

I was co-host on today’s FLOSS Weekly episode, about the Baserock continuous integration system for Linux (and also the amazing 8 CPU/32 core Baserock Slab server slice that’s come out of the development activity) developed by UK engineering company Codethink.



Concentration of Power

Hearing that Amazon had remotely wiped someone’s Kindle, I decided to investigate and find out if it had actually happened. It hadn’t, but what had happened instead was perhaps as distressing and educational. I wrote about it on ComputerWorldUK.

About OSI

I recorded a short interview explaining OSI Membership while I was at Open World Forum.


Thanks to for the opportunity to tell people how to join!

South Tyrol Soon

Coming up on 16th November:  SFSCon in Bolzano, Italy. While we wait for the details, here’s a reminder of what the place is like:


Update: The conference programme is now out, and I can confirm I’ll be speaking there. I’ve been several times and it’s always a delight to visit. They have open source deep in their culture – there’s even a local wine called “Perl”…

Perl Wine

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