|The stupid tech tricks of 2009|
Friday, 18 December 2009 02:00
Big Brother Amazon
In July, e-tailing giant Amazon provided its Kindle customers – and everyone else – with a stark illustration of potential pitfalls that accompany the conveniences of electronically distributed goods. After learning that it had sold copies of George Orwell`s "1984" and "Animal Farm" without proper authorisation, Amazon used its wireless access to users` Kindle e-book readers to zap those titles from the devices of customers who had purchased them. For a company that relies on building user trust in cloud-based services, this Big Brother move definitely merits our `Stupid Tech Trick` designation.
In the eyes of most Vista users, User Account Control was an unmitigated failure. So Microsoft watered down the security implementation in Windows 7 and provided simple controls so the user could further water it down or disable it entirely. Unfortunately, Microsoft made things a little too easy, as proof-of-concept malware was able to disable UAC without explicit permission in early Win 7 betas, provided the user could be socially engineered to run the offending code. Microsoft protested for a while that this behaviour was by design, but the company eventually caved to logic and forced a UAC prompt when changing UAC settings in the RC and RTM versions of Windows 7.
Many people haven`t yet heard about the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA. There`s a good reason for that, as ACTA is being negotiated in secret by many of the world`s major countries. But, based on leaked information, ACTA looks to be essentially a wish list for the copyright lobbies that want to protect their businesses even if it means severely limiting the Internet and fair-use rights. This isn`t an anti-terrorism treaty let the people see what is being negotiated so they can let their governments know whether they support these treaties.
Apple iTunes Updates
I`ve stopped updating iTunes on my Windows XP-based system at home. Even before Apple and Palm executives decided to play the childish game of "Yes I can," "No you can`t" that resulted in at least one iTunes update that seemed to focus on breaking sync for Palm Pre users, iTunes updates were an unpleasant experience. iTunes on my Windows system has never run great. It often consumes all of the CPU, which is why it`s now caged and freed only when I really need to synchronise my iPhone for backup purposes.
It is one of my chief hopes that iTunes gets a performance and optimisation boost, and not a renewed focus on wasting my bandwidth with hacks to keep competitive devices from working.
Facebook`s TOS changes
The Facebook TOS brouhaha was not the first social network faux pas, and it won`t be the last. As Facebook and the like look for new ways to monetise their services, the social network envelope will get pushed further and further. These sites need to remember that their user base is their business, and work to protect users` privacy and maintain their trust.
Tech grounds thousands
On November 19, the US Federal Aviation Administration`s flight plan filing system went down, causing delays in airports across the country. What caused the system to go down? As reported by eWeek`s Chris Preimesberger, the outage was the result of a faulty part inside a telecom router link in Salt Lake City – and perhaps an FAA contractor. The incident is under investigation, but it shines a spotlight on the power of technology – both to make life easier when it`s working and to bring life to a grinding halt when it fails.
Confounded by Conficker
Early this year, the Conficker worm garnered mainstream attention due to a supposed April 1 trigger. Microsoft released a patch for Conficker outside of its Patch Tuesday schedule, and members of the security community prepared a set of freely available tools to aid in Conficker detection and removal for infected systems. Whether it was because of these tools or because Conficker had been highly overestimated, April Fool`s Day 2009 came and went, and the nation`s computing systems (for the most part) remained unscathed.
With that said, Conficker called attention to the problems inherent in deploying client systems that offer up network-facing services to anonymous nodes, and it highlighted the importance of watching more closely the privileges granted to the system-level applications that run on mainstream operating systems.
Is Gmail down for you? That was a question asked too many times this year, as the Google e-mail system suffered a number of outages – two in September alone. Many of us have come to depend on Gmail and other Google apps. Heck – Google has marketed the apps as a productivity solution for businesses large and small. But, if we can`t depend on Google, who can we depend on? Sure, companies experience e-mail failures every day, but a self-hosted solution means, theoretically, self-hosted help. Who ya gonna call when Gmail goes down? More and more vendors are urging us to put our mission-critical apps in their hands online, and there`s certainly a lot to like about cloud computing. But, at this point in time, there`s also a lot to be wary about.
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