Thursday, September 8, 2011

9/11's (and Google's) effect on technology

Marketplace had a great piece today on Alessandro Acquisti's work on his Face Matching Algorithms of Dooooom. As in, he takes a photo of the NPR interviewer with his iPhone, and it immediately pulls up everything about the guy.

From a technological perspective it's all fascinating, but from a privacy perspective it's downright terrifying. This is all reflects a lack of citizen and governmental understanding of data. You share some information with your grocery store, get a frequent shopper card, you don't realize how this data is being brokered, merged, sold, to countless numbers of people. Furthermore, a photo you post with some friends at a party, even if you don't tag it-- all you need is one identifiable photo (Driver's license registry?), and BOOM, there it is.

Add this to fraudulent SSL certificates running amok, and I really feel like we're up a creek.

This is a great time to become a security researcher. Grad students, forget all those other CS topics - do security. Or systems. Or both! There are plenty of important problems that need solving ASAP.


  1. Or don't because then you compete with me :-p

  2. Nah. There are always great problems to work on, and never enough people to do all of them.

  3. We always bring unexpected things home from war; for example, much of the intellectual groundwork as well as hands-on engineering of the symbol-processing machine you're using now came from warfare or its preparation, often the construction of weapons. The ongoing racial integration of US society is another example of something that came home from the wars.

    Casual observers may not notice how our current "wars" are not much like, say, the mass actions of World War II. The technologies in play were wholesale. US involvement in the Korean War was famously described as a "police action" but that term is far more evocative of our retail, or even bespoke application of violence in various sandy places. The technologies useful for putting down an insurgency city by city are fundamentally policing weapons systems, technologies of social control. They've been built on a military funding basis, but given that they are inherently non-visible and unintrusive they may lack a bright political line for debate for domestic deployment.