Some thoughts on the Protonmail case

This week there has been a lot of buzz about the fact that Protonmail (a mail provider that sold privacy above everything) tracked the IP of a climate activist and provided it to the french police, after it was requested. Of course, many people claimed that privacy should be above everything, and that Protonmail has been lying to the users for a long time now. They even changed some of the text you could read on their website regarding privacy and how they manage your data.

So, let’s talk a bit about this for a moment. I do strongly defend privacy, and I think that everyone should be able to remain anonymous not only on the internet, but everywhere on the planet. This entails a tremendous effort, because we have developed many technologies in the past few decades, but legislation has been tremendously slow, unable to follow the pace of tech development. Moreover, most of these new tools have been developed by private companies (which main objective, and usually the only one, is to get benefits). In many cases, these companies have grown so much that they stopped being national and became multinational, or basically global companies that operate all over the world. While this might seem a good thing at first glance (everyone can use their tech, no matter the country they live in), I firmly believe that the moment you go global, you have so much power that it is almost impossible to legislate your activities. We see examples of companies moving production to third-world countries to win more money, where they pay wages that are so low that people are basically slaves. In the same spirit, there are companies doing business in Europe that sell all their products through fiscal paradieses, evading taxes. During the past few years, we have started seeing countries trying to legislate these activities, with more or less success (it seems that the European Union might be on the right track now, let’s wait and see… *crossing fingers*).

So, let’s go back to protonmail. Do I think that privacy is important? For sure. Should they give information to the country in which they operate? Absolutely. You cannot ask for tech companies following the law and paying taxes but excuse them on different topics like user privacy. No company should be above the state (and ultimately, its citizens), even if I like the company and what they do. The tricky question here is: are countries always right in their claims to companies? And I fear that the answer is a clear no. In this case, France classified a climate activist as a terrorist. Let that sink for a minute. We have many other examples around the world where governments go against their citizen minorities (either for their sexuality, race, or religion). I have already posted some news in this blog about how Apple bent the knee to the China government before. Should companies bend over in those cases? Morally no, but companies are not human beings, they have no moral codes. Can companies legally fight states? Should they? It is an exceptionally tricky situation, to which I honestly do not have a solution. In any case, I think this is a very interesting (and important) problem, and for sure we will see more and more news like this one in the following years.

ProtonMail deletes ‘we don’t log your IP’ boast from website after French climate activist reportedly arrested, on the register
Important clarifications regarding arrest of climate activist, on
ProtonMail Amends Its Policy After Giving Up an Activist’s Data, on wired

The weekly recap (2021#18)

Hectic week… sometimes unexpected tasks jeopardize you schedule. Coming back to normal now I hope.

Anyway, really interesting stuff has been happening for the past few days. Let’s delve into it:

Apple vs the world: episode #1

Recently Apple changed the way its users are noticed about how some apps track their information. This perturbation on the (advertisement) force has generated a lot of ripples, which might become bigger than a tsunami. There have been a lot of interesting articles on the topic, most of them defending a good vs bad sceneario (where Apple is almost a white knight fighting for our privacy and Facebook is a devil). While obviously there are companies that behave much worse than others, I kinda see the scenario as the evil vs the lesser evil. If you are interested, I found these sources particularly informative:

Apple And Tracking: A Story Of Good Guys And Bad Guys, on forbes
I checked Apple’s new privacy ‘nutrition labels.’ Many were false. on The Washington Post

Anyone in cherno?

One of the reasons we have not gone fully on the nuclear wagon was the Chernobyl accident. While some might think that everything was solved by now, there have been recent news that sparkled some concerns: nuclear reactions are starting to ramp up in activity again

‘It’s like the embers in a barbecue pit.’ Nuclear reactions are smoldering again at Chernobyl, on Science

Was Wolfram right?

I remember some coding lessons on the university that used Mathematica and their notebooks. I kinda hated those and always thought that it was a terrible way of coding, and only nice for sharing stuff. Nowadays Jupyter notebooks are used by millions of people, and I still see terrible code on notebooks that should have been just a .py file (also, it has to be said that I also see amazing dissemination notebooks).

Anyway, if you want to read the opinion of really clever people, you can take a look at this article:

Reactive, reproducible, collaborative: computational notebooks evolve, on Nature

Apple vs the world: episode #2

This week the trial on Apple vs Epic started, and oh boy it’s been fun. Two tech giants spreading shit all over the place. Let’s see how far greed can get.

I share some articles and a couple threads on twitter. While the articles are nice, the threads are kind of a live streaming of the trial, and I loved reading them. Also, every email that has been exposed during this week is pure gold, and a perfect insight on how companies operate… Interesting topic which will have a lot of repercussions in the way we interact with our devices…

Even If Epic Loses Against Apple, Developers Could Still Win, on bloomberg
Apple antitrust trial kicks off with Tim Sweeney’s metaverse dreams, on theverge

Has AI gone too far?

Wild news on how some people are using AI-fuelled narrative games to make disturbing narratives involving sex and children. It really makes you think about the biases in training, the use we give to any tool, responsibility of companies on the use people do of their tech, and privacy. What a nice read:

It Began as an AI-Fueled Dungeon Game. It Got Much Darker, on wired

And that’s it for the week. Stay safe!