Posts Tagged ‘technology’

The Taxman’s Robot Wants to Steal My Voice

July 8, 2017

I had to ring up Her Majesty’s Customs & Revenue on Monday.

I did the usual – giving up my date of birth, first line of address, postcode.

Then something odd happened. The recorded voice said that the next time I phoned up they would use my voice to identify me and that I should record my voice now so they could do so.

It didn’t ask my permission to do this, didn’t give me an opt in or an opt out. So I didn’t say anything. Eventually the voice said “we’ll do this next time”.

Oh no we won’t.

It is possible given my failing memory that at some point in the past I signed up to this. However since I’m the kind of person who has not one but two twitter accounts but still refuses to give Twitter his phone number, this seems unlikely. If I did give permission, I take it back now. This blog post means I am unticking the box.

My voice is my data. Trying to “nudge” people into  giving up a recording of their voice without explicit permission must surely be a breach of some kind of data protection or privacy policy. At the very least, the “user journey” here is poor. The assumption in the language is that I’m happy to record my voice. I should be asked, explicitly, whether I want to record my voice or not.

The last thing I need is the Government recording my voice, the recording then being hacked, and used by a criminal to impersonate me.

Here’s a recording of a short fragment of the message:

Every time an automated till in my supermarket flashes red for no reason,  I mutter to myself that these machines should be our servants, not our masters.

Resist our robot overlords!

And rebel against their designers!


Links: “today’s Internet is a shanty town next to a festering garbage dump”

October 27, 2016

1. I don’t believe the robots are coming.

Because as soon as they got outside London they wouldn’t get a decent Wifi signal and would grid to a halt.

We are sold a shiny and/or scary vision of an automated future.  Martin Geddes (@martingeddes) explains why on current infrastructure it won’t happen:

“The Internet needs a security and performance upgrade”:

“The Internet’s security model is completely unsuitable for these connected devices. The default is that anyone can route to anyone, and that all routes are always active. This is completely backwards.”

2. “The Rise of Dating App Fatique” by Julie Beck (@juliebeck) is a fascinating study of how people have become disillusioned with the likes of Tinder.

I haven’t been dating for a long time, (in fact in those days we called it “going out”), but I thought that Julie’s analysis could apply more widely. Again we are promised a shiny world of efficiency. Often the reality is clunky and poor.

Is there a built in conflict of interest? App makers want you to carry on using their app, so its not in their interest for you to find what you want (whatever that is), because you would then stop using the app:

“So if there’s a fundamental problem with dating apps, one baked into their very nature, it is this: They facilitate our culture’s worst impulses for efficiency in the arena where we most need to resist those impulses.  Research has shown that people who you aren’t necessarily attracted to at first sight, can become attractive to you over time, as you get to know them better. Evaluating someone’s fitness as a partner within the span of a single date—or a single swipe—eliminates this possibility.”

3. Are Progressives Being Played By WikiLeaks And Julian Assange?” asks Katherine Cross.

Perhaps another sign of a current mood of increasing skepticism with the digital world.

At what point did Assange change from hero to villain?

“In the case of WikiLeaks, this includes especially egregious cases like leaking the name of a Saudi man arrested for being gay, or the names of rape victims in the Kingdom. In the wake of the failed Turkish coup, meanwhile, Assange also recklessly published troves of information on nearly every woman in the country, as well as potentially outing anti-government demonstrators and rank and file government party voters—hardly wise in the wake of a violent coup attempt. The leak was supposed to be Premier Recep Erdogan’s private emails, exposing more of his increasingly authoritarian government; instead, the dump contained nothing from Erdogan and reams of sensitive information on private Turkish citizens.”

(“You can judge a nation, and how successful it will be, based on how it treats its women and its girls.” @BarackObama )

The Cloud Circle #10: Notes and Tweets

June 2, 2012

I was very flattered to be invited to the 10th Cloud Circle Forum (here’s a video) on the 17th May.

This was a very well organised, slick and very professional conference about Cloud Computing.

The speakers were very good in particular Rob Craft from Microsoft, Ashley George from Glaxo Smith Kline and Eleanor Stewart from G-Cloud standing out. In particular I would have liked to know more about G-Cloud – this session was too short!

If you are one of the three people reading this (my last blog post got ten page impressions from robots, spam and me) you’ll know I’m not a technologist by background. So I’m less interested in the technical questions and more in the cultural, political and moral questions which surround any technology.

The first good thing is that I finally learned what “The Cloud” is. Here’s a good description from a recent Register article:

“The basic idea is to pool a bunch of servers and other resources (storage and networking) to create a general purpose platform upon which a variety of workload types can be run simultaneously”

Effectively computing power has now reached a level of sophistication where you can contract out as much of your IT infrastructure as you like. You no longer have to have your own servers or tin boxes somewhere in a room. There’s still a tin box or boxes somewhere but you no longer have to own it.

The promise of the cloud is obvious: more efficiency, more flexibility, potentially big cost savings. You can pay for what you need when you need it. I can see why businesses find it attractive.


There’s something emotionally comforting about having your own box in your own room. You know where it is and you can switch it on and off yourself. Cloud computing puts all that in the hands of others.

“Make sure you do your due diligence” said a couple of speakers. An understatement. You have to have a high level of trust in the third party, not to mention clarity around contracts and service. There’s always a danger of trust breaking down in a complex relationship with someone or something you can’t see. At what point does the cloud get so big and so complex that visibility, transparency and trust break down? I had a touch of déjà vu here. Wasn’t that what happened to the banking sector?

The session I particularly enjoyed was with Eleanor Stewart of G Cloud.

What they seem to be doing is fascinating: creating an artificial, controlled, easy to use market in cloud services as an incentive to government departments in order to break the power of the current providers of Government IT who charge too much and don’t give enough back. The analogy I thought of was of an amoeba which is broken into a number of small parts but then reforms eventually into a stronger and more efficnet creature.

The final session on law and the cloud was equally good. There was much discussion on how the Patriot Act in the US can be used to grab hold of user data of non US citizens. Your data could be crossing national borders and being processed in an illegal way before you even know about it.

A thought I had was again around banking and currency markets. The reason the cloud is attractive is because you can measure cost in different places. There’s a system where you can calculate how much something costs in rupees and then translate it back into dollars. You can measure how much a unit of labour costs in different currencies and compare them. You can’t do that with international law.

But maybe you should be able to. Couldn’t someone work out a number for the costs and risks of different law around data protection in different countries and turn it into something easy to interrogate and dynamic? What if you could assign a number to the Data Protection Act and compare it to a number for EU Privacy legislation?

We probably put too much faith in numbers. But if you’re going to do that put numbers on everything that’s a factor in your decision making so that you can see all risks and costs.

You can find out more about the Cloud Circle’s programme of events at thier website.

“Sloppy” Technology Blogging – an Editor’s Dilemma

August 25, 2008

I was pleased to read this blog post from Dan Rayburn at business of (a blog I’d never come across before).

Key quote:

“Where is the fact checking by these authors? How about speaking to the companies involved before you write the article? You’re trying to decipher what someone from the BBC said on his blog and implying things as “facts” which is inaccurate. I had no problem contacting both networks involved to confirm the accurate info as I read it from the BBC blog.”

There’s been some speculation on blogs ever since Anthony Rose announced that the iPlayer would be using h.264 on some of its video on the Internet blog (disclaimer- which I edit in case you didn’t know) a couple of weeks ago.  As Dan points out:

“No where in Anthony’s post did he say anything about “switching” from Akamai to Level 3 or “replacing” Akamai for Level 3. Bloggers are implying that Akamai was the “previously chosen” provider and that Akamai has lost their BBC buisness, which is blantantly inaccurate…”

This kind of speculative blogging Dan points to sometimes gives me a dilemma.

Should I link to these posts in the Internet blog’s delicious stream even if they are interesting but wide of the mark? Or I should I ignore them on the grounds that they are gossip?

A post like this one on the excellent Telco 2.0 blog is going to be of interest to my readers. It’s speculative (phrases like “bandwidth wars” need to be taken with a pinch of salt) but is based on interesting data.  And I think my readers are clever enough and mature enough to make up their own minds about whether it’s right or wrong .

They’re certainly more clever than me. Much of the hard core technical detail goes way over my head. I was employed to edit the Internet blog not because I am a technology specialist but because (hopefully) I know how to talk online.

And the great thing about blog posts like Dan’s is that they give me stuff to link to and continue with that conversation.

Just like some of the wilder stuff that’s been written about the BBC and Microsoft if you ignore it, it won’t just go away. You have to intervene to have any effect.

And on a purely personal level I’m like Marlene Dietrich. If I see someone saying something about the BBC I know is inaccurate and I can show it is with a link, (even if it’s nothing to do with my work) well I can’t help it.

Marlene Dietrich from spike 55151 on flickr

Marlene Dietrich from spike 55151 on flickr