Apple legend Bill Atkinson, left, and Andrew Stone talk Steve Jobs, drugs and the Internet at AltConf 2014 in San Francisco. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
SAN FRANCISCO — At Apple’s WWDC developer conference, there are talks about interface design, writing code and fixing bugs.
Across the street at indie spinoff AltConf, the talks are concerned with spying on users and making choices between good and evil.
“We have had a hand in creating one of the most dystopian and undesirable societies imaginable,” said Andrew Stone, a veteran programmer who once worked with Steve Jobs, during a talk entitled “What Have We Built Here?”
It’s not the kind of stuff you’d expect to hear at a developer’s conference, but in an age of widespread government spying and cynicism about corporate slogans like “Don’t be evil,” AltConf highlights that programmers are often presented with moral choices. There’s a growing awareness in the coding community that although the activity of programming is benign, what’s created can be used for evil. Take Maciej Cegłowski’s talk last month in Germany, which has been widely discussed on the Web. Cegłowski argues — convincingly — that the utopian ideals of the early internet have been thoroughly corrupted, and the entire industry is “rotten.”
The data-hungry tentacles of the NSA have managed to choke America’s top tech firms into silent submission on data requests, but after months of demanding more transparency, Apple is ready to defy authorities and let you know when the NSA wants your data.
Prosecutors warn that such a move will undermine investigations by tipping off criminals and allowing them to destroy sensitive data, but according to the Washington Post, Apple and others have already changed their policies.
While accusations about NSA backdoors to Apple devices have been doing the rounds for a while now, yesterday’s revelations about spying agencies using so-called “leaky apps” to capture user data has reignited the debate. Below is a Q&A covering everything we’ve learned so far:
Q) What is a leaky app?
A) An app that transmits private user information across the Internet. While apps have come under fire for collecting private user information before, the current outcry follows revelations leaked by Edward Snowden, suggesting that leaky apps have been the focus of spying organizations such as the NSA and its UK counterpart, GCHQ (Government Communications HQ). The NSA has cumulatively spent more than $1 billion in its phone targeting efforts. A 2010 NSA presentation cites poor secured apps as a “golden nugget” for gathering user information — including, but not limited to, address books and friend lists.
Having your phone calls listened to and your text messages read remotely is a genuine concern for many smartphone owners now that we’ve gotten an insight into the activities of the NSA spies. We’ve quickly learned that our seemingly secure devices are like an open book for those who have the knowledge and the power to get into them.
But the Blackphone, an Android-powered smartphone from Silent Circle and Geeksphone, is designed to ensure that your private data remains private, and cannot be obtained by even the snoopiest of snoopers.
The U.S. National Security Agency has spyware designed to grant backdoor access to the iPhone specifically, according to leaked documents shared by high-profile security researcher Jacob Appelbaum and German publication Der Spiegel.
While speaking at the Chaos Communication Congress in Germany, Appelbaum shared his knowledge of “DROPOUTJEEP,” a top-secret NSA program that can intercept an iPhone’s SMS messages, contacts, location, camera, and microphone.
On our all-new CultCast: Apple has a new Christmas commercial and some are hailing it as their best ad yet; Mac Pro is Apple’s most powerful computer ever; Beyonce’s iTunes-only album release breaks all the records; an alarming new study shows pervs can use your Mac’s camera to peep your naked bod; and we choose on our favorite Christmas movies of all time!
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Google chairman Eric Schmidt has hit out at the National Security Agency (NSA) over claims that it has spied on Google’s data centers to gain information about its users. Schmidt told The Wall Street Journal that the allegations are “outrageous” and potentially illegal if true.