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Cynical Reactions to “Predictions for 2013”

As a result of my research on voting and my connections with the computer security community, one of the blogs I read occasionally is Freedom to Tinker. They recently released their Predictions for 2013, and this year I though I would offer my comments on their predictions. (Warning: Significant cynicism ahead!)

1. DRM technology will still fail to prevent widespread infringement. In a related development, pigs will still fail to fly.

Yup. Well, except in truly awful Geico commercials.

2. The FAA won’t reverse the ban on using electronic devices during takeoff and landing, despite increasing political pressure to do so and a continued lack of evidence that devices are dangerous.

Followup: In 2014, the FAA will cave to this pressure but still require that cell phone antennas be turned off, because those actually will prove to be a problem. In 2015, a plane will crash because everybody on the plane will still leave the antenna on, eschewing “airplane mode” because they don’t really understand the idea of “on, but antenna off” and because flight attendants will do nothing to enforce this.

3. A self-driving vehicle will be involved in a fatal accident. The victim’s family will sue everybody in sight, triggering a backlash against self-driving cars but (on the bright side) leading to more Careful Consideration of how the law should apply.

I think this is a year or two early, maybe 2014 or 2015.

4. A secret autonomous weapon system will be involved in a high-profile botched/mistaken military strike that will increase debate about autonomous weapons and the role of humans in the loop. Further investigation will show that the critical error was made by a human in the loop.

Even further investigation will show the “error” made by the human was, in fact, a completely reasonable action for that person to have taken given ambiguities in chain of command, conflicting rules of engagement, and horrible UI of the system. None of those things will be fixed, however, and the person who made the error will simply be blamed and therefore nothing changed, ensuring it will happen again.

5. Civilian versions of military UAVs, like the Predator, will gain broader approval for use in domestic airspace and will be rapidly adopted by the obvious government agencies (e.g. police departments, Border Patrol, USGS) as well as all manner of unexpected non-government applications (e.g. traffic reporting, aerial banner advertising). “Deconflicting” airspace will become a hot topic for discussion.

Again, too early for this, in no small part courtesy of the aforementioned FAA, who will take years to approve any civilian drone that flies above a very low ceiling.

6. A drone will be used in creepy fashion by a (civilian) stalker.

This one I know is wrong, because it already happened in 2012. Or are you just saying it will happen again?

7. An unexpected solar event, debris, or collision will take out one or more GPS satellites or other important space infrastructure, causing real problems to computer and network-dependent societies.

Maybe, but I would bet against this. The Hubble is a lot bigger than any GPS satellite—that is, it’s a much bigger target—and it’s still OK.

8. While we’ll continue to see a smattering of settlements in the smartphone patent wars, there will be no broad industry-wide “solution” or peace, nor will there be significant legislative progress toward changing the patent system to reduce the impact of software patent thickets. Instead, expect more defensive transactions like the recent $500 million acquisition of Kodak’s patent portfolio.

Agree 100%. The patent system—especially for software—is a gross mess and it will not be cleaned up in 2013. Expect to see this item repeated for 2014, 2015….

9. As the Supreme Court considers pay-for-delay patent licenses in the drug industry, more attention will be paid to potentially anticompetitive patent licensing practices in the technology industries.

Marginally more attention, but nothing will actually be done.

10. At least one company that offers web tracking services, e.g., third parties that can tell a web site something about who you are when you visit, will get in sufficient hot water over its behavior that Congress will hold hearings on the topic and drag the company’s executives in for a verbal drubbing. Despite this, the US will not pass signficant new legislation to govern this sort of behavior.

Furthermore, the “hearings” will consist of minor IT executives who will be lobbed softball questions by members of Congress who know nothing about any of the technology involved and had their questions pre-canned by lobbyists, and the mainstream media will almost entirely ignore the proceedings.

11. There will be at least one new Android or IOS [sic] app that blatantly violates user expectations of privacy in comparable magnitude to Path (who silently uploaded its users’ full contact lists), leading to Google and/or Apple taking corrective actions in their app stores. Again, there will be legislative attention but no legislation passed.

But there will be lots of teeth-gnashing in the tech press. If it’s an iOS app, widespread proclamations of “Apple is evil” will emanate from the tech press, and Apple will follow up with a record sales quarter anyway. If it’s an Android app, somehow the tech press will not be all over Google about it but will instead somehow make it the carriers’ fault, since that’s who currently takes the blame for anything wrong with Andriod—and Apple will follow up with a record sales quarter.

12. Wireless carriers will get into trouble because of their failure to offer system software updates for still-under-contract Android phones. Users will be burned by security or reliability problems that are fixed in newer Android versions that the carrier fails to provide.

And yet this will again cause mostly teeth-gnashing in the tech press, but the carriers will do nothing about it because no government agency (or Congress) will force them to. However, Apple will have record sales the following quarter.

13. A minor scandal will erupt over a computer science research project that causes avoidable harm to users, after the researchers omitted the standard IRB human subjects review

Furthermore, the researchers will have omitted the IRB review because they were unfamiliar with the process and could not be bothered to either (a) ask a colleague in the social sciences for help, or (b) ask their own Office of Sponsored Research (or equivalent) for help. The wrist-slap they receive will do little damage to their research careers, but will cause the amount of IRB paperwork for everyone else to increase by 25% the following year, because closing the barn door afterward always works.

14. Some prominent web sites will start supporting Do Not Track and at least one major country will attach requirements for how sites must respect DNT. Despite much discussion, there will be no US mandate for DNT and many web sites will flagrantly ignore it.

Not “many,” but “most,” very close to “all.” In fact, it’s pretty easy to determine who won’t: any site that is not financially incented to do so will not.

15. Ad blocking, and privacy-motivated content blocking generally, will gain more usage and legitimacy as users increasingly see blocking as the most effective way to navigate the confusing thicket of web privacy concerns.

This is because the users are correct.

16. Overseas and military voters will continue to cast votes through flagrantly insecure means (e.g. email without paper backup) and there will be a push to expand these programs to domestic voters despite their obvious flaws.

The hardest push will come from well-meaning activists who are trying to make suffrage more universal, but will instead make it less universal as these channels will be attacked and compromised, nullifying or replacing legitimate votes. Unfortunately, most (all?) of these breaches will go undetected so the activists will claim success, further spreading such programs. Security researchers will submit proposals to the NSF to work on this problem, but none of them will be funded until after the systems are already deployed—there’s that barn door thing again.

17. A popular competitive TV show, where viewers vote for their favorites through text messages and/or the web, will be rumored to have had its voting process “hacked” (or perhaps someone will take post-facto credit for such a hack). The show’s management will try to cover up or deny this, claiming that the system is totally secure when it obviously is not, leading to allegations that the show’s producers are manipulating the vote.

Ultimately, though, both the first-place and second-place finishers will get record deals and it won’t hurt ratings, so nothing will be done about it.

18. One of the hot topics in cybersecurity this year will be the legitimacy of counter-offensive cyber-operations (i.e. hacking back at whoever is hacking you). Somebody will get in trouble and/or get sued for a botched counter-offensive operation.

This story, however, will be a momentary blip on mainstream news programming, unless it happens in August, when it might get mentioned more than just once.

19. There will be further newsworthy incidents of data exfiltration from large industrial, government, or military enterprises. Congress will hold hearings and there will be some consternation about how government should or shouldn’t protect non-government actors from such attacks.

Consternation will be the extent of the action, however.

20. The battle between countries that censor or control their citizen’s access to the full Internet (e.g., China with its Great Firewall) and technologies that try to work around the blockages (e.g., Tor) will continue without signficant advances on either side, but not without hype for some new “major development.”

Twitter supporters of the people being censored will, in an act of protest, make their Twitter avatars purple. This will accomplish nothing but will make them feel morally superior to those who don’t.

21. There will be a dispute over whether a CDN like CloudFlare or cloud hosting service like Amazon EC2 is providing material support for terrorists by, e.g., hosting Hamas.

This will end with a public apology by the hosting service but no actual action.

22. An online-only show will get support for an Emmy nomination, but is [sic] ruled ineligible.

This will cause the show to be BitTorrented in record amounts but will generate zero real revenue for the show. People will then wonder why the show halts production a few months later.

23. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) will enroll more students and there will be some consolidation in the market for MOOC platforms. Non-profit platforms will slowly gain market share, as institutions worry about the credential-granting business models that will start to proliferate on the for-profit platforms.

People, including university administrators, will still fail to realize what a small percentage of people actually complete these courses or why this is a flawed model in the first place.

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