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I'd like to think I'm one of the good guys here. I was one of the inventors of RSS and Atom and worked to push open content and social media.

I started a social data search platform named Datastreamer (http://www.datastreamer.io/) which is basically a petabyte-scale content indexing engine.

We provide API feeds to search engines and social media analytics companies needing bulk data but don't want to have to build a crawler.

For the last 5 years we've had major problems with customers coming to us asking for data which we felt was unethical (at best).

We actually had Saudi Arabia approach us... It was clear that they were intending to something pretty evil with the data.

Their RFP questions were a bit frightening:

- can you track people by religion?

- can you give us their email address?

- can you provide their address?

- can your provide their ethnicity?

- can you provide their social connections?

We're actually losing business to other companies that are performing highly unethical and probably illegal techniques.

We just can't compete with data at that type of fidelity.

If you're a researcher and you want to access bulk data for combating this type of non-sense WE WILL PROVIDE DATA AT COST. We can provide up to 1PB of data but for now we have to charge for the shipping and handling of that data. We're reaching out to some other companies like Google and also the Internet Archive to see if we can provide more cost effective solutions.

I'm working on more tools to give the power back to the users.

Polar (https://getpolarized.io/) is a web browser which allows people to control their own data. The idea is that I can keep a local repository of data and eventually build our own cloud platform based on open systems like IPFS and encrypt the data using group encryption.




By other companies I mean companies like Cambridge Analytica.

There are tons of other shady companies out there doing nefarious things with your data.

We're going to need platforms that support group encryption and better security for apps.


As a person living in the current world, I want to thank you for both standing up against these kind of requests, and for leaving money on the table, which other companies like Cambridge Analitica easily grabbed.

I don't know if there's any way for people/companies like you to defend against unscrupulous companies.

I can only say thank you.


I second the hat tip and gratitude


>We're going to need platforms that support group encryption and better security for apps.

Definitely. Though I also feel we need to give a shock to public awareness of just how evil people can be with this data. My perception is that people are trending towards "vaguely uncomfortable" with the news of foreign interference with targeted ads, election hacking, and so on, but we've a ways to go yet before most will give up supremely-engineered convenience in exchange for security.

As long as the modern world is democratic and the voting populace is subjecting itself to targeted manipulation by data-armed bad actors, we have a problem of not just national security, but international security.

Thanks for being one of the good guys.


Maybe some vigilante can create a website where you can type in anyone's name and it connects to these apis, server-side in a sovereign territory, then spits out redacted info about every facet of that person's life so you know it's legitimate and then get a few big news orgs to pick up the story about tech companies abusing data or something....


After the Cambridge Analytica news broke, I thought about writing an amnesiac evil quiz app that did all the CA stuff but then once the user was done, it told them exactly what it did as a way to educate people as to what was possible (and forgot everything it learned once the point was made). This way the evilness is restricted to the person who owns the data (and thus isn't really evil).

I do think there's potential in something along these lines, but I agree with child post that it would need to be done carefully so as not to cause collateral damage. The other question in my mind is how to market it such that people get their friends using it and thus spread the word rather than panicking and reporting it.


So the data is out there and nefarious people are going to be nefarious... but I'd be concerned that such an offering would lower the barrier to entry enough that terrible neighbors might blackmail each over by finding such information. I think a more reasonable approach might be to build up such a service behind a auth lock, execute it for yourself and a journalist and send those two reports and the tool to the journalist.


Thank you very much for being awesome


And people wonder why I've argued that, at some point, IT needs to be a certified and regulated profession like lawyers, doctors, engineers, nurses, pilots, accountants, electricians, plumbers, teachers, etc. If the future is going to be built using software and data, it's probably going to be essential that the general public have some agency -- public or private -- to safeguard the public interest.

It takes years of dedication to be a professional electrician or plumber, but anybody off the street can build an application that aggregates personal information and isn't subject to any sort of regulation or oversight or system of professional ethics.

That doesn't just safeguard the public. It also safeguards the employed individuals when they say, "No, that is not allowed under the ethics of my profession."

This isn't about "let's make the government save us," it's about creating a legal framework to protect the interests of the public and give ethical considerations in data management and software design some legal backing.


That won't help even a little bit in this case. That's like trying place the responsibility to reduce the amount of garbage generated on those who drive the garbage trucks. The decision to engage in the bad behavior usually doesn't come from IT staff or engineers, it comes from management. Hold the leaders of these organizations responsible and you'll see the problem fixed real quick.


Why not? The decision first comes from management, but engineers are the ones who implement it.

I think things would change pretty quick if engineers responded to such requests with "I can't do that, because my professional association would remove me from their membership, which would revoke my license to write software in this country at all".

That's how (AIUI) law, medicine, (real) engineering, etc., work today.


Unless you've got a legal/regulatory structure to enforce it, it can't work. And there is absolutely no will on the part of corporations or Congress to do such a thing as it runs contrary to their interests. Even if it were feasible, software development is one of the easiest things to jurisdiction shop since it can be done anywhere. So unless you further mandate where the development must be done, it still won't work.

Keep in mind that most law/medicine/engineering work has some local component anchoring it to local laws. (i.e. currently, someone typically needs to be 'boots on the ground' in the jurisdiction to provide the service) Software doesn't have that.

(edit: obviously, this is a U.S.-specific view of the situation. Other countries may not have the same issues)


What about an organization which

1) Maintains a membership list 2) Maintains a list of software which is signed off on by members 3) Browser/OS/etc utilities which refuse and/or warn when trying to run software not in the registry 4) Member expulsion if registered software is found to be nefarious

This is basically the system Apple/Microsoft/Debian/etc/etc already use for official software distribution. We just need the organization to move out of their walled gardens.

The big leak here is users which have to use resources they don't control. I can imagine an IaaS company which won't run software unless its in the registry, and then companies can boast that your data is 'safe' (or at least not nefarious) because they run in this kind of environment.


“I can’t prescribe you this drug because it’s more expensive than the generic one ... despite their sponsoring me and my family to their annual conference in the Bahamas.”

“I can’t recommend this additional procedure for you despite it making me $8500 in a day.”

Regulation doesn’t seem to influence for profit medicine much.


How about also give citizens unrestricted access to their medical files through an online platform (possibly government maintained or possibly insurance maintained, or possibly self-maintained see below...)?

The whole conversation is logged or perhaps converted speech2text as they discuss, and both patient and doctor sign each statement they make. Then both doctor and patient have a copy of their interaction.

Any poor advice is now provable to a third party (say court).


How about replacing profit as a primary motivation in healthcare with... care?


You are complicit if your moral compass allows you to create software that challenges fundamental human rights without pushing back or taking a stand.


I generally like the idea— it's probably a sign of maturity.

I'd add that it would be nice to be able to operate outside of certain fields and certain types of operations without that level of certification.

For instance, freelance web devs, small business software employees, etc who aren't dealing in things like personal or trivial data could continue operation. For example: you don't need to be a doctor to be certified in first aid, or even administer first aid—but you likely wouldn't attempt an invasive, life-threatening surgery.

I'd also like to see—if that kind of regulation were to pass—the inclusion of some kind of grandfather clause that would include the ability to test without formal education.

The reason being there are very many highly capable developers/engineers in the field who don't possess the exact formal background—and in many cases came from other formal backgrounds.

I'd definitely hear arguments for not requiring education at any time, but to keep it on par with the other professions you listed I'll leave it as is.

This might not be the thread for a larger discussion on this—because it seems like it would be a larger discussion. An interesting one, though...

Implementation seems like it would be a challenge, but then again I don't know the stories behind who more modern professions like electricians were regulated. I imagine that field grew much more slowly.


I agree, what do you think about some enforceable "do good" prior consent laws, in the same vein as scientists trying to do research on humans and requiring prior consent, where if you are caught being unethical towards the people on the other end of your work product, then there will be sanctions and steep penalties equal to how severe the work is judged against harming human rights etc.

How do you modify the above idea if you think it has merit?

"I'd also like to see—if that kind of regulation were to pass—the inclusion of some kind of grandfather clause that would include the ability to test without formal education."

Why not have some sort of certification process you can do while working that holds the individual accounts to the values of being unethical and will have consequences for not adhering to, at all levels like on the scale of GDPR violations.

Also there should be steeper penalities against companies acting in bad faith, similar to GDPR for human rights. Thoughts?


> Why not have some sort of certification process you can do while working that holds the individual accounts to the values of being unethical and will have consequences for not adhering to, at all levels like on the scale of GDPR violations.

Oh with regard to this one, I don't think my wording was clear. I meant with regard to testing or challenging to be certified without having a formal CS/related background. As: a doctor would have to have an MD to practice as a doctor amongst other certifications— I was contending that an explicit CS degree may not be an optimal equal designation for practicing software engineering/research, as it were. As a background— there are many talented and influential researchers who would be cut out of practicing if the line were drawn at a reputed CS degree. Aligning "software practice" (for lack of better wording) hard with a CS degree might be poor bounds for the field.

But I definitely think I agree, at least on a high level with what you're proposing. I hadn't considered it. Good things have come out of research using the large amounts of data available, so it should continue. But there definitely should be some sort of bounds and method for accountability. Also would include a special permissions and appeal process. There's I'm sure a lot of cost/benefit judgement as there is in many scientific experiments (there's seemingly a great deal of that in biological testing).

And you also might restrict certain entities from performing the research and instead be compensated for their collected data by a reputable research group. Said group can produce the hard/applied research, patents, and license them to groups to use them.


Yeah we are in agreement, background in CS doesn't matter for practicing or entry to field, only your work product would be held to some sort of ethical standard.

Maybe this would also undo some of the effects of outsourcing/offshoring US coding practices due to the need for ethical compliance (at the very least in mission critical systems e.g. vehicle software, hospital software, etc)


And people wonder why I've argued that, at some point, IT needs to be a certified and regulated profession like lawyers, doctors, engineers, nurses, pilots, accountants, electricians, plumbers, teachers, etc.

Awesome idea. The same governments who are sending RFPs to burtonator's company will then have the ability to decide who is even allowed to work in the industry.


How exactly do you think bridges and buildings are built? Who do you think operates the state bar for lawyers? Who do you think operates public school teacher certification?


Looking around the room, I don't see any bridges or chalkboards or courtroom paraphernalia. I see a personal computer. How exactly do you think the machine you're typing on was built?!

Do you want to go back to the 1970s? Because this is how you get back to the 1970s, when only a rarefied priesthood had access to computing power.

Don't expect to accomplish that without encountering strong opposition.


Very true. A "morally flexible" lawyer still has disbarment and legal sanction to worry about, and this may provide a natural balancing force against illegal or immoral client requests. A morally-bankrupt programmer has almost none of those strictures or formal obligations.


>> anybody off the street can build an application

No they can't. The closest is they can steal(copy/paste) portions of other people's applications, change some text, and attempt to take credit for them.

Also, we do have agency(private) that you suggested. Developer certification programs exist for nearly every language and platform. They aren't very popular. Red Hat will certify you as a java developer for JBoss, Oracle will certify you as a java developer as well. If you can't write code, but still want to feel geeky and have a career as a waiter, you can go get certified as an "ethical hacker" too.

There is no shortage of agency - employers and consumers simply do not care, and by that, I mean they do not want to pay(higher prices) for it.

PS: You can go be an amateur electrician or plumber today, without breaking any laws. However, if you'd like to touch private/public power or water/waste infrastructure, then you need endorsement. It's not illegal for you to hire me(a total amateur at those 2 trades) to both wire and plumb the new house you are building. The awkward moment will be when the water and power company refuse to connect your house, because the work I did was not the work of a licensed electrician or plumber. I understand the spirit of your analogy, but it doesn't translate as well with IT. For that analogy to work, then private/public internet infrastructure would have to refuse to inter-operate with your software if you didn't meet their licensing/certification standard.


I don't think regulation is necessarily required, but I think consequences are... and serious ones at that. Data misuse and "oopies" data breaches by shady companies that were about to go out of business are actions that should be seen as malicious and come with serious penalties. Judges aren't the best at tech stuff but if they're lacking we (techy people) should help inform guidelines and let the justice system do its job here.


What about having a designation that is independent of any one profession, but possibly applicable to any or all of them? It could (and probably should) be administered by a self-regulating body. Any government or NGO would be allowed to require work product be fulfilled by professionals holding this designation at their choosing. Something like "Privacy-first Professional".


First, thank you so much for the work you've done with RSS / Atom. I implemented it (and my own static site compiler) myself from scratch on my own personal site and it took me very little time. The only little trick was figuring out absolute vs relative paths.

Second, I've been fighting for regulations for over three years and I'm getting somewhere, but I'm also starting to think that we need technical solutions to many of these problems. One of the things I see as a problem is that people always want more, but privacy and security often require less.

For example, old charsets only supported Latin characters. With the introduction of Cyrillic characters many assumptions started breaking.

Each time I try to think through how to make the web / internet simpler I realize that it either requires pushing the complexity onto people unprepared to deal with it—an English speaking daughter may want to copy and paste her Russian mother's Cyrillic name, say—or it fails to handle the use cases we need it to handle.

I know this seems kinda abstract, but do you ever think about that interplay? Are there any insights or anecdotes you find useful?


> We're actually losing business to other companies that are performing highly unethical and probably illegal techniques.

And you always will. Principles and money are often at odds. This is not an easily fixable problem as the well-intended solutions often cause more problems. Enforcement of existing statutes and accepting legal-yet-unethical practices is unfortunately the most rational approach.

> We just can't compete with data at that type of fidelity.

Only in a situation where interminable growth is required in a race to the top. Otherwise, there's room for everyone and that's why there are thousands of software products that "compete" just fine. The key is just making sure there are platforms that allow everyone to build everything.


> Only in a situation where interminable growth is required in a race to the top.

The key is that they choke you out... They have more engineers, more R&D and a better product because they have more revenue.


If they have a better product, so be it. But I'm not convinced that more engineers and more R&D necessarily lead to that, nor am I convinced that smaller, more niche products are always choked out. If that were the case, we'd only have huge companies and a bunch of choked out entrepreneurs. Rather, a bunch of us out here with small companies are doing just fine. Definitely not a give up situation like "we just can't compete". That mentality gives rise to nuclear options with unintended consequences.


This is very true. I have been a paying customer of Fastmail for many years, and in my opinion, they are the best in the industry and very small to boot.

OpenBSD is yet another example of a small(ish) team of people making some truly great software. On the Windows side, Fookes Software comes to mind, again small operation, great software.


As an engineer who used to work for other firms I would work at a significant pay reduction to do fulfilling work. Companies who have shady business practises are a significant turn off and I doubt I’m the only one.

Now as a manager who has to hire I find it pretty straightforward finding passionate people to work with me simply because the work is compelling.

It’s a matter of getting your story out as the ethical data mining company, or something :) you’ll find like minded clients and employees do exist and that being ethical can be a competitive advantage too.


Despite your intentions, I don't think it's possible for you to be one of the good guys. The mass collection and aggregation of the data in the first place is the problem, not merely a few bad actors downstream.


It's very easy to assign blame in hindsight. "Web 2.0" (i.e. data aggregation) was a fantastic tool and most of us did not have the imagination to see how it would be abused (just as any tool can be abused).


It was very easy to see where this was going from the very beginning and many did raise red flags but were largely disregarded because... FREE! There was plenty of user generated content for decades before Facebook/Google/etc came along (i.e. mailing lists/Usenet/forums/wikis/etc.) and one of the ways some chose to mitigate the risk was behind pseudonyms etc... which the big data collectors/aggregators have a problem with. Those who started requiring 'real names' and other personal details who then integrated disparate data sources to build profiles on users knew exactly what they were doing from day one... it's always been their business model.

That said, I have no issue with anyone who voluntarily trades their personal information for access to a service. That's their choice to make. But it also seems reasonable that there be full disclosure as to the scope and scale of the deal they're making so they can make an informed choice. This isn't even remotely the case today.


You don't need an imagination, there is at least one negative example in living memory of putting data aggregation to work against a mass populace.


What other companies?


If I wanted to offer whatever programming chops I have and support one of the initiatives you're working on, what's the best way for me to do that?

I appreciate all your work and contributions to the community in general. Please keep your chin up and keep moving forward.


IPFS is dope as shit, and aims to be much more than what it advertises on the surface.


Thanks for doing the right thing.


Thank you.


Ultimately, I think there are far too many actors involved to rely on the ethics of third parties to protect your privacy. If Saudi Arabia wanted to track down gays and apostates by mining the same data you did, they could do it themselves.

The first line of defense against this is, and always will be, not publishing so much information about yourself. They can not mine what you do not provide.

We can argue all day about the ethics of the conduct of companies and states looking at these data, but it's a non-issue if the data simply don't exist.


Even if you publish nothing about yourself, information will leak. Some of your friends will post things about you... for example they have a photo together with you, will upload it to a social network, enter your name, provide a date and place for the photo... with enough photos with your name, the social network can make a guess about which other unnamed photos contain the same person... and gradually a profile on you is being built.

And it will only get worse, as more data will be shared by other people. Soon the streets may be full of people using cameras all day long, just because it allows them to make cooler diaries or blogs, and then the data companies will get universal surveillance.

The only way to keep privacy will be to have your face covered in public (but hey, that will be made illegal, because terrorism or something), or avoid public places completely.




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