Microsoft and child protection
Published 01:36, 13 February 10
At a click of a button on Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 (and only on Microsoft Internet Explorer 8) a secret code is launched which reports an individual to a Government organisation called CEOPS which in turn accesses the Police databases.
What exactly does this button do?
I have no idea.
I never do know exactly what proprietary software is doing so this button is no exception, but nor do the developers of Firefox, Safari and Chrome. Who are CEOPs and why are they promoting Microsoft and 'Maddie' on their front page (www.ceops.gov.uk)?
It sounds like the story-board for a Dr Who episode; who exactly are Torchwood, sorry, CEOPS?
Relax folks, CEOPS stands for Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, phew that's all right then, CEOPs are the goodies; this is about catching paedophiles and Microsoft have been working closely with the Government for some time on this...so why do I feel so uneasy?
I know, it is that old trust issue again. Do I trust our Government not to use those two 21st century metaphors for evil, namely 'terrorists' and 'paedophiles' for their own none too savoury purposes? Then again do I trust a software company thrice convicted of monopolist crimes to behave ethically when 'working closely' with one of its very biggest sources of revenue?
Yeah, of course I do, after all its for kids and this, as we all know, is the cue for adult critical faculties to turn to sentimental mush.
Open Source Code is transparent Proprietary Code is not.
In case anyone thinks am I am in favour of not taking measures to prevent child abuse or for that matter not taking steps to stop terrorist outrages (..for this must be the corollary of my above scepticism surely?) I am against 'bad things' too.
What I am also against is secret code which is why:
a) I work in the Open Source community where the code is open to all.
b) This secretive, arrogant Government will never have any truck with Open Source Software or its experts no matter what it says and ...
c) …why all Government IT projects cost spectacular amount of public money and usually bomb.
But returning to trust. When something is beyond your ken but you need its functionality, say a car, you buy it on trust. Ask Toyota they know all about this issue. However the Toyota woes are very interesting in themselves:
The sticking throttles are (to a mechanic expert, aka 'grease monkey') a kind of open source issue. Mere inspection of the works by any expert reveals the problem and how it could be solved.
The ABS problems are qualitatively different as they are 'black-box' software issues and cannot be diagnosed or inspected or fixed by anyone except those privy to the code.
Taken to its logical conclusion soon we will have the hermetically sealed car ( save for the passenger access), which is entirely opaque to the user, expert or not. Only the vendor could service or fix it..oh, we do have this situation... I forgot.
Thus trust is central to cars moving from Open Source technology to a Closed Source product. But is this a bad thing? Yes it is. Here is why.
When Trust Goes Wrong
HM Goverment Mandarins have no small opinion of their own opinions but with proprietary software they can only take the vendors' assurances on trust and judge the product by what it does or appears to do.
They have to trust...this is the point...they do not have the option of employing an expert Open Source 'Code Monkey' (as opposed to a Toyota 'Grease Monkey') to inspect the code for problems and secret 'bad bits'.
But then again if you trust the vendor does any of this matter? Sorry, rephrasing... if the vendor is trustworthy does this matter?
Well it does. I'll give an example, a matter of public record - the Chinook Helicopter.
1) We are short of Chinnoks in Afghanistan, we all know this. We also know that there are many Chinooks sitting in a UK hanger being retro fitted with ancient software just to get them into the air. Why? Because the numbskull procurement wallahs did not buy the source code when they bought the helicopters..duh..just how stupid or arrogant do you have to be?
2) The case of the Chinook that crashed full of top brass and which resulted in the pilots being blamed for gross negligence is not resolved. Suspicion-lays in the closed code proprietary FADEC software. Will anyone ever know one way or the other? No of course not, it's secret code.
The governing classes have, it seems to me, a lethal mixture of ignorance, arrogance and trust, especially with things technical and scientific. Trust in this case maybe be based on cronyism..'nice bloke, lovely yacht..', I hope not.
Why the IE8 'button' is a bad idea.
The CEOPs initiative which started this blog may well be a wonderful thing..'if it can save just one child from abuse' as the refrain goes... but I bet it's just a stalking horse for a big-brother reporting system. 'Click here to report an inappropriate chat room comment..it might be an extremist…'
Paranoid me? Who cares? My radar is rarely wrong. If I can't see the code, I don't trust the authors or the paymasters.
Guilty until proven innocent must be the default position. Prove me wrong Microsoft, give your code to your competitors, Open Source it and we can all help save children.