5 Top Tech Issues to watch in 2012

This article at CIO magazine talks about the five major tech issues for the next year. These are:

Smartphone spectrum – The 2010s are the decade of the smartphone, with tablets, “talking (and listening) cars”, and other “internet appliances” exploding on the scene. So where does the spectrum come from to support this huge demand? One idea is to offer current spectrum licence holders (primarily TV stations) a cut of the profits if they sell. The worry is that current legislation may allow “eminent domain” domain type abilities to government to force compliance, if not enough spectrum is voluntarily offered. There is also concern about the implementation and what exactly constitutes “licensed spectrum”. The light squared vs GPS debate shows that technical implementation issues can have dramatic “good neighbor” effects on adjacent spectrum, potentially rendering GPS receivers unusable in the vicinity of light squared transmitters. In a similar manner it is possible 4G and higher equipped towers, may cause interference with over the air broadcast HD TV and radio. As anybody who has dealt with RFI issues on ships knows, just because you have transmitters and receivers operating on different parts of the spectrum, you can still have debilitating interference problems that are difficult or impossible to eliminate. Given the demand for fast, mobile internet access, there looks to be a high probability growing pains that will see ‘orphaned’ uses like broadcast HD TV and an acceptance of geographic or temporal “holes” in services such GPS and legacy cell services in order to satisfy the ravenous demand for fast, mobile internet devices. From an innovation standpoint, what is the relative tradeoff between going “all in” on new ways to delivery content and services and respecting the investment nearly everyone has in the hodgepodge of existing delivery mechanisms.

SOPA/PIP – The downside of the shift from media delivery by physical means to electronic means is the perceived ease with which creative property can be reproduced and distributed without compensation to the rights holder. I’ve discussed this before. It is a problem. The scope of the problem is only a fraction of what some like the RIAA claim it to be, but it is a problem. The problem is that what appears to be a straightforward case of addressing “foreign exploitation” but the devil is in the details. With the rise of cloud computing jut what is a “foreign website”, well the RIAA and its allies want to treat the definition of “foreign” as “anything that is not explicitly domestic” – something that is increasingly impossible to determine with data centers around the globe exchanging website data as required to service demand from an increasingly networked world. By taking advantage of the fact that the internet is increasingly divorced from terrestrial geography and national borders, the RIAA and allies are trying to exploit a seemingly reasonable argument that we can treat “foreign pirates” differently from domestic ones, the result would allow them to treat any website that employs cloud resourcing as “not explicitly domestic, and therefore foreign”. This sets up a confrontation between IP producers, trying to protect their IP, and resource distributors (like Google, Yahoo, even Microsoft) who the IP producers want to hold hostage in whole, if they can find any little sub-component in violation. The resulting chilling effect on resource provider/distributer borders on extortion, with the content providers licking their chops over a potential mountain of harassing litigation that would dwarf the likes of Righthaven’s efforts. The other issue is the effect “militarizing” the current DNS architecture would have could lead the real bad guys from taking advantage of security issues in the DNS naming apparatus to create in effect a “black internet” free of any regulation whatsoever. Groups like anonymous could also wreak havoc within the current DNS system that is based on voluntary compliance within a largely self-regulated system. Right now there is no incentive to “go outside the system” or “attack the system”. Force people out of the system and odds are they won’t just go “oh, darn ya got me” but will either operate outside the system, or seek retribution with the system.

Kudus to the Obama administration for listening to all sides of the argument and voicing “serious concerns” and pushing back against the current legislative thinking.

Consumer Privacy – Recent revelations that iPhones and many other smartphones spy on their owners geographic location and read their texts and email for hints on what our interests are have a lot of people evaluating how “helpful” this is. Particularly in light of attempts by law enforcement to consider downloading the entire contents of a non-password protected smart phone (and with the thinnest probable cause demand access to a protected one) putting this data in the hands of law enforcement. Attempts to restrict this type of warrantless search in California were recently vetoed by Gov Brown. In like fashion, national legislative efforts have died because of “national security implications”. Enter the European Union, where privacy still trumps security concerns, and a a host of national laws require a comprehensive Euro-zone wide solution. It is odd that the EU bureaucratic system may set the standard for privacy policy, which the US would have to subsume, at least in principle, for US companies to engage in EU commerce. Such requirements to protect your data from unscrupulous businesses and “apps” originating in the EU (including default use of strong encryption) could well be what protects your mobile data from the prying eyes of over-zealous US law enforcement. Unlike the Patriot Act where privacy concerns are mostly theoretical in nature, there are already an increasing number of cases where warrantless cell phone data extractions have lead to convictions, with some states like California and Michigan being particularly aggressive.

Net Neutrality – The Second Front in the war on piracy, the issue of internet providers limiting the ability of customers to download what they want and media content providers ability to offer high density content is still looming large. Its predominantly the later, but the former has been cast as an issue of “high bandwidth users are obviously pirates”. The rise of netflix in particular has shifted this from a user-moderation issue to a supplier compensation one. The user aspect of this is the right to download what you want without throttling or capping of access. The provider side is notion that providers of high density content like netflix should be taxed because of the bandwidth requirements of supporting their business model. The internet providers want their cake and eat it too, getting increased revenue from high density content providers, while they extract more fees from high bandwidth users. The “real” net neutrality advocates say neither is appropriate, and if an internet provider collects fees based on offering a service to provide “access” that works both ways and means users should get the access promised without throttling and capping, while service providers should not have to pay a premium based on the density of their product. The reality is that service providers have to give something, and internet suppliers have to give something. the market should be allowed to sort this out, not having aa solution forces on them by legislation. The problem is that many places (like Aquidneck Island) have an effective monopoly (You will never see FIOS on AQUIDNECK ISLAND, ITS JUST NOT PROFITABLE – SO WE ARE HOSTAGE TO COX…) has only a single internet service provider, and providers enjoy a monopoly that lets them try to make money on both the consumer and content provider ends. Net neutrality in its pure sense prevents monopolies from holding both ends hostage and extorting profit without competition.

Cyber-security – This brings all of the above into alignment as hackers have shown how vulnerable mid-level and “should know better” players on-line are to hackers. The good news here is that major players have not suffered serious problems. Google, Amazon, and major retailers, like the banking industry, are moderately secured against no-national level hackers. The issue is, against those high-end threats, just how vulnerable are the high-end players? The respective hands are yet to be played out, but the indications are not encouraging. The question is, since the financial risk is on the commercial sector, should they be relied on to keep us safe, or should the government step in and take the lead? If the government takes the lead, should it be in the role of supported, or supporting “commander”…


About Paul Vebber

"If you read about something, you have learned about it. If you can teach something, you have mastered it. Designing a useful game about something however, requires developing a deep understanding of how it relates to other things."

Posted on January 15, 2012, in Tech Policy. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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