Two keynotes

To keep myself up to date I like to watch presentations from various conferences. Some time ago  watched two keynotes: one from AWS re:Invent 2013, and another from Samsung Developers Conference. Both conferences were intended for developers to know new offerings of the companies, so keynotes were presenting new products and SDKs, and both included partners using mentioned SDKs in their own products.

Werner Vogels, Amazon CTO, presented re:Invent keynote. He presented interesting products: inclusion of PostgreSQL into Amazon RDS (finally!), Kinesis – new tool for analysing streams of data and CloudTrail, giving ability to record all AWS API calls into S3, allowing for better auditing of operations in the cloud.

But there was one moment which raised my hair.  At 1:22:55 Vogels pointed to something he was wearing on his suit, and informed everyone that it is Narrative Clip made by company from Sweden – a camera which takes photo every 30 seconds and uploads it into Amazon S3. It is interesting usage of technology and I can see why he was eager to show it.

But Vogels told that he was wearing it all the time at the conference, during preparing of his talk, when talking with people, and so on. And this is when I felt strong disagreement with his eagerness to wear it. I felt as he betrayed trust of all the people who interacted with him. I know that at the conference there is no expectation of privacy, with everyone making photos, press teams making videos and promotional clips, and anyone able to overhear each other conversations. But in my opinion this is different. There is difference between having conversation and someone hearing it, and having conversation where other party records it. The latter brings lack of trust. There is reason why those are called “private conversations”. I’m sad that we, so rushing to try new technological gadget, like this Narrative Clip or Google Glass, seem to lose this trust in interpersonal relationships. Knowing that what I say and how I look could be exported to the cloud for all the worlds (or at least all the governments) to see means that I’ll not be sincere and instead of telling what I mean I’ll be thinking how what I say might be used against me now – or in a few years time. This is basically as if all the time I would be under Miranda warning – “everything what you say (or do) might be used against you”, and not only in official situations, but in (supposedly) innocent talk with other person.

Samsung keynote was presented by 6 to 8 Vice Presidents from Samsung (I lost count), and people from partner companies. Lack of one main presenter and trying to squeeze many unrelated products into one talk meant that I had no feeling of continuity I had watching re:Invent keynote.

This keynote also brought some privacy-related concerns, caused by Eric Edward Andersen, Vice President for Smart TV, presenting Smart TV SDK 5.0. He started his part of talk talking about emotional connection, about emotions related to interacting with content on TV screen. Then he presented new TV with quad-core CPU, which is apparently needed because “it’s (TV) is learning from your behaviour”. Do I really want for my TV to learn my behaviours? All the existing technologies assume that my taste is constant, and as soon as technology learns my behaviour and what I like it can start showing me what it suspects I like. But what about discovering new things? What about growing in life? YouTube tries to propose me some things it considers I might find interesting. One of the problems with it is that it tends to stick with some things I watched in the past. There was channel I was watching for some time and then stopped – but YouTube still puts it into proposals, after few months. At the same note, Google integration of services is really scary. I opened page about anime using Chrome (not my usual browser) and now YouTube proposes my anime to watch. OK, I might even find it interesting, but why it proposes those anime in italian?

Possible privacy violation was mentioned later, at 39:06. Andersen has shown some numbers for how long people are interacting with different applications on their smart TVs, for example how long Hulu or Netflix sessions are. I think the main idea was to show programmers that people are spending much time in front of TV, interacting with different applications and consuming content, so it would be wise to write software for smart TVs. But I had different feeling. Samsung having this data means that TV sends back information about usage to the mothership; Andersen mentioning how many people are “activating” their TVs seems to confirm this. LG was accused that their TVs are spying on users and sending data to the company; it looks like Samsung does something similar.

After seeing this, I am left wondering what is the advantage of smart TV? Why would one want to buy such TV to have it spying all the time? Orwell described quite well modern “Smart TV” in novel 1984 – he called them telescreens. Only inner-party members were able to turn off telescreens, and even they could not be sure whether device is still spying on them.

Another part of the presentation was given by Injong Rhee, Senior Vice President for Enterprise Mobile Communication Business. He was talking about Samsung KNOX, solution to help with managing devices for companies needs. This part of the presentation starts at 1:15:37. Rhee describes history of making KNOX:

What I have done.. I took my team to the drawing board to start reengineering and redesigning security architecture of Android. That’s how Samsung KNOX is born.

and

We actually put security mechanisms in each of those layers

and

We have implemented property called Mandatory Access Control or MAC (..) Security Enhancements for Android

and then describes difference between MAC and traditional triplets owner/group/other and read/write/execute.

what we have done with the MAC is that we define which system resources the process can access

Basically it sounds like ordinary Security Enhanced Linux, available in Android since 4.3 (“Android sandbox reinforced with SELinux”)

Then Rhee presents Dual Personas – availability to have separate user accounts on one device. This is also functionality available in Android – separate user accounts are available in Android 4.2, ability to add restrictions to accounts available in Android 4.3 (“Support for Restricted Profiles”).

It left me with strange feeling. I do not know what is so unique with KNOX, as it just seem to be a different name for features already available in Android 4.3 – and, what a coincidence – KNOX is also available for Samsung devices with Android 4.3. Samsung probably added some interesting features and functionalities in the KNOX (maybe ability to manage those policies by management), but presentation did not distinguish between features added by KNOX and available in pure Android. This seems strange presented by Rhee who presented himself as former university professor. As the former professor he should know how to give proper attribution, how to cite others’ work, and how to mention what is unique in his work.

I noticed another strange manner. Samsung seem to have opinion that good API is large. Of course having rich enough set of components not restricting programmer is the sign of good API. On the other hand overgrown API means that there is to many things to remember, and it makes programming harder than it should be. Rhee, when talking about KNOX, described it (1:25:55) as “KNOX API which covers over 1000 APIs or more”, with slide containing “KNOX SDK: 1090+ APIs for Remote Device Control”. What does it really mean!? API (Application Programming Interface) is one – and it is set of types, classes, structures, methods, and so on. What does Samsung means by API then?

It seems that Samsung engineers are pumping numbers just to be able to show impressive, overgrown numbers. Samsung seems to have troubles with having to many devices and to many versions to manage. They even have troubles with updating their own devices. Combined with “me too” attitude (e.g. promising to use 64-bit CPUs in mobile phones after Apple presents 64-bit iPhone) it does not bring confidence in their ability to develop presented technologies, and (for example) to keep their smart TVs up to date. Unlike phones, which are (at least in Poland) changed every 18 or 24 months, during signing new contracts, TVs are changed less often. And people will grow disappointed when there is no update to their TVs, and each month something will stop working: YouTube changes video codecs and you cannot watch movies from the internet, Skype changes protocol and suddenly you cannot call people, and so on. Basically “smart” appliances need much more after-sale care than dumb ones, and companies (except for Apple which provides updates for their phones far longer than other phone manufacturers) do not seem to realize this.

Although there are some trends I strongly disagree with I’m glad that I have watched those keynotes.  We definitely live in fast-paced times and although I’ve stopped trying to catch up with all the new technologies I think it is important to keep eye on what is proposed by various companies.

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