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technology needs less technology

07/01/2015 - Posted in activism , cryptography , programming , security , Software Posted by:

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reading time: 2 minutes

I just dug up this draft from a few months back. Basically what i intended to write at that time was that we have to rethink technology because right now most people feel like it is some necessary evil they have to endure in order to achieve their goals. That is not how technology should be perceived, it should be seen as a prosthesis that helps us and extends our capabilities. The article that motivated me at first was a post on wired that talks about the technology in the world of the movie “Her”. This movie does not only depict the love story between a human and a piece of software but for system engineers, software developers and people in the field of technology it shows a state which we should aim for. In this world technology is there to improve people’s lives, you never get the feeling that technology poses an obstacle which someone has to overcome in order to achieve a goal. Technology does not even look like technology, the smartphones are tiny things that just seem to work and are used for far more than they are right now. The devices are very interconnected and there is no need to synchronise devices in order to have content available on an handheld device. This state in which technology is just there so that you don’t even notice it anymore seems to me like a goal we should work towards to.

more crypto, less tech

The other reason why i dug up that  post is the current state of technology in the field of cryptography. Since Snowden it should be clear that we can only protect ourselves and our rights by the usage of technology, especially cryptography, but if you look at the state in which common crypto tools are in we should not be surprised that not many people adopt the everyday use of PGP, OTR, etc. For example there have been numerous posts and studies about why PGP is almost unusable. Matthew Green wrote on his blog about why PGP should die and at the last Chaos Communication Congress there has been a talk about why GPG is “damn near unusable”. If you complain that this is not scientific enough then behold! There have been studies about that matter, “Why Johnny can’t encrypt” in 1999 and even in the 2006 “Why Johnny still can’t encrypt”. Even newer apps like Telegram, Threema, Textsecure, … have problems with usability. We have come a long way from command line tools that regular users would not even dare to touch but there is still a lot ahead of us. Telegram for example does not offer end-to-end encryption by default, Textsecure makes encryption key validation a hassle and Threema is not open source so there is no way of validating it.

go my little developer – make the world a better place

As you can see we are in a dilemma right now. We need to get everyone to encrypt to evade across-the-board surveillance but the tools are not there yet. The tools are still not simple enough for Johnny. Even people with a technical background make errors occasionally when they use these technologies and if even we guys can’t get it right 100% then we should rethink the solutions and design them more user centered. So this is a call for engineers and developers, we need to improve the tools we have. We have to make them as transparent as necessary and as error preventing as possible. Most importantly we have to teach the people the technology we have right now. We really need to get a broader acceptance of encryption to regain our rights and undo the damage the NSA has done.

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