Monthly Archives: July, 2023

Abandoning my principles

Two quotations occurred to me this morning.  The first was from Edmund Blackadder, talking to Prince George:

“Well, it is so often the way, sir: too late one thinks of what one should have said.

Sir Thomas More, for instance — burned alive for refusing to recant his Catholicism — must have been kicking himself, as the flames licked higher, that it never occurred to him to say, “I recant my Catholicism.”

Leaving aside for a moment a somewhat rare error on the part of the writers — Thomas More was beheaded, not burned — the topic of when to abandon one’s principles was in my mind, because I was reinstalling WhatsApp on my phone, having deleted it several years ago.

I have written enough here in the past about why I consider Facebook not to be a force for good in the world, and why I think that all of their apps — Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and now presumably Threads — go a step too far in the privacy-infringement arena because, for example, they capture the details not only of the person using the app, but of all their contacts too.  I have a few friends who could be considered celebrities, for example, and, now that I’m running WhatsApp again, their details are on the Meta servers…

Except, of course, that they aren’t… at least, not really because of me.  

I was taking a stand to alert people to what Meta were doing, but it’s clear that most of my friends didn’t really care that much.  Many who actively didn’t like Facebook didn’t realise that WhatsApp and Instagram were the same company.   But lots of them had Gmail accounts, or used Android phones, anyway, so security & privacy weren’t too high up their list of priorities.  And it turns out, of course, that most of them are already on WhatsApp and Facebook and Instagram themselves, so not only were their details already known to the servers, but so were mine, because of them.   My virtuous stance was a bit of an empty gesture. (Besides, I hadn’t been quite as pure in my dedication to the cause as I suggest, because I did still have a rarely-used Instagram account, so all bets were really off anyway.)

And so I am now accessible on WhatsApp again, which will make certain social interactions easier.  I still think Signal to be superior in almost every way, and will continue to use it and other services where possible in preference.  But in the end, it came down to my second quotation of the day: the famous observation made by Scott McNealy, the CEO of Sun Microsystems, nearly quarter of a century ago, long before Facebook and its siblings even existed:

“You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.”

Perhaps he was right. 🙂

Warning Signal

I wrote a couple of years ago about why I really like the Signal app for chat-style communications.  

(Quick summary: it’s just like WhatsApp but doesn’t require you to sell your soul and all of your contacts’ private information to the devil!)  

I’ve been using it for a few years now, for business and social discussions, and it’s been great.  It has very nice software both for mobile and desktop devices, and I know that several people have started using it because of my recommendations, too.

So I thought it only fair also to highlight here one of its key ‘limitations’; in fact, probably its only downside, as far as I’m concerned.  But it’s something fairly important that you may never discover… until it takes you by surprise.

Messages in a Signal conversation are transmitted using end-to-end encryption between the devices taking part in the conversation, and stored in encrypted form only on those devices as well.  Unlike some other communication networks, they are not archived on any organisation’s central servers and, on iOS at least, the messages are not included in any backups of the device.

If you buy a new phone, there’s a process you can go through to move your history directly from your old device to the new one, but here’s the rub:

Both devices need to be available and operational for you to do that.

There isn’t any other method. If you have lost your old iPhone, or it has completely died, then, while you can connect to Signal on your new phone and carry on your conversations, you won’t be able to see any past messages.  If you have them on another device such as an iPad or desktop machine, you should still be able to see your history there, but not transfer it.

There are good security reasons for most of this, and it certainly doesn’t stop me using Signal any more than it stops me using phone calls, but the price of the security is that you should consider Signal messages to be somewhat ephemeral.  Don’t think of them as an archive you will necessarily be able to go back and search indefinitely.  For that, it’s still better to use standards-compliant email… or to copy the important stuff into your personal Knowledge Management System.  You do have one of those, right?  

If so, make sure it’s something that you will always be able to get your data out of in future, like Obsidian.


Two Quotes of the Day – take your pick!

I had heard this before, but came across it again today and liked it anew.  It’s from Paul Batalden, a professor at Dartmouth Medical School in New Hampshire:

“Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.”

It’s worth taking a moment to ponder that, for whatever kind of ‘system’ you may encounter in daily life!  The corollary, I guess, is that you can only change the overall results by changing something in the system that produced them.

Now, I know from long experience that as soon as you refer to a quotation, it turns out not actually to be from the person to whom it’s normally attributed.  There are lots of examples of this in the quotes I’ve posted here, and more in the collection on my personal site.   If Albert Einstein, for example, had been busy saying all the insightful things he is supposed to have said, he wouldn’t have had time to develop Special Relativity into the more all-encompassing General Relativity.

 But in this case, there is a nice article by Paul Batalden explaining the origins of the quote.  It came, via a chain of references, from Arthur Jones, an employee of Proctor & Gamble, who originally said:

“All organisations are perfectly designed to get the results they get!”

For many people, an organisation is the type of system where this is most poignant, but it applies to other things as well.

Batalden took the concept and broadened it from the special case of an organisation to the more widely-applicable one of a ‘system’ and so it became more useful as an idea…  much like General Relativity!

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser