(This will be the last Bruceb News article until I recover from an upcoming
business conference trip to Hawaii. Happy holidays!)
I think I accomplished two goals in 2019: writing articles about privacy and security that were so terrifying that they kept you awake at night; and making those articles so dull that they helped you sleep. If I helped even one insomniac to fall asleep and have scary nightmares, it was worth it.
After twenty years of using Windows computers, there is less need for how-to articles – these things on our desk are tools now, not magical novelties. Our focus has shifted to more significant issues:
- Privacy, already on our minds because of surveillance by Facebook and Google, but now becoming more alarming as we realize the extent of monitoring by ISPs, phone carriers, cameras, facial recognition systems, and law enforcement; and as we turn over rocks and expose the shadow industry buying and selling personal information
- Security, as the bad guys hit their stride and become ever more aggressive and clever
- Cybersecurity, the new battleground for global conflict
- Content moderation, the defining issue for social media platforms as we head into the next decade
- The future of virtual reality games
Hmm. Maybe the last one isn’t quite as important as the others. Hey, it matters to me, so I get to write about it, okay?
Here are a few of the most popular articles from 2019.
It is hard to wrap our heads around the lack of privacy in today’s world. We are tracked and monitored constantly, and information about us is actively traded in a shadow economy whose outlines are only just becoming clear. In early 2019, I wrote a series of articles about privacy and trust.
But I wasn’t done trying to make you depressed! There were equally dispiriting articles about ubiquitous video surveillance, the massive amounts of data about you available on the dark web, and the data brokers that have created a $200 billion industry out of trading our personal information.
Don’t re-use passwords!
There are lots of reasons to be afraid in today’s world, and lots of tips about how to stay safe. But if there’s any single piece of advice that you should follow, it is to use different passwords everywhere. Use LastPass, use Google Chrome, use a spreadsheet, use a notebook in a drawer, whatever works for you to keep track – but don’t re-use passwords!
The annual guide to the Rules For Computer And Online Safety is still essential reading. Here are a few more tips and tricks.
I wrote two articles about global cybersecurity in 2019. The first was an attempt to make sense of Bloomberg’s story about alleged spy chips inserted by the Chinese on motherboards in American servers. There has never been any followup to that peculiar story – no corroboration but also no information to help us understand how the story came to exist in the first place.
The second story is about the lack of evidence that Huawei had ever done anything to justify the spying allegations leveled against it at the beginning of the Chinese trade wars. By this time, it’s obvious that the claims were fabricated out of thin air. Remember when American credibility was considered to be valuable? Sigh.
There were a few articles about big trends. I wrote a series about ambient computing, the possible future where Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa are omnipresent, embedded in our homes, cars, phones, watches, and maybe our ovens and wall clocks.
If I had to pick the most important change in the last few years that is both profound and unappreciated – almost unrecognized – it would be Google’s AI-driven efforts to provide One True Answer in response to search queries. It is transforming businesses and advertising, and it is driving antitrust questions that will play out in the next few years. It is also powering transformative products like Google Assistant and Google Lens.
Content moderation by Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms will be one of the central topics of 2020 for governments, regulators, and large tech companies.
Everything is too hard to use – and it’s not your fault.
PC tips and tricks
As always, there was a mish-mash of articles about the vagaries of living with Windows, Office, Chrome, and the rest of our daily programs and apps. These were the most popular.
Microsoft’s branding failures lead to constant frustration. I continue to deal every day with confusion between Microsoft’s two different, overlapping, maddening accounts, “personal” and “work or school.” I wrote one optimistic article about the simplicity of setting up a laptop linked exclusively to Microsoft’s business account. A few months later, I wrote a pessimistic followup when OneDrive’s weaknesses pushed me away.
It’s a transitional time for almost every type of gaming. Console and PC gaming is beginning a long transition to subscription-based streaming services. Virtual reality is balanced on a cusp, possibly on the verge of mainstream acceptance – or maybe 2020 is when it becomes obvious that it will never be more than a niche product.
Many thanks to my colleagues at TeamLogic IT of Santa Rosa, Mike Cook, and all the clients, friends, and readers who make technology so much fun for me. All my best wishes for a happy and prosperous new year!