I spent much of this weekend at HOPE, the biannual Hackers On Planet Earth conference. My attendance was virtual (in part due to immigration status) but through watching the live streams, IRC, the radio station and Twitter it was as close as I could get to being physically present. I applaud the organisers and attendees for making it so easy to get involved remotely, and I’m really pleased at how many awesome people I met through Twitter and have since followed.
Whilst I can only judge this remotely, it did feel like one of the most diverse conferences or meetups I’ve seen in a long time. I don’t know how that happened, but we need more of it.
Attending virtually, and knowing many of the videos will appear online, made me much quicker to leave talks that turned out to not be as interesting as I’d expected. Unsurprisingly, most of those tended to be the older white men in suits - clearly trying to push an agenda I wasn’t interested in. Stallman’s Gnu/Linux, Steve Rambam’s view on how hopeless things are with no real solutions.
I missed the Friday due to other commitments, so my reviews and recommendations of talks will cover Saturday and Sunday only. There are a few Friday talks I do want to go back and watch online though.
After hearing Cory Doctorow on Radio Statler prior to the keynote, his actual talk felt a little repetitive. But it’s still a good core message
1. Computers must obey their owners, not manufacturers
2. Truth about security mustn’t be legally repressed
Gareth Llewellyn’s talk on building a Tor friendly ISP was an interesting talk in the process of building a UK ISP in general. I find this sort of thing really interesting, so enjoyed hearing about the process and his plans for the future.
Gillian “Gus” Andrews’ talk on How Everyday People Think the Internet Works was a fascinating talk about how to work with people who are less tech-savvy and some stories of how people believe things which are wrong. A good example was how people using Signal were scared it was insecure because it doesn’t delete messages like Snapchat does; this is particularly concerning as the people who thought this were some of the most at-risk people. Moms have to be ninjas to work technology but privileged jerks expect everyone else to do gymnastics to make tech work for them.
Sunday morning started with some great discussions outside of the main talks, including a debate on whether blind people will be able to use driverless cars, the Free BSD community, and the role of hacker in residence. This was the first time I’d heard about Hacker In Residence as a role and I love it! The community benefits from having somebody share their skills and knowledge with them, the person taking the role benefits from getting paid to hack on things and gaining insight to local cultures and ways of doing things. This lead to some discussion on how hacker spaces in Japan don’t work so well because individuals are so afraid of failure.
A late lunch was had while giggling at Stallman’s latest views on the world. After he failed to get his laptop hooked up to the projector that is. Whilst there is a certain merit in having people with such a strong viewpoint and then others to implement a more workable version, one can’t help but think he would dismiss the people implementing that workable version.
Deviant Ollam and Howard Payne gave a great talk - This Key is Your Key, This Key is My Key. A humour-filled tour of same keyed systems, including some things that really shouldn’t be. The apocryphal story being the cops who arrested a taxi driver, lost their car keys, and ended up driving back to the station using the keys for the taxi because the city bought the taxis and police cars all from the same company. FOIA requests to get purchase orders leaking key codes, insecure implementations of shared access systems, and more.
The Black Holes in Our Surveillance Map was a deep insight into looking at what isn’t being said to find the surveillance systems we don’t yet know about. It was very American heavy, not just the surveillance systems but also the political systems being used.
Deconstructing Ad Networks for Fun and Profit was a great talk about how health care websites give data to advertising networks and how Chinese websites track people. Of note is the fact that Google Analytics is the only Google product not blocked by the great firewall of China (and is mostly over http). It’s a win-win situation, Google get their data and the Chinese government can sniff that data.
And finally, my favourite tool release of the conference. AdNauseum 2.0 is an adblocker based on uBlock that not only hides the adverts but clicks on them for you. I’m already building up quite a nice mosaic of the adverts it’s hidden from me. There’s talk of integrating with Privacy Badger better in the future (at the moment Privacy Badger blocks many things before AdNauseum has a chance to see them).
With four tracks, one of which wasn’t streamed online, there’s bound to be interesting talks and discussions I’ve missed. I hope to watch many of the videos I’ve missed, and with a little luck I’ll be allowed into the country by 2018.