Wednesday, 30 November 2016

MozFest, part 3: everything else

Last month I went to MozFest - the Mozilla Foundation's Festival for an open internet. I started sharing my notes in a first post about all the sessions on open data I attended, then a second post on sessions related to copyright and remixing public domain works, and now here is, well, everything else.

GitHub's Patchwork
Introductory session to GitHub, using the Patchwork learning module.

Let's encrypt : someone could listen
The facilitators started the session by trying to make us understand the principle of encryption with a simple exercise. It involved us splitting into groups subdivided into three teams: teams A and C decide on an encryption method (e.g. letter replacement); A write a message - the encrypted version goes to team B who try to decipher it. Then C get the message and decipher it using the key previously agreed with A. If B manage to crack the encryption they win.

After this, the facilitators mentioned a few tools, including:
  • Panopticlick, which checks how secure/private your browser is, and advises on how to make it better;
  • Lightbeam, a Firefox add-on which lets you visualise how your data is being shared by a particular website with others, and who these other parties are.

A bit of painting using stencils
Ok, so that's not the title of a session, but I did some of that too! It was fun, and there were some Creative Commons stencils...

Photo by @biblioluke; used here with permission

Dialogues & debates: Katherine Maher, Chris Soghoian and Ashe Dryden 
Over the week-end there was also a series of talks. In the session I went to Katherine Maher of the Wikimedia Foundation asked how communities can be called open if the issue of online harassment exists, Chris Soghoian of the American Civil Liberties Union talked about privacy and Ashe Dryden discussed the ethics of unpaid labour in open source.

Here are some points made by Chris Soghoian during his talk:
  • Before Snowden's revelations "we the tech community have been a bit lazy: we knew how to encrypt, but we weren't." Now encryption is finally used in mainstream consumer products: iMessage, WhatsApp... You do not need to be able to understand and use complex systems like PGP anymore to communicate securely.
  • Governments are now trying to force companies to weaken or remove encryption, because they can't spy on people. In the countries where putting this into law is not happening governments are also looking at hacking software.
  • There are privacy issues but also some human rights issues: we are not equally vulnerable to surveillance. Not everyone can afford an iPhone - "security shouldn't be a luxury, but it is." We need to do a better job of ensuring it's just as hard for authorities to watch deprived people as wealthy ones.
  • "Android is rubbish for security" [polite version!] Unlike iPhones, Android phones don't use encryption by default and often don't get security updates.
A comment from the audience pointed out surveillance techniques were not just used against "terrorists" but also children pornography.

Unleash the creator in you
"Whether we like it or not, realise we are doing it or not, we all create something, every single day."
In this session the facilitator made us break into groups of 5-6 people before taking us through a (very accelerated!) process of creating a product. She had prepared product ideas - each group picked one at random and got started straight away. Here are the stages we went through and the time we were allocated for each:
  • Brainstorm (10min) - we have what we want to do, what is the challenge of that product or idea?
  • Research (10min) - get user feedback on ideas. Sometimes you need to pitch your idea to the user: "Would this work for you?"
  • Mock up (5min) - designing a visual representation of the product on paper.
  • Prototype / model (10min) - that's the bit where we used Play-Doh!
  • Code / pseudocode (5min)
  • Presentation
My group was given the task to develop a device that regulates the temperature of the room around a person. In the brainstorming we talked about ways this could work, as well as issues arising when several people are in the room, each with their own temperature preference or need! For the research we presented our ideas and issues to the other team and listened to their feedback and questions.
It was great fun, and also showed what you could achieve working as a team with different areas of expertise and backgrounds!

And that's it (finally) for MozFest 2016 - roll on 2017?!

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