[Plura-list] Bossware and the shitty tech adoption curve; EVs as distributed storage grid; The Mauritanian

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Wed Feb 24 13:30:11 EST 2021


This afternoon, Zeynep Tufekci and I are delivering the Mellon Sawyer
Seminar on Contemporary Political Struggle: Social Movements, Social
Surveillance, Social Media:


Today's links

* Bossware and the shitty tech adoption curve: White collar workers,
your blue collar comrades tried to warn you.

* EVs as distributed storage grid: Go green, buy a bigger truck.

* The Mauritanian: Hitler painted roses and GWB does portraiture.

* Court rejects TSA qualified immunity: Government genital massages can
be video-recorded.

* Why Brits can no longer order signed copies of my books: Brexit!

* This day in history: 2006, 2011, 2016, 2020

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming/recent appearances, current
writing projects, current reading


🤵🏾‍♀️ Bossware and the shitty tech adoption curve

Just as the Texas blackouts were a payday for energy companies that
profit from human misery, the pandemic is a gold-rush for the #bossware
companies that spy on workers required to convert their homes to
rent-free office space to their employers.


Bossware's origins are Taylorism, the time-motion/scientific management
fad of the late 19th century, when charlatans dressed up in
science-coats and micromanaged skilled tradespeople with humiliatingly
detailed proscriptions.

The digital age is a fantastic boon to bosses who want to spy on and
punish working people, and following the shitty technology adoption
curve, they tried bossware first on the low-waged, precarious workers
who lack the social power to push back against it.

These workers didn't take it lying down. As Jamie K. McCallum writes in
The American Prospect , laundry workers fought the "electronic whip" of
"gamified" bossware; long-haul truckers "slow rolled" to protest
"electronic location devices," etc.


The theory of the shitty tech adoption curve predicts that vendors use	
resistance from low-status subjects to find and remove rough edges from
abusive technology, then move the smoothed-over tech up the social power
gradient to higher-status workers.

Work-from-home (AKA "live at work") is a perfect opportunity to refine
the shitty technology of bossware, a bonanza for collaborators like
"ActivTrak, Avaza, VeriClock, Boomr, Hubstaff, TSheets, StaffCop, Time
Doctor, DeskTime Pro, TrackView, InterGuard and Wiretap."

Pre-lockdown, these tools were already logging keystrokes, intercepting
email, logging clicks, capturing still images and videos of workers at
their desks, and transmitting workers' locations in and out of work hours.

Now, with bosses in a panic at the thought of workers "stealing" the
time to look after kids, cook a meal, or take a leisurely toilet break,
bossware is an easy sell. Companies like Interguard report 300% revenue
growth through the pandemic, a profiteering success story.

Interguard is just one of many bossware vendors that has learned the
lesson of the laundry workers and their fight against the electronic
whip: its product is designed to be stealth-installed and to run without
the worker's knowledge or consent.

This makes it especially well-suited as a punitive technology, and
indeed, Interguard markets its products as a means to "conduct covert
investigations and bullet-proof evidence gathering without alarming the
suspected wrongdoer."

Back in 1987, Congress's Office of Technology Assessment sounded the
alarm, warning that in the absence of unions, bossware would lead to
"unfair or abusive monitoring" (shortly thereafter, Newt Gingrich shot
the OTA in the head and left its corpse to rot).

When white-collar workers encounter bossware, it's often dressed up as
"metrics" - a putatively neutral statistical exercise that might even
benefit workers by helping them improve their output. But the pitch to
bosses is all about finding and firing the low-performers

The joke's on them. Bossware like Office 365 (which gathers exhaustive
data on workers) deliver proprietary commercial intelligence to
Microsoft - control-freak bosses trade the store to a convicted
monopolist in exchange for worker surveillance.


Remember, OTF predicted unionization could prevent bossware abuses.
Unsurprisingly, bossware is key to union-busting, with bosses using it
to discover and punish union organizers in the workplace - at the very
moment that tech workers are using digital tools to join unions.

Meanwhile, precarious workers - the disproportionately Black, woman
workers tricked into signing up for the call-center service Arise, are
kept from fighting the worker misclassification that forces them to pay
"cancellation fees" to quit their jobs.


It's as neat an example of the shitty technology adoption curve as you
could ask for, and it demonstrates the need for solidarity among all
workers. Bossware got rolled out against precarious, low-status workers
first because they lack the political power to fight it.

If elite/high-waged workers had raised a stink then and joined their
blue collar comrades in fighting back, they might have strangled
bossware in its cradle - but now it's too late. Bossware is literally in
their homes, watching them with a baleful, unblinking eye.

I'm an sf writer, so I know that no one can predict the future and only
fools and charlatans claim to know what the future will bring. But I
also know that there are leading indicators, waves that follow a
predictable pattern in their sweep.

Abusive tech starts with asylum seekers, prisoners, parolees; moves up
to kids, people on benefits and mental patients; then to blue-collar
workers, then white-collar workers, then everybody, even first class
fliers being watched by seatback cameras.

Solidarity is the preventative and the cure: not just in empathy, but
also in self-interest. We have to fight abusive tech wherever we find
it, because if we don't, we'll have to fight it when it reaches us - and
by then, there may be no one left to fight it with us.


🤵🏾‍♀️ EVs as distributed storage grid

The Texas blackouts weren't caused by renewables - rahter, by a
deregulated system that failed to winterize both its wind power
(obviously: there are wind-farms in Norway and northern Canada), and its
fossil fuel facilities.

Texas's grid needs weatherization, redundant connections to other grids,
and better planning. Regulation, in other words.

That said, complex systems have lurking failure modes that can't be
fully accounted for. Good engineers don't just make systems that work
well, they also turn make systems that *fail* well. Not doing this is
how you get the decision not to put enough lifeboats on the Titanic.

One intriguing idea for distributed grid tech that came out of the Texas
blackouts is using electric vehicles as a power-source. Nicholas
Littlejohn used his 2011 Nissan Leaf to power his house's heat, lights,
and wifi.


EVs are rolling batteries, and there have been many renewables plans
that modeled using EVs to store excess solar and wind during the day and
then discharge it at night. Texas has 22m cars on the road, and it would
only take 10m EVs to match the grid's terawatt capacity.

Reading Gregory Barber's Wired story on EVs as distributed, grid-scale
storage, I was reminded of another Texan's speculative plan for
renewable storage with vehicles.

It's an idea from a speech Bruce Sterling gave during the Viridian
project days:


Sterling pointed out that the American Great Plains states experience
enough wind to power the whole nation, but lack enough storage even to
meet their own needs.

Sterling observed that the GW Bush administration was pushing hard on
hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, which were considered impractical because
fuel-cells are bulky - a hydrogen vehicle with serious range would need
to be *huge*.

Putting these two facts together, Sterling mooted the hilarious,
delicious idea of switching from scolding midwesterners for driving
massive SUVs to insisting that they upgrade to *monster trucks* with
*huge* fuel-cells.

All day long, midwestern wind-farms would supply power to the grid, and
store any excess to hydrogen, using the power to electrolyze water into
O2 and H, pumping the H into these massive vehicles.

At the end of the work-day, you'd drive your monster-truck home and plug
your house into it, as it powered all your needs and comforts.

The Viridian schtick was finding ways to make saving the planet
immediately desirable and pleasurable.

Sterling's vision of a world where environmental sustainability meant
driving the largest vehicles imaginable has stayed with me ever since.


🤵🏾‍♀️ The Mauritanian

Last night, I attended a (virtual) press-screening of The Mauritanian, a
film adaptation of Mohamedou Ould Salahi's 2015 memoir "Guantánamo
Diary," the true story of Salahi's 14 years of Gitmo detention and torture.


It was a harrowing and moving experience. It wasn't just the big names
(Jodie Foster, Benedict Cumberbatch): Tahar Rahim's performance as
Salahi was stunning, especially combined with the direction and
camerawork that brought the abuse and torture of Gitmo to vivid life.

Salahi was kidnapped from Mauritania at the order of Donald Rumsfeld,
who was acting on coerced testimony that falsely identified him as the
recruiter behind the 9/11 attacks. He was then repeatedly brutalized,
sexually assaulted, tortured and nearly murdered by Gitmo guards.

Eventually, after the guards threatened to have his elderly mother
brought to Gitmo for sexual torture by other prisoners, Salahi signed
false confessions in which he admitted to all the crimes he'd been
accused of.

Salahi's case was taken up by Nancy Hollander (played by Foster), a NM
civil rights litigator at a white-shoe firm whose security clearance and
outrage at the Bush administration's suspension of habeas corpus made
her the right person to do the pro-bono work.

Hollander's opposite number was Lt Col V Stuart Couch (played by
Cumberbatch), a Marine Corps lawyer and ex-airman who had been close
friends with one of the 9/11 pilots and who approached the case as an
opportunity to get justice and vengeance for his friend.

The movie brilliantly plays out both Hollander and Couch's discovery of
the brutal conditions at Gitmo, culminating in Couch's refusal to try
the case on the grounds that Salahi's torture meant that his confession
could not be trusted.

The interplay of brutality and bureaucracy are at the core of the film,
a banality of evil tale that contrasts the US establishment's stated
commitment to law and order with the lawless, ruthless, incoherent
violence of Gitmo and the rendition program.

This film's release comes at an important moment. First, because the
Trump years were an opportunity for GW Bush to rehabilitate his image.
Today, we're asked to cast GWB as a "normal" politician from the right -
to forget his torture and murder program.

To forget the forever war he lied the world into, which still rages
today, fought by the grown children of the soldiers he sent into battle
20 years ago, 18 years after he strapped on a codpiece and posed with a

GWB may be Ellen's cuddly pal, Michelle Obama's buddy with a cough drop,
he may be a retired amateur portraitist, but he's also one of history's
great monsters, a president who did worse things to the world than Trump
ever did.

Not, of course, because Trump was a better man than GW - but because
Trump was so chaotic and mercurial that none of the swamp creatures he
surrounded himself with (and then purged) were able to execute on their
plans the way Rumsfeld and Cheney did.

But this is also a timely movie for another reason: Hollander used
Salahi's moving testimony of the torture he faced to secure his release
in 2010. But he was held for another SIX years.

Because Obama's DoJ appealed the release.

Salahi was held for eight years because of GWB's monstrous decisions. He
was held for six more because of Obama's monstrousness - a six years
detention without charge or conviction that deprived Salahi of the
chance to see his mother before she died.

The Mauritanian is a reminder of the great stain on America's soul that
Gitmo and the War on Terror represents, and it's a reminder that the
centrist wing of the Democrats - who confirmed Bush's chief torturer
Gina Haspel to run the CIA - are all-in on the Bush Program.

We're told that Biden learned from Obama's drones, austerity,
surveillance, war on whistleblowers, billions for Wall Street and
abandonment of Main Street, that this time, the Democrats will use their
power to make things better at home and abroad.

America still runs the offshore torture camp at Gitmo, and onshore
torture sites in the form of mass incarceration, the charnel houses of
the pandemic. Making America great - or merely good - demands a
reckoning with the nation's sins.

It demands we judge our leaders on their policies - not their
portraiture or rhetoric. Trump's open racism and disdain for democracy
deserve our condemnation, but so must his predecessors' willingness to
shovel Black and brown bodies into war and torture's meat grinders.


🤵🏾‍♀️ Court rejects TSA qualified immunity

Qualified immunity is a bizarre American legal doctrine that says that
government officials (especially cops) that break the law aren't
personally liable for their lawlessness unless the law they violate is
"clearly established."

Practically speaking, it means that if a law enforcement officer breaks
the law, they face no legal consequences - unless they break the law in
*precisely* the way that some other cop was convicted for - "Your honor,
that other cop broke a suspect's *knee* - I broke his *elbow*."

"Professional troublemaker" Jon Corbett is a lawyer who specializes in
suing the TSA for civil rights violations, mostly due to the compulsory
government genital massages they administer at airport checkpoints. He's
just scored a major victory in a qualified immunity case.

Corbett's client is Dustin Dyer, who exercised his legal right to record
a TSA search at Richmond International Airport. A TSA supervisor
illegally ordered him to stop recording and forced him to delete his
video (he was able to recover the deleted file later).

Dyer is suing the TSA and the officers, and the TSA invoked qualified
immunity to get the case dismissed. Corbett argued that qualified
immunity doesn't apply, and that the officers face the Bivens standard
that allows monetary damages for Fourth Amendment violations.

Corbett successfully argued the point, and the judge turned down the
TSA's motion. The case will now proceed to trial. Congratulations to
Corbett and Dyer!



🤵🏾‍♀️ Why Brits can no longer order signed copies of my books

2020 was a big year for me as a writer: I had four new books come out!
It was also a weird year for me as a writer: I couldn't tour with any of
them. It was a big, weird year for me as a writer.

Thankfully, I have a secret weapon: Dark Delicacies, a great specialist
indie bookstore just a few minutes' walk from my front door, where they
are only too glad to get orders for signed copies of my books - I drop
by and personalize 'em and they ship 'em out.


They got a shipment of 25 copies of the new paperback edition of HOW TO
DESTROY SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISM in last week and they sold like crazy;
yesterday I dropped by to sign the last in-stock copies (don't worry,
more are on the way).

Sue, one of the owners, said, "By the way, we can't ship to the UK
anymore. Since Brexit there's a new requirement that we register to
collect VAT and file quarterly paperwork with the British authorities.
It's just not worth it to us, sorry."

I asked Sue for more details, and yup, there it is:

Consignments valued at £135 or less: The seller must charge and account
for VAT at the point of sale

Which involves determining the VAT category, registering for VAT, and
filing a return.


That is to say, to ship this $14 paperback, they need to do something
like £100 worth of paperwork.

Brexit was supposed to be a way to "take Britain back" from the burdens
of European paperwork.

To my British readers, I'm heartily sorry about this, but I can't blame Sue.

She's running a small business. After the crisis is over and I can come
home to London to see my family, I'll be sure to sign all the bookstore
stock I can get my hands on and I'll let you know where to order it from
- but until then, I'm afraid the border is closed.


🤵🏾‍♀️ This day in history

#15yrsago Princeton prof explains watermarks’ failures

#15yrsago Palm Beach County voting machines generated 100K anomalies in

#15yrsago Cutting board marked with measurement guides

#10yrsago Visualizing the wealth of America’s super-rich ruling class

#10yrsago MPAA: record-breaking box-office year is proof that piracy is
killing movies

#5yrsago Obama’s new Librarian of Congress nominee is a rip-snortin’,
copyfightin’, surveillance-hatin’ no-foolin’ LIBRARIAN

#5yrsago A brief history of the surveillance debate

#5yrsago After appointed city manager illegally jacked up prices, Flint
paid the highest water rates in America

#5yrsago Math denialism: crypto backdoors and DRM are the alternative
medicine of computer science

#1yrago 81 Fortune 100 companies demand binding arbitration

#1yrago The Snowden Archive

#1yrago How "Authoritarian Blindness" kept Xi from dealing with


🤵🏾‍♀️ Colophon

Currently writing:

* My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and
reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 526 words (114121 total).

* A short story, "Jeffty is Five," for The Last Dangerous Visions.
Yesterday's progress: 284 words (7016 total).

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Privacy Without Monopoly: Data Protection and
Interoperability (Part 2)

Upcoming appearances:

*  Mellon Sawyer Seminar on Contemporary Political Struggle: Social
Movements, Social Surveillance, Social Media (with Zeynep Tufekci), Feb
24, https://ucdavis.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_I99f4x8WRiKCfKUljVcYPg

* World Ethical Data Forum keynote, Mar 17-19,

* Launching "The Future You" with Brian David Johnson, Mar 19,

*  Balancing Worldbuilding and Narrative (with Karen Osborne and Kali
Wallace), Mar 24,

* Interop: Self-Determination vs Dystopia (FITC), Apr 19-21,

Recent appearances:

* Technology, Self-Determination, and the Future of the Future (CERIAS)

* Talking "Permanent Record Young Readers' Edition" with Edward Snowden

* Talking "Agency" with William Gibson

* Software Freedom is Essential to Human Freedom (linux.conf.au keynote)

Latest book:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone
technothriller for adults. The *Washington Post* called it "a political
cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution
and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies

* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet
analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a
(print edition:
(signed copies:

* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime,
gender, and kicking ass. Order here:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed
copy here:

This work licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.
That means you can use it any way you like, including commercially,
provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link
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"*When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla*" -Joey "Accordion
Guy" DeVilla

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