At a click of a button on Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 (and only on Microsoft Internet Explorer 8) a secret code is launched which reports an individual to a Government organisation called CEOPS which in turn accesses the Police databases.
What exactly does this button do?
I have no idea.
I never do know exactly what proprietary software is doing so this button is no exception, but nor do the developers of Firefox, Safari and Chrome. Who are CEOPs and why are they promoting Microsoft and 'Maddie' on their front page (www.ceops.gov.uk)?
It sounds like the story-board for a Dr Who episode; who exactly are Torchwood, sorry, CEOPS?
Relax folks, CEOPS stands for Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, phew that's all right then, CEOPs are the goodies; this is about catching paedophiles and Microsoft have been working closely with the Government for some time on this...so why do I feel so uneasy?
I know, it is that old trust issue again. Do I trust our Government not to use those two 21st century metaphors for evil, namely 'terrorists' and 'paedophiles' for their own none too savoury purposes? Then again do I trust a software company thrice convicted of monopolist crimes to behave ethically when 'working closely' with one of its very biggest sources of revenue?
Yeah, of course I do, after all its for kids and this, as we all know, is the cue for adult critical faculties to turn to sentimental mush.
Open Source Code is transparent Proprietary Code is not.
In case anyone thinks am I am in favour of not taking measures to prevent child abuse or for that matter not taking steps to stop terrorist outrages (..for this must be the corollary of my above scepticism surely?) I am against 'bad things' too.
What I am also against is secret code which is why:
a) I work in the Open Source community where the code is open to all.
b) This secretive, arrogant Government will never have any truck with Open Source Software or its experts no matter what it says and ...
c) …why all Government IT projects cost spectacular amount of public money and usually bomb.
But returning to trust. When something is beyond your ken but you need its functionality, say a car, you buy it on trust. Ask Toyota they know all about this issue. However the Toyota woes are very interesting in themselves:
The sticking throttles are (to a mechanic expert, aka 'grease monkey') a kind of open source issue. Mere inspection of the works by any expert reveals the problem and how it could be solved.
The ABS problems are qualitatively different as they are 'black-box' software issues and cannot be diagnosed or inspected or fixed by anyone except those privy to the code.