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Does the Great Firewall Protect me from the NSA?

24 Feb

Great Wall of China (CC-BY-NC Robert Menzel)

Great Wall of China (CC-BY-NC Robert Menzel)


Yesterday I tweeted in jest (and in French) that it felt weird to think that the Great Firewall of China might be protecting me from the NSA. Since then that thought has been percolating in my brain, and I’m not sure it’s a joke anymore.

I live in China, and the Great Firewall is a daily hassle. All of Google if off limits (think about that: all of Google means not just the search engine but gmail, shared documents, youtube, g+, blogger and a ton of things you never knew were Google), but also all of WordPress, most of Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, most of the world’s online newspapers, and so much more I can’t even begin to list it. In fact, the most disturbing thing about it is that you never know if something will be accessible or not.

It’s a daily hassle that’s only circumvented using VPN services, when the Chinese authorities aren’t actively trying to down their servers (Astrill has been patchy for the last few months, and I recently subscribed to Vyper as a backup, but it’s not much better.)

It used to be easy to see the Great Firewall as a great evil that was thankfully contrasted by the open nature of the Internet in the rest of the free world. Not so much anymore. I’ll say this for the way the Chinese approach it at least: it’s not sneaky. You know the rules: if it’s allowed, you’re being spied upon.

The latest NSA/GCHQ surveillance scandal is yet another element of proof that my worldview was just plain wrong. There’s a saying in French that means roughly the same thing as the English expression Catch 22: choosing between Plague and Cholera. As the extent of the Western secret services’ spying on their own citizens is revealed, I realize that as unpalatable as the above choice may seem, even that choice is denied to me.

In China, I am blocked from 4/5ths of the useful Internet and spied upon. Outside of China (or when I’m using a VPN service) I can access the whole Internet (more or less) and be spied upon. Either way, my communications are neither secure nor confidential.

There was an argument in the days following the first Snowden revelations that the US government would have to recant otherwise the whole US cloud and its giant Internet companies would suffer. Clearly, that has not been the case, and even if it was the US and UK government have made it clear through their actions that they care not one whit about privacy. It’s not that the moral argument has been lost, it’s simply that morals don’t even come into it.

Worse, the lack of reaction of other Western governments who (we can only assume) are not directly involved in these spying activities shows where they stand on this issue: they’d rather have the ability (albeit one step removed) to spy on their own citizens thanks for the NSA’s largesse than protect said citizens’ privacy.

The only sensible way of looking at this from a random Internet user’s perspective is to assume that everything you do online can be spied upon. It’s probably safer to assume that most commercial VPNs are compromised as well. That’s a scary prospect, one that would have seemed somewhat unbelievable in dystopic SciFi novels two decades ago.

And just to conclude, I’m not naïve, I know full well that the Great Firewall does not protect me from the NSA. What I have in effect is Plague AND Cholera. What a cheerful world we live in.

Photo Credits: CC-BY-NC Robert Menzel

Keith McMahon left us…

2 Jul

It’s with great sadness that I learned about the passing away of Keith McMahon on Monday. I only met Keith on a couple of occasions, but he was at the top of the analyst game when it comes to meaningful, insightful and no-nonsense analysis. I followed him on twitter and his feed was one of those that rarely failed to make me ponder. He will be sorely missed.

One Leg in Europe, One Leg in Asia

20 Jun

The Two Towers

As some of you may have heard on the grapevine already, I am moving to Asia over the summer. More specifically, Shanghai. I am moving for family-related reasons, but I am very excited about the opportunities this move represents for me professionally.

First of all, I should reassure the friends, colleagues and customers in Europe that have been kind enough to trust my company Diffraction Analysis to assist them with their various needs for insight in the last years: we will continue to do so.

I’m not turning my back on Europe, far from it: there are many valuable projects, companies and initiatives here that are examples for the rest of the world and we will keep looking for them, analyzing them and meeting with their representatives. I will personally be traveling back to Europe on a regular basis to connect with customers, prospects, policy makers and more generally anyone in the broadband and telecom ecosystem worth talking to.

I see moving to Asia as an opportunity to broaden our understanding of best in class companies and policies. I think that the Asian NGA story has yet to be told ; I keep hearing partial analysis or misplaced examples that simply aren’t enough to understand how countries that are 10 years ahead of Europe in infrastructure deployment have evolved and what that means for Europe and the US.

So part of the opportunity for me will be in being really close to two key markets, Japan and South Korea that I will strive to understand more thoroughly. Of course, proximity to Hong-Kong, Singapore and Malaysia will also be opportunities for better insight as well. Here are some of the questions that are already on my curiosity list:

  • why is NTT changing its corporate structure now (and only now) and how does it affected the growth of Japanese next-generation broadband (or lack thereof)?
  • how much profit (if any) have the Korean broadband operators made with fiber, and assuming (as its often told in the West) that they didn’t make profit, how much has the rest of the Korean IT economy benefited from highly adopted ultra-fast broadband?
  • is Singapore turning into the footprint for a Smart City built from the ground up, with infrastructure as an enabler as opposed to a constraint? Also, what are the impacts of a three-tier market model (infra, wholesale, retail) on Smart City initiatives?
  • is Malaysia paving the way for emerging market connectivity, demonstrating the value of mass deployed fiber for economic development?

There are many more fascinating stories to be told, around what’s happening in Indonesia, the turmoils of the Australian NBN, and of course the Chinese fiber story itself, and I hope to have the opportunity to tell all of these stories once I’m there.

So if you’ve been following me from Europe or the US, rest assured that it’s not the end of the story by a long stretch: it’s a new chapter, richer in meaningful examples and useful insight. And I’ve you’ve been following me from Asia, please ping me: I’ll be there full-time from August and expect to be fully operational by September.

Some telcos do understand customer service…

16 Jun

It’s refreshing to see that not all telcos are going the way of the phone tree, doing all they can to discourage you from talking to anyone on the phone.

Problems with your Blackberry?

22 Oct

I wanted to apologize for the radio silence, a combination of too much work and a planned blog/website rethink leads to blogging paralysis.

So just to make up for it, here a hilarious video that should speak to Telecom people, probably the only ones who can really get it…

Curating Interesting Links

26 Jun

Since the beginnings of fiberevolution, I have been blogging in response to various articles, other blog posts and informations found on the net that relate to the topics I cover.

There’s so many more of those than I can reasonably blog about however that it became something of a frustrating exercice.

In order to address this I’ve recently started trialling a service called ScoopIt which I think answers that particular issue I’ve had.

I have a boards over at ScoopIt called Connected World, which you can subscribe to through RSS or simply view when you want to. It aggregates articles I’ve found interesting with a few lines of comment at most from me.

I hope you find it interesting, please let me know if you do so!

Saving us from the Online World

24 Jun

This is as far as I can figure out an advertising concept, but it’s wonderful!

The Offline Glass from Mauricio Perussi on Vimeo.

Changing the corporate OS ?

11 Jun

This is a little left field I  guess in relation to the topics I normally cover here, but the subject of employee motivation is something I’ve been thinking about for a while, and so when I watched this TED Talk it resonated with me. I’ll let you watch it first and then I’ll comment.

The first thing that came to my mind after watching this was “I’m not surprised”‘. I didn’t know that social sciences invalidated the effectiveness of financial incentives for most modern work tasks. I also find it ironic that the hierarchical level in businesses where financial incentives become part of your package are exactly those at which the mix of tasks becomes negatively affected by such incentives. But I’m not surprised. It resonates with my experience.

About two thirds into the video, when Pink moves onto the “solution”, my cynical self went “yeah, right…” Then he talked about ROWE and I was intrigued again. A big part of the homeworking discussion (which is, in a way, related to this blog’s topic, phew!) revolves around measured increases in productivity that most traditional businesses simply do not want to believe.

So there’s hope. Not that I anticipate things to change overnight. I’ve been burned too many times by the inane mental constructs of HR and Management Gurus in large organisations to believe that a model, no matter how good on paper, can work accross the board. I’d be interested in seeing for example if there’s a breaking point for ROWE related to the size of the organisation or the nature of the business. Guess I’ll have to look into that.

This week another article was shared by a friend that relates to this in a sense. It’s called If you’re trying to change how your company works, you probably won’t. For years before I decided to launch Diffraction Analysis I’d be hoping for a job where I could throw myself without qualms into growing a business I believed in. I never could find one. And indeed, I discovered that changing things from the inside rarely if ever works. You even hope against hope, when you resign, that they’ll understand. They never do.

Or maybe it was me.

In any case, I tend to be cynical about the “science” of running organisations, and while Pink’s delivery is a little too over the top for me, what he says resonates with me in a way that few things in this field have before. If this starts spreading, moving back into regular employment might become appealing again, someday!

The slippery slope of interactivity

28 May

I’ve been a fan of Jack Dee ever since I saw him on Television in the UK in the 90s (yeah, that takes me back)…

This is a more recent skit from his Live at the Appolo series, on mobile phones and interactive television.


It’s very funny. But like every piece of good humour, there’s enough reality behind it to make you think. Predictive calling ? I could see that happening. And wouldn’t it just be a nightmare…

Gives FTTB a whole new meaning…

19 Apr

It’s not every day I see comedy that not only mentions but actually addresses fiber related topics, so I’m not going to let this one pass!

This is the fabled Australian comic duo Clarke and Dawe on the Opposition’s NBN plan.