You make me install it… you tell me how to remove it

Having installed some invasive ‘online proctoring’ software, I tried to ask the company how to uninstall it.

I was, finally, getting around to doing AWS certifications, and one of the way you can do that is via the Pearson OnVue proctoring system. You run software that limits what you can use your machine for, stops you using multiple windows to look up answer. It asks for a fair bit of access when you run, unsurprisingly.

I installed it, I ran the test to see if it worked, and shortly afterwards was having problems with my computer and the clipboard – and wondered if that was a ‘feature’ of this software.

I have since resolved these separately, but I wanted to uninstall OnVue, but there is NO detail of how to do this on the website.

I have asked all their contact channels, “how do I uninstall it” – I get back a variety of canned responses:

  • “you can’t cancel an exam via email”
  • “if you run a test exam you can see if the software works on your system”

Now given it doesn’t look like it was an “installed” app and just an application that ran from a zip file, uninstalling it could be as simple as not running it ever again, and deleting the download.

But I don’t know if it hasn’t installed a few system extensions or similar, I’ve had a quick look and I don’t think it has but is it too much to expect a webpage owned by Pearson that says that – right now the search results for “remove onvue macintosh” are swamped by advertising pages for Mac removal software.

A document that states what to do online, an answer in the knowledge base so agents respond – is really the bare minimum.

If you make me run/install it, give me a clear way to remove it.

Mutuality in social networks

In addition to the existing privacy settings, I’d like an option to hide info from someone, when I can’t see the equivalent.

Some people on Facebook or LinkedIn choose to hide their friend or connection lists. I don’t have a problem with this, and indeed I use many of the ever changing Facebook privacy settings to hide information from people.

On sites like LinkedIn the value is (supposedly) the connections, and when someone has hidden theirs, but can still see your list of connections – that feels inequitable.

As an addition in the sea of privacy options, a checkbox that says “stop people seeing things that they don’t let you see” would help things feel a bit more balanced.

a new adage for social

“Any sufficiently complete and transparent sharing system is just going to be creepy”

Arthur C. Clarke famously said “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.

The recent Facebook frictionless sharing gives us a new one “Any sufficiently complete and transparent sharing is just going to be creepy”.

We’re basically a fickle bunch. Some of us want to share more easily, but sharing everything also irritates us. Facebook in particular annoys me because I can’t send my habits for the useful bubbled-up aggregations, without the endless inanity of GARETH IS LISTENING TO BLAH. Given I listen to a lot of the same songs that’s really boring and spam. Ditto what articles I’m reading on The Guardian, individually quite dull but as part of the “things that you & your friends have been reading” aggregated things a bit more interesting.

Anyway, this is kind of problem that services like Zeebox will always face, incomplete or creepy. As a standalone app I have to remember to use it (and I’m already using my iPad for twitter), if they did ever have direct integration with my TV (By this I mean my TV updating things, rather than the existing TV Remote functionality in the app), I’d be creeped out because again, viewing habits reveal some awful taste. Maybe I just need a “share this” button on my remote that can easily publish what I’m doing to Facebook or some other back-end. A bit less friction, but still some.

It’s a tough one to solve, but we can’t seem to be comprehensive and convenient without being creepy.

Transition periods are the worst: technology, privacy and injunctions

Technology is disrupting privacy in a way that we can’t fight back from, will it all be easier once we just accept it?

Transitional times are the worst. Much like the music industry trying to retain their existing business model based on recorded music, or broadcasters using DRM to maintain rights windows on content that is transmitted in-the-clear; it’s always difficult to move on. Once you’ve accepted change, it might not be as easy as it was before, but you’re at least not fighting the inevitable.

We’re currently fighting that battle with privacy. As people tag us in Facebook, other people check us into insalubrious venues, we’re stuck in an ongoing battle to remove things that we don’t want stuck to our profile. We hide behind privacy settings on sites, only to watch a friend share a private RSS feed or one poorly-written API client leaking all the information to google. Our friends re-tweet from private accounts disclosing partially-incriminating thoughts. Strangers can sometimes see one-side of a conversation, not enough to know exactly what was said, but certainly enough for my mum to admonish me for some months ago.

Today we’ve had fun with super-injunctions, Twitter and parliamentary privilege. English courts trying to uphold rulings that Scotland and the Peoples’ Republic of Twitter are not subject to. And sure the identity of CTB is a nice bit of gossipy tittle-tattle, but what about when it’s the name of someone accused of a serious crime?

Our reporting restrictions are far more extensive than those of America, and while I don’t want to routinely have ‘perp-walks’ in the UK, I’d rather not have trials abandoned because our protections are unworkable in the modern world.

Away from the legal sphere, with the rise of computer vision and recognition projects, (look at the flurry of activity around the Kinect), and the availability of powerful on-demand computing resources (like GPU heavy instances from Amazon), privacy will soon be a problem that can be brute-forced away. Facebook is already rolling out photo recognition (this does seem to be taking longer than most of their phased roll-outs as I know a few people who had it months ago).

Embarrassing images we thought ‘anonymous’ because the face wasn’t shown will be tied down to people through bizarre combinations of EXIF tags, 3d room mapping, carpet recognition and host of other recognition metric that I can’t even imagine. That mole on your chest will no longer just be a minor cancer risk; it’s a data point that can be correlated.

Anyway, we’re in the transitional phase: We’re still trying to hold onto old-models of privacy which in a few years won’t be possible to have without moving to the “Google Opt-Out town“.

The other side of this transition we’ll probably have less privacy, but nobody will really have privacy, and somehow that will make it alright – that or we’ll have to change our names after we leave university, and dispose of all of our electrical devices, have that mole removed, and if we want to run for political office be very careful what we get up-to at college.