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Secrets? For or against?

 
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A little while ago I started a thread about the First Amendment, which (quite rightly) died a death because I violated Godwin's Law.

I still don't like secrets however, and I recently came up with a trivial case against them.

Let me first state my opinion:
Secrets are wrong. They are always wrong. Which means that any "expedient" use of them must be accompanied by law - and that law should also be expedient (ie, lapsing after a specific date unless specifically extended by vote).

So to my case (and, in the realm of secrecy, it is very trivial; it simply clarified my opinion about secrets in general; and I give it to you as "computer savvy" people):

I recently bought a lovely new Asus laptop. I saw it in a shop here in Belgium and liked it from the start. It fitted my requirement as a "desktop replacement" perfectly - well built, nice screen, B&O speakers etc. - but they said they didn't have any more in stock. Could buy their demo model? Sure. And they even gave me a 5% discount.

The fact that the OS (Windows 8) was installed, or that it was in a language I don't understand (Dutch) didn't bother me in the slightest. I was planning to put Linux on it anyway...

HUGE mistake. And why? SECRECY.

Asus have changed things - no doubt due to pressure from Microsoft, who want to make sure that everyone uses that abomination known as Wndows 8 (actually the worst abomination in a long line) - so that you CAN'T install a different OS ... at least not without a lot of faffing around.

When I hit F2, and changed the boot devices to boot from the DVD? - no probs.
When I put in my DVD to install Linux? - Black screen (maybe this is MS's new BSOD).

Moreover, when I go back into F2, the devices have all disappeared, and I'm left with ONE option: "Windows Boot Manager", which I can't change.

Asus service department (NL): Sorry, we don't support any OS that was not on the machine when you bought it. (???)

I've since learned that Asus has built in all sort's of "secret stuff" - including an ACTUAL boot menu - to prevent you from doing anything "naughty" with their machine (presumably). But it's NOT F2 (that's the "secret"). The only thing you can change on that sucker is the date and time.

Why? Are we children?

More disturbingly (or perhaps not), when I went into my local PC store and told him about my problems, his first question was: "Is it an Asus?". Clearly I'm not the first...


And THIS comes back to my point (sorry about the long preamble): Secrets are WRONG.

They prevent people from making decisions; they prevent people from learning (and, in my case, working); and most of all, they prevent people from knowing what the people they voted for, or who are defending them, or the companies that make products for them, are DOING.

Asus's "secrecy" appears to be all about making sure that I don't do anything they don't want me to - and it's specifically targeted at people like me who want to replace Windows. Well, you know what Asus? Stick it in yer ear. I WILL change the the OS, with or without your help, and in spite of your stupid "secret" boot menus - because it's MY machine, not yours.

What to do about child pornographers, or weapons dealers, or government officials who use secrecy as a shield (and a weapon)? - No idea. That's not my brief here. I suspect that draconian penalties once you've proved the crime where it was used might be good, but I'm no lawyer. And the fact is that software in general is outstripping the ability of legislators to keep up, so maybe it's time for a new approach anyway.

What say you?

Winston
 
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I'd say that one example of where secrets hurt does not prove that secrets are always wrong - it proves that secrets are not always right (where "right" is defined as "the benefit of a small subset of customers who happen to want to replace the OS", not remotely close to "the benefit of most people", making a generic claim of "right" dubious IMO).

The one field where I'd agree that secrecy is generally bad is IT security - if algorithms used to protect some computer system rely on being kept secret -so-called "security by obscurity"-, that generally means they are vulnerable to attack, and there are almost certainly better ways to protect it.

(It's good to state up front that you do not intend discuss "secrecy as a shield", because it's an all too short distance from that to "if you have nothing to hide then you do not need to fear government surveillance", a popular and wrong argument made against privacy.)
 
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Was the condition of the ASUS laptop a SECRET, or could you have learned about it with more research, a visit to a forum, a call to ASUS customer support beforehand, etc? I often find out details available in the public domain about a product after I already own it that might have convinced me not to buy it had I known them before making the decision. I feel cheated afterwards, but I have to accept that it's really my fault.
 
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Secrecy is of course inevitable, and it can be a valuable tool. What that tool is used to do is the issue. Not being able to change the OS on the laptop is surely not advertised and is therefore something of a secret deception.

You should be able to do anything with the laptop that you could reasonably expect to do with a generic laptop. That is serviceability. You have the expectation of that. I would take the laptop back saying that it was not serviceable and demand a refund. They don't want to go to court, so they would give it to you. That is unless making the OS switchable was such an easy hack that I would be embarrassed to take it back
 
Winston Gutkowski
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Ulf Dittmer wrote:I'd say that one example of where secrets hurt does not prove that secrets are always wrong...


No. But I believe it to be true empirically, and therefore, to me, they are always wrong. They might, however, be expedient - in the same way that one might say that killing is wrong, but in war it may be necessary. And if you've read the story about Intrepid, and the bombing of Coventry, you'll know just what a dark and complex road expediency (and secrecy) can lead you down.

Secrecy is anti-disclosure and therefore anti-knowledge; and if you live in a system that regards it as general practice for long enough, you will simply not learn or not know.

A classic example I remember was when john Harvey-Jones went to the Krosno (I think it was Krosno) glass works in Poland, and found tiny workshops with real craftsmen, making wonderful lead-crystal pieces, cheek-by-jowl with guys manufacturing milk bottles; and further found a warehouse with a mountain of milk bottles because there was no demand, when the "craft" pieces were so back-ordered that nobody really knew if they could fulfil the orders or not.
Yet, while he was there, that milk-bottle plant was running at full speed, to create more bottles to add to the mountain.

And when he tried to explain the problem to them? Shrugs; "It's not my problem"; "This is what we were told to do"; "It's our quota".

Now these were not stupid people. For thirty years they'd run an efficient business, producing glass as required, and getting a bit of hard currency for the "crafty" stuff (which was very good - those Poles really know how to design).

But the fact was, there was no reality to it. There was nobody there with the least grasp of 'realekonomik'. They were simply doing what they were told because they'd been left in the dark. And so the mountain just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger...

And I suspect that there are similar stories from Romania and Czechoslovakia before the wall came down.

And it's because of secrecy. Because nobody knew what they were actually doing - or at least not the consequences of it. And the someone who DID know was probably happy to let that mountain grow, because it kept all the "books" that he showed to his masters in good shape.

Layers of secrecy. If you like, a government Ponzi scheme.

To me, secrecy is anathema to knowledge, and it should be challenged at EVERY point where someone - especially a politician - suggests that it's "in our best interest".

In wartime, fine. As an expedient measure with limits (specifically, time limits). But as a general practise. Sorry Ulf, but NO.

If you can't survive without a non-disclosure agreement, then you have no business being IN business (or getting divorced ).

Winston
 
Winston Gutkowski
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Greg Brannon wrote:Was the condition of the ASUS laptop a SECRET, or could you have learned about it with more research, a visit to a forum, a call to ASUS customer support beforehand, etc? I often find out details available in the public domain about a product after I already own it that might have convinced me not to buy it had I known them before making the decision. I feel cheated afterwards, but I have to accept that it's really my fault.


Greg, all of what you say is true - apart from the bit about phoning customer support beforehand. If I'd known I was going to have a problem, then of course I would have phoned them, but I bought a laptop, not a mobile phone. And I've never had a problem in the past. It's also one of the big selling points of the "PC" market. If I'd known beforehand that I was buying a proprietary machine, I'd have bought an Apple.

Also: It doesn't really answer the question. Sure, I can search and probably find the answer, but why should I? I'm the customer whose just payed good money for a glorified doorstop, for no other reason than that Asus probably have some deal with MS to make it as hard as possible for people to delete their beloved OS.

Hey, I was probably updating BIOS's while most of the people implementing "policy" for Asus were still in diapers. I'll get it sorted; it's just a PITA - and for absolutely no good reason that I can see. Secrecy for its own sake.

Winston
 
Winston Gutkowski
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Guillermo Ishi wrote:Secrecy is of course inevitable, and it can be a valuable tool. What that tool is used to do is the issue. Not being able to change the OS on the laptop is surely not advertised and is therefore something of a secret deception...


Thank you Guillermo - and that was exactly the point I made to their customer service.

Winston
 
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Was the Asus boot problem related to the UEFI secure boot thing, which has been well documented in Linux land for a couple of years? Or had Asus done something extra to discourage people from installing an unsupported OS?
 
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hi Winston,

it all reminds me of this new BIOS thing called UEFI. I tried the internet
for similar problems, and found this:

http://forums.linuxmint.com/viewtopic.php?f=46&t=140874

Hope this helps.

Greetz,
Piet
 
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Winston Gutkowski wrote:Let me first state my opinion:
Secrets are wrong. They are always wrong.


Since you said "always", the way to argue is with a counterexample.

Do you feel it is wrong to buy a gift for someone's birthday and keep it a secret to make it a surprise? Or a surprise party for that matter?
 
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If secrets are bad, all the time, in every case, then please give me your bank account numbers, passwords, "secret question" answers, and all other relevant information to let me access your finances.
 
chris webster
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Winston Gutkowski wrote:
Secrets are wrong. They are always wrong.


So how long have you been working for Facebook...?
 
Winston Gutkowski
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Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:

Winston Gutkowski wrote:Let me first state my opinion:
Secrets are wrong. They are always wrong.


Since you said "always", the way to argue is with a counterexample.
Do you feel it is wrong to buy a gift for someone's birthday and keep it a secret to make it a surprise? Or a surprise party for that matter?


fred rosenberger wrote:then please give me your bank account numbers, passwords, "secret question" answers, and all other relevant information to let me access your finances.


Sorry chaps. I've been away for a few days.

Excellent examples all; which illustrate flaws in the statement; not, I believe, in the sentiment. Both the above are examples of contracts requiring limited secrecy, entered into voluntarily; or where secrecy is an understood prerequisite of business. Others might include doctor/patient (or lawyer/client) "privilege" or the requirement of a government or corporation to keep biometric information about US secret.

However, the first example (Jeanne's) is a darn good example of one of the major flaws of a system of secrecy - namely: that it's a house of cards. How many people here have been involved in a "surprise" party that fell flat as a pancake because someone blabbed or gave the game away?

Now imagine a government (or a branch of it) run under that same cloud. Permanently. Secrets must become the norm, and affect everyone involved - keeping secrets not only from some of the "secret-keepers" themselves, but from any body designed to regulate their activities. And anyone who's read le Carré knows just what a poisonous environment that breeds.

To be honest, how Western governments have managed to stay so "open" for so long is a mystery to me.

As to banks and doctors and lawyers: Well, the fact is that they aren't secret - and anyone who thinks they are are deluding themselves - they're simply beyond the capability of most people to obtain (and in any case can be opened by the courts). Indeed, US government secrecy laws - at least those aimed at computer security - are designed specifically to make sure that people and corporations at large can't keep secrets.

Interestingly, they also come under Weaponry statutes, which I think is possibly the best argument for my case so far. My argument is simply that the same rules (and attitudes) should apply to governments that wish to impose secrets on us. Especially in these times of euphemistic "patriot" laws and increased, un-voted-for surveillance.

Oddly enough, I was a system (and security) admin for many years, and the first thing we were taught was: You can't guarantee security.

Winston

PS: Thanks for all your responses.
 
Winston Gutkowski
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Piet Souris wrote:it all reminds me of this new BIOS thing called UEFI. I tried the internet
for similar problems, and found this:
http://forums.linuxmint.com/viewtopic.php?f=46&t=140874


Thanks Piet (and others). Yes, I came to the same conclusion myself. Asus's set-up also seems to be particularly "protective", hiding their "real" boot menu under a different keystroke (or combination), making one wonder if they aren't getting kickbacks from MS for it - and if there was less secrecy, such a "conspiracy theory" wouldn't even occur to me. The F2 menu is basically a glorified date/time setter.

The only thing I'm mulling over right now is whether to go down the route that Asus suggest (I finally got a response out of them after nearly two weeks of complaining), or the one suggested by the Mint forums, because they're quite different. After all this faffing around, I think I may actually trust the Mint bods more.

The Wiki page about UEFI is also quite enlightening, because it would appear that corporations may now be using it for restrictive practises. Really? Say it ain't so.

Winston
 
Winston Gutkowski
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fred rosenberger wrote:If secrets are bad, all the time, in every case, then please give me your bank account numbers, passwords, "secret question" answers, and all other relevant information to let me access your finances.


And just to come back to this one, I suspect that a Zen master might argue that that kind of secrecy has nothing whatsoever to do with your attitude to secrecy in general, and everything to do with the need for banks...

Winston
 
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