Who should know what's happening in your computer? Who should control it?

My latest Locus column is "What’s Inside the Box," a discussion of whether owners, users or third parties should be able to know and/or control what their computers are doing:

The answer to this that most of the experts I speak to come up with is this:

The owner (or user) of a device should be able to know (or control) which software is running on her devices.

This is really four answers, and I’ll go over them in turn, using three different scenarios: a computer in an Internet cafe, a car, and a cochlear implant. That is, a computer you sit in front of, a computer you put your body into, and a computer you put in your body.

Cory Doctorow: What’s Inside the Box Read the rest

Insurer offers discounts to customers running in-car GPS telemetry

Writing in PC Pro, Stewart Mitchell describes a partnership between GPS vendor TomTom and Fair Pay insurance, an auto insurer, to offer discounts to people whose GPS devices report low incidences of sudden stops and unsafe turns. I rather like this idea, the idea that your device could offer testimony on your behalf, but a lot depends on how it is implemented.

On the one hand, TomTom could generate trustworthy readings by completely locking its device so that users can't inspect or modify their operations, which would open up the possibility that your device was recording and transmitting information about your location and movements without your knowledge or permission. On the other hand, TomTom could produce a stats-gathering app whose workings were publicly disclosed, but which used a TPM-style module to verify that it hadn't been modified for the purposes of gathering and signing information that you can pass on to the insurer.

This would give TomTom owners the choice of booting their device into a known, publicly verifiable state that respected their privacy, but also produced statistics that third parties could trust. It would also give TomTom owners the choice of booting into alternative environments that did different things.

"We've dispensed with generalisations and said to our customers, if you believe you're a good driver, we'll believe you and we'll even give you the benefit up front," said Nigel Lombard of Fair Pay Insurance.

“If you think of your insurance as your car's MPG - the better you drive, the longer your fuel will last.

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