Nick's Notes

Just what is going on out there?

Fred Trueman was an outstanding bowler and a professional Yorkshireman. After his illustrious Test cricket career (he still ranks 28th in the world on number of Test wickets taken, despite retiring in 1965 when much less cricket was played than today) he became a commentator on Test Match Special (TMS). He was an excellent summariser, but became somewhat caricatured for his phrase, delivered in his northern tones “I just don’t understand what’s going off out there”. The phrase was increasingly frequently used by him, as cricketers developed strategies and tactics suited to one day internationals and limited over matches, which began to dominate the game, as much as from the 3 day County and 5 day Test matches that “Fiery Fred” had played.

Well at the risk of not understanding how life is moving on, two things have struck me as odd this week, as iOS9 has been released.

The first is that an app – Peace, an ad blocker (a type of software that is newly enabled in iOS9) – shot to the top of the chargeable app charts and then was promptly withdrawn by its author Marco Arment. Arment is a respected developer of Instapaper and ex-CTO of Tumblr. He said that this “success” should have been the highlight of his career, but it “just didn’t feel right”. In a very open, and apparently honest blog he explained that he had no desire to be the arbiter of what people saw on their screens and whilst some ads should be blocked, some should not. He just hadn’t foreseen all the nuances, and couldn’t find the time to encode them in “a simple iOS app”. The honesty was backed up by him initially offering to refund the cost of the app to those requesting it, and then Apple said they would refund the price to everyone who had bought the app – so it has led Arment to forfeit some serious money. The app is no longer available for new downloads, although it appears to still work – at least at the time of writing.

The other item I saw relates to ‘jail-breaking’. This is the term used by developers to circumvent Apple’s security measures to allow any app to run on the device. $1m dollars has been offered to the first person who can jail-break iOS9. Usually a jail break happens within a few weeks of release. This has clearly become very big business for people who wish to peddle apps which would not make it on to the app store for whatever reason. Apple’s policy which is straightforward and in proper English – not lawyer speak – states amongst other things “We will reject Apps for any content or behavior that we believe is over the line. What line, you ask? Well, as a Supreme Court Justice once said, “I’ll know it when I see it”. And we think that you will also know it when you cross it.” Jail-breaking allows that line to be crossed without Apple’s approval. It invalidates every warranty offered, and future updates rarely work – but there are people who say that as they have bought the device they can do what they like with it.

So how are these things linked? I think there is a moral aspect to both stories – taking an opposing moral standpoint, but it is there nonetheless. Who is right? Only you can decide. And that is not to suggest moral relativism is at play. I find myself slightly bemused – having defended my right to own my device and choose what runs on it when Microsoft announced that Windows 10 would update automatically – yet wishing in no way to jail-break my iPhone 6. In the end I think it comes down to a long held principle in the UK – policing by consent. It depends who you trust.

If you are a CIO such challenges can undermine your right to decide policy. As we all know a consistent stance and clear justification is needed for any policy decision where people feel strongly. The people must trust you.

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