Category Archives: Policy

Privacy: Spooks figure out ways to trick you into not using encryption

Picsix’s tool creates a fake cell tower that can fool a target’s phone into transmitting data to it. The device cannot read encrypted data, but instead tries a different tactic to get private information: making encrypted apps glitchy or even totally unusable. It’s a subtle but strong way to push a frustrated target away from a private app and toward a non-encrypted service that can easily be intercepted and eavesdropped on. The encryption itself is never broken—it is simply rendered useless.

Source: Cops see an encryption problem. Spyware makers see an opportunity. – MIT Technology Review

Increases in student loan availability lead to increases in tuition and fees

Stated another way, the more money poured in to student loan programs, the higher the tuition charged. Tuition goes up because of student loans rather than the view that student loans go up in response to higher tuition.

Consistent with the model, we find that even when universities price-discriminate, a credit expansion will raise tuition paid byall students and not only by those at the federal loan caps because of pecuniary demand externalities. Such pricing externalities are often conjectured in the context of the effects of expanded subprime borrowing on housing prices leading up to the financial crisis, and our study can be seen as complementary evidence in the student loan market.

From: Lucca, D., Nadauld, T., Shen, K. (2015, 2017). Credit supply and the rise in college tuition: Evidence from the expansion in Federal student aid programs. Staff Report no. 733. Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

As the authors note, this is similar to other areas where a third party supply of money causes prices to rise – such as the effect of cheap mortgages causing home prices to rise.

A similar effect occurs in health care where third party “insurance” benefits are an enabler of higher priced health care services.

Whenever the cost of goods are services are subsidized such that their immediate direct costs are lower than the market clearing price, demand for those goods and services will increase. As demand increases relative to supply, the prices charged increase to a new actual and higher market clearing price.

Student loan programs are a major cause of tuition hikes. Cheap mortgages are a major cause of rising home prices. Health “insurance” is a major cause of higher prices charged in health care.

Health policy: “The U.S. can slash health-care costs 75% with 2 fundamental changes”

This makes a lot of sense, thus it will never happen, unfortunately:

Fund the HSA deductible, as Indiana and Whole Foods do, and put real prices on everything.

Source: The U.S. can slash health-care costs 75% with 2 fundamental changes — and without ‘Medicare for All’ – MarketWatch

The Affordable Care Act, according to co-architect Jonathan Gruber, was about coverage. As he put it, in his own words “we paid lip service” to cost controls. In fact, in the unsubsidized individual market, insurance premiums rose by 100 to 200% (that’s two to three times higher prices). This market is probably about 18 million people, plus another 6 million or so who remain uninsured due to the high prices and are not normally counted.

How expensive is the ACA market? For those in their 50s and up, premiums may cost thousands of dollars per month, with $2,000 or more being common. That’s $24,000 per year for a high deductible “insurance” plan – often meaning $30,000 or more out of pocket before receiving benefits. Surprisingly, the subsidy cut off level for 2020 is about $68,000 per year. If you earn this much or more, you are not eligible for any subsidy assistance. You’ll pay $30,000 out of pocket on your $68,000 pre-tax income – and you still need to pay taxes, housing, food and transportation costs.

Actual price quote, HealthCare.gov, 64 year old married couple living in Laramie, WY – this is the cheapest Silver plan.

How did this absurdity happen? Jonathan Gruber made numerous errors in crafting the ACA. One of which is that the subsidy cut off level is determined as a factor of the regional poverty income level. It has nothing to do with actual insurance prices. Gruber never envisioned insurance premiums rising so high, so rapidly. Thus we have absurd cut off levels having no relationship to actual prices of insurance!

Part of the reason prices rose so rapidly is because 35 state run high risk insurance pools were shut down and all of their high cost/high risk patients were moved into the ACA individual market. Prior to 2017, some of these high costs were shared with most insured people in the country. But beginning in 2017, these risk sharing measures were ended and the individual market had to share these costs exclusively, turning the individual market into a de facto high risk/high cost insurance pool.

For those that are subsidized, the Federal taxpayer picks up the extra charge. In fact, through various quirks, many subsidized consumers pay less than they did in 2014, and some even pay ZERO premiums – receiving insurance for free.

Meanwhile, those in the unsubsidized market have seen a doubling or tripling of their costs to the point they have been forced to drop out of the market. Much political ventings drones on about the Individual Mandate but that is irrelevant. The ACA itself exempts people from the mandate if the least cost Bronze plan exceeds about 8% of your household income. This turns out to be true for most families in their 40s and up and most married couples in their 50s and up.

The primary point of the ACA was to provide insurance access to the non-group market. Contrary to poplar misconception, the HIPAA of 1996 provided pre-existing condition exclusion protections to all those with employer sponsored insurance. Medicare, Medicaid and VA coverage already provided protection. Nearly everyone had pre-existing condition protections – except for the small non-group or individual market (actually about 24 states enacted their own forms of protection). The ACA provided those protections but at the expense of pricing millions out of access – which is a big miss for an Act whose title begins with “Affordable”. (Technically it was Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act but still…)

Business: San Francisco to require tech entrepreneurs to receive a permit from the city before launching their tech products

Guess San Francisco doesn’t want to be a center of tech innovation:

But the office will do more than just help eager tech firms obtain approvals and permits. It will also have the power to weigh the potential impact of a proposed technology on city infrastructure and public safety — as well as privacy and security — before giving a green light to a pilot project or product launch.”

Source: New San Francisco Office Could Curb ‘Reckless’ Rollouts of Emerging Tech | KQED News

The city will review and issue a permit – or advise the company how it may need to alter its product – before its product can be trialed or launched in San Francisco.

Faceless bureaucrats with no skin in the game will sit in the driver’s seat. What could possibly go wrong?

A call for a code of tech ethics?

Facebook and the like need to craft a professional code of ethics for the technology industry.

Source: A Facebook request: Write a code of tech ethics – Los Angeles Times

Where this is headed, naturally, is the concept of licensed professional engineers (P.E.) in software engineering. Development of a professional engineering licensing exam for software engineering was done many years ago. I believe Texas was the only state to offer the exam; however, due to low participation, they are discontinuing the software engineering PE exam as of April 2019.

“Algorithms have gotten out of control. It’s time to regulate them.”

A guy with a PhD in English Literature has never heard of the First Amendment, apparently, and proposes regulating technical speech:

These complex equations have huge influence on our lives — but they operate with very little oversight

Source: Algorithms have gotten out of control. It’s time to regulate them.

He proposes a new government agency and “Algorithm Czar” to regulate the use of algorithms. He is seriously talking of regulating all algorithms used in computing. Give a moments thought to what he is advocating – government control over information processing of all types. Imagine having to apply to a government bureaucrat for nearly every app or application that is developed, seeking approval or a license to use it. The author is oblivious to the concept that algorithms are considered speech in the U.S., protected by the First Amendment. The same Amendment that permitted a magazine to publish the author’s nonsense.

His nonsense is so far out there that I thought it was an April Fools column, but no, it was published on April 3rd.

When Women Stopped Coding : Planet Money : NPR

For decades, the share of women majoring in computer science was rising. Then, in the 1980s, something changed.

Source: When Women Stopped Coding : Planet Money : NPR

NPR makes an assertion that 1984 is when personal computers in the home emerged and that parents only bought personal computers for their sons. The first assertion is false and the second assertion is made without any supporting evidence.  The latter assertion provides no meaningful explanation for women in computer science prior to the mid-1980s nor that most young women today have a personal computer but still are, apparently, not going into computer science.

The above NPR report is one that makes you think you have just learned something but in fact, fails to explain anything.

Here is a chart I made showing the percent of homes with a PC, from 1984 to 2012. Data provided by the US Census up through 2012.  Data was not collected every year so some years have no data.

You can see that home PCs went from 8% in 1984 to 15% in 1989. Both are small values. This does not explain why fewer women students pursued computer science after the mid-1980s, contrary to the NPR report’s claim.

In roughly the last 20 years, access to personal computers, by gender and age, is widespread but there was no upsurge in computer science enrollment by women which would be expected if the NPR thesis were true.

Another issue is to understand what is being measured. Most discussions of “women in STEM” are referring to “women in computer science” or sometimes “women in computer science and engineering” – and are mistakenly presented as a proxy for women in science.   Many STEM metrics specifically omit degrees in (especially) the health sciences as “STEM” when they are also science-based degrees.

Women represent about 90% of all nursing (and elementary school teaching) jobs – fields that employ far more people than are employed in the computer sciences.  In terms of overall degrees in science, technology, engineering and math, women graduates were just barely above 50% (last I checked NSF data – It depends on how you define “STEM”). Women are way above 50% in terms of overall 4 year college degree graduates and have been since the early 1980s. 49.8% of medical school students are women and are 78% of veterinary school students.

(From National Girls Collaborative Project)

This shows the same information as trend line over time:

But there is no concern – and instead, silence – about diversity and balance in fields outside of computer science. There is a problem in computer science but unsound assertions, as described in the NPR report, do not lead to useful solutions.

U.S. Copyright Office expands copyright exemptions for fair use, security research and other activities

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act prohibited bypassing copyright protection systems thwarting many activities normally considered lawful such as “fair use”, use of snippets for education and critique, and investigations by computer security researchers.

The U.S. Copyright Office in the Library of Congress has issued a final rule clarifying (and expanding) exemptions for permissible activities.

See: Exemption to Prohibition on Circumvention of Copyright Protection Systems for Access Control Technologies – Final Rule

AOPA reports that the FAA is expected to charge fees to fly #drones #quadcopters #modelaircraft

The fees would be used to pay for the traffic management system the FAA is tasked with implementing.

the new law directs the FAA and Government Accountability Office to study how the federal government could raise money to pay for drone-related services, including a future unmanned aircraft system traffic management (UTM) program that will be a key to facilitating large-scale use of unmanned aircraft for package delivery and other operations beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS).

Says the government is to complete a study within 6 months on how to pay for all this.

The FAA is also ordered to define a beacon identification/transponder system for all drones:

Section 372 requires the FAA to establish a remote detection and identification program that law enforcement can use to track drones that violate regulations, and submit annual reports to Congress detailing drone transgressions such as flying too close to airports or inside of restricted airspace.

Source: Drone fees, new rules expected – AOPA

Hopefully these new regulations will not apply to model aircraft flown at authorized model aircraft airfields, nor in Class G airspace (unregulated airspace).

It seems likely these future rules will be applied to most airspace around cities. The costs of model aircraft flying will certainly head up if it becomes necessary to pay for air traffic control services, plus the costs of transponders (if they can even be retrofitted to existing model aircraft) and possibly related communication links (some transponder proposals have the aircraft linked to your smart phone which then ties into the ATC traffic management system-assuming phone service is available). Hopefully sufficient areas will be exempt in order to allow the long standing model aircraft community activities to continue.

Possible future #drones regulation

If Democrats become the majority party in the U.S. House of Representatives as of the November election, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) is likely to become the Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which is responsible for the FAA.

DeFazio has expressed support for:

  • All drones should be registered and licensed.
  • All drones should have mandatory transponder beacon IDs.
  • All drones sold in the U.S. should have mandatory geo-fencing built-in, preventing them from flight in certain specified airspace. “My biggest problem has been idiots with toy drones,” DeFazio said. “Why we allow any toy drone to be sold without geo-fencing is remarkable to me.”
  • A more rigorous licensing exam for commercial drone pilots, and a licensing exam for hobbyist pilots with concern over “the ease by which a private citizen can earn a federal drone operators license”.
  • DeFazio supports the development of drone technology for business. Business interests are the primary focus and driver of the regulations.
  • Supports technology to “passively detect, identify and track UAS or aerial drones and their ground-based operators” and “force the drone to land” in “designated safe sites around airports”.

My thoughts are that numerous idiots in the drone community are flying drones recklessly, over people, close to airfields,  over 25 mile distances, flagrantly ignoring regulations and common sense. The very people who do not want more regulations are, by their own actions, begging for more regulations. They truly are idiots who are ruining hobby model aviation for everyone else. The FAA lacks an ability to enforce existing rules against these individuals due to a lack of resources, so these individuals continue posting YouTube videos showing their reckless flights.

Where this is heading is seems obvious:

  • If DeFazio is head of the committee the current Section 336 law concerning model aircraft will be rescinded and replaced. The new rules will probably limit regulations for hobby model aircraft flown only at “community-based” model airfields
  • Outside of model airfields, all model aircraft will be heavily regulated and require a beacon ID transponder.
  • All flights will likely require a pre-filed flight plan with the FAA through an app on your phone. Authorization for the flight will likely be required before flying.
  • Flights conducted outside of model airfields will eventually require a license. There may be two classes of license – the commercial remote pilot license and a private remote pilot license.
  • Commercially sold “Consumer drones” (how will that be defined?) will require on board GPS and geo-fencing. Will existing drones be grandfathered in or grounded from further use? What about home made drones?

None of the above will be free. Mandatory geofencing will raise the cost of small “toy” class drones (many of which do not currently have GPS). Mandatory beacon IDs will add costs. Will existing drones being grandfathered or will they be required to be destroyed?

There are implementation costs (the flight plan filing and ATC authorization system), operational costs and enforcement costs. Which leads to:

  • licensing fees – currently about US$150 every 2 years.
  • registration fees – currently $5 every 3 years
  • user fees – unknown but consider a $1 or $2 fee each time a flight plan is filed for flight outside a model airfield.

These costs will act as barriers to entry to the burgeoning “quadcopter” community, likely stifling its future growth, if not causing it to shrink. Model aviation will likely continue at existing airfields. However, model aviation’s current growth has come from drone enthusiasts who want to get more involved in model aviation.  If access to drones is made difficult, this pipeline feeding into model aviation will be reduced.

Congressional representatives want to act quickly on legislation concerning drone activity. It seems likely that portions of the above would be implemented as soon as January 1, 2020.

It is also possible that little of the above will happen. But that seems unlikely. Perhaps there is an yet unidentified “third way” that will reduce risks at low costs while meeting the safety needs of the FAA and business users.