CarelessDotData: 'The state is not going to do dastardly things' with your privates
Plus: 'Thin-skinned... thinks he owns the material he conduits'
Quotw This was the week when MtGox - Bitcoin exchange extraordinaire - had a major meltdown. The digital currency exchange shut up shop, which its website suggested was because it was about to be acquired, but documents circulating the internet said had something to do with the alleged theft of 750,000 Bitcoins worth millions of dollars.
The mysterious meltdown kicked off on Tuesday, when the exchange resigned its seat on the Bitcoin Foundation board and deleted its Twitter account.
In a rather short and uninformative statement, the Foundation's Jon Matonis said:
Effective immediately, Mt. Gox has submitted their resignation from the board of directors. We are grateful for their early and valuable contributions as a founding member in launching the Bitcoin Foundation.
The rumour mill promptly went into overdrive, with the first fuel to the fire being Charlie Shrem's comments on Reddit. Shrem, the founder of BitInstant, had to step down from the Foundation in January because he's facing charges of money-laundering and breach of fiduciary duty over his alleged involvement with drug trafficking via the anonymising online black market Silk Road. So when he said:
I applaud [CEO] Mark [Karpeles] and the MtGox team for making the right decision as I had to do the same.
..people understandably leapt to the conclusion that MtGox might be in a similar kind of trouble.
That impression wasn't cleared up by a strangely written briefing that claimed nearly 750,000 of the 12,500,000 Bitcoins in existence had been stolen from MtGox over several years. The briefing, published by Bitcoin advocate Ryan Selkis, claimed to be an "internal MtGox crisis presentation" but its legitimacy was uncertain due to its sloppy writing. Selkis said:
This is catastrophic, and I am sorry to share this. I do believe that this is one of the existential threats to bitcoin that many have feared and have personally sold all of my bitcoin holdings through Coinbase.
At the same time, chief exec Karpeles was talking like there wasn't anything too amiss and everything might actually be going quite well:
We should have an official announcement ready soon-ish. We are currently at a turning point for the business. I can't tell much more for now as this also involves other parties.
On the MtGox website, the following statement then appeared:
Dear MtGox Customers, In the event of recent news reports and the potential repercussions on MtGox's operations and the market, a decision was taken to close all transactions for the time being in order to protect the site and our users. We will be closely monitoring the situation and will react accordingly.
While the source code for the exchange's website suggested an acquisition was in the works with the place holder:
<!--put announce for mtgox acq here -->
The following day, media got their hands on an IRC chat log in which Karpeles said that the documents released were "more or less" genuine, suggesting that the report of $429m worth of Bitcoins was correct.
The mystery remains as murky as ever, although a Reg reader did let us know that he was able to open a verified account just days before MtGox went dark, suggesting the shutdown wasn't planned. The exchange had already put all withdrawals on hold, but hadn't yet completely closed when Eddie signed up:
After quite a wait, Gox finally verified my account (a prerequisite for withdrawals) late on Friday 21st, suggesting they were overtaken by events quite quickly, or at least that bits of the business were not fully aware of just how precarious things were.
When this was confirmed I assumed they'd finally got their act together and things were about to improve. So hearing via Twitter that they'd gone dark was a bit of a kick in the teeth.
He lost hundreds of pounds worth of the virtual currency when the exchange went dark and has little hope of getting his Bitcoins back.
According to AFP, the exchange filed for bankruptcy protection in Japan shortly before the publication of this article on Friday.
Over in Blighty, NHS England has put a hold on its plan to store patients' GP-held medical records and hospital data in a centralised database after continued concerns about the project.
The patients and information national director Tim Kelsey admitted to Parliament's health select committee that the care.data plan had led to "confusion, suspicion and a level of anxiety" that he needed to sort out.
Poor communication about the plan was mostly to blame for the decision to delay for six months, with Brits feeling they hadn't been properly informed about what was going to happen and how it would affect them. It emerged this week that any NHS England patients who had opted out of getting junk mail through their letterboxes would also have missed out on getting a leaflet explaining the plan.
NHS England responded to a Freedom of Information request from privacy campaigner Phil Booth, saying:
NHS England did not seek for the leaflet to be classified as being ‘exceptional circumstances’ as we understood that the leaflet would not qualify. This means that the leaflet has not been delivered to households that have registered with the Royal Mail’s ‘door to door opt-out’. The leaflet has been delivered to households where an individual has registered with the Mail Preference Service.
Meanwhile, Kelsey told Parliament:
I'm not sure we have made the case for the benefits of this. This is not a PR exercise, nor is it a stunt ... it is about the future of the NHS.
He also tried to assuage some of the MPs' concerns about how NHS England was planning to use the database:
When you exercise the first opt‑out, no clinical data flows from your practice. That message has got lost, so we need to re‑embark on making that clear to people and also making it much easier for them to make that opt‑out. Unfortunately, in some cases GPs got a bit confused and were saying to people that they had to go physically into the practice and so on and so forth. We need to be a lot clearer about that and use available digital technologies to make it easier for people to opt out.
I can’t speak for the Government, but, as far as NHS England is concerned, we are taking very seriously the fact that even with the existing provision of safeguards, which are the tightest they have ever been, we are still not satisfying people that somehow the state is not going to do dastardly things with their data, and we need to look very carefully at how we can…
He also claimed that if most people decided to opt out of the care.data plan, there wouldn't be an NHS for very long:
Do you think the NHS can fly blind in delivery of out‑of‑hospital services? If 90 per cent of the population decide that they would only give the NHS that proportion of their data, we won’t have a health service for very much longer. We won’t be able to run services effectively.
To which MP Valerie Vaz replied:
That is scaremongering.
And Kelsey said:
It is just a view I have. I have had it for a long time.
Also in Britain this week, citizens have picked up the gauntlet thrown down by Microsoft in the Open Document Format row. The UK Cabinet Office is considering adopting the ODF as the official standard for government documents and the software giant appealed to its partners in the UK in an open letter to submit comments to the government backing its continued use of MS file formats.
Microsoft UK area veep Michael Van der Bel said in the letter:
Mandating one open standard for discrete document formats over another completely ignores benefits enabled by a choice of modern formats and is therefore likely to increase, not decrease, costs ... risk widespread citizen dissatisfaction (which the government is attempting to avoid) and add (not remove) complexity to the process of dealing with government.
Redmond's argument is that the government should allow Microsoft's own set of XML-based document formats as well. The company might have done well to remember that, in the words of The Rolling Stones, you can't always get what you want. Brits have responded to the call for comments alright, they're just not coming down on the side of Microsoft.
One commentator said:
By using a format like ODF, you gain the benefits of future-proofing the data, supporting open standard for everyone, saving tens or hundreds of millions on needless software licensing, opening the way to improve software removing a single point of failure, [and] reducing reliance on huge companies which abuse their market position.
While another commented:
I agree we should be heard. Let's email in and say how wonderful it is that the UK is embracing openness and freedom by ditching the proprietary and closed OOXML.
And finally, the ghost writer hired to help Julian Assange to write his autobiography in a project that ended up in disaster has broken his silence on his time with the head WikiLeaker. In a lengthy piece for the London Review of Books, Andrew O'Hagan attributed the ultimate failure of the book, which as published as a biography after Assange allegedly refused to come through on his side of the deal, to Assange's own "narcissism".
His vanity and the organisation’s need for money couldn’t resist the project, but he never really considered the outcome, that I’d be there, making marks on a page that would in some way represent this process.
He had signed up for a book he didn’t really want to publish because – as he alleged to me separately – [his lawyer] Mark Stephens had suggested it might help cover costs.
He also gave some other less-than-flattering descriptions of the man himself:
Julian is an actor who believes all the lines in the play are there to feed his lines; that none of the other lives is substantial in itself. People have inferred from this kind of thing that he has Asperger’s syndrome and they could be right. He sees every idea as a mere spark from a fire in his own mind. That way madness lies, of course, and the extent of Julian’s lying convinced me that he is probably a little mad, sad and bad, for all the glory of WikiLeaks as a project.
He is thin-skinned, conspiratorial, untruthful, narcissistic, and he thinks he owns the material he conduits. It may turn out that Julian is not Daniel Ellsberg or John Wilkes, but Charles Foster Kane, abusive and monstrous in his pursuit of the truth that interests him, and a man who, it turns out, was motivated all the while not by high principles but by a deep sentimental wound. ®