Mar 13

Apple and Consumer Network Warfare

This TechCrunch article headline got most of my Twitter browsing attention this morning:

Apple Patents ‘Friend Or Foe’ Identification System For Social Networking Apps And Services

I’m pretty biased when I think of networks and Friend Or Foe.  In the mid/late nineties when the Internet blew up commercially, I was a Surface Warfare Officer blowing things up with networks.  Well, I wasn’t personally.  But our ship was testing new communication, sensor and weapons controls systems that were at the cutting edge of military networks.  Our ship was blowing up test targets enabled by a new weapon: information.

It seems a natural evolution of networked communication to start with efficient ways to connect — but then then to move to anti-connections.  And it’s not a manner of trimming networks — unfriending.  You actually want to know about your unfriends.  Apple’s patent is playing with that notion:  I want to know the annoying people in my network (who to ignore) — but also who the scary (or interesting?) people are — the stalkers.  Imagine if Facebook did this?  They could define stalking as a Friend who interacts with you X times more than you them.  The possibilities are endless…

In the classic IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) system an aircraft squawks codes.  For commercial airlines there are codes sent in the clear to identify who they are.  By them squawking the military has a verifiable way to confirm their identity.  They say they are something and we could verify that.  But the more useful part of IFF to us was the secure codes sent so we could know a friend — without a second verification technique.  When observing a sector of the air we knew who the Friendlies were immediately.  The hard part about IFF was confirming Unfriendlies and Hostiles…  A bad guy will fake an IFF and/or not use one.  But the absence of the squawk doesn’t make them Hostile — or even Unfriendly.   (I distinguish the two as a Hostile being an Unfriendly who shows aggressive intent).

And this is the most interesting part of the Apple patent — it’s only addressing nodes who “squawk.”  How could you identify a spammer or stalker before they do either?  And if you go down that road… what’s the evolution of spamming and stalking?  Is it geo-location and true stalker identification?  Is it trigger-based alerts if a set of people interact in some way? And if that happens, is there a whole new market of white and black hats for consumer network warfare?  Yes — there is already a market for all of this — it just hasn’t hit mass market with Apple, Google, or Facebook.  When it does what does that world look like?