The Emperor's new clothes.

08/09/2007 Written by tripwire

Igno­rance, arro­gance and greed, together, shape the world.

As Andersen’s fairy tale clearly states, power, money and the fear of loos­ing them make peo­ple at any level behave in stu­pid, blind, immoral, and dan­ger­ous ways.

Only those who have noth­ing to gain from not telling the truth, from not mis­be­hav­ing, will do it.

In our case, an Aus­tralian 16 yo boy was able to crack the new Government-​made 89 mil­lion dol­lars worth anti-​porn fam­ily fil­ter, in 30 min­utes. His tech­nique ensures the software’s tool­bar icon is not deleted, leav­ing par­ents under the impres­sion the fil­ter is still working.

Then he called the press and showed them how easy it was to crack it. The Emperor is naked, he said.

Of course, as the news spread, Politi­cians declared that “a com­puter with a fil­ter is infi­nitely safer than one with­out”, Secu­rity Experts said that they were look­ing into the vul­ner­a­bil­ity, Psy­chol­o­gists whined that “old-​style parental con­trol is more nec­es­sary than ever” and so on.

Every­one played its role in the com­edy, as required by his or her char­ac­ter, so that the sta­tus quo is pre­served, and those in the right posi­tion, even in pres­ence of such an incred­i­ble fail­ure, can reap advan­tages as usual.

What should be learned from this story, instead?

That hun­dreds of experts, engi­neers, coders, project man­agers, qual­ity con­trollers, beta testers, paid 89 mil­lion US dol­lars, for­mally fol­low­ing all the soft­ware devel­op­ment life­cy­cle stan­dards, cer­tifi­cated from the most promi­nent sources, with mas­ters and degrees and shiny medals on their chests, deliv­ered a crappy, use­less, vul­ner­a­ble product.

And that this hap­pened not by mis­take, but because this is exactly what Our Won­der­ful Sys­tem pro­duces by design, when every­thing works well.

The bug in the sys­tem is the 16yo boy, not the poor design, imple­men­ta­tion and test­ing of the filter.

Nor can be held respon­si­ble those politi­cians that wanted the fil­ter in order to show they were truly and seri­ously involved in fight­ing porn and sav­ing our poor children’s innocence.

Now a lit­tle men­tal exper­i­ment: just imag­ine for a sec­ond that you were part of the design /​cod­ing /​test­ing team in charge to deliver the filter.

What would YOU have done?

Given enough gree­nies, the Emperor’s new clothes look so beau­ti­ful, after all.

Or not?

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