Week 50, 2018 - Australian Anti-Encryption Law; Chromium in Edge

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I’m still writing more about re:Invent, but not everything is about AWS so here are a couple of those. Australia implements a stupid law regarding encryption and Microsoft announces they’ll switch to using Chromium for their Edge browser.

Australian Anti-Encryption Law

Not that long after they banned Huawei from being involved in building their upcoming 5G network, the Australian government decided to shoot themselves in the foot by enacting an anti-encryption law. If you’re not in Australia, and maybe don’t follow this kind of news closely, it might shock you that something this stupid can happen in an otherwise reasonably sane country1.

First though, let’s discuss what this law actually is: It allows the Australian government to force companies operating in Australia to hack, implant malware, undermine encryption, or build a backdoor into their product or website. Really? What could possibly go wrong with something as nice as that? Surely there will be proper checks and balances on such a system, right? Well, obviously they promise that it will only be used against severe criminals. But there doesn’t seem to be a lot of protection against mission creep or misuse2.

This law has been threatened for a while, famously with the previous3 prime minister stating that the laws of Australia beat the laws of maths. A sure sign of the intelligence behind laws like this4.

But instead of moaning about it, let’s have a quick look at possible repercussions from this. Imagine a fictional trillion dollar company that sells devices and has declined exactly this kind of thing in the past. Now this company is faced with a choice: don’t sell anything in Australia, losing a market of 24 million, or implement something that will cost them their reputation and probably a lot more customers. I’m sure that’ll be a hard choice.

Alternatively, imagine you’re an international software company with a team in Australia. Suddenly you have a team that is a security risk as they might be forced to compromise your software. Obviously you’ll be so invested in this Australian team that you’ll keep them around despite a major downside like that, right? Right? And that’s not even considering how easy it’ll be to comply with both this law and GDPR which is aimed5 at preventing this sort of thing.

Apologies for the rant here. This kind of stupidity just annoys me and then I get fired up when typing it up.

Chromium in Edge

Something more interesting to think about is Microsoft’s move to change their rendering engine to Chromium. To be honest, I’m in two minds about this. On the one hand there is the part of me6 that rejoices that Microsoft “lost” this battle and will now have to use a different engine. On the other hand, regardless of how small the Edge user base was, it was still an alternative to the overwhelming usage of Chrome. To be clear, this is the opinion that Mozilla holds and they want you to believe this is a big danger.

Frankly, I think it’ll be fine, and likely give a better, more secure, browser to Windows users. Yes, it means even more people will be using Chromium, that’s true. But that’s also still an open source project so it will also mean more developers on a shared codebase to improve the experience for everyone. And if worst comes to worst, it’ll be reasonably easy for Microsoft7 to fork it and have their own engine.

  1. Ok, they’ve made a fair number of stupid decisions over the years, work with me here. ↩︎

  2. To be fair, I haven’t read the whole thing myself. But I don’t have to be fair on this site and I think this whole thing is stupid. ↩︎

  3. Presumably, I might have missed a change of prime minister during a holiday as they happen quite frequently. ↩︎

  4. Also a reason why I don’t like that I can’t vote here, but not enough to give up my Dutch citizenship to do so. ↩︎

  5. Yes, that one has its own flaws that can be misused. ↩︎

  6. Grown from all the pent up frustration of trying to load IE6 only sites in a decent browser back when that was king. ↩︎

  7. Or anyone else. ↩︎

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