A version of this post was orignally published on AVNation.tv

Once again, the Federal Communications Commission is changing the way that Internet traffic will be handled within the United States. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. on April 26, 2017, gave a speech entitled, “The Future of Internet Freedom.” During this speech (transcripts) Chairman Paj put forth the idea that Internet Broadband communication should not be covered under Title II. This statement means that the broadband or Internet Service Providers can treat different data, differently.

Currently, under Title II many of the services we use as part of the AV Industry are covered and protected as it prevents service providers from throttling the speed of connections for most traffic. Virtual Private Networks (VPN) and other services are not part of this protection. What this means is that your local Internet provider must deliver all the network traffic with limited traffic shaping or control, it is called the common carrier principle, and it is what applies to the phone system. That principle is what allows one to dial from an AT&T connection to a Sprint connection.
Through the suggested repeal of Title II for Internet traffic, that is no longer the case. The service provider can change the rates of data and which data gets through based on almost any criteria they chose.
Now comes the question that everyone is thinking, “Sure Bradford, you and Josh talk quite often about Net Neutrality and Privacy quite a bit. How does this impact me? Why do I care?”

 am glad you asked. Allow me to provide a simple real world example. Comcast offers packages of bundling certain applications and services with their high-speed Internet connectivity. For example, if you look at the Comcast Business Internet pages you will see packages for some services that they offer. I am going to use the backup services in this model as it is something I have done already for myself. On the product page, they talk about “Cloud Based Solutions℠ – Online Backup and Storage.” The services that they offer packages with for Online Backup are Carbonite and Mozy; I can not find Comcast’s storage solutions. There is a difference between backup and storage. Backup indicates that the data on a device will be regularly copied to a separate location. If the original is deleted, it will also be removed from the archive or backup after a period of time. Online storage means the storing of data whether deleted from the original or not. A user may remove it manually, but it will not be purged automatically if the original is removed.

For that reason, as well as others such as data durability, I decided not to use either of these services; I use JungleDisk. I have a single account and application that supports both data backup and data storage. I place files that I need easy access to on the JungleDisk Storage; I configured JungleDisk Backup software to backup my computer once a day.

Here is where Net Neutrality comes into play. Under the Title II ruling that Internet connectivity is a utility, most Internet traffic is processed equally. However with the repeal of the Title II that would change. It would mean that Comcast would have the ability to throttle or slow my communication with JungleDisk, reducing my success with the service. At the same time, they could prioritize traffic to their partners at Mozy and Carbonite. I am not indicating that they have or that they would, I am saying that they can. It would basically force me to use one of Comcast’s partners’ service instead of the one that I chose if I want an efficient process.

Without the protection of Title II, it would fall to me to prove that my traffic is impacted. One would also have to document that it violates the agreed upon terms of service from the Internet provider. After those two hurdles, it would be up to the Federal Trade Commission to investigate if the issue is an unfair trade practice.

All of these items are retroactive, except for Title II engagement. Under Title II it is proactively  indicated that the favoring of traffic has a much more stringent set of guidelines and is designed to prevent the problem from happening in the first place.

The post originally appeared on AVNation.tv April 27, 2017

At the time I wrong this piece I was employeed by Harman Professional which was a competitor of Bose. Harman has similar policies I disagree with. As a result while I have both brands’ products I do not run their software – September 13, 2020

This time last week (April 18, 2017) a class action lawsuit was being filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division claiming that Bose collected data without telling their users that they were. You can read the complaint (17-cv-2928) on the Sribd service. My previous writings have shown my preference for privacy in the digital age. I do not like that Bose is collecting that much information about its users. It might be legal and an accepted business practice at the moment, I still don’t like it. [Bradford’s note: I do work for a competitor. This discussion is about data tracking not products. I don’t use some of my employer’s software because of the data tracking policies.]

When I started this piece, I indicated that I was going to come out supporting Bose and their situation. However, in doing research for the column, I have changed my mind. Bose was very close to having done the right thing, telling people what they were monitoring. However, they did not quite get it right as they had inconsistent information available. What they are currently collecting through Bose Connect is your listening habits; what are you listening to, how long are you listening for, when are you listening, where are you listening and other things. The crux of the case in my opinion is this statement in the filing: “Bose Connect collects and record the titles of the music and audio files its customers choose to play through their Bose wireless products. They also transmit such data along with other personal identifiers to third-parties—including a data miner—without its customers’ knowledge or consent.” In my view that last sentence is false completely and should be removed from the conversation. Bose does indicate that they use a third-party.

Something to consider as you examine this issue is that this application is just one part of the entire digital media playback system. Using iTunes one can know the last time a media file was accessed and if it was listened to completely, that information is shared with Apple. There is a massive part of me that says, as soon as one became part of the digital media ecosystem one must work to stay private. The amount of data about customers that is available can be mind boggling. All of the information that the plaintiff is worried about is likely available already from other sources. Additional information such as where and when was the content was acquired is easy to gather if one uses the typical online services.

After I finished reading the filing,  I started reading was on the Bose website. There is a link to their privacy policy at the bottom of basically every page within their website.  I clicked the link in Bose’s footer and was directed to here; it is confusing as they do not directly indicate or discuss the Bose Connect App. However reading through I found this section that would have caused me pause:

"If you use a Bose SoundTouch system or the SoundTouch software or mobile app, Bose also collects additional information about you, including technical information (such as your IP address, computer attributes and system ID); location information derived from your IP address; and product usage information (such as system presets and recently played content)."

While reading the document, I started getting confused. Is the Bose Connect App the “mobile app” listed in the policy? It is a mobile application, but they don’t call it out explicitly. Other hardware and software is listed by name.  More research was required. I figured the best way to understand the experience and information provided to the user is to install the Bose Connect application and read the documentation.

I went to the Google Play store to look at the Android version. That was interesting as the information provided there was minuscule. There was the Google Permission information that indicated the application is granted access to:

  • bind to an accessibility service
  • view network connections
  • pair with Bluetooth devices
  • access Bluetooth settings
  • full network access

There was also a link to the Privacy Policy, https://downloads.bose.com/ced/bose_connect/privacy_policy.html. I created a PDF of it to read later.
I next went to the iTunes/App Store to do the same thing. I am traveling with an iOS device, so that was a more realistic experience.  On the iTunes product page there is a link to the privacy policy and the license agreement. The privacy policy also directs one to the same location as the Google Play store. iTunes embeds the license agreements within the application window, so I have simply combined captures (click here) so I could read it all.

I was now ready to review all of the documentation. I started with the privacy policy. This section quickly jumped out at me [yes there are errors, I took this section verbatim from the Bose site]:

What Information We [Bose] Collect About You

The app does not collect any information that Bose or our service providers can use to identify you personallyAs discussed below, however, the app does automatically collect certain information from the mobile phone, tablet, or other device that you use to access the app.

Log data. When you use the app, we or our service providers may automatically receive and record certain information from your mobile phone, tablet, or other device. This may include such data as your software and hardware attributes (including device OS version and hardware model information), the date and time you use the app, whether and when you update the app and your Bose products, and certain other tracking information. To do this, we may use web logs or applications that recognize your device and gather information about its online activity.

Analytics and related tracking mechanisms. We may use mechanisms to track and analyze how you use the app. We also may partner with third parties who do so on our behalf (see below in the section entitled “How We Share Information with Third Parties”). These mechanisms can be used, for example, to collect information about your use of the app during your current session and over time, when and why the app crashes on your device, and a variety of information about the mobile phone, tablet, or other device that you use to access the app. Such mechanisms may include software developer kits (“SDKs”), pixels, scripts, or other tracking mechanisms. Some of these mechanisms involve storing small files on your mobile phone, tablet, or other device. Others involve transmission of information to a third-party server through other means.”

Portion of the Bose EULA

That was when my opinion changed from Bose educated the user about data collection to they made a mistake. I believe that Bose clearly documented for the end user that a third-party is being used to analyze the data. The fact they listed incompletely what items they are collecting is where the problem occurs in my mind. In the general privacy policy they spelled out more clearly what they are collecting. The Bose Connect policy differs from the general privacy policy so it would appear that there are different conditions of data collection for each software. Whether the user was informed correctly now comes down to the question, “What conclusion would a reasonable person create from this information?”

That moment was also when Josh Srago and I started to disagree. Initially, we agreed that we thought Bose was in the clear, not necessarily right but had met their obligations to inform. We both still believe tracking the information is bad and should be stopped. We both think that clearly spelled out that they are using a third-party service. The disagreement started when Josh referred to the End User License Agreement (EULA) and pointed out a paragraph that states the user consents to Device Data Usage collection.

Josh indicates that he believes Device Data Usage includes what content or data you are using on your device. I do not think that most people, i.e. not me or Josh, would consider that approach. Most people would process that phrase as if they transferred or use 2GB of data or 3GB of data that month.
Josh and I both agree that tracking is wrong. We both know EULA and privacy policies are purposely written to be as vague as possible. Collecting usage information has value to product development, such as is there enough battery life for the person to use the headphones in a typical day. We also agree it is very rare for a user to read the EULA or Privacy Policy.
What we disagree on is what amount of information was provided to the user. That is something for the courts to decide.

A few notes I want to include that just didn’t flow in writing:

  1. The use of the application is not required as indicated in this video from the Bose site.  Yes, you get more functions, the payment is Bose gets more data about you. Think of it as a frequent shopper card or a Starbucks registered card.
  2. If you want to review the documents of the case yourself and you don’t like the privacy policy used by Scribd, you may also view the filing at https://ecf.ilnd.uscourts.gov/doc1/067119015846p.

Thank you for reading.

This article was originally published on AVNation.tx on April 20, 2017.

I have read Brock McGinnis’s column in the April 201 edition of Commercial Integrator. If you haven’t read it yet, you can read it here. There are also some reactions both on Commercial Integrator and here on AVNation. The one that surprised me was Commercial Integrator indicating that people are canceling their subscription.

Continue reading “What is old is new again”

This article owas originally posted on AVNation.tv on April 6, 2017.

Let me start with the basics, defining that three-letter acronym, Virtual Private Network. I have a rule that one cannot use a TLA (Three Letter Acronym) unless they know what it is short for. VPN allows a more secure connection between two computers via a public network. Typically, this connection is made via encrypted packets using an agreed upon scheme. The exact method is not relevant for the most part, what is important is that it is one that is trusted.

Continue reading “VPN is not just for work”

Previously I wrote about the protection I am adding to my mail by using PGP or GPG. You can find the article by clicking here. My involvement with the EFF and AVNation have also included comments about privacy: AVNation Privacy & EFF Mail Links.

Something I realized while thinking about this subject is that if one sends very few encrypted e-mails, the ones that are encrypted will stand out in the mail being sent. Now you might wonder what I am doing that requires encrypting. The previous blog post explains why I am encrypting my mail.

I have an additional reason now, confuse the government and anyone else monitoring traffic. This idea is discussed in Cory Doctorow’s book Little Brother http://craphound.com/littlebrother.The section below is used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 license. This quote below came from line 1826 in the HTML version available on Mr. Doctorow’s website.

“So how come you weren’t on Xnet last night?”
I was grateful for the distraction. I explained it all to him, the Bayesian stuff and my fear that we couldn’t go on using Xnet the way we had been without getting nabbed. He listened thoughtfully.
“I see what you’re saying. The problem is that if there’s too much crypto in someone’s Internet connection, they’ll stand out as unusual. But if you don’t encrypt, you’ll make it easy for the bad guys to wiretap you.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’ve been trying to figure it out all day. Maybe we could slow the connection down, spread it out over more peoples’ accounts –“
“Won’t work,” he said. “To get it slow enough to vanish into the noise, you’d have to basically shut down the network, which isn’t an option.”
“You’re right,” I said. “But what else can we do?”
“What if we changed the definition of normal?”
And that was why Jolu got hired to work at Pigspleen when he was 12. Give him a problem with two bad solutions and he’d figure out a third totally different solution based on throwing away all your assumptions. I nodded vigorously. “Go on, tell me.”
“What if the average San Francisco Internet user had a lot more crypto in his average day on the Internet? If we could change the split so it’s more like fifty-fifty cleartext to ciphertext, then the users that supply the Xnet would just look like normal.”
“But how do we do that? People just don’t care enough about their privacy to surf the net through an encrypted link. They don’t see why it matters if eavesdroppers know what they’re googling for.”
“Yeah, but web-pages are small amounts of traffic. If we got people to routinely download a few giant encrypted files every day, that would create as much ciphertext as thousands of web-pages.”

This action is a relatively small action and is rather simple to do. However, the fact that it will change the traffic view could be helpful for others. It will prevent other PGP/GPG encrypted traffic from being such an outlier as to be noticed. As EFF posted on Data Privacy Day, privacy is a team sport. There are additional directions for how to do this task at https://ssd.eff.org/, hover over the tutorials section. If you want to test if it worked, My public key identifier is C93A52C6. You can download my public key from https://www.bradfordbenn.com/BradfordBenn-C93A52C6.asc

I also will freely admit, I am not sure if it will make a difference, but it could not hurt.

Bradford Benn
January 31, 2017

Some of you may have noticed the new image I have added to the left-hand column of my website as well as below. It reads “I do solemnly swear to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States to ensure that the country protects the right of all. – Signed Bradford Benn” (You can create your own image at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Take the #PeoplesOath webpage.

I do solemnly swear to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States to ensure that the country protects the right of all. - Signed Bradford Benn

Seems an odd thing to put on a website at times. It is important to indicate that I believe in the importance of the US Constitution. I believe it is important that all people have the same rights. Not just donors or members of the political elite or celebrities, everyone. I can go into all the reasons that I feel that this stance is necessary. It doesn’t matter why I feel this way, I do believe that it is important to protect everyone. As news is coming in about various changes in openness in information as well as accuracy, I think it is important to do something about it. The approach of removing data is preventing people from having the right to make up their own mind. If one’s personal opinion does not agree with the datum currently available, it does not mean censoring or removing the data.

While we may not all agree on everything, I want to believe that the majority of us will believe in treating people equally. That information is available to everyone especially if it uses public funding. That science is factual. That privacy is a right. The preamble to the US Constitution is an important guidepost often overlooked.

“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

People appointed to national leadership positions must be knowledgeable about their role. Disagreeing with science while allowed, does not allow for the deletion or removal of information that disproves your stance; especially if you are a public servant. The story Scientists Racing to Archive Climate Data Before Denier-in-Chief Trump Takes Office provides an example.

Illegal surveillance is illegal.

I can go on, but the important thing is to know that the rights of all need protection. As the administration of the 45th President of the United States trundles forward I will probably be posting more of my views; I think that this post is a good start. All of us need to do what we think is right and important.

Bradford Benn
January 24, 2017

During my “day job”, I work on many projects that are subject to Nondisclosure Agreements (NDA). These projects range from new product development to new projects that have not been announced to details of clients and project contents. There are various levels of diligence called out in each agreement. I am not giving any legal advice on enforcement and application of NDA’s I am sharing some of the principles and practices that are common and I have found helpful. If in doubt, check with your legal advisor or company counsel.

“The first rule of Nondisclosure Agreements is do not talk about Nondisclosure Agreements.”

Bradford Benn with a hat tip to Chuck Palahniuk

The level of “paranoia” for lack of a better word you want to follow is up to you. I follow the most stringent NDA policies for all of my NDA projects. The reason is that remembering the nuances of each one is difficult. Some people find it humorous my personal level of privacy and security awareness, however these practices apply and help me be aware of things not typically considered. Some of the things I worry about may not be practical for your scenarios but it is still good to think about for things beyond projects. Confidentiality of things such as payroll, checking account balances, insurance information… etc. are still a part of daily life.
The most effective practice I use is both simple and often overlooked. Chuck Palahniuk said it most succinctly, “The first rule of Fight Club is do not talk about Fight Club.” Seems rather simple, but it is often forgotten. The version that applies in this situation, “The first rule of Nondisclosure Agreements is do not talk about Nondisclosure Agreements.” I work within a large company [Harman] there are multiple teams and departments, about 28,000 employees total. Not everyone needs to know everything, engineering does not need to know that I am working with Bob’s Country Bunker on their expansion. If an engineer comes to me as they go to the Bunker every weekend and asks about the expansion, my answer is simple. “Sorry, I don’t know anything about it.” Yes, a lie or a fib. It also means that you are not as likely to be asked as many questions by friends looking for information. It also means not talking about the project in public, especially at industry conventions. However what I get out of this approach is I do not have to worry about someone else leaking the information.

People think it is odd that I have specific USB flashdrives or thumbdrives for different purposes and projects. Using a thumbdrive to share data can easily lots of data  being shared unexpectedly. I hand person A a thumbdrive with person B’s data on it (that is covered by a non-disclosure agreement). Person A would then know about the project and if unscrupulous could have person B’s data. People don’t always think about it, but by sharing a USB drive one is basically sharing part of their computer’s hard drive. There are of course the other reasons such as not wanting to get a virus. My solution is that I format the thumbdrive when appropriate. Typically it is after a customer visit or a system commissioning. I will also backup and then erase the contents of the drive often during the process. None of us have ever lost a thumbdrive with key information on it.

This same approach holds for network storage and sharing solutions. Most people will think about Dropbox, SpiderOak, Google Drive, Box … etc. but these are not the only sharing services to be aware of. A standard computer attached to a network has the same issues at times. A company typically has a network server for storing and sharing project data, very often in addition to that the sharing feature on a laptop will be enabled as well. The shared drive or directory on a computer is most likely the largest liability of these items. If you want to know why, use the network in a hotel, coffeehouse, or even in an airplane. Depending on the security settings of the network one might be able to see other computers on the same network. Very often to make the computer user’s experience simpler shared directories or folders will advertise itself. Now everyone connected to the network is aware that there is a share on the network.

These services are very powerful and convenient. However misconfiguration can be very bad. The sharing features typically get set and forgotten, so data is just sitting around all over the place. Did you remember to change who has access to what within Dropbox? Is your Shared directory still active for everyone to see and edit documents. Did you turn off the sharing for the person that left the company? Is your network storage at home available via the Internet, does it have a strong password and current firmware? Are you using Two Factor Authentication (2FA), if not – why not?

There is the specter of e-mail and how easy it is to not redact or remove information before forwarding it. This issue becomes more and more important as the projects are more and more complex. I often will read an e-mail and store it, some contracts require that. If I need to gather more information from another party I do not simply forward the e-mail, I rewrite it to be as generic as possible. Part of this process is to make sure I understand the question I am asking. Part of it is just preventing information from being shared. Yes, we might work for the same company but I am the one who was given the information, often the NDA indicates that I can only share information when necessary.

I can continue with such things as lock your computer when you are not using it. Don’t carry information you don’t need to on your laptop; especially when you travel. That seems easy to say I know, and it is more realistic than ever to do. I can connect to a server that is secure via VPN connection and retrieve the documents I need when I need them. (This approach can also be helpful and preventative if a laptop is lost or a hard drive fails.)

Encrypt important data. Yes, the encryption word. It is important. It is not new. In the late 1990’s I was working on a theme park project just as e-mail was becoming common. To transmit documents electronically we were required to send them encrypted using Pretty Good Privacy or PGP encryption. I am not going into all the details, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has written a good article providing an overview. This process meant that I would compress a file, then encode it via PGP, then attach it to a message and send it. This process still exists and is still very viable. I encrypt data on my hard drive and on the cloud using PGP encryption, sometimes called GPG on Mac and Linux. Beyond just the encryption the fact that the email has a much higher probability of not being spoofed is reason enough to use it for me. If you want to test it out, my key can be found at my blog post.

Now that everyone is concerned, how to make things better so that you are not the leak? The first item is the Fight Club rule. The second task is I encrypt my connections and data whenever possible (check with your company’s IT department as the last thing that anyone wants is to have data be inaccessible). Find secure solutions for hosting data on the cloud. There are many solutions, I am not going to endorse one or claim one is better than the other, the key item I look for is 2FA. This process means that the person trying to gain access to an account will not only need the password, but a second piece of information to gain entry. Typically this is a numerical value, it can either be generated on a device such as a handheld digital device or sent via e-mail or text. There is more information about 2FA available from EFF as well. I have enabled it on the AVNation website administration tools and everywhere else I can, including Google and Apple cloud solutions. I think that this would go without saying, but just in case; do not click the remember me or have the browser remember your password. That basically means if someone has your computer they have access to all the site.

I am sure by this point I sound paranoid, however I will say that adhering to Non-Disclosure Agreements is valuable for business. No one wants to know as the person who leaked information. It is easier to make sure no one leaks the information by not letting them know about the project. Keeping projects secret and being digitally accessible is very possible. It requires attention to detail and understanding the processes. Do not let it scare you.

If you know me, you have probably seen news that my employer is being purchased by Samsung. Allow me to make a few comments about this situation before I go quiet about the issue. First and foremost, the opinions expressed in this blog and domain are entirely mine. They do not in any way, shape, or form represent the views of my employer, or anyone else.

So in no particular order:

  • I do not have additional information beyond what the press releases indicate. My role in the company does not involve me in any of these processes.
  • If I am asked a question I have not gotten an answer from my employer about that I can publicly share, I will not answer it.
  • I have recused myself from AVNation’s coverage of the story.
  • Until the acquisition is approved by regulators there will be no change in processes or business.
  • I am aware of the fact that most analysts are indicating that Samsung has purchased an automotive supplier. Based on the Form 10-Q filing for the quarterly period ended September 30, 2016, the largest portion of income does come from the automotive division.
  • The feeling of uncertainty is high for me personally. I do not speak for others.

So there is my statement before I resume not commenting.


With apologies to Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Let me put in the disclaimer first, this blog post as well as everything on this site are my opinions and do not reflect the opinions of my employer or anyone else.

One of the interesting things that has been occurring recently has been people around me talking about CTS certifications from InfoComm. It has ranged from ribbing from people who have certifications to people questioning my knowledge base in Audio & Video. I appeared on a Tech Chaos Podcast to discuss this topic during March 2016. During the InfoComm trade-show in June of 2016, I had heard enough. The breaking point was one of my colleagues when I did not know something off the top of my head, said well if you had a CTS maybe you would know.

With me being the sarcastic and acerbic person I am, responded by saying there is only so much RAM to hold information and that question at hand can be looked up as I pulled out my handheld device. The question was how does one calculate the viewing distance from a display. I then asked a question that is just as relevant in today’s AV world, were two IP addresses on the same subnet mask? Yes, I was being petulant, as I said I am sarcastic and acerbic. Basically someone questioning my knowledge base because they had a CTS certification and I didn’t rubbed me the wrong way. As the ribbing continued, I brought out the fact that I teach classes that qualify for Renewal Units (RU). (To maintain a certification, one must acquire 30 Renewal Units every three years.) The volley want back and forth, until I finally pulled out the sledgehammer and asked how many projects that they had designed, fabricated, installed, configured, and commissioned that were the lead story on the national news. It got very quiet.

I was able to formalize my thought after that discussion, many certifications simply indicate that someone can take a standardized test effectively or has sat through a class with not testing. I will give credit to InfoComm for pointing out that certification doesn’t guarantee competency. From the webpage Certified Professionals Directory:

Certification is not a guarantee for performance by certified individuals. Certified Technology Specialist™ (CTS®) holders at all levels of certification have demonstrated audiovisual knowledge and/or skills. Certified individuals adhere to the CTS Code of Ethics and Conduct and maintain their status through continued education. Certification demonstrates commitment to professional growth in the audiovisual industry and is strongly supported by InfoComm.

Chuck Espinoza and I had a discussion about the certification and the process during InfoComm 2016. He made some interesting points, so I decided I was going to sit for the certification.  It would not be equitable for me to have an opinion without having a better sense of the process. Perhaps the other way to look at it, if you want to defeat your enemy learn to sing their songs.

I showed up at the appointed time and was shown to my test computer. The multiple choice test is administered via computer interface at an independent testing center. That makes good sense allowing the test to be taken easily by many people throughout the world. Any test is a combination of testing an applicant’s knowledge as well as their acumen at test taking. During my career I have taught classes for certifications and have also been the creator of the content and testing process. One of the things that I always stress to my students is select the most correct answer if they are not sure. I will follow the non-disclosure agreement I accepted as part of the testing process (yes, I am one of the people that reads the agreements before clicking accept) and be somewhat vague in my discussions.

As one can probably ascertain, I passed the test on the first attempt. However I learned quite a few things that I did not know. I did not know the standard symbols used in a Gannt Chart, despite having read them for over 20 years. I was not sure of the proper time to deliver a bid document package, but most of the projects I have been involved with had documented bid dates and processes. I could deduce what connector was a video connector, despite the fact I would not be able to identify it in the field. I also realized that the test is not solely about certification in technology  but includes other items that are deemed good practices by the committee. To me that is where the certification started to diverge and I saw how this testing process might not be the best evaluative tool. I also realized at that point having the CTS certification be a prerequisite to attaining a CTS-I (Installation) or CTS-D (Design) is not appropriate.

A great installer might know nothing about the sales process, she knows that when there is a question about new additions or pricing to bring in the sales person or project manager. She could be capable of determining how much to derated an wire rope based on the angle of pull in her head. She might pass the CTS-I test with flying colors on the first try, but stumble during the CTS certification process. A Designer might not know how to read a Gantt Chart, but if the project manager keeps the team informed of the deadlines, it is not an issue. The Designer might not be aware of the procedure for service calls, but that is not his skill set. As a specialist, one should not have to take the generalist test first.

My opinion though is a little mixed now about the CTS process itself. I took the test without studying. I did not even open a book, I simply took a practice exam, paid my money, and took the test. I passed. That is reassuring as I have had a career in the AV industry for over 20 years. I was also surprised about the content itself and how much in my opinion it has to do with the full industry. The fact that the testing agency I took the test at said that they have about a 66% failure rate, also told me that I need to reevaluate the measure of the test. I am not hiding the fact that I hold a CTS certification.

I do however standby the point as InfoComm has pointed out, just because one passed the certification test it does not mean that they are qualified. I also know that there are challenges in the continuing education or renewal units (RU) process. Many of the RU classes are simply attend and get the units, it does not prove that anything is being retained. However that is for another blog post.

Here is my certificate, since I don’t have a digital badge yet. Listen to AVWeek, Episode 258: Throwin’ Shade for clarification about that reference.

Bradford Benn's CTS Certification from InfoComm

Some of you may already be aware that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is one of the groups I support. Privacy, security, and freedom for the individual is one of my touchstones. I have written about these topics previously, both here and at AVNation.tv. (Yes, there will be overlap between this post and the one over there. My opinion hasn’t changed.)

There are proposed rule changes within the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure that the EFF has made me aware of. I do not claim to be an expert on all the legalities and intricacies, however from the comments that the EFF have provided I immediately felt it was important to comment on. The proposed amendment to procedural Rule 41 would allow a judge to issue a warrant allowing law enforcement to remotely enter (hack) a computer when “the district where the media or information is located has been concealed through technological means,” or when the media are on protected computers that have been “damaged without authorization and are located in five or more districts.”

The first portion of this means that if one uses a means to hide their location, for any reason, a search warrant would be allowed. At AVNation I spoke about how this applies to business environments where Virtual Private Networks (VPN) are used to provide a secure connection between remote users and the office. A byproduct of that process is that one’s location is incorrect quite often, sometimes on purpose. When I travel to China I use VPN for personal use. I purposely set my VPN to connect me to a point of presence located in the US. This decision allows me to access my e-mail as well as other sites, such as news sites like New York Times or Los Angeles Times. I can continue on about the Great Firewall of China, but these couple of links should help provide background https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Firewall or https://www.eff.org/search/site/china%20firewall.)

I also use a VPN connection, as well as other tools, when I am using a public hotspot. In fact I am using one right now as I sit in Starbucks using their WiFi. This approach prevents eavesdroppers to my communication. I will say that Google and Starbucks do a good job keeping things safe, however not everyplace is as secure. I want to keep my data encrypted as long as I can. Yes, there is Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) that is secure and I use it as much as possible, but not every site supports it or for all traffic.

I can continue on as to why I use VPN, the important thing to take away is that there are legitimate legal reasons to use VPN. The fact that I use it should not change the way my data/privacy is viewed by the courts. To overly simplify it would be like saying, you locked the door to your car so you have given us a reason to issue a search warrant.

The second portion of the new procedure is also damaging in that it allows for innocent computers to be searched if they have been remotely hacked. If a computer is an unwitting member of a botnet that would meet a qualification for a search warrant. The infected or innocent computer could be searched even if the owner is not involved or suspected of wrong doing. Basically if someone has already broken into your computer, the government can break into it again as your computer might be doing bad things.

To me there is a third reason that this issue is important – this process is being done under the guise of procedural rules. There is no debate, no review by elected officials, just a procedural change to allow more access. Yes, Congress has to vote to approve the rules, but there was very little notice of the process. Luckily groups such as EFF and others are around to alert people to the changes. There is the comment of, “Well if you aren’t doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about.” I agree and understand that sentiment, but I also believe that once the first domino has fallen the erosion of privacy will continue. To quote James Madison, “There are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.” This procedural step is a gradual and silent move to most people.

Also if there is nothing to worry about, please send me your laptop or phone without clearing the history first. I will be more than happy to inspect it for you.

Much of this information was gathered from the webpage https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2016/06/help-us-stop-updates-rule-41.
The lock pick image is public domain from Wikimedia. More information about it at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALockpicking_Pickset.jpg.