Category Archives: Technology

Weaponized Children

photo of baby with gun

From today’s London Times:

The man who helped to invent Twitter’s retweet button has compared it to giving a child a loaded gun.

Chris Wetherell, a tech developer who led the team that produced the function in 2009, said he now laments the invention and believes that it has helped to amplify outrage and false news, polarising opinions and creating a gang-like mentality.

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Privatization and Efficiency

photo of USPS train stamps

Many MBAs and entrepreneurs try to convince the public that privatization is always better than the alternative. Not the case. The London Times reports today that an international study ranks Britain’s trains as 13th fastest in the world, whereas they were 2nd back in the 1970s before privatization in the 1990s.

Lady Thatcher saw privatization as “fundamental to improving Britain’s economic performance.” She was wrong.

Ambient Privacy?

photo of surprised child

This new Orwellian phrase is being used without irony by tech writers. Privacy, by itself, isn’t coherent to those who want to embrace “ambient privacy.” Matthew Green recommends we all read this. Its author compares the privacy problem to those facing environmentalists decades ago. One upshot of the analogy is a confirmation that individual action to promote and to protect privacy is futile.

None of these harms could have been fixed by telling people to vote with their wallet, or carefully review the environmental policies of every company they gave their business to, or to stop using the technologies in question. It took coordinated, and sometimes highly technical, regulation across jurisdictional boundaries to fix them.

What to Expect on the Interwebs

According to Mary Meeker:

The internet will become more of a cesspool.

Quotation of the Day

From Ted Chiang’s story “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling”:

New technology doesn’t always bring out the best in people.

photo of handshake

You Can’t Fix Privacy

In the same way that fixing the oceans is not possible via individual consumer choices, e.g., choosing the “sustainable” fish at the supermarket, the problems of privacy are as large as capitalism, meaning a solution would require forces far beyond an individual’s choices. Joanna Stern gives some of the details surrounding the difficulties a person will encounter while trying to achieve technological privacy. Again, it’s about money and how your data can be converted into profit.

Screenshot of Wall Street Journal Video about Privacy

And Then There’s Posthumous Privacy

photo of James Ensor's "Skeletons Warming Themselves"You could make these things up, but who would believe it? Elaine Kasket (was she destined to deal with the dead?) discusses the internet traffic of the dead in the latest Times Literary Supplement:

Social media companies are profit-making machines that connect living individuals, sell them things, and monetize their data. They are not charities, public health organizations, non-profit cemeteries or professional grief counsellors. In life we deliver an enormous amount of personal data into their hands, not realizing that at the point of original sign-up we are also appointing them to manage our data after we die as they see fit, a role for which they would seem to lack appropriate qualifications. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, aghast at what has been wrought with his creation, pleads that we urgently need to decentralize the World Wide Web and regain control of our personal information. The fact that big tech’s ownership of this information – which might include some of our most precious memories – continues unabated after we’re dead seems as powerful a reason as any to agree with him.

Recently Facebook has leavened its paternalism with autonomy, by granting heightened powers to “legacy contacts”. This unshoulders much of their own burden to deal with special requests, which is probably a relief because they have a lot of dead people and untold numbers of mourners to consider. If Facebook’s fortunes persist, they may find themselves hosting nearly 5 billion dead profiles by the end of the century.