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Regulated infrastructure.

Internet communications platforms — such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube — are crucial in today’s society. They’re how we communicate with one another. They’re how our elected leaders communicate with us. They are essential infrastructure. Yet they are run by for-profit companies with little government oversight. This is simply no longer sustainable. Twitter and companies like it are essential to our national dialogue, to our economy, and to our democracy. We need to start treating them that way, and that means both requiring them to do a better job on security and breaking them up. […]

There are many security technologies companies like Twitter can implement to better protect themselves and their users; that’s not the issue. The problem is economic, and fixing it requires doing two things. One is regulating these companies, and requiring them to spend more money on security. The second is reducing their monopoly power.

The security regulations for banks are complex and detailed. If a low-level banking employee were caught messing around with people’s accounts, or if she mistakenly gave her log-in credentials to someone else, the bank would be severely fined. Depending on the details of the incident, senior banking executives could be held personally liable. The threat of these actions helps keep our money safe. Yes, it costs banks money; sometimes it severely cuts into their profits. But the banks have no choice.

The opposite is true for these tech giants. They get to decide what level of security you have on your accounts, and you have no say in the matter. If you are offered security and privacy options, it’s because they decided you can have them. There is no regulation. There is no accountability. There isn’t even any transparency. Do you know how secure your data is on Facebook, or in Apple’s iCloud, or anywhere? You don’t. No one except those companies do. Yet they’re crucial to the country’s national security. And they’re the rare consumer product or service allowed to operate without significant government oversight.

Bruce Schneier on regulation.

It’s almost like two generations of pro-corporatist propaganda have been intentionally designed to get people to “forget” all the industries governments have and do successfully regulate on behalf of their citizens…

2020-10-20T07:24:43+11:0024th October, 2020|Tags: tech|

The disappointing future.

I’m obviously very fond of science fiction and fantasy, even if these fake nerd boys keep trying to ruin it for everyone. These are, again, complex works open to varying interpretations, including disturbing and reactionary ones. But at the end of the day, stories are about things, not merely receptacles for things. Looking at [Peter] Thiel’s best beloved Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, we see a shared plot element in both narratives. The heroes are trying to destroy the most dangerous object in their respective universes: the Ring of Power and the Death Star. What these objects represent metaphorically is complicated (as [Ursula] Le Guin says, if it could be summed up easily there would be no need for the stories.) But, in oversimplified form, the Ring stands in for the seduction of absolute power and authoritarian control; the Death Star is a similar ultimate weapon of empire. You can, of course, buy a replica One Ring off the internet, or a Lego Death Star (the first Death Star or the second, and even Starkiller Base from the rehashed new films) but there is no getting around the fact that within these narratives, these powerful objects end, and they are supposed to end, and their ending causes or dovetails with the destruction of a cruel authoritarian regime. This is not a minor plot point like Han Solo’s debt to Jabba. It’s not the cool ornamentation of less important objects like shiny blue swords. This is the entire thrust of these stories. But the fake nerd boys of Silicon Valley don’t want the objects to end. They want it all to continue forever. And so the future will always be, for them, terribly disappointing.

Lyta Gold on fake nerd boys.

2020-10-16T09:06:33+11:0018th October, 2020|Tags: culture, pop culture, tech|

You are what you make.

It’s not just how people use what you make. It’s how you make what you make.

Any time you design and build something, you do so through the lens of your values and beliefs. Implicit bias is present in everything we make.

The decision to force people to use their real names, or to not let people block users (I’m looking at you, Slack), expose how likely a designer or decision maker is to have experienced harassment themselves. This is often closely correlated to gender and ethnicity. […]

The tech recommendations someone makes are also driven by their own preferences, biases, and lived experiences. Do they recommend something expensive and powerful? Something cheap and accessible? Do they provide a mix of options or just offer one?

These decisions all reveal the politics, to an extent, of the author.

Chris Ferdinandi knows all tech is political.

2020-09-03T08:11:29+10:0021st September, 2020|Tags: politics, tech|

🍕

If someone could pay Doordash $16 a pizza, and Doordash would pay his restaurant $24 a pizza, then he should clearly just order pizzas himself via Doordash, all day long. You’d net a clean $8 profit per pizza [insert nerdy economics joke about there is such a thing as a free lunch].

He thought this was a stupid idea. “A business as successful a Doordash and worth billions of dollars would clearly not just give away money like this.” But I pushed back that, given their recent obscene fundraise, they would weirdly enough be happy to lose that money. Some regional director would be able to show top-line revenue growth while some accounting line-item, somewhere, would not match up, but the company was already losing hundreds of millions of dollars. I imagined their systems might even be built to discourage catching these mistakes because it would detract, or at a minimum distract, from top-line revenue.

So we put in the first order for 10 pizzas.

He called in and placed an order for 10 pizzas to a friend’s house and charged $160 to his personal credit card. A Doordash call center then called into his restaurant and put in the order for those 10 pizzas. A Doordash driver showed up with a credit card and paid $240 for the pizzas.

It worked.

Ranjan Roy on pizzarbitrage.

On the one hand this is lol funny story but, more importantly, it’s demonstrating exactly how VC over-funding for all these unprofitable Uber-for-X serives distort markets and fucks over small business owners.

2020-08-24T07:28:49+10:008th September, 2020|Tags: tech|

The old communalists.

A brief primer on the counterculture: there were actually two countercultures. One, the New Left, did politics to change politics. It was very much focused on institutions, and not really afraid of hierarchy.

The other—and this is where the tech world gets its mojo—is what I’ve called the New Communalists. Between 1966 and 1973, we had the largest wave of commune building in American history. These people were involved in turning away from politics, away from bureaucracy, and toward a world in which they could change their consciousness. They believed small-scale technologies would help them do that. They wanted to change the world by creating new tools for consciousness transformation.

This is the tradition that drives claims by companies like Google and Facebook that they are making the world a better place by connecting people. It’s a kind of connectionist politics. Like the New Communalists, they are imagining a world that’s completely leveled, in which hierarchy has been dissolved. They’re imagining a world that’s fundamentally without politics.

It’s worth pointing out that this tradition, at least in the communes, has a terrible legacy. The communes were, ironically, extraordinarily conservative.

When you take away bureaucracy and hierarchy and politics, you take away the ability to negotiate the distribution of resources on explicit terms. And you replace it with charisma, with cool, with shared but unspoken perceptions of power. You replace it with the cultural forces that guide our behavior in the absence of rules.

So suddenly you get these charismatic men running communes—and women in the back having babies and putting bleach in the water to keep people from getting sick. Many of the communes of the 1960s were among the most racially segregated, heteronormative, and authoritarian spaces I’ve ever looked at.

Fred Turner on counterculture.

… sound familiar?

2020-08-23T21:03:18+10:006th September, 2020|Tags: culture, tech|

The wrong problem.

Some of you might remember how, back when we used email accounts that were from our ISPs, or from our work, we used to get a lot of junk mail and spam. The majority used their own desktop clients, and in order to avoid the junk mail, we had to add plugins and additional software to our desktop clients. We had to keep upgrading our junk filters to fight the madness. The email providers and ISPs turned managing junk mail into our problem.

Eventually, Google came along with Gmail and started killing spam at the cloud level. Over a period of time, a whole network layer intelligence developed around spam and junk mail. It allowed the big email providers to come together and collectively hunt down the sources — and while not entirely successful, it was a good fight that has given us a semblance of control over our email inboxes. Almost! […]

What Twitter and Facebook are trying to do [with bot accounts and misinformation] reminds me of those early days of email. It’s the same old mistake: Adding labels is not the answer.

Om Malik on the fake internet.

Malik, of course, points out that the main reason “traditional” social networks are seemingly incapable of handling bots is that they’re financially incentivized not to; bots drive user numbers and engagement, i.e. the sole method by which social media sites make money, via the commoditization and sale of user information and behavior to third-parties.

2020-08-23T20:41:48+10:003rd September, 2020|Tags: social media, tech|

Digital waste.

I’m afraid to cut and paste. Just this morning I needed to move a file. I copied instead of cutting. “What if something goes wrong,” my mind said. “You need to be able to get back to the original.” What if something doesn’t go wrong? What if everything works out fine and I get done exactly what I need to do? Will I go back and delete one of the redundant files? Probably not.

Digital makes us copiers. Digital makes us duplicators. We copy because we can. We copy because there is no obvious cost and we are risk averse. We don’t want to lose something. We know that digital is inherently unstable and transient, that in the blink of an eye, months of work can disappear. So, we take out insurance by making copies.

What’s the cost of copies? Very little it seems. Except that we created more data in the last two years than in all of previous history.

Gerry McGovern on duplicates.

2020-08-20T12:29:55+10:0027th August, 2020|Tags: tech|
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