I wrote a piece for MIT's Technology Review on the way that Internet privacy works, and the deficiency of our tools -- browsers, phones -- in protecting it:
Even if you read the fine print, human beings are awful at pricing out the net present value of a decision whose consequences are far in the future. No one would take up smoking if the tumors sprouted with the first puff. Most privacy disclosures don't put us in immediate physical or emotional distress either. But given a large population making a large number of disclosures, harm is inevitable. We've all heard the stories about people who've been fired because they set the wrong privacy flag on that post where they blew off on-the-job steam.
The risks increase as we disclose more, something that the design of our social media conditions us to do. When you start out your life in a new social network, you are rewarded with social reinforcement as your old friends pop up and congratulate you on arriving at the party. Subsequent disclosures generate further rewards, but not always. Some disclosures seem like bombshells to you ("I'm getting a divorce") but produce only virtual cricket chirps from your social network. And yet seemingly insignificant communications ("Does my butt look big in these jeans?") can produce a torrent of responses. Behavioral scientists have a name for this dynamic: "intermittent reinforcement." It's one of the most powerful behavioral training techniques we know about. Give a lab rat a lever that produces a food pellet on demand and he'll only press it when he's hungry. Give him a lever that produces food pellets at random intervals, and he'll keep pressing it forever.
The Curious Case of Internet Privacy
In 1996, in the midst of the Clinton administration’s attack on the Internet and cryptography, Grateful Dead lyricist and EFF co-founder John Perry Barlow sat down in Davos, Switzerland, where he’d been addressing world leaders on the subject of the Internet and human rights, and wrote one of net-culture’s formative documents: The Declaration of Independence […]
Vulture presents a lengthy (and very funny) annotated history of “100 jokes that shaped modern comedy,” with embedded audio (and sometimes video) of the jokes themselves, going all the way back to 1906’s Nobody by Bert Williams — transferred from wax cylinder to shellac disc to Youtube.
Emily Sears has a longstanding, devastatingly effecting procedure for handling the unsolicited dick pix, wanking videos, and sexist come-ons she receives from creepy Internet randos: she researches their girlfriends and messages them with screengrabs of the whole thing.
You travel around a lot. It might be that jet set life from New York to LA to London to Tokyo, or it might be back and forth from the coffee shop to the office, or from the kitchen to the couch. Any which way, you’re mobile and that’s the way to live. When you […]
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