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
Even before he took the job of Chief Security Officer of Yahoo, Alex Stamos had a reputation for being a badass: a thoughtful security ethicist who served as an expert witness in defense of Aaron Swartz, Stamos cemented his reputation by publicly humiliating the director of the NSA over mass surveillance.
Doubtless you’ve laughed at the ideological war between the Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea. I laughed along with you: having grown up in politics, I know firsthand about the enmities that fester between groups that should be allies — groups whose differences can only be parsed after months of study, but who are seemingly more at odds with one another than their obvious political opponents on the “other side” of the debate.
In 2013, Lavabit — famous for being the privacy-oriented email service chosen by Edward Snowden to make contact with journalists while he was contracting for the NSA — shut down under mysterious, abrupt circumstances, leaving 410,000 users wondering what had just happened to their email addresses.
You know as well as I that writing complex, long-long form text requires significant organization. You’re probably also well aware that Word just isn’t up to the task. That’s why I’m a huge fan of Scrivener, the software suite used by best-selling authors and technical writers alike.Scrivener is much more than another digital typewriter. With a […]
Looking to upgrade your weekend? Here are three randomly awesome products on my mind this week.#3 FRESHeBUDS Pro Magnetic Bluetooth EarbudsAs more and more phones and gadgets switch to Bluetooth-only compatibility, you’ll need to get Bluetooth headphones like the rest of us. I’ve been super impressed with these affordable magnetic headphones. Pull the magnetic earbuds apart to auto-connect […]
Traditional folding wallets are designed for paper bills—but these days, carrying cash is rarely a necessity. More often than not, I don’t carry cash at all. This Bogui Clik Wallet is the best answer I’ve found for avoiding the hassle of those tight-fitting credit card pockets.This attractive, minimalist wallet features a protective lip, so my cards don’t […]