Solid gold from start to finish.
Solid gold from start to finish.
Technology concentrates power.
In the 90’s, it looked like the Internet might be an exception, that it could be a decentralizing, democratizing force. No one controlled it, no one designed it, it was just kind of assembling itself in an appealing, anarchic way. The companies that first tried to centralize the Internet, like AOL and Microsoft, failed risibly. And open source looked ready to slay any dragon.
But those days are gone. We’ve centralized the bejesus out of the Internet now. There’s one search engine (plus the one no one uses), one social network (plus the one no one uses), one Twitter. We use one ad network, one analytics suite. Anywhere you look online, one or two giant American companies utterly dominate the field.
And there’s the cloud. What a brilliant name! The cloud is the future of online computing, a friendly, fluffy abstraction that we will all ascend into, swaddled in light. But really the cloud is just a large mess of servers somewhere, the property of one American company (plus the clouds no one uses).
Orwell imagined a world with a telescreen in every room, always on, always connected, always monitored. An Xbox One vision of dystopia.
But we’ve done him one better. Nearly everyone here carries in their pocket a tracking device that knows where you are, who you talk to, what you look at, all these intimate details of your life, and sedulously reports them to private servers where the data is stored in perpetuity.
I know I sound like a conspiracy nut framing it like this. I’m not saying we live in an Orwellian nightmare. I love New Zealand! But we have the technology.
When I was in grade school, they used to scare us with something called the permanent record. If you threw a spitball at your friend, it would go in your permanent record, and prevent you getting a good job, or marrying well, until eventually you’d die young and friendless and be buried outside the churchyard wall.
What a relief when we found out that the permanent record was a fiction. Except now we’ve gone and implemented the damned thing. Each of us leaves an indelible, comet-like trail across the Internet that cannot be erased and that we’re not even allowed to see.
The things we really care about seem to disappear from the Internet immediately, but post a stupid YouTube comment (now linked to your real identity) and it will live forever.
And we have to track all this stuff, because the economic basis of today’s web is advertising, or the promise of future advertising. The only way we can convince investors to keep the money flowing is by keeping the most detailed records possible, tied to people’s real identities. Apart from a few corners of anonymity, which not by accident are the most culturally vibrant parts of the Internet, everything is tracked and has to be tracked or the edifice collapses.
What upsets me isn’t that we created this centralized version of the Internet based on permanent surveillance.
What upsets me, what really gets my goat, is that we did it because it was the easiest thing to do. There was no design, forethought, or analysis involved. No one said “hey, this sounds like a great world to live in, let’s make it”. It happened because we couldn’t be bothered.
Making things ephemeral is hard.
Making things distributed is hard.
Making things anonymous is hard.
Coming up with a sane business model is really hard—I get tired just thinking about it.
So let’s take people’s data, throw it on a server, link it to their Facebook profiles, keep it forever, and if we can’t raise another round of venture funding we’ll just slap Google ads on the thing.
"High five, Chad!"
"High five, bro!"
That is the design process that went into building the Internet of 2014.
And of course now we are shocked—shocked!—when, for example, the Ukrainian government uses cell tower data to send scary text messages to protesters in Kiev, in order to try to keep them off the streets. Bad people are using the global surveillance system we built to do something mean! Holy crap! Who could have imagined this?
Or when we learn that the American government is reading the email that you send unencrypted to the ad-supported mail service in another country where it gets archived forever. Inconceivable!
I’m not saying these abuses aren’t serious. But they’re the opposite of surprising. People will always abuse power. That’s not a new insight. There are cuneiform tablets complaining about it. Yet here we are in 2014, startled because unscrupulous people have started to use the powerful tools we created for them.
We put so much care into making the Internet resilient from technical failures, but make no effort to make it resilient to political failure. We treat freedom and the rule of law like inexhaustible natural resources, rather than the fragile and precious treasures that they are.
And now, of course, it’s time to make the Internet of Things, where we will connect everything to everything else, and build cool apps on top, and nothing can possibly go wrong.”
— An extract from Our Comrade The Electron, a talk from the Webstock Conference by Maciej Cegłowski, which is worth reading in its entirety. (via new-aesthetic)
Driverless cars are coming, sometime. They’re going to be safer and more reliable than traditional cars and they’re going to make Google and several other manufacturers very, very rich. The only wreckage they’re going to leave behind is going to be the corpses of the scores of companies who make a killing on car accidents.
It’s no secret that computers are already much better drivers than humans. They don’t drive drunk, they don’t text, they don’t forget where they’re going or daydream. They might not reduce accidents by as much as 90 percent, as Google has suggested, but once driverless cars get any sort of real market share, the roads are definitely going to be safer.
A growing chorus of voices in the tech industry are exhorting us to get used to Google’s violations of users’ privacy and preferences.
"Unlike Facebook, where you choose what to post, with search you’re typing in medical and financial problems and all sorts of other things. You’re not thinking about the privacy implications of your search history."
This common functionality, combined with the possibility for accidental data leaks and hacks, made Weinberg nervous. At the same time, he realized that it was still possible to build a viable business model around search without tracking users. One might not reach Google-levels of profitability without large-scale targeted advertising, but the fundamental logic of delivering search ads—user searches for motorcycles, you show them a motorcycle ad sold by keyword—is still sound. And, of course, the profitability of such a model only grows as more people search more.
Been using DuckDuckGo as my main search engine for years now. Highly recommended, especially if you do any work related to the web.
• Optic Nerve program collected Yahoo webcam images in bulk
• 1.8m users targeted by GCHQ in six-month period alone
• Yahoo: ‘A whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy’
• Material included large quantity of sexually explicit images
When the Chicago Police Department sent one of its commanders to Robert McDaniel’s home last summer, the 22-year-old high school dropout was surprised. Though he lived in a neighborhood…
Romantimatic — the little app I wrote to remind the distracted or forgetful to text nice things to their significant other — is a month old today.
It’s been an interesting month.
The app has sold just over 875 copies, across a couple of dozen countries, making me about $885. It has a four-and-a-half-star average in the App Store, and I’ve received a handful of enthusiastic e-mails. It has been the subject of coverage from Mashable, the CBC, Lifehacker and Kottke.
It has also been the target of a medium-level Internet pile-on. For those of you who don’t fully understand the scope and scale of the Internet, even a medium-level pile-on falls squarely into the “Holy crap” category of human interaction. The app has been flayed not for its implementation but for its conception, often in the language of the Web, by which I mean the most hyperbolic terms possible.
His last commit :(
As a social network, Google+ is just a bunch of empty circles spinning in a barren wasteland. But Google could give a fuck if consumers prefer Facebook. What the $400 billion data vacuum really wanted, reports The New York Times, is to track everything you do online and sell that personal information to advertisers.
Not really news but a nice summary of Google’s assholery.
Here, after all, was a group that included many of the executives whose firms had collectively wrecked the global economy in 2008 and 2009. And they were laughing off the entire disaster in private, as if it were a long-forgotten lark. (Or worse, sing about it — one of the last skits of the night was a self-congratulatory parody of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” called “Bailout King.”) These were activities that amounted to a gigantic middle finger to Main Street and that, if made public, could end careers and damage very public reputations.
On the 20th anniversary of In Search of Excellence, Peters admits, I had no idea what I was doing when I wrote ‘Search.’