Convulsed

Why the hacker ideal should be retired; who's to blame for the internet's problems; and more.


  • This is civic tech: Michigan has been working with Code for America and Civilla to trim applications for benefits by up to 80 percent and make the process more user-friendly and intuitive, Zack Quaintance reports for Government Technology magazine. The application for food assistance and healthcare used to be 40 pages, 18,000-ish words, and 1,000 questions long; now, it’s just 3,904 words, 18 pages, and 213 questions.

  • OpenGlobalRights has published an article by Enrique Piracés on how to collect, preserve, and verify evidence of human rights violations on the internet.

  • Media matters: The Sunlight Foundation is surveying the state of open data and journalism, and they’re looking for contributions from YOU. “We want to hear about all of the good work that isn’t currently listed, and the challenges that persist for access, creating or using open data as a source and resource for journalists,” Alex Howard writes. “We also want to learn about the people, events, organizations, networks and communities that are driving change, social impact and public knowledge, and the places they gather.” Check out the Google Doc here.

  • Social media matters: Following The New York Times investigation into the black market for fake Twitter accounts, more than a million followers have disappeared from top Twitter accounts, Nicholas Confessore, Gabriel J.X. Dance, and Rich Harris report for The New York Times, and federal and state officials have announced investigations into the matter.

  • State of surveillance: Gabriel Weinberg, the founder of DuckDuckGo, the search engine that doesn’t track users, argues for CNBC that it’s time to start forcing Google and Facebook to respect data privacy. More than three-quarters of websites now contain Google trackers, and nearly a quarter contain Facebook trackers. “The complete loss of personal privacy in the Internet age is not inevitable,” he writes. “Through thoughtful regulation and increased consumer choice, we can choose a brighter path. I hope to look back at 2018 as a turning point in data privacy, where we awoke to the unacceptable implications of two companies controlling so much of our digital future.”

  • The advertising industry is to blame for what’s wrong with the internet, Farhad Manjoo writes in his latest New York Times column. Read all the way to the end, to Manjoo’s mea culpa for being flippant about this particular bad guy in 2015.

  • Life in Facebookistan: Last summer, Mark Pesce wrote a thoughtful essay about Facebook called “The Last Days of Reality” and now out from behind a paywall.

  • In a never-ending stream of bad news, perhaps this story by Bloomberg’s Sarah Frier on the pathetically manipulative deluge of emails that Facebook is sending to users who aren’t spending enough time on the website will bring a smile to your face. Protip: If you’re trying to spend less time on Facebook, turn off ALL email notifications—especially before deactivating.

  • Cyber-insecurity: The new app that Equifax introduced to help people lock their credit files does work, Tara Siegel Bernard and Ron Lieber report for The New York Times, surprising no one.

  • It is (or should be) the twilight of the hacker ideal, Virginia Heffernan argues in Wired, an ideal that MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito told Heffernan reaches its pinnacle in Donald Trump, of all people: “Like it or not, Ito argued, Trump represents the counterculture priority of disobedience over compliance. I shudder to repeat Ito’s view, but here it is: Trump was ‘very punk rock.'”

    The best antidote? Writes Heffernan: “With Silicon Valley convulsed by revelations of Big Tech’s security failures, founders’ above-the-law arrogance, and social media’s hospitality to bots, trolls, and fraud, here’s a remedy: honest valuations, business ethics, and the application of scientific method unmolested by greed.”

  • What sharing economy? A new study shows Airbnb raised median New York City rents by $380 a month, Jake Swearingen reports for New York magazine’s Select/All.