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Are Online Security and Convenience Fundamentally Incomptible?

Latest from me at Wired:

Staying secure online is a pain. If you really want to protect yourself, you have to create unique passwords for every web service you use, turn on two-factor authentication at every site that supports it, and then encrypt all your files, e-mails, and instant messages.

At the very least, these are tedious tasks. But sometimes they’re worse than tedious. In 1999, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that most users couldn’t figure out how to sign and encrypt messages with PGP, the gold standard in e-mail encryption. In fact, many accidentally sent unencrypted messages that they thought were secured. And follow-up research in 2006 found that the situation hadn’t improved all that much.

As many internet users seek to improve their security in the wake of ex-government contractor Edward Snowden exposing the NSA’s online surveillance programs, these difficulties remain a huge issue. And it’s hard to understand why. Do we really have to sacrifice convenience for security? Is it that security software designers don’t think hard enough about making things easy to use—or is security just inherently a pain? It’s a bit of both, says Lorrie Cranor, an expert in both security and usability and the director of Carnegie Mellon’s CyLab Usable Privacy and Security Laboratory, or CUPS for short. “There isn’t a magic bullet for how to make security usable,” she says. “It’s very much an open research project.”

Full Story: Wired: Online Security Is a Total Pain, But That May Soon Change

(I don’t care for that headline — there’s not really much evidence that this is necessarily going to change anytime soon)

The Internet of Things Could Be Bad for the Environment

pollution-getty

A bit more contrarianism from me at Wired today:

The pitch is that the Internet of Things will make our world a greener place. Environmental sensors can detect pollution, the voices say. Smart thermostats can help us save money on our electric bills. A new breed of agriculture tech can save water by giving crops exactly the amount they need and no more.

But this vast network of new online devices could also end up harming the environment. Manufacturing all those gadgets means expending both energy and raw materials. In many cases, they will replace an older breed of devices, which will need to be disposed of (so long, non-smart thermostat). And eventually, every IoT device you buy–and people are predicting there will be hundreds of thousands–will need to be retired too. Since all these devices will connect to the net, we should even consider the energy used by the data centers that drive them.

Full Story: Wired: The Internet of Things Could Drown Our Environment in Gadgets

Previously: The Dark Side of the Internet of Things

Why Google’s New Open Source Crypto Tool Might Not Be Such a Good Thing

From my story for Wired about Google’s new encryption plugin for Chrome “End-to-End“:

Google won’t be able to scan encrypted email messages in order to target advertising. Security expert Eleanor Saitta believes this may lead to Google to discourage most users from actively using encryption. She worries that the End-to-End may simply be a publicity stunt designed to keep Google’s engineers happy while scoring points with privacy advocates.

She also points out Google has history of abandoning projects that don’t make the company money, such as iGoogle and Google Reader. If activists come to rely on Google’s encryption tools, but those tools are discontinued, they will be left without crucial protections. “People live and die by the long-term success and failure of communication platforms — I mean that in a very literal sense,” she says. “You cannot put people in a position where they are depending on a software platform for life safety issues and then simply terminate it.”

Her other worry is that the existence of Google’s own plugin may discourage people from building other alternatives, or make it harder for open source encryption projects to raise funds. For example, Mailpile raised over $100,000 last year to build a new open source email client that works with any email provider, including Gmail, and has PGP encryption baked in from the beginning. But it will need more funding eventually, and Saitta worries that potential backers may not be as motivated to contribute.

Full Story: Wired: Google Renews Battle With the NSA by Open Sourcing Email Encryption Tool

The Case Against “Sharing”

Sharing Economy

Full Story: Susie Cagle: The Case Against Sharing

I’ve been calling the “sharing economy” the Urchin Economy, as in street urchin, named for the street kids that are always hanging around in fiction set during the Victorian period, ready to accept a schilling or two to do some chore for a protagonist. They have no job security, no safety net, they’re treated as if they’re utterly disposable. Of course today, there’s always some high-tech middleman looking to take a cut of these transactions.

See also:

The Expendables: How the Temps Who Power Corporate Giants Are Getting Crushed

The Sharing Economy Isn’t

I also tried to explore some of these ideas in my short story “The Faraday Bag“:

A bunch of my friends found work through this app where young guys–and it was always guys––could have people come over and clean their dishes, do their laundry, that sort of thing. I did that a couple times. Then a guy complained that he wanted “an American” to do his chores for him. I told him I was born in the U.S. and that my family had lived here for two generations. He gave me a one-star review, and I haven’t been able to find work through the app since.

Transgender Activists Fight Back Against Web Filters

Transgender coders at TransHack

Another one from me at Wired today:

For the transgender community, the web is an important resource for finding trans-friendly doctors, housing, jobs and public restrooms–many things the rest of us take for granted. But web filtering software designed to prevent access to pornography often stops people from accessing websites that with information on a host of other topics, such as breast feeding, safe sex and, yes, transgender issues. It’s a subtle–and possibly unintentional–form of discrimination, one that can have a big impact. Web filters are more than a temporary inconvenience for many transgender people who rely on public libraries and internet cafes to access the internet. The problem is even worse in the UK, where all new internet connections are filtered by default at the ISP level.

“Because homelessness and poverty are such a big issues in the trans community, many don’t have access to unfiltered, uncensored internet,” says Lauren Voswinkel, a transgender software developer based Pittsburgh. These hurdles to accessing information can make it even harder for transgender people to escape poverty.

That’s why she’s building Transgress, a tool that lets people bypass web filters to access sites about transgender issues and only transgender issues.

Full Story: Wired: How to Build a Kinder Web for the Transgender Community

The Dark Side of the Internet of Things

Internet of Things

Another one from me at Wired:

The Internet of Things is coming. And the tech cognoscenti aren’t sure that’s a good thing.

For years, the prospect of an online world that extends beyond computers, phones, and tablets and into wearables, thermostats, and other devices has generated plenty of excitement and activity. But now, some of the brightest tech minds are expressing some doubts about the potential impact on everything from security and privacy to human dignity and social inequality.

That’s the conclusion of a new survey from the Pew Research Center. For ten years, the Washington, D.C. think tank has surveyed thousands of technology experts–like founding father Vint Cerf and Microsoft social media scholar danah boyd–about the future of the Internet. But while previous editions have mostly expressed optimism, this year people started expressing more concern. “We had a lot of warnings, a lot of people pushing back,” says Janna Anderson, co-author of the report.

Full Story: Wired: Why Tech’s Best Minds Are Very Worried About the Internet of Things

See also: Mindful Cyborgs: E-Waste in the Internet of Things, Enterprization of the Consumer, and More

The Tiny Box That Lets You Take Your Data Back From Google

Indie Box

My lastest for Wired:

The National Security Agency is scanning your email. Google and Facebook are hoarding your personal data. And online advertisers are selling your shopping habits to the highest bidder.

Today, more than ever, people are thinking about how to opt out of this madness without quitting the internet entirely. The obvious answer is to host your own web apps on your own computer server. And thanks to the burgeoning Indie Web Movement, there’s no shortage of open source alternatives to popular services like Google Calendar, Facebook’s photo albums, or Dropbox’s file sharing. The problem is that setting up and managing your own server is a pain in the neck–at least for the average consumer.

For open source developer Johannes Ernst, what the world really needs is a simple device that anyone can use to take their data back from the wilds of the internet. So he designed the Indie Box, a personal web server preloaded with open source software that lets you run your own web services from your home network–and run them with relative ease. Any system administrator will tell you that setting up a server is just the first step. Maintaining it is the other big problem. Indie Box seeks to simplify both, with an option to fully automate all updates and maintenance tasks, from operating system patches to routine database migrations.

Full Story: Wired: The Tiny Box That Lets You Take Your Data Back From Google

Or you can skip straight to the Indie GoGo.

See also:

Genshi Box

Freedom Box

Cozy Cloud

Mindful Cyborgs: Farm Drones, the Human API and More

I missed recording the latest Mindful Cyborgs, but Chris Dancy and Alex Williams talked about farm drones, the Human API, Moves (before it was acquired by Facebook!), the Indie Web and more.

Download and Show Notes: Mindful Cyborgs: Drone Shopping with Farmers

Mindful Cyborgs: What Would the Web Look Like if We Built It Today?

On the 25th anniversary of the web, Alex Williams and I talked about what the web might look like if we it were built today. Would it be more like an API than a protocol? Would it have a payment system baked in?

Download and Notes: Mindful Cyborgs: Episode 28 – Diasporic Destiny for the 21st Century Mind

Fundraiser for an Essay on Technology and the Occult

As long-time readers likely know, my own interest in things magical and occult has largely dissipated. But I know many of you are still interested the intersecton between technology and magic, so a project by my friend Damien Williams may well interest you. He’s raising funds to write a lengthy essay called “Techne: The State of the Art”:

I’ll show what happens when magical ideas intersect with modern technology, looking at things like AI, and why “artificial” might have been a poor choice of adjective. I’ll consider questions like, “What is it that drives humanity to create technology in our image?” “How can stories like the Golem, the Homunculus, or the Tulpa,” (and we’ll get to those) “help us in our search to create AI?” and “Might perspectives such as Jungian psychology’s take on alchemy provide us with tools to better engage our world?”

I’ll also examine the use of cutting edge tech in modern magical practices and vice versa. Musicians, roboticists, and authors who weave magical intentions through electronic music, who use magical theory in the programming of their creations and who see in our world, something like the fulfilment of Arthur C. Clarke’s line that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

You can back the project on Inkshares, a crowdfunding site for the written word.

(I missed it, but Technoccult interview alum David Forbes recently raised some money for an essay of his own about the history of far right politics in science fiction that sounds absolutely fascinating)

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