Ever since I installed one of those wireless "home automation kits," my house has been acting like it’s possessed. My lights dim randomly. My thermostat changes temperature settings on its own. And my digital door lock keeps "forgetting" I live here, prompting me to fumble for my keys (it always seems to be raining when this happens).
Just yesterday I came home to find my so-called "Smart TV" had somehow turned itself on and was streaming some weird foreign language content (the source it chose was "RT" -- or something like that). I changed the channel to "CNN" and went to the kitchen to make a snack. However, just as I began slicing open a fresh baguette, I heard that same foreign language stream playing. I then rushed back to the living room only to find the TV still tuned to "CNN."
Why don’t I feel bad? I know I should. I know I ought to be alarmed by the news that the organizers of the E3 Expo accidentally leaked the personal or professional contact details for some two thousand registered journalists and members of the media.
But I’m not. In fact, I’m ambivalent about the whole thing. As an early victim of some malicious "doxxing" -- by a fellow tech journalist, no less -- I’ve become a bit jaded about the matter (having satellite images of your house posted online so freaks can target your children will do that to you).
Twenty percent. A fifth. One in five. That’s how many stalled cars it would take to completely gridlock the Island of Manhattan in New York City. And according to a recent study from Georgia Tech on the impact of a large scale cyberattack against connected vehicles, that’s the more optimistic number. It could go even lower when you factor in traffic flow from side streets and the human propensity towards panic when we feel trapped or boxed in.
Basically, it would be the world’s worst traffic jam, with even emergency vehicles unable to move. And it would all start with a massive, system-wide attack against the Over the Air (OTA) software update mechanisms present in many modern, highly connected cars -- like those made by Tesla.
Can you help me? I seem to be lost. I was surfing the Internet for funny cat videos and I stumbled onto this "web page." Or, at least, I thought it was a page. Now, I’m not so sure. I’ve been scrolling for a while now, but I can’t seem to find a way out. Every time I think I’ve reached the end, I find myself in yet another "page." Yet I have no recollection of clicking a link or taking any direct action. It just sort of…happened.
I think I remember where I started from. There was this link to a story about kittens. Or maybe it was baby tiger cubs. I’m not too sure anymore. In fact, my memory of just where I’ve been or even how I got to this point is a little fuzzy.
We all have one. That cheapskate friend who never seems to have any money and who is always trying to sponge off you.
My old college pal Freddy is like that, especially when it comes to technology. For years, he limped by with no smart phone. Then, when he did get one, it was the lowest-end Android model from one of those el-cheapo prepaid wireless companies.
Psst! Hey you! Yeah, you! Lurking in the bushes with a camera! Sitting on the park bench with a cocked ear! Riding the subway with an eye on your fellow passengers' phone screens!
Are you tired of struggling to catch a glimpse of other people’s intimate moments? Need something to fill that gaping pit of loneliness and despair you call a "life?" Well, you’re in luck! Because we’ve got the perfect job for you!
Putting your "thumb on the scales." That’s how many pundits have described Google’s continued meddling with the search results for hot-button social and political topics. The tech giant’s reputation has taken a hit in recent years as evidence of the company’s highly political, left-leaning culture has emerged across its core web search and YouTube franchises.
Channel bans. Demonetizations. Traffic throttling. These are some of the techniques that frustrated users say Google is employing to limit their reach and quash their voices. And now you can add biased Gmail spam filtering and advertising account suspensions to the list of accusations.
"Stupid! You’re so stupid!" That iconic line from the Weird Al Yankovic’s seminal 1989 work, "UHF" (watch the "Wheel of Fish" segment and try not to snort your coffee), is what pops into my mind every time I read about some high profile individual getting outed for saying dumb things in "private" on the Internet.
First off, the belief that anything could remain private on the net is just foolish. Whether you’re an aspiring Harvard freshman who gets his admission rescinded for saying racist things in a closed chat room, or the Governor of Puerto Rico being forced to step down for making dozens of misogynistic and homophobic statements (along with some very real acts of corruption) in a Telegram thread with senior staffers, the truth has a way of surfacing at the worst possible time. And that way is typically someone privy to the conversation objecting to its content and subsequently ratting you out to the world.
There’s a bomb hidden somewhere in a city. Law enforcement is in possession of a suspect’s mobile phone but can’t gain access because the device is encrypted, and the suspect is deceased. The authorities then demand that the device manufacturer create a backdoor so that they can bypass the encryption and learn how to stop the bomb. The clock is ticking. Literally thousands of lives are at stake. If the company complies, they will be exposing many times more users to potential security breaches in the future once the backdoor they provide is inevitably leaked to the world. If they don’t, a lot of people may die that needn’t if the company had simply given in.
Save lives now? Or keep the world safe from future tyranny? That’s how I look at the ultimate trolley problem. On the one hand, I hate the idea that -- through some inaction on my part -- I might be complicit to an event that causes mass casualties. On the other hand, I’d also hate to be the person who, by giving in this one time, leaves some poor slob to be persecuted by a state actor who gained access to his or her private communications and deemed them to be "criminal."
"Hey! You going to pay for that?"
It’s an age-old question. The idea that an individual or entity should be compensated for something they created rests at the heart of the Western concept of property rights. Yet the folks at search giant Google seem to think you shouldn’t be -- or at least, that’s how they’re behaving. The company is actively thwarting efforts by private publishers to moderate access to the web content that they, the publishers, produce. And it’s doing so in the name of "privacy" at a time when most content creators are struggling just to survive.
"Engage…the walk-in bath!"
I was half-expecting Jean Luc Picard to utter those very words to complete his iconic line from the new Star Trek: Picard trailer (non-US based viewers can check it out here). And as the preview ended, I couldn’t help but feel like I’d just watched some trippy infomercial for "Senior Adventure Travel." Those wide shots of a Picard shuffling through various landscapes -- backpack on his shoulder, look of child-like wonder on his face -- had me reaching for my bottle of Geritol.
Do you feel it? Do you feel the need for speed?
Assuming you have a pulse and have not yet assumed room temperature, my guess is you’ve seen the new trailer for Top Gun: Maverick. And if, like me, you grew up with fond memories of the original Top Gun, your heart is still racing after hearing those familiar soundtrack beats and watching those truly stunning new aerial maneuvers scenes.
"What do you want to be when you grow up?"
It’s the age-old question, one posed to nearly every child at some point in their formative years. In generations past, the answers were typically aspirational -- Doctor, Fireman, Astronaut, etc. However our current crop of young, Western-educated padawans has a different goal in mind: They want to be YouTubers.
I write to you to celebrate the coming glorious victory over imperialist America. Our efforts to undermine their so-called democratic institutions is nearly complete. What began as a seemingly disastrous failure on the part of our cyber and Internet propaganda forces has now morphed into a highly successful psy-ops campaign that threatens the black, decadent heart of the Western society!
I have a confession to make: I’m a PC anti-vaxxer. I just don’t trust all those patches and security "fixes" software companies want to foist upon my innocent little laptop. I mean, how do I know one of those updates won’t harm it? Most software platforms are now so complex, it’s nearly impossible to tell the impact a new library or DLL might have.
What if a patch makes my PC slower? I’ve heard about at least one "fix" -- to some made-up sounding bugaboo called "Spectre" -- that caused PCs to lose compute cycles. My little laptop struggles to handle daily life as it is. The thought of further handicapping it by compromising its processing speed seems downright cruel.