node created 2020/05/22

Fusion Foolery

Even at 100% efficiency, we’d get just 25 times more energy out, or 75 MJ. That’s still not enough to pay for the price of admission (400 MJ, just for the laser part). [..] So what can we say about the public reaction to this news? Headlines in December gushed about the dawn of a new era of limitless energy.

The Decline of Usability (2020)

A favourite is removing visible tools with 3-dot menus in the name of "cleaner" or "more intuitive" user interface that turns one-click actions into two clicks: 2 clicks hundreds of times a day for the tool users. Tables that show 10 items with 4 details each in the same screen real estate that used to show 20 items with 6-8 details. Dashboards that show 4 graphs instead of 10.

It’s Official: Cars Are the Worst Product Category We Have Ever Reviewed for Privacy

It’s bad enough for the behemoth corporations that own the car brands to have all that personal information in their possession, to use for their own research, marketing, or the ultra-vague “business purposes.” But then, most (84%) of the car brands we researched say they can share your personal data -- with service providers, data brokers, and other businesses we know little or nothing about. Worse, nineteen (76%) say they can sell your personal data.

The Ugly Business of Monetizing Browser Extensions

I decided to haggle with these people to see how high they would be willing to go. Based on my handful of data points [# users, max_offer], it seems that these individuals are willing to pay about $0.20 per user.

Now I surely don’t know what the new owners of these extensions are doing with them, but I don’t think their intentions are noble. The vector for abuse is easy to understand: buy a well-used extension, compromise its users, and squeeze the juice however you like. Maybe you steal their credit card numbers, may be you sell their traffic, maybe you use them in a botnet. Again: it’s possible that these acquiring entities do not intend harm, but it sure doesn’t look that way.

To transfer ownership of a Chrome extension, all you have to do is fill out this form. That’s it. The users will not be notified of the new ownership, and their installed extension will continue to silently update with whatever new updates the new owners decide to push out.

The Tyranny of the Marginal User

Nearly all popular consumer software has been trending towards minimal user agency, infinitely scrolling feeds, and garbage content. Even that crown jewel of the Internet, Google Search itself, has decayed to the point of being unusable for complicated queries. Reddit and Craigslist remain incredibly useful and valuable precisely because their software remains frozen in time. Like old Victorian mansions in San Francisco they stand, shielded by a quirk of fate from the winds of capital, reminders of a more humane age.

How is it possible that software gets worse, not better, over time, despite billions of dollars of R&D and rapid progress in tooling and AI? What evil force, more powerful than Innovation and Progress, is at work here?

In my six years at Google, I got to observe this force up close, relentlessly killing features users loved and eroding the last vestiges of creativity and agency from our products. I know this force well, and I hate it, but I do not yet know how to fight it.

Fusion Foolery

It would be fun to count all the megajoules that went into press coverage of the event!

We are wasting up to 20% of our time on computer problems, says study

[..] on average, we waste 11%–20% of our time in front of our computers on systems that do not work or that are so difficult to understand that we cannot perform the task we want to.

Dutch scandal serves as a warning for Europe over risks of using algorithms

In 2019 it was revealed that the Dutch tax authorities had used a self-learning algorithm to create risk profiles in an effort to spot child care benefits fraud.

Authorities penalized families over a mere suspicion of fraud based on the system’s risk indicators. Tens of thousands of families — often with lower incomes or belonging to ethnic minorities — were pushed into poverty because of exorbitant debts to the tax agency. Some victims committed suicide. More than a thousand children were taken into foster care.

The Paradox of Source Code Secrecy

First, as I show, courts have shifted the boundaries of protection for software under both copyright and patent law, further amplifying the attractiveness of trade secrecy. Second, the law has been willing to entertain an unique – and paradoxical-- overlap between copyright, patent, and trade secrecy, even though the three regimes have opposing public goals. Copyright and patent law are oriented towards disclosure, trade secrecy the opposite. While this overlap of protection in software seemed, at first glance, to be a good thing for innovation policy, it has proven deleterious for the larger public, particularly criminal defendants and lower income populations, who are now increasingly governed by an invisible hand that they can no longer investigate or question.