Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

Site Search







Recent Posts


How ‘dark patterns’ online manipulate shoppers

Sidney Fussell reports: Dark patterns are the often unseen web-design choices that trick users into handing over more time, money, or attention than they realize. A team of Princeton researchers is cataloging these deceptive techniques, using data pulled from 11,000 shopping sites, to identify 15 ways sites subtly game our cognition to control us. The research builds on the work of Harry Brignull, a London-based cognitive scientist who coined the

Google’s onetime hired gun could now be its antitrust nightmare

Politico reports: When Google needed government sign-off on a 2007 acquisition that would tighten its grip on the digital advertising market, the company turned to antitrust attorney and lobbyist Makan Delrahim to help get the job done. Now, as the Justice Department’s top antitrust enforcer, Delrahim could be the one to undo it all. As U.S. competition enforcers cast a more critical eye on the nation’s biggest technology companies, Delrahim

Amazon asserts its contribution to climate change is a trade secret

The Register reports: Amazon has refused to publish data about the energy consumption and carbon emissions of its business in Australia, including vast server farms, claiming its contribution to climate change is a trade secret. The company has asked the Clean Energy Regulator (CER) – the country’s agency tasked with regulating carbon emissions and encouraging clean energy use – to keep its data from publication, arguing that this involves proprietary

Attack on democracy: Tech giants use our data not only to predict our behavior but to change it

Shoshana Zuboff writes: In a BBC interview last week, Facebook’s vice-president, Nick Clegg, surprised viewers by calling for new “rules of the road” on privacy, data collection and other company practices that have attracted heavy criticism during the past year. “It’s not for private companies … to come up with those rules,” he insisted. “It is for democratic politicians in the democratic world to do so.” Facebook’s response would be

China forces tourists to install text-stealing malware at its border

Motherboard reports: Foreigners crossing certain Chinese borders into the Xinjiang region, where authorities are conducting a massive campaign of surveillance and oppression against the local Muslim population, are being forced to install a piece of malware on their phones that gives all of their text messages as well as other pieces of data to the authorities, a collaboration by Motherboard, Süddeutsche Zeitung, the Guardian, the New York Times, and the

San Francisco: City of the rich and the destitute

Julia Carrie Wong writes: The tale of how tech destroyed the city that gave us the Summer of Love has been told so many times that in 2014, the San Francisco Chronicle produced a satirical cheat sheet for out-of-town reporters parachuting in for taste of avocado toast and class warfare. (Amid a bumper crop of new elegies to San Francisco in recent months, web publication HmmDaily updated the form with

The looming information apocalypse

Charlie Warzel reports: In mid-2016, Aviv Ovadya realized there was something fundamentally wrong with the internet — so wrong that he abandoned his work and sounded an alarm. A few weeks before the 2016 election, he presented his concerns to technologists in San Francisco’s Bay Area and warned of an impending crisis of misinformation in a presentation he titled “Infocalypse.” The web and the information ecosystem that had developed around

80% of the stock market is now on autopilot

CNBC reports: It’s no secret that machines are taking up a bigger and bigger share of investing, but the extent of their influence is approaching shocking proportions. It is as high as 80%, according to one major investing firm. Passive investments such as index funds and exchange-traded funds control about 60% of the equity assets, while quantitative funds, those which rely on trend-following models instead of fundamental research from humans,

What happens after Amazon’s domination is complete? Its bookstore offers clues

The New York Times reports: “The Sanford Guide to Antimicrobial Therapy” is a medical handbook that recommends the right amount of the right drug for treating ailments from bacterial pneumonia to infected wounds. Lives depend on it. It is not the sort of book a doctor should puzzle over, wondering, “Is that a ‘1’ or a ‘7’ in the recommended dosage?” But that is exactly the possibility that has haunted

Many states and cities are putting Americans’ fates in the hands of algorithms

Derek Thompson writes: Rachel Cicurel, a staff attorney at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, was used to being outraged by the criminal-justice system. But in 2017, she saw something that shocked her conscience. At the time, she was representing a young defendant we’ll call “D.” (For privacy reasons, we can’t share D’s name or the nature of the offense.) As the case approached sentencing, the prosecutor

The search for extraterrestrial technology finds none

The Guardian reports: The close encounter will have to wait. Astronomers have come up empty-handed after scanning the heavens for signs of intelligent life in the most extensive search ever performed. Researchers used ground-based telescopes to eavesdrop on 1,327 stars within 160 light years of Earth. During three years of observations they found no evidence of signals that could plausibly come from an alien civilisation. The only signals picked up

U.S. escalates online attacks on Russia’s power grid

The New York Times reports: The United States is stepping up digital incursions into Russia’s electric power grid in a warning to President Vladimir V. Putin and a demonstration of how the Trump administration is using new authorities to deploy cybertools more aggressively, current and former government officials said. In interviews over the past three months, the officials described the previously unreported deployment of American computer code inside Russia’s grid

Ditch the GPS. It’s ruining your brain

M.R. O’Connor writes: It has become the most natural thing to do: get in the car, type a destination into a smartphone, and let an algorithm using GPS data show the way. Personal GPS-equipped devices entered the mass market in only the past 15 or so years, but hundreds of millions of people now rarely travel without them. These gadgets are extremely powerful, allowing people to know their location at

Living on Mars is a misguided fantasy

Philip Ball writes: Who said this? “I’ve been having to say everywhere I go that there is no planet B, there is no escape hatch, there is no second Earth; this is the only planet we have.” If you’re a science fiction fan the answer might surprise you: it was the writer Kim Stanley Robinson, whose Mars trilogy is an ultimately utopian series of tales that describe the terraforming of

NSA cyberweapon, on the loose, now wreaks havoc across America

The New York Times reports: For nearly three weeks, Baltimore has struggled with a cyberattack by digital extortionists that has frozen thousands of computers, shut down email and disrupted real estate sales, water bills, health alerts and many other services. But here is what frustrated city employees and residents do not know: A key component of the malware that cybercriminals used in the attack was developed at taxpayer expense a

How China uses high-tech surveillance to subdue minorities

The New York Times reports: A God’s-eye view of Kashgar, an ancient city in western China, flashed onto a wall-size screen, with colorful icons marking police stations, checkpoints and the locations of recent security incidents. At the click of a mouse, a technician explained, the police can pull up live video from any surveillance camera or take a closer look at anyone passing through one of the thousands of checkpoints