Allison's Reflections

Just another Weblogs at Harvard site

Blog #1011: Final Thoughts

Filed under: Uncategorized — allee at 12:01 am on Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Today was the last seminar of the year. First off, I’d like to thank my wonderful professors and peers; without them, I wouldn’t have learned so much. Whether it was agreeing vehemently regarding the recent political circumstances or arguing about what constitutes what “singularity” really entails, every discussion was an opportunity for me to better understand the Internet and the future of technology.

Now…onto the seminar itself. I found that one of the most interesting parts of today’s discussion was about Facebook Basics. For those who don’t necessarily know, Basics is an initiative that would make certain websites accessible to many people across the globe. We had quite the heated discussion during our seminar today about whether it would be a good idea.

On one hand, there’s the argument that Basics goes directly against the philosophy of net neutrality. Because it would only allow people to access a limited variety of websites, it would be inherently restricting the knowledge that users could gain.

One the other hand, isn’t some information better than no information? One of my classmates made an analogy to sweatshops; if someone’s starving, then isn’t providing them with a factory job with harsh conditions still better? Unfortunately, this caused more controversy.

Personally, I think that Basics is a great idea. Unlike sweatshops, I don’t think that limited internet connectivity is inherently detrimental to one’s quality of life. If the websites were selected by the government, then brainwashing would be a viable threat. But Facebook is the one establishing what websites can be accessed. And I don’t think AccuWeather is about to be the next threat for brainwashing people.

BUT there are other concerns, as addressed in this article I found. It’s important to recognize that Basics is not a charity; as the article points out, there are obviously commercial interests. Thus, Basics could disrupt the market as we know it now. Thus, I think it’s imperative to examine the potential repercussions of Basics more before actually implementing it. In general, I think that thinking ahead in technology is so, so important, and I hope that as I try to join the innovating global community, I’ll keep that in mind. This seminar has really ingrained that in me, and I really appreciate that. 🙂

Again, thank you for a wonderful semester! 😀

Blog #1010: “Take a Screenshot- It’ll Last Longer”?

Filed under: Uncategorized — allee at 4:37 pm on Sunday, November 13, 2016

Snapchat. Yik Yak. Zap. What do all of these social networking platforms have in common?

In my opinion, they are all attempted loopholes around the necessity for the right to be forgotten. With Snapchat or Zap, the content that you send “disappears” within a certain time frame. With Yik Yak, what you post is absolutely anonymous (or so they say). After all, if there’s no evidence that you ever posted anything, there’s no need to rely on a “right to be forgotten”, right?

Caitlin Dewey of the Washington Post makes this claim in her article, even confidently concluding that “Today’s kids don’t need eraser laws — they’re erasing themselves.” She cites the statistic that “the percentage of those officers who say social media has negatively impacted someone’s chances has fallen, in the past two years, from 35 to 16 percent.”

However, I’m not as confident as Dewey. I am admittedly one of the millenials hooked on Snapchat; I mean, who could resist those rainbow-vomiting filters and face swaps? As a frequent user, I am more than acquainted with how you can set timers (up to 10 seconds but as short as 1) for how long the receiver of your Snap can view your photo or video. I’ve sent goofy faces for 1 split second to friends, thinking that they’d laugh but not have the photo to keep.

But I’ve definitely mastered the art of screenshotting within a second, as have my friends. So every February, my Facebook wall is inundated by their collections of my silly selfies. They’re not harmful in any way, but they definitely aren’t something that I want future employers looking up.

So there’s an element of transferability between what is categorized as “volatile social networking services” and other social networks such as Facebook or Twitter, where data is thought to be eternal. I know that Snapchat attempts to mitigate this by notifying senders when the receiver of a Snap takes a screenshot; however, if someone sends something truly regrettable, I imagine the incentive to eternalize it with a simple press of two buttons outweighs the con of having the sender know it was.

I wonder how such the creators of “volatile SNS” will engineer their products to deal with this; after all, if there’s an ability to preserve content, that defeats the purpose of the service. But at the same time, the screenshotting on a phone will always exist. In this published research paper I found, the authors propose that users will switch SNS when the new service provides increased “privacy protection, volatility, and system security”, which is consistent with my observations as a Snapchat user. (Perhaps this article is also relevant to the rise and fall of social networks in general and therefore the seminar our class is planning to put together.) I’d love to discuss this in seminar sometime.

Blog #1001: Cyber War with a New Commander-in-Chief

Filed under: Uncategorized — allee at 10:14 pm on Thursday, November 10, 2016

When the news hit of a hack into the Democratic National Committee, I remember feeling scared, concerned, and confused. I remember wondering who could have been responsible.

“It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”

Thank you, Mr. Future President, for that enlightening answer.

With the recent election results, I couldn’t help but read this week’s assigned articles on cyber warfare with Donald Trump in mind. How will he deal with cyber warfare and crime?

It didn’t help that a suggested article on one of the assigned ones was “Trump’s Win Signals Open Season for Russia’s Political Hackers“. The author, Andy Greenberg, cites the spike in activity of Fancy Bear or APT28. This political hacking group from Russia was pointed to as the culprits of the DNC hack by the security firm Crowdstrike. I feel like Greenberg’s argument is very extreme, and reading it, I’m not sure if I 100% buy it. He attributes the increased activity to the hackers being encouraged by recent hacking successes (for example, of the DNC); isn’t this independent of whether Trump won or not? I would love some clarification on the article at some point. While I can see that Trump is more condoning of Russia than other political figures, I’m not sure that that is sufficient for hackers to go all-out.

During the first presidential debate (the same one where he made the aforementioned statement), Trump did express concern over cyber warfare; he explicitly declared that “we have to get very, very tough on cyber and cyber warfare. It is a huge problem.” But I feel like he doesn’t understand the subtleties of it. In the above Wired article, James Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies even asserted that “Trump’s win may now delay America’s response or reduce its efficacy.” Quite honestly, I don’t really understand the implications of his presidency on cyber policy. Erik Gartzke contends that “Unless cyberwar can substitute for a physical surprise attack, there is no reason to believe that it will be used in place of conventional modes of warfare” and that for a cyberattack to be of great magnitude, it must be done in conjunction with a physical attack. I’m hoping that hackers won’t figure out a way to effectively execute this in the next four years; but if they do, what will be the US’s response? Will Trump prioritize dealing with cybersecurity? How would checks and balances change who really has a say in cyberpolicy? I’d love to discuss these questions in seminar next week. 🙂