Many popular Facebook apps are obtaining sensitive information about users—and users’ friends—so don’t be surprised if details about your religious, political and even sexual preferences start popping up in unexpected places.
Not so long ago, there was a familiar product called software. It was sold in stores, in shrink-wrapped boxes. When you bought it, all that you gave away was your credit card number or a stack of bills.
Now there are “apps”—stylish, discrete chunks of software that live online or in your smartphone. To “buy” an app, all you have to do is click a button. Sometimes they cost a few dollars, but many apps are free, at least in monetary terms. You often pay in another way. Apps are gateways, and when you buy an app, there is a strong chance that you are supplying its developers with one of the most coveted commodities in today’s economy: personal data.
Let’s start by talking about the Curator’s Code. This was introduced by Maria Popova as a way to standardize attribution in content aggregation. You were at South by Southwest when she introduced it and you later wrote about it. Why do you think something like this is important, as far as defining some rules when it comes to content aggregation?
I paid attention to it, number one, because of who was proposing it. Maria has got some of the best eyes on the web, and she is continually digging up stuff. She’s kind of an archaeologist and a futurist combined. She’s just got a way of digging stuff out of the far corners of the web that I find absolutely riveting, whether it’s on Twitter (@brainpicker) or on her blog, Brainpickings. So that’s part of it.
The other thing is, people generally talk on backchannels: ‘Oh, I had that first,’ or ‘That guy ripped me off,’ or ‘She’s always picking my pocket.’ Instead of engaging in that smacktalk, she came up with a way of defining terms and providing symbols. It was the starting point of a discussion, not the end of one. And the discussion actually got pretty heated — and sort of mean toward her, with people saying, ‘Oh, who are you to decide.’ But all she was saying was, ‘This might be an idea’ and putting it out there.
I just think that people seem less and less concerned about where their information comes from at a time when I think they should be more and more concerned about it.
In 1953, Joseph Stalin signed the plans for a top-secret nuclear submarine base that would become the operational home for the fearsome Soviet Black Sea Fleet.
Hidden inside the base of a mountain in the port town of Balaklava on Ukraine’s Crimean coast, the 153,000 square-foot facility took nine years to build and its entrance camouflaged from spy planes. It could survive a direct nuclear hit and at maximum capacity could hold 3,000 people with supplies to sustain them for a month. Best of all, the vast subs that slunk in and out of here between tours of duty could enter and leave underwater, keeping them from prying eyes at all times.
Once the most sensitive and secretive of Soviet Cold War hotspots, today it is preserved as a museum. I manage to get special permission to drive into the base during the 8,000-mile Land Rover Journey of Discovery expedition to Beijing. We were the first to do so since the Soviet trucks and trailers that ferried in missiles, supplies and essentials over its 40 years of operation.
Driving through the cavernous entrance carved into the heavy rock of the mountain was pure James Bond, but the base that unfolded inside was a hard-hitting mix of superspy fantasy and the coarse reality of the Cold War world in which it played a key part.