Schools Don’t Care About Privacy

As many students know, school districts across the U.S. have started to implement technology into the classroom. A majority of students are given school Chromebook computers and required to use school emails during class to view assignments and homework, but few people stop to question why this is happening and how it is impacting students.

Currently, on the Internet, everyone is giving up rights when signing up for free applications like social media and email. The privacy that we once assumed was ensured no longer is because so many individuals are trusting corporations like Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. with their private information. Our personal information no longer belongs to us when we have these accounts. Major corporations own our data and use it to make money for themselves therefore not keeping customers safe or protecting our rights. These companies use our private history and personal data to make money from advertisers. This is happening to all users, and very few of them know about it.

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School emails and Google Classroom like the other applications above jeopardize our right to privacy. More than half of K-12 laptops/tablets purchased by schools are Chromebooks, and 50 million students and counting around the world use Google programs.“The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that protects students’ “educational records,” including personally identifiable information. The data that students often use to log into a Chromebook or Google Apps for Education — like name, student number, and birthday — is covered by FERPA. Under FERPA, this data generally can’t be shared with third parties — including Google — without written parental consent,” but no parents are being asked for their consent which is frankly disquieting. Parents know nothing about the data being collected about their kids from Google in the classroom.

Student Privacy

With this law in mind, it would be normal to assume that student data is protected from Google. Google, however, is able to create profiles on students when they use other Google services that are not for educational purposes. The advocacy group EFF states that “a feature automatically turned on in Chromebooks — including those sold to schools — runs afoul of Google’s privacy pledge.” Students using Chromebooks are constantly being monitored if they don’t own any other device and are not aware of how to turn this feature off.

The link below shows students how to prevent the feature on Chromebooks. Check it out!

Guide to Chromebook Privacy Settings for Students

Update December 17, 2015: Added an explanation of how to encrypt Chrome Sync data so that students can take advantage…

www.eff.org

 

 

 

 

We students need to protect our right of privacy and defend ourselves as best we can.


As Edward Snowden said, “I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things… I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.”

If you are concerned about this feature and the actions being done by Google, as I am, look at the link above to disable the privacy feature on your Chromebook and follow this blog for more info about how to move forward.

A Letter to My Younger Self

Dear Katie,

   The world you are growing up in now is much like the one I was raised in. I can’t remember a time without technology and neither can you. From a very young age, I was playing games online like Toontown and Club Penguin to learn and explore the world never for one moment questioning the motives of the business behind the screen. As I think back, my adolescent years were filled with the rise of social media and funny Skype calls with friends in elementary school. I assume your memories will be similar considering you’re only a few years younger I am. The new technological developments of our generation are amazing, but there are downsides to growing up in a society that always welcomes new products and apps without questioning how they can influence us especially children trying to understand the world.

I’m writing this letter because our world is changing rapidly, and very few people are stopping to think about the consequences of ubiquitous technology. Your generation is spending hours of time on the computer every day, and research shows that this much time on the computer leads to depression, anxiety, and insecurity. You’re now reaching the age where I struggled to understand the world and was falsely led astray by what my peers accepted as reality. I urge you to question the choices you’re making—are they for popularity, acceptance, your friends, or yourself?—and understand that what you’re told to do and be online is not a fair representation of how the world is. Social media companies are able to influence your emotions, target your behavior, and spy on you when you use their platforms and all of this impacts how you see the world.

   Facebook is a website I grew up using. It may seem like an old-fashioned website now, but it’s an example that shows the dangers of social media use when it comes to how you feel. Facebook is a company that billions of people willingly turn to to share personal information, pictures, thoughts, and videos. However, one thing you may not realize is that when you accept the terms of service, you are giving Facebook the power to toy with you and exploit the information you provide them. The company has the power to influence the way you feel when you check your feed and see what you’re friends are up to. A research study published in a prominent psychology journal states that professors from Cornell University found “experimental evidence that emotional contagion (spreading of emotions) occurs without direct interaction between people, and in the complete absence of nonverbal cues.” This means that Facebook can spread emotions among people and has the power to make you happy or sad by changing your feed. It can make your feed be filled with happy comments and updates from your friends, or they can do the opposite. As the user, you are never in control, and that’s scary. It has become common for teens to turn to all social media—not just Facebook— and feel anxious, depressed, and nervous. This is not ok. You can’t accept this, and you deserve more. I have felt the same way you do worried about how I look and feeling less than what I am. I have been in your shoes.

   As a young girl, I constantly struggled to understand the world of social media, a world that prides itself on superficiality and pushes young children to appear older than they are. Only when I was exposed to this world, I didn’t know that it was false and that insecurities were covered up by photoshop and make-up. The beauty that you see online is enhanced to an extreme that is unnatural. Because the “popular” girls in my class were posting photos in this way, I thought there was something wrong with me and the body that I was given. I spent a lot of my time looking down at myself and what I looked like. There was, however, nothing wrong with me, and there’s nothing wrong with you. Do not spend your time envious of others and wishing that you had more. God made you uniquely you, and you are very lucky to have two hands and a special, thoughtful mind. This perspective of the world on social media is not a healthy one. You deserve happiness and positivity, and social media won’t provide what you’re looking for. You are in control of how you feel now that you know about the jealousy that festers of these websites. I want you to at least be aware of how it can impact you and perhaps even delete your social media account.

   In addition, Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram are websites that target us to make a profit, specifically off younger kids. The tactics that Facebook uses to display ads, however, are not uncommon. Advertisers have historically used “cookies” to track the websites you regularly visit in order to display personalized ads. In fact, Wikipedia states, “At the turn of the 21st century, some websites, including the search engine Google, changed online advertising by personalizing ads based on web browsing behavior.” Google and other companies basically took what already existed in the physical world and applied it online. These companies know everything that you see and search. Companies sell your information to advertising agencies in order to make money off of you. This is an issue that more need to be focused on when it comes to teenagers and children. There need to be more protections for us and our activities online. We are often targeted by advertising companies to buy their products because we’re naive and unaware of what they’re doing. On Facebook, the individuals behind the company know your emotions based on how you interact with their site and what you look at and like. They’re able to recognize your emotions and use that to their advantage. Facebook is able to, for example, tell whether an insecure 15-year-old girl is depressed or anxious when online. Instead of using this information for good, say referring the girl to a therapist in her area, Facebook uses it to recommend a weight loss product and preys on the weaknesses of young teens who don’t know any better. Technology needs to be changed to be used for good and not bad. You are unfairly targeted, and you have the power to stop being targeted too. It only requires you to delete your account, and you’ll gain back the rights that are taken from you.

   You, Katie, deserve to be informed about what’s happening online. Your emotions are used against you by indifferent companies to influence your actions. You are more inclined to feel unsure of yourself and insecure when you’re on social media. In fact, research has shown that the more time you spend online and social media, the more unhappy you’ll feel. This information is powerful because now you know and can be aware of how you’re being influenced and make the right choices. There is so much more in the world than what’s happening online. You may go online to receive recognition for your actions, how you look, find people to talk to, etc., but you need to find confidence in yourself and who you are. You are a loved, valuable person. Don’t give others power over you.

Sincerely,

An older you

Cover Image Credit: hercampus.com

Casey Newton, the Verge

I’m extremely grateful for getting the opportunity to meet Casey and visit the Verge. He does amazing work, and he cares about educating everyone about technology and its impacts. For most teens, there seems to be this visible disconnect between your life and the real world. It’s hard to have a proper understanding of what jobs are out there and what they entail throughout school because you haven’t really experienced the world yet. I’m working to write more about those types of jobs here. A lot of the time things appear to be unreachable, but honestly, it’s all in your head. People are willing to talk to you if you’re genuinely interested in what they’re doing and what they have to say. Don’t be afraid to reach out if you’re passionate about something and have questions about a certain career. This is the first part of my interview. I’ll publish a new post in early January. Happy Holidays!

What has social media allowed you to do as a journalist, and how has it impacted journalism?

For me, Twitter is absolutely the most important social network from a work perspective.

Twitter started to get big among journalists probably a year or two after it launched (in 2006), and it only got bigger over time. When I left Arizona in 2010, one-third of the reporters in the newsroom had Twitter accounts. At the time, that was a level of penetration that seemed crazy the year before. There was something that happened in those years where something kind of clicked.

Twitter reached a critical mass of users, and we journalists realized we needed to be part of the conversation. We all were aware that Twitter is actually a real-time picture of anything that’s happening in the world at a given moment, and that’s important. So every reporter got a Twitter, and now, when you have something to say, you have this loudspeaker that sits on the desk of every journalist in the world. That’s insanely powerful.

When I was coming up as a journalist, reporters would have CNN on a tiny TV on their desk, and that was how you kept up with the pulse of the world. If something exploded somewhere, you would see it on CNN. Now, you’re going to see it on Twitter way before it makes it to CNN. Twitter replaced CNN on the desktop of journalists, and that was why it became important.

Twitter has created amazing opportunities for me. I got my job at CNET, not because of the articles I was writing in the SF Chronicle, but because, editors at CNET had seen some of my tweets. They thought I was interesting and funny. From my experience, this shift towards what makes you interesting is your perspective, your point of view, your opinions. That’s your currency in this world because if your opinions are well argued it suggests expertise. Twitter allowed me to broadcast this to the world. I also got my job at the Verge indirectly through Twitter as well. Somebody I knew only on Twitter worked here, so I reached out to him.

Twitter is a thread that runs through my whole life, and once I got to the Verge, I started writing even more about Twitter. Twitter, I decided, was going to be a beat company for me. I wanted to know everything about it. I was fascinated by the product because I was living in the product every day. I used it so much I couldn’t not have opinions about it. That’s how Twitter became important to me, and as a result, I write about it a lot.

What portion of your writing consists of tips, and what portion is your opinion?

Companies get in touch every day and tell me about things that they’re doing and want me to write about it. I write about a very small percentage of those tips. It’s probably less than one percent of the pitches I get, I write about.

I get dozens of emails every day from people who want me to write about something and so does every other tech reporter. Those tend to be low-value pitches. I’ve chosen to write about big companies because they are the most consequential and have a large impact in everyone’s life. I do write about smaller startups sometimes, so every once and a while one of those pitches will get through, but I try to rely more on a network of venture capitalists and a handful of people who work in PR whom I trust to inform me about companies.

A lot of what I do is seeing what happens during the day and what I have to say about it. I try to bounce off of things that are happening in the news. Or, I’ll get curious about something. Right now, I’m really curious about what’s happening inside Snapchat, so I’m trying to talk to as many people as I can, who work at Snapchat now or used to work at Snapchat, and I’m finding out all these cool interesting things. I would say most of it is my opinion.

Would you say that you get access to those people from your company—the Verge—or through Twitter?

Mostly, the Verge. If I quit the Verge tomorrow and became a freelance journalist with a Twitter account, I would be radically less powerful than I am today—and by the way, I’m not powerful. I think it’s important to have the backing of a big institution.

We’ve seen this over the past five years where a bunch of prominent people left big perches to start their own thing. Nate Silver left the NYT to start 538 by himself. 538 is doing ok, but I think Nate Silver had more influence when he was at the New York Times. David Pogue was this very influential tech columnist at the NYT, and he left to go start Yahoo Tech. Yahoo Tech ended up being a disaster from the start. No one read it, and David Pogue—who used to be one of three people in the world who got to see the new iPhone in advanced—suddenly became if not irrelevant then much less relevant than he was.

I have tried to learn the lesson that even if you think you’re a big deal—and those guys had more than a million Twitter followers a piece—you’re probably not that big of a deal. The important thing is that you have a big institutional backing. Because it turns out, the marketplace for attention is so crowded, you actually need a big infrastructure of people who can help you penetrate through the noise and make whatever you’re doing seem like it’s important. This is what an institutional backing does.

How would you describe the culture surrounding journalism and new media? I know that journalists often retweet each other and the public sees this online interaction, but have you actually met these people in person?

Yes, in fact, I’m unlikely to follow people who I haven’t met in real life. I try to follow a relatively small number of people because I want to be able to keep tabs on what’s happening on Twitter, and it’s hard if you follow two thousand people. But also, if I know you in real life I’m more likely to be sympathetic to your tweets. It’s almost like I can hear you speaking in your own voice, so yes I have met a lot of people. And by the way, I have met people through Twitter that I meet in real life, and in my experience, if you like someone’s tweets you will almost always like them in person.

Going back to the earlier question about culture, how would you say the workplace is different at the Verge from the other places you’ve worked?

This is a really great place to work because it’s a young company. It’s still growing. There’s a lot of optimism here. There’s a sense that we’re figuring out things in real time. It’s a company that tries to be on the cutting edge and takes a lot of risks. When the entire world changes, we try to keep up with that.

The major challenge that journalism has been going through over the past few years is that we’re the first industry to be disrupted by the Internet.

First, it was print getting disrupted by the web. The web came along and decimated print revenues. There were a lot of layoffs and publications closed. It was really bad. Companies hurried to establish themselves online.

Then, these digital companies spring up and finally figure out that there are a lot of new ways to make money online versus printing. That’s how Vox Media was founded.

Facebook and Google disrupted these companies and started funneling everyone to articles that stay on the Facebook app or the Google app which send far fewer visitors to the news outlets that worked to build an online presence. All the attention is concentrated on Facebook and Google, and it’s an issue media companies are currently figuring out.

That’s the transition that we’re navigating through. Now, we’re trying everything. Podcasts, events, original video for Facebook, Youtube, and Google. We’re doing some really cool things, but it’s a huge challenge. There has been a lot of anxiety in the media. If you run a search for “media apocalypse” on Google right now, you will get a bunch of recent stories about all kinds of unfortunate things that are happening in the media.

Ultimately, who pays for journalism, in the long run, is still an open question. There is a lot of risk in this business. It’s a scary business to be in.

There are many businesses that are easier to be in, but for me, I get to spend my day talking to the world’s smartest people and writing about how the world is changing and educating people about that. That’s super exciting to me.

I used to be so bored by business journalism. I was like “uh who cares what businesses do,” but now Facebook and Google are arguably as important in people’s lives as the countries they live in. Think about that it’s not hyperbole when you think about all the time we just spend on our phones. My point is these platforms matter in huge ways, so it’s great to cover them.

How was the shift from the general journalism work you did at the SF Chronicle to tech journalism at the Verge?

It was great. I showed up, and I thought I would be really unprepared, but I read a lot of tech blogs and that helped.

When I was covering politics, I would script almost all of my questions, and I still script my questions a lot of the time because I want to make sure I don’t miss certain things. I was never really interested in politics. I used to find that most of the time I would do political interviews and never have questions of my own to ask aside from the ones I had written down.

In tech, I would sit down with an executive, and I would just hear questions coming out of my mouth. Questions would jump out of my mouth because I was so much more engaged. I had opinions, and I wanted to challenge things they would say. I wound up being a much more engaged interviewer when it came to tech, and I wrote better stories as a result. I got more insights from people. I developed better relationships—that’s the other thing. I have much better relationships with people in tech than I ever did in politics because they could tell I didn’t care. I didn’t get as far. I care about tech, so I can get much further.

So, the transition was pretty easy. Also, by the way, the stuff I learned from writing about politics, I still use to this day. In politics, you learn everything is spin, so you spend a lot of your time detangling details until you have a clearer view of what’s happening. It breeds a certain cynicism. I think having that point of view is really not the worst way to be a journalist. It won’t make you super popular, but a good question you can ask yourself is if they were lying what else might be true.

Because you write so much about Snapchat, Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc, and have talked to people who work there, how would you describe the environment at these large tech companies? A lot of the time it’s hard for the public to have a good understanding of what the aims are of these people because it seems like there’s a huge wall between these companies and the public.

Yeah, for sure, most people feel this way, and I’ve had opportunities to get beyond this wall. Something I’ve been able to do as a tech journalist, that most people don’t get to do, is view the physical environment. I’ve been inside of all these places. I’ve seen the desks, the breakrooms; I’ve seen the signs on the wall. I’ve talked to the security people there, and that doesn’t tell you everything about a company, but it gives you a vibe, and you can’t start to compare one tech company against another in terms of what the vibe and culture is.

I spend an enormous amount of time reading. You can learn so much about these companies by just reading stuff that’s free on the Internet, and so much of my day is reading—the reason I started the newsletter was because I was reading all of this stuff, and I was doing nothing with my reading. I was frustrated with all the time I was wasting. And I realized I could just send out these links with a little bit of commentary and turns out I love doing that.

I do have insight, but, of course, the other part of it is reporting. I talk to these people, and often, it’s because the company has invited me down and want to talk to reporters about certain things.

When you write, who is your intended audience, and what tone do you use?

My intended audience is everyone. I right about the future. The future matters to everyone. If you’re not reading my story, then what’s the matter with you—that’s how I feel about it. You sort of have to feel that way. I’m not writing for a narrow audience. With my newsletter, it’s a niche, but why wouldn’t you care about social media and democracy? Isn’t social media and democracy dominating every discussion in your life? Wouldn’t you like to know how it’s changing the world?

That’s how I approach it. Even when I find niches, I want to swing for the fences a little bit. I’m not here to write for a specific audience.

I strive for smart and somewhat irreverent. I want you to feel like I’m your smartest friend on the subject. I like to keep it conversational, but I’m not opposed to a nice turn of phrase every now and again. I try to be straightforward, but I like the writing to be nice. I like to write in the second person a lot which is something you never do at newspapers, but when you write about apps it turns out it’s much better to say “you tap this and then you tap that” than “ the user inputs this and that, etc.”

 

 

Background on Carpenter v. United States

Because of the Carpenter v. United States case coming up tomorrow, I thought it would be interesting to post about the existing laws relating to the Fourth Amendment and the circumstances concerning how and when privacy is protected.

The Carpenter v. United States case questions the legality of the government obtaining phone data without a warrant. In this case, the United States obtained Timothy Carpenter’s phone information without having proper evidence to get a warrant. A warrant requires probable cause and a description relating to what will be seized and the location of where it will be taken. This case is fascinating because it questions the requirements for warrants that intend to seize online information about criminals as well as whether metadata collection is constitutional.

(1967) Katz v. United States: This Supreme Court case questioned whether the police need to obtain a search warrant in order to wiretap a public phone used by a suspicious person. The police thought that Katz was delivering information related to gambling to clients, and they decided to wiretap a public phone—-they knew he used—to gather evidence against him. The Court ruled in favor of Katz and stated that he had Fourth Amendment Protection. The police’s actions were seen as an unreasonable search and seizure because he had intentionally closed the door of the public phone to have a private conversation. He was seeking privacy in the close phone booth and did not intend for his conversation to be public. The Fourth Amendment applied in this situation to whenever a person had a reasonable expectation of privacy.

(1986) Electronic Communications Privacy Act: Title II of this Act contains the Stored Communications Act which states that users should not expect privacy when entrusting third parties with private information. Wikipedia states, “While a search warrant and probable cause are required to search one’s home, under the third party doctrine only a subpoena and prior notice (a much lower hurdle than probable cause) are needed to subject an ISP to disclose the contents of an email or of files stored on a server.” 

(2010) United States v. Warshak: This case is notable because it is the first case from the United States Circuit Court of Appeals to explicitly hold that there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in the content of e-mails stored on third-party servers and that the content of these emails is subject to Fourth Amendment protection.” (Wikipedia) The decision means that the government cannot seize private emails without a warrant.

EFF adds, “During its criminal investigation, the Department of Justice illegally ordered defendant Stephen Warshak’s email provider to prospectively “preserve” copies of his future emails which the government later obtained using a subpoena and a non-probable cause court order. The government accomplished this “backdoor wiretap” by misusing the Stored Communications Act (SCA) which is only supposed to be used for obtaining emails already in storage with a provider.” 

(2012) United States v. Jones: The police attacked a tracker to Jones’ Jeep without a warrant, and they used it to follow him for 127 days. The Court affirmed the judgment of the lower court and held that the installation of a GPS tracking device on Jones’ vehicle, without a warrant, constituted an unlawful search under the Fourth Amendment. (Oyez)

Sonia Sotomayor stated, “that a Fourth Amendment search occurs whenever the government violates a subjective expectation of privacy that society recognizes as reasonable, which is particularly important in an era where physical intrusion is unnecessary to many forms of surveillance.” In the case, it is reasonable to assume that Jones’ vehicle is private property and expect to ensure privacy. 

(2012) United States v. Skinner: Sixth Circuit Holds that “Pinging” a Target’s Cell Phone to Obtain GPS Data Is Not a Search Subject to Warrant Requirement. “In United States v. Skinner, the Sixth Circuit held that using the GPS capabilities of a target’s cell phone to track his location did not constitute a Fourth Amendment search, hinging the decision on the lack of a reasonable expectation of privacy under the Katz test.” (Harvard Law Review

(2014)  Riley v. California: David Riley was a member of a gang and involved in a shooting against a rival gang member. During this incident, his car was stolen. A few weeks later, Riley was pulled over—he had somehow gotten a new car—due to an expired license plate. His driver’s license was suspended, and his car impounded. The impounded car required the police to search it, and they discovered firearms in the car. Riley was then arrested, and his phone was taken as a result. Evidence on the phone relating to his involvement in the gang was used by the police to try him to the shooting he had been involved with. The Supreme Court questioned whether the evidence used against Riley was obtained unconstitutionally and an unreasonable search. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Riley and held that a warrant was required because cell phones hold massive amounts of private information and are unlike other any other item a person carries. A warrant is necessary to go through the contents of an arrestee’s phone.

However, “the Court held that some warrantless searches of cell phones might be permitted in an emergency: when the government’s interests are so compelling that a search would be reasonable.” (Oyez)

Overall, the decisions made in Fourth Amendment cases are confusing. Not all cases have required search warrants, and it’s hard to tell whether one is needed in cases that involve new technologies. The cases listed above serve as a precedent for the petitioner when it comes to requiring a warrant to track cell phone metadata. This case gives the Supreme Court an opportunity to set the bounds of privacy in this interesting age.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mike Masnick, Techdirt

Mike Masnick is the CEO and founder of Techdirt. His blog focuses on an array of tech issues ranging from articles on copyright and patents to surveillance. I admire the work that he’s doing and continues to do. He provides a great alternative perspective on tech-related issues and journalism in general. His writing is straightforward and concise but also calls companies and the government out on their questionable actions. The blog really focuses on the most important issues in the news and digs deeply into them. This is the interview I had with him. 

“Mike Masnick in a French Alley” Photo by Dennis Yang licensed by CC BY 2.0.

Here’s the link to Techdirt’s website: https://www.techdirt.com/

Would you consider what you’re doing journalism, and if so, how did you become involved?

Yeah, I sort of fight it sometimes because I’m not entirely sure whether what I’m doing really is journalism. I’ve argued in the past that I’m not necessarily a journalist, but I sometimes do journalism. There’s somewhat of a distinction there. Obviously, I’m writing about stories. I’m writing about news, so there’s a journalism aspect to it. Sometimes, I’ll think deeper and do research and interview people and all that kind of stuff which are hallmarks of journalism.

In general, I do more of what I consider to be opinion writing. There’s a difference between opinion writing and straight up journalism. In some cases, they certainly blend together. There’s a belief in some quarters that you have to be completely 100% objective—there’s obviously value in having a completely objective outlook on things and weighing evidence fairly—but to many people that standard of objective journalism has turned into a situation where the journalists never take sides. To me, journalism should be about finding the truth, and sometimes, that means taking a side. I don’t believe journalism should be well this guy says this and this guy says that and then you decide. I think there’s more value in saying something like this guy says this and that’s false for the following reasons. 

Writing is something I’ve always done. In high school, I was certainly interested in reading and writing, and I worked for the high school newspaper and an underground high school paper. I enjoyed writing and digging into issues and having opinions.

When I went to college, I tried to write for the college newspaper, and I got rejected. There were probably some good reasons behind the decision, so I wasn’t really writing. I got back into it, and it became a career pretty much by accident.

I went to college, and then, I went to business school right after. Most people who go to business school go out and work for a few years before they come back to business school, but I didn’t. I went directly from undergrad to business school, and I thought how am I going to get a job because I’m competing against all these other people who have work experience and I have none.

I really wanted to get a job in the tech industry, so I thought if I wrote about technology and industry, then I could show that I had a passion and interest about these issues and hopefully distinguish myself a little bit. I started writing a newsletter, as a student, and I just tried sending that around. I originally sent it to my classmates, and since many of them had worked before coming to business school, they sent it around to other people. Suddenly, there were people reading the newsletter, and it got sent around. That basically turned into Techdirt overtime, and I’ve kept it going. I did get a job after I graduated, but I kept writing on the side. Eventually, I realized I hated my job and that writing was more fun. I’ve been doing this ever since.


How did you come up with the name Techdirt for your newsletter?

The newsletter was originally called Up to Date. It was terrible. I was copying this British newsletter called Need to Know which was super well done and very funny. It was written by Danny O’Brien who is now at EFF working on international issues. He wrote the newsletter which was very geeky and nerdy and came out every week. He commented on the news in a funny way, and I really liked the format.

My format was almost identical, and the names were both three short syllables. I thought that was fun, so I did that and copied it. Danny discovered it (someone sent it to him maybe two months after I started), and he made fun of me. After about six months of writing the newsletter by itself, I said it would be cool if I could turn it into a website. I thought there should be someplace where people can go and see the posts, so I built it. I went through a bunch of different names, and people told me Techdirt stood out, so that became the name. This was around February of 1998.

Did you find when you first started writing for your website that you were as opinionated then as you are now?

There’s always been some aspect of opinion in what I do. I think my opinions and thoughts and even understanding were a little less focused in the beginning. I didn’t understand the issues as well. I certainly didn’t understand the legal side and the policy side as well. I was always opinionated.

The newsletter originally consisted of one or two sentence stories. It was really quick. It would have fit into more of a Twitter format rather than an email newsletter. It would have been like say a Tweet stream. When I switched to the website, it was mostly just hosting the newsletter at first, and then, it became a blog about a year later (early 1999).

For some stupid reason, I thought every story had to be one paragraph. I was always sort of limiting myself. Occasionally, I wrote a really long paragraph because I wanted to express myself a little bit more, and then sometime later,—maybe a year or two after that—I realized I was being dumb and put in paragraph breaks and wrote more.

That allowed me to become more vocal and express my opinion which is how the blog is now. It’s always been strongly opinion based, and we also had comments on the blog. Commenters argue and sometimes agree or disagree. They also raise other points and even the comments on the posts helped. I’ve joked in the past that it’s sort of like batting practice and a good way to learn whether your argument is strong.

People are always going to criticize, and sometimes, they have good motives. Sometimes, they have bad ones. If you have good arguments, it’s just a way of practicing and learning how to express yourself better. As you write more and more posts, you expect certain arguments to come up and see whether you can put them off by writing something in the post. I think the writing has gotten stronger, and my opinions are more clear.

Were issues in the early 2000’s as severe as they are today?

Yes. It’s weird because it feels like this is the scariest time for whatever reason, but it’s pretty much a constant stream of events. There are always things. There’s never a quiet period. If people don’t like what you’re writing, they might comment and attack saying “oh slow news day,” but there’s never a slow news day. There are dozens of things going on, and there’s never been a shortage of things to write about. If I could, I’d probably write three to four times the things that I do.

How have you been able to educate yourself on the policy side of tech issues?

I mean just overtime: reading, talking to people, having discussions in the comments, having discussions with people in person. As I’ve gotten more engaged and involved in the process, I’ve learned more. It’s one of those things where you continually educate yourself, and I still feel that I don’t know nearly enough about these topics. You learn as you go. Everyone makes mistakes, but you keep learning.

Who else is on the Techdirt team?

We have five full-time people. They all work in a bunch of different roles. There are people working on technology, research, and administrative stuff. A lot of other writers for the site are freelancers and contractors. A few of them are people who were just really good commenters that we liked and ended up hiring. The total team now—between the full-time staff and contractors—is about ten people.

How do you keep up with the biggest issues in tech?

Honestly, the biggest source of news for me these days is Twitter. If you follow the right people, everything gets to you eventually. People send me a lot of stuff too, so I get tons of emails, and I’m on a bunch of mailing lists. I use a couple tools for searching lawsuits because I read a lot of legal cases. There are basically all different ways to keep up.

Which people and organizations do you follow on Twitter?

EFF is big. CDT historically was actually an offshoot of EFF, but they’re completely separate now. There are some lawyers and law professors who are really good to follow. Eric Goldman is a good law professor who covers a lot of this stuff.

In terms of surveillance, Marcy Wheeler covers a lot of surveillance topics. She has an amazing memory. No one knows how she does it. For example, a document will get released or someone will say something, and she’ll be able to connect it to some other document that came out ten years before. She’ll clearly say they’re referring to this, and she’ll put two and two together and zero in on what was really meant when clearly someone was trying to be misleading. It’s really incredible, and she’s definitely worth following.

What do you think is a good way for a teenager interested in these issues to get involved?

You know, certainly, pay attention to everything that’s happening. There are different levels of involvement. I mean paying attention to EFF and CDT and some other activist groups. Fight For the Future and Demand Progress are two really good activist groups that are following a whole bunch of these issues and ask people to get engaged. I think that’s important and obviously letting other people know about these topics.

People learn about these things from their friends and people that they know. If you understand these issues and think it’s important for more people to understand them, you need to speak out about them and share it with them. If you use Facebook, post stuff on Facebook. Social media really helps. If you’re willing to write longer and thorough pieces, that’s cool too. I think it’s really good that people are willing to create blogs and spread ideas that way as well.

Q+A with Cory Doctorow

“Cory Doctorow” Portrait by Johnathan Worth licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0.

Cory Doctorow is a YA science fiction novelist and a vocal advocate for online rights. In the past, he has worked with EFF, a “non-profit civil liberties group that defends freedom in technology law, policy, standards, and treaties.” I’m a huge supporter of the work EFF has done and continues to do. You can check their website out here. He has also made an appearance on Reply All, one of my favorite tech podcasts, where he vocalized his concerns about the unsettling actions of the W3C and their work to create a standard for web video that “controls users’ browsers, so that we can only watch the videos under rules they set.” You can listen to that here. Because of all this work, I thought he would be the perfect person to talk to about internet activism.

What advice can you give to teenagers interested in advocating for online rights and internet policies, and how do you recommend more become involved in this area?

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has started a campus activist network, the Electronic Frontiers Alliance; my colleague Shahid Buttar (shahid@eff.org) organizes it and you can reach out to him about founding a local chapter.

Beyond that: there are numerous online rights organizations (EFF, Creative Commons, Free Software Foundation, Fight for the Future, the Harry Potter Alliance, etc) that put out regular calls for contributions in many forms:

* Calls and emails to lawmakers

* Memes and embeds to post to social media

* Help with fundraisers and testimonial campaigns


How did you learn so much about these issues? Do you recommend reading a lot of books and articles or doing more hands-on tasks to learn about these areas like research, coding, etc?

I got a computer very early on, in 1977 — a terminal connected to a phone-based “acoustic coupler” — at a time when computers were pretty primitive and simple. I was lucky to grow up with computers and to be able to absorb successive waves of technology and change as they arrived.

Today, computers are pretty abstract and it can be difficult to get ahold of them.

I recommend two books by Bunnie Huang: HACKING THE X-BOX (which is a free download) and THE HARDWARE HACKER; both are brilliant primers on the “hacker’s mindset” — how people approach deconstructing, remixing, improving and tweaking technology.

The videos from Adafruit and the articles on Hackaday, Evil Mad Scientist Labs and Make are a great source of inspiration.

There are SO MANY coding resources — StackExchange and Kahn Academy, etc. Find one that works for you. Programming is a skill, languages are just special instances of it. Master programming in whatever language/environment makes sense to you and branch out.

The world of information security publications is just great: 2600 Magazine, PoC or GTFO, and other hacker zines are fantastic. Check out the videos from Defcon and HOPE and CCC!

 

Websites Used:

https://craphound.com/bio/

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2017/07/amid-unprecedented-controversy-w3c-greenlights-drm-web

 

Veronica Belmont, Mozilla IRL Podcast

I interviewed Veronica about her job as a podcaster and her show IRL. It was great to learn about her story and what motivates her to create. 

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What was your background going into IRL and the tech industry?

I went to school for audio and video, so that’s kind of unusual. When I moved to SF in 2004, I got a job as an audio producer for CNET, and that’s how I got into professional podcasting. I knew what podcasting was at this point, but it wasn’t something that was mainstream yet. Apple hadn’t really even gotten into it at this time either. Podcasters were still using third-party apps to generate RSS feeds.

I went into podcasting as an audio professional, and I was passionate about technology, so it seemed to be this perfect marriage between circumstance and ability. CNET gave me a lot of freedom to create content and shows and that moved into video. I even started to teach myself how to edit content for videos. That’s how it all started.

After that job, I was a freelance worker doing mostly video and audio work. I was also in the tech industry advising for start-ups and helping them with strategic planning. My job at Growbot currently is the first full-time job that I’ve had since 2007.

About a year ago, I decided I was ready for a full-time job. I was really interested in bots and started working here at Growbot, but then Mozilla reached out and encouraged me to do this podcast. So eventually, I said yes.

What are you doing at Growbot?

I’m a product manager, so essentially, I work with the engineering team to create the features that we’re working on. Our bot is called Growbot. It’s a team recognition bot that runs on Slack and Microsoft teams. One problem when working at a big organization is that you sometimes don’t feel like you’re getting recognition for the hard work that you’re doing; we make it really easy to recognize individuals and give them kudos for what they’ve accomplished.

It’s a real-time bot that runs on chat platforms, and we use that data to help companies make good decisions about retention, hiring, etc. I design the chat experience and work with the engineers to create features for the product. I spend a lot of my time writing documents about what I want to get out of specific features. We go back and forth about what’s feasible and what we want the end result to be to the feature. And then, we build the product and go through a testing phase as well as start talking to customers about whether they’re enjoying the product.

What motivated you to get involved in IRL, and what motivates you to keep producing content?

I was kind of done with the new media content world after I took this job. I was still doing Sword and Lazer, which is my SciFi fantasy show, but that was pretty much it. Mozilla encouraged me to take on the podcast, and I felt pretty strongly that I didn’t want to take on another big project. Though the more they talked about it, the more I started to think that this was a really important subject.

The podcast was something that I could do to help people and educate people about issues in tech. So we found a way to make it work, and I’m really glad that we did. I’m kind of an activist at heart, so I like having a platform where I can help people understand the technology that they’re using and help people make good decisions about the technology that they’re using.

I felt like it was a good time to do it in the world.

What materials would you recommend to someone who wants to create a podcast?

You can start with very little resources and money and make a totally professional sounding podcast. It can sound as good as anything we’re doing or NPR is doing. You just need a good microphone and a quiet space that’s it. The microphone quality is so amazing these days. You can get one for very little money, and it’s going to sounds good.

For hosting, you can use archive.org which is completely free, and you can publish it under Creative Commons. Or you could do something like posting on Soundcloud which is relatively inexpensive. There are so many good hosting options now, and then you just need to use something to create the RSS feed like WordPress or Feedburner. There are a number of tools out there to make RSS and XML.

What I love about podcasting is that it’s really democratic. That’s why net neutrality is so important because we want to give people the opportunity to make a successful show and be on the same playing field as someone doing it for a big company. A lot of people who are independent have gone on to have huge shows. Tom, who I mentioned, is paid solely by Patreon, and he’s one of the top Patreon people. He puts out high-quality daily content which he creates and produces in his home and is able to pay people like me as contractors to be on his shows. It’s a whole cottage industry that has kind of sprouted up around good quality audio that’s cheap to make as well as put out on the Internet.

 What are some podcasts that you recommend?

Radiotopia is awesome, and they do a lot of great shows. 99% Invisible is a design show, but it kind of has a tech angle to it. My friend, Tom Merit, down in LA does Daily Tech News Show. He makes shows for Amazon Echo and other tech stuff like that. So many of the shows now are from big companies like Engadget and NPR, and it’s pretty amazing how widespread podcasting has become.

Joi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab

 

“Joi with Backyard Bamboo” Photo by Mizuka Ito is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

I’ve been passionate about tech for a while, and as I’ve kept up with the news, I’ve gotten a better sense of the tech world as a whole. Most people assume that tech consists of strictly coding and designing websites, apps, etc., but there’s so much more. I’m interested in writing about the areas that aren’t always thought of being involved with tech. I want to talk to the researchers, journalists, professors, lawyers, activists, podcasters, etc. to better understand the work they’re doing and what drives them to keep contributing. The profiles that I’m working on will provide explanations about what these jobs entail and tips for how the next generation can become involved.

I interviewed Joi Ito to learn more about the innovative research that’s taking place at the MIT Media Lab and how it applies to everyday life.

Katie Gorton: What are you working on at the MIT Media Lab?

Joi Ito: Well, I’m the director of the Media Lab, so I pretty much have a hand in everything that goes on here. We have 27 research groups, which are labs in themselves, and they work on hundreds of technology-driven projects. Our research projects draw from design, software, electronics, art, biology, and economics to approach big problems, and the Lab’s professors and students investigate everything from digital currencies, to synthetic biology, to human augmentation.

We’re working on so many things. A few examples: tattoos that act like touchscreens, bionic limbs that you can feel and move just by thinking, and driverless cars. Plus, we have a bunch of other groups—like the one on space exploration or understanding how the brain works. We also have visiting researchers and fellows who work on various issues, such as nonviolent civil resistance, racial discrimination, and farming. There’s a lot going on inside the Media Lab which we tackle with our view to the world outside our buildings.

Some people think we’re predicting the future, but we’re actually just inventing it. You’ve probably used some of our ideas products without even knowing they came from the Lab. Like car navigation, touch screens, Google Street View, LEGO Mindstorms, Makey Makey, and Scratch; Guitar Hero, the platform that powers Twitter, or E Ink (which is used in your phones, watches, wearables, and e-readers) and social robots like JIBO. When we first created these things, they were groundbreaking; now they’re everyday products, and you’ve all grown up using them.

Everyone at the Media Lab is making stuff (whatever their imagination inspires) and my job is mainly to give them the space and the resources —they don’t have to ask permission to try out things; they just start making and fixing and re-making until they feel they’ve come up with something new and useful for the world.

What’s currently going on in the field you’re researching? 

We’re researching in many, many fields but I’d say that, overall, the impact and ethics of what we’re doing drive our thinking and doing. For instance, artificial intelligence, which is a fast-growing field, gives us a lot of potential for developing new technologies, but will they actually help or hurt humanity? Same with gene editing; we’re working on this radical new technology, called CRISPR which could allow us to edit your genomes so you don’t get terrible diseases. But some people worry it could lead to “designer babies” where you could choose anything from eye color to athletic ability. That’s kind of scary. So, we and anyone else working in such fields have to keep the ramifications in mind. Always.

We’re interested in “antidisciplinary” research—which doesn’t fit within the traditional boundaries of academia but which brings researchers from different fields together to work on something cool. Antidisciplinary research is hard to fund and manage, but extremely important.

Why should more be interested in your research, and where do you think this field will lead?

With the development of artificial intelligence, the merging of various disciplines like biology, computation and design and the rapidly changing landscape, it’s very likely that both what you will need to learn and how you will learn it will change dramatically by the time you are in college. Just like everyone should learn to code, not just to get a job as a developer but to understand how the world works, something similar might be said about biology.

The future will be both exciting and in many ways scary and dangerous. Understanding science will be essential in understanding and thriving in this future. Also, because of the speed of change, it’s very likely that young people will understand science and technology better and in different ways than adults. We need you and we need you now!

What do you think teens can do to prepare if they want to become involved in this area?

You can learn a lot on the Internet. There are communities, blogs, videos. Also, there are gatherings and conferences and other events that young people can participate in. The key is to find something you’re passionate about, find a community and learn about the thing you’re excited about, but more importantly, learn how to learn.

There are many paths to get up the mountain, but the important thing is to pick a path and start walking.

Different people learn in different ways. Some learn through talking to people, some learn through books, some learn in classes, some learn through building things. Try all of them, but learn in the way that works the best for you.

If you can find a mentor who is doing something you find interesting who can help you learn, that can be invaluable. Sometimes the mentor is a teacher, but sometimes it’s someone online. In high school, I spent a lot of time writing emails to authors of books that I found interesting or asking questions to professors at Universities. It was easier to get responses back then because fewer people used email, but you can use tools like LinkedIn or Facebook too.

School can be inspiring to some people, but if you don’t find inspiration in school, make sure you keep looking for something that gets you excited – that spark is what will fuel your will and creativity in learning.

Do you have any book recommendations or other good resources to help readers find a place to start?

Naturally, I’ll recommend my most recent book, called Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future. Not just because I wrote it (with journalist Jeff Howe) but because it’s like a guidebook for how to make your way in the years to come.

Other books? You can see my favorite ones from 2016 in this article. They’re a good start if technology and science are your thing. You don’t have to stick with non-fiction only, though. Science fiction is fun and it can open up your mind to the possibilities of our future world so that you might work to make those possibilities a reality. Plus, depending on what interests you, you can find niche magazines and blogs online by people who work in those fields. You can also follow them on social media to find out more. Then there are podcasts for everything, and you can search them by subject, etcetera, on iTunes or other places that deliver podcasts. Of course, television and movies are among your resources, as well. There’s no one way to learn. And the learning path can also take you to higher education: As your interest starts to turn into what you think could be your future work, also check out the websites and social media of higher education institutions that offer related courses and programs to see if they might be a good fit for you.

Bottom line: read, watch, and listen to whatever and whoever capture your curiosity. You never know where all your learning could lead you. Keep an open, “antidisciplinary” mind.

###

LINKS:

MIT Media Lab: https://www.media.mit.edu/

Joi Ito: https://www.media.mit.edu/people/joi/overview/

Joi’s personal site https://joi.ito.com/  and Medium blog: https://medium.com/@joi

Joi on Prospects of Kidkind, a TV show for young kids: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ssw1KuFAQls

Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future: https://www.media.mit.edu/publications/whiplash-how-to-survive-our-faster-future/

“Ask Me Anything” (Joi on Reddit) https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/37qf9h/i_am_joi_ito_director_of_mit_media_lab_ask_me

Will Alden, Buzzfeed News

 

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Buzzfeed is a company that attracts millions of teens through interactive quizzes, recipes, and videos online. But Buzzfeed News is a side of Buzzfeed that is rarely focused on. It’s the serious side of a company that’s main center is social media and entertainment. Even though viewers may have qualms about trusting the journalism on Buzzfeed News, the reporters behind the scenes take their jobs seriously and are adamant about finding the truth.

Recently, I sat down with Will Alden, Buzzfeed’s Senior Business Reporter, to discuss his career in journalism— I asked him about his writing process, the advice he has for future writers, and what drives him to keep writing.

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Katie Gorton: First of all, how did you become involved in journalism, and what’s a basic timeline from when you found an interest in it to where you are now?

Will Alden: I approached journalism from the perspective of being interested in writing. It wasn’t that I was interested in a particular subject. I was mostly interested in becoming a better writer and found interest in all kinds of topics. I studied playwriting in college, and I also worked on my school newspaper eventually becoming an editor. I discovered during college that I really like journalism, so I transitioned from playwriting to non-fiction prose. I took a course in reporting and investigation type stuff and really late in my college experience, I discovered that I liked it opposed to the art criticism that I originally worked on.

I was lucky enough to get an internship, funded by my school, at the New York Observer and eventually got an entry-level job at the Huffington Post doing write-ups of other people’s new articles on their website. After a month of that, I told them I wanted to do original reporting instead of rewriting, and they let me do it. I think the key is finding a place that lets you do original reporting so you can actually find information that people are unaware of and might be interested in. That’s the best way to stand out, I think, as a young journalist.

What’s a typical day like for you?

I wake up, and I usually have some coffee at home. I try to go on a run if I can or some kind of exercise. I bike to work usually because I live not too far away. I aim to get to the office before 10, and I leave around 6 or so. You know I might be doing meetings during the day—going out somewhere or people might be coming in here—I might be on the phone or doing emails all day or writing. It kind of depends. Some days, I’ll just be focused on writing. Other days, I’ll be doing reporting or writing up a quick post if something’s happening. I’m generally in the office 5 days a week. Sometimes, I’m traveling or out in meetings, but usually, I’m in the office.

How do you go about finding stories to write about, and how do you usually research them?

My story finding process is a combination of all kinds of stuff. You have to read a lot. You have to read a number of different news sources, and you also have to be familiar with what’s going on most days in the news. You don’t have to be glued to your computer at all times, but you have to be familiar with what’s happening and know the important aspects of the story (people, companies, etc.) in whatever area you’re interested in writing about. As a journalist, you have to listen to what your gut tells you as well as your interests. If there’s a topic that you read about that’s interesting, you might reach out to the people mentioned in the piece or see if there’s more to that story. Or if there’s a company that’s getting coverage and it seems like there’s more to that story that’s not being said, you could find employees on Linked In or elsewhere and reach out to people that way. There’s really no one way to do it. It’s becoming familiar with an industry or a topic and then actually talking to people (i.e. picking up the phone, sending people emails) that kind of thing.

What are some challenges you face as a writer?

A big challenge is organizing my time efficiently and effectively. Journalism requires a lot of looking down pathways that might not lead anywhere, so it can sometimes be frustrating when you get a tip that leads to a dead end.

In general, writing and research require a lot of time, so it’s important to know how to manage time effectively and not waste it on Twitter and Slack.

I personally always find it a challenge to balance how I spend my time. It’s definitely manageable, but it’s also just something I think about a lot (i.e. how should I be spending my time and which tasks should I be working on?).

What inspires you to pursue investigative journalism and writing?

I’m interested in learning what the truth is of a given situation. I think the truth is very interesting, and I’m interested in compelling stories that reveal something about the world, a company, or a person. I’m just interested and curious, and I think journalism is a good field for someone who’s interested in that way.

What do you think is the best story you’ve published so far?

I was proud of the first Palantir one I did which was about a year ago. It was the first major look at how the business of that company was doing. People knew about who some of the customers were and roughly what they did, but they didn’t really know how the company was doing and what it was like when it interacted with customers. When I started writing, it was— I think it still is—the 3rd biggest of the privately held unicorn startups. This piece was fun because people hadn’t really written too much about Palantir, so that’s why I was attracted to it. I thought that was a good opportunity to write something that people hadn’t seen before which is what I try to do, and I’m proud of how that turned out.

Link: https://www.buzzfeed.com/williamalden/inside-palantir-silicon-valleys-most-secretive-company?utm_term=.yaxXkdxy8#.lpj5gxMRe

After you uncovered the truth about Palantir in your article, would you say you became more of an advocate for privacy?

Being a journalist is a more dispassionate role. I would say I care about press freedom, but I don’t advocate for particular issues when it comes to the areas I’m writing about. When you’re a journalist, there’s a tacit understanding that you leave your personal beliefs out of your work in service of telling readers something true, and I think that’s a worthwhile trade-off. Being a journalist is an important and powerful role.

How are you able to keep up with the latest issues in tech?

I use Twitter a lot, but I try not to use Twitter too much because you can easily get sucked into it and can get really distracting. I do find it more useful than Facebook because I can curate my feed better and follow certain journalists and news outlets. I also used an app called Nuzzel, and it’s  really good because it allows you to sign in with your Twitter or Facebook feed. You connect your account to Nuzzel, and then, it shows you just a feed of the articles that your friends are tweeting skipping the step of combing through all the tweets. This app is smart in that way that it does that work for you, and it’s less distracting than Twitter. I find that really helpful. I also use apps like the Buzzfeed News app, which is really good, the New York Times is good as well. I probably use those two apps the most for as far as news apps.

Who are your go-to people on Twitter?

Well, I try to follow a bunch of really good journalists:

  • Katie Benner at the NYT has been doing great work on the sexual harassment story that has been happening in venture capital.
  • Mike Isaac at the NYT is doing great work on Uber as well.
  • Nitasha Tiku who used to work with us at Buzzfeed but now at Wired is really good.
  • Casey Newton from the Verge is very good. 
  • Amir Efrati also at the Information is super good.
  • Ellen Huet and Mark Bergen at Bloomberg are both good.

There are also a great number of reporters here at Buzzfeed whom you can follow. For example in our office, there’s Caroline O’ Donovan, Ellen Cushing, Alex Kantrowitz, and Ryan Mac.

There are a bunch of great journalists. My favorite thing to do is follow reporters as opposed to news outlets because reporters tend to be more selective and smarter about what is actually interesting, so I find that to be a really great aspect of Twitter.

What do you think is the best way for a teenager to become involved in tech reporting?

I think the best way to become involved is to definitely read articles, magazines, newspapers, etc. and also journalism that’s not singularly tech reporting too. Read all kinds of journalism because I think the best tech journalism uses the techniques of good journalism. It’s not just in the tech sphere. Subscribe to newspapers or magazines if you can and also try to write original stuff whether it’s for your own blog or a publication even if it’s a small publication especially if they give you the opportunity to do original work that’s really the most important thing. I would say it is important to be on Twitter even just to follow certain people, so you’re aware of what people are doing and talking about and also just to be interesting and curious.

What are some general tips you have about how people can improve their writing?

Find an editor whom you trust and ask them to go through a piece of writing line by line changing and correcting your work. I’ve had that experience only a few times when I was a student, and it was amazing. Most writing classes, I took, didn’t have teachers who would actually go through writing—sentence by sentence—and tell you how to make things better. I think that experience is invaluable.

There are a few books you could read like the Elements of Style by Struncan and White. It’s definitely worth reading and very short. It’s been around for almost 50 years, and it’s the definitive book on writing. There are a few other good ones:  On Writing Well— that’s a very good one for nonfiction prose writing—Stephan King has a great book called On Writing too that you should definitely check out.

I think reading a lot helps, and writing—clearly and directly— helps a lot just in practice.

Do you know of any tech-related books that you can recommend to readers?

There have been some good books written recently about tech people like Ashley Vance’s book on Elon Musk and Brad Stone’s book about Amazon. I’m sure that there will be more books that will be written about the current environment that we’re in, but those are two good ones that I’ve read.

What other books do you read, and who do you think writes well?

I read lots of novels and other nonfiction books. I just read the Lost City of Z by David Grand, who’s a New Yorker writer, which is a great nonfiction book. I recently read This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolfe who actually teaches at Stanford. It’s his memoir which I definitely recommend. It’s beautifully written. I love the novels of Elmore Lenard, who’s a crime writer. He writes beautifully. His dialogue is incredible; his characters are hilarious and amazing. I’m just obsessed with his writing style. I really like books where there is a very strong and clear writing style.

Do you ever listen to podcasts, and do you have any recommendations?

Yeah, I love podcasts. There’s a bunch of Slate podcasts that I like. I like their Trumpcast. I like their politics podcasts. I also like their Lexicon Valley podcast. I love the Still Processing podcast from the New York Times. I love the Longform podcast. They interview writers. I always find that really interesting. I like the Recode Decode podcast about tech which Kara Swisher hosts. Buzzfeed has a bunch of really good podcasts. The New Yorker Radio hour is good. Containers was really interesting that was like a mini-documentary podcast about container shipping. Newsfeed is my editor Ben Smith’s podcast which is always fun.

Here’s a look inside the offices!

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What’s Really Taking Place Online

The Internet is an unfair domain. In general, people don’t know about what’s taking place online especially when it comes to the regulations and laws surrounding it. Most of the laws that apply to the online world challenge everything that the U.S. truly stands for as a country, and these decisions limit free speech, privacy, security, and more.

The actions taken by the government in these situations threaten the social contract theory made between the people and established government which is the fundamental base of democracy. As a whole, the public gives up a few of their rights to ensure others, but the actions taken by Congress and the president have proven that these too are decreasing.

The Internet will always be changing, and it is our responsibility to make it an accurate representation of our society and values.

It may seem that the Internet is only a platform on a computer screen, but as technology becomes implemented more and more into society, it affects all areas — political, social, legal, and economic — creating more change than we know.

Background:

To put it simply, the Internet is controlled by obsolete laws that allow for unscrupulous policies to occur and impact the lives of unknowing citizens. Under these laws, surveillance, unfair Internet policies (lack of net neutrality and more), and government hacking are considered constitutional and fair. Currently, the NSA justifies its surveillance programs by claiming that they protect our country from terrorism, but in reality, our privacy online is rapidly declining, and our government is not much closer than where it started from.

We are being controlled by an unjust system, and this needs to change. Unfortunately, these topics are not often questioned by everyday citizens, and they don’t have as much of a following as they should. More should know about Edward Snowden’s actions and the unlimited power the government and large corporations have in the domain of the internet.

To shift perspective, the Internet is also controlled by capitalist demands and corporations. The government aims to make sure that powerful corporations are on their side ultimately giving them even more power than should be designated to them.

Under Trump, privacy regulations have been repealed to allow Internet Service Providers (ISP’s), like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T, to sell and track personal user data without restraint in the U.S. ISP’s sell private information to make even more money from their users, and this repeal has allowed for the buying and selling of personal information to take place without permission from online users.

Most business is being done online and with this comes major privacy concerns about customer information. There have been ongoing controversies about whether individuals can trust corporations with such information when their interests aren’t always in the public’s best interest. Every piece of information that we give away online is stored and documented by companies, and it belongs to them. In fact, governments have taken advantage of their relations with tech companies to access information right from the corporation. These actions ultimately diminish our privacy and reveal the true interests of the corporations that rule online.

With the use of the Internet and other technology, society is drastically changing too. The current generation is constantly on phones and laptops using social media and other platforms to communicate, and this changes what is socially acceptable as well as the status quo. Being on so much technology is thought to be normal, but what are the consequences, and how is tech changing what we know about privacy, intimacy, our interactions with people, behavior, etc.? There is a lot to be researched on these topics that still remains unknown.

 

 

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