Download: Episode 50.
This week Audrey and I chat about AMP for Email, the legacy of JP Barlow, and the “House the Spied on Me.” Enjoy!
- [03:55] Try Brave and support recompilermag.com
- [07:27] Issue 9: Hard problems – The Recompiler
- [08:05] Call for Contributors for Issue 11: Love and romance – The Recompiler
- [09:02] AMP for email is a terrible idea | TechCrunch
- [09:23] Episode 25: A certain amount of ambiguity – The Recompiler
- [11:48] Bringing the power of AMP to Gmail
- [19:13] Email is your electronic memory | FastMail Blog
- [26:54] John Perry Barlow gave internet activists only half the mission they need.
- [32:45] TerraServer RIP | Maps for the Web
- [40:13] Why a tech journalist like Quinn Norton might think it’s fine to be friends with Weev.
- [48:17] The House That Spied on Me
- [56:21] Investigative Reporters and Editors | This Valentine’s Day, background your date using public records
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CHRISTIE: Hello and welcome to the The Recompiler, a feminist hacker podcast where we talk about technology in a fun and playful way. I’m your host, Christie Koehler.
Episode 50. This week, Audrey and I chat about AMP for Email, the legacy of John Perry Barlow, and The House That Spied on Me. Enjoy!
Oh, I can’t type today. Audrey, what’s going on?
AUDREY: It’s Friday and it’s kind of gloomy.
CHRISTIE: It is kind of gloomy. We actually found…no, I do not want to log in. I just want to look at the front…I cannot internet right now. Okay, seems to be good. Good. It’s February 16th. I feel like this is a busy week. We had Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras and Lent has started, and the Year of the Dog, the Lunar New Year.
AUDREY: Yeah, for sure. It seems like all of the festivity happened at once.
CHRISTIE: I feel like not all those things always combine.
AUDREY: No. Ash Wednesday’s a moving holiday, the Lunar New Year, Chinese, Vietnamese New Year, et cetera, also moves. Valentine’s Day doesn’t. President’s Day doesn’t. I think that’s a Monday. So, not that I know anybody who throws a party for that.
CHRISTIE: Hi cat!
AUDREY: Can you hear that?
CHRISTIE: Oh, yeah. Who is that?
AUDREY: I think it’s Kirk. You’ve talked about Puck doing this before. Kirk does the thing where he gets a toy in his mouth and then he walks around waiting for somebody to come and take it from him.
CHRISTIE: It must be a stripey cat thing.
AUDREY: Yeah, I think tabbies and tuxedos both have behavior patterns that I’ve noticed in a group. It’s really kind of funny.
CHRISTIE: Yeah, it’s funny though because Puck is…he moves his toys around during the day, but the howling is a nighttime thing. It’s a bedtime thing.
AUDREY: Just a single point in the day. Yeah.
CHRISTIE: So hey, this is episode 50.
CHRISTIE: We sort of celebrated it last episode, but we could celebrate it again.
AUDREY: Just imagine the confetti and streamers.
CHRISTIE: Yes. Confetti, it’s hard to translate that to radio or podcasting.
AUDREY: And also I think you promised me cake.
CHRISTIE: I know. We should figure that out. Back to Eden had nice things for Valentine’s Day, too. Back to Eden’s a local bakery that is vegan and gluten-free. So, my wife and I can both eat things from it and it’s also freaking delicious. Like they’ve mastered it.
AUDREY: And they do like over a dozen cupcake flavors. There is usually something for everyone. Yeah.
CHRISTIE: And not just cupcakes, like cookies and savory stuff. Anyway, we don’t need to…
AUDREY: But when you’re in Portland or you visit Portland, we definitely recommend Back to Eden. And they did not sponsor this.
CHRISTIE: There’s also a great tea shop next door or nearby. All right, so any announcements for us?
AUDREY: I do. We are trying to encourage people to sign up for Brave, the web browser, which I’d never used before, but that’s probably why they’re doing this promotion. Brave is a web browser that’s emphasizing security and privacy. They automatically do ad blocking. It automatically stops that crypto currency mining that Salon says they’ll do if you turn on an ad blocker. I was kind of blown away by that. Anyhow, so all this stuff is built into their browser model. It really seems to have a great team and they’re doing a micropayments thing built-in which we’ll get to. So they’re doing a thing right now where they’re encouraging publishers that are signed up with them to get people to try out the browser for a month. And so we have a referral code that if you’ve ever thought about this and wanted to see what it was like, you should use our referral code. And if you use the browser for a month then we’ll get about $5, which you know, that’s a coffee in this town.
And the micro payment system is really, really cool. I’ve just been meaning to check this out and actually try it for awhile. And I signed up the Recompiler as a publisher with them sometime last year when I just kind of saw something go by and was like, “Oh, okay. That’s cool.” So the way it works like for the regular user is that you create a wallet, like a cryptocurrency wallet, but it uses a Brave token now. And you create like an amount every month that you want to give to websites that you spend time on and there’s some other tinkering like who gets how much you have to look at them to put them in that category. But then that while it gets evenly distributed every month to the people who sites that you’ve been using and it’s all just built into the browser, which I thought was a really interesting place to be doing this. And so I set up both like a reader wallet and a publisher account. So if you use Brave and you put in whatever, your $5 a month that you want to give out, then we can potentially get a little share of that.
AUDREY: And it just kind of incorporates a lot of these concerns that we’ve talked about with like advertising and browsers and the web and security. It kind of ties all those things together in a really interesting way. And I would love to see the user base for this get big enough, and to reflect the amount of interest I think there is in supporting the people whose sites we use.
CHRISTIE: All right. So, brave.com/rec247 and we’ll put a link in the show notes. I think you’ve convinced me. I haven’t installed but I keep forgetting to use it.
AUDREY: Yeah. And I realized that I use, I often have both Safari and Chrome open because I felt that Chrome maybe did some various security things a little bit better, had better isolation. And also because there’s some tabs that I leave open that are just like big stuff like resource strains. So I put them in a separate browser. But I kind of moved all those tabs over to Brave and I figured that’s a good way for me to try it. And then I can close Chrome not be tied into whatever tracking that Google potentially does there.
CHRISTIE: All right. Any other announcements?
AUDREY: Well, Issue 9 is still in the shop. We still haven’t shipped it. So, if people are wondering like, “Where is it? Where is it?” We’re just trying to get the design details really as best as we can.
CHRISTIE: Hard problems.
AUDREY: Yeah. I would say that the design [inaudible] have been a little bit more complicated than I thought it would be. But everything that I’ve seen so far, I’ve been really thrilled with. So I think people will be excited when they get it.
CHRISTIE: All right. So shop.recompilermag.com. I’ll have links in the show notes for that. Anything else?
AUDREY: I think that’s it. Oh wait, no, no. We have a Call for Contributors. I should make a list that I put in our notes. We have an open Call for Contributors for Issue 11, which will be out this summer. Issue 11 is about love and romance. We’re going to talk about matching, about the apps that we use to kind of manage those aspects of our lives, about fan fiction maybe. I saw that one kind of thrown into this idea. And we really want to just have a wide range of ideas and a really inclusive perspective on this.
CHRISTIE: And there’s a straightforward URL for generally contributing to it, recompilermag.com/participate. And of course, we’ll put a link in the show notes to this specific call and to that as well.
Okay, our first topic, Google AMP Gmail.
AUDREY: Yeah. We saw this announcement, at the start of the week?
CHRISTIE: Yeah or mid week, I guess. I don’t know. It all kind of blends together.
AUDREY: What I mean is we’ve had a few days to consider why this might be a terrible idea.
CHRISTIE: Right. I don’t know that I needed a couple of days.
AUDREY: So we’ve talked about AMP before and it’s a, what? A format that Google has developed and promoted for web pages.
CHRISTIE: Yeah. It’s accelerated mobile pages.
AUDREY: So it’s a kind of packaging of content that Google, most pages that are using it are actually being hosted through Google for the AMP content.
CHRISTIE: Right. Yeah, I’ll have to go find the answer, but we’ve talked about this too because I think some more sites are hosting their own AMP content. But when Google initially rolled it out, they were basically repackaging a lot of other sites’ content into this new format and serving it from their own servers.
AUDREY: And I think one of the aspects that we had talked about at that time was that the ad networks that were compatible with AMP were really limited and they were limited to things that Google owns in some way. So, it seemed like just a serious land grab.
CHRISTIE: Yes, I think so. And their sort of value proposition, was it? It was all to make web pages load faster rate.
AUDREY: Yeah, I don’t know. Brave says that they will do that too from the browser angle and I might trust that a little bit more.
CHRISTIE: I think the other thing we’ve talked about too is like it’s an open source project, it’s on a .org domain. They’ve really dressed it up to make it look like, it even says the AMP project as an open source initiative aiming to make the web better for all.
AUDREY: But open source doesn’t mean that it is a grassroots project or community project.
AUDREY: It can be open source and entirely controlled by one company.
AUDREY: In fact, I would argue that that might be the norm for most of these projects.
CHRISTIE: Okay. So, earlier this week they announced a preview for AMP for email. So basically…what does that mean exactly? Basically it means as they say with AMP for email, it’s easy for information in email messages to be dynamic, up to date, and actionable.
AUDREY: It sounds like the way that emails can come in both plain text and HTML format, and hopefully your email client or your products like MailChimp is doing that packaging for you. So you type in your texts, you add some formatting, it gets packaged automatically as both HTML and plain text. So it sounded to me like they were adding another layer to that so that you could maybe design it with full AMP and have it delivered in two or three ways to the email client.
CHRISTIE: Basically, instead of email being email, each email would now be a little web app.
CHRISTIE: And the TechCrunch article that…not the one that’s critical, but the one just covering the announcements says, “Using AMP for Email, developers will be able to add an interactive calendar to your email, for example, so you don’t have to go through five rounds of back and forth messages to find a meeting time. Similarly, a message from your airline could show you up to date flight information or a marketer can send you a survey that you can fill out right in your inbox without having to go to another site.
Active calendar thing? I read that and I was like screaming at the browser to myself. We already have many solutions for that.
AUDREY: We do, yeah.
CHRISTIE: This is not a problem that needs solving.
AUDREY: We have so many different products that will help you with that.
CHRISTIE: Not everybody uses them. I’m not saying people don’t go back and forth in their email.
AUDREY: But this actually points us to the first problem with this, which is that it cuts out a lot of other entities that provide services that we use.
CHRISTIE: Yes. So it’s really that without having to go to another site.
AUDREY: Without having to go to a not-Google site.
CHRISTIE: Right. The other thing, and I actually thought the TechCrunch article that AMP for Email is a terrible idea. I 100% concur. Devin Coldewey — I’m messing that up, I know it — points out that…where am I? I know I quoted it. Okay. “AMP is, to begin with, Google exerting its market power to extend its control over others’ content. Facebook is doing it, so Google has to. Using its privileged position as the means through which people find a great deal of content, Google is attempting to make it so that the content itself must also be part of a system it has defined.”
AUDREY: Yeah, which potentially cuts out a lot of other email providers, email clients. That was kind of the first thing that I wondered about, like if I use the mail app that comes with my Mac, then are they going to feel like they need to implement AMP? I don’t know, like I kind of hope that they wouldn’t feel that way. But if that’s the case then you’re going to have emails that get sent from people using Gmail then not everybody can read and that not everybody can make use of. And if they don’t downgrade appropriately then you’re just going to be sending junk.
CHRISTIE: We’re already getting plenty of junk.
AUDREY: Yeah, and junk that is hard to distinguish from spam.
AUDREY: From some of those spam attachments that you get.
CHRISTIE: So, this moves us further away from interoperability, which I feel like that’s another thing is really hard to sell normal users on. Not normal, but the average user on.
AUDREY: Well, I mean it’s always just worked. Email is one of the oldest and most stable things that we make use of. Like most users have a reason to think about this.
CHRISTIE: Yeah. And I saw many people use Gmail and through the web interface without even, like that’s become email for them.
CHRISTIE: And Google’s been adding all kinds of things on top of that for a long time now.
AUDREY: Various kinds of filtering and selection and what the Google…what do they call it? Google Now? The thing that kind of tries to build your schedule based on what’s in your email.
CHRISTIE: Yeah, I think so. And just like all the, there’s other integrations like marketing, you can do automated emails and stuff like that. The other concern is that it just ups the ante on ads and trackers and surveillance capitalism, basically.
AUDREY: It allows a lot more depth to what happens there. I mean, right now and throughout my web development career, I designed a lot of email templates that were sent out by various applications, and so I had to tinker a lot with the HTML design of it. But even now just using MailChimp, I notice a lot the limitations that we have, like we can tell whether an email has been opened but not for everybody. Not all clients are set up in a way that reveals that information.
CHRISTIE: And I turn it off. Yeah. I don’t load remote images.
AUDREY: It’s totally reasonable. And we can potentially find out what links have been clicked. There’s a wrapper on that. But we can’t play video strictly in the mail. Those are always linked with a preview and there’s just a lot of other kinds of content that you can embed on the webpage that you can’t actually in HTML on the email and I’m fine with that. But if you’re designing content for it, you have to be aware of those limitations. And I can definitely see how some people in that position of designing content would look at it and go, “Well, why can’t I? Why can’t I have a whole webpage in here? Why can’t I have a whole web app?”
CHRISTIE: Right. I can see why marketers want this.
CHRISTIE: The other issue that I thought was well talked about in this blog post from FastMail CEO, Bron Gondwana, and did you read through this?
AUDREY: I didn’t, no.
CHRISTIE: So the title is Email is Your Electronic Memory. Their take on this is that basically the immutableness, the unchanging-ness of what comes into your email box is really key. And it’s the biggest thing that email still has over social networking or any of the hosts of chat systems.
AUDREY: Once you receive an email, that is the extent of the content?
CHRISTIE: That it’s your copy. It’s like your permanent record that for you. They say your email box is your copy of what is said and nobody else can change it or make it go away. And that over time your mailbox becomes an extension of your memory, a trusted repository of history in the way that an online news site will never be.
AUDREY: And anybody who’s been in certain kinds of workplace situations and needed to BCC for records for exactly this kind of reason, it’s not just sort of casually like I’d really like to remember every email that I got from that friend. I mean there’s that. But there’s also the way that it provides a record of behavior in difficult situations as well.
CHRISTIE: Yeah. I think Facebook and Google have kind of been upping the ante on this stuff. But also I think things like Slack have also contributed to this. Slack has very limited interoperability. You’re completely in its walled garden. You cannot get logs out of it. So when you’re using it in your workplace, if you want to have that record, you have to like remember to copy. Basically, you have to remember to copy and paste.
AUDREY: [Inaudible] take a screencap of it. And that’s kind of becoming how people communicate this stuff, that you take a screencap and those can be altered. And so you don’t really have the same reliability.
CHRISTIE: No, they can be altered. They’re not machine readable in the same way that a text log would be. In one regard, they give you greater fidelity because it’s a different kind of…to alter it, you have to do a different kind of work, but they can be altered. If you have pages and pages, that’s multiple screenshots you have to take.
AUDREY: Right. Like the size of the data is a lot bigger.
CHRISTIE: Right. And I know that IRC had usability problems, which in my opinion were completely solvable if anyone freaking bothered. But it was basically a checkbox in a lot of IRC clients and that your channels were logged for you. And you can’t do that at all with Slack.
The other thing is that you can edit. Messages can be edited in Slack and there’s not really, I don’t believe there’s any kind of change log, right?
AUDREY: Yeah. I’m trying to remember if I’ve seen one, it does flag as edited so you know that there’s been a change, but…
CHRISTIE: You don’t know how many changes. You don’t know when the change was made. Maybe that’s exposed through the API, but I believe their terms of service prohibit sort of any kind of extensive logging or things like that because they expect you to pay for continued access.
AUDREY: Yeah. Maybe that’s the business model.
CHRISTIE: And so where I’m going with this is let’s say somehow you have a connection between something like Slack into your inbox. And instead of being a copy like a log…let’s say there was a bot that you could say, “Email me a copy of this transcript.” Right? Because you wanted to preserve a copy of it. If this AMP thing goes forth and instead of being like a snapshot of what was said, then it’s basically like a link. And then as things change in Slack, it gets updated.
AUDREY: Then you would never have that permanent record.
CHRISTIE: No, you would never have that permanent record.
AUDREY: Yeah. I mean, I still use email in those sorts of ways. The task that handles people’s updates when they renew their subscriptions, sends an email to the Recompiler when it changes that record so that I always have a way to go back and find out exactly what happened. And that was the most lightweight way I could think of to keep that kind of change log.
CHRISTIE: So if this paradigm becomes the dominant one, they’ll have to be like, you know how for web pages, we have like different archive services. You’ll need that for your own email or you’ll have to take screenshots of it and say…I take screenshots like pretty much daily. You know how hard it is when I have to go find a particular thing from a year ago. I have to sit and look at them all. There’s like no easy way to categorize, you know, catalog them.
AUDREY: That definitely makes sense. And I think the way that most people are using Gmail or a very similar kind of browser based email client, it seems like we’ll end up with another one of these splits, right? The people that are are using email clients that don’t support this and email clients that provide that kind of like logging and snapshotting that you’re talking about versus most people just not having access to that, which means that there’s a kind of objective reality that most people lose access to.
CHRISTIE: Yeah. I already experienced that at work now and that like we’re using Slack but I hate it and I think that most of my coworkers were just like, “Whatever Christie’s doing?” They sort of think I’m being eccentric or whatever. And then also most everyone uses Gmail through the web and so something will come about using a particular tool or a workflow. And I’m like, that won’t work for me. You know, I use the mail client. So yeah, I think we’re just in for more of that.
AUDREY: But it also struck me how inevitable these kinds of changes are given the consolidation that we have. There aren’t competing forces to push back on that really. If most email either is sent or received or both from Gmail, then that’s the power and control that they have. And if it serves Google to do it, then [inaudible] really just along for the ride.
CHRISTIE: Yeah. And Fast Mail…I switched all my personal stuff to Fast Mail a couple of years ago and I think they’re one of the leading top alternatives. And even they say I’m not going to promise. So basically they’re saying like this is against our values, but then they say I’m not going to promise that Fast Mail will never implement AMP because compatibility is also important to our users, but we will proceed cautiously and skeptically on any changes that allow emails to mutate after you’ve seen them.
AUDREY: That makes sense. Yeah.
CHRISTIE: People are trying. Our next topic I think actually ties in. I think our next topic kind of helps to explain how we got here.
So John Perry Barlow died last week, recently, the last couple of weeks? And John Perry Barlow was a co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and also a lyricist for the Grateful Dead.
AUDREY: I saw that. I didn’t know that.
CHRISTIE: And ran a cattle ranch. His family has a cattle ranch in Montana, I think. And Barlow is one of these folks along with like Stewart Brand and some of these other sort of early internet pioneers. A lot of these people are these folks that really set the tone, set the culture for what we basically call Silicon Valley today.
AUDREY: And for the culture of the internet in general, the way that people communicate, the values that people express.
CHRISTIE: And so Barlow was definitely an early pioneer of the internet, like say hey, this is a thing that is valuable and is going to be life changing, not just individually life changer, but like a really big monumental thing. And then it’s deserving of protection. He is also very, very anti-government.
AUDREY: And could see that there were competing requirements and competing needs between governments and open communication on the internet. And in terms of the infrastructure, this is still an ongoing back and forth, what countries control things, what legal entities have control over things. And he definitely seems to have been of the opinion that is completely unnecessary that the internet itself and the people who make the internet should be the ones to decide that.
CHRISTIE: Yeah, April Glaser has a piece in Slate and I was actually really happy to see this because I had some unease. And whenever anyone famous passes away, there’s usually, I think, you want to say nice things that people have passed.
AUDREY: Some people kind of smooth over some of the details or the conflicts.
CHRISTIE: Right. There was a lot of stuff being written about him and a lot of gratitude and things like that. And so, I was just happy…not happy…but this article spoke to some of the unease I’d been feeling. So The Incomplete Vision of John Perry Barlow. He inspired activists to fight for personal liberty on the internet. He left out fighting for justice. She’s got a quote from something Barlow wrote or gave a speech on governments, and I think this is what you’re talking about Audrey, “Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. You have neither solicited nor received ours,” Barlow wrote. “We did not invite you. You do not know us, nor do you know our world. Cyberspace does not lie within your borders.”
AUDREY: And I remember reading that. At that time, it definitely had an impact on me.
CHRISTIE: Did it?
AUDREY: Yeah, because access to the internet was really about a kind of personal freedom, like really directly for me. The idea that maybe it was about building something beyond any system that had controlled us or dictated our lives in the past. That was a pretty powerful idea.
CHRISTIE: She goes on to say, “Barlow’s focus was on harms that the government would pose to the openness of the internet, not on the harms that corporations would pose, free from government regulation. And it has been this underlying framework that has largely shaped internet activism in the past 20 years. She goes on to posit that perhaps one of the reasons that we haven’t seen a really widespread movement against corporate and government surveillance is that we sort of ignored the corporate aspect of it.
AUDREY: Well, 20 years ago, the conversation we’re having about that was about Microsoft creating competition to open source, right? Making it difficult to operate within that framework by having a dominant proprietary system instead. It didn’t really anticipate the situation where we have things like AMP, we have corporations that are designing things that are available to everybody else to interact with and to create these interfaces to. But the design and the structure of them are controlled entirely by a corporation.
CHRISTIE: And the data. I think early advocates of open source or free software never really considered like the service and the data aspect of it.
AUDREY: Well, none of us had that much raw data to work with at the time. Yeah, I remember Microsoft doing this demonstration called TerraServer where they released or gave people access to a terabyte of satellite data and we’re just fascinated by it, by the scale of that.
CHRISTIE: It was just so much more data than we’ve ever dealt with at one time before.
AUDREY: Yeah. So, 20 years ago, it never occurred to me as like an engaged youngster that it would be possible to track every single step of every single day, every single action that I took every day that we could have that kind of data. I would have thought that kind of mind-boggling, fascinating. But just a little bit too big to think about.
CHRISTIE: It is weird for me though, because I became aware of this sort of part of internet culture only after being on the internet for a long time. And I never really went through an anti-government phase, so this sort of argument has always been a little remote for me. And I think it’s interesting how your access and your history that you bring can affect the things that you identify with or further shaped by.
AUDREY: Yeah. I mean also by being me, with my background and experiences and needs, I also fairly quickly encountered this tension between content and people, between the needs of the content as though it’s an isolated thing and the needs of people like what we need from our online environment.
CHRISTIE: I think part of the reason I want to talk about this is because…April Glaser closes the article with, “At the same time, Barlow’s distaste for regulation combined with an early sense that the internet would change the world (and thus should be defended from the government by the people who use it) likely helped lay the groundwork for the unhinged growth of the corporate walled gardens we have today.
AUDREY: I think that’s a pretty reasonable observation.
CHRISTIE: And the other thing, I’m not going to make a blanket statement for all these sort of “internet pioneers”. But Barlow certainly and Brand, I don’t think they really ever questioned their access to this technology and that they had a certain level of privilege to be able to access it. And so they never considered that as factors. I see the same thing in some of the writing of the early sort of open source pioneers. They’re basically like, open source is free for us to produce because computers and internet connectivity is readily available. It’s like, “Well, no, not for everybody.”
AUDREY: Right, that there’s already mediated access and there’s mediated control. It’s pretty rare that a person can host all their own data, run all their own servers, provide all their own services. And that was sort of the vision that they were operating from, was the idea that everybody had that level of privilege, like a lot of their idea of how this should work absolutely comes from that point of privilege.
CHRISTIE: Definitely, yeah. And so I had sort of been thinking about all that. And then this thing with Quinn Norton happened, and April wrote another piece and I thought it was a really good…not exactly a follow up, but sort of a continuation in some of the ideas raised in her article about JP Barlow. And to me this also connected dots and things I’ve been thinking about with the sort of Silicon Valley culture, the EFF culture, the internet freedom culture and hacker culture and security and free speech.
AUDREY: The whole afternoon was, in retrospect, pretty hilarious. You know, that Quinn Norton got…well, that they announced that she was joining the editorial board of the New York Times as their technology contributor. Everyone went, “Well wait. Have you seen what she tweeted?” And we didn’t even…this didn’t even reference in other behaviors or other interactions, just straight off of Twitter. And there was quite a bit of response. I was really glad to see that because I mean, if you’ve known the ways that her work has been problematic, you really hope that the large institutions would care about that. And they did, actually. It’s a little fascinating that whatever background they looked into to hire her, they didn’t see this stuff because it was very easy to find. But yeah, it turns out that that was more than the New York Times wanted.
CHRISTIE: Yeah. What was funny about the whole thing for me is that I was really busy that day. And so, it wasn’t until like 10:30 where I was looking at Twitter. Enough of it had died down. I only saw a few references or something. And so I was like, “What?!” And it took me a while to sort of track it, like I had to go and track it all down and it was just like the whole thing happened in a span of like 10 hours.
AUDREY: Yeah. No, I think it was like six. It was fast. Yeah. That’s really interesting. But you know, what it showed was this extreme free speech perspective, that anything that I say that I think I have a good intention about is perfectly reasonable. And this attitude that that is kind of the best way to think about technology, to think about our communication through technology.
CHRISTIE: And then the other part of that too is sort of how she operates within the larger community and how that community is influenced by sort of the status quo of valuing freedom of speech and ignoring other problematic behaviors from the people whose free speech they’re protecting.
AUDREY: Yeah. I mean kind of entranced by people who pushed boundaries. I feel like that’s a really strong part of it too. This second article that you’re talking about, about Quinn Norton being friends with weev, it really gets this across that there’s a certain part of our community that is just fascinated by the people who push so far for access to systems that they think are in our public interest. And that feeling can just overwhelm any other kind of judgment about them.
CHRISTIE: Do you think that’s what it is? It’s interesting that you used the word fascination.
AUDREY: I do, because I’m thinking of…I’m not just thinking of Quinn Norton here. I’m thinking of the book that Bella Coleman wrote about Anonymous, where there’s a whole section where she sits down with weev and talks to him. And she pretty much says outright that that’s kind of how…hearing him talk about his work, that’s kind of the impact that it has is “wow”. That somebody would be so devoted to these things that, you know, like we’ve been talking about a certain portion of the internet community and of people that have had control over things. It’s like an extreme expression of those values.
AUDREY: I did finish the book, but that was kind of a point where I’m like, “Oh, geez. I’m just really grossed out right now.”
CHRISTIE: I’m processing what you’re saying because you’ve shed light on a different aspect of this for me. I think I was taking freedom of expression in one sort of way and you’ve got me thinking about it now in terms of that boundary pushing and pushing it back against authority or whatever, like you said, and framing it as a fascination or like some kind of attraction is, I don’t know, that makes more sense to me. Not in that I think it is right, but that it made sense why. Because the other thing that happened with the Quinn Norton thing is there’s a bunch of people in my extended social network that were, I think they stopped defending her after more stuff was brought up. But when the announcement was first made, they were like, “This is great,” and, “This is exactly what the Times needs,” and things like that. And then you could see that, like when I went back and looked through, there was like they were defending her and then they were like, “Hmmm, I’m really conflicted now.” And that surprised me at first.
AUDREY: Well, like I said, I think that it is just extreme, but kind of obvious representation of those values. And that if what you value is internet freedom, and I mean this like in capital letters kind of way, then people who fight for that are people that you value. It allows you to overlook the details of that and the human impact of that.
CHRISTIE: I’m starting to understand that this is the case with all kinds of things, but that my conception of freedom of speech is different than other people’s. And I think some people contextualize it as a freedom to push boundaries, kind of without consequence or whatever and because Quinn herself is a big boundary pusher. That’s why she fits in this community. And to me, there’s definitely times where boundary pushing is appropriate and a thing that makes sense to you. But a lot of times, it’s a red flag for problematic behavior and…
AUDREY: And abusive behavior, right?
CHRISTIE: And abusive behavior, yes. And that’s what I had been noticing from Quinn for a long time. And I think if you’re not tuned into that aspect, you might just see it as being avant garde and like brave and out there and saying things that need to be said and pushing back when things need to be pushed back.
AUDREY: Right. And if you aren’t experiencing [the harm] yourself, maybe you can deal with this in a much more abstract way.
CHRISTIE: Yeah. April’s article, I think, does a really good job breaking this down and talking about, “Norton, like so many champions of internet freedom, is a staunch advocate of free speech. That was certainly the view that allowed so much of the internet freedom and hacker community to overlook weev’s ardent anti-Semitism when he was on trial for breaking into AT&T’s computers.” She does say, “It’s true for both internet activists and the ACLU.” If you’re going to defend someone’s civil liberties, you have to sometimes defend someone who’s a massive racist. She says, “It’s also totally possible to defend someone’s right to say awful things and not become their “friend,” however you define the term.”
AUDREY: Yeah. I mean I read through this, this morning and I was just thinking about how there’s a pretty big gap between everybody deserves legal representation and these activities to serve legal representation and making a poster with his face on it. There’s a giant gap between those two things.
CHRISTIE: Yeah. She says…I really appreciated this. I actually even highlighted it in a different bolder color. “When civil liberties are defended without adjacent calls for social and economic justice, the values that undergird calls for, say, free speech or protection from government search and seizure can collapse. Countless activists, engineers, and others have agitated for decades for an open web—but in the process they’ve too often neglected to fight for social and economic justice at the same time. They’ve defended free speech above all else, which encouraged platforms to allow racists and bigots and sexists and anti-Semites to gather there without much issue.”
AUDREY: And there’s a certain set of people that get really offended by campaigns to take down extremely racist sites from the internet, for example, to make it so that nobody wants to host them, that they will take that as an attack on free speech rather than community action toward a common safety.
CHRISTIE: All right. I’m glad we talked about that.
AUDREY: Yeah. I’m just thinking a lot about how I evaluate trust. Trust is a big part of these things. A big component for me is when I see these kinds of problematic behaviors, I don’t trust people anymore. I don’t trust somebody who has such extreme views on free speech to have my back as equally as somebody ultimately more privileged and more hateful. I don’t think you can do both at the same time effectively.
CHRISTIE: No, there’s always trade-offs. Because we have limited resources and we always have to negotiate one person’s needs over another’s or in context with another’s. Another thing that requires trust is making your house a smart home and then having your coworker have access to all that data.
AUDREY: This is just a great project that they did.
CHRISTIE: I loved it. As horrifying as the subject matter is, the way it was written, it was really enjoyable and there’s many snarky, fun ways of putting things.
AUDREY: So, The House That Spied on Me really did spy.
CHRISTIE: And did you notice that this was in part funded by Mozilla Foundation?
AUDREY: I didn’t know.
CHRISTIE: It’s at the bottom.
AUDREY: I think that you ping on Mozilla.
CHRISTIE: Yeah, probably. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to turn that off. Okay, so what’s the deal here Audrey? Tell me about this.
AUDREY: They went and they found basically every category of home connectivity that could be applied and installed all of them in the same house. And then set up a router that allowed access to monitor all the traffic passing through remotely by the coworker and then watched it go over Christmas too, which I kind of love. And the details of how these things worked and what they communicated is so interesting. I’ve read a couple of breakdowns of, like with Alexa and Google Home. I think I should know this now. Yeah, I’ve read a couple of breakdowns where people have just looked at the traffic that, those sent, and whether basically are they sending data and phoning home when you’re not actively using them. That’s kind of a big distinguishing factor. And it was just really interesting to see like what does the smart plug do and what does the coffee pot do. I don’t know, the Roomba was not actually one that sent data outside the house. I think that was a pretty good choice. I don’t know. I didn’t even know that you could automate so many things.
CHRISTIE: So many things – toothbrush, coffeepot, baby monitor, bed.
AUDREY: Yeah. There was a heating pad in the bed that could also try to tell how well you’re sleeping.
CHRISTIE: I don’t want to read too much from it because I think it’s entertaining enough, we should just talk about it, link to it, and then folks should go read it. But it turns out that yes, there’s a lot of information that is collected and stored and transmitted and there’s surveillance [inaudible] that’s creepy. But also it was very, very annoying.
AUDREY: Yeah. No, it did not work as an effective cohesive system in the slightest.
CHRISTIE: No, like the gadgets we’re constantly bugging her. I will tease this, but she says, “I soon discovered that the only thing worse than getting a bad night’s sleep is to subsequently get a report from my bed telling me I got a low score and missed my sleep goal. Thanks, smart bed, but I know that already. I feel like shit.”
AUDREY: There’s also a great bit about the coffeepot freaking out.
AUDREY: When they aren’t home, maybe for reasonable network issues, but it’s still the idea that the coffeepot is sitting there going, “Help! Help!”
CHRISTIE: And that part of the issue with this is that all these things, there’s not really a standard and so they couldn’t get a coffeepot integrated with all the things. So things were kind of kluged together.
AUDREY: Something like 20 different smartphone apps, yeah.
CHRISTIE: Yeah, this is a good read. I think people should go check it out. I’m curious what the budget was also to do all these things.
AUDREY: Whether the manufacturers would offer them as review trials.
CHRISTIE: Possibly, yeah. Or I was thinking about in terms of if you wanted to, like this is definitely, the $15 Proctor Silex toaster is not going to be internet…maybe it will. You know, I shouldn’t say that because maybe it will if it’s like ad supported or whatever.
AUDREY: That reminds me of the toaster in Red Dwarf. Have you ever watched that?
AUDREY: There’s a toaster that really, really, really wants you to make toasts.
AUDREY: I don’t know. The TV is one that really sticks with me too that if you want to buy a non-internet enabled TV these days, it’s hard.
CHRISTIE: Yeah. And you should definitely not by a Vizio TV.
CHRISTIE: Speaking of TVs, there’s things we like on the internet this week, mine is TV related. I’ve been enjoying watching the Winter Olympics, although I did something dumb and I set the DVR to record it all. And so, every day the DVR is full and I have to go through and delete the things we’re never going to watch. I think that’s a little too much. I don’t think I realized just how much programming there is. But after about the 8th time that they…I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they keep talking about like, “Download the VR app and watch some limited experiences in VR.” So I was finally like, “Well, I have a Google Cardboard. Let me check this out.” So I downloaded the NBC sports app and put it in my cardboard. And even without a cable login, you can watch a few of the videos. And it’s pretty cool.
AUDREY: After you told me this, I tried it. I thought it was really interesting and also just a little too awkward for, like they had ‘Watch Live’. I don’t know if I would sit there for an entire event like this.
CHRISTIE: Yeah, I do. I start to get a little queasy after a few minutes and I don’t know if that’ll ever be solved for me with VR. Did you watch the opening ceremony?
CHRISTIE: That was one of the ones I really enjoyed, but there’s also a funny bit about it. I thought it was really cool and immersive and I’m sort of excited for where that’s going. And I hope that it gets to the point where I can afford an actual Oculus Rift or whatever because I think they’re very expensive right now.
AUDREY: It’s not too bad for the…the other one. I’m blanking on the name.
CHRISTIE: Does Samsung have one?
AUDREY: Yeah. Samsung definitely has one because they’re running a weird ad for it. About being inspired by your VR experience to push yourself harder.
CHRISTIE: Oh, weird.
AUDREY: Yeah, I keep seeing the ad and just going, “Oh no.”
CHRISTIE: I just want to play Skyrim. I just want to play Elder Scrolls VI in VR. I’m hoping if we have to wait forever for Elder Scrolls VI, at least it will be in VR. And then I also have a fantasy that it won’t make me motion sick. But I think, I don’t know. We’ll see how that turns out.
AUDREY: Some of the newer ones seem better that way and everybody recommends you don’t like spend hours and hours in there because you do start to notice the impact.
CHRISTIE: Yeah. I feel like it’s just going to make everybody near sighted too.
AUDREY: Maybe. Yeah, I don’t know.
CHRISTIE: What’s your thing that you like on the internet this week?
AUDREY: Well, it’s a little silly. But with Valentine’s Day, there were all sorts of ways that various organizations celebrated or talked about it. And my favorite was this guide from a reporter’s organization on how to use public records to do a background check on your date. I don’t know, that really cracked me up.
CHRISTIE: And it wasn’t from a like…they’re not trying to…it isn’t from a [inaudible]? This is for like make sure you’re not dating a creep, right?
AUDREY: Yeah. I mean just to find out…I’m going to click on it and then we’ll get a clicky noise. I apologize.
CHRISTIE: Don’t let love get in the way of investigating.
AUDREY: The old saying in journalism goes something like, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” So, it goes over like, yes, Google them. Go ahead and pull their like previous addresses. That stuff’s pretty straightforward. Find out where they went to school. If they lie about that, that’s probably a big flag. There’s a national public registry for sex offenders. You can do criminal background check if you want. Let’s see, what else? Property records. When people say they own their house, check their property records. Make sure they’re paying the bills. And then you can also check their job if it’s one that requires licensure. And this is from the Investigative Reporters and Editors Association.
CHRISTIE: I really appreciate this. Maybe I’m cynical, but yeah, trust but verify, right?
AUDREY: I mean, if nothing else, do this for yourself. It’s really helpful to find out what kind of information is available about you.
CHRISTIE: Right. And if you notice something that’s wrong, you can try to correct it or at least know that it’s out there in case someone’s running a records check on you.
AUDREY: Although with those sites that try to track all of your previous addresses, if there’s a mistake there, I would leave it.
CHRISTIE: Some of them are like honey potting. They want you to update that so they have better information to sell to other people about you
AUDREY: So yeah. I don’t know. This was fun. It was a just like, “Hey, Happy Valentine’s Day! Don’t you want more info?”
CHRISTIE: Awesome. All right. We have the funniest way of celebrating holidays around here.
AUDREY: Yeah, it’s true that our take on festivity might not be everyone’s. But hey, we are going to go have cake at some point in the near future. So, there we are, episode 50.
CHRISTIE: Yeah. I did not give up sweets for Lent this year because we have a whole bunch of candy around. So, I am supposed to be giving up working after 5:00 PM. So far, I’m doing a really bad job of it, but we’ll see.
All right, great episode. Thanks, Audrey, for joining me again this week.
AUDREY: Thank you.
CHRISTIE: Thanks everyone for listening and we’re going to sign off.
And that’s a wrap. You’ve been listening to The Recompiler Podcast. You can find this and all previous episodes at recompilermag.com/podcast. There you’ll find links to individual episodes as well as the show notes. You’ll also find links to subscribe to The Recompiler Podcast using iTunes or your favorite podcatcher. If you’re already subscribed via iTunes, please take a moment to leave us a review. It really helps us out. Speaking of which, we love your feedback. What do you like? What do you not like? What do you want to hear more of? Let us know. You can send email feedback to email@example.com or send feedback via Twitter to @RecompilerMag or directly to me, @Christi3k. You can also leave us an audio comment by calling 503 489 9083 and leave in a message.
The Recompiler podcast is a project of Recompiler Media, founded and led by Audrey Eschright and is hosted and produced by yours truly, Christie Koehler. Thanks for listening.