Download: Episode 51.
This week Audrey and I chat about Twitter latest bot purge, infosec lawsuits, what the EFF says activists should keep in mind when using Slack, the magic of calendars, and more. Enjoy!
- [00:49] Call for Contributors for Issue 11: Love and romance – The Recompiler
- [01:47] Calagator 10th Anniversary Party
- [02:38] Conservative Twitter is freaking out over a reported bot purge – The Verge
- [10:23] Twitter Is Trying To Kill “Tweetdecking.” Here’s What You Should Know.
- [17:30] Lawsuits threaten infosec research — just when we need it most | ZDNet
- [20:12] This ‘Gray Hat’ Hacker Breaks Into Your Car — To Prove A Point : All Tech Considered : NPR
- [27:46] The Revolution and Slack | Electronic Frontier Foundation
- [37:52] Expensify deleted their blog post about MTurk!
- [40:56] The next platform you should be thinking about? Calendar apps. | Poynter
- [46:14] A decade of events: Portland’s quintessential tech calendar turns 10 – Silicon Florist
- [54:30] Assassin’s Creed Origins’ Discovery Tour lets the beauty of Egypt shine – Polygon
- [57:08] Janelle Monáe – Make Me Feel [Official Music Video]
Call for Contributors for Issue 11: Love and romance
For our third issue of 2018, we’ll be talking about love and romance! We’re looking at the technology that brings us together with our fellow humans. Our guest editor for this issue will be Thursday Bram.
Here’s a few ideas to get you started:
- How to understand the information a dating site collects about you
- Almost anything about matching algorithms
- Technical concerns of ending a relationship (when do you kick folks off your Netflix account?)
- Date ideas randomizers
- Wedding planning tools with APIs or SDKs
- Analysis of fan fiction
We look for ideas that will be effective at an advanced beginner to intermediate level of technical knowledge, and that are grounded in the author’s personal experiences. We’re especially interested in work from people who are part of under-represented groups in technology. Contributors are paid.
Find the details and submit your ideas at https://recompilermag.com/participate/. Submissions are open through March 8.
Note from our guest editor: Love is for everybody. I want pitches about technology for different people with different experiences. There is one constraint I want to talk about, though: Try to keep your pitches on the PG side of things. The Recompiler’s readership includes high school students, so I want to be mindful about how we cover any particularly sexy topics.
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We broadcast our episode recordings LIVE on most Fridays at 10am PST. Mark your calendars and visit recompilermag.live to tune-in.
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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 51. This week Audrey and I chat about Twitter latest bot purge, infosec lawsuits, what the EFF says activists should keep in mind when using Slack, the magic of calendars, and more. Enjoy!
What’s happening, Audrey? You got some announcements for us?
AUDREY: I do. Yeah. The CFP for Issue 11, the Call for Contributors for Issue 11 is now well underway. We’re getting some great ideas from people who want to write and there is still time for you to send in yours. I know that Thursday, our editor for the issue is really interested in hearing more about stages of our relationships and how technology plays into that. She sort of included a nudge for including divorce and so how divorce might affect our tools and technologies. I also heard that we might be getting some exciting things about spreadsheets, intriguing ways that you can use them.
CHRISTIE: All right. So, recompilermag.com/participate.
AUDREY: And that there’s a specific link for the details for that. And then the other big thing is that we are having a party on Thursday next week. So, just under a week from now, at the Oregon Rail Heritage Center. We’re doing this in partnership with Calagator and open source project that is celebrating its 10th birthday and we’ll talk about that a little bit more later.
CHRISTIE: Yay. Well, I better not wait a whole week to edit and publish this episode then.
AUDREY: Or else, you will have no chance of going.
CHRISTIE: So, if you’re listening to this on the feed and not live, it most likely won’t be next week. It’ll be sometime this week.
AUDREY: It will be in a day or two from when you hear this.
CHRISTIE: We’ll put a link in the show notes because you are trying to collect RSVPs for that, right?
AUDREY: Yeah. It helps us know how many cookies to have, you know.
CHRISTIE: Indeed. All right. Any other announcements?
AUDREY: I think that’s it for the moment.
CHRISTIE: So our first topic is about Twitter.
CHRISTIE: And they’ve been doing some stuff including maybe purging some bots.
AUDREY: Yeah, there are definitely some people who are upset that their follower count went down.
CHRISTIE: And it seems that there’s a particular group of people complaining about this.
CHRISTIE: I didn’t lose any followers, did you?
AUDREY: I never look. I have no idea.
CHRISTIE: I mean, I didn’t lose like more than a single digit or double-digits.
AUDREY: I mean, I never look because at some point, I realized that you can tell what kind of impact you’re having by the likes and retweets. And the actual follower count is just sort of, it’s always been inflated. There’s always accounts that are duplicates or some people have more than one account for different reasons. Businesses follow you all the time and that’s probably not the same thing as your friend and following you.
CHRISTIE: It’s not really a proxy for much of anything is what you’re saying.
AUDREY: No, it’s really not. And if I lost 10,000 followers and everyone said those were probably bots, I’d be like, “Great! Good riddance.” But as I’m saying, my perception of Twitter isn’t really affected by that.
CHRISTIE: Yeah. It always puzzles me a little bit that people use those services that notify you when someone unfollows you. I’m just like, “Why?”
AUDREY: Some of this is being blasé because I’ve been on Twitter for a decade. I’ve had a lot of time to think about how I use it and what information I’m getting and how I feel about that.
CHRISTIE: But Conservative Twitter woke up one day this week and were freaking out because in some cases, they lost a dramatic numbers of followers.
AUDREY: Sure. Like a huge proportion.
CHRISTIE: Like thousands or something. So they’re calling it a purge. And then also some people’s accounts were being locked until they confirm they weren’t a bot.
AUDREY: Right. And it’s not surprising that if there is a set of bots that is about Russian propaganda and there are a set of people that are promoting Russian propaganda, then maybe those two things intersect. I mean, there shouldn’t be anything surprising about this except that Twitter may have correctly identified some bots.
CHRISTIE: Right. And it’s interesting because we talked about, in a very recent episode, the email they sent out that said, “At some point during the election, you engaged with a misinformation,” or whatever, but they didn’t say anything about it.
AUDREY: Yeah. They gave us a very loose idea of what that might have looked like. I assumed that everybody who’s lost followers got that email.
CHRISTIE: And this also comes shortly after Robert Mueller released an indictment against 13 people, I think all Russians, that are part of this internet research agency. Doesn’t that sound like innocuous and like some kind of think tank, but it seems to be one of the key organizations in Russia’s misinformation campaign. I didn’t completely finish reading all the coverage of that because I feel like the stuff keeps dropping Friday afternoons after we’re done with the podcast and after I’ve kind of checked out for the week.
AUDREY: Yes, I think so yeah.
CHRISTIE: Does it feel like, “Oh, a couple of hours after I finish the podcast, we get all this news. It would’ve been nice to talk about that in the podcast.”
AUDREY: Yeah, often. And we know that that’s part of burying a story.
CHRISTIE: Right. But some of the stuff I read about that was basically I’m saying that given the information in the indictment, Twitter was probably vastly underestimating or under identifying misinformation accounts.
AUDREY: Yeah, that makes sense. I thought the bits of the indictment that I read, I thought it was really interesting that they were obviously very good at their work and they were less good at keeping it a secret. And I thought, you know, just something about that caught my attention.
CHRISTIE: Right. And they used our surveillance capitalism against us to great effect. I think there possibly wasn’t a lot of motivation to keep it secret because we’re so used to this and there aren’t accountability mechanisms.
AUDREY: Yeah. They didn’t really expect there to be a downside to talking about it.
CHRISTIE: Is this indictment actually going to really affect these people? Russia is not going to extradite them.
AUDREY: No. Yeah, I don’t know. I kind of stopped reading at a certain point too, so I’d like to see some follow-up on that. I started to wonder, like we knew that debunking conspiracy theories doesn’t actually interrupt them very successfully and I think that identifying Russian propaganda doesn’t necessarily disable it similarly. And so, even if we have all this stuff out in the open about how it works, that’s probably not the action that’s going to stop it or stop the impact that it has.
CHRISTIE: Propaganda is effective because it doesn’t have easy deterrence because it’s not just about debunking it or educating people about the facts. It works on different levels than that. I think that’s partially why I didn’t finish reading about the most recent indictment because it was just sort of those little, I was like, “Ahhh…”
AUDREY: I have some further reading bookmarked somewhere too about just Russian misinformation campaigns in general and sort of how this has developed over the last 10, 15 years. It seems like there’s really a lot of strategy here. There’s a lot of detailed effort. There’s a lot of knowledge of how our communication systems work and how we’re using them.
CHRISTIE: They did market research. They like interviewed left-leaning groups to learn how to get their message out.
AUDREY: Like you said, all this stuff is built in and it’s all here for access.
CHRISTIE: We built the apparatuses that they’re using against us. Speaking of which, you just shared this bit about some changes that Twitter is making to TweetDeck. I didn’t realize that tweetdecking was a verb.
AUDREY: I was trying to remember if we had talked about this on the podcast before, that there are people, mostly younger people, who are making a lot of money by selling retweets, like a system of retweets and TweetDeck had allowed them to create a fairly easy system for doing that. And Twitter has decided to squash that.
CHRISTIE: So you actually solved the mystery that I’ve had that I didn’t…I had seen every now and then an account will come across that, basically all the account is retreating other people. And it’s basically a form of stealing their content that doesn’t meet the exact letter of stealing their content because they’re retweeting, but they’ll retweet like every single thing the person tweets. I didn’t realize, I sort of was like, “I don’t know like how is that happening?” And I didn’t realize that this is what it is.
AUDREY: Yes. There are groups that are…TweetDeck, I guess, made it really easy to have a shared set of tweets and things you were following. So you could just all agree to retweet the same thing and boost it really fast. What’s happening now is that they have to go a much slower method of say pasting it into a Slack and asking everybody to jump on it. And this idea of like stolen content for promotion is really interesting too because every so often, you see a good joke on Twitter and somebody says, “Wait, that was mine. I posted that six months ago.” But there’s some account that’s like deliberately boosting its own status by stealing that kind of content. They just cut and paste, stealing it and then using the same kind of system to promote it.
CHRISTIE: I’ve seen that with images too and it’s really hard. It can be really hard. Like with images now, I’ve tried to at least still try to identify who the original might be. And sometimes, you can’t.
AUDREY: Yeah, I feel like fairly often, you can’t. At best, you ask around and somebody remembers where it came from originally. Once things are out there, reverse image search doesn’t actually help you. You get too many hits. I kind of got to a point where this was one of the reasons I stopped putting a lot of content online, a lot of personal stuff because you don’t know what’s going to happen to you. You have so little control. It’s not like I posted nothing but I just don’t like this. I don’t think that it’s a healthier creative system. For us, it just kind of grinds everything up.
CHRISTIE: As long as it’s not outright used for harassment.
AUDREY: Sure, yeah. Lots of people I know got every picture of themselves off the internet at a certain point.
CHRISTIE: Yeah. I’m not sure how you do that.
AUDREY: Well, everything you have access to.
CHRISTIE: But once people have made copies of it.
AUDREY: Yeah. I mean, more like in a preemptive way.
CHRISTIE: Right. Anything else about Twitter? Tweetdecking? I saw that Twitter is discontinuing their Mac OS client and redirecting people to use the web.
AUDREY: Yeah. That doesn’t seem so weird either. Well, they started with this really big ecosystem. They had a website and then they opened the API and then there were a ton of apps and then they bought their favorites. I don’t know, it just seems like there’s this pattern of consolidating back down to the web app.
CHRISTIE: Wait a minute. What is TweetDeck? Holy crap, I just went to it. Is TweetDeck just a different interface?
CHRISTIE: Oh, it looks much more like, it’s got columns.
AUDREY: Yeah. This is what Mastodon by default, copied.
CHRISTIE: Right. And Tweetbot looks like this too. This has been another episode of ‘Christie discovers something on the internet everybody already knows about’.
AUDREY: The one last thing that I want to say about this is that we have a privatized telecommunication infrastructure and the result of that is going to be purges and massive systemic changes. I think that the phone system is so basic and what you can do with it is relatively limited in ways that maybe it just doesn’t show us the impact of privatization the way that Twitter’s pervasiveness does.
CHRISTIE: Meaning that there’s lessons to be learned in like the decisions they’re making?
AUDREY: Well, maybe just an awareness of the kind of control that really exists, the arbitrariness of it. Not that they don’t have a reason, but it’s arbitrary to us when changes happen that aren’t very well aligned with our use.
CHRISTIE: There’s not a connection between the public and Twitter governance. We can’t participate in that. Is that kind of what you’re saying?
AUDREY: Yeah. We’ve talked about our ISPs and what they can do in terms of what we access and how we access it. And the phone system itself has a lot more regulation applied to it. So, I’m just assuming that CenturyLink can’t decide to block your phone number from access to things. But everything on top of it, that can happen where components could be cut out and redirected and limited. Everything beyond just making a phone call or sending a text message, those are possibilities.
CHRISTIE: All right. So, security researchers and people that report on security vulnerabilities and things like that, they come under fire quite a bit.
AUDREY: They do, yeah.
CHRISTIE: Go ahead.
AUDREY: Oh, I was just going to say often there’s a conflict between what’s legal and what’s useful, but that’s exactly what we’re going to get into.
CHRISTIE: Right. So, this article on ZDNet: Lawsuits threaten infosec research – just when we need it most. Security researchers and reporters have something in common: both hold the powerful accountable. But doing so has painted a target on their backs – and looming threats of legal action and lawsuits have many concerned. And then the article goes through like several different, I think I lost count of how many examples of tech journalists and security researchers who had been subject to different kinds of lawsuits, generally from the companies that they’re reporting on or that they reveal security vulnerabilities about.
AUDREY: And they talk further about the chilling effect that it has and the ways that researchers who could be doing this kind of work have redirected their efforts.
CHRISTIE: They even said that about themselves. They said “In the last year, we did not publish three security stories after researchers abandoned their work, fearing legal threats.” And it seems like there’s sort of three categories of lawsuit of legal action. There’s defamation, which in the US, you have more protection against that as an individual than like in the UK because of how the laws work. There’s using the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which basically makes it a crime to access the computer when you’re not authorized to. That’s like the big anti-hacking law. And then, I think different intellectual property laws. I’m not quite sure if that’s like…I think that would be a civil…for the most part, that would be civil…
AUDREY: I think so, yeah. Say, you have a copy of my data that you’re not supposed to.
CHRISTIE: Or you revealed trade secrets or something like that.
CHRISTIE: And it’s interesting because I was reading this, this morning after listening to NPR while I was making my breakfast. NPR had a story about “This ‘Gray Hat’ Hacker Breaks Into Your Car – To Prove a Point”. And it was just basically like, it was a pretty nice fluffy piece specifically like how insecure the internet of things is. And it ends by saying this quote…I just shook my head. It says, “Unfortunately, these internet-of-things devices sometimes don’t have as a robust security as our phones or our computers do.” And I’m just like, “Yeah.”
AUDREY: It’s your car. These are the things that obstruct us so much, but that’s your car.
CHRISTIE: And our phones and our computers aren’t known great on the security front either. And when you think about how much worse it is for IOT. But it ends with, “But ultimately, it’s up to us to decide whether to buy the most convenient new gadget or the most secure. We may not be able to have both.” There was nothing in this piece about regulation. And it really bothered me that it was positing it as a consumer decision.
AUDREY: Especially because you can’t make this decision in most cases.
CHRISTIE: No, you can’t. And we talked about that just recently, on the day of the breach on the Strava thing, when we talked about that. Anyway, I heard that and I was kind of [inaudible] about that. And then I read this article in preparation for today’s show, and it struck me again just how important it is that researchers and journalists be able to be part of the system of accountability. So not only do we lack a regulatory structure, but currently companies are using regulatory structure, legal structure against modes of accountability directly against them.
AUDREY: Yeah. The article had some interesting points about how smaller organizations that don’t have any security expertise, sometimes they’re the most aggressive about this, maybe because they don’t feel that they have an ability to mitigate it or that they’re being willfully ignorant about the impact. But that made me think about how this responsible disclosure, these practices have developed. And this is something that we’ve talked about too, but I remember that my awareness of computer security is like a topic, started with the Free Kevin Campaign in the late 90’s. And at the time, everything that I heard sort of indicated that security and awareness of security, like security research was something that would be considered illegal. That’s sort of where my awareness started. And it seemed really positive that in the years since that, a lot of big companies have started bug bounties and responsible disclosure programs and that there is a system that you can follow now. And it’s really just awful to see that that’s not getting used or that’s not useful for some of these things that are really important, like random internet of things, devices. We’ve developed the ability to handle this well, but we’re not necessarily using it.
CHRISTIE: That there are sort of known, if not complete solutions, there’s known practices that can help, but it’s not really a standard practice for companies to adopt that.
AUDREY: Yeah. There’s a point in the article where somebody is quoted as saying sometimes they just actually do an anonymous dump of the information that they have if they think that it’s that important for security because there’s no other way to get the company behind it to take action.
CHRISTIE: We’ve talked about this before and found that in a lot of these cases, the companies have either totally outsourced the IOT part or some aspect of how the data breach occurs or the security thing happens. And I think that’s a big part of it, is that there’s, in sort of the structure of corporations and how people outsource things. It’s not just a matter of ‘oh, we don’t have security personnel, we don’t have a route for this’, but it’s actually a separate company that’s dealing with this. So it’s their problem.
AUDREY: What we need is an effective system of liability.
CHRISTIE: Yeah. And I think the more we have internet enabled devices and the more we have autonomous devices, it’s just going to become increasingly more complex and important.
AUDREY: And again, you can’t make an informed buying decision when nobody’s done that security analysis when that information isn’t available to you. I mean, it’s just silly to think that the average person is going to spend time reading pastebin, looking for these barely revealed vulnerabilities.
CHRISTIE: It’s not even just a matter of effort. It’s like there’s a reason we have the FDA and the EPA and all these things that are getting eroded, because as a person, even if I have the energy to do the research or whatever, even if you have that energy, the background knowledge and maybe diagnostic equipment you have to have access to, that’s a specialization.
CHRISTIE: I can’t know if giving chemicals is poisonous. That requires a whole apparatus to determine.
AUDREY: Right, yeah.
CHRISTIE: Let’s see.
AUDREY: I mean, it’s frustrating like you said about getting a little worked up. It’s really frustrating to see this stuff and to know that we could have more secure systems. I mean, maybe we cannot perfectly secure everything but we can have more secure systems and it just doesn’t feel like we’re going in the right direction.
CHRISTIE: No. And it bothers me that people who are pointing that stuff out can have such drastic consequences. It doesn’t that make sense to me?
CHRISTIE: But scapegoating is an old tradition.
AUDREY: Sure. I don’t know, I sometimes just have this overwhelming sense of everything, being surrounded by piles of trash in lots of ways. And thinking how do we build something useful out of that?
CHRISTIE: So, EFF had put out a piece this month about Slack and activists using Slack. I also didn’t realize that EFF isn’t putting out like all the ‘who’s got your back’ report where they rate different web services. And I had looked at that too. But Audrey, you’re the one who brought this to my attention. What spoke to you about this?
AUDREY: We’ve talked about Slack personally a lot in terms of like who it’s useful for, what role it plays in an organization, what it’s designed for that a lot of open source projects have started using Slack and a lot of communities have started using Slack even though Slack themselves have been really clear on that not being what they see is their primary user. And so, it often creates a conflict between what a group actually needs especially around like access and information flow and things like that. It creates these conflicts between that and what it provides but at the same time it’s very easy to deploy, it’s very easy to set up a new Slack group. And so I thought it was really useful that the EFF was pointing out some of these things to look at to say, “Well, you know, if you’re going to make this choice, here’s what you should know for this kind of user.” And it took it a little bit beyond just, “Oh, I don’t like Slack.”
I have mixed feelings about Slack in part that it eats all of the memory on your computer when you have the app open. And that having 20 Slacks that you’re a part of is just a nightmare. I have those kinds of feelings about Slack. But, I remember I’ve used it at work for a company before. And I remember having to pay really close attention to how things were logged when you’re having a conversation that you didn’t necessarily want to immediately talk to management about. Like conversations about wages and on-call practices and things like that. Maybe you want some time to think about those things together before you go take them to somebody else. And I started to worry about like what kinds of groups are we creating on here and who has access to them? I didn’t want to say, “Oh, it’s fine. We can have this conversation here,” and then discover that actually the CTO was reading it, if what we were trying to figure out was how to go talk to him.
So, I don’t know. I thought it was really helpful that they kind of broke it down into these major points that they said, if what you’re worried about or if you’re doing these kinds of things, what you could be worried about is both civil action and the FBI asking for things and just showing you like where you might have more or less protection.
CHRISTIE: They sort of give you information that’s useful for sort of fleshing out your threat model and maybe ways you can mitigate areas that you have liability in.
AUDREY: Yeah. And I really appreciated that they did talk about the issue of civil suits and the kind of information that can be accessed in discovery because this is such a big deal with Google right now with the various labor lawsuits going on at Google and who can be pulled into it as a result of discovery.
CHRISTIE: Definitely. That’s also a really good example of another thing that the EFF points out in their article is that you also have to trust everybody else who has access because people can take screenshots and share them. And that’s exactly what happened in some of the most recent stuff with Google. They have employees taking screenshots and sharing them publicly with generating harassment in mind, or so it seems.
AUDREY: Yeah. In our ordinary social interactions, in our ordinary workplace conversations, we don’t really think about this from this very specific threat model. But there’s reason to do so, there’s reason to think about how you can limit the scope of availability of your conversation. We still, at the same time, have that reverse problem of if decision making is happening in your Slack channel, then you need a way to record that. And every time I’ve been involved in something like this, I’ve really pushed people like if you make a decision in Slack, put it in the Wiki or if you make a decision Slack, email everybody about that. That’s like the flip side of it. It’s very difficult to go and find like a delimited piece of information like that.
CHRISTIE: Especially if you’re using the free version, which a lot of groups are because then you have very limited message history you can access. And that’s kind of a double edge sword too because if you’re not paying, Slack also stores all of your message history. One thing they brought up I hadn’t considered is that email notifications can include the content of messages, which is another way that sort of leaks data.
AUDREY: Yeah. If you’re getting private messages in Slack but they go to your…I mean just to stick with the sort of the workplace organizing stuff, they go to your work email, then it doesn’t matter if it was a private message on Slack. That notification is still there in your email where it can be accessed.
AUDREY: I mean, I don’t know. This is another area where I kind of have some frustration that it feels like it’s really hard to get people to engage with this consciously. And I sort of hope that if, unfortunately the EFF folks are a little scared about what might happen that it might create more conscious practices.
CHRISTIE: Yeah, I hear you. I haven’t had a lot of luck getting…whenever I talk critically about Slack or other sorts of tools like this, the sort of same usual crowd engages with it and then nothing really changes. Do you know of any groups that have switched away from Slack?
AUDREY: Not exactly. I have some conversations that were happening on Slack that are now happening in Single. So, that’s kind of useful but not like on an entire group level.
CHRISTIE: Yeah. And I don’t know. I mean, there’s definitely like open source alternatives that I just have a personal preference for. I don’t know how they would score under this rubric. I don’t know. I haven’t done that analysis. [Inaudible] do any of them have end to end encryption or could that be on the roadmap? What does that look like?
AUDREY: Yeah. I should look a little bit more about what the EFF has been posting here because it would be really great to have kind of a mix and match [inaudible] that had been analyzed this way. To be able to say, “Well, if you’re doing video communication, here’s some ranked options. If you are doing these kind of group chat and message systems, here’s your best options,” and to kind of break it out between the convenience of a service of a hosted service and the control that you have if you can host or manage everything yourself. But also just because you hosted doesn’t mean that it’s a secure system either. There’s a lot of pieces that go into that.
CHRISTIE: No. And then you’re on the hook for defending against a warrant or whatever. And if have a very tiny staff and no legal staff and not a lot of capital. You can only defend things legally and so much as you can afford to do so.
AUDREY: I mean, that comes back to your article.
CHRISTIE: Another thing I notice I clicked through to the…I didn’t leave the tab open so I can’t remember what the exact thing is. I think it’s the Who’s Got Your Back guide or whatever. And so, they rate companies on five different criteria. So, the best rate you can get is five stars, worst I guess is zero. But Uber is one company that’s got five stars. So it’s just a reminder of like, there’s not ever going to be one [inaudible] system that takes everything into account and if you’re concerned with all the other things that Uber is doing…
AUDREY: There’s a lot of dimensions to this.
CHRISTIE: To be honest, and some of that rating is based on what the company says they will do. And I don’t trust Uber.
AUDREY: They’ve had some amazingly bad practices in the past.
CHRISTIE: Yeah. A little while ago, we had a quick follow-up to…we talked about Expensify and Mechanical Turk within the last couple of months. And you noticed that…so, quick recap. So, oh no, it wasn’t…it was over….I remember it was a holiday. So was it Thanksgiving?
AUDREY: Maybe, yeah.
CHRISTIE: Some Mechanical Turkers or people close to that community noticed that there were receipts from Expensify that people could access and receipts can have a lot of personal information on it. And it was big to do and the CEO had to clearly had to put a post together over Thanksgiving weekend.
AUDREY: To explain why they were using humans to read your receipts and parse them and that these were publicly available jobs on Mechanical Turk.
CHRISTIE: Right. And part of their mitigation offer was that they would have, for like enterprise level clients would have the private smart scan option where you could basically use your own Mechanical Turkers that you vetted yourself and they’ve subsequently deleted those posts.
AUDREY: We talked a lot about sort of propaganda and the image management of these things. Like, it’s really good that the reporter who had written about it was paying attention because…I don’t know. Post the thing in response to an uproar and then when you think the uproar is gone, just delete it and then nobody will even know what you’re apologizing for or not apologizing for, very awkwardly.
CHRISTIE: Thankfully, we have the internet archive so we can still see the post. The first line of the post says, “I had hoped to keep this feature quiet until next year.” So let’s translate into that. I’d hope to never have to make up this fictional feature to offset set a PR mess.
AUDREY: Yeah. It does make me wonder if they’ll have some version of another announcement about the private option, the enterprise option that reframes this as all plan all along, all they wanted to do is to offer you this great service.
AUDREY: Without the reactionary part of it.
CHRISTIE: So yeah, maybe we’ll keep an eye on that. See if anything comes of that.
AUDREY: Even just the name of service being SmartScan. Scanners are mechanical devices, Mechanical Turk, everybody knows, isn’t mechanical. I hope everybody knows. But yeah, humans aren’t scanners.
CHRISTIE: Nope. All right. So I was really excited when I came across this little bit. There’s this article in Poynter from Melody Kramer.
AUDREY: Is that Wikimedia. Is that right?
CHRISTIE: Maybe. I know Melody has some affiliation with Wikimedia. I don’t remember what it is. I can look it up. But the next platform you should be thinking about? Calendar apps. I thought not only was this very timely because we have the 10th anniversary of Calagator coming up. But I happen to really love Calagator and really think it deserves way more recognition than it gets and also that there’s a lot of potential to bring it to communities and have a way of connecting people. In this article, Melody talks about, starts by talking about a calendar, the New York Times’ Space Calendar, which they put together and it’s available through Google Calendar.
It’s basically a Google Calendar that is fed with spreadsheets. They’re like cooking together different sort of things. I can’t remember if you can subscribe to a Google Calendar. Not from a Google Calendar, only app. I haven’t.
AUDREY: I’m pretty sure that there is iCalendar feed that you can have access to.
CHRISTIE: Yeah. But Google Calendar [inaudible] is they’re adding stuff on it that doesn’t, I think that it exceeds that spec. So a lot of times, I have to go and click on. I can’t see everything I want to see about the event in my calendar app. I have to click through to the event. Have you noticed that?
AUDREY: No. I mean, it seems like, at least with the Apple Calendar. I don’t know, it feels like things have been sinking better, but it might be just that I don’t actually look at the details of any of my calendar invites. That’s entirely possible. I don’t have a lot of meetings where there’s an agenda in there or anything like that. So mostly, I’m looking for the Google Hangouts link, if anything,
CHRISTIE: And it shows you right into your calendar app?
AUDREY: It does now. Yeah.
CHRISTIE: Okay, I maybe out of date. So New York Times put together this calendar and it has 80,000 subscribers, like it’s really wildly popular. It’s inspired other groups at the times, like they put together a book review calendar now. And it was kind of strange. She goes through the origin story and it started with when FXX got the Simpson back catalog and did a marathon of Every Simpsons Ever. So then the next year when that person that moved to the Science Times desk, they got back to this calendar idea. Of course we had the eclipse last year, so a lot of people were paying attention to it. Why did I not quote anything from this? There’s a really good bit about how…they’re thinking that one of the reasons it’s so popular is because it surfaces and contextualizes information like at the point where you’d be most interested in it.
Oh, here we go. Calendars are interesting to explore not only because they offer a new channel for reaching readers, but also because the content we place there lives in an inherent context. We can place dozens of events well off into the future, and the calendar will do the hard work of introducing this to you in the right moment, in the context of time and everything else going on in your day. And that’s something that email completely cannot do.
AUDREY: Right, yeah.
CHRISTIE: Because when something comes into your inbox, like that’s the moment where it has your attention which can be completely disconnected from the actual, like when you actually need to pay attention to it.
AUDREY: Whereas a thing on your calendar that says, “Hey, there’s an eclipse happening right now.” is a lot more meaningful.
CHRISTIE: I’m pretty much always behind in my email and overwhelmed by it, but I’m always like, “If you want to make sure I’m somewhere or know about something, send me a calendar invite,” because then it shows up on my calendar. I don’t have to process my email at all. It shows up on my calendar.
AUDREY: And that’s a context that isn’t too cluttered for you, isn’t too overwhelmed with information and that mostly contains relevant pieces.
CHRISTIE: Right. And furthermore with what the New York Times has done and what Calagator enables, it’s much more opt in. So you can opt in to the things that you want to know about. And that was one of the genius things I think about Calagator is you can subscribe to the whole calendar [inaudible] or you can subscribe to keyword searches. So, if you’re only interested in Ruby events in Portland, you can just describe to that tag, or you’re only interested in Data Science or Women in Tech or whatever.
AUDREY: And there’s some user groups that use that for their entire, like what’s coming up link. They just share a link to the search for that.
CHRISTIE: Yeah, that’s what I would do in the past. And so, it’s one of the reasons why I’m so keen on getting time zone support in there because in my professional life, I work almost entirely at distributed communities. And especially now that lanyard is gone and like all these things that we had before, for whatever reasons just went away. And if you want to like keep tabs on what’s happening at a given distributed community, there’s no like…we don’t have anything like that. The best thing that people do is put together Google Calendars. The limits that are present with Google Calendar that prompted you and others who started Calagator in the first place…
AUDREY: I was going to say that this hasn’t changed in 10 years.
CHRISTIE: No. And part of the reason you did that was because it turned out to be really beneficial to have a wiki style calendar where everybody could participate [inaudible].
AUDREY: Yeah. And what the New York Times folks are saying is that they were able to reach that level of accessibility for their intended users with a spreadsheet that also would never work correctly for open community calendar. And the problem that we were always looking at was that to use the Google Calendar, you have to explicitly give people access to it and that means that you have a bottleneck of a person who is in charge of giving people access to the calendar. You also have a bottleneck of a person who’s in charge of updating and deleting things. Those don’t necessarily have to be the same person, but you have to have like designated people who do that. And what community events actually act like is a lot more like the bulletin board at your grocery store, where people come up with a thing and they announce it and they might manage that piece of information, but they don’t actually want to be in charge of the whole counter or involved with the whole calendar. Maybe like related things on the calendar. And you just can’t make that a finite set of people, and have a thriving set of events that people can really go and engage with.
And there’s never been a point that Google Calendar has been interested in solving this problem. I’d hoped originally that there might be some integration with how Google groups work or some other aspect of what Google made available. Instead, they’ve gone the other direction, much like we were just talking about with Slack where they’ve just built it around this organizational model that is a closed administered organizational model. And again, that’s just not how events happen in public communities. And so, Calagator continues to do something that really nothing else does, by creating just a completely open wiki style set of information that’s based in time and place. That’s as fancy as it got, just to think about information as being grounded in time and place and to think about the access to it as modeling the actual community that used it.
CHRISTIE: I really like your analogy of the community bulletin board because to me, there’s the same issue inherent like in Google Docs. So many wikis I feel like have really fallen out of favor with open source communities in favor of Google Docs or the wiki that’s built into GitHub. But those things still have one thing. They don’t have nearly the structure and the information organizing features that something like MediaWiki has. But also, they still have that bottleneck of access which you don’t always want.
AUDREY: Again, like the bulletin board, in those situations, it’s more valuable to be able to take things off of the bulletin board or to sharpie over when the date changes. Then it is to have a single person taking in all that information and sorting it and organizing it. It’s never worth the overhead. And I think when you were talking about like all of these other services that used to be available, it’s never been cost effective to be in charge of that. Like that part of it has never been something that enough people will pay for.
CHRISTIE: Yeah, it does seem often to come down to what people will value and I think that we’ve had a negative feedback cycle in that regard. Like I think we’ve sort of become habituated to freemium and I don’t think that’s actually very good for us.
AUDREY: No, but I mean with calendars, most of us use whatever comes with our operating system and then Google for synchronizing it. There are a couple of different platforms that Apple will connect to easily. But most of us are on Google because most of us are cool. You know, it’s very self-reinforcing. And I keep thinking about moving my calendar. But then I would have to get everybody who sends me calendar invites to change that. For my personal calendar, that’s a fairly complex kind of process
CHRISTIE: Because you wouldn’t want to change your email? Or you wouldn’t want to change your email service?
AUDREY: What I mean is like people send invites to the email that they think they’re supposed to send invites to and I get like meeting invites and party invites and lots of different sources of these things. So if I want to get them all on to a different calendar, then I need to get them, get everybody to stop sending invites to an email address or else…you know what I mean? Like it just gets really [crosstalk].
CHRISTIE: You could also switch your email.
AUDREY: But then, I can’t forward an invite to a different email and have it connect correctly. I can’t accept an invite from an email other than it was sent to.
CHRISTIE: Right. That’s what I’m saying. It sounds like you want to keep your email on Gmail but use a different calendar service.
AUDREY: No. I just mean I’ve got three email addresses. You can’t stop people from sending email to the oldest email address that they have for you.
CHRISTIE: I think I’m not understanding.
AUDREY: I’m just saying I need to change people’s behavior in order to change where my events end up unless I go manually create them and disconnect from the invite system.
CHRISTIE: I’m still confused, but that’s okay. I don’t need to not be confused. Okay. So, things we like on the internet this week. Mine’s about Assassin’s Creed again. Don’t worry, they’ll run an announcement soon. But this is really cool. Assassin’s Creed Origin takes place in Egypt. I’ve talked about that before. It’s one of the most immersive video games I’ve played. It’s huge and expansive and super detailed. And just a couple of days ago, they released a discovery to a version of it and it’s free upgrade for the folks who already bought the game. And I think it’s priced in the $10 to $20 range if you haven’t bought it. And basically, Discovery Tour in fact contains 75 discrete tours, covering everything from “Beer and Bread” as a facet of daily Egyptian life to a biography of Cleopatra. It turns the sprawling, gorgeously detailed Egypt of Assassin’s Creed Origins – which our reviewer called “a vibrating world of color and life” – into a combat-free playground.
So basically, you can play as one of something like 25 different playable characters of everyone from like a kid to Cleopatra and just kind of wander around. And I watched the video. It’s a little bit like a museum tour. Like there’ll be a little numbers, there’s like a lit up path you follow and there’s little numbers in it. It kind of gives you the museum voice overlay. And then also, it says, “The tours occasionally highlight changes that the designers made when history and entertainment were at odds with each other. There, the mode becomes something we don’t see very often: a behind-the-scenes documentation of the development process.” So, I thought that was pretty cool.
AUDREY: Yeah. It reminds me that one of the first Hypercard decks I created as a kid was a tour of imaginary pyramid.
AUDREY: Not very sophisticated. I’m sure there’s as gorgeous.
CHRISTIE: Yeah, I think things have come a little ways since Hypercard. You can also slide down the pyramids, which is really fun. I know in real life…
AUDREY: I think it’s not appropriate in real life at all.
CHRISTIE: I know this from Mazamas, they always say to bring a pair of rain pants you don’t care about because you slide that far enough surface that has friction and you’ll just [crosstalk]. What have you got for your thing that you like on the internet this week?
AUDREY: Well, it’s a music video and it just got released yesterday. So maybe by the time people hear this, they all have watched it, but I still really liked it. Janelle Monae’s got a new album coming up and one of the songs is Make Me Feel. And the video is just a lovely tribute to Prince, and a lot of other things. It’s a lot of fun.
CHRISTIE: Awesome. Well, you are definitely not the only one because all over my Twitter feed this morning, people were talking about this. So, you’re in good company.
AUDREY: Anyhow, if you haven’t watched it, you should watch it.
CHRISTIE: Check those things out. I think that’s our episode for the week. And don’t forget about if you’re local to Portland or nearby, check out and consider coming to the Calagator 10th Anniversary party on Thursday. Is it March 1st?
AUDREY: March 1st. And we’re having it at the train museum.
CHRISTIE: Right. Is that the same place we had the 5-year OS Bridge party?
AUDREY: I think it was six, but yeah.
CHRISTIE: Oh, six. Okay. All right, cool. Well, thanks everyone for joining us for another week. And thanks, Audrey, for co-hosting with me for another week and talk to you all soon.
CHRISTIE: Signing 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.