Obtuse: How Our Half-Educated Tech Elite Delivered Us Into Such Social & Political Chaos

How could such smart people be so stupid?

By John Naughton
The Guardian (11/19/17)

ne of the biggest puzzles about our current predicament with fake news and the weaponisation of social media is why the folks who built this technology are so taken aback by what has happened. Exhibit A is the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, whose political education I recently chronicled. But he’s not alone. In fact I’d say he is quite representative of many of the biggest movers and shakers in the tech world. We have a burgeoning genre of “OMG, what have we done?” angst coming from former Facebook and Google employees who have begun to realise that the cool stuff they worked on might have had, well, antisocial consequences.

Put simply, what Google and Facebook have built is a pair of amazingly sophisticated, computer-driven engines for extracting users’ personal information and data trails, refining them for sale to advertisers in high-speed data-trading auctions that are entirely unregulated and opaque to everyoneexcept the companies themselves.

If our supersmart tech leaders knew a bit more about history or philosophy we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in now.

The purpose of this infrastructure was to enable companies to target people with carefully customised commercial messages and, as far as we know, they are pretty good at that. (Though some advertisers are beginning to wonder if these systems are quite as good as Google and Facebook claim.) And in doing this, Zuckerberg, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and co wrote themselves licences to print money and build insanely profitable companies.

Oblivious to the obvious

It never seems to have occurred to them that their advertising engines could also be used to deliver precisely targeted ideological and political messages to voters. Hence the obvious question: how could such smart people be so stupid? The cynical answer is they knew about the potential dark side all along and didn’t care, because to acknowledge it might have undermined the aforementioned licences to print money. Which is another way of saying that most tech leaders are sociopaths. Personally I think that’s unlikely, although among their number are some very peculiar characters: one thinks, for example, of Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel – Trump’s favourite techie; and Travis Kalanick, the founder of Uber.

So what else could explain the astonishing naivety of the tech crowd? My hunch is it has something to do with their educational backgrounds. …

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Germany Bans ‘smartwatches’ For Kids & Warns Parents To Destroy The Ones They Have

By Jane Wakefield
BBC (11/17/17)

A German regulator has banned the sale of smartwatches aimed at children, describing them as spying devices.

It had previously banned an internet-connected doll called, My Friend Cayla, for similar reasons.

Telecoms regulator the Federal Network Agency urged parents who had such watches to destroy them.

One expert said the decision could be a “game-changer” for internet-connected devices.

Strangers, using basic hacking techniques, could track children as they moved or make a child appear to be in a completely different location.

“Poorly secured smart devices often allow for privacy invasion. That is really concerning when it comes to kids’ GPS tracking watches – the very watches that are supposed to help keep them safe,” said Ken Munro, a security expert at Pen Test Partners.

“There is a shocking lack of regulation of the ‘internet of things’, which allows lax manufacturers to sell us dangerously insecure smart products.

“Using privacy regulation to ban such devices is a game-changer, stopping these manufacturers playing fast and loose with our kids’ security,” he added.

In a statement, the agency said it had already taken action against several firms offering such watches on the internet. …

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