Science and Technology

Just TELL Me You're Gonna Invade My Privacy

Federal regulators have reached a settlement with Facebook over privacy violations—but it's just a slap on the wrist for an industry that regularly sells user data.

Washington, D.C., and Facebook Inc. took part yesterday in another round of what we might call "working on their relationship." But that we're fixated on specific privacy violations rather than the day-in-day-out use of our personal data lets us know that there's a limit to the conversation in which they're engaged. What happened is this: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reached a settlement with Facebook that requires the company to stop engaging in privacy-violating practices and to participate in regular third-party privacy audits for the next 20 years. The agreement, prompted by a complaint by privacy-advocacy groups, is meant to address several places were Facebook was found to have gone astray in recent years—not truly deleting deleted user accounts, sharing friend lists that had been marked private, and changing privacy settings without really telling anyone. The agreement still needs to be approved by FTC commissioners at the end of December, after a period of public comment...

The Showman

This "lost" interview shows Steve Jobs as an incredibly charismatic figure.

AP Photo/Paul Sakuma
A few nights ago, I took to the E Street Cinema in Washington, D.C., to watch the “lost” interview Steve Jobs gave to Robert X. Cringley for a 1996 PBS television series, “Triumph of the Nerds.” The series included ten minutes of the interview, the rest of which was never seen, and feared lost, until Cringley discovered the mastertape following Jobs’s death last month. The interview shows Steve Jobs at 40, ten years into his career as head of NeXT computer, 9 years into his position as co-founder of Pixar, and a few months before he would sell NeXT to Apple, the first stop in a process that would end with Jobs as CEO of Apple Computer. If you’re familiar with Apple’s history, nothing in this interview should surprise you. Jobs goes over the well-worn stories of Apple’s founding by himself and Steve Wozniak, its initial successes with the Apple II and the Macintosh, his ejection from the company in 1985, and Apple’s failure to keep up with Microsoft in the late 1980s and early 1990s...

One Small Step for Climate Scientists

Researcher gains legal standing to sue for privacy against global-warming skeptics.

In a small victory for global-warming advocates, the case against climate scientist Michael Mann has hit some rough ground. Mann, a climate scientist who has been fighting a battle against the American Traditions Institute (ATI) since January, received his first piece of good news in the case on November 1 when a Virginia judge ruled that Mann did, in fact, have standing to join the case over the release of his e-mails from his time at the University of Virginia (UVA). The judge also decided to reopen the consent decree between UVA and ATI concerning exempted e-mails. Facing a Freedom of Information Act request, UVA maintained that there was material in Mann’s e-mails that should be safe from release under an academic-material exemption. Mann and UVA were concerned that the initial consent order allowed the contested material to be reviewed by ATI’S lawyers, Chris Horner and David Schnare—an arrangement that struck many as inappropriate. As I wrote about in October , Mann’s struggle...

The Robots Are Coming!

Google, we learn from Monday’s New York Times , has a secret lab in an undisclosed location in the Bay Area where it is developing robots. We don’t know what the Google-oids are working on there, but we do know that the company has developed and built a driverless car that has already traversed 100,000 miles on California roads without getting either a ticket or a scratch. Surely, though, there are innumerable now-human activities that could be performed efficiently, and eventually more cheaply, by robots. On Tuesday, the Robot Report (“Tracking the business of robotics”) ran a story that Foxconn, the Taiwan-based manufacturer that employs roughly one million Chinese workers who assemble all of Apple’s products (and many of Dell’s and other high-tech companies) has broken ground on a factory in Taiwan to manufacture robots. Foxconn hopes to replace 500,000 of its Chinese workers, the Report says, with 1 million robots. If Foxconn succeeds at this venture, it will be yet another...

Climate Control

As their ranks diminish, global warming skeptics target scientists

AP Photo/John Giles
Last week Richard Muller and his team released the findings of their exhaustive study on global warming with definitive simplicity, saying flatly “global warming is real.” The statement is an especially damning one to climate change deniers, as Muller, himself once a global warming skeptic, conducted the study partly with funds from the Koch brothers. As even skeptics like Muller begin to accept the overwhelming science behind global warming, opponents are taking up a new tactic that goes after the scientists themselves. One of these scientists is Michael Mann, a climatologist who, since January, has been targeted by climate-deniers.Following the example of the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries, which have a tradition of attacking the credibility of scientists who oppose their products, skeptics are beginning question the credentials and research of individual scientists. Since 2007, when a Supreme Court ruling found that, under the Clean Air Act, the EPA has the right to regulate...

Steve Jobs and the Chinese Wall

Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs hit the bookstores on Monday (or, worse, the websites that have replaced bookstores as the place where people go to buy books), and the more piquant details have already started popping up in the press. Among those details—actually, it’s a good deal more than details—is Jobs’s Manichean view of humankind (at least, those elements of humankind with whom he came into contact). As Michael Rosenwald summarizes it in Monday’s Washington Post : In his personal life, [Jobs] was capable of seeing people in only two ways – as enlightened or as bozos. There was no in-between, and he would ruthlessly cast aside whoever he deemed a bozo…. Those who were deemed enlightened were granted the right to work with Jobs in his binary world where products were either ‘the best’ or ‘totally [expletive],’ Isaacson writes. Isaacson’s description may make it easier to understand Apple’s production process, in which its products were designed to a fare-thee-well in...

Businesspeople Don't Always Make Good Politicians

The Huffington Post has early access to the Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs, which – among many other things – reveals the Apple CEO’s distaste for President Obama and his policies: When he [Jobs] finally relented and they met at the Westin San Francisco Airport, Jobs was characteristically blunt. He seemed to have transformed from a liberal into a conservative. ‘You’re headed for a one-term presidency,’ he told Obama at the start of their meeting, insisting that the administration needed to be more business-friendly. […] Though Jobs was not that impressed by Obama, later telling Isaacson that his focus on the reasons that things can’t get done ‘infuriates’ him , they kept in touch and talked by phone a few more times. [Emphasis mine] You should count this as a data point in my contention that business makes a poor training ground for lawmaking. Governing is messy, difficult work, and requires people with a willingness to make deals and sacrifice the perfect to the good. The...

Everything Is Culture

The environmental story of the day concerns a project started by a climate skeptic named Richard Muller, a physicist who was so convinced that actual climate scientists were distorting or misreading the data that he started his own project, called the Berkeley Earth Science Temperature project, to double-check them. Climate deniers were excited -- at last, some actual scientists would prove that global warming is a hoax! The Charles G. Koch foundation even gave money to the project. One prominent climate denier blogger, Anthony Watts, wrote, "I’m prepared to accept whatever result they produce, even if it proves my premise wrong." You may be able to guess where this is going. Brad Plumer explains : So what are the end results? Muller’s team appears to have confirmed the basic tenets of climate science. Back in March, Muller told the House Science and Technology Committee that, contrary to what he expected, the existing temperature data was “excellent.” He went on: “We see a global...

It's an Ad World After All

I n 2006, a commercial began to air on cable television that showed happy babies gurgling through their year-one milestones. “A baby’s first smile of recognition,” a voiceover says. “That first rollover. The first step, and first word are miracles of a baby’s life.” Over graphics of a growing brain, a narrator announces that the first five years of development are critical and tells parents to “seize this small window of opportunity” to reach another milestone with their children: learning to read. The commercials direct parents to a toll-free number to buy Your Baby Can Read, a five-disc set that costs $200. A number of educational experts considered the product a scam—babies don’t learn to read from watching DVDs because babies can’t learn to read. Prominent among the critics was Susan Linn, a 63-year-old child psychologist and founder of the watchdog group Campaign for a Commercial--Free Childhood. In April 2011, she complained to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about the...

Whose Point of View?

You're the proverbial alien on our planet, fresh off the UFO. You found a job -- congratulations! -- and you've just received your first paycheck. On the stub, you notice that something, or someone, named "FICA" is skimming 6 percent off the top. "Oh, that's Social Security," your new colleagues tell you. But what's that? You turn to Google, which refers you to Wikipedia -- the free online encyclopedia that "anyone can edit" and that increasingly serves as our culture's reference source of first resort. There, you learn that Social Security is "a social insurance program" that is "funded through dedicated payroll taxes." In 2004, it "paid out almost $500 billion in benefits." It is, "by dollars paid ... the largest government program in the world and the single greatest expenditure in the federal budget." The "Social Security (United States)" Wikipedia entry includes the long history of opposition to Social Security, from the 1930s to the present, a litany of philosophical criticisms...

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