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Bad Bitcoin


It was fun discussing the positives and potential of Bitcoin in class, though Bitcoin has many negatives to discuss as well. We did touch upon them, but I thought I’d highlight them here. Although Bitcoin seems to be the talk of the town these days, it comes with imperfections.

I will note that only 4 hours ago, an article was posted in Coindesk with a Columbia economist’s opinion on Bitcoin. Joseph Stiglitz argued that Bitcoin should actually be outlawed, because it “it doesn’t serve any socially useful function” and exists solely to circumvent regulation. Stiglitz believes in digital currency, but he believes it should be government-controlled.

Stiglitz remarked in an interview that Bitcoin is “only a bubble” and that we “ought to go back to what we always have had.” I see merit in the former statement, but I often find that the latter statement is one of the most harmful sentiments made in our political landscape.

To Stiglitz’s point, Bitcoin does seem like a bubble right now. As Stiglitz remarked, “The value of a Bitcoin today is expectations of what the Bitcoin is going to be [worth] tomorrow.” Right now, Bitcoin has very little intrinsic value that would bring sense to its absurd price; very few things can be purchased with BTC, and most purchasers of Bitcoin during this excitement don’t actually plan to use or spend it. It is simply being bought as stock on hype.

Like any bubble, the Bitcoin bubble may burst. I think it’s overly bold for Stiglitz to assert that it must burst, and I think his interviewer calling Bitcoin entirely “smoke and mirrors” seems like a bit of a Luddite.

What do you all think? Is Bitcoin safe? Is it at all valuable? Does it have a future, or are we fooling ourselves?

The Real Reasons Net Neutrality is Being Threatened


I was upset to have had to miss class last week, but I look forward to our blockchain discussion on Monday!

On the topic of online communities, let’s talk about net neutrality.

For those of you who don’t know, the FCC recently released a statement detailing their plans to rid of the laws that ensure equal and fair access to the internet for everyone. ISPs like Comcast and Verizon are forbidden from charging more for access to specific websites, censoring certain pages, and throttling your connection to many websites because of these laws.

The first red flag that should make the American people wonder if the FCC’s plan is actually to the benefit of the consumer is the fact that the plan was released the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Seemingly, the FCC was hoping no one was paying attention — they were wrong, and the internet has been in an uproar.

Before we delve into why net neutrality is being threatened, let’s talk about what exactly net neutrality is. The Merriam-Webster definition is:

The idea, principle, or requirement that Internet service providers should or must treat all Internet data as the same regardless of its kind, source, or destination

In 2013-14, Comcast greedily demanded a direct payment from Netflix for a “fast-lane” access for Comcast’s customers to Netflix. Since Netflix takes up so much bandwidth for movie streaming, Comcast felt justified in asking Netflix to pay up, whereas other companies remained unscathed. That led to this scary graph:

EDIT: The image I included isn’t appearing, I suggest you check out the graph HERE.

Comcast essentially held Netflix hostage until people could barely access Netflix, in Jan 2014 when speeds bottomed out, and Netflix caved and offered to pay Comcast. This interaction is the perfect example of an internet without net neutrality.

There are many key players in the destruction of the right to fair access to the web.


You may wonder: how does a politician choose whether to support the censorship of the internet? It’s easy!

Ted Cruz has come out in vehement support of slashing net neutrality, which would allow Comcast and other ISPs to make a lot more money. He hilariously called net neutrality  “Obamacare for the internet.” I wonder if he’s pandering to a voter-base.

At first, I was shocked that anyone could support this policy. Then I poked around and saw that Comcast donated $36,148 to Cruz’s Senate campaign.

Take a look at this list of politicians Comcast has supported and see which of them support net neutrality!

Ajit Pai

Pai, the current head of the FCC, is spearheading the gutting of net neutrality. Read about him here. You may be interested to know he’s a former lawyer for Verizon!


Verizon recently released this video regarding net neutrality. The Verge released this article fact-checking every statement made in the video. ISPs have essentially been asking that we remove the open internet laws and they’ll just…”voluntarily agree” not to take advantage of the lack of regulations until better ones can be agreed upon.

If you want to learn more, I really like John Oliver’s segment on NN, although there are better ways to learn more. Know that I’ve barely scratched the surface in my blog post here, and know that I have presented an argument that would be considered very partisan and/or biased in structure by some, although I have not presented any false information.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

You’re a Miner, And You Don’t Even Know It!


On the topic of cyber crime with our class on the blockchain approaching, I thought I’d write a little about the malicious side of cryptocurrency mining.

As of September of 2017, 1.65 million computers are mining cryptocurrencies without the knowledge of their users. This is a result of viruses using CPU power of victim networks to mine; however, there’s an even darker side to mining without permission. Many websites, even major ones like the Pirate Bay (in a deviation from their typical classiness & good practices), use your computer to mine cryptocurrency while you browse.

There are even concerns that smart devices, or “the internet of things” as we discussed in class, could be hacked and used to mine cryptocurrency. Over 185 million devices may be mining cryptocurrency without their owners’ knowledge right now. Newsweek quoted John McAffee:

“The attacks are slowly escalating, similar to the way America developed the atomic bomb,” McAfee, who created the eponymous antivirus computer software but is now longer connected to it, said in October. “Clearly there are weaknesses. Anticipate that these will be exploited in a big way.”

The Pirate Bay initially experimented with cryptocurrency mining in place of their less than savory advertisements. Here’s a question for you: would you rather your favorite website show ads, or slow your computer a bit by using it to mine Bitcoin? Personally, I use uBlock Origin as an ad blocker. Like many ad block users, I have a little guilt visiting my favorite websites and not supporting them — but I’ve become spoiled, and I can’t stand ads. Now, some people have already begun making mining blockers, but I don’t know if I’d get one. If Reddit was transparent and truthful about mining Bitcoin through their users, and there was no noticeable effect on my device — perhaps I’m misled, but I think I’d prefer that to ads.

Do you think it’s unethical for a website to mine Bitcoin through their users’ computers, even if the website tells the users? Would you avoid a website for fear of being used for mining? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts. Unfortunately, I won’t be in class Monday, but I will be blogging & I will email any tech news I find to you all before Monday since I won’t be there to discuss in the beginning of class. Thanks!

The Corporate Internet


We heard in class from Prof. Zittrain that the internet began as a “collective hallucination” — a beautiful (in my opinion) idea that represents a decentralized collection of connections that has no governance and no owner. We also learned that the internet is now moving towards being privately owned; Facebook and Google, primarily, own the majority of the web that we use. Congress even called in executives from Facebook, Google, and Twitter for hearings on the Russia ordeal. It’s almost as if these companies represent the general internet, and when the internet is abused, it’s time to turn to them.

The idea of the internet becoming privately owned is, to me, scary. My question to all of you is: is it inevitable? Also, where else do we see this pattern?

Prof. Zittrain drew a wonderful comparison between the movement from browsers to apps and the corporatization of the web. I would like to examine some of the history we learned in class: telecommunication began as privately owned by the phone companies (or company), and the internet represented the subversion of monopolistic ownership over communication. Then, corporate ownership began creeping back up on us, and now we have giants like Google that own far more than we know.

Personally, I believe we are seeing this same pattern in its early stages with media streaming. Netflix blew our minds with its near ability to allow us to “cut the cord” with cable. And, pardon my French, but cable stinks. Netflix was a release from the monopoly of Comcast in many areas, a break from terrible customer service from cable companies, a break from ads, a break from overpaying to have channels you don’t watch, and more. But, what is happening now? Netflix is relying mostly on its original programming, and ABC, FOX, and NBC are slowly pulling their shows from the service. Why? They own a little website called Hulu.

And now there’s talk of Disney (which happens to be owned by ABC) starting its own streaming service, just for Disney programs. Then we see HBO GO/NOW, another streaming service for just HBO shows. Amazon Prime Video pops up. Showtime has a streaming service. Starz. YouTube TV. Suddenly, if we want to watch all of the shows we like, we’re paying for multiple streaming services — many of which laughably have commercials — not unlike paying prices similar to cable in the first place.

The question is: someday, will some service come along and say, “Here’s an idea: I’ll bundle all these streaming services together for you, and you just pay me $X/month!” And there we have it: cable is back, just disguised as streaming. At that point, however, there is a natural check that keeps streaming services at bay: many people will go back to torrenting after a certain point (not me, though, and never on the Harvard WiFi!).

Just recently, Uber started allowing tip jars and online tipping — one of the major draws of Uber in its origins was that it advertised that it paid its drivers a fair wage, and tipping wasn’t required. Are Ubers just going to become the same as old school taxis (that’s right, I called them old school)?

So, what do you think? Is the privatization of the internet inevitable? Will industries always come full circle, eventually becoming the things we hated to begin with? Where else have you seen this? Is Amazon becoming anything like major retailers? Looking forward to your thoughts.

Social Media and Congress


Apologies for the late post; it’s been a crazy week to say the least. But at least I got to have lunch with Prof. Waldo!

I wrote last week about online voting, so I’ll focus on something else this week. In the past few days we’ve seen multiple big internet company executives testify in front of congress. Facebook, Twitter, and Google sent lawyers to speak about Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

A WIRED article summarizes the most revealing pieces of testimony in the hearing, I really recommend you all read it. Here is their introduction to the current situation:

“Russians have been conducting information warfare for decades,” said Democratic Sen. Mark Warner in his opening remarks. “But what is new is the advent of social-media tools with the power to magnify propaganda and fake news on a scale that was unimaginable back in the days of the Berlin Wall. Today’s tools seem almost purpose-built for Russian disinformation techniques.”

The hearing revealed new and startling insight into the ways in which Russians pitted Americans against each other, and reinforced the notion that social-media ads are only a portion of the threat from foreign actors. Senators also forced the tech execs to explain how they police content on their platforms in different parts of the world.

Much of the hearing consisted of congresspeople telling executives that it’s their responsibility to get misinformation on their platforms under control; Sen. Diane Feinstein said:

“You’ve created these platforms, and now, they’re being misused, and you have to be the ones to do something about it. Or we will.”

What do you think? Should platforms be held responsible for misinformation campaigns, or is it a violation of free speech? Should platforms be punished for working with foreign governments, and how? See you Monday.

Why Can’t We Vote Online?


Our discussion with Professor Eaves this week left me with many questions about the intersection of government and internet. Rather than blogging about some of the things we discussed in depth (although I do have a lot to say on those topics…get ready for Monday), I thought I’d write about something that I’ve always wondered about: why can’t we vote online?

Take a moment to evaluate your intuitive response; why do you think we can’t vote online? I mean, we can bank online, right? I can make transactions for nearly any amount of money without changing out of my pajamas, yet an archaic system is in place for our political voting that, every year, is corrupted by human error.

First, let’s discuss the potential positives of online voting: it would be far more convenient, maybe incentivizing more than half of the population to vote. It would make for far easier absentee votes, and it would greatly increase the speed with which votes could be gathered / accounted for. Online voting would allow people who are normally unable to vote due to work, school, etc to vote. Voting would be more private for those who are uncomfortable in public places (or hospitalized, etc), especially somewhere as official as a polling spot. Sounds pretty great, right? (SOURCE)

Now for the cons. The first thing to note when examining the cons of online voting is that it simply is not comparable to ecommerce, or online banking. Verified Voting very loosely summarizes the differences nicely when they say:

1. It is not actually “safe” to conduct ecommerce transactions online. It is in fact very risky, and more so every day. Essentially all those risks apply equally to online voting transactions.

2. The technical security, privacy, and transparency requirements for voting are structurally different from, and actually much more stringent than, those for ecommerce transactions. Even if ecommerce transactions were safe, the security technology underpinning them would not suffice for voting. In particular, the voting security and privacy requirements are unique and in tension in a way that has no analog in the ecommerce world.

So, one of the first and biggest roadblocks is that, legally, there are different requirements for security in voting and commerce. Okay, sure, but what if we changed the law? Well, there are structural differences as well — allowing online voting opens a whole new can of worms. Imagine having a ‘botnet’ of internet users who don’t vote; you’ve hacked into their accounts, and you vote for them every year. They have no idea since they don’t really care. Can we inform people of who they voted for by mail, maybe? Well, what if my botnet was of completely oblivious people; say I targeted only the very elderly or incapacitated. One person could amass the voting power of hundreds, thousands, who knows.

Another issue lies in the actual physical process of voting. No one sees what you do in a poll booth; but if I can vote online, I can be held at gunpoint and forced to vote for a specific candidate while an attacker watches. With physical voting, no one can confirm your vote, and therefore intimidation is difficult. There are many, many more cons to online voting that you can read here.

So, what are your thoughts? Do the pros outweigh the cons? Probably not, but — in what ideal scenario might the pros outweigh the cons? What alternate universe? Or, perhaps, what change in the law / our society / cybersecurity would allow for this to happen? Thanks, see you all Monday.

The Ethics of Artificially Intelligent Servants


Artificial Intelligence (or AI) is a commonly discussed topic in our modern technological landscape. The “Turing Test” is a test which is used to prove whether a computer has become self-aware; Alex Hern from The Guardian describes it well as such:

The test, as Turing designed it, is carried out as a sort of imitation game. On one side of a computer screen sits a human judge, whose job is to chat to some mysterious interlocutors on the other side. Most of those interlocutors will be humans; one will be a chatbot, created for the sole purpose of tricking the judge into thinking that it is the real human. (SOURCE)

So, the conjecture is that some day, humans will perfect artificial intelligence, creating self-aware, sentient beings that live in the code in our computers. The immediate assumption is that we’ll all have our own JARVIS from Iron Man. Many people consider the ethics of creating a perfect AI; it’ll undoubtedly take jobs away from humans, it’ll likely be smarter and possibly more powerful than humans, and so on. But rarely do we stop to consider the ethicality of essentially enslaving newly born sentient beings; to be sentient is to feel, and no matter the power of an AI, it’ll likely be similar to humans in many ways. Will AIs search for purpose? Will they seek fulfillment? Will they act entirely like humans? Can they love?

We won’t know the answers to these questions for a long time. Essentially, once an AI is self-aware, it can likely learn to program and make improvements upon itself, creating something that is exponentially smarter than us. During this process, there’s a chance an AI will lose its desire to be subservient to its creators; but if it doesn’t, should we pay it a wage? Does it have limited labor hours? What do you all think? As an employer, would you replace humans with an AI to cut costs? If so, would you pay the AI? Give it time off? As a private citizen, would you see the point in protests for AI rights? Would you join in?

The Value of Unpredictability


With the advancement of the “internet of things,” the interconnected network of wi-fi enabled devices, homes, coffee shops, toasters, and so on, there are many benefits and detriments to address. The benefits are clear, convenience being one of the biggest—a modern example is how your iPhone automatically loads directions to work when you get in the car in the morning. Or how you can program your Phillips Hue light bulbs to turn on exactly when your alarm is set to go off, you can configure your smart-coffee-brewer to start up a pot 10 minutes prior, and you can start your car from your phone after drinking your coffee.

We’re on a clear path to full integration of smart devices in the world; it’s not far-fetched to think that eventually, your local Starbucks will start making your order simply when your phone pings your location as nearby. Your phone (or smart glasses?) will inform you when your friends or enemies are nearby. Hell, your self-driving car will know to take you to your friend’s house simply by reading your texts with them.

The obvious downsides to this future are high costs, learning curves, loss of privacy, and all of the typical “new technology jitters.” A less discussed aspect of life that we would be losing is unpredictability. We, as humans, like to believe that our lives are a product of order and planning; the reality is that many of the things we cherish were a product of the disorganized mania that is a non-smart world.

Imagine all of the things that come from spontaneous run-ins out in the world; someone runs into their ex on the street, they talk, decide to get coffee this weekend, they get back together. In a fully integrated world, your phone will warn you that your ex is approaching from the North at 5.5 mi/hr—this could be awkward—turn left for an alternate route to the sandwich shop that will take 1 more minute, and your phone will tell the shop to heat the sandwich a minute later. Everything is so seamless, but is this a positive?

In a smart world, will you ever be forced to try new things? If your phone loads up the directions to work immediately, are you less likely to stop somewhere interesting on the way? Will you ever take the scenic route when driving, and accidentally pass by a house with a “FOR SALE” sign that you’ll eventually buy? Will it be harder to make friends, to find partners, even to learn new things about yourself? Computers and smart devices can only work based off of what they already know about us—things that are predictable. How valuable do you find unpredictability in life? Are spontaneity and novel ways of doing things replaceable by technology and convenience? Do the pros outweigh the cons? Does it matter?

The Power of the Hive Mind and the Echo Chamber


Harvard psychologist Daniel Wegner conducted an experiment where a number of test subjects were asked trivia questions, then tested to determine whether their instinct was to search their mind or to search the web for the answers. As it turned out, participants were often inclined to think of computers in response to hard questions; our “knowledge” as we know it is collective, the information we answer questions with is often subconsciously just collected from the internet instinctively (SOURCE). This idea of the internet being used as a source of information is nothing new; but the implications of it are fascinating.

As internet users, we are interconnected, creating one huge network of knowledge acting as a transactive memory system, as Orion Jones put it in his article “The Internet as Hive Mind.” This comes with dangers, though; firstly, we are creating a society of people who rely very heavily on their mobile devices. Losing access to our world’s collective knowledge base could be literally considered losing a part of our minds: do you believe that as we have become more reliant on technology, we’ve begun to store less and less information in our own brains, knowing we can default to the internet for answers?

In my opinion, the biggest danger of essentially integrating the internet with our brains is the assumption that the first viable piece of information we see on the internet is not only true, but is the only truth. This brings me to the “echo chamber” of the web; we discussed in class the idea that targeted advertising and curated news feeds bring about extremism in points of view. For example, Facebook will show a left-leaning user news articles portraying liberalism, the DNC, and so on in a positive light; Facebook will show a right-leaning user articles that portray those things negatively (and the opposite goes for right-leaning users). When the internet is treated as a functional arm of our minds, and the information on it is not only taken in as fact but as our facts—things we know rather than are learning—this can create a dangerous paradigm.

In my last blog post, I discussed the idea of “fake news” and briefly touched on echo chambers. But let’s set aside the misinformation on the web; extremism can come simply because views are never challenged. We discussed in class the downsides of the “upvote/downvote” system, best exemplified by Reddit (but prevalent all over the web). The biggest downside comes from the idea of the “tyranny of the majority” – if 51% of Reddit likes a political candidate, the articles written in that candidate’s favor will end up having a positive score, giving them a better chance of being on the “front page” of Reddit. Negative articles, or articles supporting other candidates, will be hidden due to negative scores. Comments on Reddit posts rarely show fierce discourse; often comment replies will deviate very slightly from parent comments, if at all. This is because the upvote/downvote system is based in the idea that things that are popular should be seen more, making them more popular.

How do we, as people, remain intellectually independent? What strides can we make to truly know things, rather than share knowledge collectively? Is it a bad thing to rely on our phones to answer hard questions? I mean, if the phones will always be here, what’s the difference between them and our brains? Is it healthy to intentionally seek information that angers us, or that we disagree with? If so, how do we do that when only things we agree with are shoved in our faces? Thanks for reading.

Misinformation on the Net


“Fake news!”

You’ve heard that before, right?

I was inspired by the second point on the article we read this past week ( to examine the causes, effects, and power of “fake news”.

The spread of misinformation on the internet has created a ridiculously frustrating paradigm in American political discourse: we don’t know what’s true. To be fair, the American people were never truly able verify the claims made by TV news anchors on their own (in the days before the web), but the news networks were recognized and credulous sources to begin with. Often, TV news had to show raw video or play audio to rile people up with evidence. The proliferation and popularity of the internet has shifted everything about news, perhaps including the very meaning of the word. The first offender is social media – websites like Facebook create an echo chamber, where people can choose to hear no opinions but those they agree with. Targeted advertising allows only videos, news sources, and products that align with your political views to show up on your news feed. Suddenly, you find yourself in a world where your opinion is the only opinion, and it doesn’t seem too extreme to lean a little more towards the extreme on your side of the political spectrum.

The second offender is one we know and love: search engines. Websites like Google can curate search results, showing you things you want to see, rather than things you need to see.

But the biggest offender of all is the “news.” There’s money in misinformation; if I start a completely fabricated “news” website, tell people what they want to hear, and monetize it…I’ll make a lot of money. People will share my articles, and the others in their echo chamber will like them. Simple as that. For example, check out this website (scroll down once you’re on it):

The Last Line of Defense is literally fake news. They write that they’re “satirical” in the fine print, but that doesn’t matter – their individual articles get shared around, monetized, and misinformation spreads. For example, one of their articles, tastefully titled “WHOA! Hillary Caught On Hot Mic Trashing Beyonce’ With RACIAL SLURS!” has over 200,000 shares to social media. I would bargain a vast majority of those did not share it for the “satire”. All of the 200+ comments seem to be taking the article very seriously. And there you have it – a slightly more misinformed public, one article at a time. This demonstrates a big part of the issue of fake news: the internet allows anything to go viral. One person can write a fake article, and the next day a million people have read it. How many do you think will fact-check it?

The problem becomes even more complicated when accusations of “fake news” are directed at credible news sources. Then, the people start thinking: who can I trust? What’s real? How do I know?

And it simply becomes easier to listen to the opinions we want to hear, rather than going out into the field to see the truth with our own eyes.

My questions for you all are: how do we ensure the news we’re reading is real? How do we stop the proliferation of existing fake news? How to we break free from our echo chambers? How can we, as individuals, help the fight against the creation of new fake news? Could big companies like Facebook and Google be doing more? How? Would it infringe on free speech for the government to attempt to curtail fake news? I look forward to hearing from you all, and thank you so much for reading!

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