#78- Persuasion and Control A Conversation with Zeynep Tufekci

 
Nhoj Morley
 
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Nhoj Morley
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26 May 2017 17:20
 

In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Zeynep Tufekci about “surveillance capitalism,” the Trump campaign’s use of Facebook, AI-enabled marketing, the health of the press, Wikileaks, ransomware attacks, and other topics.

#78- Persuasion and Control A Conversation with Zeynep Tufekci

This thread is for listeners’ comments.

 
 
Dave/NoCal
 
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Dave/NoCal
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27 May 2017 11:12
 

I’m writing to ask a follow on question to the email security topic at the end of the show. She recommended using a USB security key and an Apple phone. Well, I just bought a new Pixel, so no Apple phone for me for another 18 months. I use my phone to check email on my Yahoo and Google accounts.
Is there a way you can ask her to elaborate on email security on our phones? I don’t have a Twitter account, mainly because there is so much noise and trolling, and I already spend too much time on Facebook.

 
Wanderer
 
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Wanderer
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27 May 2017 12:28
 

If you’re not interested in a USB key (and I don’t blame you), you can also set up 2FA (2 Factor Authorization) for just about everything these days and it’s free.  I also use LastPass, though the better features for it are pay (though it’s cheap).  2FA is quite effective if you’re looking for just a little more security.  Otherwise, you can also consider end-to-end encryption for your email using something like ProtonMail.

lastpass.com
protonmail.com

2FA apps like: Authy

 
 
Thom_Quine
 
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28 May 2017 07:43
 

If you think Zeynep is exaggerating the possibilities, check out the article from today’s Guardian:

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/may/27/conservatives-facebook-dark-ads-data-protection-election?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

 
fff
 
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fff
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28 May 2017 09:05
 

Ms. Tufekci’s answer to Sam’s question at 1:14:36, “Unless you’re sticking an ethernet cable into the back of it or giving it your Wi-Fi password ... If you’re not doing one of these two things with this new device ... Is there any third way it can be connected to your internet?”, was technically correct, but overly cautious. The only 100% secure system is a powered off system, but the practical answer is, “No, provided your device has no other communication interfaces (eg cellular), you control physical access to your ethernet ports, and your Wi-Fi passwords aren’t easily guessed.”

 
sojourner
 
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28 May 2017 21:13
 

Interesting podcast, although it was hard for me to relate to much of it, being a bit of a social anorexic. Kinda like being 50 pounds underweight and listening to someone talk about the evils of fast food pushing calories on people - I’m so introverted that I actually require massive amounts of propaganda and billions of dollars of advertising research just to be enticed to engage more frequently. I suppose for those who are already social butterflies social media could be a total attentional time drain, but I have largely positive things to say about it. As for the nefariousness of targeted advertising - seeing as how I get endless ads for Zulily, some random brand of tankinis, and items I have already purchased on Amazon (none of which I have ever bought from, except for Amazon, but again, it shows me items I’ve already bought, presumably from my browsing history).


The one thing I do find a bit freaky and Big Brother-esque about social media, that they didn’t touch on in this podcast, is how they know who I know. Not people I have mutual friends in common with or appear in tagged pictures with, but people I do in fact know that are not linked to me in any way on social media. I feel like whatever cookies social media uses on your computer, they must track just about everything, including email contacts.


Didn’t know what to make of the extremely unflattering and rather worrisome depiction of Wikileaks. I don’t have enough background to know if that was a biased interpretation based on bad blood or something, but her description of them was rather unnerving - dumping and Tweeting about people’s private emails - even including info about suicide attempts - that really does not relate to politics; putting out the names and addresses of female voters in countries where they are endangered; attacking progressives almost exclusively, and so on. Again, I don’t know enough about those accusations to know if they’re true or not, but I certainly hope they’re not.


Overall, I think an eye on internet privacy is a good thing and probably requires a zealous mindset, but in the context of the average person’s life, think Zeynep overestimates the impact of internet ‘persuasion and control’. Maybe that’s just because I still haven’t purchased anything from Zulily so assume others are similarly unaffected - but if nothing else, influence is a two-way street. Advertisers are just as beholden to the strange mob trends that arise spontaneously via social media as users are to the content shoved in their face - perhaps more so, as users are free to ignore things while advertisers livelihood is at stake. People have been been convinced The Masses Are About To Be Totally Controlled with every new technological advent, and thus far, the masses (self included) continue to be somewhat influenceable but often simply random and fickle in their choices, enchanted by interests that seem to emerge organically from the zeitgeist, not any particular puppet master. As the old saying goes “You can lead a man to V8 with advertising, but you cannot make him drink, because seriously, he is gonna notice that it tastes like three day old warm spaghetti sauce no matter how clever your subliminal advertising.”

 
 
ilchymis
 
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ilchymis
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28 May 2017 22:56
 
Dave/NoCal - 27 May 2017 11:12 AM

She recommended using a USB security key and an Apple phone. Well, I just bought a new Pixel, so no Apple phone for me for another 18 months. I use my phone to check email on my Yahoo and Google accounts.

I personally think the Pixel is about as secure as the iPhone for most users, as long as you don’t root it or enable the option to allow the installation of apps from sources other than the Play Store.

There are some things iPhone does better than Pixel in theory, such as secure handling of fingerprints (IMO the iPhone’s Secure Enclave is a better design than ARM TrustZone as used by the Pixel’s Snapdragon 821 for keeping fingerprints secret), potentially but not necessarily better protection against baseband attacks (documentation to compare the two on this measure is difficult to come by), and—if your threat model includes physical confiscation of your phone—better filesystem encryption security properties, as detailed by Matthew Green.

But the most salient fact of either of these devices is that they receive timely security updates directly from the authors of their operating systems, and that alone puts them so far ahead of many of their competitors that I don’t think it’s worth fretting about the minor differences between the two.

In general I think Zeynep’s security recommendations were spot-on, though. Since I haven’t seen a link in this thread to the U2F security keys she mentioned, this is what she was referring to: https://www.yubico.com/products/yubikey-hardware/fido-u2f-security-key/

[ Edited: 28 May 2017 22:58 by ilchymis]
 
ilchymis
 
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28 May 2017 23:11
 
fff - 28 May 2017 09:05 AM

The only 100% secure system is a powered off system, but the practical answer is, “No, provided your device has no other communication interfaces (eg cellular), you control physical access to your ethernet ports, and your Wi-Fi passwords aren’t easily guessed.”

There are some important and possibly counter-intuitive exceptions to this, however. For example, the HDMI standard now supports Ethernet. I intentionally leave my stereo receiver offline, but if I were to connect its Ethernet port into my network, and connect it to my TV with an HDMI cable supporting Ethernet, suddenly my TV would have an Internet connection.

 
Quiet Geek
 
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29 May 2017 22:08
 

Great guest, generally spot-on, and good on her for suggesting some common sense approaches to security.

Security is a tricky topic, I find you can become increasingly secure/paranoid on a sliding scale - where there isn’t a line-in-the-sand that we can point to and say - beyond this you are effectively a tin-foil-hat-waring idiot.

Mostly its a security/convenience trade-off.

One thing I’ve noticed in the mainstream-media is a defeatist attitude to security/privacy:

I remember hearing of someone who worked for a company suggesting using a more secure web-browser (compared to Internet-Exporter which at the time was quite insecure).
Management looked into it but found all other web-browsers had a history of having security exploits, so they didn’t look into it further.

This all-or-nothing approach annoys me, and I heard this come through with @Zeynep’s comments on VPN’s. While she’s not wrong (the VPN’s and do anything your ISP can do which you might not like), I find the conclusion defeatist.

I feel the rationale is as follows: People don’t want to admit they could trade of some convenience for *significantly* increased security, so they just say:

>  “perfect privacy/security doesn’t exist so, screw it, I’ll keep doing whatever I’m doing”

Where else in life does this apply?

> “you can’t be perfectly healthy, so just eat whatever crappy food you want”

Give me a break!

The problem is varying degrees of security is such an abstract concept for people to grasp, even if they take the time to investigate it… which they probably wont.

—-

Some minor points/quibbles.

- She could have given a straight answer to sams question about either ethernet/wifi being the only way appliances will access the internet: to which the answer is “yes” (for all practical purposes), @ilchymis, even the point about HDMI - there needs to be an end-point using ethernet/wifi.

- internet of things is indeed almost totally insecure, people are pointing this out in the tech industry (eg: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=304Lcn0nU3c ), its worrying that the general public doesn’t seem to care much about it.

- The points about (no-updates + privacy) || (updates + no-privacy) isn’t quite right. I’ve been using Linux on the desktop for over 10 years, while its not mainstream it has 2-3% desktop/laptop adoption and is the reason chrome-books are secure (Linux Kernel), which you can get without the google tie in. Of course it’s not for everyone, nevertheless, it runs most of my families computers which get security updates daily.

[ Edited: 04 June 2017 03:26 by Quiet Geek]
 
chrisjunkin
 
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02 June 2017 18:23
 

I would have liked to have heard a little more why she’s not that concerned with VPN’s with much of her discussion on being warry of anyone trying to sell her advertising. I realize its a matter of who do you trust more a VPN or internet service provider. Sounds like she was leaning somewhat to service providers but thats an assumption so I would like to have had more clarification on her thoughts.

 
jbushyhead
 
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02 June 2017 20:51
 

I was very enthused about trying the “$17.99” authentication key mentioned in the podcast.  Somehow during the process of setting up 2-part authentication with Google using Chrome, my formerly perfectly clean Macbook got loaded with an uninvited copy of"Mackeeper” and “Megabackup.”  An hour or so of seek and destroy gymnastics later I was able to kill and remove both.  Zeynap’s cure, in my case, was worse than the disease.

 
GJMurray
 
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03 June 2017 14:24
 

That was fascinating and more than a little bit chilling and almost enough to make me become an Apple user. I hate to use the L word but I think Elections Canada and Elections Nova Scotia should look at this.  I would love to know what MS Tufekci thinks of the Swiss email service Proton mail.

 
fleur
 
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fleur
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06 June 2017 11:55
 

hey sam, this was a fascinating interview. she spoke well and balanced. but why didnt you ask zeynap on snowden? it seems like such a natural question to ask. you seem to avoid the topic - what is your opinion on his whistle blowing?
also does zeynap recommend a specific security key?

 
sethg
 
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11 August 2017 11:15
 

I know I’m late to the party on this but just got around to this podcast. I found Ms. Tufekci’s perspective on Wikileaks interesting. The what, why and how they release information is something I never spent much time thinking about and it’s clear that it can be damaging. Still, she focuses on some of the ugly but largely irrelevant details released from the hacks of the DNC emails. Fine. But she seems to completely ignore the fact that the hacks showed the bias and actions taken by DNC officials in favor of Hillary Clinton during the primaries. To me, these revelation are so damning that they may have been worth enduring the other leaked material. It showed a blatant disregard for Democracy and the voters in their own party. Perhaps the leaks cost the Democrats the election but maybe they will help clean up the party in the future.

It’s ironic that the alleged Russian meddling in the election is what exposed the proven meddling done by DNC leadership. This is not the meddling that party leadership was doing in 2008 in trying to fight the voter’s preference for Obama with the accumulation of Superdelegates in Clinton’s favor. This is actual, finger-on-the-scale stuff. And when Wasserman-Schultz was exposed the party actually replaced her with Brazille who herself is a longtime Clinton loyalist and then later leaks showed that Brazille also helped steal the primary for Clinton. This is really shameful behavior and it’s only because of Wikileaks that we know about it. In fact, the leaks provided real evidence of so much of the ugly stuff that powerful people/parties can do. Some of the stuff that shows up in various forms on Sam Harris podcasts. I know it has become a regular thing to point out how Trump might be behaving the way someone like Putin behaves. The wikileaks documents expose exactly this same type of behavior at the DNC. The good news is that the party may have moved on from the Clinton loyalists and can begin to do the work of the voters again.

[ Edited: 11 August 2017 11:18 by sethg]
 
sojourner
 
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11 August 2017 22:51
 
sethg - 11 August 2017 11:15 AM

It’s ironic that the alleged Russian meddling in the election is what exposed the proven meddling done by DNC leadership.


Uuuuum… isn’t this kind of like finding out you have early stage cervical cancer during the exam after getting raped, then saying “Well ironically, it was the rapist who diagnosed this early on for me!”. I feel like that would generally be an… uh… odd… way of framing it.

 
 
sethg
 
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13 August 2017 18:45
 
NL. - 11 August 2017 10:51 PM
sethg - 11 August 2017 11:15 AM

Uuuuum… isn’t this kind of like finding out you have early stage cervical cancer during the exam after getting raped, then saying “Well ironically, it was the rapist who diagnosed this early on for me!”. I feel like that would generally be an… uh… odd… way of framing it.

Maybe but the analogy isn’t perfect because, while both are bad, you may view one misfortune as worse than the other. More importantly, rape requires an aggressor while there is typically nobody to blame for cancer. Cleaning up your analogy, it is more like being raped by the person who just helped identify the last person to rape me. The irony I point out is that the Russians tried to influence the Presidential election in part by revealing how the DNC insiders tried to influence the Democratic Primary. The offenses are essentially the same although we may feel differently about the perpetrators, victims and beneficiaries.