Author: Jon Evans

Who do you trust?

Another week, another high-profile hack. This week it was (checks notes) Reddit. What makes this one marginally more interesting is that the victims were using two-factor authentication, i.e. SMS codes texted to them to verify their identities when their accounts were accessed — which turned out to be little more than a speed bump for the attackers. This surprised exactly zero (good) security people. It has long been known that your phone service can be hacked either via SS7, the ancient and insecure system used to interconnect the planet’s phone networks, or by the more old-fashioned but even more...

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Branded Worlds: how technology recentralized entertainment

I love Hollywood box-office numbers because they provide a hard statistical view of cultural currents. Did you know, for instance, that there had never been a weekend when 8 of the top 10 movies in America were sequels — until this month? Or that, while almost 400 movies were released in the first half of 2018, nearly 40% of their total accumulated revenue came from just four releases, all of which were superhero sequels? This is not what was supposed to happen. Ten years ago people thought that visual storytelling would be democratized; that new cameras, new editing suites,...

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Information wants to be siloed

Data, they say, is the new oil, and open public data is the new commons. Give the people the facts, and they will use them to make informed decisions. Right? Except that’s not the bureaucratic instinct. Bureaucrats fear the free flow of information. And all too often they’ll try to quench it by intoning the magic word “security,” and if that doesn’t work, “terrorism!“, in the most idiotic ways and places possible. This is a wide and general rule: whenever some tinpot official says something painfully dumb has to be done Because Security, the odds are better than even...

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Liberty, equality, technology: France is finally poised to become a tech power

Once America had an unassailable advantage, an economic flywheel that spun off innovation and Fortune 500 companies like a perpetual-motion machine. Bring in the best, brightest, and most driven from around the world; educate them or their children at its universities; then watch them start companies, succeed wildly, give back to their alma maters, and recruit new talent as the virtuous cycle began again. It hardly mattered whether these immigrants came in as students (think Satya Nadella, Sundar Pichai, and Steve Jobs’ father Abdul Fattah Jandali) or with their families (Sergey Brin and Jerry Yang) or as refugees (eg Alexis Ohanian’s father’s family) or as undocumented immigrants (eg Ohanian’s mother.) Meanwhile, the UK, thanks to its Commonwealth connections and universities like Oxbridge and Imperial College, did much the same on a smaller scale. It was a self-sustaining wealth-generation and nation-strengthening machine of gigantic proportions, and it would take colossal idiocy to want to interfere with it. Enter Brexit. Enter Donald Trump. Enter their implicit and explicit rejections of immigration, including serious barriers to and discouragement of legal and skilled immigration, such as H-1B visa holders and international students — along with the general sense of “you’re not welcome here” that they’re clearly doing their damnedest to convey. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, that other great immigrant nation, France, has been working overtime for the last four years to open both...

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An immodest proposal: it’s time for scooter superhighways

“If a problem cannot be solved,” Donald Rumsfeld once wrote, “enlarge it.” I’m not about to praise him for his accomplishments, but he had a pretty good eye for diagnoses. Which takes us to the problem of urban transit. I complained recently that I didn’t care about scooter startups, because I couldn’t imagine cities ever changing in a way which made scooters really work. But lo, the scales have fallen from my eyes. What may seem to be the problem: scooters are useful and fun for many, but discarded scooters are an unsightly mess. What’s actually the problem: cities...

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Zcash: life on the crypto roller coaster

Suppressed in Japan. Championed in New York. Accused of betraying the billion-dollar community he created with an arcane and byzantine ritual, while accidentally solving — maybe — a transnational clandestine mining mystery. All this while leading the rollout of some of the world’s most cutting-edge cryptographic technology into production. It’s been an interesting six months for Zooko Wilcox, cryptographer, engineer, and CEO / driving force behind Zcash, one of the world’s most valuable, technically interesting, and politically fraught cryptocurrencies. Thoughtful, soft-spoken, quick to laugh, and eager to see all sides of every issue, he doesn’t seem like a man...

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The techlash

People hate hubris and hypocrisy more than they hate evil, which is, I think, why we’re seeing the beginnings of a bipartisan cultural backlash against the tech industry. A backlash which is wrongly conceived and wrongly targeted … but not entirely unfounded. It’s hard to shake the sense that, as an industry, we are currently abdicating some of our collective responsibility to the world. Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk do a ton of objectively bad stuff, but I just want to be clear that the mere act of holding onto that much money in a world with this much...

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The piggyback problem

I wanted to write about scooter startups this week, but, alas, I failed to care enough about them to muster any opinion at all. The problem is that they are pure piggyback startups, and pure piggyback startups are boring because they have no chance of being genuinely transformative. Let me explain. Many, or even most, successful tech startups / movements succeed because they manage to piggyback on existing infrastructure. This is so painfully obvious it’s almost a truism, where the infrastructure is “the Internet” or “smartphones” — but there are other kinds, too. In its early days, Amazon was...

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