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Big Revolution - We're flying blind online

Welcome to Thursday's newsletter. How do you do? — Martin from Big Revolution
July 18 · Issue #474 · View online
Big Revolution
Welcome to Thursday’s newsletter. How do you do?
— Martin from Big Revolution

Big things you need to know today
  • Instagram has expanded its test that hides the number of likes other people’s content has received to six more countries. Ireland, Italy, Japan, Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand have joined Canada in the test.
The big thought
FaceApp's promotional screenshots
FaceApp's promotional screenshots
Forget Russia, FaceApp reminds us we’re flying blind online
FaceApp is back. The face-changing app has gone viral again and so have the warnings about its dangers. But are some of those warnings overblown?
It’s good that people are worried about whether an app is really doing what it says it does, but many people’s concerns seem more grounded in Russophobia than in a broader concern about the data we send out about ourselves to the cloud, never really knowing how it will be used.
Much of the criticism of FaceApp on social media is along the lines of ‘it’s run by Russians — the Russians are stealing your face data! OMG!’
That’s a Russophobic red herring. As anyone who’s ever spent time in Russia or spoken to many Russians will know, not everyone is best mates with Putin. Far from everyone in that vast country is in league with the Kremlin and operating a disinformation campaign aimed at the West.
Is FaceApp squeaky clean? Does it really delete all your photos as it claims? Does the Russian government have access to its data? I have no idea, and neither do you. But 'Russians!’ is a silly way of framing your concerns.
Instead, worry that we really don’t know how anything actually works online. Does Snap secretly keep all your Snapchat posts after they’ve supposedly expired? Does Grammarly sell all your keylogged business correspondence to your competitors? Do Amazon and Google (which apparently host FaceApp’s data) pass your FaceApp posts to the US government?
To be clear, I have no reason to believe any of those things are true. I’m certainly not saying they are, and the companies concerned would no doubt deny them.
But that’s the point — when we use any online service, we’re placing our blind trust in the operator of that service to do what they say they will. So start warning people about that, rather than where the creators of a particular app happen to be based.
One big read
Tech journalism’s ‘on background’ scourge Tech journalism’s ‘on background’ scourge
The PR tactic that has distorted reporting on Silicon Valley for far too long.
One big tweet
This is worth remembering as we enter the age of self-driving cars, and discuss the potential of brain implants…
NYT Archives
50 years ago: As Apollo 11 raced to the moon, the NASA administrator predicted in the NYT that by 1984, humans will have walked on Mars, and an "economy-class rocket-plane flight" to a space station would cost several thousand dollars.
3:30 PM - 17 Jul 2019
That’s all for today...
See you tomorrow for more.
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