Jan. 18: Decentralize the Web, Alexa and to publish or not to publish

The movement to re-decentralize the web

Last June, Tim Berners-Lee, one of the Web’s founders (he invented the World Wide Web and the protocol and language by which computers exchange documents like web pages,NYT) organized a Decentralized Web Summit to explore new technologies that could take some powers out of Internet giants’ hands and back into internet users’ (NYT). One of the concrete ways to do that is through such examples as Blockstack’s (MIT Tech Review): such companies indeed control the personal data of their users and therefore using blockchain technology to build a ledger of identities gives people the ability to manage the permissions they give to online services to access some of their data. Of course, in addition to technology, a robust data protection framework goes a long way towards decentralizing the web!

What does Alexa stand for?

You might have heard of Alexa, Amazon’s smart home assistant. Its a little box and when you say “Hey Alexa” the device wakes up and you can give it orders – from raising the living room’s temperature to ordering more milk online, theoretically. It’s still the beginning for home assistants and Amazon, not Google, has an edge (MIT Tech Review), especially in terms of the data it collects. The data collected when it’s awake (60 seconds after you say “Hey Alexa”) has enabled Amazon engineers to progress in terms of speech recognition. Of course, law enforcement is already seeking access to Alexa’s data in a murder case because it thinks it might contain clues – a case that reminds us of the Apple v FBI situation (NYT) – and course Amazon is fighting the warrant: a police device in your home is much harder to sell than good old Alexa!

Weighing publishing decisions in an era of leaks

CNN (initial article) and Buzzfeed (initial article) are under intense scrutiny for their (very different) publishing decisions in the case of the memo written on Trump by a former British intelligence officer. Indeed, publishing based on leaks (a recurrent problem throughout the US election) is ethically complicated since the source of the reporting might be unknown even if the facts are corroborated. In December, theNYT stated that during the US election “every major publication, including The Times, [became] a de facto instrument of Russian intelligence.” While the larger question is far from settled, you can read Jack Goldsmith inLawfare asking (provocatively) if “Wikileaks [is] different from the New York Times” on these questions, and how?

Have an Alexa-orderedWednesday!



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