Five short links


Picture by H. Michael Karshis

The spread of American slavery – A compelling use of animated maps to get across the fact that slavery was spreading and dominating the places it existed, right up until the Civil War. A map that matters, because it punctures the idea that slavery would have withered away naturally without intervention from the North.

Snapchat and privacy and security consent orders – On the surface FTC consent orders look pretty toothless, so why do companies worry about them so much? This article does a good job of what they mean in practice, and it looks like they operate as jury-rigged regulations tailored for individual corporations, giving the FTC wide powers of oversight and investigation. The goals are often noble, but the lack of consistency and transparency leaves me worried the system is ineffective. If these regulations only apply to companies who’ve been caught doing something shady, then it just encourages others to avoid publicity around similar practices to stay exempt from the rules.

Maze Tree – I have no idea what the math behind this is, but boy is it pretty!

A suicide bomber’s guide to online privacy – The ever-provocative Peter Watts pushes back on David Brin’s idea of a transparent society by reaching into his biology training. He makes a convincing case that the very idea that someone is watching you is enough to provoke fear, in a way that’s buried deep in our animal nature. “Many critics claim that blanket surveillance amounts to treating everyone like a criminal, but I wonder if it goes deeper than that. I think maybe it makes us feel like prey. ”

Data-driven dreams – An impassioned rant against the gate-keeping that surrounds corporate data in general, and the lack of access to Twitter data for most research scientists in particular. Like Craigslist, Twitter messages feel like they should be a common resource since they’re public and we created them, but that’s not how it works.

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