Weekly Tech Digest

A high tech vibrator, the ethical considerations of web app performance, and problems for Ethereum Classic.

Although I didn’t follow CES, I wasn’t able to avoid the controversy surrounding Ose — the advanced vibrator that was excluded from the conference and called “immoral” by the Consumer Technology Association, who organizes the yearly trade show. Many others have beat this horse to death, so I’ll just add that if I have to watch 20 erectile dysfunction drug commercials per sporting event I think the attendees of CES could probably handle a sexual pleasure device for women.

Tim Kadlec published a provocative article asking us to consider if web application performance is an ethical concern. Kadlec makes a compelling case that it is for two main reasons — exclusion and waste. Slow and bloated apps run horrifically slow on lower cost hardware, even brand-new, low-price-point phones and computers. Anyone with low end hardware or low end connection speeds is essentially locked out of using apps with poor performance.

Then, there’s waste. Modern infrastructure and cloud services make it easy to forget the astronomical electricity costs associated with serving and running websites. Plus, poor performance plays into planned obsolescence, incentivising users to continue throwing away old computers and phones, which is fast becoming an ecological nightmare. Kadlec’s article reminds me of Nikita Prokopov’s Software Disenchantment, which dives into the details of just how slow and bloated software has become in recent years.

Motherboard reported on an interesting data privacy vulnerability that highlights some of the more human aspects of the problem. Joseph Cox describes how he paid a bounty hunter $300 dollars to locate a phone based on that phone’s number. The story exposes how big telecom companies and our legal system are part of a convoluted system of sketchy data brokerage. It’s a great read, and another example of how much work we have ahead of us in the world of data privacy.

Finally, another blow was dealt to the already deflating cryptocurrency bubble when hackers successfully forced a fork on the Ethereum Classic blockchain. This attack — sometimes called a “51%” attack — allows attackers to double spend coins and, according to Coinbase security engineer Mark Nesbitt, $1.1M dollars worth of Ethereum Classic has already been double spent. This has always been a risk with blockchain technology, as I wrote back in August.

This is a significant blow, and to me exposes the misnomer behind the idea of “trustless” transaction systems. Users may not have to trust other people making transactions, but they do place their trust in the technology. Now, with the knowledge that it is indeed possible to fork the Ethereum Classic blockchain, users will have to decide if they still trust the decentralized system to be powered by at least 51% good-faith actors.

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