Posts Tagged ‘barack obama’


Sony hack threatens freedom of speech

Sony Pictures Entertainment logoWhen employees of Sony Pictures Entertainment saw their computer screens go as black as their morning coffee in mid-keystroke last month, nobody imagined the impact would have global implications.

Yet, another darkness descended with the shutdown and may persist for months if the “Sony hack” as many are calling it turns into the cyberterror devastation the alleged hackers claim will come.

Even if nothing much else results, the Sony hack likely will change the way corporations handle digital data. Otherwise, our most basic freedom is at risk.

The latest clarion call to improve digital security came early on the Monday before Thanksgiving when Sony employees were shut out of their computer network without warning. The blackout lasted days. Important files either vanished or were inaccessible. Sony Pictures, the American subsidiary of media conglomerate Sony Corp., soon learned that hackers calling themselves Guardians of Peace had sifted through and copied vast volumes of employee records and company correspondence. The hackers published some of the emails as proof — emails that revealed privileged discussions and compromised relationships within the company.

The attack was tied to the planned wide release on Christmas Day of the feature film “The Interview,” a political farce depicting the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The hackers called it a form of terrorism and promised to retaliate against cinemas that showed the movie. Cinema owners everywhere cancelled showings, prompting Sony to pull the movie from distribution.

Hollywoodites and government howled at Sony’s decision, with a long line of celebrities stretching from George Clooney to President Barack Obama saying Sony risked undermining free speech and freedom of expression by giving in. But Sony Pictures Chairman and CEO Michael Lynton insisted he had no choice once the cinemas backed out. The company now says it will opt for other means of distribution and a limited release.

Perhaps a bigger concern to Lynton and Sony is the huge hole this hack punches into the company’s reputation. Tens of thousands of personnel records wound up in the hackers’ hands in November — and this just 10 months after another security breach by a different hacker compromised individual records belonging to almost 48,000 Sony website visitors in Germany. If Sony employees’ bank accounts, health records, and credit histories are compromised en masse, and Sony customers can blame their own financial woes on the company, the cumulative legal redress heaped on Sony could easily exceed the $44 million it cost to make “The Interview.”

So, two things now appear certain. First, the high-profile blowback from Sony’s security breach serves as incentive for corporations who say they’ll get around to improving cybersecurity but keep putting it off.

Second, Sony’s apparent capitulation to the Guardians of Peace moves cyberterror out front as a proven tool for controlling the media marketplace. Lynton insisted his company’s actions were defensible and blamed misinformation for fueling public outrage. Meanwhile, free-speech advocates filled the gap between Sony’s actions and Lynton’s logic with shrill outcry, or in some cases overt silence. that Sony will find almost impossible to overcome even after agreeing to a smaller distribution.

Hacking predates the Web, goes on everywhere, and is evolving. In the first two weeks of December alone, more than two dozen attacks considered to be on the level of cybercrime or espionage were recorded against major financial institutions, governments agencies, news organizations, sports teams, and universities. Each revealed nagging flaws in the way we store our digital data, however none received the media attention they deserved because they lacked the PR firepower of Hollywood’s glitterati.

Sony showed that media companies can be bullied into acting against the public’s best interests, that everyone from individuals on up to conglomerates needs to take better care of securing our digital data, and that our basic freedoms are doomed if we don’t.

Deleting your tweeting is cheating

Delete Tweets iconRemember correction fluid? It had names such as Liquid Paper and Wite-Out.

How about correction tape?

Or, how about those pencil- or wheel-shaped typewriter erasers with a plastic brush at one end? The brush was intended to whisk away bits of worn eraser, which usually landed inside the typewriter anyway.

In the days before digital, these were the tools of reputation management. They were cumbersome, messy, and in the case of correction fluid, toxic; the fumes were as potent as gasoline — and anyone prone to typing errors inhaled a lot of fumes.

They also were imperfect at covering imperfections. Shrewd hiring managers held résumés and cover letters up to the light to find the telltale blotches and smudges left by correction fluid. Minus those, an applicant could land the job on perfect typing alone.

Today, we depend on the Delete or Backspace keys to correct mistakes and believe nobody is wise to our errors when they vanish off the screen before our eyes. In truth, the ghosts of our gaffes cling to the Web and leave telltale traces, much like correction fluid.

Nowhere is this more obvious than social media, especially Twitter, where bits of conversations spin off and tumble around inside the platform like socks in a Laundromat dryer. One phrase or image may be plucked out of context and hurled perhaps too far to see where it came from but not far enough to forget. And if that phrase or image is tasteless or inaccurate — well, imagine what happens when one red sock gets mixed in with a load of white laundry.

The solution, many journalists believe, is to delete the offending or inaccurate tweet, also known as scrubbing, but as recent examples suggest that only makes the problem worse.

Bloomberg Politics got caught up in a vicious spin cycle last month when it tweeted about an interview with White House chef Sam Kass about the Obamas’ family dining and paired a portrait of the president with what appears to be a stock image of chicken wings, thus stirring claims of racial stereotyping. The tweet came down without apology but not before thousands saw it and hundreds retweeted it.

The same week, CNN was hit by a tweetstorm after a staffer posted a photo of the network’s morning anchor team apparently making fun of the Ebola scare. The photo was even retweeted by a member of the anchor team before a CNN executive demanded it come down.

The following week, a national correspondent for CBS News suffered embarrassment over her reporting about U.S. Sen. Rand Paul’s criticism of federal reaction to Ebola. Amid the dialog, she asserted that Paul lacked the medical wisdom to be objective on the matter. Paul has held a medical license in his home state of Kentucky since 1993, a fact that appears even on Wikipedia. Yet she pulled down the tweet instead of correcting the record.

In each case, the deletion had an impact opposite of what was intended. And not just these three; examples abound of media, celebrities, and politicians smearing their messes over a wider area merely by deleting an errant or inappropriate tweet.

The better strategy? Leave the tweet alone and post a follow-up containing a correction or an apology if necessary. Here’s why:

It minimizes confusion — Retweets, no matter their number, trace back to their origins, and having a string of retweets linked to a blank space in the Twitter time stream can confuse readers who are following the story or merely trying to corroborate information posted by other journalists and readers.

It maximizes credibility — Wherever a gap exists in the Twitter time stream, other Twitter users fill it with conjecture and assumption. Admitting a mistake or issuing an apology not only prevents speculation from seeping into the conversation, it also demonstrates responsibility on the part of the Twitter user and responsible users are considered credible sources.

You can’t change the past — Once a tweet goes live, it never really dies. The Library of Congress signed a deal with Twitter in 2010 to sweep up all Tweets for posterity and now keeps them in a sprawling searchable database.

Typewriters compelled users to think twice before hitting the keys to avoid cumbersome corrections. Treating Twitter with the same respect yields the same result.

The secret to success for early adopters

Early adopter(Editor’s note: A version of this post first appeared at DKSheets.com.)

We all enjoy occasional trips along the cutting edge. Spurred by our adrenaline and excitement, these trips can lift moods and egos by suggesting that we’re smarter, faster, better than the masses.

Those who live by this routine are called early adopters, or “trendsetters.” They’re a step removed from innovators but enjoy the cachet of being first at anything.

They constitute a distinct population, whereas most of us prefer hanging with the masses and steering wide of the danger zone, because the comfort zone has lounge chairs and mini refrigerators.

But what if there seems no choice but to join the early adopters?

That was the feeling people had last week before flaws and a resulting wave of bad press beset two high-profile tech arrivals: Windows RT 8.1 and HealthCare.gov.

Both were supposed to address pressing national issues. Both were touted as easy fixes for those issues. And both went public after intense PR campaigns nudging the public toward early adoption.

Now, both are case studies for caution.

Windows RT 8.1, an operating system update released last Thursday, aimed to fix the balky, user-unfriendly Microsoft Windows 8 for tablet PCs. Less than two days later, RT was withdrawn from the free-download section of the Microsoft Store because of reports that it was rendering tablets unresponsive or inoperative.

HealthCare.gov, the official registration site for the Obama administration’s health care expansion, was promoted as an easy-open door to health care for millions of Americans without any. But it nearly drowned from a flood of applicants after going live Oct. 1, then suffered complaints that it was confusing and difficult to use.

Microsoft resumed Windows RT 8.1 downloads Sunday and showed dismayed users how to resurrect their failing tablets. Exactly what went wrong in the first place was not announced.

The federal government meanwhile says it will enlist “experts” to repair HealthCare.gov ― which sounds as if they weren’t already on board ― but time is against them; the deadline for millions of uninsured Americans to register is late March, and the site was supposed to handle much of the load.

Early adopters relish the exclusivity that being first provides. This emotional impulse puts these people out front and keeps them there.

But the impulse works two ways; a segment of the early adopter population simply seeks completion. Members vie for first place not to brag but to escape the crowd. Their comfort zones lack room for more than one person.

I was among them until becoming personal technology editor for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. For six years, part of my job involved reviewing new devices and software before they went public and wrestling with whatever hardships ensued. The main benefit was that I learned how to fix computers and other gadgets without guidance, because sometimes the equipment was too new to have any.

The secondary benefit was an awareness of what it took to be a successful early adopter: research. Those who take risks at any level and count their success in bunches also prepare for failure to come just as often. They examine what precipitated innovation and see obstacles as challenges. They have read about other people’s mistakes, even interviewed the people who made them. They trade wisdom and warnings, share insights and incentives.

In short, they’re prepared to accept the pain just as much as the pleasure of early adoption.

Close observers of Microsoft understand that Windows has a history of quirkiness. That’s not necessarily a dig against Microsoft, rather an acknowledgement that computer operating systems are complex and difficult to perfect.

Web developers understand that any site meant to guide millions of visitors simultaneously through a maze of information by disparate and perhaps conflicting sources needs testing and re-testing before going live. That’s not necessarily an assault on HealthCare.gov’s creators, rather a reminder that huge sites require a huge amount of testing no matter whose name is on them.

In hindsight, it was smarter to wait on Windows RT 8.1 and hold off jumping into HealthCare.gov. So, next time you’re pressured to be an early adopter, consider looking back before taking the lead.

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David Sheets is a freelance editor, Region 7 director, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dksheets@gmail.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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