Note to Self

Note to Self

United States

Host Manoush Zomorodi talks with everyone from big names techies to elementary school teachers about the effects of technology on our lives, in a quest for the smart choices that will help you think and live better.

Episodes

The Man Who Invented Facebook Ad Tracking Is Not Sorry  

It’s one thing to get fired. It’s another thing to be escorted out by security. And another thing altogether to have your boss call while you’re sitting in the parking lot in shock, and ask what you might be doing next, and if you need investors.

But that’s Silicon Valley for you.

Before he got canned, Antonio García Martínez was an ads guy at Facebook. Pre-IPO. He designed the ad tracking system that allows products you searched for one single time to follow you around the internet. But he was also undercover as an author, taking notes for a tell-all. The book he wrote is called Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley. Stories of Face-versaries instead of birthdays, what it means to get an email from Zuck, and the cult of changing the world. 

Despite all he knows, despite ethnic-affinity targeting, he still thinks online ads are A-OK. So Manoush tries to save his ad-loving soul. 

Government Secrets Worth Leaking... or Keeping?  

So, the C.I.A. has a back door to your phone. At least, according to the Vault 7 data dump from WikiLeaks.

The documents—as yet unproven—say that if your device is connected to the internet, the American government wants in. And has a few tricky tools to do it.

But they’ve had some sneaky tools for a while now. Just ask Daniel Rigmaiden.

In 2008, Rigmaiden was arrested for filing fraudulent tax returns. And he couldn’t figure out how he was caught. He was careful. He stayed anonymous online, he used pre-paid debit cards and fake IDs. So he developed what his attorneys thought was a pretty crazy theory about government surveillance. And it turned out he was right.

This week we revisit Daniel’s story. What he uncovered was more than a theory—it was a balancing act. The technology the government used to catch him was hidden to allegedly keep us safe. If criminals didn't know about it, they wouldn't be able to hack it.

But does that secrecy actually open us up to other dangers? We hear from Nate Freed Wessler, staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, about a movement to give us a bigger say in how law enforcement does surveillance. Because things are moving fast.

For more on what we know about the leaked documents, which WikiLeaks is calling “Vault 7,” read our round-up of the news here. And if these revelations have you thinking about privacy in a whole new way, try our Privacy Paradox challenges. You can start them any time.

Will You Do a Snapchat Streak With Me?  

If you are between the ages of 18 and 34, there’s a good chance you’ve already checked Snapchat today. This week, Manoush joins you—despite her reservations.

Those reservations are not just because the Note to Self team isn’t the app’s target demo. It’s because we feel uneasy about the ways Snapchat pressures you to check it, and use it, and check and use again. And again. And again. Former Google designer Tristan Harris explains how far Silicon Valley will go to capture and control your eyeballs. And Snapchat artist CyreneQ explains how she makes her living drawing on her phone all day. For real.

Also, our suggestions for apps that don’t just want to control your eyeballs. Moment helps keep track of how much time you’re spending on your phone. Pocket, which helps your read when you choose. Duolingo has a streaks feature, like Snapchat, but on your terms. F.lux adjusts your computer’s colors at night. Tristan has his own list of suggestions, too.

Got suggestions? Leave a comment below.

And we’re working on a show about the ways we fail to communicate when we communicate across generations. Whether you’re the awkward one, or have a tale of awkward olds, let us know. Send us a voice memo. We’ll share our own stories soon. And they are, indeed, embarrassing.

Zapping Your Brain To Bliss  

At Manoush’s house, there’s an object the size of a big potato chip. Which she stuck to her forehead, and used to zap her brain.

This brain stimulation is supposed to calm you down. Maybe replace a glass of wine, just wind you down a little. But it turns out you can wind down a little too far. Too far to ask coherent questions of scientists you’re interviewing.

In this repeat episode, hear what it sounds like when the high-octane Note to Self crew chills waaaay out.

P.S. Looking for the study we mentioned? Thync’s research is all here.

Can Your Phone Make You Better In Bed?  

When Graceann Bennett got married, she and her husband were terrible at communicating about sex. They were both virgins. They didn’t know how to explain what turned them on, or what turned them off. Over almost two decades, they never quite managed to talk about it. And then the marriage fizzled out.

Bennett decided to code her way out of the problem. If an app was too late to save her marriage, maybe it could help someone else.

In this repeat episode, Kaitlin Prest and Mitra Kaboli of The Heart take that app on a test drive. Pls Pls Me lets users share their secret desires with their partners. Who can respond with yes please, or… not so much.

Things we talk about in this episode include love, sex, spanking, and peeing on people. But also kissing, intimacy, and how to communicate. But you might not want to listen with your kids. Or parents. Or at work.

 

Privacy, Data Survivalism and a New Tech Ethics  

There are different approaches to digital privacy. Technologist and entrepreneur Anil Dash tries to flood the Internet with information about himself, not all correct. Reporter Julia Angwin tries to get as invisible as possible. But like Julia says, we’re all kind of losing. Just losing in different ways.

Manoush talked with Anil and Julia before a live audience at WNYC's The Greene Space. We chatted about becoming an information prepper, heterogeneity as privacy, and the perennial question: should we all get off Gmail?

Also, a surprising amount of laughter. And hope.

Privacy Paradox: Results Show  

This week, the results are in. Tens of thousands of people joined the Privacy Paradox challenge. And it changed you.

Before the project, we asked if you knew how to get more privacy into your life—43 percent said you did. After the project, that number went up to 80 percent. Almost 90 percent of you also said this project showed you privacy invasions you didn’t know existed.

When we asked you what this project made you want to do, only 7 percent of you said “give up.” Sorry guys! Don’t.

Fully 70 percent of you said you want to push for protection of our digital rights. We have ideas for that in our tip sheet. A third of you said you’ll delete a social media profile. Another third said this project made you want to meditate.

And just one more stat. We tallied your answers to our privacy personality quiz and gave you a personality profile. One-fifth of us were true believers in privacy before the project. Now half us are. Manoush says that includes her.

In this episode, we talk through the results, and look to the future of privacy. With Michal Kosinski, creator of Apply Magic Sauce, and Solon Barocas, who studies the ethics of machine learning at Microsoft Research. Plus, reports from our listeners on the good, the bad and the ugly of their digital data.

Day 5: Your Personal Terms of Service  

You've made it. It's final chapter of the 5-day Privacy Paradox challenges. We hear from the one and only Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web. And we set some terms for ourselves about how we want to live online, and what we—all of us, together—can do to create the web we really want.

And while you're thinking about the future, take our Exit Strategy Quiz to find out how far you’ve come, and get a tip sheet with actions—big and small, individual and collective—to re-invent the internet to work for us. 

Sir Tim thinks we can do it. And hey, he already did it once, right?

And if you haven't already—sign up for the 5-day newsletter here to get details on each day's action step. Don't worry if you're signing up after February 10th, we'll get you the challenges on your schedule. The project lives on!

Day 4: Fifteen Minutes of Anonymity  

In this episode, we hear from Elan Gale, executive producer of the Bachelor. Yes, that Bachelor, THE reality show, with a single guy, in a mansion, surrounded by a bevy of young women trying to get him to pick her as “the one.” It sounds so weird when you spell out the premise like that. He has a few things to say about our performance culture and what it means for our privacy.

And we hear from Dr. Elias Aboujaoude, a professor of Clinical Psychology at Stanford University, where he runs the OCD clinic. He’s the author of Virtually You: The Dangerous Powers of the e-Personality. And he’s worried that all our posting and sharing is making it hard for us to protect our true, inner self. Or even find it.

And it's not too late - you can sign up for the 5-day newsletter here to get details on each day's action step. 

Day 3: Something To Hide  

In this episode, we hear from Luciano Floridi, University of Oxford professor of philosophy and ethics of information. In 2014, he was appointed as Google’s in-house philosopher, advising the company on the right to be forgotten. Think you have nothing to hide? As Floridi says, a life without shadows is a flat life. 

And if you haven't already - sign up for the 5-day newsletter here to get details on each day's action step. 

Day 2: The Search For Your Identity  

In this episode, we hear from Joseph Turow, professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania. He’s studied the marketing and advertising industries for decades, and recently wrote a new book called The Aisles Have Eyes: How Retailers Track Your Shopping, Strip Your Privacy, and Define Your Power.

And we hear from our friend Julia Angwin at ProPublica, who’s been doing brilliant reporting on algorithms and how they’re being used online and off. Her series Breaking the Black Box lifted the lid on ad targeting at Facebook.

And if you haven't already - sign up for the 5-day newsletter here to get details on each day's action step. 

 

Coming Soon: What Your Phone Knows  

What does your phone know about you? And what can you do about it?

In this episode, coming out on Monday, February 6th, we’ll hear from renowned security technologist and cryptographer Bruce Schneier. He’ll take us on a guided tour of our phones and the metadata they’re sharing.

And to get details on the day's action step, sign up for the 5-day newsletter here.

Introducing: The Privacy Paradox  

We've heard so many stories from you, listeners. You love the convenience of living online. But you want more control over where your personal information goes and who can see it. Researchers call this the Privacy Paradox. 

Our 5-day plan, starting February 6th, is here to solve that digital dilemma.

This week, we're laying the groundwork. What it'll take to resolve the privacy paradox -- and how it starts with you. In this episode, we'll hear from behavioral economist Alessandro Acquisiti, retired Harvard professor Shoshanna Zuboff, who coined the term “Surveillance Capitalism," and -- of course -- more of you, dear listeners. Stories of ex-wives hacking social media accounts, stolen social security numbers, and (from a lot of you) that vague creeped out feeling. 

Then, after you listen, join us and start resolving your paradox. 

Sign up for the Privacy Paradox newsletter here.

From February 6th to 10th, we'll send you a daily newsletter, with an action step and a short podcast on the science, psychology, and technology behind that day’s challenge. You’ll learn where your digital information goes. You’ll weigh the tradeoffs you're making with each new app or service. And you’ll learn how to make digital choices that are in line with your values.

We can do this. We can do it together. And it starts today. 

Learn a little more about our upcoming challenges: day one, two, three, four, and five

 

PS - If you're already signed up for the Note to Self newsletter, (a) thank you and (b) you also need to sign up for the Privacy Paradox newsletter. They're separate. The Privacy Paradox newsletter is time-limited and just for these challenges. 

Saving Big Data From Itself  

In a room at The MIT Media Lab, you can find the dreamscape of small children everywhere. Giant cities, in perfect detail, constructed entirely from tiny white Lego.  

Sandy Pentland built them. These dioramas use all sorts of data, from foot traffic to investment dollars to tweets, so cities--and the people living in them--can be improved in ways they’ve never been before.

A few doors down is Rosalind Picard’s office. She met a young man who just could not tell if his boss was happy or furious. And it kept getting him fired. He was on his 20th job. So she built him a glasses-mounted camera that reads facial expressions, matching what it sees against a huge database of faces. Problem solved.

That’s the promise of big data. It can smooth social interactions. Solve sticky municipal problems. Cure cancer, slow climate change. But the data has to come from somewhere. And that somewhere is us.

This week, as we get ready for our big project on privacy, Note to Self looks at the good that can come from all the data we share. IF people are good, and make good choices. Except we’re often not good. And we make bad choices. So, what then?

The Bookie, The Phone Booth, and The FBI  

This week, Note to Self gets in our time machine, back to the court cases that brought privacy from the founding fathers to Google Docs. Stories of bookies on the Sunset Strip, microphones taped to phone booths, and a 1975 Monte Carlo. And where the Fourth Amendment needs to go, now that we’re living in the future.

The amendment doesn’t mention privacy once. But those 54 little words, written more than 200 years ago, are a crucial battleground in today’s fight over our digital rights. That one sentence is why the government can’t listen to your phone calls without a warrant. And it’s why they don’t need one to find out who you’re calling.

But now, we share our deepest thoughts with Google, through what we search for and what we email. And we share our most intimate conversations with Alexa, when we talk in its vicinity. So how does the Fourth Amendment apply when we’re surrounded by technology the Founding Fathers could never dream of?

With Laura Donohue, director of Georgetown’s Center on Privacy and Technology. Supreme Court audio from the wonderful Oyez.org, under a Creative Commons license.

 

If you want to visit a phone booth, there are four left in New York City. They're all on West End Avenue, and there's even a kids book about them.

 

The Four Tendencies: How to Feed Good Habits  

See more friends. Take more walks. Read more books. Get more sleep. Why don’t those intentions stick? You want to change. But it doesn’t seem to take. Maybe you just haven’t identified what house you’re in.

Gretchen Rubin says the key to long-term habit change is understanding how we respond to expectations. She names four broad categories of responders: the Ravenclaw, Gryffindor, Hufflepuff and Slytherin of habit-changing. Figuring out your cognitive house might be the key to changing your bad habits for good. Including one habit we hear about a lot: clinging to the phone right up until our eyes drop closed.

If you want to know which house you’re in, there’s a handy quiz. An online sorting hat, if you will. Manoush is a Questioner. Obviously.

For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, TuneIn, I Heart Radio, Overcast, Pocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed

New Year. Same Old You.  

New year, new you. That’s the idea, right? And 2016 in particular left a lot of people extra-eager to start fresh.

One problem. Our fitbits and apps and tracking tools all collect data on us. The slate isn’t clean - it’s full of digital permanent marker.

In an ideal world, all that information helps us become better people. More fit, healthier, rested, hydrated. And for some people, those stats are the motivational key to a better life. But what happens when the data just sabotages you? For some of us, data just isn’t the magic bullet for optimizing our quantified selves.

So instead of resolving to track every calorie, minute slept, and stair climbed, how about this: be gentle with yourself. This repeat episode can help.

This episode originally aired in 2016. For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunesStitcherGoogle PlayTuneInI Heart RadioOvercastPocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed

Go Ahead. Miss Out.  

It's cold. Bed is so tempting. As is your sofa. But the siren song of your phone is calling you. According to Instagram and Facebook, every single person you know is looking gorgeous at the world's best party, eating photogenic snacks.

Fear Of Missing Out. It's so real. And social media amplifies it 1000x.

But maybe there's another path. Another acronym to embrace. The Joy Of Missing Out. JOMO.

Caterina Fake popularized the term FOMO, with a blog post waaaay back in 2011. And her friend Anil Dash coined the term JOMO (after missing a Prince concert to attend his child’s birth). On this week's (repeat) episode of Note to Self, the two talk about the role of acronyms, the importance of thoughtful software design, and the recent history of the Internet as we know it.

And if you want even more Anil Dash, he'll be talking to Manoush on January 31st at the Greene Space in New York City. We're teaming up with our friends at ProPublica for an event called Breaking the Black Box: How Algorithms Make Decisions About You. Anil, plus ProPublica’s Julia Angwin, and Microsoft Research's Solon Barocas. Come!

For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunesStitcherGoogle PlayTuneInI Heart RadioOvercastPocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed

Messages From the Beyond  

Ginger Johnson is battling cancer. She’s also preparing her digital legacy.

Ginger has three amazing children, and she wants to stay in their lives, even after she’s gone. That’s why she’s using a service that helps her make messages and then schedules them for delivery in the future. Videos, audio recordings, emails and photos, pegged to specific days and personal milestones.

Moran Zur created this service, Safe Beyond, after his own father died of cancer. He wanted to give people a chance to be remembered as they choose, not through Google search results or in a hospital bed. As vibrant people, full of wisdom. Full of, well, life.

Can Silicon Valley really help us cheat death? And what does it mean for the people we leave behind?

This isn't the first time we've talked about messages from the afterlife, actually. If for some reason you want even more of this, check out our episode on voicemail from 2015.

 

 

Meet the Textalyzer... and Our Next Big Project  

We've been measuring drunk driving for years. Since the Drunk-o-Meter was invented back in the '30s. But now, it's distracted driving that's killing people, and tracking that is just getting started. 

That's what Ben Lieberman learned, when his teenage son was killed in a crash. Lieberman checked the driver's phone records. And anyone who listened to Serial knows those are powerful documents. They can show what cell tower your phone was near, calls in and out. But what they can't track is swipes, taps and clicks. 

So Lieberman created the Textalyzer. Like the Breathalyzer, but for your phone. It can reveal every touch - just the action, not the content. And the company behind it might be familiar, if you followed the saga of the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone.

 

SHARE YOUR PRIVATE THOUGHTS. WITH US, AT LEAST.  

If the idea of the Textalyzer sets off your privacy Spidey sense, we understand. We're all figuring out where to draw the line on data sharing, and how to balance privacy, safety, and our modern lives. It's something we're going to be thinking about a lot more in the new year, and we want your help. 

TELL US WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT PRIVACY, ONLINE AND OFF

Every year, Note to Self teams up with our listeners to take on a project together. We've tackled information overload and boredom. Next, we're taking on privacy: the how, and the why. But we need to hear from you, about what matters and what you want to learn. 

Please take a few minutes to fill out our survey. The project won't be the same without you.

 

For more Note to Self, subscribe on iTunesStitcherGoogle PlayTuneInI Heart RadioOvercastPocket Casts, or anywhere else using our RSS feed

 

 

 

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