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

AI Learns from Us. So It Learns Bias.  

Got a mole on your arm? Soon, an app will soon be able to screen it for cancer. That salad you ate yesterday may have been screened by a LettuceBot, an AI mounted on tractors that checks whether individual plants need water. And if you live in In Singapore or Pittsburgh, you might already be cruising around in a self-driving cab.

Amazing things are happening to the way we live, eat, and get around. Thanks to robots. But robots are programmed by humans. And those people carry implicit biases, as we all do. And those biases get encoded into the AI. Which can get really ugly, really fast. 

Like when Google Photo tagged Jacky Alciné’s photos of him and his friend as gorillas a few years ago. This week, we look back at what he found, how the company responded, and the bigger problem behind this one landmark incident. Plus, an update on what Jacky's doing now. 

Manoush and Jacky Alciné take a Note to Self(ie). (Manoush Zomorodi/Note to Self)

 

Revealing Selfies. Not Like That.  

We asked you guys to send us photos. We got a photo of a woman on the beach. A giant fish statue. Teeth.

Yes, really. 

We gave them to Andreas Weigend, veteran of Xerox Parc, former chief scientist at Amazon, to see what he could deduce. A lot, it turns out.

A little Google image search, a little metadata, and we can find where you are. Maybe who you are. What color phone you’re using to take the shot, and how many SIM cards you have.

Reading photos is more than a digital parlor trick. It’s the future of commerce, marketing, policing, lending, and basically everything else.

 

Spring Cleaning for the Mind  

There is a lot to take in in our world right now. And there are a lot of ways to do it. You can read articles posted by your Facebook friends, or by the journalists you follow on Twitter. You can watch cable news with your morning oatmeal.

Which makes it all too easy to succumb to information overload. That buzzy, anxious feeling of there’s just too much out there to consume - but I need to know all of it, right?

That feeling isn’t new. It’s just especially turned up in 2017. So this week, an episode worth repeating. We’re proposing one tweak - a challenge of sorts - to change your day. To help you think deeper and consume information meaningfully. Think spring cleaning for your neurons. With neuron experts Dr Daniel Levitin and Gloria Mark, Professor of Informatics.

And if you like this episode, you’ll love listening to the entire Infomagical series. You’ll find some calm and some focus. Maybe even magic. If you did the project, it might be time for a refresher!

Cucked: Defining Manhood the Alt-Right Way  

This week, the very ancient roots of a very modern word. Racist, sexist roots. And how this revolting word bubbled up from the dark corners of 4chan and Reddit to, well, this podcast.

Cultures and subcultures have always had their own slang. Their own secret languages, the in-crowd lingo. But the wonderful and terrible thing about the Internet is that secrets are hard to keep. Words and ideas can spread. Can become normal. (Think “on fleek” and “stay woke.”)

But what happens when the ideas are white supremacy and misogyny?

With Jonathon Green, author of Green’s Dictionary of Slang; writer Dana Schwartz of the Observer, who has written about cucked for GQ, and Derek Thompson of the Atlantic, whose book Hit Makers explores how ideas spread online.

Deep-Dark-Data-Driven Politics  

Data mining is nothing new in presidential campaigns. But in 2016, the Trump team took voter research to a new level. They hired consultants called Cambridge Analytica, which says it has thousands of data points on every American. They also claim they can use that data to create personality profiles. Assessments of each of our hopes, fears, and desires - and target us accordingly.

This is the science of psychometrics. And, as the story went, Cambridge Analytica’s dark digital arts helped Trump win, with ads designed to ring every reader’s individual bell.

Or, did they? Over the past few weeks, reporters and data experts started asking questions. Where did this data come from? Could the Trump campaign really execute a micro-targeted social media strategy? Did they have a secret sauce? Or was it just more ketchup?

This week, psychometrics and the future of campaign data-mining. With Matt Oczkowski of Cambridge Analytica, psychometrics pioneer Michal Kosinski, and Nicholas Confessore of the New York Times.

And if you're curious about Apply Magic Sauce, the psychometric tool we all tried during the Privacy Paradox, you can find it right here.  

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.

 

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