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Twitter’s Broken Windows For a variety of reasons the Broken Windows theory of criminology has gone out of favor. Originally created by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling in 1982, the theory held that preventing small crimes such as vandalism and public drinking can create a culture of lawfulness that prevents more serious crimes from occurring. One way to interpret Twitter’s recent crackdown and punishment of abusive conduct on their platform is an attempt to create a more lawful and respectful culture, an attempt to keep the windows from breaking. While Twitter has many challenges, one of the largest is its reputation as a place where harassment and personal attack are commonplace. For the last year Twitter has attempted to address these challenges by changing policies on private messages, algorithmically eliminating abusive responses and punishing repeat offenders. Executives at Twitter are quick to acknowledge that their work in eliminating hateful and abusive speech on their platform is far from complete, but they have punished offenders at a rate roughly ten times greater than a year ago. Why does this matter? Twitter is not the only place you can find trolls online. Every social media platform, message board and comments section struggles to deal with a minority of users who abuse the anonymity of online interaction to behave offensively. The technology community has been slow and reluctant in confronting this problem because of the high value the community places on free speech and personal liberty. Many technology executives have ideological reasons for ignoring the problem. Enforcing social norms interferes with their personal search for John Galt. But Twitter is at the forefront of confronting the issue of abusive behavior online. They need to be. Their platform will not survive if it becomes the microblog of choice for the 4Chan community. Right now, abusive conduct leads to warnings and suspensions. The question is, are they willing to consider the only punishment online trolls really fear – the loss of their anonymity? In a nutshell: Twitter is trying to create a more respectful platform by taking thousands of tiny actions rather than meting out big punishments. Read More The Myth of Security This morning on the way to work, I heard someone bark into his cellphone: “If the site is supposed to be secure, it should be completely secure as a matter of course!” I found this sentiment touchingly naive. I also felt deep sympathy for the hapless vendor or IT administrator on the other end of the line. Websites, you see, are intended to be accessible. Web servers are constantly accepting connections from people all over the world, any one of whom may have nefarious intent. A site can certainly be “more secure” or “less secure” but it cannot simply be secure from any interference unless it is located on an unconnected server sitting in a locked box to which no one has a key – call it Schrodinger’s Website. Unfortunately, my fellow commuter has another shock coming to his dreams of complete security – quantum computing. Quantum computers are so much more powerful than standard binary computers that they are theoretically capable of cracking passwords or breaking encryption in a matter of minutes or hours. One Swiss company named ID Quantique SA believes they have a solution. They have developed a technology called quantum key distribution that they claim is so secure that it cannot be easily deciphered by quantum computers. While this sounds like good news an ID Quantique SA server sells for about $100,000 and there’s a limit to how distributed the secured network can be. These limitations have not prevented Chinese companies from investing heavily in this new encryption technology. Why does this matter? There are an infinite number of myths about online security. Microsoft developers will tell you that .Net is more secure than open source. While open source developers will tell you the opposite. Passwords are hackable. Multi-factor authentication is hackable. Retinal scans are hackable. In fact, everything is ultimately hackable given sufficient computing power and time. But hack-phobic executives continue to berate developers to give them something totally secure. (Ironically, it is frequently these same executives who download executable files from phishing schemes.) We need to shift our language about security to reflect the fundamental and eventual vulnerability of all digital information. Security is not a widget, it is a strategy that needs to inform decisions throughout the enterprise. Large scale adoption of quantum computing will only exacerbate an existing problem. Lots of companies like to tout the transparency with which they conduct their business. Transparency is not a feature, it is an inevitability. In a nutshell: Your digital information is not completely secure and will never be completely secure. Read More Let’s talk thermostats! There is nothing on earth more ripe for technology-based disruption than the thermostat industry. Who doesn’t spend most of their time thinking about the thermostat on their wall and how it could be better? I know that I personally spend an hour every morning and half an hour every night tweaking my thermostat settings for maximum personal comfort. Most of us follow the standard procedure of replacing our home’s thermostats every 146 days so naturally we want to stay on top of the latest developments in thermostat technology. Thank the sweet baby Jesus that Microsoft has finally introduced a Cortana-powered thermostat capable of responding to voice commands. I, for one, cannot wait to purchase one of these little beauties that Techcrunch coyly describes as “rather stunning.” Why does this matter? It doesn’t. In a nutshell: Someone at Microsoft has wasted time and money. Read More

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