Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future

Nov. 2 2016 5:58 PM

Silicon Valley Might Finally Get Its “Tech Candidate” in Congress

When you think about Silicon Valley’s influence on national politics, you might think of Mark Zuckerberg’s immigration initiative, Peter Thiel’s support for Donald Trump, or the high-tech presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Often overshadowed on the national stage are the region’s actual representatives in Congress.

They aren’t exactly the starry-eyed young techies you might expect. Anna Eshoo, 73, D-Menlo Park; Zoe Lofgren, 68, D-San Jose; and Jackie Speier, 66, D-Hillsborough, are all longtime politicians who have gradually worked their way up from the local level. Nancy Pelosi, 76, D-San Francisco, is a powerful force in Democratic politics, but technology has never been her chief focus, and there’s perennial debate as to whether her district counts as Silicon Valley. Then there is Mike Honda, 75, D-Silicon Valley, who spent some 25 years in local politics and another five at the state level before his election to Congress, where he has served since 2001.

Each of them has proven able in various ways, and they’ve all been popular enough to hold their seats for multiple terms. Lofgren, in particular, has demonstrated tech savvy and an interest in the internet, helping to lead the charge against SOPA and authoring Aaron’s Law, named in honor of the late hacker Aaron Swartz. (She even wrote for Future Tense in October, arguing that changing votes isn’t the only way hackers could wreak Election Day chaos.) Yet if you were looking for a representative who embodied the go-go Silicon Valley zeitgeist, or whose support was rooted in the region’s technology industry, you wouldn’t find it among this delegation.

That may be about to change.

Honda, whose district stretches from the Tesla Motors factory in Fremont to Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino—taking in Intel, Yahoo, and eBay along the way—is in danger of losing his seat to a fellow Democrat who is 35 years younger. Khanna, whose campaigns have boasted the support from an ever-growing cadre of tech leaders, came within a few points of unseating him in 2014. This year, he edged Honda in the open primary, and the two are about to square off again in Tuesday’s general election. Polls have shown them neck-and-neck, with some giving Khanna a narrow lead.

Mike Honda
Mike Honda (right), D-Silicon Valley, is the subject of an ethics probe.

Jewel Samad/AFP/GettyImages

Khanna, who recently turned 40, is not actually a technologist. He’s a Yale Law graduate who served briefly in the Obama administration (as deputy assistant secretary of the Commerce Department), worked for the prominent tech law firm Wilson Sonsini, lectures on economics at Stanford University, and wrote a book about the future of American manufacturing. Nonetheless, he has managed to style himself as a Silicon Valley candidate thanks to his youthful zeal, his close ties with the tech industry, and a policy platform that centers on “21st-century” education and job creation.

There’s also something distinctly startup-y about his political career. Rejecting the convention of paying one’s dues at the local level, he first ran for U.S. Congress at the age of 27 and has refused to aim any lower in the time since. Fail fast, as the saying goes.

Khanna’s supporters include a laundry list of tech magnates such as investor Marc Andreessen, Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, Salesforce’s Marc Benioff, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, and even investor and entrepreneur Keith Rabois, Thiel’s longtime friend and fellow conservative rabble-rouser. But what’s really interesting about his 2016 campaign, from an outsider’s perspective, is how little it has emphasized these tech industry associations.

In 2014, Khanna seemed to embrace the “tech candidate” mantle, drawing national attention that included profiles in the New York Times and the New Yorker. But not all of the attention was positive: The Nation derided him as a “tech groupie,” and tech blog Pando Daily called him “Silicon Valley’s Own(ed) Man.” More importantly, his talk of “disruption” and “innovation” seemed to impress outsiders more than it did local voters. They turned out to back the incumbent who had long-established relationships with the local trade unions, progressive advocacy groups, and Democratic power players.

Khanna’s second run at Honda has attracted far less hype in the national media, and that may be by design. Look at the list of endorsements on his campaign website, and you’ll have to scroll to the very bottom to find the “technology leaders.” Top billing goes instead to local newspapers, Democratic politicians, and labor unions. And Khanna rarely brings up his tech ties at campaign events, where he is careful to portray himself as someone who’s as thoughtful about the drawbacks of the high-tech economy as he is about its potential benefits.

In a recent interview with public television station KQED, Khanna focused on the challenges that automation will present for employment and the changes in both educational curricula and the social safety net that will be needed to meet them. Specifically, he endorsed a greater role for technical education, Robert Reich’s plan for free college tuition, and the idea (popular in Silicon Valley) of a universal basic income. He also seems to have put a lot more legwork into winning the support—or at least heading off the opposition—of the Democratic establishment, which often looks askance at same-party bids to unseat an incumbent.

If anything, it’s been Honda who has tried to tie Khanna to unpopular tech figures this time around. Honda’s campaign publicized Thiel’s donations to Khanna as a sign that Khanna might secretly harbor some affinity for Trump. In a controversial attack ad, Honda’s campaign hired a South Asian actor to play Khanna as a blinged-out businessman in a tailored suit, taking a call from “Wall Street” on his cellphone. (The ad, which seemed to play on racial stereotypes, was especially jarring coming from the campaign of a man who survived a Japanese internment camp. Honda’s district, by the way, is the only one outside of Hawaii in which Asian Americans compose a majority of the electorate.)

Honda’s tactics, ham-handed as they’ve been, highlight an interesting political dynamic. Khanna’s self-presentation as an innovative, forward-thinking candidate clearly holds appeal with a significant number of voters. And he has continued to portray Honda as ineffectual and out of touch—“low-energy,” Trump might say—an angle that has gained momentum thanks to a probe of Honda by the House Ethics Committee. At the same time, both campaigns seem to have agreed that there’s a danger in aligning oneself too cozily with big technology, even in the heart of Silicon Valley.

After a string of defeats, Khanna appears to have finally absorbed this lesson. Politically, he has evolved from the 28-year-old who brashly challenged the late liberal foreign-policy lion Tom Lantos in a 2004 Democratic primary. (Khanna got squashed.) He now tries to present himself as a sort of community organizer, active in local volunteerism and pro bono legal work. “Losing forces you to look at where you were weak and where you could have done better,” Khanna told the San Francisco Chronicle in May. “This time I’ve focused on local issues, like soccer parks in Santa Clara or odor problems in Milpitas.”

Still, there are flashes of what critics see as a sense of entitlement. Among a recent batch of WikiLeaks emails was a June 2015 thread between Khanna’s campaign chair* Steve Spinner and Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, in which Spinner whined about Honda’s tactics. While the rhetoric focused on fairness and the good of the Democratic party, the unsubtle message was that Khanna had powerful Silicon Valley supporters whom Clinton would do well not to offend. Spinner wrote: “John, every time Honda attacks Ro’s tech and south asian supporters it has a dampening effect on fundraising for Hillary and other Dem candidates."

If Khanna wins on Tuesday, it will be tempting to view him as a bellwether for the future of Silicon Valley politics. It might seem to portend a new era in which the likes of Andreessen, Sandberg, and Rabois form a sort of bipartisan king-making committee for tech-friendly candidates. But the particulars of this race argue for a less sweeping interpretation. If Khanna prevails, it will prove that one can win in Silicon Valley as a “tech candidate,” but only if a lot else goes right. In this case, it will have taken Khanna three tries over the course of 12 years, a wide fundraising advantage, some local ring-kissing, and a weakening incumbent under the cloud of an ethics probe. Eshoo, Lofgren, and Speier can probably rest easy.

Update, Nov. 2, 2016: This post has been edited to remove a duplicate paragraph.

*Correction, Nov. 3, 2016: This post originally referred to Steve Spinner as Khanna’s ex-campaign chair. He is Khanna's current campaign chair.

Nov. 2 2016 5:10 PM

Netizen Report: Will Indonesians Enjoy the “Right to Be Forgotten”?

The Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. It originally appears each week on Global Voices Advocacy. Afef Abrougui, Renata Avila, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Bojan Perkov, and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

GVA logo

Indonesia is poised to become the first Asian country to adopt the right to be forgotten. On Nov. 1, government officials announced plans to revise the Electronic Information and Transactions Law so that citizens may pursue a court order requiring online content providers to remove information relating to criminal and civil cases against them, if they were acquitted.

The text of the amended law has not yet been released. But officials say the rule would apply to all online content providers, meaning that any entity posting information online—from Google to local news sites—could be held responsible for removing content in response to a court order. This approach goes beyond that adopted by the European Union, which allows users to ask search engines to remove links from searches for their own name. In Indonesia, content providers who did not comply with an order would face sanctions, but it remains unclear what these would entail.

The policy’s proponents say it would only be used by persons “involved in criminal or civil court cases who are acquitted and want to clear their names.” In an interview with the Jakarta Post, Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy researcher Wahyudi Djafar expressed his concerns about the measure: “Granting the government full authority to terminate access to prohibited content on the internet is dangerous because it carries huge risks of power abuses,” he said.

Turkish authorities shut down Internet in Kurdish region
The Turkish government cut internet access in 11 cities in Kurdistan in the face of protests Oct. 26. Demonstrators are demanding the release of Gültan Kışanak and Fırat Anlı, co-mayors of the city of Diyarbakir, who were arrested Oct. 25—reportedly for belonging to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which the Turkish government considers to be a terrorist organization. From Oct. 26 until Oct. 31, there were routine, prolonged disruptions that lasted from 12–27 hours each. In addition to blocking access to the Internet, the shutdowns rendered banks and point-of-sale machines inoperable, leaving businesses and people needing to buy food and supplies in a lurch.

WhatsApp is still down in Yemen
The popular messaging app WhatsApp has been blocked on the networks of major Yemeni mobile service providers since Oct. 5. While some customers are using circumvention tools to get around the block, it is hampering communication for millions of citizens. According to Global Voices’ sources in Yemen, the application is now blocked nationwide, after it was first blocked intermittently. The blocking of WhatsApp by Houthi rebels, who are in control of the capital Sanaa, may have been motivated by calls for protests against them made on WhatsApp and Telegram. Telegram is also blocked in Yemen.

Vodafone lands in Iran
U.K.–based telecom giant Vodafone will soon initiate a partnership with Iranian telco HiWEB in “modernizing infrastructure and expanding landline and mobile internet services for personal and business customers,” according to a report by the Wall Street Journal. The potential for complicity between Vodafone and Iran’s existing telecommunication surveillance infrastructure is hard to ignore, especially given Vodafone’s less-than-perfect record in this area. In 2009, the company revealed it had handed over communication data to Egyptian authorities who were trying to identify anti-government rioters protesting over the bread crisis.

Skype fined for skirting interception order
A Belgian court fined Skype about $33,000 for its failure to comply with a court order to intercept calls in a criminal case in 2012. The company, which is owned by Microsoft, claims it was technically impossible to comply with the request at the time, due to the product’s architecture. Along with jurisdictional questions about the request, the company has argued that it should not be subject to wiretap laws in Belgium because it is a “software provider,” not a service provider.

Sweden takes a swipe at drone cameras
The Supreme Administrative Court of Sweden issued new rules making it illegal to use cameras on drones unless they receive a license. The court said that camera drones constitute camera surveillance.

New Research

Nov. 2 2016 3:32 PM

E-Cigarette Battery Suddenly Blows Up in Nightclub Owner’s Jacket

As if people needed another reminder about the dangers of their electronic gadgets blowing up unexpectedly, an e-cigarette battery exploded in the jacket pocket of a French nightclub owner on Friday.

Nov. 2 2016 1:20 PM

Microsoft Blames Russia-Linked Hacking Group for Cyberattack

On Tuesday, Microsoft alleged that a hacking group previously linked to the cyberattack at the Democratic National Committee has exploited a security flaw in Adobe’s Flash Player and Microsoft’s Windows operating system.

In a blog post, Windows executive vice president Terry Myerson said that the group, which Microsoft codenamed STRONTIUM, conducted a “low-volume spear-phishing campaign,” or attacks targeted at individuals, which was originally spotted by Google’s Threat Analysis Group. STRONTIUM is also known as Fancy Bear, Sednit, APT28, and Sofacy. Microsoft says that a patch for the flaw will be publicly released Nov. 8, which is Election Day. According to Reuters, Fancy Bear primarily works for or on behalf of the GRU, which is Russia’s military intelligence agency.

Nov. 2 2016 12:41 PM

Facebook Says Insurance Company Can’t Set Premiums Based on Users’ Posts

Facebook has blocked a U.K. insurance company’s plan to use information from customers’ posts in order to assign premiums.

Nov. 2 2016 12:00 PM

Future Tense Newsletter: Who Controls the Internet?

Greetings, Future Tensers,

It’s November, which means it’s time for a new installment of our Futurography course. Each month, we offer you a 101 guide to a new science or tech topic, and for November, we’re tackling the question, “Who Controls the Internet?” Jacob Brogan started us off with a conversational introduction and a cheat sheet that will guide you through some of the lingo, key players, and major debates surrounding internet governance. There will be more to come all month, including a live event in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 10.

Hang in there, it’ll be over soon.

If you can’t stand the suspense of waiting till Election Day to find out who Americans are voting for, you can check out this new open-source, reproducible poll. If you’re still making up your own mind, you may want to reconsider the influence of Peter Thiel’s endorsement of Donald Trump on your decision (if it had any at all). Once you head to the polls, be wary of taking a ballot selfie. As we learned from Justin Timberlake last week, photographing your vote is unlawful in some states, including Michigan, where the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals recently ruled in favor of a ballot selfie ban.

You may have noticed that climate change has been largely ignored by the two major party candidates this election cycle. Nives Dolsak and Aseem Prakash argue why that might be a good thing. Most of us would rather (or at least I would rather) watch Leonardo DiCaprio talk about climate change anyways, which you can do now by streaming his climate change documentary for free.

Here are some of the other articles we read while we were checking in at Standing Rock:

  • Ownership: Kirsten Berg recapped the live component of our October Futurography unit. We convened industry leaders, policy experts, and government officials to discuss whether technology will make ownership obsolete. You can watch the full event on New America’s website.
  • Safety on social media: Facebook revamped its safety measures this week, allowing users to flag friends’ concerning posts.
  • CRISPR: Still don’t know what gene editing is? This five-minute animated video primer from the Royal Society is a great start way to get informed.
  • Public Wi-Fi: Don’t connect to the public Wi-Fi anywhere you wouldn’t go barefoot, Jamie Winterton cautions.

Events:

  • Join New America President Anne-Marie Slaughter tonight—yes, Wednesday night—for a screening and discussion of the 2010 film Never Let Me Go. The screening will take place at 6:30 p.m. at Washington, D.C.’s Landmark E Street Cinema at 555 11th St. NW. For more information and to RSVP, click here.
  • Will the internet always be American? On Thursday, Nov. 10, Future Tense is hosting a live event in Washington, D.C. as part of our November Futurography unit, to explore the internet’s nationality, and the extent to which it’s an expression of American culture, and how that may be changing. You can RSVP to attend in person or online here.

Putting my shoes on,
Emily Fritcke
for Future Tense

Nov. 2 2016 10:29 AM

It Looks Like Ebooks Won’t Kill Print Books After All

The Conversation

This piece originally appeared on The Conversation.

After years of sales growth, major publishers reported a fall in their ebook sales for the first time this year, introducing new doubts about the potential of ebooks in the publishing industry. A Penguin executive even admitted recently that the ebooks hype may have driven unwise investment, with the company losing too much confidence in “the power of the word on the page.”

Yet despite the increasing realization that digital and print can easily coexist in the market, the question of whether the ebook will “kill” the print book continues to surface. It doesn’t matter if the intention is to predict or dismiss this possibility; the potential disappearance of the book does not cease to stimulate our imagination.

Why is this idea so powerful? Why do we continue to question the encounter between ebooks and print books in terms of a struggle, even if all evidence points to their peaceful coexistence?

The answers to these questions go beyond ebooks and tell us much more about the mixture of excitement and fear we feel about innovation and change. In our research, we discuss how the idea of one medium “killing” another has often followed the unveiling of new technologies.

Even before the advent of digital technologies, critics have predicted the demise of existing media. After television was invented, many claimed radio would die. But radio ended up surviving by finding new uses; people started listening in cars, during train rides and on factory floors.

The myth of the disappearing book isn’t new, either. As early as 1894, there was speculation that the introduction of the phonograph would spell the demise of the books: They’d be replaced by what we today call audiobooks.

This happened again and again. Movies, radio, television, hyperlinks, and smartphones—all conspired to destroy print books as a source of culture and entertainment. Some claimed the end of books would result in cultural regression and decline. Others envisioned utopian digital futures, overstating the advantages of e-books.

It is not by chance that the idea of the death of the book surfaces in moments of technological change. This narrative, in fact, perfectly conveys the mixture of hopes and fears that characterize our deepest reactions to technological change.

To understand why these reactions are so common, one has to consider that we create emotional bonds with media as they become an integral part of our life. Numerous studies have shown how people develop a close relationship with objects such as books, televisions, and computers. Sometimes, we even humanize them, giving a name to our car or shouting at our laptop for not working properly. As a result, the emergence of a new technology—like e-readers—doesn’t just indicate economic and social change. It also causes us to adjust our relationship with something that has become an integral part of our day-to-day life.

As a result, we find ourselves longing for what we used to know, but no longer have. And it’s why entire industries develop around retro products and older technologies. The spread of the printing press in 15th-century Europe, for example, made people seek out original manuscripts. The shift from silent to sound movie in the 1920s stimulated nostalgia for the older form. The same happened in the shift from analog to digital photography, from vinyls to CDs, or from black-and-white to color television. Not surprisingly, e-readers stimulated a new appreciation for the material quality of “old” books—and even for their often unpleasant smell.

The ones who still worry for the disappearance of print books may rest assured: Books have endured many technical revolutions and are in the best position to survive this one.

Yet the myth of the disappearing medium will continue to provide an appealing narrative about both the transformative power of technology and our aversion to change. In fact, one of the strategies we employ in order to make sense of change is the use of narrative patterns that are available and familiar, such as narratives of death and ending. Easy to remember and to spread, the story of the death of media reflects our excitement for the future, as well as our fear of losing parts of our intimate world—and finally, of ourselves.

The Conversation

Nov. 2 2016 8:37 AM

Don’t Connect to a Public Wi-Fi Network Anywhere You Wouldn’t Go Barefoot

We’ve all done it. Maybe because of work pressures—you need to catch a plane but are also pushing toward a deadline. Maybe out of sheer boredom—your flight is delayed yet another hour and there is really only so much time you can spend at the airport bar before noon. Whatever the reason, we’ve all been there—stuck in the airport, looking at a list of little Wi-Fi signals, some without the lock next to them, wondering … it couldn’t hurt, could it? Just this once?

Of course, airports aren’t the only place with skeezy Wi-Fi. Coffee shops, parks—bring your device to any public place and see what networks are out there. Your phone is constantly calling out, looking for any Wi-Fi networks it has connected to in the past, and any networks that it might want to connect to in the future. (Your smartphone is definitely in an open relationship with your home network.) Some of these Wi-Fi networks have names you want to trust: OHare Airport Official Wi-Fi, for example. Some definitely scream “stay away”—like GetOffMyLAN. Some are bizarrely complex—Purchase4478_Open3’—and some are thoroughly bland—Netgear00. But what do you really know about any of them?

Public Wi-Fi is a lot like the airport. The airport floor, in fact. If you’re good and nerdy, you probably thought I was going to make an analogy about airplanes, terminals, packets, and ports—nope. I want to talk about the airport floor, the part right after you go through the TSA. Thousands of people stream through here every day. Lots of them don’t have their shoes on. They have varying ideas of what “hygiene” means. In a word: gross.

You can’t see the gross stuff on the airport floor, but you wouldn’t walk there barefoot. (Would you? Please don’t.) Similarly, you can’t always see the icky things on public Wi-Fi, but often, they’re there. Things like man-in-the-middle attacks—standing between you and everywhere you connect, picking up your login credentials, logging your behavior, maybe even grabbing secret copies of the files you transfer. Man-in-the-middle attacks might even change where you intended to go on the internet, swapping your visit from the innocuous www.icanhascheezburger.com to something like icanhascheesburger.ru, which offers all the adorable cats with a side of silent spyware.

A man-in-the-middle, or MitM, attack can also try to trick you into giving up your user name and password. It can be executed by anyone who’s compromised the Wi-Fi network—perhaps remotely, but it’s much more likely if you’re in the same physical location, since most Wi-Fi hotspots have about a 50-yard range. I ran into one of these at a restaurant once: I went to log into the Wi-Fi (after starting up my virtual private network, of course—more on that later), and a box popped up asking for my username and password. The box looked legit, but it was generic—it wasn’t tied to any of my accounts or apps. The Wi-Fi was open, so there was no reason I could think of that my credentials would be required. I wasn’t trying to log into an application or website. So my fiance and I started throwing interesting messages into the pop-up box—things like username “yourMom” and password “YourMitMSucks.” After a few minutes, two guys at the bar quickly packed up their computers, looked hastily around, and rushed out the front door. And just like that, the mysterious pop-up boxes vanished as well.  It’s a circumstantial case, to be sure—but it didn’t seem like a coincidence to me.

Even if there isn’t an active attack on the network, public Wi-Fi, like the airport floor, is shared with a lot of people. Those people might not have the same sensibilities that you do. They might click on every sketchy email they receive, open every questionable attachment, and infect the network. Your behavior on the network is open to everyone within Wi-Fi range. A few simple tools can be used to collect all the activity on the network—whether you’re giggling at cats falling out of boxes or logging into your bank account. In short, there are a lot of nasty things that can happen on public Wi-Fi—even if you can’t see them.

So you’re back at the airport bar, the public Wi-Fi beaconing to you at full strength. Maybe that report is late, perhaps you owe an article to your Slate editor. Or maybe you’re just bored. Are you doomed to stay in airplane mode before you’ve taken flight? Certainly not. Much like wearing shoes will protect you from the ick on the airport floor, a virtual private network will act as a barrier between you and the unknown hazards of the network. A VPN hides your activity from other people on the network—they can see you’ve connected to the VPN, but your communications are encrypted and you are protected.

How to bring this wonderful technology to your devices? Lifehacker has a well-researched list of “Five Best VPN Service Providers,” emphasizing privacy-preserving features, speed, trustworthiness of the company, and ease of use. Some VPNs are free, others cost a few dollars per month. Like a pair of flip-flops, it’s easy and doesn’t cost too much to get some basic protections.

Using a VPN is an easy step to take—much like wearing shoes—and can go a long way towards protecting your cyber health.

Nov. 1 2016 6:03 PM

Nashville Couple Sues Amazon After Hoverboard-Induced House Fire

A couple in Tennessee is suing Amazon after a hoverboard they bought via the site started a fire that burned down their $1 million house in January. Brian and Megan Fox say Amazon knowingly sold a dangerous product.

Nov. 1 2016 4:32 PM

Obama Administration Allocates $2.2 Million to Teach Former Coal Workers to Fly Drones

The Obama administration has a plan to invest in training programs for people who used to work in the country’s dying coal industry. And that plan includes allocating more than $2 million to teaching former coal workers in Virginia to fly drones.

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