Trust the Internet? Sure and the Check Is in the Mail

May 3, 2024

dino-10-19-timeline-333-fix-4_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb humanoid. No smart software involved.


When the Internet became common place in schools, students were taught how to use it as a research tool like encyclopedias and databases. Learning to research is better known as information literacy and it teaches critical evaluation skills. The biggest takeaway from information literacy is to never take anything at face value, especially on the Internet. When I read CIRA and Continuum Loops’ report, “A Trust Layer For The Internet Is Emerging: A 2023 Report,” I had my doubts.

CIRA is the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, a non-profit organization that supposedly builds a trusted Internet. CIRA acknowledges that as a whole the Internet lacks a shared framework and tool sets to make it trustworthy. The non-profit states that there are small, trusted pockets on the Internet, but they sacrifice technical interoperability for security and trust.

CIRA released a report about how people are losing faith in the Internet. According to the report’s executive summary, the number of Canadians who trust the Internet fell from 71% to 57% while the entire world went from 74% to 63%. The report also noted that companies with a high trust rate outperform their competition. Then there’s this paragraph:

“In this report, CIRA and Continuum Loop identify that pairing technical trust (e.g., encryption and signing) and human trust (e.g., governance) enables a trust layer to emerge, allowing the internet community to create trustworthy digital ecosystems and rebuild trust in the internet as a whole. Further, they explore how trust registries help build trust between humans and technology via the systems of records used to help support these digital ecosystems. We’ll also explore the concept of registry of registries (RoR) and how it creates the web of connections required to build an interoperable trust layer for the internet.”

Does anyone else hear the TLA for Whiskey Tango Foxtrot in their head? Trusted registries sound like a sales gimmick to verify web domains. There are trusted resources on the Internet but even those need to be fact checked. The companies that have secure networks are Microsoft, TikTok, Google, Apple, and other big tech, but the only thing that can be trusted about some outfits are the fat bank accounts.

Whitey Grace, May 3, 2024

Site Rot Quantified

July 20, 2022

There’s weird page rot. That was a feature of MySpace and GeoCities. Then there was link rot. That was a feature of my original Web site when I retired. I just stopped remediating dead links. I did not want to do the work myself and I allowed the majority of my team to find their future elsewhere. Ergo, dead links. Too bad, Google.

Now there is site rot.

10% of the Top One Million Sites Are Dead” explains the process of figuring out this number. There are rah rahs for tools and scripts. Good stuff, but my interest is a single number:


Several early morning thoughts (July 16, 2022):

  • The idea that a million is not a million illustrates the inherent ageing and concomitant deterioration of Internet “things”; namely, Web sites. Why are sites not sites as defined in the write up? Money, laziness, inconsistencies engineered into the information superhighway, or some other reason?
  • Locating sites on the Wayback Machine or whatever it is now called is an exercise in frustration. With sites rotting and Wayback delivering zero content, the data void is significant.
  • The moniker “million” when the count is smaller is another example of the close-enough-for-horse-shoes approach which is popular among some high-tech outfits.

Just remember. I don’t care, and I wonder how many others share my mind set. Good enough.

Stephen E Arnold, July 20, 2022

Old People, Vaccine Registration, and Online: What Could Be Overlooked by Thumbtypers? The Obvious

March 2, 2021

I heard over talkers on the Pivot podcast explain that old people struggled to use the Internet to register to get a Rona jab. Fascinating. I think I heard one of the stars of the wildly thrilling program express that despite computer expertise, the darned sign up site was difficult to use. Insightful. Then I read “Seniors Seeking Vaccines Have a Problem: They Can’t Use the Internet” in the online superstar New York Times. (Yep, I was able to locate the story online. Get your credit card ready, gentle reader. There is no free lunch provided by the Gray Lady.)

The estimable New York Times stated what the over talkers said; namely:

The chaotic vaccine rollout has come with a maze of confusing registration pages and clunky health care websites. And the technological savvy required to navigate the text alerts, push notifications and email reminders that are second nature to the digital generation has put older adults like Ms. Carlin, who need the vaccine the most, at a disadvantage. As a result, seniors who lack tech skills are missing out on potentially lifesaving shots.

Ms. Carlin is 84, and she is probably not hanging out on Zoom with thumbtypers, but that’s just a guess.

I learned:

By the end of last week, just 12.3 million Americans ages 75 and older, or 28 percent, had received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Senator Tina Smith, Democrat of Minnesota, who has reintroduced a bill from last year that would allocate money to help get older Americans online, said the government had failed to get out ahead of a preventable crisis by not funding senior agencies sooner.

How many have thumbtyping techno-masters killed in the 70 plus cohort? The estimable New York Times did not provide a number. Come to think of it, I don’t think the Pivot over talkers did either.

Who would have imagined there were individuals unable to use the outstanding Rona registration systems? It’s obvious to know that some functions are hidden behind dots and hamburgers, pages have to be scrolled down to see data, and enjoy the experience of disabled back buttons.

Oh, well, since I am 77, I suppose some in my cohort will be killed by the thumbtyping techno masters. Big deal. When’s the Zoom happy hour start? Where’s the secret party this weekend? Multi-tasking? No Internet connection? No 5G mobile device.


Stephen E Arnold, March 2, 2021

The Web at 30: An Unfixable Situation?

March 4, 2019

I read “As the Web Turns 30, Is It an Out-of-Control Monster’?” The answer to the question is in the article and expressed as a quotation attributed to Francois Fluckiger, “who took charge of the web team after Berners-Lee left for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1994.”

The write up points out that the three major inventions of the 20th century which enabled our “digital society” were:

  1. The Web
  2. Internet protocol
  3. Google’s search algorithms

I also circled:

But he [Fluckiger] lamented the “online bullying, fake news, and mass hysteria” that flourish online as well as threats to privacy. “One has to ask oneself if we did not, in the end, create a completely out-of-control monster.”

What’s the fix? None stated. Interesting.

Stephen E Arnold, March 4, 2019

Russia Considers Building a Garden Wall

February 14, 2018

In a move that could presage the future of the internet, Russia is considering a walled garden for itself and its fellow BRICS members; TechDirt reports, “Russia Says Disconnecting From the Rest of the Net ‘Out of the Question,’ but Wants Alternative DNS Servers for BRICS Nations.” We learn it was the Russian Security Council that recommended its government develop this infrastructure, proposing the creation of a separate, independent DNS backup system. The write-up observes:

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the story is the following comment by Putin’s Press Secretary, Dmitry Peskov: ‘Russia’s disconnection from the global internet is of course out of the question,’ Peskov told the Interfax news agency. However, the official also emphasized that ‘recently, a fair share of unpredictability is present in the actions of our partners both in the US and the EU, and we [Russia] must be prepared for any turn of events.’ That offers a pragmatic recognition that disconnection from the global Internet is no longer an option for a modern state, even if Iran begs to differ. It’s true that local DNS servers provide resilience, but they also make it much easier for a government to limit access to foreign sites by ordering their IP addresses to be blocked — surely another reason for the move.

The “unpredictability” of the US and Europe? That’s a bit rich. We’re reminded Russia has been trying to localize control over parts of the Internet since at least 2012, and it looks like its fellow BRICS members may be supportive.

Cynthia Murrell, February 14, 2018

How SEO Has Shaped the Web

January 19, 2018

With the benefit of hindsight, big-name thinker Anil Dash has concluded that SEO has contributed to the ineffectiveness of Web search. He examines how we got here in his article, “Underscores, Optimization & Arms Races” at Medium.  Starting with the year 2000, Dash traces the development of Internet content management systems (CMS’s), of which he was a part. (It is a good brief summary for anyone who wasn’t following along at the time.) WordPress is an example of a CMS.

As Google’s influence grew, online publishers became aware of an opportunity—they could game the search algorithm to move their site to the top of “relevant” results by playing around with keywords and other content details. The question of whether websites should bow to Google’s whims seemed to go unasked, as site after site fell into this pattern, later to be known as Search Engine Optimization. For Dash, the matter was symbolized by a question over hyphens or underbars to represent spaces in web addresses. Now, of course, one can use either without upsetting Google’s algorithm, but that was not the case at first. When Google’s Matt Cutts stated a preference for the hyphen in 2005, most publishers fell in line. Including Dash, eventually and very reluctantly; for him, the choice represented nothing less than the very nature of the Internet.

He writes:

You see, the theory of how we felt Google should work, and what the company had often claimed, was that it looked at the web and used signals like the links or the formatting of webpages to indicate the quality and relevance of content. Put simply, your search ranking with Google was supposed to be based on Google indexing the web as it is. But what if, due to the market pressure of the increasing value of ranking in Google’s search results, websites were incentivized to change their content to appeal to Google’s algorithm? Or, more accurately, to appeal to the values of the people who coded Google’s algorithm?

Eventually, even Dash and his CMS caved and switched to hyphens. What he did not notice at the time, he muses, was the unsettling development of the  entire SEO community centered around appeasing these algorithms. He concludes:

By the time we realized that we’d gotten suckered into a never-ending two-front battle against both the algorithms of the major tech companies and the destructive movements that wanted to exploit them, it was too late. We’d already set the precedent that independent publishers and tech creators would just keep chasing whatever algorithm Google (and later Facebook and Twitter) fed to us. Now, the challenge is to reform these systems so that we can hold the big platforms accountable for the impacts of their algorithms. We’ve got to encourage today’s newer creative communities in media and tech and culture to not constrain what they’re doing to conform to the dictates of an opaque, unknowable algorithm.

Is that doable, or have we gone too far toward appeasing the Internet behemoths to turn back?

Cynthia Murrell, January 19, 2018

Online Privacy Just Got a Lot Less Private

December 15, 2017

Forget for a moment political hacks from other countries and think about yourself. We are far more vulnerable online than you might think. A scary new report was discovered in a University of Washington News story, “For $1,000 Anyone Can Purchase Online Ads to Track Your Location and App Use.”

According to the story:

The researchers discovered that an individual ad purchaser can, under certain circumstances, see when a person visits a predetermined sensitive location — a suspected rendezvous spot for an affair, the office of a company that a venture capitalist might be interested in or a hospital where someone might be receiving treatment — within 10 minutes of that person’s arrival. They were also able to track a person’s movements across the city during a morning commute by serving location-based ads to the target’s phone.


Importantly, the target does not have to click on or engage with the ad — the purchaser can see where ads are being served and use that information to track the target through space. In the team’s experiments, they were able to pinpoint a person’s location within about 8 meters.

The scariest part of this story is that, while there are many techniques for hiding your online browsing and consumption, there is not much you can do from being spied on by software like this. However, the ebb and flow of the internet tell us that as soon as this becomes a public concern some programmer with dollar signs in their eyes will invent a solution. We just hope it’s not too late by then.

Patrick Roland, December 15, 2017

China Has a Big Data Policy Setting Everyone Back

December 5, 2017

China is very tightlipped about the way its government handles dissent. However, with the aid of data mining and fake news, they are no longer crushing opposing voices, they are drowning them out. We learned more in the Vox piece, “China is Perfecting a New Method for Suppressing Dissent on the Internet.”

Their paper, titled “How the Chinese Government Fabricates Social Media Posts for Strategic Distraction, Not Engaged Argument,” shows how Beijing, with the help of a massive army of government-backed internet commentators, floods the web in China with pro-regime propaganda.

What’s different about China’s approach is the content of the propaganda. The government doesn’t refute critics or defend policies; instead, it overwhelms the population with positive news (what the researchers call “cheerleading” content) in order to eclipse bad news and divert attention away from actual problems.

Seems like an unwinnable situation for China. However, it would be interesting to see what some of the good guys fighting fake news could do in this situation. We already know big data can be useful in stifling false news stories and intentionally abrasive points of view. But with China not exactly letting outside influence in easily, this will be an uphill battle for the Chinese online community.

Patrick Roland, December 5, 2017

Silicon Valley Hubris

November 1, 2017

Are today’s big tech companies leading our culture down foolish paths? Writer Scott Hartley at Quartz declares, “Silicon Valley Is Suffering from an Icarus Complex.” After briefly summarizing the story of Daedalus and Icarus, Hartley extrapolates that, today, the same examples of hubris would be cast as a pair of tech entrepreneurs, lauded for their bold wing-building initiative and attracting eager investors. He observes:

The Greeks distinguished between craftsmanship, known as technae, and knowledge, known as espisteme. But today we conflate doing with knowing: We believe that doers are wise, when perhaps they are only clever. Silicon Valley is so obsessed with crafting new wings—to harness the power of the Gods and tame the heavens—that it has overlooked the notion that cleverness is not necessarily wisdom. The ability to harness technology alone may be clever, but it isn’t wise unless it is contextualized within a greater human need. For example, someone might design the cleverest new system to optimize ad delivery—but few of us would call such an entrepreneur sagacious or wise. We might justly lionize them for their capitalistic prowess or for their ability to abstract value from the ever-tightening mechanics of how pixels are dangled before us like candy—but we wouldn’t call them a ‘genius.’ We require great technologists and clever doers, but we require those who question, probe, and seek to contextualize our advances in equal measure.

Yes. Just because we can “reinvent every human process with something mechanistic,” as he puts it, does not mean we should. We need more wise minds to consider what technology goals are worthy, and fewer who would pursue anything they can devise to make a buck, regardless of the consequences to society as a whole.

Cynthia Murrell, November 1, 2017

My Feed Personalization a Step Too Far

September 15, 2017

In an effort to be even more user-friendly and to further encourage a narcissistic society, Google now allows individuals to ‘follow’ or ‘unfollow’ topics, delivered daily to devices, as they deem them interesting or uninteresting. SEJ explains the new feature which is considered an enhancement of their ‘my feed’ which is intended to personalize news.

As explained in the article,

Further advancements to Google’s personalized feed include improved machine learning algorithms, which are said to be more capable at anticipating what an individual may find interest. In addition to highlighting stories around manually and algorithmically selected topics of interest, the feed will also display stories trending in your area and around the world.

That seems like a great way to keep people current on topics ranging geographically, politically and culturally, but with the addition of ‘follow’ or ‘unfollow’, once again, individuals can reduce their world to a series of pop-star updates and YouTube hits. Isn’t it an oxymoron to both suggest topics and stories in an effort to keep an individual informed of the world around them, and yet allow them to stop the suggestions are they appear boring or lack familiarity? Now, Google, you can do better.

Catherine Lamsfuss, September 15, 2017

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