Data Spill Is the New Oil Spill


The NewCo Daily: Today’s Top Stories

ARLIS Reference | Flickr

One observer dubbed it “the Exxon Valdez of security breaches”: Yahoo revealed that information for a billion user accounts — including names, addresses, hashed passwords, phone numbers, birthdays, and security-question answers — was stolen from its servers in 2013 (Krebs on Security). No, you’re not having deja vu: This is a separate incident from the previously disclosed hack of another 500 million Yahoo accounts.

Let’s survey the damage. Yahoo’s deal to be acquired by Verizon looks far less likely. Countless individuals and organizations will now be that much more vulnerable to being hacked. On some broader level, our trust in the cloud-based systems that now run our lives is tattered, if not shattered.

Maybe it should be. Until and unless the companies that ask for our data prove that they can protect it, we ought to be wary. Too bad that means none of us — companies and users alike — will be able to enjoy the full fruits of convenience, efficiency, and delight that new technology promises.

Evernote Wants to Read Your Notes

Digital thieves accessing your data is bad enough, but lots of companies are poking their noses into your information, too — whether it’s Uber’s infamous “God view” or Evernote’s announcement this week that it was going to let employees read users’ notes (TechCrunch). For years this service encouraged users to upload all their personal notes and information and promised to keep it portable, safe, and private. Now Evernote says its employees need to read the notes so they can optimize their machine-learning routines. But hey, you can opt out!

After user protests and critical coverage, Evernote added multiple updates and clarifications to its FAQ on the change and says it’s still committed to its “three laws of data protection.” But that page promises, “Everything you put into Evernote is private by default,” and that seems no longer to be true. Sorry, Evernote: This kind of behavior trains the public to distrust every promise a platform makes. Don’t betray the heart of your mission for the sake of a feature tweak.

U.S. Climate Researchers Back Up Their Files Offsite

There’s a different kind of data drama playing out this week in Washington, D.C. Like Roman officials trying to pack up their records before the Visigoths break through the city walls, climate scientists who work in the federal government are taking steps to protect their data before the Trump administration takes charge (The Washington Post).

Trump and his team are notably hostile to the scientific consensus on climate change, and many researchers feel they can no longer be certain the agencies that collected this data will protect it over time. This fear isn’t limited to the climate field; financial, employment, housing, and many other stats could be in trouble (FiveThirtyEight).

Scientists are less worried about wholesale deletion than they are about budget cuts and neglect, which over time could be just as corrupting to these essential data sets (NPR). After all, these numbers are public property, paid for with tax dollars, and our children and grandchildren are going to rely on them to understand how badly we’ve messed up the planet they inherit.

Fun With Job Numbers, IBM Edition

When a new president demands that companies create more jobs, companies become very adept at making up numbers. There was the Carrier plant episode — where the number of jobs saved kept dropping in the hours after the company announced it would keep its factory in Indiana. Now there’s IBM’s announcement, right before the big Trump tech summit yesterday, that it plans to hire 25,000 people in the U.S. over the next four years (Bloomberg). Great! But, wait a minute, is that more or less than IBM typically hires? What kind of jobs? At what level and pay scale? How many other people might IBM be letting go?

IBM CEO Gini Rometty is pushing for more investment in vocational training and education (USA Today), and that’s welcome. But this game of fictional factory rescues and Potemkin-village job statistics is getting out of hand. Reality-show economics is only going to obscure what’s really happening in the job market, where rapid change makes data-gathering difficult even when you’re conscientious.

Why Women-Oriented Businesses Are Tough to Fund

“Only invest in things you use” is common advice. But if the investor class is heavily stacked with white males following that advice, you end up with a sharp bias against services aimed at anyone else (Racked). That’s how “taste-based discrimination in investing” becomes a major problem for companies that serve women, given the gender disparity in the top ranks of venture firms and investment funds.

From big digital platforms like Etsy to small fashion startups to specialty products like Thinx (reusable absorbent underwear for menstruating women), companies with female customers have an especially steep climb to win the capital they need to grow. There’s a flipside to this dynamic: It also means that, thanks to their own diversity failure, many investors and funds are missing out on some big opportunities.

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