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InAppBrowser.com: See What JavaScript Commands Get Injected Through an in-App Browser

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Felix Krause, back in September:

Last week I published a report on the risks of mobile apps using in-app browsers. Some apps, like Instagram and Facebook, inject JavaScript code into third party websites that cause potential security and privacy risks to the user.

I was so happy to see the article featured by major media outlets across the globe, like TheGuardian and The Register, generated a over a million impressions on Twitter, and was ranked #1 on HackerNews for more than 12 hours. After reading through the replies and DMs, I saw a common question across the community:

“How can I verify what apps do in their webviews?”

Introducing InAppBrowser.com, a simple tool to list the JavaScript commands executed by the iOS app rendering the page.

It’s pretty creepy that TikTok both injects a JavaScript keylogger and does not have a button to open the current page in Safari.

I understand why in-app browsers are a thing on iOS (and iPadOS) but not on MacOS, but when you really think about it, it’s quite strange, and a vestige of the past when multitasking on iOS was so much more limited. Whenever possible, open links in Safari (or whatever your default browser is).

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samuel
28 days ago
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Wait what? TikTok installs a key logger in the in app browser?!
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tjkirch
28 days ago
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“Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting,” Ten Years On

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John Scalzi

Ten years ago this week I thought I would write a piece to offer a useful metaphor for straight white male privilege without using the word “privilege,” because when you use the word “privilege,” straight white men freak out, like, I said then, “vampires being fed a garlic tart.” Since I play video games, I wrote the piece using them as a metaphor. And thus “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is” was born and posted.

And blew up: First here on Whatever, where it became the most-visited single post in the history of the site (more than 1.2 million visits to date), and then when it was posted on video gaming site Kotaku, where I suspect it was visited a multiple number of times more than it was visited here, because Kotaku has more visitors generally, and because the piece was heavily promoted and linked there. 

The piece received both praise and condemnation, in what felt like almost equal amounts (it wasn’t; it’s just the complainers were very loud, as they often are). To this day the piece is still referred and linked to, taught in schools and universities, and “living on the lowest difficulty setting” is used as a shorthand for the straight white male experience, including by people who don’t know where the phrase had come from.

(I will note here, as I often do when discussing this piece, that my own use of the metaphor was an expansion on a similar metaphor that writer Luke McKinney used in a piece on Cracked.com, when he noted that “straight male” was the lowest difficulty setting in sexuality. Always credit sources and inspirations, folks!)

In the ten years since I’ve written the piece, I’ve had a lot of time to think about it, the response to it, and whether the metaphor still applies. And so for this anniversary, here are some further thoughts on the matter.

1. First off: Was the piece successful? In retrospect, I think it largely was. One measure of its success, as noted above, is its persistence; it’s still read and talked about and taught and used. Anecdotally, I have hundreds of emails from people who used it to explain privilege to others and/or had it used to explain privilege to them, and who say that it did what it was meant to do: Get through the already-erected defenses against the word “privilege” and convey the concept in an interesting and novel manner. So: Hooray for that. It is always good to be useful.

2. That said, Upton Sinclair once wrote that “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” In almost exactly the same manner, it is difficult to get a straight white man to acknowledge his privileges when his self-image depends on him not doing so. Which is to say there is a very large number of straight white men who absolutely do not wish to acknowledge just how thoroughly and deeply their privileges are systemically embedded into day-to-day life. A fair number of this sort of dude read the piece (or more perhaps more accurately, read the headline, since a lot of their specific complaints about the piece were in fact addressed in the piece itself) and refused to entertain the notion there might be something to it. Which is their privilege (heh), but doesn’t make them right.

But, I mean, as a straight white dude, I totally get it! I also work hard and make an effort to get by, and in my life not all the breaks have gone my way. I too have suffered disappointment and failure and exclusion and difficulty. In the context of a life where people who are not straight white men are perhaps not in your day-to-day world view, except as abstractions mediated by television or radio or web sites, one’s own struggles loom large. It’s harder to conceive of, or sympathize with, the idea that one’s own struggles and disappointments are resting atop of a pile of systemic privilege — not in the least because that implicitly seems to suggest that if you can still have troubles even with those many systemic advantages, you might be bad at this game called life.

But here’s the thing about that. One, just because you can’t or won’t see the systemic advantages you have, it doesn’t mean you don’t still have them, relative to others. Two, it’s a reflection of how immensely fucked up the system is that even with all those systemic advantages, lots of straight white men feel like they’re just treading water. Yes! It’s not just you! This game of life is difficult! Like Elden Ring with a laggy wireless mouse and a five-year-old graphics card! And yet, you are indeed still playing life on the lowest difficulty setting! 

Maybe rather than refusing to accept that other people are playing on higher difficulty settings, one should ask who the hell decided to make the game so difficult for everyone right out of the box (hint: they’re largely in the same demographic as straight white men), and how that might be changed. But of course it’s simply just easy to deny that anyone else might have a more challenging life experience than you have, systemically speaking. 

3. Speaking of “easy,” one of the problems that the piece had is that when I wrote the phrase “lowest difficulty,” lots of people translated that to “easy.” The two concepts are not the same, and the difference between the two is real and significant. Which is, mind you, why I used the phrase “lowest difficulty” and not “easy.” But if you intentionally or unintentionally equate the two, then clearly there’s an issue to be had with the piece. I do suspect a number of dudes intentionally equated the two, even when it was made clear (by me, and others) they were not the same. I can’t do much for those dudes, then or now.

4. When I wrote the piece, some folks chimed in to say that other factors deserved to be part of a “lowest difficulty setting,” with “wealth” being primary among them. At the time I said I didn’t think wealth should have been; it’s a stat in my formulation — hugely influential, but not an inherent feature of identity like being white, or straight, or male. This got a lot of pushback, in no small part because (and relating to point two above) I think a lot of straight white dudes believed that if wealth was in there, it would somehow swamp the privileges that being white and straight and male provide, and that would mean that everyone else’s difficulty setting was no more difficult than their own.

It’s ten years on now, and I continue to call bullshit on this. I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor and I’ve been in the middle, and in all of those economic states I still had and have systemic advantages that came with being white and straight and male. Yes, being wealthy does make life less difficult! But on the other hand being wealthy (and an Oscar winner) didn’t keep Forest Whitaker from being frisked in a bodega for alleged shoplifting, whereas I have never once been asked to empty my pockets at a store, even when (as a kid, and poor as hell) I was actually shoplifting. This is an anecdotal observation! Also, systemically, wealth insulates people who are not straight and white and male less than it does those who are. Which means, to me, I put it in the right place in my formulation.

5. What would I add into the inherent formulation ten years on? I would add “cis” to “straight” and “white” and “male.” One, because I understand the concept better than than I did in 2012 and how it works within the matrix of privilege, and two, in the last decade, more of the people I know and like and love have come out as being outside of standard-issue cis-ness (or were already outside of it when I met them during this period), and I’ve seen directly how the world works on and with them. 

So, yes: Were I writing that piece for the first time in 2022, I would have written “Cis Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is.” 

6. Ten years of time has not mitigated the observation about who is on the Lowest Difficulty Setting, especially here in the United States. Indeed, if anything, 2022 in the US has been about (mostly) straight white men nerfing the fuck out of everyone else in the land in order to maintain their own systemic advantages. Oh, you’re not white? Let’s pass laws to make sure an accurate picture of your historical treatment is punted out of schools and libraries, and the excuse we’ll give is that learning these things would be mean to white kids. You’re LGBTQ+? Let’s pass laws so that a teacher even mentioning you exist could get them fired. Trans? Let’s take away your rights for gender-affirming medical treatment. Have functional ovaries? We’re planning to let your rapist have more say in what happens to your body than you! Have a blessed day!

And of course hashtag not all straight white men, but on the other hand let’s not pretend we don’t know who is largely responsible for this bullshit. The Republican party of the United States is overwhelmingly straight, overwhelmingly white, and substantially male, and here in 2022 it is also an unabashedly white supremacist political party, an authoritarian party and a patriarchal party: mainstream GOP politicians talk openly about the unspeakably racist and anti-Semitic “Great Replacement Theory,” and about sending people who have abortions to prison, and are actively making it more difficult for minorities to vote. It’s largely assumed that once the conservative supermajority of the Supreme Court (very likely as of this writing) throws out Roe v. Wade, it’ll go after Obergefell (same-sex marriage) as soon as a challenge gets to them, and then possibly Griswold (contraception) and Loving (mixed-race marriage) after that. Because, after all, why stop at Roe when you can roll civil rights back to the 1950s at least?

What makes this especially and terribly ironic is that when game designers nerf characters, they’re usually doing it to bring balance to the game — to put all the characters on something closer to an even playing field. What’s happening here in 2022 isn’t about evening up the playing field. It’s to keep the playing field as uneven as possible, for as long as possible, for the benefit of a particular group of people who already has most of the advantages. 2022 is straight white men employing code injection to change the rules of the game, while it’s in process, to make it more difficult for everyone else. 

So yes, ten years on, the Lowest Difficulty Setting still applies. It’s as relevant as ever. And I’m sure, even now, a bunch of straight white men will still maintain it’s still not accurate. As they would have been in 2012, they’re entirely wrong about that. 

And what a privilege that is: To be completely wrong, and yet suffer no consequences for it. 

— JS

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samuel
199 days ago
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Both this essay and the one it’s referencing should be required reading. I use this metaphor a whole lot.
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tjkirch
199 days ago
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Hot Banana

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I heard that bananas are radioactive. If they are radioactive, then they radiate energy. How many bananas would you need to power a house?

Kang JI

Bananas are radioactive. But don't worry, it's fine.

Bananas are radioactive because they contain potassium, some of which is the radioactive isotope potassium-40. The factoid about banana radioactivity was popularized by nuclear engineers trying to reassure people[1] that small doses of radiation are normal and not necessarily dangerous. Of course, this kind of thing can backfire.

Thanks to their use as a radiation dose comparison, bananas now have a reputation as an especially radioactive food, but they're really not. The CRC Handbook of Radiation Measurement and Protection, the source of the original data behind the banana factoid, lists lots of other foods with more potassium-40 than bananas, including coconuts, peanuts, and sweet potatoes. A large cheese pizza might be three times more radioactive than a banana,[2] and your own body emits a lot more radiation than either.

Potassium-40 decays slowly, with individual atoms sitting around for millions or billions of years before quantum randomness finally triggers their decay. Imagine you're an atom of potassium; every second you roll 21 dice. If they all come up 6s, you decay.

There are gazillions[3] of atoms of potassium-40 in a banana. In any given second, 10 or 15 of them make that all-sixes roll, spit out a high-energy particle, and become stable calcium or argon.

That high-energy particle released by the expiring potassium atom[4] will promptly bonk[5] into other atoms, leaving everything vibrating with extra heat energy. In theory, you could use this heat energy to do work—that's how the Mars rovers Curiosity and Opportunity are powered.

The Mars rovers use plutonium, which decays millions of times per second, releasing a lot of power. By comparison, the 15 decays per second from one banana work out to a couple of picowatts of power, roughly the power consumption of a single human cell. Even if you captured that decay energy with perfect efficiency, powering a house would require about 300 quadrillion[6] bananas, which would form a heap large enough to bury most of the skyscrapers in the NYC metro area.[7]

The potassium-40 in bananas is a terrible source of energy. But that's okay, because you know what's a great energy source? The banana itself! A banana contains about 100 calories of food energy, and if you incinerate whole bananas as fuel, it would only take about 10 bunches per day to keep your house running.

Unfortunately for New York City, which we buried in bananas a moment ago while trying to make the radiation idea work (sorry!), radioactivity vs chemical energy isn't an either/or thing. If you piled up a lot of bananas, they would start to release that chemical energy, one way or another. The sun-baked banana pile would start to rot. The heat from the bananas decomposing in the atmosphere would immediately swamp the heat from radioactivity. The sun-dried bananas would dry, crack, and eventually burn.

Decomposition by anaerobic bacteria deep in the pile would produce various gases, including highly flammable methane. As they bubbled up to the surface of the burning banana swamp, they could ignite; gas buildup from food waste is a major industrial explosion hazard.

So don't worry about the radioactivity in bananas. It's the rest of the banana that's the real threat. But if you're willing to risk the danger, you could power a lot more than just your house. With just a modest weekly supply of bananas—enough to cover Liberty Island in NYC...

...you could power the entire city.

[1] After nuclear engineering, this is the main pastime of nuclear engineers.

[2] Google has a handy tool for looking up the amount of potassium in foods, which even lets you select specific pizza brands. But for some reason, if you select Pizza Hut Pepperoni Pizza, your only serving size options are either "1 slice" or "40 pizzas." Nothing in between.

[3] There are about 800,000,000,000,000,000 of them, which is probably quadrillions or quintillions or something, but life is too short to sit around counting zeros and then looking up the Latin prefixes for big numbers.

[4] RIP

[5] The technical term is THUNK.

[6] Fine, I looked it up this time.

[7] It's 300 quadrillion bananas, Michael—what can it cost, 3 quintillion dollars?

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tjkirch
211 days ago
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211 days ago
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jlvanderzwan
212 days ago
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Meertn/Levitz can probably confirm or deny this, but allegedly there once was a physics professor at the University of Groningen who during an excursion with his students to a nuclear power plant triggered the alarms at a checkpoint where they made sure you didn't steal any radioactive materials. The thing was, not only was he not carrying anything, it was on *the way in*.
belehaa
212 days ago
I don’t know about a story involving the University of Groningen, but I do know about Stanley Watras and radon in Pennsylvania https://radon-ohio.com/the-stanley-watras-story/ (I’ve read some old newspaper stories about him, but this was what came up near the top of a quick search)
Levitz
209 days ago
I'm familiar with the story, was it not the man himself de Waard?
jlvanderzwan
208 days ago
That rings a bell... (Hendrik de Waard, for the people still reading along). @belehaa: ah, tha explains the radon-joke in that one Eddie Murphy movie I once saw! Never heard of radon testing in the Netherlands
rosskarchner
213 days ago
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I missed this
DC-ish
MartinHT
213 days ago
Yeah, me too!

David Schleinkofer

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David Schleinkofer

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tjkirch
311 days ago
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Sir, we found the Mega Man.
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Abuse and harassment on the blockchain

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In order to responsibly develop new technologies, it is critical to ask “how will this be used for evil?” Technology companies employ red teamers, risk assessors, and ethicists to do just that, or at least so they can say they are. Software engineers have formed initiatives like the Ethical Source movement,1 recognizing the importance of deeply considering this question.

“How will this technology be used to harass and abuse people?” is a form of that question that too often goes unasked, particularly given that the demographics of people who are most at risk for abuse and harassment tend to be underrepresented in the industry. Apple apparently didn’t put much thought into how its AirTag location tracking discs could be misused by stalkers and domestic abusers.23 Target didn’t realize how its attempts to market to expectant mothers might out pregnant teenagers to their families.4 Slack didn’t foresee how people might use its invitation feature to send people harassing messages they couldn’t block.5

In the frenzy to attract venture capital funding and draw new users and investors into blockchain technologies, this question is once again going unasked. While blockchain proponents speak about a “future of the web” based around public ledgers, anonymity, and immutability, those of us who have been harassed online look on in horror as obvious vectors for harassment and abuse are overlooked, if not outright touted as features.

Public transactions

Some cryptocurrency enthusiasts envision a world where cryptocurrencies have replaced dollars and euros (which they refer to as “fiat”; I prefer the term “real money”), and transactions are done on the blockchain rather than with physical cash or transactions through centralized banks. Cryptocurrencies allow for anonymity, and unlike with traditional banking, connecting one’s real-life identity to a wallet address is purely optional. This works just fine when you’re just trading ape pictures online or planting pixel sunflowers in a play-to-earn game, but falls apart a bit in the theoretical future where you’re standing in the checkout line using cryptocurrency to pay for your gallon of milk.

People who keep their cryptocurrency wallet addresses private often do so with good reason: there is very little privacy available once your crypto wallet address is known, because every transaction is publicly visible, and attempts to obscure them often easily unobscured with chain analysis tools. Imagine if, when you Venmo-ed your Tinder date for your half of the meal, they could now see every other transaction you’d ever made—and not just on Venmo, but the ones you made with your credit card, bank transfer, or other apps, and with no option to set the visibility of the transfer to “private”. The split checks with all of your previous Tinder dates? That monthly transfer to your therapist? The debts you’re paying off (or not), the charities to which you’re donating (or not), the amount you’re putting in a retirement account (or not)? The location of that corner store right by your apartment where you so frequently go to grab a pint of ice cream at 10pm? Not only would this all be visible to that one-off Tinder date, but also to your ex-partners, your estranged family members, your prospective employers. An abusive partner could trivially see you siphoning funds to an account they can’t control as you prepare to leave them. As for the marketing machines and predictive algorithms that currently suck in every scrap of data they can to determine what ads to show you, or evaluate your suitability for a mortgage,6 or try to predict if you’ll commit a crime?7 Well, they’ve just hit the jackpot.

“Just use a different anonymous wallet”, people might say. This is much easier in theory than in practice, since funds in a wallet have to come from somewhere, and it’s not difficult to infer what might be happening when your known wallet address suddenly transfers money off to a new, empty wallet. There are certainly ways to successfully and anonymously do it, typically using cryptocurrency tumblers, cryptocurrency ATMs, or even mining fresh coins, but they require technological acumen: knowing how to anonymize transfers, but even to know what can potentially be used to link two addresses to begin with. Even if one succeeds in setting up a separate and anonymous wallet, quite a lot of care must be taken to successfully maintain its anonymity. And as chain analysis technologies progress, tying various wallets and transactions together becomes more accessible to those who wish to do so. In the best case scenario, a person ends up with many different wallets with varying degrees of anonymity, and has to try to keep track of which is which and who’s allowed to know about which wallet.


Immutability

We are seeing a much wider array of products built atop the blockchain these days: video games, social networks, dating applications, porn platforms. Although “blockchain” for many brings to mind cryptocurrency exchanges and NFT trading platforms, where most interaction between users is simple transactions, the space is increasingly including much more full-featured applications. And as applications add in features like commenting and messaging, they become vectors for harassment.

One commonly-touted feature of blockchains is their immutability: once data is written to the blockchain, it is there forever.8 While this can have useful applications, such as when storing straightforward transaction records, it is a nightmare when you think about its implications for user-created data, particularly when considered through the lens of abuse and harassment. If someone stores revenge porn or child sexual abuse material on a blockchain, it is there forever and cannot be removed. Individual platforms built on the blockchain can choose not to display it, but the data is still there and can be accessed by anyone, either directly or by just choosing to use a different platform built on the same chain. This means that if someone is a victim of revenge porn, the best they can do is reach out to individual platforms and petition them to hide the content—this could be many, many platforms, and even still, the content remains available on the chain to those who wish to look for it.

As a quick aside, the details of how images and other large data would be stored on a blockchain are somewhat in question. For the purposes of argument I am assuming that they would either be stored on-chain, or a pointer to an image stored on a distributed filesystem like the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS)9 would be stored on-chain. On blockchains like Ethereum, it is prohibitively expensive to store images on-chain—even at today’s relatively low Ethereum prices, it costs about $175 to store a kilobyte of data, meaning your average 140KB Bored Ape JPEG would cost about $25,000 to store. However, there are blockchains where image storage is more feasible. It’s also quite possible that these platforms would choose to store pointers to images hosted on centralized services like AWS, in which case taking down content becomes quite straightforward—however, though this is common practice in web3 projects today, it is antithetical to web3 ideals and tends to draw scorn from the community when discovered.

Even ignoring the doors that immutability opens for malicious actors, immutable social network content is horrifying given what people post themselves. Imagine if the cringy posts by a twelve-year-old were guaranteed to be available in perpetuity as soon as they were saved. Or if the ill-conceived, drunken ramblings of a person who had few too many were there forever, not deleteable the following day. Imagine if a person uploading a photo of the cookies they just baked didn’t realize until after they hit “post” that the envelope on the table in the background showed their home address.

Airdrops

Furthermore, tokens can be “airdropped” to specific addresses, with no consent required by the recipient. Often used as a way to distribute free NFTs for giveaways and other promotional campaigns, there is nothing stopping someone from airdropping NFTs with abusive content—doxing, revenge porn, child sexual abuse imagery, threats, etc.—into someone’s wallet. Some platforms automatically display airdropped NFTs until they are manually hidden by users, increasing the impact of such an attack. And even if someone hides or burns an NFT of this sort, the transaction and its contents remain immutably on the blockchain for anyone to see.


1 address ≠ 1 individual

When I receive a harassing message on the social networks I use, it tends to be pretty straightforward to just block the user. Most social networks introduce barriers to creating armies of new harassment accounts to cycle through when one is blocked, typically requiring email or phone verification, and using this data along with device data to propagate any bans to new accounts created with the same details.

With blockchains, the ability to easily create new addresses is a feature and intended use of the technology. When projects have tried to use wallet addresses to identify an individual user, such in the case of Adidas trying to limit an NFT drop to two per person, they have been trivially circumvented.10 While it’s possible that blockchain-based social networks could rely on additional data and identity verification to limit account creation in similar ways to what major social media networks do today, the libertarian ethos behind many of the services springing up in this space make that seem unlikely to catch on.


There is surprisingly little discussion of the enormous potential for abuse built in to blockchain-based technologies, and I’ve barely even scraped the surface here. Indeed, I did a search for “blockchain harassment” and found little more than promotional materials for some startup apparently solving workplace harassment ~*~ with the blockchain ~*~ (god help me). Both the web3 space and its group of outspoken critics have, to date, struck me as overwhelmingly male, which I suspect plays a role in this. Though often described as though it will somehow solve all of the inequalities that are built in to society, the leaders in the blockchain space don’t appear to actually be thinking about a lot of them.


Notes

  1. Ethical Source ↩︎

  2. Ingram, David (December 23, 2021). “A tracking device made by Apple is showing up in suspected crimes”. NBC News↩︎

  3. Wilson, Mark (April 29, 2021). “Apple AirTags could enable domestic abuse in terrifying ways”. Fast Company↩︎

  4. Duhigg, Charles (February 16, 2012). “How Companies Learn Your Secrets”. The New York Times↩︎

  5. Statt, Nick (March 24, 2021). https://www.theverge.com/2021/3/24/22348422/slack-connect-direct-message-abuse-harassment. The Verge↩︎

  6. Heaven, Will Douglas (June 17, 2021). “Bias isn’t the only problem with credit scores—and no, AI can’t help”. MIT Technology Review↩︎

  7. “Predictive policing” (January 22, 2022). Wikipedia. ↩︎

  8. Except when it’s not, as I describe in another blog post↩︎

  9. “InterPlanetary File System” (January 22, 2022). Wikipedia. ↩︎

  10. “Adidas learns the hard way that limiting the number of NFTs one person can buy is hard”. Web3 Is Going Great↩︎

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tjkirch
313 days ago
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tante
313 days ago
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"Abuse and Harassment on the Blockchain"
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zwol
314 days ago
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I’ve been very negative about blockchain in the past, and yet I have to confess I never would’ve thought of most of these negatives.

- No matter how bad an idea seems to be, there’s an excellent chance it’s even worse.

- The security mindset is *difficult* and everyone misses stuff. Get you some more perspectives.

- I have to wonder whether the impossibility of blocking people and/or weeding out sock puppets shouldn’t be seen as more of an *intentional design feature* than an emergent property. There is very little that dudebros hate more than someone refusing to listen to them.
Pittsburgh, PA
acdha
313 days ago
I still remember the heady optimism of the 90s thinking that everything would be better online. I’d like to think we’ve learned but it really feels like what’s happening is not that a high fraction of my fellow white dudes have wised up as much as there are now more people involved who’ve never had the pleasure of thinking nobody would attack them. It’s really amazing watching people use drawbacks of blockchain technology as a selling point apparently because they’ve never had to deal with much personal risk and just aren’t used to thinking adversarially.
jepler
314 days ago
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TIL that you can "airdrop" your d--k pics to people as a way to harass them
Earth, Sol system, Western spiral arm

New Year, New Fear

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It’s a brand-new year, and I’ve got a brand new fear: Being in a persistent vegetative state, yet fully aware of the outside world:

By 2016, more than 1,000 patients around the world had been scanned using variations on the brain-imaging technique we had developed, and an independent scientific review concluded that between 20 and 25 per cent of them were like Carol and Scott; conscious and aware, despite their outward appearance, trapped in their immobile bodies, listening silently to every conversation at their bedside, and every decision that had ever been made on their behalf.

Dr. Adrian Owen, who pioneered this research, is now fighting for imaging that can help these patients gain a voice.

Link: https://www.sciencefocus.com/the-human-body/comas-conscious-communicate/

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tjkirch
325 days ago
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