Future Tense Newsletter: What Is Apple Really Up To?

Apple CEO Tim Cook would rather not let the FBI in.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Greetings, Future Tensers,

Apple made a public stand for privacy rights last week when it refused to help the FBI access data on the San Bernardino, California, shooting suspect’s iPhone. As Will Oremus argued in Future Tense, that move may have been in Apple’s business interest, since it helps the company look as if its customers are its priority. But it’s possible, Fred Kaplan warned, that if Apple’s stand is successful, we may be looking at more intrusive legislation down the line. Given that this particular phone may not even be worth the fuss, the best-case scenario might be that the struggle prompts wider debate about security and privacy. That would probably be more productive than actively trolling the FBI, however hilarious such an outcome might be.

We also continued our examination of algorithms as this month’s Futurography course on the topic moved ahead. Virginia Eubanks showed that algorithms aren’t created equal, demonstrating that point by surveying government algorithms to catch fraud and waste that target different social classes. Algorithms aren’t all bad, of course: Though some worry that they’ll take our jobs, they may actually ease elements of our work lives. They may also be shaping the way we argue about such topics, since they can dictate how we communicate, even when we don’t realize that we’re submitting to them. This effect arguably helps to create “filter bubbles” such as the one that David Auerbach argues is powering the Bernie Sanders campaign’s online presence.

Here are some of the other stories that we read while marveling over Donald Trump’s Twitter presence this week:

  • Anthropocene: Eric Holthaus discussed a controversial study that claims humans have been meddling with the climate for much longer than we previously thought.
  • Slurs: Researchers tracked the way Twitter users employ the words schizophrenia and schizophrenic, finding that our careless use of such terms may be harming individuals living with this and other mental illnesses.
  • Free speech: The Supreme Court has an opportunity to help standardize legal precedent on the online First Amendment rights of students, an area that’s currently chaotic.
  • Sexism: Software engineer Valerie Woolard examined a study suggesting that programmers prefer code written by women—as long as they don’t know it was written by a woman.

Events:

  • How real is the threat of cyberwar? And what does the term cyberwar even mean? On Wednesday, March 9, Future Tense will host a discussion in New York between Steve Coll and Fred Kaplan in honor of Kaplan’s new book Dark Territory. To learn more and RSVP visit the New America website.

Resetting my phone’s password,

Jacob Brogan

for Future Tense