Future Tense Newsletter: Everything Is Compromised

An Apple iPhone 6 is taken out of a shipping box.
George Frey/Getty Images

Greetings, Future Tensers,

This week, we learned that Chinese spies may have planted microchips in certain consumer electronics destined for the United States—including products from Apple and Amazon—in order to surveil device users. While your iPhone or Amazon Echo may or may not actually be compromised (both the U.S. government and the companies alleged to have been targeted have vehemently denied the story, which was first reported by Bloomberg), the possibility of such foreign intrusion into our internet of things devices would have massive implications for our national security and technology sectors. Josephine Wolff explains that though the story may not bear out, it still highlights China’s power as one of the few manufacturers, testers, and packagers for many major tech firms—and how there might not be a way to truly secure this global supply chain.

Elsewhere on Slate, we’ve been covering other stories about data security. Sharon Bradford Franklin wrote about a newly proposed law in Australia that could give U.S. law enforcement backdoor access to encrypted data and communications. Josephine Wolff argued that Google actually did a good job disclosing and handling a data vulnerability it found in Google Plus. And Chris Iovenko described how renewed fears over election hacking ahead of the 2018 midterms has experts advocating for a return to paper ballots.

Other things we read while trying to get Siri to gossip about celebrities:

Flawed fictions: For WarGames’ 35th anniversary, Kevin Bankston explained how the beloved hacker film and other popular science fiction helped spur real-life policy during the Reagan administration.

A Nazi safe space?: April Glaser explores the darker corners of Discord, the online hub for gamers—and haven for white supremacists, the alt-right, and neo-Nazis to meme-ify and propagate their shared views.

Check it out: Would you pay $2,000 for Mark Judge’s book about his high school partying? If not, you’re in luck. A scanned copy of Wasted is now available for free online (though you’ll have to get on the waitlist). Jennifer Kang explained how controlled digital lending made this legally possible.

Wiki-vandals: Read or listen to April Glaser and Will Oremus’ If Then podcast interview with Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Katherine Maher. She explains how Wikipedia deals with vandals, harassers, false news, and its diversity problem—thanks largely to volunteers.

Like if you agree: April Glaser reports on how Facebook employees reacted to the company’s vice president of global public policy, Joel Kaplan, sitting behind and in support of Judge Brett Kavanaugh during the recent confirmation hearings.

Bike lock, play “Despacito”: The new Ellipse “smart” bike lock can be remotely unlocked, sense attempted theft, and even detect crashes. However, as Justin Peters explains, there’s ample evidence it may also suck.


Join Future Tense and the New America Open Technology Institute’s Kevin Bankston on Thursday, Oct. 11, in D.C. for a screening of the 1983 movie WarGames.* The screening is the latest installment of “My Favorite Movie” and will be followed by a discussion and audience Q&A. You can RSVP for yourself and up to one friend here.

To the new bagel emoji,

Anthony Nguyen
For Future Tense

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University.

Correction, Oct. 10, 2018: This piece originally misstated the day of the month of Future Tense’s screening of WarGames. It will be held on Thursday, Oct. 11, not Thursday, Oct. 10.