The year in tech

Private eyes are watching you
By JEFF INGLIS AND NICHOLAS SCHROEDER  |  December 22, 2010

This year saw some tech wins (public information), some losses (privacy), and many more questions for the future of an increasingly wired world. (Example: Is anything secret anymore?) And there was the appearance of yet another grassroots David, and, as if a warning to future Davids, the epic collapse of a bloated Goliath.


Rise of Kickstarter

The arts just don't pay like they used to. What to do, then, when the ideas keep coming? In 2010, the people turned to Kickstarter, a user-friendly, low-risk database of not-for-profit projects seeking financial backing. The trick is simple: grant-hungry innovators provide a clear mission statement, project outline, and timeline for their projects. Like a virtual gallery of ideas, Kickstarter organizes projects and tallies pledges, freeing the project organizer to promote the fundraising effort.

Locally, it's been a minor revelation. In 2010, private pledgers funded Didn't Die Young Yet, a book of fiction by Jacob Cholak (who wrote one short story for each $1-and-up pledge received), the mastering of Theodore Treehouse's much-lauded debut album, and a $1500 steamroller rental for public printmaking demonstration by local art collective Pickwick Independent Press during September's Block Party.


Death of MySpace

Where Kickstarter represented the virtual vox populi, the web still produced its share of audible groans. Once a teeming online metropolis, Rupert Murdoch's MySpace is now a truly disgusting city, reduced to a collection of flashy billboards pasted onto blocks of empty housing units. 2010 witnessed a public resignation (some say firing) of Owen Van Natta, the company's CEO, and by July, operating losses for the year had passed $575 million. MySpace is still most convenient way to sample low-quality selections of fledgling rock bands, but individual accounts — the lungs of a social network — are inert.

Say what you will about Facebook, but they did get one thing right. Like the majority of humans (and most primates), it can differentiate between a person and a thing. According to Facebook's logic, both have presence, but only people have agency. Things — and this includes Malaysian sexbots — do not.


WikiLeaks

A free press, and the associated power of the Internet, to disrupt governments and expose secrets is trumpeted by the US in its policy toward China. Not so in its ongoing investigation — and threatened prosecution — of WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange. In addition to its April release of classified video footage of a US Army helicopter crew shooting and killing a group of men (including two journalists) in Baghdad in 2007, WikiLeaks struck fear into the hearts of American policymakers when it began releasing as many as 250,000 State Department documents in November. The real significance, however, was the populist rise of the computer-hacking community to defend Assange by attacking sites that caved to government pressure and ended business dealings with WikiLeaks (Amazon, Visa, Mastercard, PayPal). This response showed that there are many more people willing to defy the US government than officials would like — and that the feds can't catch them.


Privacy kickback

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