The Takeaways: Week 19 of 2022

A quick one this week.


Julia Angwin, Hello World from The Markup. The Online Tracking Company That Knows Your Name: Interview with Gunes Acar (May 14, 2022)

Acar is assistant professor at the Digital Security group of Radboud University in the Netherlands.

[Acar:] We investigated what personal data is exfiltrated on websites before a user submits a form or consents to sharing information. For example, when you are on a website that has third-party trackers, and say you fill out a log-in form, we want to know whether this personal information is exfiltrated to trackers.

We found that on almost 3,000 out of the top 100,000 websites, a user’s email address or its hash was sent to tracker domains before any information was submitted by the user. In addition, we found that on more than 50 websites, when users typed in their password, the password was incidentally collected by third-party trackers. One other surprising finding is that when we looked into different website categories, the one where we observed the most email leaks was fashion and beauty, followed by online shopping, followed by news websites. The category with no leak at all was pornography!

Ted Gioia, The Honest Broker. I'm Put on the Spot—and Forced to Defend the Humanities in a Room Full of Medical Students (May 10, 2022)

Your job might provide you with money and opportunities, but you need to have a higher order of priorities to decide how to use these precious, depleting assets. Once again, the best guides for this have been, for me, the shining beacons of arts and culture. Even after all these years, I still don’t know a better pathway to serenity and transcendence than music. I don’t know a more certain way of deepening my human qualities than poetry. I don’t know of better guides to wisdom and enlightenment than literature, philosophy, and sacred texts.

You shouldn’t pursue these things to please a teacher or get a good grade—although perhaps some people do just that. I have zero interest in changing your curriculum and syllabi here. Far from it. I’m telling you that you should embrace these things as a favor to yourself.


Hendrik Erz. Quo Vaids, PKM? (February 14, 2022)

The weakest link of the full-text search is the lack of semantic understanding by your computer. The weakest link of the graph view, on the other hand, is your instinctive search for patterns. While our computer is good in stoically sifting through large amounts of data, we are good at finding meaning. In order to avoid the problems of a full-text search, we need tools that show us related files which we otherwise would miss. Likewise, we need tools that show us connections between notes without making us fall into the trap of detecting patterns in some Rorschach test.

One way to evenly split the work between you and your computer is to have your computer facilitating connections which you then judge based on your ability to understand semantics. We always make connections between our texts, but without explicit links between notes our computer cannot find them. We make these connections by using similar words and a similar grammatical structure. We make these connections implicitly. When we take notes, we are always working on a network, even if we never link two notes explicitly.