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Opinion Editorials

Accepting privacy invasions means Big Brother is always watching

(OPINION EDITORIAL) When it comes to privacy and privacy invasions, we are our own worst enemies — read your terms of service!

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Yes, I agree

Who actually reads the privacy and term of service agreements when signing up with a service? No one.

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If you do, a) congrats and b) face it, you’ve probably skipped at least one throughout the course of your internet life. #sorrynotsorry

We are the problem

Collectively, society is continuing to be part of the problem, and this is going to come back and bite us. Hard. If you’ve been paying attention to the Sonos speaker debacle–“if you don’t accept our continued privacy invasions, no more Beyonce karaoke nights using our speaker!”–it’s an important test case of what we as citizens continue to give up in exchange for ease of access to a good or service.

Face it: the inherent concept of the internet is a risky venture unless you’ve built yourself a server fortress that is akin to Fort Knox.

But every day, the privacy in certain areas you once enjoyed is slowly being eroded. When I read a book on my Kindle, Amazon knows what I am reading. When I wear my FitBit, it knows when I sleep, what I eat, and where I go–always. When I use my Google Home, it listens into my conversations to know when to jump into offer its help. Using any of these types of services comes with risk involved, and you’re trading your former security as part of the transaction.

To each his own

The funny thing about risk is that everyone perceives it differently. Risks and hazards elicit images, which evoke positive, negative, and neutral feelings. People draw on these feelings when making decisions about risk in a phenomenon known as the social amplification of risk. After a risk event occurs, information flows through media, interpersonal networks, and framing narratives to influence public perception.

This can dampen risk signals or amplify risk signals after it is interpreted by the individual through their existing personal narrative.

Social amplification of risk can be a good thing–that is, if it works. The problem is, as demonstrated from my laundry list of services I use that can invade my privacy, we’ve all bought into this exchange to some extent. Our existing personal narratives say things like “well, that’s the way it has to be, I guess” and we accept it, forget, and move on, like how we all forgot that the Facebook app can listen to anything we say at any given time. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

When multiple users took to Reddit to complain about Plex, a media streaming service, threatening lack of access if its new privacy violations were not accepted, the company reversed course. Blind acceptance of a service’s continued violation of your personal privacy does not have to be the default.

Cost of privacy

Whenever you use the internet and any services powered through private companies, you will have to pay some price that may not be money. Without keeping that in mind, you’re ensuring that Big Brother will always be watching and listening to you and those you love.

Take two minutes, read the user agreement, try to understand the privacy terms. If those aren’t acceptable to you, let the service provider know and discontinue use until they fix it. It may not be convenient when you’re trying to sing “Single Ladies” at 2 AM at your party, but I assure you, you’ll be a lot better off in the long run–and society will too.

#ReadTheTerms

Alexandra Bohannon has a Master of Public Administration degree from University of Oklahoma with a concentration in public policy. She is currently based in Oklahoma City, working as a freelance filmmaker, writer, and podcaster. Alexandra loves playing Dungeons and Dragons and is a diehard Trekkie.

Opinion Editorials

Ban cryptocurrency posts on Medium? How far is too far?

(EDITORIAL) With Facebook nixing all cryptocurrency ads, others ponder where else the hoaxes should be policed. But at some point, this all becomes censorship…

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I’ll be frank. I don’t understand the cryptocurrency industry, but I do understand content.

Ed Dunn believes that Medium should ban stories about cryptocurrency and initial coin offerings.

Facebook has just banned all ads about these things, whether the advertiser is a legal business or not. Some are calling this censorship, but I think it deserves a bigger discussion. Advertising is a much different animal than providing content on Medium.

What is Medium?

Medium is a private company that offers social journalism (read: it’s a blog platform). Amateurs and professionals are allowed to post on the platform, provided the content is within the terms and conditions.

Here are two pieces of the terms that I find relevant to this discussion:

(1) You’re responsible for the content you post. This means you assume all risks related to it, including someone else’s reliance on its accuracy, or claims relating to intellectual property or other legal rights.

(2) We can remove any content you post for any reason.

Medium makes it quite clear that they can and will censor your posts.

Generally, when I think of censorship, it relates to the government banning speech or public communication under the First Amendment. When the government attempts to suppress speech or communication, it is clearly against the law. This distinction is important in any discussion about censorship.

Medium is a private company, (as is Facebook, Twitter, etc.). Medium clearly has the right to remove any content, because that’s what the writer signed up for when they posted a piece. The question isn’t whether they can remove articles on cryptocurrency, but whether they should.

I firmly believe that platforms like Medium should have guidelines in place to prevent unethical hucksters from profiting. But on the other hand, how would that be practical? Who determines what is hype and what is mis-information? How does an algorithm account for an honest opinion versus someone who is using click bait to draw traffic?

If Medium bans all discussion on cryptocurrency, it effectively shuts down genuine writers who are working to understand and explain the market. The conversation shouldn’t be shut down, but there could be some kind of action taken to help the general public know what is legitimate and what isn’t (like a flagging mechanism other platforms already utilize).

This debate isn’t about a private company and how it deals with free speech. The conversation needs to start with how people can find authentic information in a world where anyone can say anything and have it shared in just a few seconds. It’s the loudest voices that get heard in platforms like Medium, Facebook, and Twitter, not the most reliable. In a Utopian world, that is how we would collectively enact change.

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Opinion Editorials

Sexist Doritos for ladies won’t hit shelves, PepsiCo’s response is baffling

(EDITORIAL) Doritos hinted at lady-friendly chips, the internet lost their minds, and we want to talk about the recent history for context (and their odd response to the whole thing).

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If you’re not convinced that we live in a sexist society, take a look at some of the products that are totally unnecessarily marketed towards women and girls. Although still reinforcing an arbitrary gender binary, companies can be somewhat forgiven for aiming their marketing of sex-specific products, like tampons, towards women. (Not that tampon ads are unproblematic, and not that women are the only people managing menstrual blood — but that’s another article.)

It’s when they start pumping out pink versions of products that have absolutely nothing to do with what’s between your legs that our society’s totally whack notions of femininity are revealed. Take for example, hand tools. Even if you’re banking on the notion that women are, generally speaking, smaller than men, the usefulness of a teeny-tiny, pink-handled hammer for whacking anything larger than a thumbtack is questionable. And don’t get me started on Bic’s Pens for Her. As a literate, college-educated woman, I’ve always had such a hard time using pens to write, until now! – said no one, ever.

Here’s the latest: some genius bros at PepsiCo are getting ready to launch a “lady-friendly” chip. According to their “research,” a quieter, less messy chip is more appropriate for the fairer sex. Global chief executive Indra Nooyi told Freakonomics Radio, “Although women would love to crunch loudly, lick their fingers and pour crumbs from the bag into their mouths afterwards, they prefer not to do this in public.”

Lady-Doritos will be less crunchy (‘cause everyone wants a soggier chip, am I right?) and will come in a smaller, handbag-sized package. No word yet whether or not women will get a discount for the reduced volume, or whether we’ll still pay the same price as our male counterparts with their giant man-bags of extra crunchy chips.

In the midst of a massive, cross-industry callout of sexual misconduct towards women, women fighting for equal pay, a conservative political backlash against reproductive rights, these bogusly gendered not-so-crunchy snacks are hardly the most misogynistic thing happening in America right now.

Nonetheless, it’s important to point out that products like this are a result of, and contribute towards perpetuating, the same gender stereotypes that underlie these more serious problems.

When we make diminutive tools for women we are telling them: you are smaller, your work is smaller, and you can’t or don’t need to do the same kinds of work as men.

When we make “pens for her” we are telling women: you are not competent like a man, you need a special tool to do the most basic of tasks. And when we make foods for women that are “skinny,” “guilt-free,” or less-crunchy we are telling women: you should be ashamed to eat, because the thinness of your body and the daintiness of your manners is what’s important about you.

Nooyi’s comments are especially problematic, juxtaposing how women would like to behave with what kind of behavior is appropriate in public.

The idea that certain female behaviors are not appropriate in the public sphere has a long history of justifying sexist ideas and even laws. Women have had a long, hard fight to be able to participate equally in the public sphere, whether it be working, getting an education, or voting. Apparently women have to defy their designated role just to enjoy a crunchy snack outside of their own home. (By the way, in true feminist fashion, Texas National Organization for Women is hosting a women’s public chip picnic at the state Capitol later this month.)

After the internet lost their minds over this, PepsiCo told ABC News, “The reporting on a specific Doritos product for female consumers is inaccurate. We already have Doritos for women — they’re called Doritos, and they’re enjoyed by millions of people every day. At the same time, we know needs and preferences continue to evolve and we’re always looking for new ways to engage and delight our consumers.”

They say these chips will never hit shelves, they were just pondering product lines – their scrambling to rewrite history is confusing at best.

It’s enough to make a girl want to eat her feelings.

I could really go for a crunchy snack right about now. And I fully intend to lick all of the crumbs off of my fingertips – if I can find a brand that isn’t owned by PepsiCo.

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Opinion Editorials

Still no growth in the volume of VC-backed female entrepreneurs

(EDITORIAL) Although there is much ado about improving diversity in tech, the funding world may be all hat, no cattle, especially when it comes to female entrepreneurs.

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When we look back at 2017, we may very well end up describing it as a watershed year for women in the workplace. Despite years of progress, women still have to put up with pay gaps, misogynist cultures, and sexually coercive environments to make a living. Even female entrepreneurs that are in charge.

But over the past year, more women than ever before are calling out these unfair practices. The #MeToo phenomenon has put a bright spotlight on the pervasive problem of sexual misconduct in the workplace, and Silicon Valley is finally being forced to reckon with its woman-hating frat bro culture.

Despite generous media attention to these efforts towards gender equality, it remains to be seen whether or not these conversations will create real change.

Zooming in our lens to startups and entrepreneurship, a stubborn plateau of investment in women-founded businesses indicates that all of the hullabaloo about sexism is nothing more than hand-wringing, leading, so far, to little real change.

TechCrunch has been tracking over 50,000 global companies to assess how women are doing when it comes to investment in startups. Of the 54,702 companies who received initial funding between 2009 and 2017 only 16 percent had at least one female founder.

Although this number nearly doubled between 2009, at 9 percent, and 2012, at 17 percent, this percentage has stabilized in the past five years, hovering between 16 and 17 percent.

Companies founded exclusively by men continue to raise about 85 percent of seed money, with mixed-gender teams taking around 11 to 13 percent, and companies founded exclusively by a woman or women receiving only 4 to 6 percent of seed funds. Women-owned companies have also received only 3 percent of total venture investment dollars since 2012. In the early-stage venture phase, women-founded companies who have received venture investments only receive $77 for every $100 that male-owned companies receive, echoing the gender pay gap across industries.

It’s time for the tech industry to put its money where its mouth is. All of this lip service to creating a more woman-friendly work environment is meaningless until women in leadership are supported with the same dollars as male founders and CEOs.

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