Asus software updates were used to spread malware, security group says

Asus’ software update system was hacked and used to distribute malware to about 1 million Windows computers, according to the cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab. The malware was disguised as a “critical” software update, distributed from Asus’ servers, and signed using a real Asus certificate that made it appear to be valid. Details of the hack were first revealed byMotherboard, and Kaspersky plans to release more details at an upcoming conference.

It’s not clear what the hackers were after. However, the hackers did seem to target specific Asus customers: the malware included special instructions for 600 systems, to be identified by specific MAC addresses. Once one of those systems was detected, the update would then install more malicious programs to further compromise the system.

Kaspersky named the attack “ShadowHammer.” This kind of targeting is often associated with espionage attacks by nation states, most notably Stuxnet, which spread widely but did little to no harm on most infected systems.ASUS HAS YET TO COMMENT ON KASPERSKY’S FINDINGS

It doesn’t appear that Asus has contacted customers or taken action to stop the malware. Asus did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and Motherboard said it’s been unable to get a comment from Asus for several days. Asus apparently denied that the malware had come from its servers after being contacted by Kaspersky, then it stopped responding, according to Motherboard.

While the malware could have been distributed to 1 million computers, Kaspersky tells Motherboard that the total PCs that installed it is estimated to be in the “hundreds of thousands.” Kaspersky says 57,000 people using its security software had the malware installed, and Symantec told Motherboard that it identified 13,000 customers with the malware.

Hacking a company’s update system allows malicious actors to breach computers on a wide scale. It hasn’t been done frequently, but the fact that it can be done at all is a huge risk. Work is being done to develop more secure update systems, but for now, companies largely rely on their own solutions.

Ever notice news announcers

…nowadays tend to pronounce the words “latino” or “latina” with as much of a Spanish accent as possible? Ever wonder why they don’t bother over-pronouncing other borrowed words from other languages? No? Never noticed it? Not surprised.

Finland is investigating Nokia phones sending data to China

[Yeah. So this is not a case of paranoia, since Nokia’s parent company admitted to it. Try to catch yourself self-soothing in the face of the news. Try to catch yourself rationalizing claims of surveillance by tech as necessary or false. Heh.]

Finland’s data protection watchdog is investigating Nokia owner HMD over claims its mobiles sent data to Chinese servers. The probe follows a report by Norway’s public broadcaster NRK in which it claimed to have proof that Nokia phones are transmitting sensitive information to China based on a tip from a Nokia owner. The man in question, Henrik Austad, said he’d been monitoring the traffic from his Nokia 7 only to find it was sending unencrypted information to a Chinese server while switched on. The sensitive data reportedly included his location, as well as the SIM card number and the phone’s serial number.

NRK said its own findings indicated the server was under the domain “,” which is reportedly managed by state-owned telecommunications company China Telecom. Finland’s data protection ombudsman Reijo Aarnio told Reuters he would assess whether there were any breaches that involved “personal information and if there has been a legal justification for this.”

Finnish startup HMD Global, which signed a ten-year license with Microsoft for the Nokia brand in 2016, reportedly admitted to NRK that a batch of Nokia 7 phones had sent data to China. It said it had fixed the “error” in a January software update that most customers had installed. HMD claimed the phones didn’t send any personal data that could identify their owners. The Nokia 7 itself is a China exclusive handset launched in October 2017. A second-gen version, the Nokia 7.1, was released in the US a year later.

Pointing to the stricter privacy laws imposed by the EU last year, Aarnio told NRK that his first reaction was “that this can at least be a violation of the GDPR legislation.” Google already fell foul of the guidelines in France earlier this year, where it was hit with a €50 million (about $57 million) fine for its alleged opaque data consent policies.

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Severe security bug found in popular PHP library for creating PDF files

A security researcher has found a severe security flaw in one of the internet’s most popular PHP libraries for creating PDF files.

The vulnerability impacts TCPDF, one of the “big three” PHP libraries –together with mPDF and FPDF– for converting HTML code to PDF docs or assembling PDF files on the fly.

The security flaw can be exploited by an attacker to achieve “remote code execution” on websites and web apps that use the TCPDF library, allowing a threat actor to run malicious code and potentially take over these systems.

The vulnerability, per-se, is actually a variation of another researcher’s discovery.

The initial flaw was found by Secarma researcher Sam Thomas who in a series of experiments showcased a new deserialization bug affecting PHP apps over the summer of 2018. He released a research paper detailing PHP serialization attacks against the WordPress and Typo3 CMS platforms, but also the TCPDF library embedded inside the Contao CMS.


In a blog post published over the weekend, an Italian security researcher who goes online as Polict revealed a new PHP serialization flaw impacting TCPDF in the same way as the one discovered by Thomas last year.

Polict says the vulnerability he found can be exploited in two ways. The first case is on websites that allow user input to be part of the PDF file generation process, such as when adding names or other details inside invoices.

The second is on websites that contain cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerabilities where an attacker can plant malicious code inside the HTML source code that will be fed to the TCPDF library to convert into a PDF.

The trick is to supply malformed data to the TCPDF library. This data is modified in such a way to force the TCPDF library to call the PHP server’s “phar://” stream wrapper, and later abuse the PHP deserialization process to run code on the underlying server.

It’s a very complex attack routine, and it requires advanced PHP coding knowledge to exploit. Deserialization exploits, in general, are hard to uncover and they’re the bane of many programming languages, including Ruby, Java, and .NET –besides PHP.

FLAW FIXED IN V6.2.20… ERM… V6.2.22

The researcher says he reported the vulnerability (CVE-2018-17057) to the TCPDF library author last August. The TCPDF team released TCPDF 6.2.20 in September to address the issue.

However, users should update to at least version 6.2.22 because the TCPDF team accidentally re-introduced the vulnerability reported by Sam Thomas while attempting to patch the one reported by Polict. Both issues were deemed resolved in version 6.2.22.

The Italian security researcher published details about this vulnerability only today, six months after the patch, because of the bug’s severity and to allow website and web app owners enough time to patch.

The TCPDF library is one of today’s most popular PHP libraries and has been used all over the place –in standalone websites, in content management systems (CMSs), CMS plugins, CMS themes, enterprise intranets, CRMs, HRMs, invoicing solutions, many PDF-centered web apps, and others.

Patching isn’t as easy as it sounds. In some cases, this might mean replacing a file and editing a build instruction, but in other places, this might require rewriting large swaths of code.

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Monica Lewinski. How desperate for attention are you, honey?

She’s constantly on the air, trying like hell to stay in the media spotlight, telling her story of how awful it was to be caught in the media spotlight. And you fucking people don’t see how stupid and transparent that is? Or you don’t care, because your viewership is just as fucking stupid and they can’t get enough of it? Christ on a stick, it’s just stupid on the face of it. Go away, Monica. Please. Go. Away.

ATVs taking over the streets and neighborhoods of Nashville, illegally

…and although there are a hundred articles about it, no one seems interested in posing the “why?” question. No one in a single fucking article has even broached it. I mean… what? Is that not the very first, natural question on your mind? Well, um, why the fuck isn’t it?

Ordinarily, when a person uses a vehicle like a weapon against a cop, that person gets shot. I’m not understanding any of this story, either it’s origins or the puzzling ineptitude of law enforcement in the face of it. No one seems to be posing normal, natural questions about it. That’s a red flag in my mind that something is wrong, but until just one journalist asks the one right question and does their fucking job, I guess I’ll be the only one to notice it. I’m not? Then – again – wtf?

Seems like they have the legal right to gun them down if they are destroying property and endangering people. If the police can’t or won’t do what they ought, then the well-armed citizens of Nashville should take it as their duty to shoot these fuckers on sight. What? You gonna lose sleep over an out-of-control and dangerous wild animal being put down? Not. Me.

Some Humans Can Sense Earth’s Magnetic Field, Fascinating Experiment Suggests

The ability to sense the Earth’s magnetic field—a trait known as magnetoreception—is well documented among many animals, but researchers have struggled to show that humans are also capable of the feat. Until now.

New experimental evidence published today in the science journal eNeuro suggests the human brain is capable of responding to the Earth’s magnetic field, though at an unconscious level. It’s not clear if our apparent ability to sense the magnetic field is in any way useful, as it’s likely a vestigial trait left over from our more primitive past. Giving the new finding, however, researchers should investigate further to determine if magnetoreception is somehow contributing to our behavior or abilities, such as spatial orientation.

Magnetoreception is found among both invertebrates and vertebrates, and it’s probably a capacity that’s been around for a very long time. Some bacteria and protozoans exhibit magnetoreception, as do some migratory birds and sea turtles, who use the added sense to assist with navigation. Dogs are also sensitive to the Earth’s magnetic field, orienting their bodies along the North-South axis when they poop.“There is no such thing as ‘extra-sensory perception’. What we have shown is this is a proper sensory system in humans, just like it is in many animals.”

Around 30 years ago, scientists tried to determine if humans have a similar capacity, but to no avail. These pioneering efforts produced results that were either inconclusive or unreproducible, so scientists largely gave up, figuring magnetoreception is something outside the human realm. In the years that followed, work on animals increasingly pointed to magnetoreception as the result of complex neurological processing—a possibility that motivated Caltech geophysicist Joseph Kirschvink and neuroscientist Shin Shimojo to revisit the issue.

“Our approach was to focus on brainwave activity alone,” Kirschvink told Gizmodo. “If the brain is not responding to the magnetic field, then there is no way that the magnetic field can influence someone’s behavior. The brain must first perceive something in order to act on it—there is no such thing as ‘extra-sensory perception.’ What we have shown is this is a proper sensory system in humans, just like it is in many animals.”

To test whether the human brain is capable of magnetoreception, and to do so in a reliable, believable manner, Kirschvink and Shimojo set up a rather elaborate experiment involving a chamber specially designed to filter out any extraneous interference that might influence the results.

The isolated chamber, within which participants had their brainwaves monitored by electroencephalogram (EEG), was housed inside a Faraday Cage, which shielded all interior contents from external electromagnetic fields. Three orthogonal sets of square coils, called Merritt coils, allowed the researchers to control the ambient magnetic fields around a participant’s head. Acoustic panels on the wall reduced external noise from the building, while a wooden chair and isolated floor prevented any unwanted interference with the magnetic coils. A battery-powered EEG was placed next to the participant, which was connected to a computer in another room with an optical fiber cable.

During carefully controlled experiments, participants sat upright in the chair with their heads positioned near the center of the magnetic field, while EEG data was collected from 64 electrodes. The hour-long tests, in which the direction of the magnetic fields were rotated repeatedly, were performed in total darkness. The experiment involved 34 adult volunteers, who collectively participated in hundreds of trials; all tests were done in a double blind manner, and control groups were also included.

After the experiments, none of the participants said they could tell when or if any change to the magnetic field had occurred. But for four of the 34 participants, the EEG data told a different story.

As noted in the new study, the researchers recorded “a strong, specific human brain response” to simulated “rotations of Earth-strength magnetic fields.” Specifically, the magnetic stimulation caused a drop in the amplitude of EEG alpha waves between 8 and 13 Hertz—a response shown to be repeatable among those four participants, even months afterward. Two simple rotations of the magnetic field appeared to trigger the response—movements comparable to a person nodding their head up or down, or turning it from left to right.

The alpha rhythm is the dominant brain wave produced by neurons when individuals aren’t processing any specific sensory information or performing a specific task. When “stimulus is suddenly introduced and processed by the brain, the alpha rhythm generally decreases,” the authors wrote. The drop in alpha waves observed during these experiments suggested the brain interpreted the magnetic fields as some kind of stimulus—the neurological purpose or result of which is unclear. But as the new study pointed out, this observation now “provides a basis to start the behavioral exploration of human magnetoreception.”

The researchers don’t know how the human brain is able to sense magnetic fields, but Kirschvink has a favorite theory. There may be “specialized sensory cells that contain tiny magnetite crystals,” he said, which is currently “the only theory that explains all of the results, and for which there is direct physiological data in animals.” Back in 1992, Kirschvink and his colleagues isolated crystals of biogenic magnetite from human brains, so he may be onto something; other researchers should now dive into this possibility to flesh this idea out.

“Magnetoreception is a normal sensory system in animals, just like vision, hearing, touch, taste, smell, gravity, temperature, and many others,” Kirschvink told Gizmodo. “All of these systems have specific cells that detect the photon, sound wave, or whatever, and send signals from them to the brain, as does a microphone or video camera connected to a computer. But without the software in the computer, the microphone or video camera will not work. We are saying that human neurophysiology evolved with a magnetometer—most likely based on magnetite—and the brain has extensive software to process the signals.”

Looking ahead, Kirschvink would like to better understand the biophysics of this capacity, including measuring threshold sensitives. Shimojo believes it might be possible to bring magnetoreception into conscious awareness, a possibility that could spawn entirely new directions of research. Imagine, for example, if future humans had a built-in compass, allowing them to sense magnetic north.

Michael Winklhofer from the Institute of Biology and Environmental Sciences at Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg, liked the new study, saying the authors “did everything to rule out artifacts [noise] which could easily occur during recording electrical brain activity in a changing magnetic field.” Also, the description of the setup and methods was so detailed that the study can be easily replicated, he said.

“For the first time in humans, clear responses to magnetic field changes were observed. Even though the magnetic field was not consciously perceived in the test persons that showed brain responses to the field, the study invites [other scientists] to follow up research to understand the mechanism by which the magnetic field elicits neuronal activity,” Winklhofer told Gizmodo.

Biologist Kenneth J. Lohmann from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said it was a “fascinating and provocative study.” Given that “a number of other animals can sense Earth’s magnetic field, it is certainly within the realm of possibility that humans can as well,” he told Gizmodo. That said, he believed the results should be interpreted with “great caution.”

“It is one thing to find a subtle change in brain activity in response to a weak magnetic field, and another thing to show that people really detect and use magnetic field information in a meaningful way,” said Lohmann.

Indeed, for now we’ll have to be content with the observation that human brains can detect magnetic waves, and leave it at that. Researchers will now have to figure out why human magnetoreception exists, and if this capacity somehow extends to our behavior. Regardless, we can look forward to some exciting new science in the future.

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Health care for all

They say that it could cost 30 trillion dollars to provide basic health care for free to all American citizens. They also say that the health care system we have will cost us 50 trillion, but I’m not canny enough on the numbers and nuances to make sense of the matter that way.

My question is whether you, personally, are willing to stand up and say, “You are not my kin, or friend, and I don’t mind that sickness, privation, and early death await you if I even suspect that my own way of life or creature comforts are threatened to any degree, or indeed, even if I suspect as much without any real understanding of what costs or benefits may actually accrue to me and mine personally from such a change to the status quo.”

You pretty much have to be a total douchebag to hold that position, and it’s also fairly transparently douchey. Inhuman, actually. But this is the position you pretty much must be holding, America. It’s just logical consequence. It’s what precipitates out of the collective behavior; manifest.

James Gunn reinstated to helm Guardians of the Galaxy 3

Told you so, bitches. Feckless, fearful execs stepped on their dicks trying to separate from Gunn, but they received blowback from cast members (ones with character, similarly unencumbered by the fear of being politically incorrect), fans, and anyone with any fucking sense. They never talked to anyone else about the job. They probably knew right away they would have to hire him back if they wanted to wring more money out of that franchise. They waited until the heat was focused elsewhere, then did what they had to do. I told you so, but more importantly, what is right never actually goes out of style, and it was never right to fire him. I’m glad. Guardians 2 was a genuine work of art masquerading as a mere pop-culture bauble.

Don’t be afraid to stand up to the Morality Police. Gunn didn’t stand up for himself, but he did make a great movie. That means I respect him as a movie-maker and not so much as a man, but I’ll still call this a win. Go ahead and hate Disney’s decision. I can’t enjoy it properly if you don’t hate them for it.

The People Who Hated the Web Even Before Facebook

Thirty years ago this week, the British scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web at CERN, the European scientific-research center. Suffice it to say, the idea took off. The web made it easy for everyday people to create and link together pages on what was then a small network. The programming language was simple, and publishing was as painless as uploading something to a server with a few tags in it.

There was real and democratic and liberatory potential, and so it’s not at all surprising that people—not least Berners-Lee himself—are choosing to remember and celebrate this era. This was the time before social media and FAANG supremacy and platform capitalism, when the internet was not nearly as dependent on surveillance and advertising as it is now. Attention was more widely distributed. The web broke the broadcast and print media’s hold on the distribution of stories. HTML felt like a revolution.

Not to everyone, though. Just a few years after the internet’s creation, a vociferous set of critics—most notably in Resisting the Virtual Life, a 1995 anthology published by City Lights Books—rose to challenge the ideas that underlay the technology, as previous groups had done with other, earlier technologies. This wasn’t the humbuggery of Clifford Stoll’s Newsweek essay arguing that the internet basically sucked. These were deeper criticisms about the kind of society that was building the internet, and how the dominant values of that culture, once encoded into the network, would generate new forms of oppression and suffering, at home and abroad.

Resisting the Virtual Life assails “the new machinery of domination,” contemplates an “ungovernable world,” considers the discriminatory possibilities of data harvesting, catalogs the unfairness of gender online, examines the “masculinist world of software engineers,” laments the “reduction of public space,” speculates on “the shape of truth to come,” and even proposes a democratic way forward. Its essays foresaw the economic instability the internet might bring, how “the cult of the boy engineer” would come to pervade everyone’s life, and the implications of the creation of huge amounts of personal data for corporate processing. “What could go wrong with the web?” the authors asked. The answer they found was: A lot. They called themselves “the resistance.”

This was before Jeff Bezos was the richest man in the world. It was before Facebook, before the iPhone, before Web 2.0, before Google went public, before the dot-com bust, before the dot-com bubble, before almost anyone outside Finland textedEighteen million American homes were “online” in the sense that they had America Online, Prodigy, or CompuServe, but according to the Pew Research Center, only 3 percent had ever seen the webAmazon, eBay, and Craigslist had just launched. But the critiques in Resisting the Virtual Lifeare now commonplace. You hear them about FacebookAmazonGoogleApple, the venture-backed start-up ecosystemartificial intelligenceself-driving cars—even though the internet of 1995 bears almost no resemblance, technically or institutionally, to the internet of 2019.

Maybe as a major technological movement begins to accelerate—but before its language, corporate power, and political economics begin to warp reality—a brief moment occurs when critics see the full and awful potential of whatever’s coming into the world. No, the new technology will not bring better living (at least not only that). There will be losers. Oppression will worm its way into even the most seemingly liberating spaces. The noncommercial will become hooked to a vast profit machine. People of color will be discriminated against in new ways. Women will have new labors on top of the old ones. The horror-show recombination of old systems and cultures with new technological surfaces and innards is visible, like the half-destroyed robot face of Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2.

Then, if money and people really start to pour into the technology, the resistance will be swept away, left dusty and coughing as what gets called progress rushes on.

In the post-2016 world of the left, socialism is back and computers are bad. But computers have been bad before, and, not coincidentally, when various socialisms were popular.

Long before the internet and Resisting the Virtual Life, people fought the very idea of computers—mainframes, initially—beginning with the 1960s student movements. It wasn’t pure Luddism; computers were, quite literally, war machines. At Stanford, then a hotbed of radicalism, students staged sit-ins and occupied administration buildings. Even as the Vietnam War ebbed, many on the left worried that technology in the form of computerization and automation was destroying working-class jobs, helping bosses crush unions, and making work life worse for those who remained employed.

But as the 1970s crept into the 1980s, some of the military-industrial stank began to rub off. A computer that spit out Vietnam War predictions for Robert McNamara was one thing, but what about a network of computers that let anyone wander a digital frontier, associating with whomever they wanted beyond national borders or established identities? The meaning of networked computing began to change. These 1s and 0s could be bent to freedom.

“To a generation that had grown up in a world beset by massive armies and by the threat of nuclear holocaust, the cybernetic notion of the globe as a single, interlinked pattern of information was deeply comforting: in the invisible play of information, many thought they could see the possibility of global harmony,” wrote Fred Turner in From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism.

Turner’s book begins with a question: “How did the cultural meaning of information technology shift so drastically” from the Vietnam War protest days to the beginning of the dot-com boom? And his answer is that a set of figures in the Bay Area, led by Stewart Brand, who founded the Whole Earth Catalog, transformed the notion of computers from military-industrial infrastructure to personal tool through the 1970s.

Brand positioned these technologies as boons not for bureaucrats calculating missile trajectories, but more for hacker-freaks planning winning video-game maneuvers. In Rolling Stone, he declared the arrival of computing “good news, maybe the best since psychedelics.”

It helped that the United States had entered a period the historian Daniel Rodgers has called “the age of fracture.” American institutions, collectivities, and solidarities broke down in favor of a wildly individualist model of consumer action. “One heard less about society, history, and power and more about individuals, contingency, and choice,” Rodgers wrote. “The importance of economic institutions gave way to notions of flexible and instantly acting markets.”

The world was a place for individuals to make choices, and what they needed to make better choices was more information. Information was stored in computers, and therefore, networking individual people to one another would lead to new forms of collective action.

Apple and its charismatic salesman Steve Jobs were there to commercialize this new idea of the computer. Liberal technology enthusiasts such as Al Gore and conservative technology enthusiasts such as Newt Gingrich joined the movement to create a new consensus that the only role of government in the industry would be to create an environment friendly to the development of internet businesses and niche communities alike.

So when Berners-Lee wrote his 1989 proposal for the web, the world was ready. Tellingly, an institutional breakdown motivated his desire for a hypertext system. People kept leaving CERN and taking information with them. Organizational memory was lacking. At the same time, systems for creating that memory required that people agree to certain hierarchies of information and keyword taxonomies, which they were loathe to do. His answer to this problem became a radically individual one: Anyone could create a page and link to anything. Get enough people doing so, and the flywheel of content creation would keep spinning. No institutions required. No holds barred. This was personal freedom, as implemented in a network protocol.

The internet’s early proponents saw all this potential. They gushed in the pages of Wired, headquartered south of Market Street, in San Francisco, long a down-and-out part of town. But across Market and up Columbus Avenue, in the heart of North Beach, where aging beatniks still had some small purchase, the poets and writers of City Lights Bookstore were not swayed.

“There are alternatives to the capitalist utopia of total communication, suppressed class struggle, and ever-increasing profits and control that forgets rather than resolves the central problems of our society,” wrote James Brook and Iain Boal, the editors of Resisting the Virtual Life. Those problems were obvious: “people sorted into enclaves and ghettos, growing class and racial antagonisms, declining public services (including schools, libraries, and transportation), unemployment caused by automation and wandering capital, and so on.”

And yet, for most people, the personal computer and the emerging internet obscured the underlying structural forces of society. “‘Personal’ computers and CD-ROMs circulate as fetishes for worshipers of ‘the free market’ and ‘the free flow of information,’” Brook and Boal wrote.

They knew they were up against “much—one could say ‘everything’—” in trying to assemble the resistance to the explosion of the internet. But their goal was not necessarily to win, but rather to “address an almost unnameable object—‘information age,’ ‘information superhighway,’ ‘cyberspace,’ ‘virtuality,’ and the proliferating variants—from a critical democratic perspective.”

It’s almost like they wanted to mark for future generations that there were people—all kinds of different people—who saw the problems. “Resisting the Virtual Life intends to provide correctives more profound than those generated by the cybernetic feedback mechanisms of ‘the marketplace of ideas,’” the editors wrote, “where scandalous defects are always answered by pseudocritiques that assure us that all is well, except for the inevitable bugs that the system itself will fix.”

The essays in the book are uneven, as you might expect. But some of them are stunningly prescient. In “It’s the Discrimination, Stupid!” which reads as a prequel to 2018’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, the University of Southern California professor Oscar H. Gandy Jr. argues that “personal information is used to determine our life changes in our role as citizens as well as in our lives as employees and consumers.” In a powerful reflection on the landscape of Silicon Valley, Rebecca Solnit concludes that, as a place, it is a nowhere, but one linked by supply chains to changes across the globe. The University of California at San Diego communications professor and media critic Herbert Schiller points out how the internet could reduce the power of nation-states, weakening them while transnational corporations grow stronger. Could electronically enhanced armies hold the people down, he writes, “while privately initiated economic forces are contributing to wildly disproportionate income distribution and gravely distorted resource utilization, locally and globally?”

And Ellen Ullman, who has continued to critique the tech world from the inside, might have made the most perfect critique of how the human desire for convenience would rule how technology was seen. “The computer is about to enter our lives like blood in the capillaries,” she wrote. “Soon, everywhere we look, we will see pretty, idiot-proof interfaces designed to make us say, ‘OK.’”

The on-demand economy would rule. “We don’t need to involve anyone else in the satisfaction of our needs,” she wrote. “We don’t even have to talk.” Smuggled inside these programs would be “the cult of the boy engineer,” “alone, out-of-time, disdainful of anyone far from the machine.”

If these critics from another era seem to have cataloged all that could go wrong, they also had a sense that things could go differently. The writer and historian Chris Carlsson, for example, saw hope in the organizing potential of online communities. “The threads of subversion we weave so quietly today must find their way to transform the self-destructive, brutal, and dehumanizing lives we lead at work, at school, and in the streets,” he wrote. “The trust we place in electronic links must again find a common home among our social links, until electronic ‘experiences’ take their rightful place as supplements to a rich, varied human life.”

Then again, he acknowledged that “it’s easier to imagine a lot of empty pointless verbiage flying around the electronic world, matched only by the piles of data gathered by our corporate and governmental institutions.”

Since the 2016 election—both its course and its outcome—Americans have been engaged in a newfound struggle to understand how the internet has changed their country and the world. It’s simply not possible to celebrate the birth of the web without acknowledging that the cyber-utopia never arrived. Look at many tech titans’ behavior over the past few years and you will see both scandalous defects as well as “pseudocritques that assure us all is well.”

In this long moment of reevaluation, the industry and its products have come under attack from almost every angle: inside and outside, local and global, economic and social, legislative and rhetorical, capitalist and socialist. That hasn’t stopped the profits from raining down. The biggest tech companies are among the top 10 most valuable companies in the world. According to one ranking of brand equity, the four strongest brands in the world are Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. But once the consensus dropped away that internet technology was equal to progress, people inside and outside the industry found an unending fount of questionable practices. People treat their phone as they once did cigarettes.

As diagnoses are reached and suggestions made, these early critiques are worth remembering precisely to inoculate against the nostalgia for an earlier time. The seeds of our current technologically mediated problems were obvious to critics with the eyes to see them in 1995.

Examining the history of the web might yield a better internet in the future, but not by looking only at what we loved about the early days. The premises of the early web—valorizing individual choice, maximalist free speech, and dispersed virtual networks; ignoring institutional power and traditional politics—might require revision to build a new, prosocial web.

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