So far, the shockwaves from the Ashley Madison hack have been muted. Though the details of more than 30 million users of the website for extramarital affairs have had their data dumped online, celebrity adulterers have not been outed en masse, and it’s too soon to know if it will endanger millions of marriages or thousands of military jobs. It’s possible, as one commentator argued, that “millions of lives may be about to change profoundly.” But what if they don’t?
Given the staggering number of huge and very public data hacks to date, it seems implausible that one more—even as devastating as this one—will halt or even slow the accelerating digitization of our lives. More couples may now decide (or be forced) to discuss a non-monogamous relationship; but that would just speed up a shift in social mores that’s already happening.
Perhaps what the hack does most of all is reinforce the argument that laws and systems that sharply distinguish “public” from “private” are out of date. In a world where anything can become public, some say, we’re replacing the technical lack of privacy with an implicit social contract. It says, in essence, that just because something about you is knowable doesn’t mean it’s fair game. New social rules govern how public knowledge should be used and interpreted.
In this framework, “private” no longer means “secret,” but “personal.” If someone’s use of Ashley Madison becomes public, it’s still nobody’s business but theirs and their partner’s. And perhaps some partners will prefer not to know. With smartphones ubiquitous, you can probably already read your spouse’s email or text messages with little effort—and you probably choose not to. You might equally choose not to check the Ashley Madison data dump. A relationship relies on good faith. That means trusting your partner not only not to cheat, but not to pry.—Gideon Lichfield
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The Tianjin explosion exposed the rot at China’s core. The gigantic blast in a chemicals warehouse showed that two years after president Xi Jinping began his anti-corruption drive, “in some places business in China is still being done exactly the same way it was before he took office.” Heather Timmons and Zheping Huang dissect the connections that allowed the warehouse owners to skirt the safety regulations.
The world’s new literary cult hero. Brazil’s Clarice Lispector died in 1977, but a new English translation is the first single collection of all her short stories in any language. And it’s setting the literary world on fire. Thu-Huong Hua profiles the woman who “looked like Marlene Dietrich and wrote like Virginia Woolf”, yet whose air of glamor concealed a desperate unease.
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AT&T, handmaiden of spies. Working off documents leaked by ex-National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden is still being analyzed, ProPublica and the New York Times show that AT&T, among all the US telcos, was exceptionally cooperative in handing over internet data en masse to the NSA. A reminder that Snowden’s vast trove is still far from exhausted.
How to teach real-estate lore to computers. Airbnb developed an algorithm to help its users figure out what to charge to rent out their homes. Dan Hill, Airbnb’s product lead, gives a revealing look on IEEE Spectrum at the process the company went through, complete with trials and errors, to figure out which of countless criteria should determine what a rental is worth.
Did Google decide India’s election? Psychologist Dan Epstein describes in Politico magazine a series of experiments, including one on Indian voters in the 2014 general election, which found that voting preferences were swayed—often hugely—by how search engines ranked results for each candidate. He argues that Google has the power, either deliberate or due to unwitting algorithm bias, to set the outcome of any election in the world.
The scientific method for love. Eve Fairbanks profiles John Gottman and Julie Schwartz, the couple who have devised what claims to be the nearest thing to a scientific formula for making marriage work. And she tries the method for herself. And comes away cautiously impressed.
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