Bookmarked Opinion | Don’t Go Down the Rabbit Hole by Charlie Warzel (nytimes.com)

Critical thinking, as we’re taught to do it, isn’t helping in the fight against misinformation.

Warzel profiles Mike Caulfield and his work with four moves and SIFT.

SIFT has its limits. It’s designed for casual news consumers, not experts or those attempting to do deep research. A reporter working on an investigative story or trying to synthesize complex information will have to go deep. But for someone just trying to figure out a basic fact, it’s helpful not to get bogged down. “We’ve been trained to think that Googling or just checking one resource we trust is almost like cheating,” he said. “But when people search Google, the best results may not always be first, but the good information is usually near the top. Often you see a pattern in the links of a consensus that’s been formed. But deeper into the process, it often gets weirder. It’s important to know when to stop.”

It is interesting to think about this alongside pieces from Tim Harford and Edward Snowden which both emphasise the importance of curiosity. Caulfield is not against curiousity, but instead about not being pulled down the rabbit hole.

That natural human mind-set is a liability in an attention economy. It allows grifters, conspiracy theorists, trolls and savvy attention hijackers to take advantage of us and steal our focus. “Whenever you give your attention to a bad actor, you allow them to steal your attention from better treatments of an issue, and give them the opportunity to warp your perspective,” Mr. Caulfield wrote.

Liked Is QAnon the Most Dangerous Conspiracy Theory of the 21st Century? by Charlie Warzel (New York Times)

In a classical game or story you have a very distinct difference between those writing or designing and those playing. With QAnon you have this figure [Q] who has a stable identity and plants the seed frequently. But there’s just so many theories involved in the greater QAnon universe that are only tangentially related to the figure of Q. And you see this — QAnon has absorbed every other conspiracy theory. What would happen if Q stopped posting content forever? Would it die out? Maybe. But maybe not. And the reason it’s unclear is because so many people in the community have essentially built out their own theories and story lines and generated their own massive followings.

Liked Opinion | Twelve Million Phones, One Dataset, Zero Privacy (nytimes.com)

What we learned from the spy in your pocket.

Stuart Thompson and Charlie Warzel dig into the location data scrapped by apps and smartphones. To explain the systemic surveillance that we are all a part of, they unpack a single data source from a location data company.

The data reviewed by Times Opinion didn’t come from a telecom or giant tech company, nor did it come from a governmental surveillance operation. It originated from a location data company, one of dozens quietly collecting precise movements using software slipped onto mobile phone apps. You’ve probably never heard of most of the companies — and yet to anyone who has access to this data, your life is an open book. They can see the places you go every moment of the day, whom you meet with or spend the night with, where you pray, whether you visit a methadone clinic, a psychiatrist’s office or a massage parlor.

This information is often used in cc combination with other data points to create a shadow profile.

As revealing as our searches of Washington were, we were relying on just one slice of data, sourced from one company, focused on one city, covering less than one year. Location data companies collect orders of magnitude more information every day than the totality of what Times Opinion received.

Until governments step in to curb such practices, we need to be a little more paranoid , as Kara Swisher suggests. While John Naughton wonders how the west is any different to China?

It throws an interesting light on western concerns about China. The main difference between there and the US, it seems, is that in China it’s the state that does the surveillance, whereas in the US it’s the corporate sector that conducts it – with the tacit connivance of a state that declines to control it. So maybe those of us in glass houses ought not to throw so many stones.

Another example such supports Naughton’s point is presented by the Washington Post which reported on how some colleges have taken to using smartphones to track student movements.

Liked Opinion | The Last Apple Keynote (Let’s Hope) (nytimes.com)

The evolution of the Apple keynote is understandable. Apple is a global company that changed computing by putting little ones in all our pockets. Their new phones are big deals by virtue of the fact that they’ve sold more than 2.2 billion iOS devices since their debut in 2007. iPhones changed how we communicate with one another and seek information; they’ve addicted us, tethering us to our jobs and helping us feel both attached to and alienated from one another. So it makes sense that we pay attention when the company dreams up a new iteration. Plus, they’re exceedingly shiny and the cameras can turn any point-and-click amateur taking photos of their goofy dog (me!) into Annie Leibovitz.