Bookmarked Opinion | We Need to Take Back Our Privacy by Zeynep Tufekci (

In a post-Roe America, women will bear the costs of letting data collection undermine our liberty.

With the proposed changes to the right to abortion in United States, Zeynep Tufekci explains how we need take back our privacy. She provides a number of examples of data uses associated with Grindr, Uber and phone companies, highlighting the limits associated with de-anonymised data.

In 2020, Consumer Reports exposed that GoodRX, a popular drug discount and coupons service, was selling information on what medications people were searching or buying to Facebook, Google and other data marketing firms. GoodRX said it would stop, but there is no law against them, or any pharmacy, doing this.

That data becomes even more powerful whenmerged. A woman who regularly eats sushi and suddenly stops, or stops taking Pepto-Bismol, or starts taking vitamin B6 may be easily identified as someone following guidelines for pregnancy. If that woman doesn’t give birth she might find herself being questioned by the police, who may think she had an abortion. (Already, in some places, women who seek medical help after miscarriages have reported questioning to this effect.)

When Tufekci says ‘we’, she is talking about more than personal action, but rather collective change through law. She highlights how attempts to turn off location settings, use a burner phone or stay away from big tech are fraught, and explains how we need more systemic change.

Congress, and states, should restrict or ban the collection of many types of data, especially those used solely for tracking, and limit how long data can be retained for necessary functions — like getting directions on a phone.

Selling, trading and merging personal data should be restricted or outlawed. Law enforcement could obtain it subject to specific judicial oversight.

Sadly, as she demonstrates with the example of Louis Brandeis in 1890 responding to Kodak camera small enough to carry and loaded with 100 shots, calls to protect privacy are not new.

It is interesting to think of this in regards to discussions around digital forgetting and the idea of a hypocratic oath. I guess Tufekci’s point is that maybe some things should not be ‘remembered’ in the first place. Often we worry about the threat of cyber attacks when it could be said the greatest fear is often in plain sight.

Bookmarked Opinion | Where Did the Coronavirus Come From? What We Already Know Is Troubling. by Zeynep Tufekci (

Despite the current dissembling, we should assume that the Chinese government also doesn’t want to go through this again — especially given that SARS, too, started there.

This means putting the public interest before personal ambitions and acknowledging that despite the wonders of its power, biomedical research also holds dangers.

To do this, government officials and scientists need to look at the big picture: Seek comity and truth instead of just avoiding embarrassment. Develop a framework that goes beyond blaming China, since the issues raised are truly global. And realize that the next big thing can simply mean taking great care with a lot of small details.

Zeynep Tufekci brings together everything that we know about viruses both past and present, explaining that even if COVID19 did not leak from a lab, that we need to learn from the current situation to make changes to the way we work within such spaces.

One key lesson I came away after this many months of research has been that we were due for a coronavirus pandemic—one way or another. We may not know what that way has been, but we can still try to prevent all the potential ways we’ve learned about. And that is more important than anything else.

Liked We Need To Get Real About How the Pandemic Will End by zeynep (Insight)

If you look at a chart of deaths from AIDS, one of the greatest moral stains from our history jumps out. More people died of AIDS after we got the triple combination drug in 1995 that turned HIV into a chronic condition for those who had access to it—but almost all the deaths happened outside the few wealthy countries that could afford it. Not until the mid-2000s, following much loss and activism, campaigns and pressure, did things finally change and drug access expand.

It should be unthinkable to repeat such a scenario, but here we are.

Bookmarked The Clubhouse App and the Rise of Oral Psychodynamics by zeynep (Insight)

Oral culture is not suited to certain kinds of knowledge accumulation and legibility of the world, some of which is necessary to hold our institutions together. And this underappreciated transition is certainly one big reason for the current tension in this historic transition: because of technology, oral psychodynamics have broken through at scale, and we are trying to manage them with institutions that operate solely through an within print/written culture. And that cannot, will not, hold without adjustment.

Zeynep Tufekci approaches Clubhouse from the perspective of oral culture. This reminds me of David Crystal’s discussion of language and the internet.

The Internet is essentially text-based at present, but, Crystal suggests, we can easily imagine speech becoming progressively more important as speech production and recognition techniques progress.

Liked The GameStop Mess Shows That the Internet Is Rigged Too by Zeynep Tufekci (

The social contract is broken, and that’s why the game feels rigged. Right now, especially in countries like the United States, many of the largest, most profitable companies play the legal-tax-evasion game to the point that they are sitting on hundreds of billions of dollars in cash. (Apple alone has cash reserves that hover around $200 billion. Similarly, both Microsoft and Alphabet/Google have more than $100 billion in their cash pile.) These stockpiles are humongous and the companies are not productively investing them—by building something, or by paying people—so the money all goes back into the stock market. When there is such concentrated wealth, many assets—from stocks to Picasso paintings—appreciate. Such disproportionate investment in speculative or nonproductive assets, coupled with the lack of investment in things that make society work better for more people, like education and health care, further break the social contract.

Liked Why You Should Take Any Vaccine by zeynep (Insight)

Based on the existing data, and to the best of my understanding of having read every paper, authorization application and preprint on the efficacy of these vaccines, I can, without a hesitation, say that of the ones I know are being considered in various places in the US, UK and Europe—Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech, J&J, Oxford/AstraZeneca, Novavax—I would be happy with receiving *any* of them. I would easily recommend *any* of them to anyone I know, whatever they were offered. (I have not yet read the Sputnik paper, but the numbers look excellent. I know there are issues of trust there, but I don’t have any a priori reason to think that it also wouldn’t work well). If we were to find real efficacy differences, we’d give the higher efficacy ones to the elderly (whose immune systems tend to work less well). But, as a country, and as the world, as things stand, all of these vaccines will do the job of eventually getting us out of this pandemic—once enough people are vaccinated.

Liked So What About That (Self)-Coup? by zeynep (Insight)

This clearly wasn’t just politics as usual, and not because of the mob that took over the Capitol. This was a trial run for a self-coup that could very well be tried in the future. An overwhelming majority of the GOP representatives in the house spent the day in lock-down and came back and promptly voted to overturn the election. In a future scenario where the election had come down to PA—for example if Joe Biden hadn’t very very narrowly won Georgia and Arizona by a total of about 23,127 votes out of total of about hundred-and-fifty million cast, or if Trump hadn’t just contributed to the loss of two senate seats in Georgia for the GOP, and thus the loss of the control of the Senate. It’s absolutely plausible to me that even more Republicans would have joined this blatant attempt to overturn the election and that their base would mostly have been fine with that. The (self)-coup train wasn’t something that was just for show; it just wasn’t close enough to work this time.

Liked Against Nostalgia by zeynep (Insight)

Until we call out the ridiculousness when it appears, until we recognize exactly how broken things are we may be falling into the trap of longing for nostalgia. For a past we can return to where the problems we have didn’t exist. Or, we can recognize that nostalgia is fed from exactly the dynamic that got us to this thorny moment in the first place: the denial of our broken social contract, and institutions and rituals that were performatively there, the way the debate was, but no longer providing the function that was the stated reason for their existence in the first place.

Liked On Randomized Trials and Medicine by zeynep (Insight)

In reality, while opposing masks has now become an ideological component of pandemic-denialism, some the problems I outline above permeate not just supporters of this president, but much of Western medical establishment as well. This is also why the instruction to “just follow the science” isn’t enough to address this pandemic. Yes, we should absolutely follow the science, but here’s the awful truth: we do not have a “science” that is fully up to the challenge, especially when it comes to understanding the intersection between human behavior and the pandemic, and the many complications and twists of the failings of our expert communities and how they relate to society. That task remains ahead of us.

Zeynep Tufekci explains why just ‘following the science’ is not enough. A part of the problem are the limitations to what can be measured when it comes to randomized trials.

The demand for a randomized trial proving the benefits to mask-wearers rests on one of the most important but least understood facts about why we started recommending masks in the first place: to prevent disease transmission to others. Mask-wearing is not an individual benefit, it’s a community benefit. Further, this discussion reveals some of the underlying reasons for our feeble response to this pandemic: reasons that go beyond the obvious and many failures of the OUTGOING (!) administration.
To have a proper study for masks for source-control, we’d need to enroll communities and do a cluster randomized study—comparing communities, not just individuals. That is both difficult and also with much less explanatory power than one would hope since pathogen is also overdispersed: some people get hit badly by the disease just by chance. That makes causal inference harder.

Liked The Real Hunter Biden Story Everyone is Missing by zeynep (Insight)

In the 20th century, it is attention, not speech, that is restricted and of limited quantity that the gatekeepers can control and allocate. In the digital age, especially in countries like ours, there is no effective way of stopping people from publishing or talking about this story through traditional censorship—but there are many ways to regulate how much attention it gets.

This is an especially important consideration in the weeks leading up to a presidential election, with so little time left to allocate our attention to important questions. Given the decreasing time available, what are the important questions, and how much attention should they get, and how?

Liked K: The Overlooked Variable That's Driving the Pandemic (The Atlantic)

In study after study, we see that super-spreading clusters of COVID-19 almost overwhelmingly occur in poorly ventilated, indoor environments where many people congregate over time—weddings, churches, choirs, gyms, funerals, restaurants, and such—especially when there is loud talking or singing without masks.

Bookmarked How Zeynep Tufekci Keeps Getting the Big Things Right by Ben Smith (New York Times)

In 2011, she went against the current to say the case for Twitter as a driver of broad social movements had been oversimplified. In 2012, she warned news media outlets that their coverage of school shootings could inspire more. In 2013, she argued that Facebook could fuel ethnic cleansing. In 2017, she warned that YouTube’s recommendation algorithm could be used as a tool of radicalization.

And when it came to the pandemic, she sounded the alarm early while also fighting to keep parks and beaches open.

Ben Smith profiles Zeynep Tufekci and her work on documenting the coronavirus. In an introduction to a new venture, Insight, Tufekci reflects on this and her work as a ‘technosociologist’:

I’ve always had difficulty describing my work. About a decade ago, I made up a name to describe my then-emerging field: “technosociology.” I thought the term would help cut through the confusion. Normally when I told people that I studied technology and society, they assumed that I was working on user interfaces or something like that—especially after they’d learned I had studied and worked as a computer programmer before switching to sociology. No, no, I’d say. Technology interacts with the fabric of society. It’s not just about the code or the pixels. Technology is related to it all

Bookmarked So Many Coronavirus Patients Don’t Get to Say Goodbye (The Atlantic)

That dying alone has been normalized, as if it were a small matter, is frightening and inhuman. The panic of the early days of the crisis could be seen as a temporary, terrible compromise. Since then, though, airlines have been bailed out to the tune of many billions of dollars, while there has been no rush to build more negative-pressure rooms, designed to circulate air out, at hospitals, which would allow for much safer visits. We still haven’t developed the infection-control protocols for visitors and built up supplies of personal protective equipment in ways that would avoid the need to completely isolate patients in the days and months ahead.

Even without all the wisdom of the ages, it takes a special kind of inattention to human suffering to not notice how unfortunate this is, that people have been left to face death alone. Some have come to fear dying alone more than the coronavirus itself.

Zeynep Tufekci reflects on dying and how many are currently being forced to say goodbye via video or not at all. Tracing death through history, she talks about the importance of the last words. This leads to her own experience of last conversation and its place within the grieving process. With so much being spent on saving other areas of society, such as bailing out airlines, when are they going to do something to allow people to properly say goodbye?

Personally speaking, I found it hard enough watching my mother pass. However, I am not sure how I would have been without those opportunities and last words. It is an important issue, especially if a vaccine is not found.

Bookmarked Do Protests Even Work? (The Atlantic)

Movements, and their protests, are powerful because they change the minds of people, including those who may not even be participating in them, and they change the lives of their participants.

In the long term, protests work because they can undermine the most important pillar of power: legitimacy.

Zeynep Tufekci explores the potential of protests to challenge the legitimacy of those in power. As she explains, what would have taken years to coordinate in the past can now be organised in days with apps and digital platforms. This lack of friction can subsequently dilute the impact of such movements. However, what can make a protest more pertinent is the level of risk associated with it. As Tufekci highlights with the current situation in America.

The current Black Lives Matter protest wave is definitely high risk through the double whammy of the pandemic and the police response. The police, the entity being protested, have unleashed so much brutality that in just three weeks, at least eight people have already lost eyesight to rubber bullets. One Twitter thread dedicated to documenting violent police misconduct is at 600 entries and counting. And nobody seems safe—not even a 75-year-old avowed peacenik who was merely in the way of a line of cops when he was shoved so violently that he fell and cracked his skull. Chillingly, the police walked on as he bled on the ground. After the video came out to widespread outrage, and the two police officers who shoved him were suspended, their fellow officers on the active emergency-response team resigned to support their colleagues. Plus the pandemic means that protesters who march in crowds, face tear gas, and risk jail and detention in crowded settings are taking even more risks than usual.

The challenge with any protest is the fear repression. This is what stopped the Chinese protests in 1989 and the Egyptian protests in 2013. However, such measures have their limits.

Force and repression can keep things under control for a while, but it also makes such rule more brittle.

The challenge to power and repression is overcome by changing the culture and conversation. This is required to undermine the legitimacy.

Legitimacy, not repression, is the bedrock of resilient power.

This is why Anne Helen Petersen argues that small protests in small towns matter because there have been a lot of them, therefore the bedrock is crumbling.

Rebecca Solnit uses the metaphor of a waterfall to describe such change:

The metaphor of the river of time is often used to suggest that history flows at a steady pace, but real rivers have rapids and shallows, eddies and droughts. They freeze over and get dammed and their water gets diverted. And sometimes the river comes to the precipice and we’re all in the waterfall. Time accelerates, things change faster than anyone expected, water clear as glass becomes churning whitewater, what was thought to be impossible or the work of years is accomplished in a flash

When they are a consensus idea, that’s the end of the insurrection, or the waterfall, and politicians are smoothing things over and people have accepted the idea that they at first resisted, whether it’s the abolition of slavery or the right to marriage equality

Although she suggests there are groups who deserve credit for escalating the current situation.

One more group deserves credit for the present moment: the police. They themselves have made a fantastic case for defunding or abolition—at least as they currently exist. Nationwide, with the whole world watching, these civil servants showed they use public funds to brutalize, murder, and deny the constitutional rights of members of that public. One might imagine they’d have wanted to be careful in the wake of the Floyd murder, but they went on a spectacular display of their own sense of immunity by—well, shooting out the eyes of eight people with “sublethal” weapons, managing to blind a photojournalist in one eye; attacking and arresting dozens of members of the media at work, especially nonwhite ones; San Jose police shooting their own anti-bias trainer in the testicles; knocking over an old man who’s still in critical condition as a result (yeah the one Trump theorized must be Antifa); teargassing children; pointing weapons at other small children; and generally showing us that the only people the police protect are the police. They struck the match that lit the bonfire. Because they thought they could not themselves burn, and that they were indispensable. They’re wrong on both counts.

The Black Lives Matter movement itself has been building since 2013.

However, as Stan Grant highlights in regards to the recognition of Australia’s indigenous people in the consitution, such success can be a long time coming. This is something Doug Belshaw touches on in his reading of Guy Debord’s Comments on the Society of the Spectacle

Here is the problem for the person, or group of people, wishing to smash the spectacle, to dismantle it, to take it apart. It must be done in one go, rather than piecemeal. Otherwise, the spectacle has too much capacity to self-repair.

Liked I Can’t Breathe: Braving Tear Gas in a Pandemic (The Atlantic)

And that’s the most remarkable part of these protests, now in their second sustained week nationwide. It’s not that the protesters are unaware of the risks; it’s that they are out there in spite of these risks, to say that black lives matter. Eric Garner couldn’t breathe. George Floyd couldn’t breathe. And now, by showing up day after day, even amid a widespread crackdown, the protesters are facing the risk of not just the tear gas that will cut off their breath, but also the very disease whose hallmark is dyspnea, the inability to breathe.

Bookmarked How Hong Kong Did It (The Atlantic)

The people of Hong Kong know who’s actually behind the city’s success. A recent poll of 23 nations found that Hong Kong came in third-lowest in citizens’ scoring of their government’s handling of the crisis. They know their reality is difficult, but they also refuse to surrender to despair.

There’s a lesson here, as the United States deals with staggering levels of incompetence at the federal level. Stories have been written by doctors in major hospitals in the U.S. about how they tried to source masks in the black market and disguised PPE shipments in food trucks to avoid their seizure by the federal government. As Taiwan and South Korea show, timely response by a competent government can make the difference between surrendering to a major outbreak and returning to a well-functioning, open society without lockdowns or deaths. But Hong Kong also teaches that people aren’t helpless, even when their government isn’t helpful.


Zeynep Tufekci explains that being prepared is a public good that helps everyone. The Prepared has a list of suggestions, while NPR provides a guide to prepare your home for coronavirus.
Bookmarked How the Coronavirus Revealed Authoritarianism’s Fatal Flaw (The Atlantic)

China’s use of surveillance and censorship makes it harder for Xi Jinping to know what’s going on in his own country.

Zeynep Tufekci discusses the culture of coverups that created the initial spread of the Coronavirus.

Contrary to common belief, the killer digital app for authoritarianism isn’t listening in on people through increased surveillance, but listening to them as they express their honest opinions, especially complaints. An Orwellian surveillance-based system would be overwhelming and repressive, as it is now in China, but it would also be similar to losing sensation in parts of one’s body due to nerve injuries. Without the pain to warn the brain, the hand stays on the hot stove, unaware of the damage to the flesh until it’s too late.


Zeynep Tufekci provides a thread documenting her experience of the Hong Kong Protests. Not only does she include various observations, but she also curates a number of other resources.
Bookmarked What Game of Thrones can teach us about technology: It’s changing the game that matters, not picking the winner by Zeynep Tufekci (Zeynep's Eclectics)

As it stands, machine intelligence functions an extension of corporations and power.

And that’s why all the stories are interlinked: from Wall Street to venture capital; from ridiculous startups to Uber/Lyft model of burning VC money till (the company hopes) it becomes a monopoly; from stagnation in wages to automation in the workplace.

Machine intelligence isn’t only an extension of power, and it doesn’t even have to be mostly that. But it is mostly that where we are.

That’s a story much bigger than Zuckerberg, Dorsey, Schmidt, Sandberg, Brin who-have-you. It’s also a story of Wall Street and increasing financialization of the world; it’s a story of what people are calling neoliberalism that’s been underway for decades. It is also a technical story: of machine learning and data surveillance, and our current inability deal with the implications of the whole technological stack as it is composed: hardware firmware mostly manufactured in China. Software everywhere that I’ve previously compared to building skyscrapers on swampy land. Our fundamentally insecure designs. Perhaps, more importantly our lack of functioning, sustainable alternatives that respect us, rather than act as extensions of their true owners.

Zeynep Tufekci elaborates on her post explaining the problems with Game of Thrones. She explains how technology extends the human. In this sense, technology is a system.