Bits: Farhad’s and Mike’s Week in Tech: President Trump’s Unsecured Phone and His C.E.O. Confidant


Farhad: Yeah, what if the cloud’s a fad? Sure, Microsoft just reported huge growth in its cloud business, and in its earnings report, Google said it had seen a “terrific upswing” in revenue from selling online server space. (That’s how they could afford Quentin.) But look, the newspaper business has been around forever. It’s proven. I don’t know why you’d leave that certainty behind.

Mike: Indeed. Happy trails to Quentin and his clouds. Me, I’m investing all my money in a different kind of cloud: Vaping. I’m telling you, it’s huge.

This week in fake news: Google, Facebook and Snapchat all seem to be stepping up efforts to tamp down the emergence of fake news sites across their properties. For Google, that means superboring ad network stuff, which is important in the same way eating your daily serving of broccoli rabe is important. For Snapchat, that means cleaning up the types of content people see and promoting more quality stories. To continue that metaphor: More vegetables, fewer helpings of Doritos Cool Ranch (which, to be clear, are delicious).

And for Facebook, that will mean even more changes to how it surfaces news in the Trending Topics section. I don’t know what kind of food-related metaphor fits this exactly, but I’m going to go with “Mark Zuckerberg killing his own bison,” because that’s an image that still brings me great mirth.

Farhad: As a frequent reader of Snapchat’s Discover section, I’m quite worried about these changes. Snapchat is my only source of news for the all-important subject of how little clothing various Kardashian sisters wear when going out. I really hope that doesn’t go away.

Mike: I’m sure you can find that material elsewhere on the internet.

Moving on, Bloomberg had a good article this week about Uber drivers who sleep in their cars on certain shifts, reminding me to ask you if you still sleep in your car or if your clothes just make you look like you do.

Farhad: As I’ve told you repeatedly, I’m trying out a new fashion style, rumpled chic. It’s gonna be a thing. Just watch.

Mike: In all seriousness, it’s quite an interesting way to look at the future of work, and what worker conditions could mean when you’re trying to earn as much as possible even when you’re setting your own hours. I can say, from experience, that sleeping in your car sucks. I do not miss my high school days.

So let’s get onto the main event: Donald J. Trump. He spent the first full week in office issuing executive orders, then sending media and the public into a tizzy when some of them weren’t fully explained or even published on the White House website in a timely manner.

Beyond all the orders that may or may not actually be carried out, I think one thing weighing on citizens’ minds is the fact that Trump still uses an unsecured Android phone to tweet from his personal account, @realDonaldTrump.

Farhad: The ancient Android phone is quite worrying. Anyone who went crazy over Hillary Clinton’s emails should be tearing their hair out about Trump’s phone. Cybersecurity experts pointed out that it would be trivial for any hostile power (or even a friendly power) to break into the phone and turn it into an all-purpose recording device, getting intel on everything that happens in the White House. Nicholas Weaver, a computer security expert, issued this warning on the blog Lawfare: “First, anyone around the president should presume they are being actively recorded by hostile powers, regardless of location, unless they are positive the phone is out of the room.”

Welp.

Mike: If that’s true, let me just say right now that everything I say is satire. Please don’t prosecute me.

What’s more, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has essentially said we should just get used to Trump’s unsecured phone and, from the outside, it doesn’t seem like any national security agencies are actually intervening and saying, “Uh, sir, this is an incredibly bad idea.”

And let me be crystal clear, here: This is, in fact, an incredibly bad idea. We’ve seen the A.P. Twitter account hacked in the past and used to tweet a false message that the president was killed, and it sent global stock markets into turmoil. Trump makes a new news cycle every time he tweets an off-the-cuff remark about something he’s seen on television.

Do you think anyone will actually step in and tell him he can’t do what he’s doing here? It seems they haven’t yet — at least, until he inadvertently starts a trade war with Mexico because of an errant tweet.

Farhad: Unlikely. Trump seems, to put it mildly, set in his ways. But there are some folks trying to figure out ways to appeal to him. One case study is Elon Musk, the C.E.O. of Tesla. Musk took heat this week for endorsing Rex Tillerson, Trump’s pick for secretary of state. It did seem like an odd move — after all, Tesla is betting on a future driven by renewable energy, and Tillerson is the former C.E.O. of Exxon.

But as our colleague Jim Stewart explains, both Trump and Musk have a lot to gain from cooperation. Tesla is building factories in America, something that fits into Trump’s narrative of a resurgent American manufacturing sector. And Musk needs the government — lots of his businesses, including car sales, depend on federal subsidies.

Plus, as Musk argued in a conversation with Gizmodo this week, talking to Trump will yield better results than fighting with him. “The more voices of reason that the president hears, the better,” he said. “Simply attacking him will achieve nothing. Are you aware of a single case where Trump bowed to protests or media attacks? Better that there are open channels of communication.”

That’s kind of how I think about my relationship with you. Chat next week, Mike!

Mike: Not if I attack you on Twitter first. Ta-ta!

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