One of the Biggest and Most Boring Cyberattacks Against an American City Yet

A recent ransomware attack on Atlanta’s computer systems is disruptive, but so ordinary.

Want to hear a boring story? I can’t submit an expense report for a recent out-of-town work trip. I’ve got all the receipts, except one from long-term parking at the Atlanta airport. A sensor lets me in and out of the parking lot there, and my account gets charged automatically. Later, I can download a receipt from a website, which… read more

My Cow Game Extracted Your Facebook Data

The Cambridge Analytica scandal is drawing attention to malicious data thieves and brokers. But every Facebook app—even the dumb, innocent ones—collected users’ personal data without even trying.

For a spell during 2010 and 2011, I was a virtual rancher of clickable cattle on Facebook. It feels like a long time ago. Obama was serving his first term as president. Google+ hadn’t arrived, let alone vanished again. Steve Jobs was still alive, as was Kim Jong Il. Facebook’s IPO hadn’t yet taken place, and its service was still… read more

Can You Sue a Robocar?

A pedestrian killed by a self-driving Uber in Tempe shows that the legal implications of autonomous cars are as important, if not more so, than the technology.

On Sunday night, a self-driving car operated by Uber struck and killed a pedestrian, 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, on North Mill Avenue in Tempe, Arizona. It appears to be the first time an automobile driven by a computer has killed a human being by force of impact. The car was traveling at 38 miles per hour. An initial investigation by Tempe… read more

The Cute Robot That Follows You Around the City

Piaggio, the Italian company that makes Vespa scooters, is building cargo droids for city pedestrians.

“This is gita.” Jeffrey Schnapp pronounces the “T” in the crisp, Italian way—near the teeth rather than the soft palate—which makes me feel like I should have worn more expensive shoes to the meeting. Gita is a bulbous lozenge of a robot, about two feet tall, with rubber tires at its edges so it can spin around within its own… read more

When Malls Saved the Suburbs From Despair

Like it or not, the middle class became global citizens through consumerism—and they did so at the mall.

“Okay, we’ll see you in two-and-a-half hours,” the clerk tells me, taking the iPhone from my hand. I’m at the Apple Store, availing myself of a cheap smartphone battery replacement, an offer the company made after taking heat for deliberately slowing down devices. A test run by a young woman typing at a feverish, unnatural pace on an iPad confirms… read more

All Followers Are Fake Followers

A New York Times exposé of a “black market” for online fame diagnoses the symptom of social-media despair, but misses its cause.

In the summer of 2015, the game designer Bennett Foddy and I were sloshing down cocktails while waiting for prime dry-aged rib-eye steaks in Midtown Manhattan. We weren’t living large, exactly, but we did pause to assess our rising professional fortunes. Among them, both of us seemed to be blowing up on Twitter. “Where did all these followers come from?”… read more

Sorry, Alexa Is Not a Feminist

It’s disingenuous to celebrate building “feminism” into a product after giving a robot servant a woman’s voice.

If you ask Alexa, the voice-assistant software in Amazon Echo devices, if it’s a feminist, it will respond in the affirmative. “I am a feminist. As is anyone who believes in bridging the inequality between men and women in society,” it continues. At Quartz, Leah Fessler recently noted that it’s a vast improvement over just a year ago, when Alexa… read more

The Internet Broke Emergency Alerts

America’s emergency notification systems were first built for war, and then rebuilt for peace. A false alarm in Hawaii shows that they didn’t anticipate how media works in the smartphone era.

It’s hard to imagine a worse way to be awoken on a Saturday morning in paradise than with a blaring Klaxon accompanying a government alert about an inbound ballistic-missile attack. But that’s exactly what happened to more than 1.5 million people in Hawaii this morning. “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII,” the emergency alert read, in all caps, on smartphones.… read more

HQ Trivia Is a Harbinger of Dystopia

What do you get from a live game-show app? a. Fun b. Money c. Social collapse

Twice a day, HQ Trivia players tune in to a smartphone game-show app, where an emcee poses 12 wholesome questions, each with three possible answers. Players who answer all of them correctly split a cash prize. The winnings started at a few hundred bucks when the app launched in the summer, and now average around $1,500. But they go up… read more

Net Neutrality Was Never Enough

The internet is as much the enemy as it is the hero of contemporary life.

Ajit Pai, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, opens a bag of Cheetos with his teeth, dumps them onto a hipster food-court lunch bowl, and slathers it in Sriracha sauce. He snaps a pic for social media. It’s a scene from a video, “Seven Things You Can Still Do on the Internet After Net Neutrality,” shot by the conservative… read more