Zeynep Tufekci writes about security and data privacy for NY Times, disinformation’s threat to democracy for WIRED

January 31, 2018

Following a busy 2017 that saw the publication of her book Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest and the delivery of her third TED Talk, UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS) Associate Professor Zeynep Tufekci wrote her first op-ed of the year for the New York Times in early January. In “The Looming Digital Meltdown,” she addresses the security of digital systems after it was revealed that flaws in microprocessor chips could allow hackers to steal personal information.

Left, the cover of WIRED's February edition.
Right, SILS Associate Professor Zeynep Tufekci.

“Modern computing security is like a flimsy house that needs to be fundamentally rebuilt,” she writes. “In recent years, we have suffered small collapses here and there, and made superficial fixes in response. There has been no real accountability for the companies at fault, even when the failures were a foreseeable result of underinvestment in security or substandard practices rather than an outdated trade-off of performance for security.”

Turning to another high-profile topic, Tufekci’s piece, “It's the (Democracy-Poisoning) Golden Age of Free Speech,” was published online in mid-January and serves as the anchor story for WIRED’s February edition. She explains that new censorship strategies often include the spread of disinformation, bots with intentions to troll and distract, and harassment campaigns.

“The most effective forms of censorship today involve meddling with trust and attention, not muzzling speech,” Tufekci writes. “These tactics usually don’t break any laws or set off any First Amendment alarm bells. But they all serve the same purpose that the old forms of censorship did: They are the best available tools to stop ideas from spreading and gaining purchase.”

As the end of January approached, Tufekci authored her second 2018 New York Times op-ed, aptly titled, “The Latest Data Privacy Debacle.” She looks at the concept of individualized informed consent after security analysts discovered that Stratva, an exercise app, unintentionally revealed the locations of military operations.

“Data privacy is not like a consumer good, where you click ‘I accept’ and all is well,” Tufekci explains. “Data privacy is more like air quality or safe drinking water, a public good that cannot be effectively regulated by trusting in the wisdom of millions of individual choices. A more collective response is needed.”