Archive for March, 2020

What does a pandemic say about the tech we’ve built?

There’s a joke* being reshared on chat apps that takes the form of a multiple-choice question — asking who’s the leading force in workplace digital transformation? The red-lined punchline is not the CEO or CTO, but: C) COVID-19. There’s likely more than a grain of truth underpinning the quip. The novel coronavirus is pushing a lot of metaphorical buttons right now. “Pause” buttons for people and industries, as large swathes of the world’s population face quarantine conditions that can resemble house arrest. The majority of offline social and economic activities are suddenly off limits. Such major pauses in our modern lifestyle may even turn into a full reset, over time. The world as it was, where mobility of people has been all but taken for granted — regardless of the environmental costs of so much commuting and indulged wanderlust — may never return to “business as usual.” If global leadership rises to the occasion, then the coronavirus crisis offers an opportunity to rethink how we structure our societies and economies — to make a shift toward lower carbon alternatives. After all, how many physical meetings do you really need when digital connectivity is accessible and reliable? As millions more office workers log onto the day job from home, that number suddenly seems vanishingly small. COVID-19 is clearly strengthening the case for broadband to be a utility — as so much more activity is pushed online. Even social media seems to have a genuine community purpose during a moment of national crisis, when many people can only connect remotely, even with their nearest neighbours. Hence the reports of people stuck at home flocking back to Facebook to sound off in the digital town square. Now that the actual high street is off limits, the vintage social network is experiencing a late second wind. Facebook understands this sort of higher societal purpose already, of course. Which is why it’s been so proactive about building features that nudge users to “mark yourself safe” during extraordinary events like natural disasters, major accidents and terrorist attacks. (Or indeed, why it encouraged politicians to get into bed with its data platform in the first place — no matter the cost to democracy.) In less fraught times, Facebook’s “purpose” can be loosely summed to “killing time.” But with ever more sinkholes being drilled by the attention economy, that’s a function under ferocious and sustained attack. Over the years the tech giant has responded by engineering ways to rise back to the top of the social heap — including spying on and buying up competition, or directly cloning rival products. It’s been pulling off this trick, by hook or by crook, for over a decade. Albeit, this time Facebook can’t take any credit for the traffic uptick; a pandemic is nature’s dark pattern design. What’s most interesting about this virally disrupted moment is how much of the digital technology that’s been built out online over the past two decades could very well have been designed for living through […]

Marriott says 5.2 million guest records were stolen in another data breach

Marriott has confirmed a second data breach in three years — this time involving the personal information on 5.2 million guests. The hotel giant said Tuesday it discovered in late February the breach of an unspecified property system at a franchise hotel. The hackers obtained the login details of two employees, a hotel statement said, and broke in weeks earlier during mid-January. Marriott said it has “no reason” to believe payment data was stolen, but warned that names, addresses, phone numbers, loyalty member data, dates of birth and other travel information — such as linked airline loyalty numbers and room preferences — were taken in the breach. Starwood, a subsidiary of Marriott, said in 2018 its central reservation system was hacked, exposing the personal data and guest records on 383 million guests. The data included  five million unencrypted passport numbers and eight million credit card records. It prompted a swift response from European authorities, which issued Marriott with a fine of $123 million in the wake of the breach. Marriott to face $123 million fine by UK authorities over data breach