Pluralistic: 04 Aug 2020

Today's links

Collective Action In Tech For Black Lives Matter (permalink)

The Collective Action in Tech project has just released its latest guide: "a guide to organize tech workers to support the anti-racism movement."

The guide starts by acknowledging that tech has a history and a present of shoring up anti-Black racism, from IBM's role in Apartheid to algorithmic bias to harassment and discrimination in tech workplaces.

It repeats Jamelle Bouie's assertion that anti-racism is a stepping stone towards (and dependent upon) universal liberation: racial discrimination and violence are part of the project to divide working people, and overcoming them unites us all.

And Black workers have historically been the most oppressed workers of all, a pattern repeated in tech, where Black workers are more likely to be gig workers, warehouse workers, or other precarious, poorly compensated workers.

To solve this, the authors say "we must recognize that workers in a system biased against them cannot shoulder the burdens and risks alone while also fighting oppression in the workplace."

To that end, they make a series of concrete, well-defined recommendations:

I. Build a collective: start with an "inner circle" of trusted people; each of you build "outer circles."

II. Secure organizers: divide up information so that a single snitch can't rat you all out.

III. Map out strategic outreach goals: which groups in your org will join with you and how will you reach them?

IV. Fortify perspectives: "cultivate support that amplifies the demands of fellow Black coworkers without doubling down on the daily burden of systemic racism."

V. Measure support: Get people to tell you how much action they're willing to take so you have realistic expectations.

VI. Build Bridges: "try not to let the idea of bad faith divide worker power"

VII. Reach Critical Mass: "Err on the side of caution and push for more support than you think you'll need."

VIII: Identify demands: Measurable goals that hold leadership accountable

(they include templates for demand letters)

IX: Take action: work stoppages, open letters, social media campaigns, sick-outs, strikes, visible actions

X: Protect each other: Know your labor law, protest retaliation.

Also included: templates for organizing conversations and letters to management.

The organizers are soliciting feedback to improve this toolkit.

The art of density (permalink)

In "Collectives," Brazilian photographer Cássio Vasconcellos uses helicopter photos of urban landscapes, airplane boneyards, beaches, markets, and other commonplaces of human life, cleverly collaged, to create arresting, glorious images of higgeldy-piggeldy.

As impressive as these images are when zoomed out, the fullscreen detail images are even more impressive.

Attack Surface sneak peek (permalink)

In October, Tor Books will publish ATTACK SURFACE, the third Little Brother book: a standalone novel about Masha, the young woman from the beginning and ending of the first two books, and her life as a surveillance contractor, first for the DHS and then for cyberarms-dealers.

Masha has spent her whole life rationalizing away the humanitarian consequences suffered by the people in the crosshairs of the weapons she developed: first in the US for the DHS after a terrorist attack, then in Iraq as a high-paid, jihadi-hunting contractor.

And finally as a private sector mercenary, helping suppress democracy movements in post-Soviet dictatorships in eastern Europe.

Masha's crisis of conscience sends her back to San Francisco, where she discovers to her horror that the weapons she helped develop have been turned on her childhood best friend, who has grown up to be a key antiracist activist in Oakland and who is leading an uprising.

The first Little Brother books were about resistance, but this one is about a different kind of bravery: the courage it takes to confront your past bad deeds and rip out the parts of your personality that made them possible.

As tech workers around the world rise up to demand better of their employers, and as they realize what they have been complicit in all along, this is a question that occupies much of my time and thinking.

Writing Attack Surface was in many ways harder than writing Little Brother and Homeland, but ultimately even more satisfying:

I got to include all that juicy technothriller stuff – surveillance and counter-surveillance tech – but beyond that, I got to imagine what we could do with real solidarity between tech workers and the billions of lives their work touches.

Today, Tor published an "extended preview" of the book – a free ebook available through all the major publishers. I hope you'll check it out, and, if you like it, pre-order.

Those pre-orders really matter to writers and can make the difference in reaching the bestseller lists, which triggers all kinds of great things, including translation deals and movie/TV interest.

And if you do pre-order, you get an additional bonus: a free Marcus Yallow/Little Brother short story, "Force Multiplier," about the creepy world of stalkerware, that you'll get as an ebook and audiobook on the day the book launches.

Jack Dorsey's interop plan (permalink)

Twitter is uniquely poised to lead on interoperability and federation; though they are very large, they are dwarfed by their major competitors, Facebook and Wechat. What's more, Twitter was initially built for federation, with wide, generous APIs that facilitated interop.

Over the years, Twitter has grown progressively more closed and also more fraught, as the problems of harassment, brigading, and hate speech have dogged the daily operations of the service, rising to the level of a global geopolitical crisis at times.

Facebook and Wechat maintain the pretense that this could all be solved if governments would just tell them what rules to enforce and then they'd use machine learning and boiler-rooms full of traumatized moderation subcontractors to make it so.

Of course, this is bullshit: it only works if you don't care how much "good" speech you catch in your moderation regime; to say nothing of the impossibility of reconciling the mores and laws of 150+ countries.

Beyond that, a regulation requiring filters and mass-scale human moderation constitutes a powerful moat around your business – a capex requirement that new entrants can't satisfy, which safeguards these champions of "disruption" from being disrupted themselves.

They do fear it. Look at Zuck's testimony and the accompanying docs from last week's Congressional hearings: virtually everything Zuck does is oriented around preserving his advantage against potential future Zucks, sitting in their own dorm rooms, plotting a Myspace rout.

All of this means that Twitter – and Twitter alone, really – is set up to champion interop, as a way to reconcile its desire to be large and unmoderated with the pressure to do something about disinfo, harassment, and enabling dictators.

Letting small companies federate with Twitter will cost the company some of the rents it could extract through perfect control – but in return, the company could devolve moderation onto user communities.

You – or a co-op, or a for-profit, or some other institution – could run a Nazi-free Twitter and only federate with other no-Nazi instances – something you can already do with Mastodon, but federation gives you the benefit of Twitter's scale.

In fact, this is what Mastodon and other fediverse technologies are lacking: a way for people to leave Twitter without leaving their communities. Federation lets you have one foot in both worlds.

We undertheorize interop in these discussions because the web has made it so ubiquitous as to be invisible: imagine how Twitter would be if you couldn't include links to the web, or if you couldn't use some browsers with it, or if it didn't run on one of the mobile OSes.

All of this to say: I am incredibly excited to read Jack Dorsey's update on the Twitter interop project – to see that he views federation as a way to break the walled gardens and resolve demands to moderate at scale.

Twitter's Bluesky team is small, but it's a beachhead: Twitter is the only company that's large enough to make this happen but threatened enough to WANT to make it happen.

Google acquires major stake in ADT (permalink)

Google sucks at IoT so, in the time-honored tradition of monopolists, it bought a successful company, Nest, bricked much of its existing gear, failed catastrophically to integrate it for years, exposing users to hacks, shuffled it around and around the corporate structure…

Locked out competing devices, hid secret microphones in new, "microphone-free" devices, and now…

…they've bought a $450m stake in home security giant ADT, which will turn ADT customers into nonconsensual Nest customers.

Under the deal, ADT customers' security cameras will be "upgraded" to Nest devices whose videos will be sent to Google for long-term storage and machine-learning analysis.

Home automation and home security have become the shittiest end of the Internet of Shit. On the one hand, you have Ring, who turn your home security system into part of a warrantless, off-the-books mass-surveillance grid for local cops:

On the other, you have devices sold through "partnerships" with cable monopolists that are unceremoniously bricked when the deals end:

Then there were the internal empire-builders at Google that kept Nest from being properly secured, leading to a rash of voyeurs who spied on and terrorized Nest owners by screaming obscenities at them and their kids:

None of this should be happening. For decades, America's competition law operated on the presumption of "structural separation" – the idea that companies should not be allowed to form vertical monopolies:

These monopolies are inevitably not just inefficient, plagued by "the curse of bigness," but they also crowd out good companies with superior products, by using the vertical integration to keep them from getting into the market.

Papercraft Addams Family house (permalink)

For more than a decade, I've doted on Haunted Dimensions, Ray Keim's incredible, Haunted Mansion-themed papercraft site, home to many download/print/assemble models of Disney's Haunted Mansion (they make GREAT gingerbread templates!).

Keim's latest is "Neat Sweet Petite" – a papercraft model of the Addams Family house: "Based solely on the single reference of the house shown in the Addams Family TV show opening. It was a originally just a matte painting. I made up the rest."

It's a free download (though Keim solicits donations), and sports superb details and gracenotes, including "Morticia's conservatory with Cleopatra."

If you are bored of being imprisoned by the plague and are in search of a way of beautifying your cell, this looks like a hell of a fun project!

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Napster loses $20MM on $21MM revenue in Q1 05

#5yrsago Trophy hunting is "hunting" the way that Big Thunder Mountain is a "train ride"

#5yrsago Idaho court strikes down anti-whistleblower "ag-gag" law

#5yrsago Actual questions from my Green Card questionnaire

#5yrsago Privatized, for-profit immigration detention centers force detainees to work for $1-3/day

#5yrsago EFF and coalition announce new Do Not Track standard for the Web

#1yrago Edelman PR drops GEO Group after employee revolt at the prospect of laundering the reputation of private US concentration camps

#1yrago Medieval people bathed

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Clarissa Redwine (, Kottke (, Ian Brown (, Josh Fouts (, Dan Howland (

Currently writing:

  • My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 44972 words (44972 total).

Currently reading: The Deficit Myth, Stephanie Kelton

Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 12),

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