Lessons learned from the facepalm-iest of recent headlines


Ars Technica Newsletter Template
Ars Orbital HQ
A student struggling with math

In journalism, when someone says "news you can use" it typically refers to service-oriented stories: things like an explainer on the most basic Bitcoin questions or how to revive an old Gameboy. But often everyday stories have tangible life lessons to offer for readers paying attention; some weeks you really don't even need to look that hard.

When Tumblr decided to ban anything it deemed porn, for instance, we should have (and quite frankly did) see this coming. The site's backbone over the years has been built to some degree on its openness towards hosting sexual content from a wide range of communities marginalized elsewhere: LGBT, kink, fetish, and BDSM communities, for example. So suddenly telling these dedicated users to go elsewhere logically means the site will be hurting sooner rather than later. (The lesson? Know your strengths and don't ostracize your customers.)

For this week's Orbital HQ, we decided to reemphasize a few of the more obvious bits of usable news that recently came across the Ars front page. Hopefully these takeaways remain obvious for most readers, but as the stories themselves suggest, evidently not everyone has gotten the memo yet. 

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Orbital Transmission 12.11.2018
Rudy Giuliani, as a Simpsons grandpa

Typing URLs results in clickable links on Twitter

Rudy Giuliani once advised the highest office in the US on all things cybersecurity... but evidently he struggles with country codes for top-level domains. Recently, the attorney for the president falsely believed Twitter allowed another user to "invade his text" because a Giuliani typo created "G20.In," which allowed an enterprising fellow to buy an Indian domain and redirect it to a Trump protest site. (If you're reading, Mr. Giuliani, please know that the same thing would happen on sites from Facebook to Google+, too.)

Google+ offices

Shutting down your abandoned Web service may prevent data leaks

Speaking of Google+, this fall Google announced its increasingly desolate social media platform would be shutting down in August 2019. That's because the company revealed a previously-unannounced data leak exposed information for 500,000 users, thus prompting the shutdown. (That also sparked lawsuits and Senate inquiries.) Now, Google+ has evidently failed its users again—a newly discovered bug impacts 52 million users, nudging Google to move the shut down up... by just two months. Sigh.

Tesla Model S

Autonomous driving tech is not fully autonomous, so stay awake at the wheel

Look, the name is deceiving. No autonomous driving system is truly autonomous at this point, and companies like Tesla have repeatedly made public statements about the need for a driver to monitor these increasingly clever driving assistants. But that didn't stop a local politician in Los Altos, California from trusting his vehicle—and not a friend, a taxi, a ride share, etc.—to get him home after having one too many. That led local police to a unique vehicle chase, one where they needed to identify what appeared to be happening and then pull in front of the vehicle to gradually slow it to a halt. The driver was asleep and later charged with drunk driving. The chase went on for seven minutes.

Zuckerberg on Capitol Hill

If you don't redact fully, copy/paste techniques may win

Facebook is currently in the middle of a very public legal battle with a bikini app-maker (the whole thing has taken the spotlight in British Parliament). To over simplify, the argument boils down to whether Facebook swindled developers (and potentially breached contracts) by pulling APIs in 2015 that gave app makers access to specific user data. Getting to the bottom of it all involves digging into many documents, some of which have been redacted before becoming public. However, if you don't thoroughly redact a document, it turns out a simple copy/paste into a text editor will show the things a company doesn't want shown (like how Facebook once considered flat out selling that user data referenced above).

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