This morning’s Observer column:
For anyone interested in what is laughingly known as “corporate responsibility”, the Volkswagen emissions-fraud scandal is a gift that keeps on giving. Apart from the company’s Nazi past, its high status in German life, its hitherto exalted reputation for technical excellence and quality control, and its peculiarly dysfunctional governance, there is also the shock to consumers of discovering that while its vehicles are made from steel and composite materials, they are actually controlled by software. We are already close to the point where that software may be more valuable than all the physical materials that make up the vehicle, and, if Apple and Google have their way, that imbalance is set to grow.
Volkswagen’s chicanery was discovered by good, old-fashioned analogue detective work…
I’ve been arguing for years that the Internet holds up a mirror to human nature. And much of what we see in that mirror isn’t flattering. But that doesn’t stop us blaming the mirror rather than addressing the awkward questions that our reflected behaviour reveals. The result is stinking hypocrisy. Evan Selinger makes this point forcefully in the CS Monitor today:
When people lament that privacy is dead or dying, they typically point fingers outwards, saying that government and corporate surveillance deserve all the blame. But as recent events highlight, our urge for online voyeurism plays an important role in the erosion of privacy.
As the Ashley Madison hack had the Internet gawking over details of the possible infidelity of its members, another lurid tragedy was going viral thanks to a woman live tweeting the breakup of a couple sitting next to her on an airplane. Both are examples of people succumbing to their baser instincts and failing to look away when when someone’s personal life is spilled online.
But until we can resist those urges, stop from clicking those articles, and trolling the databases hackers’ victims, we are just encouraging other hackers with an ax to grind, digital eavesdroppers, and snoopers to uncover our private moments and publishing them for the world to see. And, unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like we’ve hit that point of maturity in our collective Internet evolution.
Spot on. For chapter and verse see Jon Ronson’s terrific book — So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.
There are reports (the reliability of which is currently unknown) that two individuals whose identities have been disclosed in the Ashley Madison hack have committed suicide.
But in this crisis, ingenious entrepreneurs have spotted an opportunity. For example, this:
At least one company is using the whole unfortunate situation as a PR opportunity. Travel group CheapAir.com is offering $50 vouchers for anyone who sends the company a message from an email address that was disclosed on the leaked user list. “If your relationship is in ruins and you’re thinking about heading out of town, we have a solution for you,” the company wrote. “You may have made some mistakes, but a vacation may be just what you both need right now.”
This wins the Memex 1.1 Bad Taste Award for 2015. As the Obama election team used to say, never waste a good crisis.