How Frictionless Should Things Be?

Also, the dark web’s black market for stolen data and the future of economics.

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In recent years, tech companies have led the way in making products and services as easy to use as possible. For many, getting rid of the “friction” — for example, streamlining account login requirements and allowing for one-click ordering — was seen not as a choice but as a necessity. However, escalating concerns over cybersecurity are prompting companies and many others to rethink how frictionless things should be.

Reducing complexity has been a key driver of new technology throughout history, notes The New York Times columnist Kevin Roose. The question now is whether society is overpaying for convenience and, specifically, whether, for safety’s sake, companies should be “making things slightly less simple?” Roose interviewed more than a dozen tech executives and product designers about the trade-offs between seamless transactions and cybersecurity. What would happen, he asked, if companies like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter introduced “speed bumps” and other features that slowed things down?

“There is nothing inherently good about complexity,” Roose offers. But given the risk of security breaches, there are lots of reasons “to ask whether certain technologies should be a little less optimized for convenience.”

Inside the Dark Web

What happens to all the financial and personal data that gets sucked up when companies like Target and Marriott get hacked? Who sells it and who buys it? These are among the questions that Kai Ryssdal, the host of Marketplace, which airs on U.S. public radio stations, recently put to security expert Stephen Cobb. Cobb, a veteran researcher at IT security firm ESET, reports that cybercriminals are becoming increasingly adept at navigating the “dark markets,” where stolen credit card information and Social Security numbers get packaged for sale. And until they are caught, they utilize many of the same technologies and marketing techniques as legitimate businesses. “It’s a thoroughly market-based system,” Cobb says.

One ray of hope is that 2019 may be a year when regulators clamp down harder on the shady business practices of data brokers, who have long used personal, location, and transaction data to gain insights into how people live.

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