Five great weekend reads on technology

Perfect for a weekend session with Instapaper or Pocket, here's a roundup of five of my favourite articles on technology this week. 


In Ars Technica, Nate Anderson and Cyrus Farivar brought the story of the arrest this week of Ross Ulbricht on suspicion of being the Dread Pirate Roberts, the head honcho of the Silk Road. The site was a billion-dollar online marketplace for illegal drugs that used Bitcoin and the anonymising network Tor to protect its buyers and sellers. Lapses in Ulbricht's concentration left indelible marks of his identity on the internet, and the story takes a turn for the surreal when the naive Ulbricht decides to use the site to try to order the assassination of a former employer.

Kevin Poulsen in WIRED had the details of the circumstances surrounding the mysterious closure in August of Lavabit, an encrypted email service suspected to have been used by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. At the time, Ladar Levison simply said he refused "to be complicit in the crimes against the American people". Now documents unsealed by a judge in Virginia reveal the pressure put by the US Government on Lavabit, and the creatively obstructive way Levinson complied with one order.

Ken Auletta in the New Yorker had a profile of Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger. The piece looked at the Guardian's free-to-all online strategy. Spurning the paywalls of the New York Times, the Financial Times and others, the Guardian is loosing tens of millions of pounds every year, but is also tripling its readership and expanding to Australia and the US, which sent more visitors than the UK in June. The paper is now the third most popular English-language newspaper Web site in the world. But the Scott Trust's money, which funds the paper, is running out. “We are not the Taliban of free,” says Rusbridger.

Ben Austen, also in WIRED, took a look at how public posts on social media by gang members are amplifying the reach of street beefs in Chicago. Far from disciplined organised crime groups, these gangs consist of armed children, united by the street they live on and by their rivalry with other gangs. In boastful home-made rap videos on YouTube, they threaten their enemies and show off their weapons to anyone who will watch, including the Chicago Police Department, who now patrol social media along with their other beats. But with 130 illegal guns seized each week, there are fatal consequences in the real world for the teenagers' virtual bravado.

Jacqui Cheng had another perspective on Chicago teenagers' use of social media from her participation in the city's Civic Innovation Summer programme. Her and the other leaders of the programme, designed to positively expose teenagers to technology, were stunned by the young people's sophistication in managing their privacy online, from deleting their Facebook account every time they log out to removing GPS data from their photos EXIF metadata. Cheng calls on teachers to draw on their young charges' posts on social media to better understand and support them, but teachers are often hamstrung by policies forbidding them from doing just that.