Tech Company Bloopers: You Shoulda Made ‘Em Private Edition

2 Sep

I tweeted this morning that I wanted to read a think-piece accusing cloud computing of being a trap for obtaining women’s nudes half-jokingly because I think there is a measure of responsibility for tech companies wrapped up in third party hacks and harassment of sensitive users.

There’s a lot of talk on twitter and tumblr about the needs of minorities, their lack of voices, checking ones privilege, and all that sort of sociological theory, but there isn’t much talk about the applied ways in which those things can work for technology.

Here are some examples of problems caused by new tech programmed in ways that are negligent of its most sensitive users:

Celebrity Nude Leaks from Cloud Computing

Twitter Harrassment of Women

Grindr Location Based Security Breach for its M4M users

Many of these aren’t just whoopsies, or tiny little cuts caused by hackers. Most of these situations involve a large tech company narrowly designing programming around the needs of its most visible/privileged members without even a hint of imagining what a sensitive users experience would be. In Grindr’s case (as its LGBT focused and that’s the focus of this blog) the needs of white male or urban users are prized above the needs of international users who may require anonymity more than others. To tell these users that they need to turn off their default privacy setting is to blame them for simply using your product, and with that helpful tips also comes the assumption that maybe the product isn’t FOR them.

I get this a lot in tech: The User error. Your users shouldn’t have known about this option or should have known to turn this feature off, to have a stronger password, to not give out this address or that address. This isn’t ONLY victim blaming, it’s alienating. It’s a clear signal that new tech isn’t for a demographic that is bullied and demonized by a larger demographic, despite the fact that new tech can often be a saving grace for people in need. You herd people like cattle to the latest apps, social media, and storage solutions, then you blame them when they find out you haven’t designed it for them in mind.

The solution to this requires listening to feedback and allotting some part of the budget to a response team to fix problems as they arise. Tech companies should also get in the habit of diversifying the people they hire to ensure minority users have advocates within the company.  Tech companies also need to get rid of the White American Man user as default. Go outside for cryin’ out loud.



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