Home' Technology Review : May June 2014 Contents 11
MIT TECHNOLOGY REVIEW
VOL.117 | NO.3
information, and researching the latest
surveillance techniques. I attend privacy
conferences, read privacy books, and
have written a couple myself. But when
friends ask me how to protect their pri-
vacy, I don’t have much to tell them.
Like most people, I want more privacy
but find it difficult to get: few products
allow us such control (see “Ultraprivate
Smartphones,” page 34).
My Web browsers are cluttered with
privacy tools I’ve installed. One, Ghostery,
tells me how many companies are try-
ing to track me on every site I visit (it
reports nine on technologyreview.com).
I’ve set up Ghostery to block all track-
ing, but I often turn it off because that
stops some e-commerce sites from work-
ing. As a result, several pairs of shoes
and a sweater are currently following
me around the Internet. I am concerned
about trackers learning more about me,
but taking steps to prevent that would be
A few years ago my students and I
conducted a study where we watched
dozens of people use privacy tools. Par-
ticipants struggled with them, and
some who believed they had protected
their privacy actually failed to do so. In
another study we surveyed over a thou-
sand people about the AdChoices icon
that the ad industry uses to notify peo-
ple about behavioral advertising. Most
respondents were unfamiliar with it and
afraid to click on it.
As we’ve learned more about U.S.
surveillance capabilities, encrypted
e-mail seems to make sense. Yet having
used encryption tools off and on for over
two decades, I still find e-mail encryp-
tion too cumbersome to bother with.
I can maintain some privacy through
self-censorship: I think carefully before
I post to social networks, refrain from
transmitting some types of information
via e-mail, and avoid some websites alto-
gether. But I regularly expose my kids’
photos to Facebook and my Web brows-
ing to hundreds of tracking companies. I
hope they will all keep this information
to themselves, but I know they will not.
Research suggests that people really
do care about privacy and are even will-
ing to pay a little to protect it. But there
isn’t one easy thing they can do that will
make much difference, and doing many
different things is tricky even for experts.
If we want to make privacy practical for
everyone, we need privacy tools that are
built seamlessly into the software and
services we use.
Lorrie Faith Cranor is director of the
CyLab Usable Privacy and Security Labo-
ratory at Carnegie Mellon University.
We should think sensibly about nuclear
energy’s risks, says Nathan Myhrvold.
climate scientists have consis-
tently demonstrated how important it
will be to drastically reduce human-
generated carbon emissions. Yet almost
no progress has been made. Hydroelec-
tric power is reliable and cheap, but
there aren’t enough suitable sites to
satisfy our energy demands. Wind and
solar energy don’t provide consistent
output, and battery technology would
have to improve significantly to solve
that problem. Today, renewables are just
an expensive supplement to an electric-
ity system based on coal and natural gas.
There is one source of carbon-
emission-free energy that is cheap, reli-
able, and proven to work on a large scale:
nuclear power (see “Nuclear Options,”
page 16). It often gets a bad rap because
of perceived safety problems. In real-
ity, it has become a sort of litmus test for
societal rationality. People have a hard
time estimating some kinds of risks. For
example, they fret about the safety of fly-
ing but show little concern for driving,
despite statistics showing that cars kill
vastly more people than planes do.
Similarly, incidents like Chernobyl,
Three Mile Island, and Fukushima cap-
ture our attention but mislead us as
to the risks. Statistics from the World
Health Organization and other sources
suggest that coal kills about 4,000 times
as many people per unit of energy pro-
duced as nuclear power does. That
counts only here-and-now effects such
as air pollution and ignores long-term
damage due to climate change.
A close look at Fukushima is instruc-
tive. The tsunami killed about 16,000
people; radiation from the reactor has
killed none. In fact, the nuclear accident
was entirely preventable. The plant has
a 40-year-old design lacking modern
safety features. Worse, it was designed
to withstand only 5.7-meter tsunamis in
a region known to endure waves of 20
meters or more. Numerous design deci-
sions proved disastrous. For example, the
backup generators for the plant’s safety
systems were located near the sea, at
the lowest point in the complex. Cooling
ponds for spent nuclear fuel were located
on the roof, making them vulnerable to
leaks when the building was damaged.
The real lesson of Fukushima is that
we should build modern nuclear plants
and show some common sense about
where they are located. Building out
coal kills far more people, and continu-
ing to emit carbon dioxide causes plan-
etwide risks that dwarf those associated
with radiation leaks. Even Japan is com-
ing around to this point of view, after a
sharp rise in both energy costs and car-
bon emissions. Mature societies must be
driven by facts, not our irrational fears.
Nathan Myhrvold is a cofounder of Intel-
lectual Ventures, whose subsidiary Terra-
Power is designing a novel nuclear reactor.
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