Edition 15 — Intrusive Apps, Miss-taken Weight

by Kartik Chaturvedi

April 17, 2021

The Big Stories

Invasive apps

There’s an app for pretty much everything these days. They make our lives easier, and put everything just a tap away. But how much data do they collect about you, and what do they do with it? Secure cloud storage provider pCloud has a great visualization on just how intrusive these apps can be, often without our knowledge.

It’s bad enough to collect all this kind of data for advertising purposes, but it’s even worse that most of these apps have suffered massive data breaches. The top 2 apps listed in pCloud’s analysis, Facebook and Instagram, are both owned by Facebook Inc, which just suffered yet another massive data breach affecting 550 million users. LinkedIn, at number 3, also suffered a similar breach impacting 500 million users. Surprising no one, both Facebook and LinkedIn have failed to take any responsibility for these latest breaches. This shows that as long as they can generate advertising revenue from collecting our data, it doesn't matter to them where our data ends up. Until a privacy-first social network is created, the best steps we users can take is to limit the amount of personally identifiable data we enter on these platforms.

Airplane Takes Off a Ton Heavier After Software Miss-Take

Precise project requirements and rigorous risk analysis are essential for engineering teams in any company, especially when working across language and cultural boundaries. And after a flight from the UK to Spain ended up weighing 1 metric ton (2,200 pounds) heavier than expected, airline IT teams should rethink their testing criteria as well. It turns out the extra weight came from logic in some newly designed software that counted around 40 passengers with the prefix ‘Miss’ as children instead of adults, because in the country where the software was developed, ‘Miss’ is used to address young girls, while in the country the system is used, it refers to women.

While the safety of the flight was not compromised (planes operate on pretty wide safety margins), the pilot did notice having to apply slightly more thrust during takeoff. Even so, the incident shows how important requirements are when building critical software systems. For such a crucial purpose, the prefix-to-weight logic should have been built and tested on its own to ensure estimates are accurate.

Perhaps the best solution is to think of a better way to estimate the weight of passengers, instead of using an optional name prefix…

More Interesting Headlines

Virgin Galactic rolls out shimmering third-generation spaceship

Last year, I wrote about how SpaceX uses great design to inspire and create a connection with fans and engineers alike. Following the same thinking, Virgin Galactic has revealed a beautiful new spaceship for their launches to the edge of space.

Researchers estimate 2.5 billion Tyrannosaurus rex inhabited the Earth

In total, 2.5 billion T-rex lived on Earth. There are currently 2.7 billion Facebook users. That’s a lot of T-rexes!

Glass molded like plastic could usher in new era of complex glass shapes

This is materials engineering at its finest. Mix silica particles with a polymer that can be cured with UV light, then arrange the mix into whatever shape you’d like, cure with UV and fire in an oven. With this new technique, glass can essentially be 3D-printed into complex shapes such as pretzels and gears.

Kartik's Newsletter

Subscribe to get science and tech news, new posts, and the latest updates from me.