2016’s Greatest Hits: My Top 10 Posts Of The Year

This year, I wrote 95 articles or blog posts for 16 different sites or publications, including my first bylines at Ars Technica, Daily Dot, the Intercept, Yes!, and Reveal News.

Here are the top 10.

10. Apple Bug Exposed Chat History With A Single Click (The Intercept)

I’m including this post because I couldn’t not include my first byline at the Intercept, since I’m obsessed with the site. The story behind this post is pretty funny, but basically a miscommunication led me to believe the piece was exclusive right before a press release was posted. (D’oh!) I was working on the piece over the weekend anyway. I figured the risk was worth taking because, duh, it’s the Intercept, but referred to the piece as “Schrodinger’s Post” because I had no idea whether it would get published or not. I also had a moment where I was driving to Tucson, got some information I needed to finish the piece, pulled over into a gas station, tethered my laptop to my mobile phone, and sent an encrypted email to my editor. (I don’t have GPG on my phone.) Yay.

9. The Impossible Task Of Creating A “Best VPNs” List Today (Ars Technica)

I spent close to a year researching and working on this story, which I originally pitched as a “VPN shaming” post (looking at the worst VPNs and poor security practices). It was assigned as a top-10 list, which I set out to do, but it turns out the task is complicated. I was thrilled that my editor was so understanding and we agreed to pivot a bit, hence this piece. Unfortunately, people really do just want a list of VPNs they could use, as evidenced by Wirecutter writer Mark Smirniotis linking to my post in his VPN piece before adding his recommendations, many of which engage in the very same practices I criticized in the article. Le sigh. So if you insist on needing a list of VPNs to check out, read my post to see why you should ignore his recommendations. (Hint: pre-shared keys). Here’s mine: Cloak. SurfEasy. Mullvad. FreedomeRiseUp. Streisand (mentioned in the article) if you’re extremely tech-savvy.

8. Meet the Plaid Parliament of Pwning, One Of The World’s Elite Hacking Teams (The Kernel [Daily Dot]

I wanted to write a post bringing the Capture the Flag hacking competitions to life, which wasn’t an easy feat because I’m not that great at writing narratives, especially when I’m interviewing everyone by phone about events that already took place. Luckily, I had a very patient editor, and PPP players who spent a lot of time recounting visual details and responding to countless emails.

7. This Tabletop Game Forces You To Confront Humanity’s Future Threats (Motherboard [Vice])

I’m pretty thrilled that I get paid to write about post-apocalyptic sci-fi/horror tabletop roleplaying games with transhumanist themes, and it was also really cool to get to interview Eclipse Phase co-creator and lead developer Rob Boyle (even if it was over email). Now I just need to find a group to play with…

6. Peerio Co-Founder On Why He Left The Company (Hint: It Had To Do With Admin Backdoors (Forbes)

It’s not easy to do investigative reporting for Forbes. Their editors don’t exactly edit, and writing for the site definitely doesn’t pay the bills. (Plus people blame me for the site’s decision to block adblockers… not my choice, people). But the good news about a site that’ll let you hit publish on your own is that you can get stories out that others won’t touch (or want you to make hyper-accessible, rather than writing to a niche audience). This was my first investigative post of 2016.

5. How To Trump-Proof Your Electronic Communications (Future Tense [Slate])

This was the first piece I wrote after the election results came in and it made me feel a bit more empowered knowing that there are ways I can help people take steps to protect their electronic communications–even if they should’ve been doing so all along. I didn’t realize this was a solid piece until I started looking at the amount of shares (especially from journalists) and the comments I was getting from people who said it helped them. Even technologists I know said they appreciated the detail and nuance.

4. Interview: Meet Kor Adana, The Man Who Keeps Mr. Robot’s Hacks On Point (Forbes)

I got some of the smartest hackers I know in a Semaphor chat room to discuss each Mr. Robot episode every week, which was a blast (even with the hours of editing). Interviewing Kor Adana, Mr. Robot’s tech producer and a writer on the show, was even more of a blast. I hope I get to meet the guy one day.

3. Why Cheap, Outdated Android Phones Widen The Digital Security Divide (Reveal News)

This post came out months after I started working on it, due in part to me totally over researching. I was jazzed at how it turned out: accessible, timely, and relevant. It’s nice to collaborate with solid editors that can give direction and push a story forward, and I love that this piece helped people understand the issue when they otherwise wouldn’t.

2. Not All Swastika Tattoos Are The Same (Future Tense[Slate])

Delving into the potential negative consequences of algorithmic tattoo identification was so fascinating, and this post also talked about unethical research, scrubbed websites, and other research-related problems (like the fact that the prisoners and arrestees whose tattoos were included in the massive database were likely not able to give consent).

1. Dark Patterns Are Designed To Trick You (And They’re All Over The Web) (Ars Technica)

When something makes you absolutely boil with rage, it’s good to dig deep into the problem and write a post about it, which may be why this was my most popular and widely shared post of the year. It made Hacker News and Boing Boing, and I heard from people I haven’t seen in decades (including an old high school friend) who came across it. Whether businesses will think twice about deliberately designing user interfaces to trick users remains to be seen, but in any case, at least more people are now aware of it.

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  1. Jen Dennis says:

    So much to be proud of in 2016…can’t wait to see what’s on tap for 2017!

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