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An 'Erasable Internet' Could Be Welcome In A Hackable World


That smartphone in your hand? You might as well throw it away. Don't email. Don't text. Don't update. Don't send photos. That's the takeaway lesson for New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo after the data hack at Sony Pictures. The attack exposed thousands of emails and led to the shelving of the film "The Interview." But to Manjoo, it's a reminder that communications online are nearly impossible to keep private, and he's here to talk about the alternative.

Welcome to the program.

FARHAD MANJOO: Hi. Good to be here.

CORNISH: So you're not actually calling on us to abandon online communications, right?

MANJOO: No, I think I'm actually calling for people to be conscious of the fact that anything they say on these devices can be infiltrated, can be made public very easily. What we need is kind of a mindset change, at least until we make these devices more secure.

CORNISH: One thing you do advocate for is the quote, "erasable Internet." Define it and how would our communications be different?

MANJOO: Yeah, this is really kind of a profound change in the way we think about the Internet. Right now everything we do on digital devices is recorded somewhere, either by the device or by a server somewhere and it's usually stored. That's what we saw on the Sony hack. That's pretty much how email and other technologies we use - that's how they work.

What we saw a couple years ago is the introduction of this app called Snapchat and what was interesting about it was that you send a message through Snapchat and then after the recipient looks at it, the message is deleted. Now, there was some question about how securely it's been deleted and the FTC kind of went after Snapchat for making claims that the messages were kind of gone forever, but you could get at them in some way. But I think what Snapchat showed was this desire for people to communicate with devices in a way that wasn't, kind of, permanent. And I think that we may start to see that model of communication, you know, become maybe not the default, but something that people do in addition to communicating over things like email.

CORNISH: One of the comments in the comment section of the story you wrote says (reading comment), the only way the disappearing picture thing works is if both sides abide by the rules, and that is exactly what can never be guaranteed.

So, Farhad, I mean Snapchat has been hacked. If you Google Snapchat leaks, you can turn up all kinds of things. Can that really work?

MANJOO: Yeah, I mean I think you still have to worry about it being, you know, not completely secure. But I think the difference is that there's a mindset change. If you're communicating with somebody over Snapchat, if you trust that person you're going to sort of expect that that message is going to be gone. And, you know, I think that would've happened in many of the emails we saw in the Sony hack. You know, people were discussing, kind of, delicate business matters. Neither party wanted what they were saying to get out there. If they were communicating over a system like Snapchat, you know, that message wouldn't have been found later on.

CORNISH: Farhad Manjoo, thanks so much for speaking with us.

MANJOO: Thanks a lot.

CORNISH: Farhad Manjoo is the technology columnist for The New York Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.