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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Cybersecurity Awareness Month

code and a human outline

code and a human outline

Aristotle in Cyberspace

Irina Raicu

This article first appeared on October 13, 2017, in Future Tense, which is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University.

Irina Raicu is the director of the Internet Ethics program at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Santa Clara University. Views are her own.

October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month. Click here for more information on ways to protect yourself! Or don’t. Because the link might lead to malware.

October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month. Offer internet users tips on how they might protect themselves! Or don’t. Because, apparently, there is such a thing as “security fatigue,” caused by too many warnings and offers of advice on the subject, which “may lead to risky computing behavior.”

October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month. Maybe the best one can do to raise awareness is to tell fellow internet users to read the news.

You may already be aware of some cybersecurity news about Equifax—the credit reporting company that recently revealed it had been hacked and had leaked key personal data about more than 145 million people. (For want of a software patch, timely installed … though maybe Cybersecurity Awareness Month is a good time to start referring not to “patches” but to “bandages” or “tourniquets”—things that prevent deeply damaging leaks. Language plays a part in building awareness, too.)

You may also already be aware of recent cybersecurity-related news about Yahoo, the SEC, Deloitte, and, most troublingly, the National Security Agency. If not, you might want to look up those stories. One hopeful outcome of this slew of failures is that legislators are becoming not just aware but angry, and appear to be ready to propose some legislative measures in response. Maybe part of Cybersecurity Awareness Month should also be to keep a close eye on the regulatory proposals to come, to ensure that they are comprehensive and properly targeted. There is much to be aware of.

And there is good news, too! In these yet-early days of the Cybersecurity Awareness Month, Mattel announced Thursday that it will not, after all, release its previously announced “kid-focused AI device” that was to be placed in children’s rooms and that generated privacy and cybersecurity concerns—a device that had been named, improbably, Aristotle.

As Hayley Tsukayama explained in the Washington Post, Aristotle “was designed for a child's room. It could switch on a night light to soothe a crying baby. It was also designed to keep changing its activities, even to the point where it could help a preteen with homework. And the device would learn about the child along the way.” (“Poppins,” perhaps—but Aristotle?!)

Several petitions asking Mattel not to release the product garnered more than 15,000 signatures. And, as the Washington Post article announcing the decision “not to bring Aristotle to the marketplace” also pointed out, anther Mattel product, “Hello Barbie,” “didn't sell well at launch after poor reviews, many of which mentioned the privacy concerns.” (Media coverage had mentioned “Hello Barbie” cybersecurity concerns, too.)

Maybe this is a sign that as consumers we are, in fact, becoming more aware of cybersecurity issues, and doing what we can in response. Perhaps Aristotle is coming to the marketplace—but it’s the other Aristotle, the one who taught about “practical wisdom,” which is the kind required in the development of new products and new regulations, and in the way we all interact online.

Now we just need him to go to the IRS, which recently awarded a multimillion-dollar contract to Equifax for fraud-prevention services. According to Politico, the contract award was posted to the Federal Business Opportunities database on Sept. 30. That, of course, was the day before the start of Cybersecurity Awareness Month.

Photo courtesy of, used, without modification, under a Creative Commons license.


Oct 26, 2017

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