I have spent the morning assuring board members that the spammed emails sent to them in my name are in fact spam. I have written to none of you to ask if you can “meet me now” or to urgently request you send me iTunes gift cards—promise. Yet, the good board members of ICA are taking the time to follow up, in case I have asked for their help or advice (which I often do), or am suffering a lack of iTunes gift cards (which I am not). These are generous efforts, despite the many clues that these emails are a waste of their time. I am told by IT experts that I have been “spoofed,” which has created unanticipated affective labor, inciting ICA members to demonstrate politeness via an inquiry to me. I expect the spoofer is wringing his hands in delight at the “havoc” wrecked.
These are events we can anticipate will continue in our daily lives as members of the global community and the global economy of email services and social networks. While I have experienced past attempts to hack my email, crucially, this approach is less detectable and more straightforward—someone has simply assumed my identity to create a (spoofed) Gmail account. The emails could reasonably be read as “real,” and in fact were not detected by recipients’ spam filters. While ICA members expect I would email them from my university account, in fact, many of us avoid those accounts (because they are so often hacked) and instead use other accounts to contact colleagues—like Gmail.
These kind of unanticipated spoofing events are annoying but also reason to pause, to consider the potential reasons we trust, don’t trust or assume nefariousness lies in technology. Google has been critiqued for the unapproved and unethical sale of user data so it’s hard to predict the legs that could run with this flurry of spoofed emails. As media scholars, we have our antennas raised, ready to recognize the next hack, spoof or outright falsification, often targeting emerging technologies. We are on high alert to the incoming onslaught of new techs that falsify, such as new AI technology that ‘grafts’ realistic mouth movements onto video, to literally put (false) words into mouths. Surely such grafting accusations will be the subject of front page media in forthcoming elections. We often resolve to address these hacks via technological responses—learning to interrogate the metadata of such files to detect falsification. Any yet, sometimes it's the simpler falsifications that escape our attention- like just signing up for an email account using someone else’s name. Genius. I take this as evidence that we need to be equally alert to the mundane, less technologically astute practices of deception operating in this global information age.
In the meantime, let’s have a code word. If I write to you, I will use the word “POTICA” (President of the ICA) in the subject line- at least until May when I will be honored to hand over the helm to incoming President Patricia Moy. In the meantime, don’t alert any spoofers, grafters, spammers or hackers to our secret code.