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Never trust a simple solution.

This post from Automattic’s Matt Mullenweg keeps getting re-shared and boosted in my timelines:

If I were President for a day, the first thing I would do is instruct our national security to patch and secure every American technology company, as they are our gems in the world. I would burn every zero-day I had on a US company and help them patch it.

So, two things:

  1. This is not something that a US president has the power to do.
  2. If the President did try to do something like this, every company CEO and all of the usual right-wing suspects would immediately start screaming about authoritarian overreach.

If Matt Mullenweg thinks that forcing companies to immediately patch all security vulnerabilities is the right thing to do, then I would propose that he enforce that mandate on every installation of Wordpress—a widely deployed platform that his company Automattic owns and maintains—out in the world. You think you have a reason why you can or should be able to keep running and out of date or unpatched version of Wordpress? Too bad—now it shuts itself down and won’t work until you patch it.

There are, of course, a whole bunch of reasons why this proposal of mine is an oversimplification, wildly impractical, and a terrible idea. Most simple solutions to complicated problems are.

And sure—what else is the Internet if not the world’s greatest repository of oversimplifications, impractical solutions, and terrible ideas? Why pick on this one?

Mullenweg is not stupid, and he does not seem to be a terrible person. But his post is a great example of tech industry received wisdom about how to solve problems. Just do this. Just do that. It’s simple, really. The problem is thinking about it too much. Take action! If there are laws or processes in place that slow things down, ignore them! They are just barriers to innovation!

I’m sure his suggestion here is well-intentioned, but is utterly disconnected from reality and betrays a complete misunderstanding of how government works and what it can and cannot do. That someone like Mullenweg can just blithely toss this sort of thing off and then have it reposted by people all over the internet as some sort of brilliant solution is deeply disturbing.

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