Simple explanations for complex tech terms
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API

Hundreds of programmes run simultaneously on a smartphone or computer, each with very specific functions. These specialised programmes have to exchange information with each other so a task can be completed, as each programme only covers one smaller aspect of the task. This exchange happens via an Application Programming Interface (API).



Here’s an example: The programme in which you write your emails cannot send the email itself. Instead, it passes the email on to another programme via an API, which then takes care of the ‘postman’s’ job. It then forwards the email to the recipient’s email programme, and then on to recipient via an API.

Algorithms

An algorithm is similar to a recipe, it’s a sequence of instructions within a programme - do this, then do that, and if that’s the same, then do that as well.



When you enter a search term into Google for example, an algorithm decides which webpages are shown to you. If Schufa calculates your creditworthiness, this calculation is also based on an algorithm. Algorithms are for data-driven companies, what Coca Cola’s strictly guarded recipe is for them. Algorithms evaluate and control our lives, more and more comprehensively, inevitably, and opaquely. This makes it all the more important to discover and understand how they work.

Cookie

Cookies are similar to the nasty game played in the classroom: when you walk by, someone sticks a note on your back. Later, you wonder why other students are laughing at you, or why you get kicked in the ass. What happens depends on what kind of note you have stuck to your back.



In the digital world, you’re given cookies from websites that contain, for example, information about what you’ve bought, and from where. Depending on the type of cookie, other sites may read this information and, for example, show you customised advertisements. This isn’t necessarily bad, but you should know about it. We’re building a cookie analysis tool for this exact purpose.

Digital Innovation Cycle

Everything’s changing. This is true for the digital world as well as the analogue one. But, the crucial difference is that things in the digital world are changing at a breathtakingly fast pace. In the analogue world, building ten houses is ten times as complex as building one house. Once you’ve developed a product in the digital world though, you can copy and modify it as often as you wish, with little effort. These different paces of change lead to a number of problems. For example, political and the governmental administrations are not designed for such rapid paces of change, as their planning process is slower and for a longer term. Their processes and structures were created before digitisation existed.


Hacking

Anyone who has seen a ‘life-hack’ video on YouTube knows the term ‘hack’ or ‘hacking’ has nothing to do with internet criminals or Russian spies. It means either manipulating an object to make something easier, or circumventing, also known as cracking, security measures in the digital space. Influencing people often plays a role, because you can easily get passwords and other sensitive information from them.



Protection against hacking therefore includes awareness and caution on the part of people, as well as creating secure passwords, and encrypting hard drives, and using a secure internet connection (e.g. the green lock in your browser search bar).

IP Address

Just as every house has an address, every digital device has an address. This consists of four numbers, which are the ‘Internet Protocol (IP) address. Each flat within a house can be assigned to one or many people by the name(s) on the door. And while people can change flats and respectively their flat address, the addresses of the flats always remain the same.

It’s very similar on the internet. However, while the first three numbers represent the ‘flat address’, the last number, or the ‘name on the door’ can change and be assigned to new devices, again and again. So, a laptop can be assigned a ‘name’ that was previously assigned to someone else. Mix-ups are possible.

Token

A token is used to make an exchange easier and more secure. This is similar to tokens at a festival in the analogue world, but instead of receiving food and drinks, data in the digital world is exchanged.



For example, your physical address could be converted into a token so you can buy something online. This address token is then passed on to the various service providers after your order has been placed. The last person in the chain can then exchange this token for your original address, and the service providers throughout the rest of the chain can’t access your address at any time. This makes it safer, and protects you from theft and tampering.

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