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Category: Privacy

Universal Basic Income and the Question No One Asks

Universal Basic Income and the Question No One Asks

At no other time in the history of the world has so much wealth been concentrated in the hands of so few – and amassed in so short amount of time. More worrisome still is the amount of power and global reach of those few, especially considering that their basic stock in trade is surveillance (Former Facebook executive says Google, Facebook are ‘surveillance states’ and risk more regulation).

Social Capital CEO Chamath Palihapitiya, the aforementioned Facebook executive, is more bullish on Amazon, as, in his opinion, the online retailer has more competition than Google and Facebook. Um, did he not take into consideration Alexa, or the fact that Amazon Web Services is now authorized to host the US Department of Defense’s most sensitive data, including top secret Pentagon and NSA information.

Ok, this story hit the press the day after his prognostications were published, but we’re sure that this was known in circles prior to the announcement, what to speak of the fact that Alexa has been used as a witness in a murder trial, so how is Amazon not part of the surveillance state? Read More...

A Rip in the World As We Know It

A Rip in the World As We Know It

There’s nothing like an Internet outage to demonstrate precisely how much power is focused in the hands of the few. Two weeks ago, at 12:47 pm EST, Amazon Web Services experienced a 3S outage for several hours, taking websites, apps and devices either fully or partially down with it. “Affected websites and services include(d) Quora, newsletter provider Sailthru, Business Insider, Giphy, image hosting at a number of publisher websites, filesharing in Slack, and many more. Connected lightbulbs, thermostats and other IoT hardware (was) also being impacted, with many unable to control these devices as a result of the outage,” Techcrunch reported. “Amazon S3 is used by around 148,213 websites, and 121,761 unique domains, according to data tracked by SimilarTech, and its popularity as a content host concentrates specifically in the U.S. It’s used by 0.8 percent of the top 1 million websites.”

“Notably, this wasn’t technically an “outage,” since Amazon’s S3 wasn’t not entirely out of commission and some services were only partially affected,” says Business Insider, which, once again, failed to disclose that Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos was a major investor in the publication.

It was back up some four hours later and as often happens with tech, we’re apoplectic when our devices don’t work for a while, but once all is resolved, it’s usually more or less a case of business as usual, and in the case of the S3 outage, it may well have even given a few people a brief respite from the government listening posts. Read More...

The New Normal

The New Normal

The big news last week was the Snap IPO – the biggest since Alibaba – which raised $3.4 billion for Snap, a company which managed to lose $514.6M last year and has lost money every year since it began commercial operations in 2011,” according to CNBC and, forest through the trees, “has warned that it will never make a profit.”

Facebook tried to buy Snap nee, Snapchat, a few years back for some $3B – pass – so they bought Instagram instead, for the now seemingly bargain price of $1B. Of course, Instagram didn’t have the number of eyeballs that Snapchat did at the time, but since Facebook, um, appropriated features that Snap had innovated – Stories comes to mind – Instagram’s popularity and growth has far outdistanced Snap’s. And remember: eyeballs/exponential growth are the holy grail of Silicon Valley investors and the market. We do know that Twitter has come up more than once in articles covering the Snap IPO, as how long did Twitter skate after the IPO, promising continued user growth, which never materialized. Au contraire, but they did go a good long time with nary a sustainable revenue model in sight, and a falling user base, which does go far in explaining the lack of a buyer for the company.

For the record, ‘growth potential,’ ‘eyeballs,’ – this is the language of Web 1.0, when it was all potential, all the time. The potential was there; the timing was off: the bubble burst. That was then and this is now, and we’re at the Too Big to Fail Stage in the history of tech. Read More...

Crimes, Misdemeanors – and Business As Usual

Crimes, Misdemeanors – and Business As Usual

Move fast and break things. Do more faster. These are the mantras that the tech industry, particular those in Silicon Valley, cut their teeth on. Competition is fierce and timing (first to market) – and perception (category killer: think Google and Facebook) – is everything. So is it a wonder that Uber has drawn so much scrutiny and criticism for its practices lately? On all fronts, it seems.

Has Uber Gone Too Far this Time? Is Uber involved in a Smear Campaign,?” asks Michael Spencer on LinkedIn, referring not only to former Uber employee Susan Fowler’s blog on the sexual harassment she encountered at the company, which was not unique to her but instead, fairly widespread in Uber’s frat boy culture, according to Caroline Fairchild on LinkedIn.

Then there’s the Google patent infringement lawsuit, which is alleging that Uber is using stolen technology which it acquired through its purchase of Otto, to advance its own autonomous-car development (A Stray Email Caused Google’s Waymo to Sue Uber and Otto Over Stolen Tech). Read More...

The Things We Think and Do Not Say

The Things We Think and Do Not Say

This past week, not unlike Jerry Maguire, Mark Zuckerberg issued a mission statement, with some 5700 words on the goals of Facebook. To refresh your memory, there has been some speculation of late as to whether or not the Facebook founder is preparing a presidential run, presumably in 2024, but now it seems, he has decided that, instead, he wants to rule the world. According to Mashable, with his manifesto, Mark Zuckerberg just said he wants Facebook to save the world. Same difference.

Facebook has certainly been under the microscope lately. Between the so-called fake news (we say ‘so-called,’ as while Macedonian teenagers might have posted misinformation, news sources that don’t necessarily follow lock-step with the world view of the Silicon Valley/global elite were also conveniently lumped into this category and even the ethics of Facebook’s chosen outside fact-checkers are called into question) and streaming suicides, murders and gang rapes, Facebook has become a veritable online Roman Coliseum.

As Zuckerberg discusses the evolution of peoples from tribes to cities to nations, he’s no doubt considering that that’s the progression of Facebook as well, which is in parallel to the global community that Silicon Valley would like to see, with national boundaries as a leftover of a bygone or disappearing era, and isn’t Facebook, after all, a global community without boundaries? The social network does not suffer under the inconvenience of national barriers. Read More...

The Top 10 Whines of 2016

The Top 10 Whines of 2016

2016 was not an easy year. It was one in which emotions ran high – to put it mildly. This considered, we decided to pay homage to some of those emotions and one thing is certain: it was definitely a vintage year for whines. While there might be a preponderance of Silicon Valley people, places and companies on the list, remember – California is known for its whines. Without further ado and in no particular order:

Elizabeth Holmes/Tim Draper: It was decidedly not a good year for tech’s first female unicorn, whose fortunes went from $4+ billion to zero. The company also left a trail of unhappy investors, but not Tim Draper, who whined about the unfair press that brought the company down. “Instead of those negative reports, he argued in ArsTechnica, people should focus on what Theranos is doing for consumers. They “love” the company, he added, despite the fact that thousands of consumers have had their blood test results—results that may have led to incorrect treatments—corrected or voided. And several consumers have filed lawsuits seeking class-action status against Theranos.” We know that Holmes idolizes Steve Jobs – who is also gone, but not forgotten.

Jack Dorsey: the CEO of Twitter and Square had a mixed year. Square is doing well, from all reports, but Twitter – not so much, with the stock price pretty much in la toilette and not a buyer in sight. One of the Golden Boys of Silicon Valley lost nearly 20% of his net worth recently, with his Twitter stock tanking, but as we always say, just because you can start a company, doesn’t necessarily mean that you can run one. Or two, at the same time, for that matter. For those unhappy shareholders who believed that wunderkind Dorsey was the exception, well, it might be just that you don’t know Jack. Read More...

Trust, Transparency and Totalitarianism

Trust, Transparency and Totalitarianism

Don’t look at us: Mark Zuckerberg started it.

Last week, The Guardian published a piece entitled Facebook and Google: most powerful and secretive empires we’ve ever known, and, considering the power and reach of the platforms, they’re not merely tech companies: more accurately, they are perhaps two of the most powerful nation-states in the world at the moment and given how ubiquitous they are in our lives, they arguably wield more power/have a larger reach than any corporation or government that the world has seen, to date. As Ellen P. Goodman and Julia Powles state in the piece, “We call them platforms, networks or gatekeepers. But these labels hardly fit. The appropriate metaphor eludes us; even if we describe them as vast empires, they are unlike any we’ve ever known. Far from being discrete points of departure, merely supporting the action or minding the gates, they have become something much more significant. They have become the medium through which we experience and understand the world.

“As their users, we are like the blinkered young fish in the parable memorably retold by David Foster Wallace. When asked, “How’s the water?” we swipe blank: “What the hell is water?” Read More...

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

While we do realize that many tech companies have young founders whose youthful missteps can sometimes be forgiven, yea, even in business, neither companies nor founders stay young forever, and we were just wondering what the benchmark is for when certain tech companies will grow up and take responsibility.

It recently came to light that Yahoo! was compromised back in 2014, but waited two years to confirm a data breach “affecting 500 million user accounts, which would make the breach the largest in history.” In fact, according to Recode (who broke the story), If you’ve ever created a Yahoo account, take these steps immediately to protect your data – it’s not just your Yahoo account that’s vulnerable. Lest we forget, we sometimes share sensitive information in email, and two years, Gracie? We realize that Yahoo mail is free, but does that mean that the company doesn’t have some sort of responsibility to inform its users when there’s a major data breach? Don’t ask. Or in this case, given that it took two years for the story to come out, more like don’t tell.

Zuck up of the week: Meanwhile, Mark Zuckerberg admitted last week that for the last two year, Facebook has been systematically overestimating the time its users spent watching videos on the site by ignoring views that lasted less than three seconds – a ‘miscalculation,’ according to Facebook’s David Fischer, that amounted to an overestimation of some 60 to 80 percent. The company’s spin is priceless and definitely worth a read. Read More...

The Just Because You’re Paranoid Edition, aka, They’re Heeere…

The Just Because You’re Paranoid Edition, aka, They’re Heeere…

In case you haven’t yet noticed, Google is now on street corners all over New York City, which is not only home to millions of New Yorkers, but is also one of the most international of cities, hosting tourists and business people from all over the world, what to speak of UN delegates and their families and UN Missions and consulates and visiting politicos. Pay attention.

Not too long ago, a consortium called CityBridge started wiring New York with wi-fi kiosks, many of which are replacing public phones. Everyone loves ubiquitous free wi-fi, but if there’s one thing that we’ve learned about the tech industry, it’s that free is never free: that if you’re not the (paying) customer, you’re the product. “If all goes according to the plan, the kiosks will be as commonplace as pay phones once were,” says The New York Times (New Yorkers Greet the Arrival of Wi-Fi Kiosks With Panic, Skepticism and Relief), “…Once a smartphone is registered, it will automatically connect to the Wi-Fi signals that radiate from the kiosks and extend 100 feet or more.”

Which means that you’ll be tracked all over town. Read More...

The Payback is a Bitch Edition

The Payback is a Bitch Edition

First, a must-read: Tech’s Enduring Great-Man Myth.

As promised, no editorial this week due to the holidays, but rust and tech – and hubris, it seems – never rests, and given the increasing amount of connectedness/surveillance/ control of which tech is capable, and with governments at the table and in the code, fyi:

Google My Activity shows everything that company knows about its users ­ and there’s a lot Read More...

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