Platforms are like doctors; A day with Bezos; AI poetry from a lion

Main Course
HBR: Platforms Should Become Information Fiduciaries

Harvard professor Johnathan Zittrain writes in HBR that large internet platforms should have a fiduciary duty to users: “Like doctors, lawyers, and financial advisers, social media platforms and their concierges are given sensitive information by their users, and those users expect a fair shake — whether they’re trying to find out what’s going on in the world or how to get somewhere or do something.” It’s an idea increasing in popularity among academics; we’ll see if it gains traction in policy rings, or if politicians remain content with Committee hearings and grandstanding.

Report: How the right uses YouTube to influence and “sell” a political ideology.
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Data & Society’s report visualizes how YouTube’s recommendations can lead users from moderate to increasingly radicalized channels.

A new Data & Society report analyzes how political influencers adopt the techniques of brands to build audiences and sell them a political ideology. Of note: “YouTube is a principal online news source for young people. Which is why it is concerning that YouTube… has become the single most important hub by which an extensive network of far-right influencers profit from broadcasting propaganda to young viewers. Social networking between influencers makes it easy for audience members to be incrementally exposed to, and come to trust, ever more extremist political positions.”


Lighter Fare

⌚️ Watch out: Hodinkee’s got a review of the Apple Watch Series 4 after a week on the wrist. The cult classic Ikepod watch (perhaps most recognizable now because its strap design is used on the aforementioned Apple Watch) is also back, starting at less than $400. Quartz for now, but since the Kickstarter has already blown past its goal, those hoping for an automatic version may have something to look forward to in 2019.

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Ikepod is back and better than ever; if you squint, doesn’t it look like the Apple Watch? | Source: Ikepod

🌮 A Financial Times columnist reflects on the enduring regionalism of cuisine, writing,  “To eat out is to see through the world-as-village conceit. Except at the lowest price point (McDonald’s) and the highest (Nobu), a global dining scene — in which each cuisine is, like an iPhone, consistent across the world — remains not just elusive but unimaginable.

🍌 Elsewhere in food: peeling back the history of the banana, and American habits are changing faster than fast food can keep up (or, restaurant visits are at a 28-year low).

🤑 Forbes’ interview with Bezos. One of the best quotes from the $160 billion man: “Friends congratulate me after a quarterly-earnings announcement and say, ‘Good job, great quarter,’ and I’ll say, ‘Thank you, but that quarter was baked three years ago.’ I’m working on a quarter that’ll happen in 2021 right now.

Amazon Go opens its fourth location, this time in Chicago. Salesforce’s Benioff purchases TIME for $190 million. This week in the genre of tech-founder-gives-news-outlet-an-opportunity-to-profile-to-prove-he’s-an-okay-guy: Kairos’ Ankur Jain is profiled by the New Yorker, and Business of Fashion’s Imran Ahmed is profiled by the Guardian. At the intersection of politics and retail: #NikeBoycott is over, and why retail activism rarely changes anything. Important reminders for men in tech (and elsewhere). Can the maker of Tasers provide answers and new technologies to assist with police abuse? Ikea’s self driving ambitions.

🍾 A week of anniversaries: WIRED turns 25 and the Economist turns 175, with the requisite reflective essays to accompany the milestones.

📱 Apple v. Kanye. The Financial Times points out that two industries historically poles apart – fashion and tech – will go head-to-head on Friday. Adidas’ Yeezy line will have its biggest drop yet, while Apple will debut the first of its new phone line. Apple has always gladly straddled the line of luxury brand disguised as tech company (or is the other way around?), while Kanye has declared a goal of democratizing high-end fashion. His $220 sneakers are a good start.

🦁 Please Feed the Lions: Designer Es Devlin, who has in the past found herself in the good graces of Kanye West and Beyonce, is behind a new project titled Please Feed the Lions. Visitors to the sculpture in London’s Trafalgar Square “feed” the lion a word via tablet. The lion then uses AI to create a poem using the word.

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AI-powered poetry, brought to you by a lion | Source: Google

Mr. Zuck Goes to Washington

ZUCK BE HUMBLE

Mr. Zuckerberg goes to Washington, and the tech journo community can barely contain its excitement, ready to pour itself a big glass of lulz as it watches the little fucker squirm.

From the The New York Times:

Internal staff has pushed Mr. Zuckerberg to answer lawmakers’ questions directly, and not to appear overly defensive. Their goal is to make Mr. Zuckerberg appear as humble, agreeable and as forthright as possible, the people close to the preparations said

Zuck will testify before the Senate Commerce and Judiciary committees on Tuesday and the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday. Expect calls for privacy regulations from the Left, claims of bias in social media from the Right, and a whole lot of nothing in the end. Oh, Wall Street will be watching closely too: Facebook stock is down about 15% since the Cambridge Analytica news broke, mostly on fears that Facebook’s ad-driven business model or data collection practices may finally run up against regulation from Washington.

The Congressional testimony comes a week after Zuckerberg fielded 45 minutes of questions from big-time jouros (basically a dry run for his Congressional testimony). One recurring theme: that Facebook is an “idealistic and optimistic company”, and for the first decade of its existence, it didn’t really think about how its tool could also be used for bad. And in Zuckerberg’s defense, neither did other people: from the ’08 Obama campaign to the Arab Spring and many grassroots efforts in between, social media has been a tool used for good. Even now, the #MarchForOurLives kids have done a great job using social media to mobilize. As Congress contemplates legislation, it’s important to keep this in mind.

As it turns out, his prepared remarks – released in advance of his testimony – are similar to remarks from last week’s press conference, with Zuckerberg closing out by saying “I know we’ll look back and view helping people connect and giving more people a voice as a positive force in the world.” Yea, if only he could get the Nazis to stfu in the meantime.

No matter what happens, SNL’s Mark Zuckerberg summed it up best this weekend: “unlike my facial expression, Facebook is going to change.”

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It never really made sense to me that the “front” of the Capitol doesn’t face the National Mall | Photo by Louis Velazquez on Unsplash

🚘 Picture me rollin’

Meanwhile, the FTC has confirmed that it’s already investigating Facebook’s privacy practices. It could a huge ass fine, with some 87 million users having their data exposed and Facebook potentially on the hook for a $40,000 fine per violation. Oh, and now some consumer groups are saying the FTC should investigate Facebook’s collection of face and biometric data. TFW 😱

🚫 Deja CubeYou…

In other (or really, the same) news, CubeYou and its Apply Magic Sauce quiz was suspended from Facebook for doing basically what Cambridge Analytica did. This time it took a CNBC investigation to get Facebook’s attention. So have we really learned anything yet?

👩‍⚕️ What to ask next time you see your doctor

Wanna check my data too? In the New York Times, Harvard professor Jonathan Zittrain proposes that Facebook, like doctors or lawyers, should be deemed “fiduciaries,” meaning they’re legally obliged to place clients’ or patients’ interests above their own. It kind of makes sense, right? Companies like Google and Facebook have similarly sensitive, and much more, information as compared to our doctor or lawyer (I skipped both those annual check ups this year), and can certainly wield a lot of power over users. And as these companies and their algorithms get better at predicting and shaping our behavior, wouldn’t it be great if they didn’t just use that power to sell us more stuff or place us in little filter bubbles?

😇 Honestly?

Finally, Facebook has formally announced its support for the Honest Ads Act, which would require all digital platforms with more than 50m users to maintain a public file of all election ads purchased by a person or group who spends at least $500 on the platform. Fast forward to 2020 when thousands of Russian accounts are buying $499 worth of ads.


BACKPAGE.COM ON THE FRONT PAGE

The Feds shutdown Backpage.com on Friday, following it up with a 93-count indictment on Monday, charging its two co-founders and five other employees with money laundering and facilitating prostitution. Backpage is a classifieds website (think Craigslist for creeps/felons) that’s faced persistent allegations of facilitating illegal prostitution that law enforcement has been after for years. Importantly, this has nothing to do with Congress passing a crappy bill called FOSTA/SESTA, which, while trying to stop online sex trafficking, will make the problem worse (my explanation). President Trump hasn’t signed the bill into law yet, so color me shocked when a Congresswoman is trying to claim victory for something she didn’t really have anything to do with:

The shutdown is actually the result of long-running court cases in numerous states that have recently found Backpage.com is not entitled to immunity under Community Decency Act § 230, the statute which generally provides for immunity from liability for internet intermediaries.


👮‍♂️ This week Amazon should…

Call Alexa to the witness stand. This according to a CNet report, where a man’s own pacemaker is being used against him to show he committed arson, and wasn’t asleep – as he’d claimed – when his house caught fire. Of course, it won’t stop at pacemakers. From the law’s perspective, the data is fair game under the 4th Amendment, so if law enforcement gets a warrant, Alexa can be dragged into court.  And if it’s Alexa’s word against mine, I don’t like my chances.


📬 I don’t care about your damn emails! In a sign that whitehouse.gov might be as vulnerable as whitehouse.com, a report says that most domains under the purview of the Executive Office of the President aren’t using a certain protocol to protect email addresses from phishing and other hacking attacks (Cyberscoop).

🎭 When is anonymous anonymous? A Texas court may soon have the answer, but not before Big Tech weighs in (Law360).

👾Instructions on how to use Cloudflare’s new 1.1.1.1 to get a truly encrypted DNS service and keep your ISP out of your shit (Ars Technica).

🎧 What’s a stream cost? Music licensing is complex and expensive (unless you’re YouTube. A graph comparing artist revenue, users, and loss per user of major streaming platforms (Information Is Beautiful).

Ad Blockers, AT&T and Weird Antitrust Questions

Chrome’s new ad blocker raises antitrust concerns; a new consumer right to control grounded in an old AT&T rule may help

On February 15, Google’s Chrome browser began blocking certain types of advertisements. Many news outlets have raised legitimate concerns about the limited scope of Chrome’s new ad blocking efforts in addition to the “process” through which Google arrived at its implemented solution (the process was basically this: Google creates “Coalition for Better Ads”; Google performs research about most annoying types of ads for new Coalition; Google “forgets” to test annoying pre-roll YouTube ads in research; Google blocks 17% of ads tested; Google will not address issue of user tracking, raising privacy concerns).

Many of the reactions to Chrome’s ad blocker have suggested potential antitrust issues associated with the internet’s biggest advertiser using its market-leading browser (59% of internet users use Chrome) to dictate which ads are shown to users. And they’re right: Google didn’t test YouTube’s pre-roll ads in its initial “research” even though the Coalition has said these are “least preferred” and Chrome’s ad blocker has set out to block other such pre-roll ads. There’s an argument to be made that this is an anti-competitive move by Google, leveraging its market dominance to suppress competing advertisers.

If it looks like a banned ad and smells like a banned ad, it’s probably just one of those annoying YouTube ads that Chrome conveniently forgot to block.

Continue reading Ad Blockers, AT&T and Weird Antitrust Questions