The NewCo Daily: Today’s Top Stories
Political campaigns and startups have always shared some basic traits: They’re ad hoc organizations with limited time and resources to achieve their missions. They inspire both idealism and cynicism. And whether they change the world or not, they change the lives of the people who join them.
It’s still too early to say whether the 2016 election will inspire a wave of new political candidates who draw inspiration from the world of tech startups, but this week brings news of at least one: Developer and game-company founder Brianna Wu, who emerged as a progressive foe of online bullies during the “Gamergate” fight, is exploring a run for a seat in Congress from the Boston area (Venturebeat). Wu credits Donald Trump’s victory as her chief motivation: “I can’t sit by making pleasant video game distractions for the next four years while the constitution is under assault,” she says.
Wu’s move could represent the start of a groundswell of political engagement on the part of tech and startup leaders — whose belief that they can stay “above politics” no longer holds water, as Josh Felser writes in NewCo Shift. Inspired? You can use NationBuilder’s RunForOffice tool to see what offices you’re currently eligible to seek.
A Multi-Billion Bet on Social Investing
Double bottom line investing — in which businesses aim to track not only financial results but social-good outcomes — is about to get its biggest field-test yet (Andrew Ross Sorkin in DealBook/The New York Times). Rise, a new $2 billion investment fund created by William E. McGlashan Jr. of the private equity firm TPG, features the participation of headline names like Bono, Jeff Skoll, Richard Branson, Laurene Powell Jobs, and many more.
The fund will invest domestically and abroad in everything from healthcare and clean energy to microlending and housing. It promises a tough-minded approach to measuring its social results. “It can’t be religion; it has to be quantitative. It has to be something that a third-party view would validate,” McGlashan says. Will this giant experiment in “doing good and doing well” pay off for either bottom line? Check back for results in a year or two.
That Muslim Registry? Tech Already Built It
The “Never Again” pledge that many engineers, designers, and leaders in tech have taken — to withhold their efforts from any plan by the Trump administration to build a Muslim registry — puts an inspiring stake in the ground. Many tech companies have also expressed their unwillingness to aid any such plan.
There’s one problem, writes Brian Feldman (New York): The vast data collection effort at the heart of most big tech-platform companies today means that these companies have already built a Muslim registry many times over (along with one for Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, and every other religion). If you haven’t explicitly told a service about your faith, its algorithms can probably predict it. A U.S. administration that wanted to use this information for oppressive purposes might have to fight to get access to it, but it wouldn’t have to work to assemble it.
For an example of how that might work that’s already being put into practice elsewhere in the world, just take a look at China’s scheme to create a “digital social registry” — a kind of state-sponsored reputational system on steroids that will score citizens not only on stuff like credit records but on political loyalty and social docility (The Economist). The chance to win or lose “social credit” points based on compliance or resistance to government rules sounds dystopian, to people in China as well as in the West. That’s not stopping China’s one-party leaders from iterating on it.
When giant corporations and governments are both building directories of human data that are ripe for abuse, our best defense may lie in their systems’ proneness to error. As Sue Halpern writes in The New York Review of Books, we increasingly depend on programs that serve us ads and information and that govern our financial lives, yet our trust in them is frequently rewarded with mistakes and absurdity — as she learned when she discovered how inaccurate her Facebook ad profile is.
“The fallibility of human beings is written into the algorithms that humans write,” Halpern argues. That’s something to be wary of, but also maybe to be thankful for: The world where we’ve perfected code and data is also one where we can no longer withhold anything from companies or governments.
How WhatsApp Became Immigrants’ Best Friend
With political tides everywhere turning hostile to immigrants and refugees, WhatsApp, the free chat app acquired by Facebook in 2014, has become “the lingua franca among people who, whether by choice or by force, have left their homes for the unknown” (Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times). That’s in part because WhatsApp has a relatively good reputation for privacy and security — and also because the app has kept its workings simple and approachable.
The ubiquity of connected smartphones means that WhatsApp is not only useful for migrants who have arrived at a destination to stay in touch with the “old country”; it’s a vital lifeline at every point along the journey, allowing travelers to pass information quickly about shifting policies and sudden dangers. (Misinformation, of course, can also spread fast.) Since WhatsApp encrypts its communications, refugees trust that governments aren’t listening in. As long as the immigrant experience is under siege, access to such tools will remain a blessing.
We’ll Keep Doing Us, Thank You Very Much
Libby Schaaf, the new mayor of Oakland, talks with NewCo editor in chief John Battelle about President Trump, Uber’s move, the gentrification and housing crises, and why cities are the antidote to Presidential politics (NewCo Shift).