Right now the European Union is a lot more serious than the U.S. about protecting users’ privacy. Signaling that it means business, the union has fined Facebook 110 million euros for providing inaccurate information to EU regulators about its acquisition of WhatsApp in 2014 (Reuters).
At the time, Facebook had said that it couldn’t match individual users’ Facebook accounts with their accounts on WhatsApp. But last year the social network did just that. Facebook says it made an unintentional error in its filings. The root of the issue lies in Facebook’s effort to reduce duplicate accounts, which skew the total-user numbers that its market valuation depends on (Quartz).
James McGill Buchanan may be the most influential conservative economic thinker you’ve never heard of. His belief that liberty (in the free-markets sense) was incompatible with democracy (in the people-power sense) has shaped the conservative movement from the Goldwater era to the present, according to a new book by Nancy MacLean, Democracy in Chains (Alex Shephard in The New Republic).
MacLean traces the roots of Buchanan’s thinking to the dawn of the school voucher movement in the fallout of the Brown v. Board of Education decision that barred segregated schools. In his lifetime, Buchanan, who died four years ago, was often overshadowed by Milton Friedman, who became the celebrity market-promoting economist.
Facebook is hitting the two billion user mark right about now. It’s also in the process of becoming one of the world’s largest censors, as it doubles its staff of “content reviewers” to more than 7000 to try to keep up with a rising tide of illegal, hateful, or abusive posts.
Julia Angwin and Hannes Grassegger of ProPublica take a long, fascinating look at the troubles Facebook is getting into by hiring a deletion army. The company is in effect setting itself up as a quasi-legal authority over expression on its platform — one whose laws are not published, whose enforcers are anonymous, and whose judgments cannot be appealed.
That virus that shut down networks around the world this week, the one that’s been dubbed Petya, isn’t propagating like crazy anymore. But as we’ve learned more about it, it has begun to look even more consequential — less of a disaster than a prophecy.
Point one: Petya turns out not to be “ransomware” at all. It asked users to pay money to free their data, but their data has already been deleted (The Verge).
Large corporations’ enthusiasm for giving conference rooms offbeat names can no longer be considered a mere fad. The practice has been around too long, and is now a fixture (Leah Fessler in Quartz). Labeling these often otherwise indistinguishable rooms has become a method for a firm to tell the world what it’s all about. As business scholar Sarah Brazaitis puts it in Quartz, “Companies that name their conference and meeting rooms according to themes are doing so to communicate their values and organizational culture to their employees, customers, clients, and all who enter.”
The Quartz piece offers a lengthy, though hardly exhaustive, catalog of some representative conference-room-naming practices today. Sometimes the schemes are straightforward: At Elon Musk’s SpaceX, the names are those of legendary space explorers. Twitter uses bird species and, since moving into its downtown San Francisco HQ, names related to the history of its home town.
Ransomware attacks — in which virally propagated malware spreads from computer to computer, locking up owners’ data until a ransom is paid — are becoming a regular thing. Yesterday the latest one emerged in Europe, hobbling banks, communications systems, and power companies in Ukraine and spreading sporadically around the world (The Guardian).
The new attack is similar to the Wannacry incident last month in that it exploits an old vulnerability in Microsoft Windows — if you’re up to date, you should be safe — and depends, at least in part, on hacking tools originally developed by the NSA.
You know how, when you search Google for some kind of product, the top of the results page displays a row of ad boxes for the product? That’s called Google Shopping, and it just cost the company $2.7 billion in fines from the European Union. Regulators there charge that Google has favored its own shopping search tool at the expense of competitors’ offerings (The New York Times).
That penalty amount is way higher than experts expected, and it holds dark omens for Google. It’s not that the large penalty is itself a serious problem for the wealthy company; it earned twice that amount in the first quarter of this year alone.
Last week The Information posted a story detailing multiple incidents in which a venture capitalist named Justin Caldbeck of Binary Capital made sexual advances upon female entrepreneurs his firm was investing in (or considering investing in) — six incidents documented in total, three in which the accusers went on the record with their names.
It’s hardly a shock to learn that such things happen in the clubby, male-dominated VC industry, which has had its share of gender-related scandals over the years. But it’s a clear sign that the business of funding the future is in serious need of self-examination and reform.
We shouldn’t be worried about artificial intelligence turning into our new robotic overlords, but that doesn’t mean we should stop worrying about AI, writes Kai-Fu Lee, the Microsoft and Google veteran who helped invent the field of speech recognition and is now a leading investor and voice on the Chinese internet. Writing in The New York Times, Lee argues that our global economy is about to be more deeply disrupted than we have been willing to imagine, as AI draws tight new boundaries around the employment opportunities for humans.
In the continuing debate on whether AI will eliminate tons of jobs or just revamp them, mark Lee down as a strong eliminationist. He foresees “a wide-scale decimation of jobs,” along with an unprecedented flow of profit and wealth to the companies that introduce the new technology.
Antitrust fights in the tech industry have always been problematic. Software is a “non-rival” good — additional copies cost nothing to produce, and one person possessing it doesn’t exclude another — so monopolies don’t feel like such a big problem, and the industry changes so quickly that monopolies tend to be fleeting. The last big antitrust battle in tech, the 1990s-era case against Microsoft, created a lot of sound and fury but mostly succeeded in distracting, rather than dismantling, its target.