Following my Senate testimony last month, several Senators reached out with additional questions and clarification requests. As I understand it this is pretty standard. Given I published my testimony here earlier, I asked if I could do the same for my written followup. The committee agreed, the questions and my answers are below.
Last Sunday was Father’s Day, and I never thought I’d say this, but I was glad to get a tie, because my wife knew I would need it (it’s been literally over a decade since I’ve worn one). Today I was called to testify before a Senate Commerce committee hearing on Facebook and the role of data in society. Apparently they’ve been reading my work and, well, that landed me in DC. My full written testimony, replete with dozens of links to my previous work and coming in at 2500 or so words, is published on Searchblog. Below is what I read into verbal testimony before the Senators got into a couple hours of questioning, which, by they way, I found to be well informed and enlightened.
It’s somehow fitting that today, May 25th, marks my return to writing here on Searchblog, after a long absence driven in large part by the launch of NewCo Shift as a publication on Medium more than two years ago. Since then Medium has deprecated its support for publications (and abandoned its original advertising model), and I’ve soured even more than usual on “platforms,” whether they be well intentioned (as I believe Medium is) or indifferent toward and fundamentally bad for publishing (as I believe Facebook to be).
With the launch of 220.127.116.11, Cloudflare thumbs its nose at ISPs and the big platforms (AKA Google), and once again declares itself a business willing to start, and lead, tech’s toughest conversations
Over the past year Cloudflare became best known not for the impressive services it has built in the Internet networking space, but for an action taken by its CEO Matthew Prince during the swirl following Trump’s Charlottesville comments. After initially defending the free speech rights of its neo-Nazi customer The Daily Stormer, Prince finally had enough. When the site claimed Cloudflare secretly supported its hateful philosophy, Prince kicked the site off the company’s network.
Apple has agreed that the encryption keys for iCloud user accounts for Chinese persons will be stored in China, as Reuters reported today.
If you aren’t familiar with Chinese law and the situation around this, this may seem relatively innocuous: a company is doing business in a country, and complying with that country’s local laws. What’s significant about this is that it represents a major change in how legal process works.
Every year, I make predictions, and every year, I score myself. As I wrote nearly 12 months ago, 2017 felt particularly unpredictable. As it turns out, my musings were often on target. Except when they weren’t…
I’ve played with all manners of scoring over the years, but this year I’m going with a straight zero to ten rating. Zero if I whiffed entirely, ten if I hit it out of the park, and some kind of partial credit in between. Then add ‘em up, divide by the number of predictions, and that’ll be my overall batting average.
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.
Apple’s secrecy is a legendary and defining corporate trait. Like the quasi-government the company is increasingly becoming, it has an extensive program to fight leaks. We know that because, well, somebody leaked a recording of an hour-long presentation on Apple’s campaign (William Turton in The Outline). It turns out Apple employs a global team of leak-stoppers that includes former employees of the NSA, the FBI, the Secret Service, and branches of the U.S. military.
The purpose of all this secrecy, Apple execs insist, is “surprise and delight” among customers when they finally learn of some new Apple product or feature at the time of the company’s choosing. That kind of choreographed product launch has long been an Apple trademark, to be sure. But the company’s insistence on secrecy, like the inward-turning design of its gigantic new headquarters, underscores the increasingly insular nature of Apple’s culture.
Facebook is giving its content-moderation effort a big injection of artificial intelligence to try to stem the flood of “extremist” material on the social network (The New York Times). For those who are outraged that Facebook and other online platforms haven’t done enough to counter terrorist recruiting materials and organizers, this will be welcome news. But it raises lots of dilemmas for Facebook that we fear the company isn’t ready to resolve, despite VP Elliot Schrage’s admission that this is one of the “hard questions” the company now confronts.
“We agree with those who say that social media should not be a place where terrorists have a voice,” two Facebook managers wrote, explaining company policy. Their post names ISIS and Al Qaeda as examples of groups they’re aiming to limit. But it barely acknowledges the larger issue of defining “terrorism” and “terrorist content” in a more rational, appropriate, and universal way than just “Muslims who bomb people,” or neatly distinguishing between posts that describe terrorist acts and those that promote them.
Despite new drugs, brain scans, and other innovations, mental illness remains an epidemic that we don’t know how to cure or treat. Tom Insel is trying to change that, and he thinks our phones will be the key (David Dobbs in The Atlantic). Insel, who led the National Institute of Mental Health for 13 years, left government to join the mental-health effort at Verily, Google’s healthcare spinoff — and recently left Verily for a new startup called Mindstrong.
Like several other companies in this field, Mindstrong intends to use the stream of data that our phones produce as a sort of early-warning system for the onset of conditions like depression and schizophrenia, and then help connect the user with counselors, peers, or doctors who can offer resources and treatments — quickly enough to make a difference.