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Big Revolution - Big tech wins again

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Welcome to Friday's newsletter. Today, I'm mainly celebrating that my favourite band, The Fiery Furna
 
June 19 · Issue #750 · View online
Big Revolution
Welcome to Friday’s newsletter. Today, I’m mainly celebrating that my favourite band, The Fiery Furnaces, released their first new song in 11 years yesterday.
— Martin from Big Revolution

Big things you need to know today
  • The UK government has finally switched its contact-tracing app to the Apple/Google API. This means the app won’t be available until late this year, and by then it may not even include contact tracing at all. More on this below.
  • Facebook has removed Trump campaign ads that features a Nazi symbol. The ads used a symbol the Nazis used designate political prisoners. What’s more, there were reportedly 88 variations of the ad, and 88 is an important number to modern-day Nazis 🤔
  • TikTok has revealed some details about how its ‘For You’ algorithm works. The algorithm has been acclaimed for being particularly good at highlighting what specific users enjoy.
  • Colin Kaepernick is joining Medium’s board. The man who invented ‘taking the knee’ will join at a time when tech companies are keen to show their commitment to Black Lives Matter. Facebook yesterday announced a $200m commitment to Black-owned businesses and organisations, and a range of initiatives to promote Black voices and provide training to Black people.
The big thought
Credit: Andy Holmes on Unsplash
Credit: Andy Holmes on Unsplash
Big tech wins again
It was inevitable, wasn’t it? Just as anyone with an understanding of tech predicted, the UK government has finally switched its contact tracing app efforts to the Apple and Google API that pretty much every other country and US state has adopted.
The specific with the old system was as the BBC reports, “the software registered about 75% of nearby Android handsets but only 4% of iPhones.”
But there’s a chance that even the reworked app may not see the light of day with contact tracing included. The BBC again:
The government now intends to launch an app in the autumn, however it says the product may not involve contact tracing at that point.
Instead the software may be limited to enabling users to report their symptoms and order a test.
Baroness Dido Harding - who heads up the wider Test and Trace programme - will only give the green light to actually deploying the Apple-Google technology if she judges it to be fit for purpose, which she does not believe is the case at present. It is possible this may never happen.
The Apple-Google API version is apparently much better at detecting iPhones but worse at detecting the distance between different devices.
So it’s not as simple as smugly laughing at a government that tried to do things its own way, because there’s a valid point that governments should have sovereignty over deploying tech they believe is best for their populations. Whether you agree with the UK government’s overall approach or not, the idea that Apple and Google should decide what is best for every country in the world is disturbing to say the least.
The ‘decentralised’ model of the Apple-Google approach is certainly better for user privacy than hoarding all the data on a central database, but should it be big tech corporations that decide this? Or should they do their best to accommodate the requests of elected governments around the world? And if they don’t, maybe we need to take a long, hard look at big tech’s power, and what it could mean for our future.
One big read
Videoconferencing Needs to Climb Out of the Uncanny Valley Videoconferencing Needs to Climb Out of the Uncanny Valley
“Many people will continue to work from home more, but remote communication tools are still lacking. Tech companies are racing to add more presence to our telepresence.”
One big tweet
Dan Scheinman
Every VC who did not invest in Zoom is now an expert in the verticalization of video conferencing. Some of the same folks who literally told me there was no market demand 5 years ago. 🤷‍♀️
That’s all for today...
Back tomorrow with your big weekend reads.
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