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Tech Revolution
Issue #1018 • View online
Hello there,
First, Netflix has bought the rights to all of Roald Dahl’s work. From the sound of Variety’s report on the deal, it seems like they’re planning something like a ‘Dahl cinematic universe’, which will either be great or something the world never needed.
Elsewhere this week, the iPhone 13 reviews are out. I’m skipping this one (you really don’t need to buy a new phone every year these days, if you ever did). But if you’re in the market for an iPhone this review roundup gives you a feel for what people who’ve tried the new models think, and Matthew Panzarino’s annual camera test at Disneyland is always worth a look.
This week I have been:
Okay, shall we begin our dive into the near future? Let’s go…
— Martin

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🤔 Big questions
From this week’s news…
🧠 Do we need to rethink China?
Not so long ago, predictions for 21st century geopolitics pretty much all looked like this: the rise and rise of China.
In recent times, the increasingly authoritarian approach of Xi Jinping, not to mention the country’s treatment of the Uyghurs, have led some to reconsider whether Western businesses should be embracing China, but the general line of thought in business was ‘you can stay out of China, but you’ll be missing out on a lot of opportunities’.
But now Xi seems to be taking the country that he can now rule for the rest of his life down a different path. As the Wall Street Journal reported this week:
He is trying to roll back China’s decadeslong evolution toward Western-style capitalism and put the country on a different path entirely, a close examination of Mr. Xi’s writings and his discussions with party officials, and interviews with people involved in policy making, show….
Mr. Xi isn’t planning to eradicate market forces, the Journal examination indicates. But he appears to want a state in which the party does more to steer flows of money, sets tighter parameters for entrepreneurs and investors and their ability to make profits, and exercises even more control over the economy than now.
Barry Naughton, an academic specialising in the Chinese economy described Xi’s system to the WSJ as “a government-steered economy.”
This has already been devastating for some big Chinese tech companies, who have had to cancel US IPOs and scale back expansion plans where the government thought they were going too far. Just this week, the Chinese version of TikTok introduced a 40-minute daily usage limit for children, as part of a government push to cut kids’ use of technology.
And if you want to know what effect all this might have on the Chinese economy, good luck. The Financial Times reported last week on a crackdown on financial news reporting in the country, which some worry could lead to businesses and investors making big mistakes, as they simply don’t understand the bigger picture. Just look at Evergrande Real Estate for how things can go wrong.
We’ll have to see whether all of this affects Chinese entrepreneurs’ willingness to innovate and keep pushing the country’s edge in the technology world forward. As for international companies looking to do business in China, they should be wary about how much they’ll be allowed to do there in the future.
No matter how bullish the likes of ad industry titan Martin Sorrell might be about future investments in China, who’s to say the government will keep letting him do business?
So while China’s economy may still overtake the US to become the world’s biggest, the idea that Western businesses will definitely want a piece of its pie could need a rethink. And if they do get involved, they’ll have to be ready for a very different form of business than they (or anyone) is used to right now.
🔻 Is internet freedom in terminal decline?
Well, that’s a bleak headline, isn’t it? “Internet freedom has declined globally for 11th consecutive year.”
We should probably clarify “internet freedom,” though. Most people would agree that some increased regulation of the internet is a good thing, and as a result the ‘freedom’ for people to do what they want should naturally decline a little bit over time, right?
But Freedom House’s new report highlights disturbing trends like “more governments arrested users for nonviolent political, social, or religious speech than ever before,” and “the greatest deteriorations were documented in Myanmar, Belarus, and Uganda, where state forces cracked down amid electoral and constitutional crises.”
Even ‘the land of the free™’ is in trouble. The USA’s freedom score has suffered five years of decline due to the rampant plague of misinformation and disinformation threatening democracy there.
It’s hard to see how we could win back more internet freedom without a spate of revolutions and civil wars around the world. Once those in power have started to limit free speech, those who oppose them have an increasingly difficult job to get their message out and their movement organised.
And as we saw in Russia over the past week, big tech companies often help authoritarians stamp out opposition in the name of ‘complying with local laws’. Complying with local laws is something they should do, but the likes of Apple and Google should maybe consider if they can continue to do business if it means helping anti-democratic actions.
The recent case of a Chinese student in Canada who reportedly received a telling off from the Chinese authorities for just three retweets he made using an anonymous account, shows how threats to internet freedom can cross borders, too.
❎ Should you delete your password?
‘The end of passwords’ has been a lofty goal for many technologists for a long time now. In some ways, it was already here. There are apps I log into on my phone using FaceID, meaning I never have to think about my password. Others have a dedicated companion app that pings my phone to confirm I want to log in on my laptop, without ever needing to enter a password. But my password is still there as a backup should the newer technology ever fail.
Now Microsoft has gone as far as telling users they can go ahead and delete their password. As the Verge reported:
Microsoft now lets you remove passwords from Microsoft accounts to embrace a passwordless future. Starting today, the software giant will let consumers sign into Microsoft accounts with its Microsoft Authenticator app, Windows Hello, a security key, or an SMS / email verification code instead of a password.
While password managers have helped many people create unique passwords for all of their accounts without having to worry about remembering them all, there’s always a worry that the password manager itself could fail, or someone could access your password vault by stealing its own password (you’ve always got to remember that one!).
So eradicating passwords is a delicious prospect. If the replacement technologies are more secure, why the hell wouldn’t you delete your password? It’s just a case of breaking away from the deeply entrenched feeling that you need to have one to be secure.
More news you need to know about…
  • Could your iPhone diagnose depression and cognitive decline? Apple wants to find out. [TechCrunch]
  • Cryptocurrency regulation is flexing its muscles. Coinbase has cancelled its planned lending product after the SEC really wasn’t happy with the idea. [TechCrunch]
  • Netflix is trying a free plan with cut-down content to encourage signups in Kenya. Non-paying subscribers will get around a quarter of the full library. [Reuters $$$]
  • Big tech needs independent A.I. ethics research, the researcher famously fired by Google says. Timnit Gebru—highly respected in her field—says regulators need to be able to get tough and protect whistleblowers. [Bloomberg $$$]
  • Facial recognition tech may need to be regulated as tightly as sensitive medical procedures, the UK government’s Surveillance Camera Commissioner has argued. [The Register]
🌟 Thing of the week
Secretlab's Magnus Desk Is a Magnetic Wonder for Cable Management
🏭 Future of work
Post-pandemic shifts means Patch will take co-working to UK small towns and suburbs
More future of work:
  • Facebook wants to help you make work video calls with its latest Portal devices. Now that grandparents can see their kids in person again, Portal needs to appeal to new customers. [BuzzFeed News]
  • Back in the office but still need to make video calls? Zoom will sell you a $16,995 (or more!) video conferencing booth with all the hardware you’ll need to make calls in privacy, but you’ll still need to assemble it yourself. [Wall Street Journal]
📰 Big reads
How Fuck You Pay Me is empowering creators
Content isn't king
The NFT scammers are here
More big reads:
🐣 Tweet of the week
⌚ The past was good too
‘Kids raised in the digital era are yearning for this’: the people making new games for old consoles
That's all for now...
If you’ve read through this and wondered how I’ve managed to avoid mentioning Facebook’s many controversies and questionable PR activities this week, that’s more of a fit for Matt Navarra’s Geekout newsletter, which I edit. So make sure you’re subscribed to that for analysis of all things Zuckerberg this Friday.
I’ll be back next week with more. See you in your inbox then!
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