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once... twice... thrice... four times an embarrassment

Tech Revolution
Issue #1023 • View online
If there’s a more embarrassing way than this to slip up and breach a load of people’s privacy—four times in a row—then I’d love to know what it is. Some people clearly need to “talk cyber” more than others.
The biggest news of the week has obviously been the ‘Facebook Papers’, the vast number of reports pushed out over the past few days based on the documents and other data released by whistleblower Frances Haugen.
If you want a roundup of all the stories so far (there are supposedly weeks’ worth of stories more to come) Protocol has you sorted with an updating list. Personally, I found Facebook employees’ ideas for how to fix the company particularly interesting. More on the ‘Papers’ below, where I explore some of the problems with this way of exposing inside info from a big corporation.
Meanwhile, this week I have been…
  • Wondering if Google will be the next tech giant to face a reckoning
  • Pondering Jeff Bezos’ plan to build a business park in space
  • Cheering on Twitter’s defence of online anonymity at a time when it’s at risk in the UK
  • Impressed by Twitter opening up about how its platform amplifies right-wing views, even if they don’t know why. Transparency about research like this help everyone understand the challenges facing the platforms we rely on
  • Keeping an eye on the rise of US tech investors in Europe
  • Fascinated by the nuances of the supply chain crisis. Now some paint makers have the blues because they don’t have the blues.
Okay, shall we dive into the newsletter proper? Let’s do that…
— Martin

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🤔 Big questions
From this week’s news…
⚡ How are the Facebook leaks problematic?
Frances Haugen’s leaked documents have raised lots of issues about Facebook’s internal practices, which could help governments with their plans to regulate the company. But there are issues with ‘Facebook Papers’ themselves, too:
  • The public can’t see the documents themselves. There are growing calls for the files to be released in full to the public, not just to a consortium of journalists. The argument goes that this evidence is too important to be kept from the public in its original form.
  • But the documents might paint a misleading picture when used without additional reporting that helps work out what is the most credible and important information in them. Whether journalists or the public have access to them, basing a solid impression of what is happening inside Facebook on some of these documents could be unwise. As one former employee told Casey Newton, many pieces of evidence are nothing more than internal spitballing on Facebook’s internal version of its own platform. “A lot of what is getting described as ‘internal debate’ is really just posters posting because they are procrastinating from doing their real job. It doesn’t mean it’s not important or not worth looking at, but a lot of the Facebook Papers are given a lot more gravitas than they probably deserve… to me it seems like Wall Street Journal just about exhausted all the substantive research, and (with a couple of exceptions) the Consortium has been kind of stuck just trying to build stories out of these random comment threads.”
  • We don’t necessarily know the motivations for releasing the Facebook Papers. Haugen has given perfectly good reasons for becoming a whistleblower (“The reason I wanted to do this project is because I think the global South is in danger”, she told the New York Times), and she explained away suggestions tech billionaire Pierre Omidyar was somehow pulling her strings. And she has clarified that a Telegraph report suggesting she had views on encryption that supported the harmful desires of security services around the world misrepresented her views, so that’s good. But still, as Casey Newton wrote: “Since I joined the consortium, the question of who is using whom, and for what, has been nagging at me. As we enter this next phase, it’s time for that question to come to the fore.”
👁‍🗨 Will you have your eyes scanned for cryptocurrency?
Worldcoin‘s PR push last week wasn’t the first time we’d heard about its bizarre idea, but it was a clear sign that it’s a serious initiative.
As CNBC reported:
Launched out of “stealth” on Thursday, Worldcoin promises to hand out free cryptocurrency to people who verify their accounts by taking an iris scan.
…Worldcoin’s founders say it’s about expanding the reach of cryptocurrencies — and financial services more broadly — to the masses. Less than 3% of the global population are crypto users, according to virtual currency exchange
Worldcoin’s concept centres around a ball called 'The Orb’ that scans your eye as ID. If you don’t already have some of Worldcoin’s cryptocurrency, congratulations, now you will and the world is once step closer to being a crypto paradise (or something).
Worldcoin has always seemed to me like two ideas (iris scanning tech and a cryptocurrency for the masses) uncomfortably bolted together. And it certainly sounds like something out of an episode of HBO’s sitcom Silicon Valley.
And yet weirdly, the level of baffled mocking in the tech press is far lower than I expected. Perhaps it’s the fact that respected figure Sam Altman is involved, and the company has raised money from the likes of Adreessen Horowitz. But it’s genuinely surprising that it hasn’t been ripped to shreds with mocking derision.
To be fair, Worldcoin has done a pretty good job of allaying privacy concerns (including credibly kicking back against criticism from Edward Snowden), but still ‘let me scan your eyeball and I’ll send you an as-yet unspecified amount of free money’ sounds scammy even if it might not be, and in the current climate of Silicon Valley scepticism, it’s surprising Worldcoin hasn’t had more blowback in the media.
🚕 Is time running out for Uber?
This opinion piece 👆 from the LA Times is the latest in a line of thinking that has been growing for a while: Uber’s shine has well and truly been lost, with rising prices and slower service.
In the UK, many people complain that they can’t get an Uber quickly due to a shortage of drivers, partly because delivering hot food is far less hassle than having the public in your car.
If people who once defaulted to opening the Uber app whenever they wanted to go anywhere ween themselves off it because all the benefits of convenience and cost are gone, the company is going to struggle to justify its place as a leader in the transport industry. And that’s especially true now it’s clear that self-driving cars (which Uber was for years relying on to help it reach long-term profitability) aren’t going to be a mainstream thing for years later than some were predicting just a few years ago.
Oh, and the company sold off its own self-driving R&D division last year… ironically to focus on becoming profitable 🤔
More news you shouldn’t miss…
  • TikTok failed to clearly answer questions about biometric data collection in its app during a Senate hearing yesterday. [TechCrunch]
  • A controversial plan to use facial recognition in Scottish schools has been paused. [BBC News]
  • Donald Trump announced his own social network, but the comically named TRUTH Social is a version of Mastodon that doesn’t follow Mastodon’s rules, raising the ire of the company behind the tech. [Motherboard]
  • US officials worked with other nations and the private sector to take down the REvil ransomware group, it has been reported. The group, which recently returned to activity after a hiatus, was taken down again on Sunday. [ZDNet]
  • And GCHQ’s boss has said the spy organisation will investigate links between ransomware organisations and nation states. [The Register]
  • The Chinese version of TikTok will force users to watch five-second videos that remind them to take a break when they use the app for long periods. It’s part of a push to address tech ‘addiction’ in the country. [South China Morning Post]
  • Microsoft has opened up testing of support for Android apps in Windows 11. [The Verge]
  • The UK radio industry wants government protection as smart assistants from tech giants play an increasing role in radio consumption. [The Guardian]
🏭 Future of work
Inside Amazon’s Worst Human Resources Problem
📰 Big reads
Cuban memers are using sarcasm to avoid jail time
The rapidly changing investor calculus on China’s tech giants
Please don’t wear a computer on your face
Dystopia Is Upon Us. Are You Ready?
🐣 Tweet of the week
All the big, exciting technologies we’ve raved about in recent years are either already mature, stuck in a niche, or years from maturity. We are, it appears, in a bit of a gap.
Benedict Evans
Smartphones: done!
Drones, 3D printing: no consumer use case
Smart home: absorbed by existing vendors
Voice: only works in niches
AV: wait 10 years
AR: what optics?
VR: stuck as a subset of games
ML: working!
Crypto: working, but for what?
Games: does the TAM 10x?
That's all for now...
I’ll be back next week. Until then, if you want to help this newsletter grow, please forward this edition to someone you think will enjoy it. Thank you! 🙏
— Martin
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