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these monkeys need more time in the oven

Tech Revolution
Issue #1031 • View online
Hello there,
How was your Christmas and New Year holiday? If it’s like the one seemingly most people I follow on Twitter had, you spent it playing Wordle (the overnight hit word game with a cute backstory), and dunking on crypto bros and their NFT monkeys.
There’s more on all that dunking and the monkeys below, as I think it all helps provide a bit more clarity about exactly where we are with the development of what many call web3 these days.
Meanwhile, I’ve entered the new year recharged and full of ideas I want to get started on, but more on that when I’m ready to share it!
So far in 2022 I have been…
  • Pleased to see Elizabeth Holmes convicted of (at least some of) the charges against her - a victory for the journalism that revealed the problems with Theranos
  • Unsurprised that human experts are still better than A.I. at predicting bad weather
  • Amused by the cats using one of Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite dishes as a comfy, heated seat
  • Waving a fond goodbye to BlackBerry tech. The brand’s old devices essentially stopped working for good yesterday. I never owned a BlackBerry, but it’s hard not to feel *something* about the demise of devices that helped shape the mobile world we know today
Okay, let’s dive into the newsletter proper, shall we?
— Martin

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🤔 Big questions
From the news over Christmas and New Year…
🙈 Have stolen monkeys given us new clarity about the state of 'web3'?
NFT and cryptocurrency fans had a rough time of it over Christmas. News stories like the one above and much-shared tweets about ‘stolen’ monkeys have highlighted how scammy the scene has become.
A year ago, unique digital assets that can be traded seemed like a fun idea full of potential, but even then the flaws were apparent. Now those flaws have only been made clearer as more people have piled into NFTs, hoping to make a quick fortune at the expense of the next fool to come along.
And yet NFT and cryptocurrency mania continues unabated. Crypto.com’s big-money marketing efforts, such as a widely mocked ad featuring Matt Damon and two online ads now banned in the UK for being misleading, encourage people to get into crypto RIGHT NOW and get big rewards. And the NFT virtual property boom (including for a forthcoming game by serial over-promiser Peter Molyneux of all people) is part of a trend for people to speculate on future gains from virtual land (or perhaps just launder money through fake property 🤷).
Meanwhile, today’s biggest tech companies continue to look for ways to get into NFTs and crypto, lest they appear late to the party. Just this week, Samsung announced its 2022 TVs will feature support for viewing, browsing, and buying NFTs.
It’s all very silly, and could cost a lot of people a lot of money they can’t afford to lose.
NFTs, blockchains, the whole web3 thing… it’s got a lot of potential for certain use cases. But this ‘it’s got to happen NOW’ approach is taking an emerging technology that needs a few more years in the oven and turning into a playground for scammers. To see companies like Samsung, Twitter, and Instagram get on board at this early stage is depressing when the only real mainstream use for NFTs right now is speculating on future financial gains from ‘ownership’ tokens for ‘art’ that is often clearly junk and of no real value to anyone.
If the sums of money involved weren’t so huge, web3 could have the years of developing quietly that it deserves. But we’ve become so used to the pace of change brought about by smartphones and social media that we as a society seem to want to see every emerging technology change the world as soon as possible.
The funny thing is many of the big-name NFT and crypto projects fall apart when they hit the sunlight of reality. TikTok’s NFT project with big-name popstars fell apart last year. Discord and others have found out that NFT projects are very unpopular with gaming communities. And while Damon Albarn’s cartoon band Gorillaz got lots of media coverage and criticism when they announced they’d begin selling NFTs, hardly anyone but devoted fans noticed when they quietly dropped the idea soon afterwards.
My bet is Samsung’s NFT feature for TVs ends up being held back for a future software update that keeps getting put back until people forget about it.
So the overblown hype, the ever-increasing scams and big-money ads encouraging risky financial bets… they’re all a symptom of a desire for the next big thing NOW (and, of course, young people’s increasing exclusion from the financial security earlier generations took somewhat for granted, but that’s a whole different story).
With web3, we’re better waiting.
❌ What does Politics For All's ban tell us about social platforms?
If you’re a Twitter user in the UK, you’ll have struggled to miss the rise of Politics for All over the past year. Run by a 19-year-old and his young team, it shared breaking politics stories from around the media, often reaching young audiences who might not otherwise engage with political news.
According to Byline Times, “[Politics for All’s] tweets were allegedly seen 800 million times a month, according to individuals familiar with the page”. It had more reach than many traditional media outlets.
But now it’s gone, along with a number of other ‘for All’ accounts from the same stable.  Twitter says the accounts have been permanently suspended for “violating the Twitter Rules on platform manipulation and spam”.
The company hasn’t elaborated on what ‘platform manipulation and spam’ means in this case. Social Chain co-founder Steven Bartlett has a theory you can choose to believe or otherwise, but his thread has some useful background about the company either way.
Some, like Bartlett, see the move as a shady example of a social platform abusing its power to get rid of a disruptive force in the media industry. But many journalists see Politics for All as having been a content thief that got massive engagement by tweeting other people’s scoops, often emphasising a compelling but misleading angle from one aspect of a story to ramp up the shares, and only linking to the source material in a follow-up tweet.
I lean towards the latter viewpoint. I found Politics for All’s approach to curation distasteful. But then can you really blame them for using approaches that Twitter—through its design—encourages?
One reason they did the widely hated ‘share the story in the first tweet and link to the source in a followup’ thing is because tweets without a link tend to get more of an algorithmic boost - so, Twitter does kind of encourage such behaviour.
People do a similar thing on LinkedIn, so it’s not just a Twitter problem. It feels manipulative and a bit dirty, but if it gets results you can see why people feel they have to do it to get attention.
We hear a lot about social media companies’ efforts to clean up their platforms, but when users are just trying to achieve ostensibly honest aims—share news and grow their businesses—should they be penalised for using the platforms’ features as they stand to achieve their goals?
Whether or not Twitter should have banned Politics for All, the account’s growth tactics are a result in part of features Twitter itself engineered.
Through their policies and design choices, platforms shape not just what users can and can’t do, but how they work around the limitations put in their way. Politics for All’s grubbiness was if anything a result of the incentives and restrictions Twitter itself put in place.
🔒 Are password managers safe?
I’ve used a password manager app for years. These handy tools store all your passwords, generate a unique password for each account, and make it easy to fill them into the right login boxes on websites and in apps. But there’s always been a niggling worry at the back of my mind… what it someone got access to my password manager?
Security behind password managers is generally set up so there’s an encrypted store of all your passwords in the cloud and on your devices, but only you—with the only password you have to remember—can unlock it. If you forget your password, the password manager company can’t help. It’s a simple system that means we’ve never heard about a password manager security breach that led to users having the crown jewels of their online life—access to all their accounts—stolen.
But some users of LastPass were concerned over Christmas when they received alert emails informing them of unauthorised login attempts on their LastPass accounts. But from what the company has said since, it seems like automated bots were simply trying to hack into the accounts using credentials lifted from breaches elsewhere. Unless you were silly enough to use the same login details for your password manager as elsewhere online, you’d be fine.
So no harm done, but a reminder that while big-name password managers like LastPass, Dashlane, and OnePassword are generally convenient, secure, and well worth using, nothing is 100% safe online, and your priority should be minimising risk, not thinking you can remove it entirely.
👀 ICYMI
Important news snippets you might have missed since the last issue…
  • The USA and UK are helping Ukraine prepare for Russian cyberattacks, should Putin decide to invade the country with the forces he’s amassed on its border. Russia has previously hacked Ukraine’s power grid, so the stakes are high. [New York Times $$$]
  • A remote control that charges using radio waves? Samsung’s new Eco Remote will use radio waves from your WiFi router to keep its battery charged up. This approach is only practical for low-power devices like remotes. [The Verge]
  • Gibraltar could become a cryptocurrency trading hub, if its stock exchange is acquired by a blockchain company. But the move risks the territory’s international financial reputation. [The Guardian]
  • Sony’s next VR offering is closer to launch. The company has shared the first details about the PSVR2, which is likely to be one of the strongest rivals to Meta’s dominant Quest brand. [TechCrunch]
  • Apple appears to have quietly dropped its controversial plans for adding CSAM scanning tech to iOS devices. [The Register]
📰 Big reads
Matt Mullenweg, WordPress are building a more open internet
He made a chatbot of his dying mother so he never has to let go
The History of Predicting the Future
Chinese Police Hunt Overseas Critics With Advanced Tech
🐣 Tweet of the week
(well, of the past couple of weeks since the last issue, anyway)
Nikita
Yeah the metaverse is cool, but have you ever tried sex?
That's all for now...
Back next week. For now, I’m off to do anything except follow Alexa’s questionable advice on fun challenges to try.
See you in your inbox next week!
— Martin
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