Tech Revolution

By Martin SFP Bryant

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Tech Revolution
Issue #1028 • View online
Hello there,
Is someone reading this newsletter over your shoulder? Future Chromebooks might warn you quicker than your sixth sense can. A quick 👋 to the person behind you, if they’re there. Go read your own copy of the newsletter!
In a moment, we’ll dive into the most consequential tech news of the week. But first here’s a quick look at what I’ve been up to this week. I have been…
  • Applauding the UK ban on the sale of devices with default passwords. Long overdue.
  • Surprised by who still buys DVDs
  • Not buying a Tesla ‘Cyberwhistle’, but the Elon fan in your life might like one this Christmas… if you can find one.
Okay, let’s dive in…
— Martin.
PS: Help me out - if you enjoy this newsletter, forward it on to someone else you think will like it and suggest they subscribe. Merci!

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🤔 Big questions
From this week’s news…
🐣 Has Jack Dorsey made the right move?
Jack Dorsey’s resignation from Twitter on Monday was a surprise, but given the company’s ongoing challenges it was perhaps long overdue.
Described by Wired as “the soul of Twitter”, Dorsey was a talisman-like figure. His return to lead Twitter in 2015 was intended to signify that the company hadn’t lost its way, stuck as it had been for years with a failure to innovate or monetise particularly well.
But despite loving Twitter, since his return Dorsey was never all-in on the company he created when he hacked together an SMS public messaging service in 2006. Being the CEO of one public company is a big enough job, but running two high-profile tech companies—Twitter and Square—is not advisable unless you can clone yourself.
I’m often wary of activist investors pushing boards and executives around, but Elliott Management’s agitations last year, which resulted in them getting board seats, were spurred by a sluggish approach to growth and innovation that came from the top, and Dorsey’s seeming inability to focus and make quick decisions.
With Spaces, tipping, Communities, the Blue and Super Follows subscription products, and more, Twitter is now innovating faster than ever, driven by a great product team. But it’s unclear if any of the money-making opportunities these new features offer will bear fruit. And having a part-time CEO is not a reassuring sign even if things are going great.
Being a tech CEO is all about solving business and product challenges by getting both those sides of the company to work in sync. And new CEO Parag Agrawal has plenty to keep him busy in that regard. Yesterday I spotted a promoted tweet suggesting your friends might like anti-abuse service Block Party as a Christmas present. When third parties are suggesting safety tools as a gift idea, you know Twitter is lagging behind where it should be on that front.
And aside from benefitting from the tech stock boom of 2020, Twitter’s share price has lingered in the same region for years. Impressive moves on the business front are needed, like making sure Twitter Blue is compelling enough that the company can report significant revenue growth quarter after quarter.
Some have suggested that as a decade-long Twitter employee who was close to Dorsey, Agrawal isn’t a clean enough break. But the worst thing Twitter could have done is have appointed some former Disney or Pepsi exec with a love for big money deals but no familiarity with handling the complex issues—from user safety to protection of democracy—that a modern social media CEO faces.
So I wish Agrawal all the best, and congratulate Square on finally having a full-time CEO.
🪙 What now for Meta's cryptocurrency plans?
Meta had big plans for cryptocurrencies. Its own coin and its own wallet, backed by the might of the Facebook brand could have been a massive push into the mainstream benefitting the whole of the cryptocurrency world.
But over time, the idea got scaled back to the point where there’s only so far been a cautious launch of the Novi wallet in two countries. Regulators, politicians, and pundits just didn’t like the idea of one company having so much clout across yet another emerging field. It’s enough to make the leader of the project quit. And that’s he’s now done.
Citing an urge to be an entrepreneur again, David Marcus, who previously ran PayPal, has stepped down from running Meta’s cryptocurrency efforts.
Novi’s VP of product Stephane Kasriel will take over, but this is a good opportunity to ask again why Meta is doing any of this. ‘Because it’s a risk to their future if they don’t get involved in Web3 stuff’ is a fair answer, but just as we’ve seen Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok dip their toes tentatively into the world of NFTs, it feels more like a ‘we have to do something’ move rather than a ‘this makes a lot of sense’ move.
Meta will continue to move forward with its cryptocurrency plans but in the current political environment, it’s likely to continue to be far lower key and scaled back than the ambitious vision Marcus painted a couple of years ago. The giants of the web3 world are unlikely to be the same giants we know today.
🧑‍💻 Is cyber mischief the new warfare?
File this under ‘more evidence that World War III is already underway in many quiet, little ways’. As the New York Times has reported, state-led cyber attacks between Israel and Iran have started to impact civilians.
In Tehran, a dentist drove around for hours in search of gasoline, waiting in long lines at four gas stations only to come away empty.
In Tel Aviv, a well-known broadcaster panicked as the intimate details of his sex life, and those of hundreds of thousands of others stolen from an L.G.B.T.Q. dating site, were uploaded on social media…
No one died in these attacks, but if their goal was to create chaos, anger, and emotional distress on a large scale, they succeeded wildly.
This is the future of conflict. Sure, bombs might follow, but hitting at civilian infrastructure in ways that give plausible deniability of involvement to political leaders while everyone knows they were responsible—straight out of the Putin playbook—is a grey area in conflict that leaders are likely to exploit around the world in the years to come.
More news you need to know about:
  • Netflix’s biggest hits are no match for traditional TV. The UK TV ratings agency Barb has compared streaming numbers with broadcast audiences and found Netflix’s Squid Game attracted half the audience of the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing. [The Guardian]
  • A Hollywood movie funded by NFTs? That’s what the executive producer of Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman wants to achieve. [The Guardian]
  • Clearview AI has been threatened with a fine in the UK. The controversial face recognition company uses data pulled from the internet to identify members of the public, but that’s a pretty clear GDPR violation and the ICO stepping in is long overdue. [TechCrunch]
  • One Chinese province wants to use face recognition to keep track of journalists, so that those who ask the wrong kinds of questions can be dealt with “accordingly”. [BBC News]
  • Swedish environmental chiefs want Bitcoin mining banned by the country and EU, so miners don’t hog the country’s cheap hydroelectric power resources. [The Register]
  • The charitable foundation behind the Raspberry Pi reportedly wants to go public and has brought in advisers, targeting a spring listing. [The Telegraph $$$]
🛸 Almost sci-fi
The Pentagon Forms New Department to Watch and Study UFOs
🏭 Future of work
Europe Went Bananas for Gorillas. Then Its Workers Rose Up
📰 Big reads
Can a Digital Reality Be Jacked Directly Into Your Brain?
Worried about AI ethics? Worry about developers’ ethics first
How Journalists and Academics are Tackling the 'Misinformation' Wars
🐣 Tweet of the week
Might founders like Jack Dorsey and Jeff Bezos stepping back from leadership of the companies they started make US political hearings more fruitful and less about politicians grandstanding to voters?
Makena Kelly
like, who cares if you're yelling at andy jassy in a hearing? it doesn't carry the same weight as bezos. so i feel like this shift in leadership could either make tech regs less of a priority or make it easier to actually have constructive convos..... just some initial thoughts!
That's all for now...
And there we go! Tech Revolution weeks run Thursday to Wednesday, so that’s another week wrapped up for you.
See you next time…
— Martin
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