Friday, August 23, 2019

The Next Re-bundling Will Be Multi-Media (Video, Music, Games, News) | OneZero

From a timely media services reality check
"While tech and media companies fight it out with different content offerings, strategies, and business models, there are also opportunities for the independent market leaders in each category to partner with each other to offer their own bundles and compete more effectively with both tech and media companies. What would a Netflix + Spotify + Medium / Scroll + EA Access bundle look like? These services are each focused on one specific area, and can’t offer their content as loss leaders for other business units as Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook have the comfort of doing.
Consumers frustrated by the upcoming disaggregation and unbundling of some of their favorite content would be served well to remember a world in which they had to purchase albums at $10 a piece or more to listen to their favorite music, pay an average cable bill of $85 a month, wait for paper copies of their news and entertainment subscriptions, and purchase video games and movies a la carte. Netflix and Spotify have spoiled a generation with unbelievable value propositions not likely to be seen again anytime soon. Perhaps the silver lining is that the next re-bundling will be multi-media."
The Next Re-bundling Will Be Multi-Media (Video, Music, Games, News) | OneZero

Russia Launches Floating Nuclear Reactor in Wake of Latest Accident | Bloomberg

What could possibly go wrong?...
"Russia’s Rosatom shipped its first floating nuclear-power reactor on Friday, setting the unit off on a barge journey among Arctic ice caps, raising concerns in the wake of a recent military accident that caused a brief spike in radiation.

The vessel Akademik Lomonosov, named after an 18th century Russian scientist and poet, departed from Russia’s northwest port of Murmansk, according to the state-owned company. Three tugs are towing the unit on its 4,700-kilometer (2,900-mile) trip east to Chukotka, where it will dock at Pevek and generate power for the remote region that’s closer to Alaska than Europe."
Russia Launches Floating Nuclear Reactor in Wake of Latest Accident | Bloomberg

News Corp is making a news service called... Knewz 20 | The Verge

Likely to at least be popular within the White House... On a related note, see Facebook Wants a Do-Over on News | The Atlantic
"While the easy takeaway is that this is News Corp’s attempt to make a conservative-leaning news service, the broader goal of challenging Google and Facebook is an important one. Those two tech giants are responsible for directing an enormous portion of traffic on the web. Performing well on either of those platforms can be the difference between a publication growing or failing. (Mic, for instance, thrived on Facebook, then collapsed when Facebook stopped directing as much traffic.)

That means publishers are at the whims of two tech giants that often don’t have their best interests in mind. The Journal, which is also owned by News Corp, suggests that Knewz is being designed with some traits that publishers might prefer: it’ll preference original reports over aggregation (e.g., the Journal’s story about Knewz over this writeup about it), it won’t disadvantage sites with paywalls, it’ll link directly to stories (instead of platform-hosted pages like Facebook’s Instant Articles), it won’t take a cut of ad revenue, and it’ll even share data with publishers."
News Corp is making a news service called... Knewz 20 | The Verge

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Ransomware Attacks Are Testing Resolve of Cities Across America | NYT

Later in the article: "Because most of the ransomware laws have been in place for only a few years, prosecutors, court officials and lawmakers say prosecutions have been nearly nonexistent."
"More than 40 municipalities have been the victims of cyberattacks this year, from major cities such as Baltimore, Albany and Laredo, Tex., to smaller towns including Lake City, Fla. Lake City is one of the few cities to have paid a ransom demand — about $460,000 in Bitcoin, a cryptocurrency — because it thought reconstructing its systems would be even more costly.

In most ransomware cases, the identities and whereabouts of culprits are cloaked by clever digital diversions. Intelligence officials, using data collected by the National Security Agency and others in an effort to identify the sources of the hacking, say many have come from Eastern Europe, Iran and, in some cases, the United States. The majority have targeted small-town America, figuring that sleepy, cash-strapped local governments are the least likely to have updated their cyberdefenses or backed up their data."
Ransomware Attacks Are Testing Resolve of Cities Across America | NYT

A Business Built on Disinformation: Highlights From Our Investigation | NYT

See Big Tech, a Conservative Provocateur and the Fight Over Disinformation | NYT for the full story
"It may not be a household name, but few publications have had the reach, and potentially the influence, in American politics as The Western Journal.

Even the right-wing publication’s audience of more than 36 million people, eclipsing many of the nation’s largest news organizations, doesn’t know much about the company, or who’s behind it.

In a New York Times investigation, Nicholas Confessore and Justin Bank found that the site, which stokes outrage and curates a narrative in which conservatives and their values are under constant assault, is caught in a high-stakes clash between Silicon Valley and Washington. The site has struggled to maintain its audience through Facebook’s and Google’s algorithmic changes aimed at reducing disinformation — actions the site’s leaders see as evidence of political bias."
On a related note, from Misinformation Has Created a New World Disorder | Scientific American:
A Business Built on Disinformation: Highlights From Our Investigation | NYT

With deficit rising, worries grow the U.S. may be out of tools if recession hits | Washington Post

In other economic news, see Job Gains Were Weaker Than Reported, by Half a Million | NYT
"The U.S. federal deficit will expand by about $800 billion more than previously expected over the next decade, as recent increases in spending are on track to push the nation into levels of debt unseen since the end of World War II, the Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday.

The annual U.S. deficit will come close to hitting $1 trillion in 2019, an unusually high number during a period of economic growth, the CBO added. Driving that number is spending as well as a large tax cut in corporate and individual income taxes passed by Republicans in 2017.

The new deficit estimates could deepen worries that U.S. policymakers face a shortage of tools to bolster the economy should the country fall into recession, some economists say. In addition to potentially less room to spend or pass tax cuts, the Federal Reserve cannot reduce interest rates, which are quite low, as much as it has during previous downturns."
With deficit rising, worries grow the U.S. may be out of tools if recession hits | Washington Post

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Facebook’s New Tool Lets You See Which Apps and Websites Tracked You | NYT

Check this Facebook Newsroom post for more details; the tool is initially rolling out in Ireland, South Korea, and Spain
"The company introduced a new tool that lets people better see and control the information that Facebook has gathered about their browsing habits outside the social network.

The tool, Off-Facebook Activity, allows users to view the hundreds of sites and apps that share data and customer information with Facebook. They can disconnect the data from their account if they want.

“This is another way to give people more transparency and control on Facebook,” the company said in a blog post. It added that people generally had more than 80 apps on their phones and used about half of them every month, making it difficult to know which ones had collected personal information and how the data was being used."
Facebook’s New Tool Lets You See Which Apps and Websites Tracked You | NYT

2.6 Million Reasons to Keep Yelling About “Bias” | Slate

Check the full post for more on Robert Epstein's dubious research; tangentially, see Talk Radio Made Today’s Republican Party | The Atlantic
"Despite the severe limitations of Epstein’s research, Trump latched on, exaggerating the already unbelievable findings. Even Epstein didn’t claim that Google directly “manipulated” any votes, and his high number was 10.4 million votes, not 16 million.

Although Trump has reportedly recently weighed signing an executive order that would have federal agencies police how social media companies moderate user content, it’s hard to believe that some sort of real crackdown is in the works—or that if one was, it could survive a court challenge. It’s more likely that conservatives keep talking about bias on social platforms for two reasons. One, the topic really fires up their extremely online supporters—like the group of conspiracy theorists, Infowars regulars and racist meme-makers that the White House hosted recently at a “social media summit.”

The second reason is social media really does work in conservatives’ favor, and they don’t want the companies to do anything that might change that. Month after month this year, the Trump campaign has outspent all the Democratic candidates combined on Facebook ads. Even after the company tweaked its news-feed algorithm to deprioritize news and politics, conservatives across the board are thriving on Facebook. Fox News is one of the biggest publishers on Facebook, far outranking CNN in terms of both followers and engagement. Not coincidentally, all of this discussion of bias obscures many of the real problems with social media—like their ability to amplify emotional and divisive content and their vulnerability to misinformation."
2.6 Million Reasons to Keep Yelling About “Bias” | Slate

Silicon Valley’s Crisis of Conscience | The New Yorker

Excerpt from an approximately 6,700-word reality check
"“A few people around the Bay are starting to wake up,” Tauber, who now works as an executive coach, told me recently. “They’re acknowledging where things have gone wrong, and their role in that, and they’re trying to get their peers to do the same.” Many of the conversations, Tauber acknowledged, would not play well in Peoria. “It can get kind of out there,” he said. “There are folks exploring mindfulness, bodywork, psychedelics. Personal growth can take many forms. But ultimately if a handful of people have this much power—if they can, simply by making more ethical decisions, cause billions of users to be less addicted and isolated and confused and miserable—then, isn’t that worth a shot?”

Near the end of a placid April morning in San Francisco, a nonprofit called the Center for Humane Technology convened more than three hundred people in a midsized amphitheatre named SFJAZZ—co-founders of Pinterest and Craigslist and Apple, vice-presidents at Google and Facebook, several prominent venture capitalists, and many people whose job titles were “storyteller” or “human-experience engineer.” One attendee was Aden Van Noppen, who carried a notebook with a decal that read, “Move Purposefully and Fix Things.” She worked on tech policy in Barack Obama’s White House, then did a fellowship at Harvard Divinity School, and now runs Mobius, a Bay Area organization dedicated to “putting our well-being at the center of technology.” “The Valley right now is like a patient who’s just received a grave diagnosis,” she said. “There’s a type of person who reacts to that by staying in deflect-and-deny mode—‘How do we prevent anyone from knowing we’re sick?’ Then, there’s the type who wants to treat the symptoms, quickly and superficially, in the hope that the illness just goes away on its own. And there’s a third group, that wants to find a cure.” The audience at SFJAZZ comprised the third group—the concerned citizens of Silicon Valley."
Silicon Valley’s Crisis of Conscience | The New Yorker

Apple Card is now available to all US iPhone owners, adds new cash-back rewards | Ars Technica

Be sure to temporarily suspend your TransUnion credit freeze before applying; see Apple Card launches today for all US customers | Apple Newsroom for more details
"Applications to Apple's new digital credit card, dubbed simply Apple Card, are now available to all iPhone users in the United States. This follows a short period when Apple offered early access to a select number of customers who signed up and an employees-only test before that.
[...]
While commentators in the press commonly speculated that it would be a somewhat exclusive card due to its ties to Goldman Sachs, a bank that does not tend to serve the lower end of the market, users in the early access periods found that the majority of people could apply for the card and be accepted, though credit limits range from a couple hundred dollars to many thousands, depending on the applicant's income and other factors.

Users can apply for the card in the Wallet app starting today if they have iOS 12.4 or later installed."
Apple Card is now available to all US iPhone owners, adds new cash-back rewards | Ars Technica

Welcome to McDonald’s. Would You Like a Podcast With Those Fries? | NYT

On a related note, see Welcome to the DeepMind podcast | DeepMind blog
"“You get to catch that busy person where you couldn’t normally get them,” said Rob Walch, a vice president at Libsyn, a podcast distributor that works with companies developing branded content. “They’re listening with earbuds, and you’re literally inside their head.”

By some estimates, there are now as many as 750,000 podcasts, so it’s not necessarily a surprise that major companies are creating their own. What’s more surprising is that consumers, conditioned to skip past commercials on YouTube and install ad blockers on their browsers, are actually listening to them. Within a day of its release last year, “The Sauce” broke into iTunes’ top-100 podcast chart, reaching No. 94."
Welcome to McDonald’s. Would You Like a Podcast With Those Fries? | NYT

Facebook audit of alleged anti-conservative bias fails to pinpoint any | Ars Technica

Also see Conservatives, liberals slam Facebook bias audit | Politico
""Facebook's policies and their application have the potential to restrict free expression," Kyl notes. "Given the platform's popularity and ubiquity, this is a danger that must be taken seriously." The platform has made some baby steps toward transparency that help, he concludes, but "[t]here is still significant work to be done to satisfy the concerns we heard from conservatives."

"While we err on the side of free speech, there are critical exceptions: we don't allow content that might encourage offline harm or is intended to intimidate, exclude, or silence people," Facebook communications VP Nick Clegg wrote in a company blog post. "And we work to slow and reduce the spread of content like debunked hoaxes and clickbait by downranking it in News Feed. We know we need to listen more as we work to strike the right balance with these policies.""
Facebook audit of alleged anti-conservative bias fails to pinpoint any | Ars Technica

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Announcing the Cyberspace Solarium Commission | Lawfare

An announcement from Sen. Angus King and Rep. Mike Gallagher; also see Getting the Drop in Cyberspace | Lawfare, which notes "Yet U.S. cyber defenses are not just bad but appalling. This mismatch of offense and defense is just one more reason that the strategy that “the best defense is a good offense,” as Sen. Richard Blumenthal put it to Milley, is especially risky."
"This new Cyberspace Solarium Commission, which we are co-chairing, draws inspiration from Eisenhower’s historical legacy. Established by the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, this bipartisan, intergovernmental and multisector body is charged with evaluating divergent approaches to defending the United States in cyberspace and driving consensus toward a comprehensive strategy.

Our commissioners include eminent thinkers and cyber experts, private-sector leaders, members of Congress and senior officials from across the executive branch. Strategists, technologists, economists and policymakers populate our staff. The recommendations this commission will issue in the spring of 2020 will be forward looking and prescriptive, rather than a snapshot report that sits on a shelf. The commission will advocate for the implementation of these recommendations so that the U.S. follows through on changing the strategic environment in cyberspace, which currently threatens the long-term security and prosperity of the United States."
Announcing the Cyberspace Solarium Commission | Lawfare

Twitter and Facebook take first actions against China for using fake accounts to sow discord in Hong Kong | Washington Post

In other Twitter disinformation news, see Fact-Checking Trump’s Claim That Google ‘Manipulated’ Millions of Votes for Clinton | NYT
"Twitter said it was suspending nearly a thousand Chinese accounts and banning advertising from state-owned media companies, citing a “significant state-backed information operation” related to protests in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, Facebook said it was removing five Facebook accounts, seven pages and three groups after being tipped off to the use of “a number of deceptive tactics, including the use of fake accounts.”

The new takedowns by Facebook and Twitter reflect the extent to which disinformation has become a global scourge, far surpassing the once-secret efforts of Russian agents to stoke social unrest in the United States during the 2016 presidential election. Researchers recently have pointed to similar campaigns linked to Saudi Arabia, Israel, China, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela, efforts aimed at shaping discussions on social media beyond their borders."
Twitter and Facebook take first actions against China for using fake accounts to sow discord in Hong Kong | Washington Post

Apple splashes $6bn on new shows in streaming wars | FT

A related Benedict Evans tweet: "If Apple has ‘committed’ $6bn to TV, that won’t all be in one year, so for comparison purposes it’s a lower number. Meanwhile Netflix will apparently spend $15bn this year and has over $20bn of content on the balance sheet. Not quite play money but not a full-on attack on Netflix"; also see Bloomberg: Apple targeting $9.99 per month for Apple TV+, launching in November with 5 shows | 9to5Mac
"Apple has committed more than $6bn for original shows and movies ahead of the launch of its new video streaming service, a ballooning budget aimed at catching up with the likes of Netflix, Disney and AT&T-owned HBO.

The iPhone maker has been preparing its foray into media for years, after hiring Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg, two well-known executives from Sony Pictures Television, to lead the charge in 2017.

The pair were initially armed with $1bn to commission original content over their first year but the budget has expanded and the total committed so far has passed $6bn, according to people familiar with the matter."
Apple splashes $6bn on new shows in streaming wars | FT

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Arc of Collaboration | kwokchain

One take-away from this communication/collaboration perspective: Slack should acquire (or clone aspects of) Discord...
"Slack is the 911 for whatever isn’t possible natively in a company’s productivity apps. And though it’s improving, there are still many structural cracks. Slack is current best solution for filling these cracks. But it doesn’t fix the cracks themselves, improved processes and productivity apps are needed for that.

As the ecosystem of specialized SaaS apps and workflows continues to mature, messaging becomes a place of last resort. When things are running smoothly, work happens in the apps built to produce them. And collaboration happens within them. Going to slack is increasingly a channel of last resort, for when there’s no established workflow of what to do. And as these functional apps evolve, there are fewer and fewer exceptions that need Slack. In fact, a sign of a maturing company is one that progressively removes the need to use Slack for more and more situations."
The Arc of Collaboration | kwokchain

Terrorists Turn to Bitcoin for Funding, and They’re Learning Fast | NYT

From an extensive cryptocurrency + terrorism reality check
"The Treasury Department, under Mr. Mnuchin, has been promoting international rules that would require cryptocurrency exchanges to do a full identity check on anyone sending digital tokens out of a wallet.

This could make it easier to spot certain illegal transactions. But terrorists and other criminals who use cryptocurrency are already picking up methods that would make it easier to circumvent the new rules, in part by using cryptocurrencies that provide even more privacy than Bitcoin."
Terrorists Turn to Bitcoin for Funding, and They’re Learning Fast | NYT

Trump says Tim Cook made ‘good case’ that trade war helps Samsung over Apple | The Verge

Tim Cook had to explain this to Trump?...
"“I had a very good meeting with Tim Cook,” Trump said. “I have a lot of respect for Tim Cook, and Tim was talking to me about tariffs. And one of the things, and he made a good case, is that Samsung is their number-one competitor, and Samsung is not paying tariffs because they’re based in South Korea.”

“And it’s tough for Apple to pay tariffs if they’re competing with a very good company that’s not. I said, ‘How good a competitor?’ He said they are a very good competitor. So Samsung is not paying tariffs because they’re based in a different location, mostly South Korea but they’re based in South Korea. And I thought he made a very compelling argument, so I’m thinking about it.”"
Trump says Tim Cook made ‘good case’ that trade war helps Samsung over Apple | The Verge