Learning by Proxy | Tech Companies

No sooner had the electoral votes been confirmed, all of the tech companies were willing to walk a different line, sing a different song.

I have watched the movie 'White House Down' several times! I got to watch the live-action show 'Capitol Down', for the first time. For all the power that America tries to project; they seemed to have 24 policemen standing around to protect the government!

Think about it, Hollywood has been obsessed with making movies where the North Korean or the Russian infiltrated the highest echelons of the government and caused it harm. Not in their wildest scripts would that threat have been propagated by the President himself!

America was busy stomping out extremist groups like ISIS on the other side of the world but could not put out the white extremist groups in their own backyard! What credibility does the country have left?

Commentators would like to claim that storming the capitol was crossing a line. A President asking the army fire tear gas on his own citizens was also crossing the line, only he was still in power so the line was not visible.

Doing the right thing

Upton Sinclair probably understood capitalism best. He said these memorable lines that I have quoted several times and will probably quote several more times :

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

The corollary being; it takes a moment for a man to understand something when his salary depends on understanding it.

Now imagine if the fate of your empire hung by it!

https://www.facebook.com/zuck/posts/10112681480907401

US President Donald Trump has been permanently suspended from Twitter "due to the risk of further incitement of violence", the company says.

Twitter said the decision was made "after close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account".

It comes amid a Big Tech purge of the online platforms used by Mr Trump and his supporters.

Source: BBC

Shopify, the Canada-based tech company that makes popular software tools to help merchants run online stores, shuttered the Trump Organization’s TrumpStore.com on Thursday morning, as well as the e-commerce portion of the president’s election website.

“Shopify does not tolerate actions that incite violence,” a Shopify spokesperson said in a statement. “Based on recent events, we have determined that the actions by President Donald J. Trump violate our Acceptable Use Policy, which prohibits promotion or support of organizations, platforms or people that threaten or condone violence to further a cause. As a result, we have terminated stores affiliated with President Trump.”

Source: Vox

AmazonApple and Google have banned the Parler social networking app from their respective services and app stores in the wake of Wednesday's attack on the US Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters. Parler has been rife with violent comments since before the attack on the Capitol.

Parler's CEO John Matze posted on his app late Saturday that Amazon had informed him it would no longer help to host his app on its Amazon Web Services platform. The move followed earlier announcements by Apple and Google would be pulling the app from their respective app stores as well.

Source: CNET

Bold actions - the tech sector claims.

For the last 5 years, Trump has been using all of these platforms to trumpet hate and sow confusion. Under the guise of supporting free speech, none of these platforms took any action and let these lies percolate.

Mark Zuckerberg himself explicitly refused to take down Trump claiming that the platform could not play the "arbiter of truth". But when they chose to show somebody, who has seen one crackpot conspiracy theory on Facebook, more of the same - because of engagement - they are being the arbiters of truth. In effect, they had no problems with playing the role of "propagator of lies". While the latter position allowed them to make money, the former did not.

His two last tweets before his account suspension were:

“The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!”

“To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”

As I wrote on Thursday, the striking thing about the account suspensions was that Trump had not crossed any new line; as outrageous as his message was, he at least told his followers to stand down. The rest was just classic Trump. Falsely claiming election fraud and praising even his most despicable followers is simply what the man does, and has done for the past four-odd years. What changed, then, was not Trump’s behaviour on the platforms, but rather the facts on the ground: With the Capitol ransacked and blood spilt, the hypothesis that Trump’s language could incite violence had been replaced by the straightforward fact that it had.

Source: Wired

Facebook and Twitter and the rest enabled what happened at the Capitol. They were accessories to the crime. They have been able to get away with inaction because of a section of the Communications Decency Act called Section 230.

But, deliverance might be about to come.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) is a part of US law that provides tech companies with two important protections. Firstly, it gives them the ability to decide how to moderate content on their platforms. Secondly, it shields them from liability for what their users' post

[...]

Section 230 has come under heavy fire from Trump and the Republicans, who claim that the Big Tech companies discriminate against conservatives. Trump called for the revocation of Section 230 numerous times and vetoed a $741 billion defence bill over it in December.

A new administration does not mean reform of Section 230 will be abandoned, as Democrats have also attacked the law, saying it gives the tech companies too much legal protection for hosting harmful content. President-elect Joe Biden in January said he was in favour of repealing it.

Source: Business Insider

The repeal of this law will leave online platforms exposed. They would not be able to get away with the kind of nonsense that has been propagated through their platforms. And let us be clear - they will be forced to monitor harassment, abuse, incitement and other such things. They can do this effortlessly with algorithms. But it is certain to affect their ability to monetise their platforms.

In my piece on Antitrust last year, I had explained how the legislators are starting to question the power that all the tech companies have amassed. The number of stand-alone 100 Billion dollar companies to emerge in the last 10 years can be counted on fingers. Not because such companies have not been founded but all of them have been gobbled up by the Big Tech companies - Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Google and Amazon. 4 out of those 5 have market capitalisations in the Trillions.

Not only have they done that, but they have also been an accessory to those in power allowing the likes of Trump to push whatever they wished to.

Hence the Ban.

The power equations have changed. Democrats have a president in the White House, and they can pass laws with 50% of the senate and a majority in the house. This combined with the anti-trust cases that several states have filed against these companies has resulted in this action.

Democratic leaders like Elizabeth Warren have been calling for Big Tech to be reined in. The Republicans had already started investigating these companies. If at all anything the issue has bipartisan support. With the rise of the Democrats, this is going to take a turn for the worse for Big Tech and Facebook is the most vulnerable. The Democrats want to break up the company. Losing Instagram and WhatsApp will destroy the company.

They just want a bargaining chip to say, look we acted decisively.

IF this was truly about the elements that fomented anger and caused violence; QAnon and other such wild right wings groups should not be allowed to carry on either. But that is not the case. Engagement would drop, you see.

Siding with those in power has been a constant theme for all of these companies, globally.

Apple has time and time again acquiesced to the Chinese government. Most recently removing 39,000 gaming apps. During the first Umbrella Movement Protests, Apple had taken down the app that allowed protesters to keep track of the police. They have done what they needed to do, to stay in business in China.

Facebook has allowed hate speech not only in America but also in places like Myanmar, where the military has been using the platform to fund genocide. Twitter has itself been a hotbed for sexual harassment. Women who have been in gaming have been subjected to the worst of Twitter because it an area dominated by boys/men who like to sit in dark rooms and comment. Twitch a company owned by Amazon that is used by gamers to stream their games is also another hotbed for such activity.

Let alone political powerhouses - Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn - all of whom receive a large sum of advertising dollars from Byju's, blocked those who questioned them on their practices. Accounts suspended.

Meanwhile, since the suspension of Trump's account, BJP leaders in India have been calling for regulating Big-Tech.

Amit Malviya, another BJP leader and in charge of the party’s technology department, also called out Twitter for banning Trump, saying that it sets a dangerous precedent and showcases Twitter’s intolerance. “It has less to do with his views and more to do with intolerance for a differing point. Ironically, those who claim to champion free speech are celebrating. Big tech firms are now the new oligarchs,” he said.

Source: Inc42

As mentioned above, all of these platforms have provided tremendous latitude to leaders across the globe to peddle whatever they wished to. The message quoted above was also, ironically - tweeted out!

Unless you are looking to go to epic extremes, those in power need not be worried. In fact, this statement causes me to be worried.

This is the first time that the crackpot theories that the internet is filled with, has caused harm in the real world. We need to make sure this is the last time it happens.

Big Tech needs to be regulated but it cannot be regulated one country at a time. Data and information flow through borders and this is what I had argued in an earlier edition.

In the name of data security, almost all countries are moving in the direction of restricting or ruling what would be allowed and not allowed. The greater problem is that even when not acting out of nationalistic fervour, the priorities of different nations can be quite different when it comes to privacy and so on.

Source

There has to be a solution that targets to regulate them across the globe. You cannot be acting like a platform with a conscience in America while fomenting trouble elsewhere just because their legislations have not been able to catch up.

It is plenty obvious now that the platform and tech companies will do that which makes it easier for them to/continue to make money. They don't care about right or wrong. We must. Because if we don't we could end up with broken buildings and dead people on the street.

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WhatsApp Harakiri

Despite all the action in America or perhaps because of the action in America, Facebook decided to update its terms and conditions and privacy policy. This stated that they will be sharing data between WhatsApp and Facebook.

All hell broke loose

They gave the greatest gift they could, to all the other messaging apps

The company lost 4 million users in 72 hours while Telegram and Signal together gained over 30 Million users at the same time. Panic set in at Facebook and they released a full-page ad in all of the major dailies in India.

I do not think Facebook will start reading your messages, since Whatsapp is end to end encrypted. But, when your past actions have eroded all social capital, people do not want to hear one more thing. Data Privacy is another one of those global issues which require a global solution. The piecemeal legislations such as the one passed by EU will create digital haves and have-nots.

The nature of the internet is finally forcing us to abandon the lines we have drawn in the sand and I hope there is enough political will to act together on this issue and find a global consensus for all.

The Goose that laid the golden egg

Last week I had written about the Chinese government push to rein in Jack Ma and what that could mean for the startup ecosystem. The week before that I had written about what a catastrophic decision it was for the Government of India to nationalise Air India. Looks like China is borrowing a page from the Indian handbook.

Reports from China indicate that the Chinese government may be working on a plan to nationalize Jack Ma's Alibaba and the Ant Group. China's ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has gone further ahead with the antitrust investigation into e-commerce giant Alibaba.

"Based on tip-offs received by the State Administration for Market Regulation in recent days, the administration will be investigating Alibaba ... for suspected monopolistic activities," the government said.

Source: IB Times

India was not known for enterprise building during the 1960s and 70s. Part of the reason was that if you think the government can take away what you built over 2 decades, what motivation would you have left to engage in enterprise building.

Since it is China, it must be difficult to grasp the absurdity; imagine if the America government decided tomorrow that they were going to buy Facebook.

This is shortsighted. Ultimately, this is going to send shockwaves through the startup ecosystem and prove extremely detrimental.

P.S. - Alibaba owns 25% of One97 Communications (Paytm); by extension now the People's Republic of China is going to end up owning a substantial stake in Paytm.

Paytm Karo!

Shortage

Before 2020, supply chains had been fine-tuned to such an extent that few in the developed world would have heard the word - shortage. 2020 broke those supply chains. I don't recall but someone had said - the most efficient systems are the most fragile. Their ability to take shocks is very limited.

Now add the fact that manufacturing itself is undergoing a huge shift with several companies looking to reduce their reliance on China and move production to other parts of the world.

Nissan Motor Co Ltd said on Friday it would cut production of its best-selling Note compact car this month due to a shortage of semiconductors, becoming the latest carmaker to be hit by a chip crunch as demand rebounds from the coronavirus crisis.

Japanese peer Honda Motor also said on Friday that its output in Japan could be affected by a shortage of semiconductors.

Automakers and electronic makers are facing a global shortage of chips as consumer demand has been bouncing back from the coronavirus pandemic, causing manufacturing delays.

Source: Reuters

So now we have a shortage of cars because of a shortage of chips. I had written about the increasingly important role that chips are beginning to play in almost all walks of life and why there is a scramble to move this back to developed nations.

Death by a thousand cuts

Change rarely happens in a knee jerk. When Brexit started in 2016, most of the banking institutions that called London home had started preparing to move out. Even before the beginning of 2020, most of them had moved their operations to Berlin or Paris. London has been slowly and steadily drained out of its financial power.

When the UK’s Brexit transition agreement with the EU expired this week, some €6 billion ($7 billion) of daily trading in EU stocks left London overnight for markets across the Channel. The question is whether this was a one-time hit or a sign that even bigger chunks of the financial sector will disappear.

Because financial services were largely left out of the Brexit agreement between London and Brussels, exchange operators in the UK can no longer provide trading in EU-listed stocks to European customers from Britain. Companies in the UK capital like London Stock Exchange Group, Cboe, and Aquis Exchange activated their venues for EU-shares on the Continent, where nearly all trading in EU stocks now takes place.

Source: Quartz

This is just a first in a list of many firsts that are to follow.

How do you inspire confidence?

Just shut your mouth!

Do you know the countries that have had the most widespread roll-out of the vaccine in the world? Israel, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain are leading the pack for now. You can keep track of the rollout here.

These Middle Eastern states have administered the jabs to 20.93%, 10.99%, and 5.25% of their populations, respectively, while the US, Denmark, and the UK trail further behind at 2.02%, 1.98%, and 1.94%. The rest of the world hovers around 0.5%. (These are based on population estimates from the United Nations World Population Prospects, so other trackers, such as Bloomberg’s, may show slightly different proportions.)

Source: Quartz

One of the most important factors that have allowed them to move forward at such a pace is clear communication. They were no false starts and confusion about the efficacy of the vaccine. They were clear, decisive and went right ahead.

It also helps that the countries are small and provide universal healthcare.

Also

Once the cold war ended in 1990 with the fall of the Soviet Union, the spy satellite operators at the CIA were left with not very much to do. At the direction of Al-Gore, they started looking at the same satellite images to measure how much the polar ice caps had been shrinking. Since they were CIA, they could not be named or credited. An incredible piece from the NY Times.

For those who are asking why impeach Trump?


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What we think, we become ~ Buddha