February 19th, 2021
This week: * The results of our Link Preview API launch * Facebook bans a country * The limits of regulatory remedies * The Ulysses Pact pattern * Recognizing Kimberly Bryant
Our Link Preview API launch (https://byline.dashkite.com/post/dashkite/iPXSMocjfkaIRlFH7OiWTw/announce-link-preview-api) was a success. While we haven’t yet acquired any paying customers, the traffic was promising. If nothing else, we gained some experience with doing API launches. As David says, this is just the beginning (https://twitter.com/freeformflo/status/1362160800069083142) .
Facebook was in the news again, and, as always, it was nothing good. The morally bankrupt would-be destroyer of democracy responded to the mere possibility of a law that would compel them to pay news organizations in Australia by blocking them. The Big Tech apologists scrambled to cover for them (https://techpolicy.press/facebook-versus-australia/) . No less a revered figure than Tim Berners-Lee weighed in, expressing his concern to the Australian Senate (https://apnews.com/article/business-europe-australia-media-journalism-771b10a4efd00d47a703655708f45e57) that paying for links threatened the Web’s integrity. Uh, Sir Tim, we’ve got some bad news (https://searchengineland.com/online-ad-revenue-was-almost-125-billion-in-2019-but-growth-is-slowing-335331) .
I have a hard time even rebutting these arguments because they’re so disingenuous. The giveaway ought to be that no one is talking about free speech. If banning Trump was a cause for concern, why is this okay? They just banned the news media for an entire country. So now people are wringing their hands about regulating digital commerce instead of free speech. The defining characteristic of these arguments they coincidentally (wink, wink) double as Facebook PR.
(Shout out to Justin Hendrix for his summary of both sides (https://techpolicy.press/facebook-versus-australia/) of the debate.)
Meanwhile, evidence of more fraud from Facebook emerged, thanks to a judge’s decision to unseal documents (https://techcrunch.com/2021/02/18/facebook-knew-for-years-ad-reach-estimates-were-based-on-wrong-data-but-blocked-fixes-over-revenue-impact-per-court-filing/) in a class-action lawsuit. The documents reveal that Facebook executives were aware that they were overreporting the reach of their ads. Or, more plainly, they lied to their customers about their product. At this point, there’s not much to say about that. Facebook routinely commits fraud. Period.
In theory, there are profound implications here for digital advertising and venture capitalists. Facebook is the darling of both industries but has to commit fraud and ban news organizations to make money. However, I doubt this will change anything, so I’ll focus here on another angle: the implications for regulation as a way to save us from Big Tech.
These two events happened because of impending regulation (banning news organizations) and in spite of existing regulation (misreporiting their ad reach). That’s not to say we don’t need to regulate Big Tech, because we do. But we can’t enforce the regulations we already have. Thus, critics argue that we should regulate Facebook like a public utility. But we need to look no farther than the blackouts currently affecting large parts of the country to see how regulatory capture can thwart such efforts.
That’s one reason we think it’s critical to build viable alternatives that are ethically grounded. I understand the cynicism: what prevents those alternatives from just turning into the next generation of morally bankrupt data mining fronts? But there are ways to do that. The basic pattern is known as a Ulysses Pact (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulysses_pact) and you’ll see that we use it (https://www.dashkite.com/innovations/authorization) a lot at DashKite. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The point here is simply that regulating Big Tech as it exists today is akin to trying to place a foundation under a house infested with termites. No matter how solid the foundation, the house is going to collapse. (No offense to termites.)
David and I were excited to learn (https://twitter.com/doctorow/status/1361365103795335169) there was a term for this. Until now, we were stuck saying things like, we need to codify equity or how can we do the right thing by default? and so forth.
I love Black History Month because I learn about Black people doing extraordinary things that I might not have otherwise. Today, I learned about Kimberly Bryant (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kimberly_Bryant_(technologist)) , founder of Black Girls Who Code (https://twitter.com/BlackGirlsCode) . While I was aware of Black Girls Who Code, I had somehow not heard about Bryant, despite her accolades (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kimberly_Bryant_(technologist)#Recognition) . While everyone is talking about Elon Musk on Clubhouse, Bryant and women like her are creating the future I believe in. (Hat tip (https://twitter.com/ITI_TechTweets/status/1362129633634889732) to ITI for the Tweet.)
The Week In Review (https://byline.dashkite.com/post/dashkite/Ol1AhKG8aGnX-spN64TBEA/week-in-review-february-16th-2021) from last week.
I know you are all hanging on the edge of your seat for the exciting conclusion to It’s Right There In The Name (https://byline.dashkite.com/post/dashkite/GH21Ybucp0psXIGEnSe9kQ/right-there-in-the-name-part-1) . Not to mention the next installment of David’s exploration of how we can value social networks (https://byline.dashkite.com/post/david/TC_3I77PyV-2HLSULVZh-Q/network-value-metcalfe-silicon-valley-safety) . (If you know anyone who might be able to help us find relevant work on this, please let us know.) However, our Inconstant Editors, never content to let us just do our jobs, decreed that those would have to wait. Our hope is that we can proceed next week, but we shouldn’t make promises.
In the meantime, let us know if you like the approach of sprinkling in commentary about the latest goings on in the world of social media. We’re still finding out way with what is most valuable to you, our dear readers.
If you enjoyed this post and want to support our work, please let us know by subscribing to our newsletter (https://subscribe.dashkite.com/lets-stay-in-touch) . Thank you!
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