A weekly summary of what I've found interesting at the intersection of economics, finance and technology.
WhatsApp sues “cybersecurity” firm. In May, the FT reported that a spyware firm exploited a vulnerability in WhatsApp audio calls to take control of targets’ phones. WhatsApp has now concluded a months long investigation to identify the culprit, and has sued the firm that authored the spyware (classified as a weapon by the Israeli government), NSO Group, as a result. The investigation uncovered that more than 100 human rights activists and journalists were targeted, by governments with questionable track records on human rights. The FT has a further follow-up piece that paints in chilling detail the surveillance and the risks that dissidents are subjected to.
This kind of attack is of course highly specific, and doesn’t scale, so the risk to an average user is very small, but this story illustrates well how fundamental the mobile phone is to our lives today, and how sensitive the data inside is. Let’s hope that it serves as a reminder to companies to take the protection of this data seriously, and to governments for using and regulating these weapons responsibly.
Uber and Lyft back legislation rolling back gig workers protection. This despite the companies repeatedly claiming that the recently passed measure doesn’t apply to them. 🤔
Google bought FitBit. Jokes comparing Google to Skynet stopped being funny a few years ago, but the company has not given up on its ambition evidently. Assurances that FitBit’s data will not be used to target advertising are likely to be as trustworthy as Facebook’s regarding Instagram and WhatsApp’s independence...
”Blockchain fatigue.” Looks like blockchain is not going to destroy the banking industry, liberate citizens from central bank tyranny and solve world poverty after all. Startups that use the technology are even downplaying it in their pitches to investors and potential clients.
A social media platform that fosters democracy? Taiwan has been experimenting with a technology platform for participatory democracy over the last five years, with some positive results. From the description here, it looks like a refreshing approach to the problem.
This rundown of the surveillance issues with Tik Tok is a bit scary. Read (Battelle Media)
This is a mindblowing story: large criminal gangs are funding companies to develop smartphones optimised for crime, for example allowing a user to boot into stock Android or into a secured, untraceable environment. They even go so far as to set up their own servers for messaging services etc. in the back-end. Read (VICE)
Xi Jinping made positive comments on cryptocurrency last week, and now the Communist Party is asking its members to pledge their loyalty on a blockchain. I’m puzzled... Read (CoinDesk)
Mariana Mazzucato is the economist of the moment, and Wired has a great in-depth profile of her, and great insights in her research and resulting policy proposals. Read (Wired)
With wearables and health technology all the rage recently, this video from the New York Times is a timely reminder that staying healthy doesn’t require technology... Watch (NYT Video)
That's it for this week's edition. As always, thanks for reading and please forward this to anyone who you think might be interested, it would be much appreciated.