A weekly summary of what I’ve found interesting at the intersection of economics, finance and technology.
The Technology of the Hong Kong Protests: The protests in Hong Kong provide an interesting glimpse of what happens when the digital world is superimposed on the physical world. Police are evidently using facial recognition to try and identify protesters, who predictably react by covering up. Protesters’ use of laser pointers, however spectacular, is probably not intended to confuse the police’s cameras, although they may well have that effect. More prosaically, police are allegedly trying to unlock protesters’ phones using their facial recognition features. Apple introduced a feature a couple of years ago to thwart exactly that behaviour, which is now apparently finding widespread use. And lastly, while the protests rely on tools and platforms that are reputedly secure, some exhibit weaknesses that could yet compromise its users. The stakes for consumer software designers are high these days.
Amazon’s Home-Security Company Ring Uses Real-Time 911 Caller Data for “Community Buillding”: Somebody thought it would be a good idea to use real-time emergency calls data to push crime alerts to users of Ring’s app, presumably to increase engagement. Never mind the side-effects such as creating a climate of fear and alienation in the community and all the attendant consequences. Hard to see this as something else than another example of the disregard some tech companies display for the wellbeing of the society that made them possible in the first place.
Facebook’s Libra Continues To Garner Negative Reactions: I can’t remember another Facebook initiative that has met with so much widespread opposition. Two recent noteworthy articles are tech investor Mark Cuban’s view, who highlights that unintended consequences will inevitably result from an initiative at Facebook’s global scale, and Rana Faroohar’s in the FT, who explains how Libra could become a threat to global financial stability. The latter article does a good job of highlighting the already existing distortions in global capital allocation and how they would be exacerbated by something like Libra.
Speaking of facial recognition’s use by the police, London’s Metropolitan Police has been running trials with real-time facial recognition, which has led to alarm in multiple circles. More broadly, it’s interesting how, whether in an autocratic or democratic society, a security apparatus will always try to justify accumulating more data. Read (FT $)
Data-labelling for input to AI algorithms is a booming industry in developing economies. Apart from potential labour issues, it’s also interesting to consider the inadvertent potential bias that could be introduced in the algorithms here. Read (FT $)
Speaking of Facebook initiatives, they are trying their hand at hardware again with a streaming device. I’d imagine it will be an uphill battle to secure content providers…Read (The Information $)
The new Guardian Firewall app launched last week. Its objective is to show what data the apps on your iPhone are leaking to the third parties and stop them if desired, which is a noble and desirable goal, but by necessity the implementation comes with a few potential drawbacks (like having to use a VPN.) Read (Wired)
WhatsApp is testing “forwarded many times” notices in India, to try and prevent the spread of false information. Richly late, considering people already lost their lives because of hoaxes spreading on the platform, but at least they’re trying to come up with something that works. Read (Digit)
Capital One was hacked and more than 100m customers’ personal data was compromised. These incidents are becoming so frequent they won’t make the news anymore soon… Read (FT $)
While I understand the appeal of it, the practice of posting much of a child’s early life online strikes me as a great risk. This thought-provoking article grapples with that and again highlights the need for regulation to curb abuse and unintended consequences. Read (Wired)
Southeast Asia’s startup ecosystem is developing some interesting characteristics of its own, such as “super apps” modeled on WeChat in China and M&A strategies. Read (Nikkei Asian Review)
I enjoyed reading this opinion piece, calling out the greed and shamelessness of the tech industry. The behaviour we’re witnessing today is not all that different from what we saw during the industrial revolution in the 19th century, and the remedies are similar. Read (Wired)
I normally steer clear of items like Brexit, but there is no denying this will have a major impact on the landscape. This piece in Le Monde is notable for the concise yet comprehensive summary of the EU’s standpoint, and the stark conclusions as to Britain’s future place in the world, as a country dependent on either the US or China… Read (Le Monde $)
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.