The trend is to keep it short and crisp lately, so here is another attempt to give a comprehensive overview of what happened during the week in six links (ok, a few more but all related...)
It’s no longer about technology, but about business models–An opinion piece that takes stock of efforts to digitise the economy versus where the industry is moving on its own, published in The Edge Weekly Malaysia on 19 April. Read
Apple’s spring event hints at industry transformations–Behind the headline announcements–new iMacs, AirTags, a new Apple TV remote, a purple iPhone, new iPad Pros–the event offered a glimpse of some interesting industry trends.
First, Apple’s M1 chip powers an impressively wide array of computers, spanning desktops and laptops and now even tablets, at vastly different price points and performance requirements. This speaks to the quality of the M1 chip, but also signals the end of Intel’s business model with the x86 chips, where more performance required different chips and higher prices.
Second, the dichotomy between privacy-first and advertising-first business models is also deepening. Apple emphasised the privacy protection features built into its “Find My” service upon the launch of the AirTags, and its upcoming iOS 14.5 release will require users to opt-in to advertising tracking, which is likely to cause significant problems for the big players in the “advertising-first” model. Interestingly, Apple didn’t even mention iOS 14.5 in the event, but its release is expected this week. (The Verge, Extreme Tech, Arxiv, The Markup)
Google’s alternative tracking plan sees little enthusiasm–The biggest advertising firm on the planet has sensed the mood change regarding privacy and announced the demise of third-party cookies a while ago. It recently unveiled the intended replacement, called “Federated Learning of Cohorts” or FLoC in short, which essentially moves the business of building your ad profile from a remote server to your browser. The browser can then tell advertising services your interests, so you still get “relevant” ads. Google was hoping to turn this into an industry standard, but other players do not seem keen on taking it up. This may not matter in the end though, since Chrome represents 70% of all browsers on the web... (The Verge, Ars Technica)
Privacy advocates’ favourite messaging app Signal taunts smartphone snooping device maker Cellebrite–Signal needs no introduction, and Cellebrite produces devices that exploit security flaws in smartphones to extract their contents. It is used by law enforcement worldwide, as well as in its fair share of more ‘politically-driven’ enforcement. Cellebrite announced that it could now also extract data from Signal, provoking the latter’s CEO, Moxie Marlinspike, into having a look at Cellebrite’s own security. The results are interesting: there are myriad flaws in the device, and it is possible for an app to alter without trace any report generated by them, potentially rendering them useless. Marlinspike’s blog post is worth the read, for its Omar-in-The-Wire vibes (“if you come at the king, you best not miss”) and for Signal’s upcoming ‘aesthetic’ changes. (Vice, Signal)
The European Union proposes regulations for Artificial Intelligence–The European Commission introduced proposals to regulate AI, following the example of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Highlights are strict curbs on facial recognition, with narrow exceptions, and efforts to address bias in algorithms, like credit scoring. Despite its flaws, GDPR is an important marker for the industry, hopefully the proposed AI rules will have a similar impact. They are not expected to enter into force before 2023 however. (FT $, EU)
Contractors working at Google’s US data centres have to leave for six months every two years–You may have guessed this is to ensure the contractors are not seen as permanent employees, even though they do the same work as permanent employees. Needless to say, this puts the contractors in precarious situations and prevents them from advancing in the field. There would be lot less backlash against Big Tech if they just did the right thing in these situations, instead of the dehumanising penny-pinching in the name of shareholder value. (Protocol)
Indonesia’s two superapps Gojek and Tokopedia are merging–It seems their hand was forced after their main Southeast Asian rival Grab went public last week. The tie-up may make sense, but it’s hard to see it as anything else than defensive, and the impact will mostly be felt in Indonesia. In the past, Grab and Gojek were rumoured to consider a merger of their own, it seems that could have had a bigger regional impact. (SCMP)