Surveilled #73 – Apple and antitrust, biometrics and unboxed AI algorithms
The tech news cycle was dominated mostly by earnings reports last week, which overall were very good for the industry. Others do a much better job than me compiling and commenting on all that, so the links this week are more about ideas and context than news.
Apple reports record results, but antitrust clouds are gathering–Apple reported a record first quarter, with particularly strong iPhone sales (as a result of the change in design?) This is in line with other tech companies, who are presumably still benefitting from pandemic-related disruption. On the other hand, after releasing iOS 14.5 last week with its App Tracking Transparency framework, Apple was sued by a group of German publishers for abusing its dominant position, and by the European Union on its App Store practices, after a complaint from Spotify. The first lawsuit is questionable, but the second should have been expected, and it seems Apple’s position will be hard to defend. Lastly, there are also signs emerging that the iPhone maker is reconfiguring its supply chain to somewhat reduce its reliance on China. (CNBC, FT $, FT $, Above Avalon)
Why don’t we get rid of passwords and use biometrics instead?–Especially with a proliferation of websites and services that all require login credentials, relying on passwords is becoming increasingly cumbersome and by extension insecure. So why not replace them with biometrics? Well there are several things to consider, as Google developer Mark Risher explains. (Twitter)
AI will figure out and exploit unexpected weaknesses in our system of society–Great essay by security expert Bruce Schneier, explaining how AI algorithms will identify and then exploit unexpected flaws in our model of society. The key is that the algorithms mostly operate without any preconceptions or cultural framework, and hence come up with completely unanticipated solutions. Moreover, the algorithms arrive at those solutions without any explanation, they are a black box, so we would need to trust their conclusions blindly. Good context on how to respond to these innovations as a society. (Schneier on Security)
Migrant workers are starting to rely on cryptocurrency to send money home–They are taking advantage of lower transaction costs than the normal remittance services and the fact that crypto exchanges are ‘always on’, especially during the pandemic. This is undoubtedly a good use case for crypto, similar to how it is used in some countries to circumvent capital controls, but I think it speaks more to the failure of the conventional financial system to adapt to their customers’ needs. (Rest of World)
Startups in the ‘Global South’ should come up with their own business models–Interesting essay that calls for startups to stop mimicking Silicon Valley models and innovate from a local perspective. In passing, the article also illustrates another common feature for “disruptive” startups: they usually end up recreating the exact same features as the industry they’re disrupting. The example here is Grab setting up pick-up points in Jakarta that don’t rely on the app, just as the bike-taxi industry did before apps even existed. (Rest of World)
Netflix invents TV–Related to the idea above of disruptive startups recreating their industry from first principles, the streaming service is rolling out a feature that takes away the need to decide what to watch, like good ole’ TV. While this may be ironic, this extensive look at the gestation of the new feature is interesting in itself. (Vulture)