A weekly summary of what I’ve found interesting at the intersection of economics, finance and technology.
Apologies for the late delivery, due to some technical issues.
Singapore used its “fake news” law for the first time—it got a citizen based in Singapore to amend a post on Facebook, indicating that it contained false statements of fact. Soon after it also asked an Australia-based Facebook user to amend a post similarly, but the user refused, arguing his post complied with local laws. Under the law, Facebook is still liable however (in Singapore), which shows the conundrum the global platforms find themselves in, having to comply with contradictory laws all over the globe, with uncertain consequences. Read
Tim Berners-Lee’s attempt to save the internet—the inventor of the world wide web launched the “Contract for the Web”, which lists nine core principles for a fair and just internet future. It seeks to address such topics as affordable internet access, privacy, and freedom from censorship. Major players such as Facebook, Google, and Microsoft signed up as supporters, as well as organisations like Access Now and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. However, for now this all seems largely symbolic. The intention is apparently to discuss enforcement provisions at a later stage. Read
Amnesty International report on surveillance capitalism—the report calls attention to the dangers Facebook and Google pose to freedom of expression and privacy, and argues for remedies (outright regulation of their behaviour) that make more sense to me than antitrust action. Read
Borat’s critique of Facebook went viral—Sasha Baron-Cohen received an award from the Anti-Defamation League and used the opportunity to take aim at what he called Zuckerberg’s “bullshit” arguments against regulation. Read
Chinese government manuals for running the Xinjiang “re-education” camps leaked—they offer a glimpse of what the future could be like, with constant pervasive surveillance, face-recognition cameras and predictive policing. As expected it’s not enviable. Read
Uber loses London license again—Transport for London revoked Uber’s license in London, after finding out that 14,000 trips were performed by drivers under a fake identity. It’s interesting to see former start-ups like Uber hitting the constraints of the incumbents they disrupted, and to see their economics dissolve similarly as well. Turns out there were good reasons for the lower operating margins of those incumbents, and they didn’t have to do with outdated technology. Read
On the subject of surveillance, private companies in South Africa are creating a vast network of AI-powered neighbourhood watches for affluent suburbs, and inevitably they effectively entrench the undesirable social and power dynamics present in society. This is another clear manifestation of the danger inherent in these technologies. Read
China instituted a “Court of the Internet” in Hangzhou, powered by Alibaba, with interesting results: with every part of a case done online and involved parties appearing online instead of in person, it has heard nearly 20,000 cases with an average hearing time of 28 minutes. Read
Political ads and posts, even those from Russian troll farms, are preaching to the choir, it turns out. Read
Banning encryption at this point will put ordinary citizens at risk but criminals will continue to use it anyway. Read
I had the privilege of attending a conversation last week between Goenawan Mohamad and Eddin Khoo last week, on Democracy in a Polarised Age, organised by Malaysian progressive think tank REFSA. I wanted to leave you with some choice quotes from that evening:
The sanity of the common people
Democracy sometimes needs an interlude of anarchy to survive
If you want a free society, you have to laugh a lot
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.