A weekly summary of what I’ve found interesting at the intersection of economics, finance and technology.
US and West Germany Eavesdropped On Encrypted Communications for Decades — Their intelligence services bought a company, Crypto AG, that sold encryption machines to many governments. They then intentionally weakened the ones sold to anyone who was not deemed an ally, to be able to break the encryption easily. Both friend and foe received these doctored machines, and the flow of intelligence carried on for decades. Just go and read the full story, it’s mind-blowing. Two key takeaways. First, the good news is that software has today removed a potential single point of failure like this, and the phone in your pocket transparently encrypts most things in a way that would take decades or longer to break. The bad news is that governments and intelligence services will keep looking for ways to weaken that strong encryption. Second, these revelations obviously undermine the US stance on using Huawei equipment in 5G networks. Speaking of which… Read
US Officials Say Huawei Allows Covert Access to Networks — Technologically this would be fairly trivial, and hence I could certainly imagine this being true. The problem is, especially now given the item above, that this is equally believable for any equipment made in the US or Europe… Read ($)
India’s Proposed Privacy Bill Causes Worry — And for the last piece in this triptych, a proposed privacy bill in India contains provisions to weaken end-to-end encryption, which would affect e.g. Whatsapp, and gives the government wide latitude to use citizens’ data in any way they want, including surveillance. Read ($)
Facebook Removed a Bunch of Users, Groups and Pages That Were Engaging in “Inauthentic Behaviour” — Interesting glimpse at the scale and diversity of the manipulation that is attempted on Facebook. Some of this looks pretty clumsy, so I genuinely wonder how effective it is. Read
Tech Disruptors Disrupt, Part 1 — The latest sector to be “disrupted” in such a way that existing privilege is entrenched and biases perpetuated is job searches, where automated screening systems have engendered a hellscape for candidates. Read
Tech Disruptors Disrupt, Part 2 — That free email app that allows you to track prices or “snooze” emails is scraping your data and selling it. We probably shouldn’t be surprised by something like this anymore, but it’s worth repeating that a good hygiene practice for your personal data safety is to use e.g. the stock apps on your devices instead of “free” alternatives. Read
“Smart Doorbell” Ring Doesn’t Actually Help Law Enforcement — Ring (the company) shares videos taken by its doorbell camera with the police in many places, but it seems this has not led to any arrests or even reduction in crime. So it basically just violates people’s privacy for its own sake… Read
Messaging App Signal Wants to Be an Alternative to WhatsApp — Very interesting overview of the evolution of Signal, the privacy-focused messaging app. Thanks to an infusion of cash from one of WhatsApp’s founders, they are starting to build consumer-focused features with privacy in mind (who thought stickers could be that complicated), and are looking to scale up massively. This is promising news. Read ($)
According to the FT’s very sensible Rana Faroohar, all hope is not lost for digital tools to serve and promote democracy. There are some interesting ideas and tools mentioned here. Read ($)
For ride-sharing companies to pivot to self-driving cars, they will have to come up with some clever financial innovation, lest their balance sheets grow to the size of a respectable small country. Read ($)
Mark Zuckerberg destroyed his personal notebooks, which, among others, charted the original ideas for Facebook. “He says he did it for privacy reasons.” You just can’t make this up. Read
Atypical tech company Basecamp has been on a roll lately practicing what they preach (more privacy, less abuse of users’ data.) A few months ago, they announced they would stop tracking who opened their emails and clicked on links. They just posted an evaluation of the practice, and the statistics are not being missed. Read
In the interests of full disclosure and to avoid any charges of hypocrisy, I’ll admit that I’ve been tracking “opens” and “clicks” on this very newsletter, but I realise it’s been at least a few weeks since I last looked at them, and so I decided to turn off tracking as well. Just so you know, if you’d been opening these emails to protect my fragile ego, you can stop doing that now…
The Nikkei Asian Review tore down a Tesla Model 3 and concludes that its self-driving computer is six years ahead of the competition. The silicon chips are apparently made in-house too, which has all sorts of implications for the supply chain. Read ($)
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.