A weekly summary of what I’ve found interesting at the intersection of economics, finance and technology.
Our Covid-19 contact tracing future is still shaking out, but in line with the relaxation of lockdown measures in most parts of the world, there seems to have been an uptick in non-pandemic related news, judging by the stories highlighted below.
Software Engineer Hacks India’s Aarogya Setu Contact Tracing App — As hinted at in the previous issue, it didn’t take long for an enterprising engineer to hack the quasi-mandatory app. The hack takes away all its tracking functionality and ensures that it always flashes “green” when shown to officials. The human element will be the trickiest in ensuring effective adoption of contact tracing systems like this. Read (BuzzFeed)
French Privacy Watchdog Grounds Paris Police Drones — Police in Paris were relying on drones to monitor crowding in some areas of the capital, and despite assurances that the footage wasn’t being recorded and not aimed at recognising people, the French privacy watchdog issued an order grounding the drones, arguing that the potential for misuse was too great. Perhaps a first statement of intent in the tension between fighting the epidemic and privacy. Read (Le Monde $)
Square Also Announces Permanent Work-From-Home Policy — Jack Dorsey’s other company follows in Twitter’s footsteps. Perhaps too early to draw conclusions, but the pandemic does indeed seem to accelerate a trend away from very expensive global city centres, in favour of second-tier regional centres, which combine cheaper real estate but keep some of the benefits of denser city living. Read (The Verge)
Enlightened Companies Are Fighting Back against Employee Surveillance — One of the downsides of the move to working from home is a commensurate increase in employee surveillance software. Some scary stories featuring tragicomically incompetent bosses surfaced over the last few weeks. Dismayed by this trend, remote working pioneer Basecamp decided to refuse any integration between employee surveillance software and its project management software. It’s refreshing to see this kind of principled behaviour. Read
Facebook Bought Giphy in Its Quest for Evermore Data — Giphy, the largest provider of funny animated GIFs, is integrated in many apps that tout their privacy, including Signal and Apple’s Messages, so there is a worry that Facebook now acquires detailed insight into how users behave on these rival platforms. However, it looks like the way their implementation is designed does provide decent privacy, despite Giphy’s relatively intrusive built-in tracking tools. Read (OneZero)
Facebook’s Libra Is Maybe Not Dead after All — One of Singapore’s sovereign wealth funds, Temasek, joins the electronic currency association. This is seen as a positive for Libra, which it is, but details on the engagement are scarce and it could equally be seen as Singapore hedging its bets, in trying to position itself as Southeast Asia’s fintech capital. Read (Nikkei Asian Review)
Google Subsidiary Sidewalk Labs Pulled the Plug on Its Redevelopment of a Toronto Neighbourhood — Officially the reason is the Covid-19-induced economic crisis, but the project encountered fierce opposition from the start in 2017, and seemed like it ran out of steam a while ago. Read (Wired $)
Sidewalk Labs’ ill-fated project follows in the footsteps of many other science fiction utopias designed to reimagine our cities, The Verge highlights an interesting one from the 1960’s in Minnesota. Read (The Verge)
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.