A weekly(-ish!) summary of what I’ve found interesting at the intersection of economics, finance and technology.
Wirecard—Until a few months ago heralded as a leading European fintech, German payments company Wirecard spectacularly imploded in July. Now as more details are becoming available, no one comes out looking good in this story… Read (FT $)
Facebook and Politics—The biggest social network finds itself on the wrong side of every major issue we’re confronting today, from Covid-19 disinformation to democracy. Worse, the company’s response ranges from apathetic to hostile. A group of activists this week launched the “Real Facebook Oversight Board”, whose members on the whole look more impressive than Facebook’s own, and hence serves as a pointed commentary on the ability of the official board to have an impact. Read
App Store Struggles—A group of companies that fell foul of Apple’s App Store policies formed a coalition to lobby against it. Apple is also embroiled in a high-profile legal fight with game publisher EPIC (Fortnite…) The merits of individual complaints vary, but the pressure is certainly on Apple (Read). Curiously, Google decided this was the right time to assert its own 30% cut more vigourously. The rule had always been there, but wasn’t always enforced it seems (Read).
TikTok—This story turned into complete chaos, as could be expected. Oracle struck a deal but it doesn’t address any of the issues raised by the US government, and it’s not clear whether China will allow the transaction to go through. In the meantime, a US judge also blocked the ban. Read
Unicorns Heading for the Exit—Taking advantage of the frothy stock market, a slew of tech companies are launching IPO’s. The latest to go public are surveillance bogeyman Palantir and ‘work management’ company Asana. Read
EU Introduces Tougher Regulation for Tech Giants—This story highlights the current trends well: 1) there is somewhat of a global “arms race” to regulate technology firms, 2) the focus is mainly on market abuse, in particular in advertising and platform lock-in (e.g. app stores.) Interestingly, the proposed EU rules have reassuring words on limited liability for content published on social media platforms. Read (FT $)
Amazon Product Announcements—Amazon announced a slew of ‘smart home’ products, based on its Alexa and Ring platforms. The race for the home and the next big pool of data to tap into is still in full swing. Read
Most Fever Cameras Are Just for Show—After 9/11, we saw the rise of “security theatre”, very visible interventions meant to reassure the public but not likely to be very effective. Similarly, we now also have “hygiene theatre”, and in a more literal way than expected. Turns out that most of the fancy fever cameras stationed at the entrance of offices, malls, airports etc. do not actually measure temperature at all… Read
Self-regulation Doesn’t Work—YouTube reverts to using more humans to moderate content, because the algorithms it used previously were blocking too many videos… Read (FT $)
The iOS 14 Privacy and Security Features Overview—Handy resource, also to understand better how you’re being tracked everywhere. Read (Wired $)
Broadband, Critical Infrastructure…—“Like clockwork, each morning at 7AM the entire town of Aberhosan in Wales would lose its broadband connection. The mystery plagued the village for 18 months — and nobody knew why. Until now. The culprit? An old television set.” 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.