Surveilled — Issue 60 - Big Tech monopolies, Uber for evictions, and GPT-3 bots in the wild
A weekly(-ish!) summary of what I've found interesting at the intersection of economics, finance and technology.
Big Tech Monopolies—The US House of Representatives released a report after their investigation into Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. The report points out some form of monopoly in all four companies, and broaches significant remedies, up to ‘structural changes’, but stopping short of breakups. Perhaps even more interesting than those findings is the inside look the report provides at the companies’ strategies, based on internal documents obtained through subpoenas, which will also impact their public image. Any legislation or remedies won’t happen overnight of course, but lawmakers’ shift in mood is now very clear.
Facebook and Politics—The social network decided to ban all pages related to the delusional and toxic ‘QAnon’ conspiracy theory, which is good, but individuals can still refer to it in their own posts, so altogether it’s probably too little, too late. They also announced they will not allow political ads after the presidential election in the US closes, in case the election results turn into a dispute. These are good moves, but still a long way away from trying to address the fundamental issues with the Facebook model.
Gig Working Platform for Evictions Launched—Called Civvl, the startup aims to “make it easy for landlords to hire process servers and eviction agents as gig workers.” Depressingly, this was to be expected given the current state of the economy, including the fact that, of course, Civvl seems to operate on the margins of legality. Read (Vice)
Consortium Launches ‘Global Privacy Control’—A group of privacy-oriented companies have launched a system that allows individuals to indicate that they don’t want to be tracked or targeted. Currently, no such centralised system is available, meaning that these settings have to be enacted for every single website or service. Moreover, privacy regulations such as the GDPR and California’s CCPA mandate respecting such a privacy control, so this initiative could end up having an impact. Read (Wired $)
”Free” Websites Are Not, In Fact, Free—As a just-in-time illustration of the relief a global privacy control as described above could offer, privacy investigation site The Markup launched a tool that identifies trackers and other data leaking hazards on websites, and the results are scary. Read (The Markup)
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) Rules That Mandatory Data Collecting on Citizens Is Illegal—EU member states are not allowed to force phone and broadband companies to collect “general and indiscriminate” data on their users. Member states, inevitably, have argued this is necessary to combat terrorism. Altogether an encouraging ruling from the court. Read (CNBC)
Singapore Works Together with Apple to Reward Citizens Who Use Apple Watch to Log Fitness Activity—Obviously there are legitimate concerns around data privacy here, but programmes like this have existed in Singapore for a few years already. Read (Nikkei Asia Review $)
GPT-3 Bot Posed as a Human on Reddit for a Week—It took actual humans that long to figure out it was a bot. It’s clear that the signal-to-noise ratio on the internet is going to take another major dip very soon, with this technology. Read (Kmeme)
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.