Facebook’s “Trendghazi” scandal has raged into its third week of headlines, with thousands of news articles about CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s meeting with conservative leaders, on top of Glenn Beck’s most favored nation maneuvering, some deep dives, some even deeper dives, and last night’s open letter to Sen. John Thune from Facebook.
As long as this story continues to fuel the image of Facebook as an evil, plotting boogeyman and conservatives as the outraged victims, I imagine the media will continue to strangle new angles out of this story for the rest of the election.
Meanwhile, a much more scandalous article published over the weekend failed to make the same waves. “How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds” by Tristan Harris, a former design ethics and product philosopher at Google, describes in detail the fascinating and terrifying ways that just about every consumer Internet product from Facebook and LinkedIn to Gmail and Netflix manipulates users in the name of boosting the most powerful, and profitable, metric on the web: engagement.
By Harris’s description, we’re helpless against Big Internet’s time-sucking magic tricks, because Big Internet preys on our need for social approval, our sense of social obligation, and our innate psychological weaknesses for slot machine-like rewards. It’s a compelling case. How else do you explain the stat that Facebook and Facebook Messenger claim an astounding average of 50 minutes of their users’ time per day?
Sure, more engagement means these services are doing something right—if people don’t like Facebook (or Gmail, or LinkedIn, or Netflix), they are free to not use it. The problem is these services are ingrained into our lives. Not using email, or a messaging service all your friends use, or to be extreme, a smartphone, is inconvenient and impractical.
Rather than shrug off precious hours lost inside social media apps as a cost of modern living, Harris has created a consumer advocacy group for tech products, which he hopes can do the same thing for screen time that the “organic” label did for food. It’s an intriguing idea—not the kind of thing that’ll spawn 753,000 news articles, but I think it’s worth at least one.
BITS AND BYTES
No evidence of political bias here. Facebook will no longer use a list of top national news source to boost what shows up in the “Trending” section on users’ profiles. The modification comes after an avalanche of controversy about whether Facebook is biased against conservative news, an allegation it continues to say is unjustified. (New York Times)
Google, Oracle make final pitches to jury in copyright case. Oracle asserts Google should have paid licensing fees for using pieces of Java within the super successful Android mobile operating system. Google argues that Oracle is envious because it wanted to develop its own smartphone. The open source community is watching closely. (Bloomberg, Reuters)
Sony: Earthquakes will cost us $1 billion. The Japanese company temporarily halted production of its lucrative image sensors—used in iPhones—after a series of tremors hit the Kumamoto region in April. Although operations were resumed earlier this month, the setback will cause a hiccup in growth. Sony sells about 40% of the image sensors used in smartphones. (Reuters)
India will be a tough market for Apple. The biggest reason the world’s third largest smartphone market will be hard for Tim Cook to crack open, despite his diplomatic skills? Most people buy their phones from small retail stores, rather than the wireless carriers. (Reuters)
Facebook buys hot virtual reality startup. The Scottish company Two Big Ears specializes in “spatial audio” technology that the social network will embed into its own VR technologies and projects. The approach replicates sound in a three-dimensional space using amplifiers, speakers, and sound processing technology. (Fortune)
As Verizon strike drags on, cities show solidarity with union. The Syracuse municipal council voted Monday to condemn the telecommunications company for “a campaign to destroy good jobs”—making it the 16th city to do so (so far). More than 40,000 employees walked out on April 13. (Fortune)
These two chip companies are beating every other tech stock. Graphics processor specialist Nvidia’s shares are up 35% this year, buoyed by data center applications. Applied Materials, which focuses on a variety of chip production equipment, is up 21%. (Fortune)
Would you pay to listen to a podcast? Swedish company Acast has introduced a service that lets creators sell content directly to an audience without advertising—provided they use its platform to host the episodes. (Wall Street Journal)
MasterCard wants to power payments in robots. The financial services giant said Tuesday that its digital wallet, MasterPass, is being integrated into Pepper, the humanoid robot developed by SoftBank and Aldebaran Robotics, so that robots can accept digital payments.
MasterCard’s integration into Pepper will first be done by a number of Pizza Hut restaurants in Asia that will use the robots to take orders. SoftBank initially debuted plans for Pepper in 2015, predicting it will be “a companion for the elderly, a teacher of schoolchildren and an assistant in retail shops and offices.” Pepper, which SoftBank claims to understand emotions, costs $1,600, along with monthly fees and insurance costs. (Fortune)
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Say goodbye to those insanely long CVS receipts by John Kell
Why artificial intelligence is still a work in progress by Jonathan Vanian
Redline Capital and Telstra invest $41 million in vArmour
by Robert Hackett
Here’s an Amazon Dash button ad agencies might love by Barb Darrow
Wait, what is blockchain? by Robert Hackett
A battery made from metal and air is electrifying the developing world
by Katie Fehrenbacher
Lyft will test ride scheduling soon by Kia Kokalitcheva
Dropbox plants flag in Europe’s biggest market by Barb Darrow
Startup Gamaya changes farming with drones and AI
by Katie Fehrenbacher
Another week, another Chinese bid for a European tech firm
by David Meyer
ONE MORE THING
An insatiable appetite for wireless data? Usage doubled to 10 trillion megabytes last year, helped in large part by video downloads, image uploads and social media conversations. (Fortune)
This edition of Data Sheet was edited by Heather Clancy.