The world is waking up to the fact that Silicon Valley is manipulating us. The world isn’t happy.
The New York Times spilled a considerable amount of what used to be called ink on a fascinating expose of the tricks Uber plays on its drivers, for example. The venerable television news magazine 60 Minutes devoted its lead segment recently to a cogent explanation of how tech companies like Facebook and Snap Inc. prey on the emotions of their users to make them linger longer on their respective products.
As entrepreneur Sunil Rajaraman noted the other day on The Bold Italic, this is nothing new. Tech companies and other researchers have been working at this manipulation game for years. Of course, it’s even less new than he thinks. Anyone who watched the badly missed TV series Mad Men knows that tricky ad men (and a few women) didn’t need any fancy software to manipulate consumers into buying what their clients were selling.
Still, as Rajaraman declared in a piece titled “We are all part of one gigantic A/B test,” things are getting worse. “You should assume that almost every tech company you love is experimenting on you right this second,” he writes. What’s more, the companies are under a great deal of pressure to do this in order to rise above the crowd. “When you are building a new product, you need to make it as addictive as possible to gain traction,” says Rajaraman. “Engagement, especially in the early stages, is one of the top metrics venture capitalists consider when putting money into a new product. If you can’t retain customers, you effectively don’t have a company.”
What’s problematic about all this is that “engagement” isn’t always ethical, and few tech companies will pause long enough to consider the ethics of their product. That’s due in part to their lack of training in the traditional disciplines of the humanities, an oft-disparaged field in the hard data world of techdom. Design firm chief Gadi Amit thinks the void is so severe that “no one is pricing the societal impact into the valuation of any startup,” as he writes in a commentary for Fortune.
Have an ethical day, and while you’re at it, hug a history major.
BITS AND BYTES
Up next for Facebook? A direct interface between your computer and your brain. During the second day of its annual F8 conference, the head of the social networking company’s mysterious hardware research division talked up the idea of letting people “type” commands or messages by using their minds. Don’t get too excited: it’s not ready to announce a product anytime soon. Meanwhile, it would love for people to try out its new 360-degree digital cameras, built for collecting video that could be used in virtual reality apps. (Reuters, Wall Street Journal, Fortune)
The owner of Holiday Inn suffered a big cyber breach late last year. Global hospitality giant InterContinental Hotels has disclosed that roughly one-third of its franchised properties in the United States—approximately 1,200 hotels in all—fell victim to malware engineered to steal credit card information. So far, there’s no evidence of misuse, according to the company. (Reuters)
It looks like Google is working on an ad blocker for its Chrome browser. The software would help filter advertisements that don’t meet the Internet search giant’s screening criteria for “bad experiences,” reports The Wall Street Journal. The move is being cast as a defensive one—aimed at thwarting the rise of third-party ad blockers, while recognizing rising frustration among web surfers. (Fortune, Wall Street Journal)
Marketing automation pioneer Marketo is buying a sales software startup. The acquired company is ToutApp, which sells an email application that works atop Salesforce and contact management systems from Google and Microsoft. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but more details will be revealed this weekend at Marketo’s annual customer conference. (Fortune)
GE may spend more money on 3D printers. The industrial giant invested approximately $1 billion last year—it views the technology as essential for modernizing its manufacturing operations. That leaves the door open for additional investments, reports Bloomberg, citing the CEO of the company’s aviation division. (Bloomberg)
PEOPLE AND CULTURE
Uber’s mapping strategist didn’t leave because of the recent scandals. Brian McClendon says he returned to his native Kansas in order to get into politics, although he’s mum about the role. His rationale: “You can’t leave it to the other guy anymore.” (Fortune)
Tesla settles lawsuit against the former head of its Autopilot strategy. The electric vehicle company had accused the self-driving car software Aurora Innovation and its founders—including Sterling Anderson, who used to steer its autonomous vehicle strategy, of trying to poach Tesla engineers and of taking proprietary information when he departed. (Fortune)
Prepare for the digital health revolution. The business of medicine is inefficient, expensive, and ripe for disruption.
While true reform will require all the relevant parties—government, industry, and health care consumers themselves—to make major adjustments, an insurgent group of digital health companies is doing its best to drag American medicine into the 21st century kicking and screaming.
That means superseding physical constraints like having an actual hospital by harnessing the power of mobile technology, making the act of taking your medicine less of a hassle, and peering into our very biological building blocks to wage war on the most intractable maladies.
What will this tech-optimized future look like? Fortune identified 21 innovative companies in five categories—each of which is challenging the conventional approach to medicine. You can read the report here.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
The 4 Most Interesting Things From Amazon’s Cloud Extravaganza, by Jonathan Vanian
Qualcomm Collected Partial iPhone Royalties Despite Legal Battle With Apple, by Aaron Pressman
These Are the Most Popular Apps for Cyber Crooks, by Jeff John Roberts
This Startup Wants to Be the OpenTable for Urgent Care, by Leena Rao
4 New iPhone Hacks You Need to Know About, by Sarah Yang
Microsoft Has a New Way for You to Log In Without a Password, by Barb Darrow
ONE MORE THING
You’ve still got a couple of weeks to think about Mother’s Day gifts. Here are five ideas that might appeal to gadget-minded moms. (Fortune)