Data Sheet—Why There’s Nothing to Fear With the End of Net Neutrality
Goodbye, net neutrality.
I read Tuesday that Internet companies think the Federal Communications Commission’s plan to end the era of a “free and open” Internet will “make the telecom companies [that own and operate the Internet] powerful gatekeepers to information and entertainment.” That struck me as a howler. I thought there’s widespread fear that Facebook, Google, and their hangers-on already are powerful gatekeepers to information and entertainment.
Sorry you won’t be getting any sky-is-falling orthodoxy here. On this issue, I’m a blasphemer. Google, Facebook, and especially Netflix don’t need our help dominating the market. They can pay for access to Internet and pass on the costs on to their customers just fine. And if that doesn’t work, well, boo-hoo. Combined those companies have as much cash as several incarcerated Saudi princes. They got that cash thanks to a “free and open” Internet that has remained free and open for too long.
In coming weeks you’ll hear lots of whining about how the FCC’s proposed rules will stifle innovation, about how small Internet companies can’t possibly get going under the hardship for having to pay for their primary distribution method. It will make about as much sense as VCs and private-equity investors who argue that profits from the non-cash “investments” they make in their funds through their labor should be taxed at a lower rate than my salary. (I’m referring to the dreaded “carried interest” rules, which are as complicated as net neutrality.)
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No matter. A lot of money is at stake, which is why the fighting will get vicious.
If one’s man’s trash is another man’s treasure, then one industry’s potential failure is another’s opportunity. I had dinner Monday night in Chicago with a group of experts in the “turnaround” game. Their specialty is salvaging what’s left of bankrupt companies on behalf of their creditors. I was amused to know their dream project: Tesla, the cash-flow and operationally challenged carmaker that repeatedly saves itself from oblivion with delightfully futuristic products and ample fundraising. The restructuring mavens know a tough nut when they see one, and they aren’t banking on a Tesla failure any time soon. But they’ll be ready if the day ever comes.
From someone who is thankful for life’s many blessings every day, a hearty happy Thanksgiving to all.
I don't feel bad for myself. Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman said she would step down as CEO after six years on the job. Longtime HP veteran Antonio Neri will take over starting Feb. 1. Whitman, who had said back in July that she was "fully committed" to the CEO job, said she was not joining a competitor. "There is no chance I’m going to a competitor, no chance,” she said.
Why don't you come along, Linus. You can sometimes see where Apple is headed, or at least where it wants to be headed, in the future by tracking the small startups it acquires in the present (see, for example, when it bought Fingerworks a few years before unveiling the iPhone's touch screen). The latest purchase, for a reported $30 million, is Montreal virtual reality headset maker Vrvana.
Holidays always depress me. An investigation by ProPublica found Facebook still allows real estate ad buyers to chose to exclude certain group such as African Americans, Jews, and Spanish speakers from seeing the listings. Facebook said the ads should not have been allowed and noted that it has successfully caught millions of inappropriate ads this year.
I think I'm losing control of the whole world. CPU king Intel admitted that software it included in nearly every chip it sold in recent years is riddled with security vulnerabilities. PC users were urged to download a patch to eliminate the flaws that could allow a hacker to run malicious software or bypass security checks.
You can't explain anything to me, Peppermint Patty. Google got caught in a data tracking controversy when it was discovered that Android phones have been reporting information about nearby cell towers, even when users have turned off location services. Google said it had never used or stored the data and pledged to stop the transmissions.
There are enough problems in the world already. Add another mess to the list of clean ups by new Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. He fired Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan and another exec this week after discovering the company last year paid hackers $100,000 to retrieve data they'd stolen including names, email address and phone numbers from 57 million drivers and customers. “None of this should have happened, and I will not make excuses for it,” Khosrowshahi said.
This will be the last Data Sheet until next Monday, November 27. I hope everyone has a happy Thanksgiving —Aaron
Thanksgiving is more than eating, Chuck. You heard what Linus was saying out there. Those pilgrims were thankful for what had happened to them, and we should be thankful, too. We should just be thankful for being together. I think that's what they mean by Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Collecting huge amounts of potentially valuable data won't provide much insight if not properly analyzed. Take the task of intelligence services trying to review just the 70 terabytes of satellite imagery data produced every day by DigitalGlobe. In a new study, human analysts used an AI-trained program to look for Chinese surface-to-air missile sites. Jeremy Hsu at Wired reports on the results:
The deep learning algorithms proved capable of helping people with no prior imagery analysis experience find surface-to-air missile sites scattered across nearly 90,000 square kilometers of southeastern China. Such AI based on neural networks—layers of artificial neuron capable of filtering and learning from huge amounts of data—matched the overall 90 percent accuracy of expert human imagery analysts in locating the missile sites. Perhaps even more impressively, the deep learning software helped humans reduce the time needed to eyeball potential missile sites from 60 hours to just 42 minutes.
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BEFORE YOU GO
I'm obviously a big fan of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, but there are plenty of other great movies on the theme of the day. Among my other top picks: The Ice Storm, Nobody's Fool, and the classic Steve Martin comedy, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.