Good morning from San Francisco, where I touched down Friday evening earlier (according to the clock, anyway) than I left Guangzhou, China, the same night.
The undercurrent of the Fortune Global Tech Forum in Guangzhou last week was U.S.-China trade tensions. There were two, non-contradictory thoughts among the attendees. First, no one really expects the conflict to abate. The subsequent truce declared after the presidents of China and the U.S met Saturday pretty much confirmed that position: The leaders kicked the explosive can down the road, solving little but lowering the temperature for now.
At the same time, for many the tension between the two countries is beside the point. In some cases, the China and U.S. trade economies are closely intertwined, particularly where China is the manufacturer of U.S.-designed goods. But in the case of the Internet and software, there are two distinct economies that interact almost not at all. Alibaba is about as much a force in the U.S. as Google is in China. Barring a “beautiful” trade deal, that’s not going to change. Considering the current U.S. president’s two big deals so far—a North Korean agreement that has accomplished nothing and a NAFTA re-write that otherwise would have been called an update—don’t expect much.
I honor the passing of a great and gracious and honorable American, George H.W. Bush, who served his country with distinction for decades. It’s good to reflect on the impressive life of a president who governed with humility and reflected time-honored American values.
I finished the British novelist Kate Atkinson’s latest book, Transcription, on the long flight home. It’s a thrilling work of historical fiction about espionage on the home front in the early days of World War II Britain. I recommend it.
Outsource this: The visa process for H1-B skilled workers has long been dominated—some would say gamed—by Indian staffing shops like WiPro and Tata. This could soon change as the White House introduces new measures to favor applicants with advanced degrees from U.S. schools.
Killer app: A Saudi-Canadian ally of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi is suing an Israeli spyware outfit. He claims the firm helped the Saudi Crown Prince hack his phone to obtain his WhatsApp conversations. On learning the app had been compromised, Khashoggi wrote “God help us.”
Forget about it: The Internet Archive is an invaluable source of web history. That’s why it’s troubling to read a report companies might be purging pages from it with dubious copyright notices.
Alarm over Amazon: Lawmakers are taking a closer look at the retail giant’s facial recognition software known as Rekognition. Congress has raised concerns before over risks related to surveillance and racial bias, but scrutiny of Rekognition is now set to ramp up as Democrats prepare to take control of the House of Representatives.
Binge on: Approximately 90% of adults aged 25-34 now stream video, while overall time spent streaming is up 28%. Nonetheless, “OTT-only homes” (aka cord-cutters) only represent 10% of video households, says a new ad industry report.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The debate over government access to encrypted devices has shifted in recent months. As the director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation explains, authorities are no longer attacking encryption but instead calling for a system in which trusted individuals at tech companies can access sensitive data. Unsurprisingly, the EFF thinks this is a bad plan:
The NSA has had several incidents in just the past few years where it lost control of its bag of tricks, so the old government idea called NOBUS—that “nobody but us” could use these attacks—isn’t grounded in reality. Putting the keys in the hands of technology companies instead of governments just moves the target for hostile actors. And it’s unrealistic to expect companies to both protect the keys and get it right each time in their responses to hundreds of thousands of law enforcement and national security requests per year from local, state, federal and foreign jurisdictions. History has shown that it’s only a matter of time before bad actors figure out how to co-opt the same mechanisms that good guys use—whether corporate or governmental—and become “stalkers” themselves.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
BEFORE YOU GO
Tis the season for silly controversy: Media blowhards spent the weekend hyperventilating about the 1964 TV classic Rudolph the Reindeer. Like everything else, it became a right-left food fight that “sustains not just major cable hosts like Carlson, but also HuffPost bloggers; not just aggregation-happy media conglomerates like Verizon Media Group, but also vast social networks like Twitter.”