Data Sheet—Facebook’s Worst Nightmare, in Book Form
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The yin and yang of Facebook’s horror story played out last week. More scandals and evidence of Facebook’s callous behavior on the one hand. A dominant financial performance suggesting most users simply don’t care on the other.
With its earnings report and stock price gains behind it, expect another bad-news-cycle this week for Facebook. That’s because of the release of a new book, as we noted briefly last week, by Silicon Valley insider Roger McNamee, Zucked: Waking up to the Facebook Catastrophe. McNamee already has penned a version of his thesis on the cover of Time. Last week, two informative and highly favorable reviews of the book appeared.
Breakingviews, in the entertainingly titled “Zucking hell,” praises McNamee’s “knack for distilling often complex or meandering TED Talks and Medium posts about the ills of social media into something comprehensible, not least for those inside the D.C. Beltway.” The New York Times Book Review praises McNamee for doing a “superb job of contextualizing [Facebook’s] rise within the technological history.”
I haven’t read McNamee’s book yet. But I’ve known him for more than two decades. He is Facebook’s worst nightmare, especially because he once was its champion. He is calling for harsh regulatory remedies against Facebook, and McNamee has the money and media savvy to follow through on his crusade.
The book comes out Tuesday and already is rising up the ranks of Amazon’s top sellers.
Speaking of Facebook, the astute Mike Allen, noting that The New York Times is sinking its investigative teeth repeatedly into consultancy McKinsey, suggests the global firm is resembling the California media company for the repeated beatings it is taking. McKinsey zealously guards its client list, and the majority of its scandals to date involve either governmental work, old-news situations, or its bankruptcy restructuring business. It will be interesting whether resourceful journalists turn their attention next to McKinsey’s bread-and-butter work for corporate clients.
My two favorite Super Bowl ads: Amazon’s whimsical, humblebrag-ish Alexa ad (funny!) and The Washington Post’s paean to journalism (inspiring!). The former should encourage partners and sell devices. I hope the latter drives lots of subscriptions.
How are you, thank you, and I love you. It wasn't the world's most entertaining Super Bowl and it felt like many of the commercials misfired, too, didn't it? In addition to Adam's picks, there were a couple of other moving spots from tech giants, though. Catch Google's translation service brag and the stories of Microsoft's incredible adaptive Xbox controller. In celebration of Black History Month, Google also posted a Google Doodle about Sojourner Truth, an advocate for justice and equality in the the 19th century.
What happened to the fish? The world of podcasting continues to grow up. Streaming music giant Spotify is in talks to buy podcast producer Gimlet Media for over $200 million, Recode reports. Brooklyn-based startup Gimlet is behind popular shows like Reply All, Crimetown, and scripted podcast Homecoming, which was turned into an Amazon TV show starring Julia Roberts.
Worse than a robocalling IRS scammer. A 20-year-old college student named Joel Ortiz plead guilty and accepted a sentence of 10 years in prison last week to stealing digital currency from victims by hijacking their mobile phone numbers. It's the first known instance of sentencing for the 21st century crime known as SIM swapping, an increasingly common way to steal bitcoin.
Enron-proofing. Speaking of stopping 21st century crime waves, London fintech startup ComplyAdvantage has changed its name to Mimiro as part of a $30 million venture capital deal. With a system designed to use A.I. and machine learning to catch financial fraud, the company is aiming to improve the safety and speed of global transactions. Meanwhile, cryptocurrency exchange Kraken paid “nine figures” to acquire Crypto Facilities, a British derivatives trading firm, and is on the cusp of completing a $100 million funding round financed by its larger customers, Fortune reports.
Intellectual property pranks. Three professors at MIT sued Ford Motor over fuel efficiency technology used in the "EcoBoost" engine of the carmaker's poplar F-series of trucks. Ford and the university had a long-running collaboration to develop better fuel and energy tech. Bloomberg has details of the lawsuit and some interesting email excerpts.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
It's not your imagination. Those super-annoying visual puzzles that some web sites make you solve when logging in, called CAPTCHAs, have indeed been getting harder and harder. That's because the automated program they are meant to screen out have been getting better and better, as Josh Dzieza reports for The Verge in a deep dive into the escalating behind-the-scenes tech battle. The latest twist? The best CAPTCHAs are too hard for people, as University of Illinois at Chicago professor Jason Polakis explains:
“The tests are limited by human capabilities,” Polakis says. “It’s not only our physical capabilities, you need something that [can] cross cultural, cross language. You need some type of challenge that works with someone from Greece, someone from Chicago, someone from South Africa, Iran, and Australia at the same time. And it has to be independent from cultural intricacies and differences. You need something that’s easy for an average human, it shouldn’t be bound to a specific subgroup of people, and it should be hard for computers at the same time. That’s very limiting in what you can actually do. And it has to be something that a human can do fast, and isn’t too annoying.”
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BEFORE YOU GO
When trying to pick out the damn traffic lights while staring down one of those new annoying CAPTCHAs, I occasionally think "We are living in the Matrix.” Amazingly, it's been 20 years since the groundbreaking sci-fi thriller by Lilly and Lana Wachowski. If you're still a fan, you'll definitely enjoy New York magazine culture critic Mark Harris's essay into the movie's enduring influence.