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Last week at Fortune’s health-oriented conference in San Diego, I reconnected with an experienced tech-industry entrepreneur who sold his last company, a commerce app that will have no lasting impact on civilization, for a heap of money. He’s now fully focused on biology, convinced we are in a life-changing era of discovery and innovation.
I can’t help thinking that his timing is impeccable.
The tech industry changed the world—and now is going to be held to account for the damage it has done along the way. The United Kingdom is joining a growing list of countries that plan to hold technology “platforms” responsible for the injurious content they enable. (Soon we’ll be calling them what they are: publishers.)
Tech firms get it and are scrambling to stay ahead of the pitchforks. The Economist had a nice turn of phrase in a sub-headline to a print article about Facebook’s recent call for regulation: “The social network says it wants to move slowly and repair things.”
It’s also becoming clearer to ordinary people that the situation needs fixing. A throwaway line in the exhaustive, powerful, and illuminating New York Times Magazine feature on the Murdoch empire this weekend presented a good case in point. It talked about a new streaming product Fox News started called “Fox Nation.” The Times writes that “because Fox Nation was on the internet, the content could be even less restrained than the network’s evening programming.” How messed up is that? “Webcasted” content should play by a different set of rules than broadcasted content? That makes no sense. (I am a longtime Fox News and Fox Business contributor.)
Incidentally, I suspect Silicon Valley will be buzzing about “Coders,” the new book by Wired’s Clive Thompson, entertainingly reviewed in The Times this weekend by Nellie Bowles. The book promises to help non-coders understand the attributes, good and bad, of the people who have made Silicon Valley what it is today.
Can’t quit you. Speaking of the problems of the tech giants, only 6% of Americans in the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal public opinion survey say they trust Facebook “a lot” or “quite a bit” with their personal information. But 60% say they don’t trust the company at all. There are lots more negative stats about attitudes towards social media in the poll, though 69% say they still use social media at least once a day. Meanwhile, the New York Times profiled a homeless San Francisco man who goes through trash bins looking for valuable items. He even peruses Mark Zuckerberg’s trash, finding only “A&W diet root beer cans, cardboard boxes and a junk mail credit card offer.”
Y2-nothing. The calendar reset in the Global Positioning System arrived on Saturday without much damage, it seems. GPS devices use a week counter that can’t go higher than 1,024. The reset back to zero, for the first time since 1999, could have knocked out older devices that no longer receive software updates.
Unicorn slip. Photo posting site Pinterest is set to price its initial public offering at a price that values the company at about $9 billion, below the $12 billion mark from its last VC round back in 2017.
Downsides of competition. So much for beaming Netflix movies from your iPhone to your Apple TV. Just as Apple arrives in the streaming video market, Netflix says it is disabling support for Apple’s AirPlay feature due to a “technical limitation.”
Plug and play. Automotive systems maker Lear is acquiring car software startup Xevo for $320 million. Seattle-based Xevo was founded by Satoshi Nakajima, one of the key developers behind Microsoft’s Windows 95.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Decades ago, abuses by the financial services industry led to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, regulating the use of credit information. Nowadays, a credit score isn’t the only benchmark affecting people’s lives. Wall Street Journal columnist Christopher Mims has an investigative piece out about trust scores. These are metrics developed by companies like Sift and SecureAuth that are used to flag suspicious online transactions and potentially block them. Mims explains how it works:
More than 16,000 signals inform the “Sift score,” a rating of 1 to 100, used to flag devices, credit cards and accounts owned by any entities—human or otherwise—that a company might want to block. This score is like a credit score, but for overall trustworthiness, says a company spokeswoman. One key difference: There’s no way to find out your Sift score.
Companies that use services like this often mention it in their privacy policies—see Airbnb’s here—but how many of us realize our account behaviors are being shared with companies we’ve never heard of, in the name of security? How much of the information one company shares with these fraud-detection services is used by other clients of that service? And why can’t we access any of this data ourselves, to update, correct or delete it?
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
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Apple News Plus Review: Start Shredding the News By John Patrick Pullen
Rocket Startup Relativity Space Announces First Major Launch Client By Aaron Pressman
When Will Gene Editing Help Humans? This Investor Says It’s Already Happening By John Patrick Pullen
BEFORE YOU GO
A pair of enterprising freshman at Secaucus High School in New Jersey developed a high-tech solution to avoiding tests. They found a way to crash the school’s Wi-Fi network on an as-needed basis, crippling Internet-based exams. Welcome to 21st century schooling.