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Trump takes on all of Silicon Valley — by copying it

October 21, 2021, 9:26 PM UTC

Remember Donald Trump? He’s been taking a break from social media for a while, so you probably haven’t seen him on your feeds. Well, he’s planning a comeback, this time through his recent entry into the public markets, via a would-be publicly-traded company called Digital World Acquisition Corp., and the coming media entity that bears his name. The Trump Media & Technology Group, according to its 22-page deck, will take on Twitter and Facebook through its social media arms, Netflix and CNN through its content and news divisions, and — details are scant here, but I think I’m reading this correctly — the cloud computing businesses of Amazon, Microsoft, and Google

Since the news broke about Trump’s plans, people have done some fabulous digging into the weirdness of it all. One guy even figured out how to register @donaldtrump on the company’s social network TRUTH Social. One Twitter thread comes from the excellently-named users @billSPACman, who points out that the CEO of the acquiring company has ties to China and maybe lives in Wuhan; the CFO is tied to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro; and it is being run out of a WeWork office in downtown Miami. 

So what can one do in this digital Trumpland? Judging by the marketing on the company’s site, you can express yourself without reservation or fear of getting canceled. But there are some slight caveats to that. Sleuths have pointed out that, for instance, users can’t criticize Trump’s social network. And forget about data scraping, which is the kind of automatic data collection that’s embarrassed other sites. You can’t even use too many capital letters, which seems like an odd aesthetic choice considering that Trump was a caps lock cowboy himself on Twitter.

Trump’s whole goal here, according to the investor presentation, is to fight against the “tyranny” of Big Tech, provide some kind of alternative beyond Facebook and Twitter. (That all these companies make oodles of money goes unsaid). Given all the, ahem, colorful details above, it’s easy to forget that there are actually some real problems at the core of how our current digital media landscape works. While “canceling” is increasingly used as a term to derisively dismiss any kind of criticism, it’s a more serious problem that random people can face threats online for no reason. At the heart of the debate around Section 230, the part of the Communications Decency Act that shields online publishers from most liability around what’s on their sites. Both Democrats and Republicans are angling to reform in some way, and the reality is that the federal government has effectively walked away from the hard questions around online responsibility that are, for better or worse, imposed on traditional publishers. 

These are all real problems for the average, private social media user. The Wall Street Journal‘s recent Facebook Files series, which exposed how the company ignored harmful effects and had unfair practices, gets at the heart of that. There’s something perverse that this challenge to tech’s power is being championed by someone who’s arguably the most known public figure, someone who’s traded on his alleged victimhood all the way to the bank. I doubt that the solution, however, is just another social network.

Kevin T. Dugan
@kevintdugan

NEWSWORTHY

What an oversight. Facebook’s independent oversight board released a report today criticizing the company for not being forthcoming about its “XCheck” program, a kind of light-touch, concierge moderation for popular or influential users, that was revealed in the “Facebook Files” series. The oversight board has no enforcement powers, and the company has 30 days to respond. 

Data crash. Dutch investigators have been able to reverse-engineer Tesla’s data logs following a crash, and found that the information stored by a car is greater than what’s typically handed over by the company, according to The Verge. The discovery could have broad implications in the U.S., where Tesla is being probed by federal traffic and highway investigators. 

Pay (less) to play. Google Play is cutting its subscription fees in half, to 15%, following complaints from companies that it was difficult to bring in customers. Previously, Google charged 30% for the first year, then halved it after that. The lower fees start in January. 

Government data. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal government regulator, is demanding that tech companies like Amazon, Google, and Apple hand over data on how they gather and use customer payments, according to Reuters. The CFPB is looking for whether the companies use the data to make predictions about consumer behavior to spend more, and how they protect consumer privacy. 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Going corporate. Fin7, a hacking collective said to be responsible for the Colonial Pipeline hack earlier this year, is masquerading as a legitimate cybersecurity company in order to recruit more widely, according to the Wall Street Journal. I have to wonder if this kind of thing isn’t more widespread as hacking has become ubiquitous and the bar for entry is literal pocket change. The apparently fake company, Bastion Secure — shortened to BS — offers as much as $1,200 a month for programmers and engineers, which can be a good amount of money in some parts of the world. There’s even a Monday-Friday schedule, with lunch breaks. Do you think they have good health insurance?

From the article:

The recruiting effort appears concentrated on Russian speakers, the researchers said. While criminals have traditionally operated in the shadows—recruiting partners in criminal forums—the demands of Fin7’s growing business appear to have pushed it to recruit in the open, security researchers say.

“You can find more qualified people when you search more broadly,” said Andrei Barysevich, the head of Gemini Advisory, a division of Recorded Future. “There’s a lot of embedded law-enforcement agents on the dark web.”

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

As WeWork goes public, ex-CEO Adam Neumann celebrates as his net worth rises to $2.3 billion by Jessica Mathews

Netflix exec behind ‘Squid Game’ wants to invest more in the ‘K-Wave’—and hints at a possible season 2 by Yvonne Lau

China fuels both supply and demand for Tesla’s record Q3 earnings by Eamon Barrett

Some teenagers are making a fortune trading Bitcoin—one even got kidnapped because of his success by Chris Morris

“No sign of relief”: The global supply-chain crisis could last well into February by Christiaan Hetzner

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BEFORE YOU GO

iPhone or retirement? Is spending $1,000 on an iPhone really, as the New York Times suggests, equivalent to a lost $17,000 in retirement savings? Come on, let’s be real here. There’s a kind of thinking out there that sees everything as fungible (stocks, for instance), even the things that aren’t (in this case, iPhones), which biases the value of the interchangeable assets. This is a classic apples/oranges comparison here. Some things, like food or cars or technology, depreciate over time. Largely, that’s because we use them. It would be nice, of course, if planned obsolescence wasn’t built into just about everything we buy, but this is the world we live in, and it’s been this way for a while. For all the problems that are associated with smartphones and the addiction that comes along with it, they’re exceedingly useful devices. A little expensive, sure, but not everything needs to get traded up.

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