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CEO of Data Privacy Company Founded Dozens of People-Search Firms

Something I've long suspected is often the case: the founder of a data privacy firm also ran dozens of the people search services the firm was set up to remove people from for a fee.

"Onerep’s “Protect” service starts at $8.33 per month for individuals and $15/mo for families, and promises to remove your personal information from nearly 200 people-search sites. Onerep also markets its service to companies seeking to offer their employees the ability to have their data continuously removed from people-search sites."

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A smackdown over programmatic ads and why reader revenue is crucial

"There’s a reason that some 2,900 newspapers have closed since 2005, and that reason is the ad revenues publishers were hoping for to support what were initially free websites never materialized."

What's left: paywalls and patronage.

I've become much more bullish about patronage than paywalls for journalism content, and working for two non-profit newsrooms with exactly that model has only solidified that opinion. The Guardian is an illustration of how well it can work - as are ProPublica and The 19th.

What the decline of programmatic ad revenue does make me wonder is: what's going to happen to the platforms that are sustained the same way?

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Former Treasury Secretary Mnuchin is putting together an investor group to buy TikTok

"Former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is building an investor group to acquire ByteDance’s TikTok, as a bipartisan piece of legislation winding its way through Congress threatens its continued existence in the U.S."

Come on. This is brazen.

Whatever you think of TikTok, I'm not excited about the idea that the US can force a sale of an internet service because it's under the control of another company. It seems to me that this undermines the effectiveness of the internet itself: the idea that anyone can reach anyone.

"There’s no way that the Chinese would ever let a U.S. company own something like this in China," Mnuchin said. Sure - they have the Great Firewall. We don't. We're supposed to be something different.

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Tiktok and the Fediverse

"The House bill, then, is an acknowledgment that algorithmic curation of feeds is a powerful feature that can have a major influence on individuals and society. It at least makes the point that allowing a foreign company, under its own government’s influence, to have some level of control of the algorithm, is a potential danger for domestic security."

I'm honestly troubled by the Tiktok legislation. I think Evan has a partial solution here: decoupling platforms from curation algorithms seems important.

I think there's also a lot to be said for not allowing any platform to get this big, regardless of national origin. If any company is big enough for its curation algorithm to influence national security, isn't that a problem? We saw Facebook influence multiple elections in worrying ways. I'd rather see lots of smaller platforms, linked with common protocols. And I'd support legislation designed to help prevent a small number of platforms from dominating our media consumption.

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EU Parliament passes AI Act in world’s first attempt at regulating the technology

Europe once again leads the way by passing meaningful AI regulation. Banned unacceptable-risk uses of AI include facial recognition, social scoring, and emotion recognition at schools and workplaces.

"The use of real-time facial recognition systems by law enforcement is permitted “in exhaustively listed and narrowly defined situations,” when the geographic area and the length of deployment are constrained."

I'm all in favor of these changes, but it's a little bit sad that this sort of regulation is always left up to the EU. American regulators appear to be sleeping.

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A Seattle Airfield Offers a Rare View of ICE Deportation Flights

"The observation room at Boeing Field offers what is arguably America’s best real-time window into our vast network of privately run deportation flights, a system that has generated troubling reports of passenger mistreatment and in-flight emergencies."

Important work from some pretty brave activists that sheds light on what's being done in our name. Sunlight will hopefully help improve the conditions these immigrants are forced to endure. Ideally the flights would stop completely.

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AI news that's fit to print

"What I thought would be helpful, instead, is to survey the current state of AI-powered journalism, from the very bad to really good, and try to draw some lessons from those examples. I'm only speaking for myself today, but this certainly reflects how I'm thinking about the role AI could play in The Times newsroom and beyond."

A pretty good roundup, including the mistakes, folks using AI for pattern-recognition, and newsrooms that are actually using generative models.

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Doing weeknotes

"Weeknotes are well suited to teams that want to communicate about their work to colleagues or management. But they’re useful in other circumstances, too, such as individuals communicating to the teams they’re part of, or leaders communicating to the people they lead."

This is a pretty great introduction to weeknotes - something that I have to admit I've implemented only sporadically at work, and never on my own site. This page has me reconsidering and thinking about buckling down.

There's a ton of value in both reflecting on and communicating what happened over the last week. Some of my favorite product managers I've worked with, in particular, have done this very well, and it was always a level-setter for the whole team's knowledge.

Something to consider?

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AI gives the news you need

I can't share a quote from this one without ruining it. But you should go read it.

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Make better documents.

"We almost never never actually teach people how to use the ordinary tools of business communication in more effective ways. So, I'm gathering some advice that I regularly share with people, in hopes that this helps you get your messages across more effectively."

This is brilliant: something I wish was part of every computer science curriculum (and every MBA and just about everything else). Perhaps it can be?

I've been thinking a lot about how to help engineers be better storytellers, and these fundamentals are a core piece of this puzzle. There's more, of course, but you can never go wrong by making your writing concrete and ensuring you keep its audience in mind.

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Downpour is out!

"It would not be worth all that to make a game that is a single stupid joke. And I like games that are single stupid jokes, and so I guess I have spent a few years in the hopes that I can let more people make more of them."

Everything about this is lovely.

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A socialist writer skewered the Formula One scene. Then her article vanished.

"It’s almost unheard of for a news outlet to retract an article without explanation, especially a story of this size whose accuracy has not been publicly challenged." And yet, this brilliant article was.

One pet peeve: this article describes Kate Wagner as "socialist". Not that there's anything wrong with that word or with being a socialist, but it seems to be used very freely in America on just about anyone who presents as left-of-center. Similarly, the disclaimer "I'm not a socialist but ..." seems to flow freely.

It was a good article that represented the Formula One scene with a lens that it isn't used to. There's no reason in the world why it should have been pulled. Both the event and the coverage serve as reminders of how conservative this country can unfortunately be.

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Covert racism in LLMs

"Users mistake decreasing levels of overt prejudice for a sign that racism in LLMs has been solved, when LLMs are in fact reaching increasing levels of covert prejudice."

Or to put it another way: AI is wildly racist. Although it has been trained to be less overtly so, it is now covertly discriminatory. For example, if it analyzes text written in AAE rather than Standardized American English, it is more likely to assign the death penalty, penalize job applicants, and so on.

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The App Store, Spotify, and Europe’s thriving digital music market

This is kind of a disingenuous statement from Apple, but also an example of why "consumer harm" as currently defined is not the best yardstick for anti-trust.

It's notable that Apple is calling Spotify out specifically here, with a side order of snark for the European Commission allegedly overreaching by choosing to "enforce the DMA before the DMA becomes law".

But as well-written as the argument is, it doesn't pass the sniff test. For example, this is not true: "When it comes to doing business, not everyone’s going to agree on the best deal. But it sure is hard to beat free." It's not a free deal - in-app purchases carry a 30% surcharge.

The EU is broadly a good thing for competition and for open markets; Apple has been a walled garden. Forcing it to be more open will, indeed, benefit consumers.

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TinyLetter: looking back on the humblest newsletter platform

"That is sort of the original spirit of the internet. [...] What if we made no money? What if money wasn’t even something we were thinking about?"

A lovely tribute to TinyLetter, which was shut down recently after 14 years. It was founded by Philip Kaplan - aka Pud - who has been insanely productive for the decades since he started FuckedCompany. He's described as an entrepreneur, which he is, but everything he's made has been in his own style, under his own rules.

The author here notes that "writers could express their weirdest selves", which seems completely in keeping with that spirit. I wish more of the internet could be that.

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Tapestry: What About?

A pretty good example of clear, transparent communication about product decisions that might not please everyone - particularly when the userbase culture is heavily steeped in open source.

I respect this: "Right now, the core of Tapestry is closed source. We have put some components up on GitHub and are also fully documenting an open API to that proprietary core. Teaching is a part of that openness."

Tapestry should be an interesting app. I'm excited to try it.

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Blogging is the medium of incomplete stories

"Journalists write stories about incomplete events but there is always a mandate to write more. To write the next post that shows the breaking news. Authors write books that, when published, cannot be changed. An author can write another book, but the story is in print. No such mandate exists in blogging."

I am unashamedly a blogger, have been a blogger for over a quarter of a century, show no signs of moving away from this rather worrying disposition, and I truly love this framing.

Blogs are thinking-in-progress. A blog is never done (although you can always choose to walk away). It's lovely. I wish more people had one.

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A wonderful playlist from Ethan Marcotte about the state and context of AI and its implications for labor and society. Every quote is a gem; in aggregate it's a strong argument about where we are headed.

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Meditations in a journalistic emergency

"The antitrusters are right. The publishers actually do need more power to maintain a workable bargaining position with the platforms, which now dominate how knowledge is transmitted over the internet."

This is a coherent argument for how the news industry needs to evolve in the face of unprecedented platform power. I think it accurately captures a lot of the power dynamics, both outside of news organizations and within them.

I thought this was an interesting point:

"Regulators should help publishers gain more bargaining power with Big Tech, but in exchange, they have to agree to payroll spending requirements that link these recouped revenues to the continued employment of journalists."

I agree with the need, but I've seen it more as for a collective bargaining entity for news organizations rather than government regulatory support. But perhaps that's the right approach, and there's an interesting hook here to prevent more catastrophic journalism layoffs at the hands of private equity owners.

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Team agreements, consensus and ongoing dialogue

This is lovely: the story of a news organization deliberately fostering a culture of care and equity.

"Mutante worked with three organizational psychologists to better understand the experiences of team members. The psychologists used multiple tools to assess the organization and align on the team’s needs. They interviewed every single person on the team and did a survey. They organized workshops, including one where they unpacked the psychology of team members’ body language when communicating with each other."

And the result is jarring in the best way:

"Mutante’s culture can be disorienting to newcomers, especially those who have been harmed from working in other places. Often, new staff are thrown off by how staff at Mutante respect each others’ working schedules, how they ask for consent and check to see if people have the capacity to help with tasks. They’re not used to colleagues negotiating timeframes that are sensitive to the capacity of the operation, or being mindful about how new work might impact existing projects."

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Drop In Venture Funding To Black-Founded Startups Greatly Outpaces Market Decline

"The decline in capital to Black-founded companies greatly outpaces the overall decline in startup funding. While total venture dollars in the U.S. fell 37% last year, funding to Black-founded startups dropped a staggering 71%, according to Crunchbase data."

As the piece points out, this may in part be because venture funds are abandoning diversity initiatives. Because so much of venture is based on networks - you usually need a warm introduction to get funded, and some partners pattern-match with founders they've backed before - people from a certain demographic are more likely to be funded.

There was a time when I thought startups were meritocratic; in reality, it tends to be rich, white people funding people from similarly rich, white backgrounds.

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Buffer's 2023 Annual Shareholder Letter

Buffer continues to lead by example: extraordinarily transparent and willing to share information about its ups and downs. I wish more startups (and founders) would think this way.

Not only is writing well thinking well, but there's nothing to be lost by sharing in this way. It's a way to get feedback, but also to very clearly share the way they think with prospective customers and future employees.

Buffer seems to have a renewed interest in communicating in this way, and I'm grateful for the example.

And also, there's this:

"Another important shift taking place is the advent of decentralized social networks, including the Fediverse. We believe the efforts being made towards open standards for social networking are important for the Internet and the world, and we were one of the fastest to move to support Mastodon in early 2023."

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A former Gizmodo writer changed his name to ‘Slackbot’ and stayed undetected for months

"When it was his time to leave, McKay swapped out his existing profile picture for one that resembled an angrier version of Slackbot’s actual icon. He also changed his name to “Slackbot.”" Genius.

Serious talk: this is actually a pretty common trick. You can't change your name to Slackbot in Slack, because the bot is already there, but you can use a unicode character that's visually indistinguishable from an "o". Malware and crypto scammers do something similar all the time. You'd think there would be better mitigations.

But whatever. This is hilarious. Nice work.

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Demoted, Deleted, and Denied: There’s More Than Just Shadowbanning on Instagram

The Markup found that Instagram is removing content about Israel and Palestine:

"Our investigation found that Instagram heavily demoted nongraphic images of war, deleted captions and hid comments without notification, erratically suppressed hashtags, and denied users the option to appeal when the company removed their comments, including ones about Israel and Palestine, as “spam.”"

"[...] As TechCrunch has detailed, the platform’s moderation system seems to disproportionately suppress Palestinian users. The Markup found a few accusations of supporters of Israel feeling suppressed, but did not identify more sweeping evidence through our reporting or testing."

When these platforms become large enough to be a de facto public square, as Instagram, Facebook, and X certainly are, their moderation policies disproportionately affect public perception. It's one reason why I prefer open protocols like the fediverse, with smaller communities that each can have different moderation policies, which in aggregate offer greater choice.

As reported here, people who want to shed light on the perspectives and lived experiences of people on one side of a conflict wind up using euphemisms instead of the names of a people in order to avoid getting their content banned or deleted. That's not the kind of information source that sits at the heart of a healthy, democratic culture.

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Nazis mingle openly at CPAC, spreading antisemitic conspiracy theories and finding allies

"In one of the most viral moments from this year’s conference, conservative personality Jack Posobiec called for the end of democracy and a more explicitly Christian-focused government. While Posobiec later said his statements were partly satire, many CPAC attendees embraced his and others’ invocations of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection." Believe them.

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