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My Dinner With Andreessen

Marc Andreessen on poor people: “I’m glad there’s OxyContin and video games to keep those people quiet.”

This also resonated with me:

"One participant was a British former journalist become computer tycoon who had been awarded a lordship. He proclaimed that the Chinese middle class doesn’t care about democracy or civil liberties. I was treated as a sentimental naïf for questioning his blanket confidence."

I've been in so many of those conversations, where very reductive assumptions about the rest of the world are presented as nuanced, learned fact, and that questioning them is idiotic. It's not at all universal in Silicon Valley, but it is common: a sort of received gospel truth that cannot be questioned because the person repeating it is really very smart. It's an odd way for anyone supposedly even tangentially involved in building the future to behave.

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Newsletter platform Ghost adopts ActivityPub to ‘bring back the open web’

"This has long been the dream, and it seems like the platforms betting on it in various ways — Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, Flipboard, and others — are where all the energy is, while attempts to rebuild closed systems keep hitting the rocks."

Just an enormous deal: for the web, for independent media, for social media.

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Vision for W3C

This is exactly what I'd hope to see from a standards organization like the W3C:

"W3C leads the community in defining a World Wide Web that puts users first, by developing technical standards and guidelines to empower an equitable, informed, and interconnected society.

The fundamental function of W3C today is to provide an open forum where diverse voices from around the world and from different organizations and industries work together to evolve the web by building consensus on voluntary global standards for Web technologies."

There's no shirking away from the importance of equity or diversity: it's right there in the first two paragraphs of the vision, and stated again further down in more detail:

"Diversity: We believe in diversity and inclusion of participants from different geographical locations, cultures, languages, disabilities, gender identities, industries, organizational sizes, and more. In order to ensure W3C serves the needs of the entire Web user base, we also strive to broaden diversity and inclusion for our own participants."

This is exactly as it should be, and it makes me really happy to see it. Of course, this is only a draft of sorts from the working group; it needs to now get consensus from the wider organization. I hope its pro-human focus remains front and center.

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AI isn't useless. But is it worth it?

"I find my feelings about AI are actually pretty similar to my feelings about blockchains: they do a poor job of much of what people try to do with them, they can't do the things their creators claim they one day might, and many of the things they are well suited to do may not be altogether that beneficial."

This description of the uses and pitfalls of the current generation of AI tools is a characteristically sharp breakdown from Molly White.

I've found AI useful for similar sorts of things: proofreading in particular. But I agree with her conclusions - in fact, I agree with every single point she brings up in this piece. One to share with your colleagues who are thinking about deeply integrating LLMs based on the hype cycle alone.

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Facebook let Netflix see user DMs, quit streaming to keep Netflix happy: Lawsuit

"By 2013, Netflix had begun entering into a series of “Facebook Extended API” agreements, including a so-called “Inbox API” agreement that allowed Netflix programmatic access to Facebook’s users' private message inboxes, in exchange for which Netflix would “provide to FB a written report every two weeks that shows daily counts of recommendation sends and recipient clicks.”"

This seems like it should be wildly illegal - collusion on user data to the point where a third party had access to users' private messages. I have to assume that this data was then used as part of Netflix's then-famous recommendation algorithm.

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The Deaths of Effective Altruism

"This is a stranger story of how some small-time philosophers captured some big-bet billionaires, who in turn captured the philosophers—and how the two groups spun themselves into an opulent vortex that has sucked up thousands of bright minds worldwide."

This jumped out to me:

"If you’re earning-to-give, you should maximize your wealth. And if you think each moment should be optimized for profit, you’ll never choose to spend resources on boring grown-up things like auditors and a chief financial officer. For SBF, good-for-me-now and good-for-everyone-always started to merge into one."

It's absolutely bankrupt thinking - and at the same time, absolutely rife. This isn't how we make the world better for everyone. But plenty of people have tricked themselves (and/or the people around them) into thinking it is.

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Lawsuit filed by Elon Musk's X against CCDH thrown out by judge

"A federal judge in California dismissed a lawsuit filed by Elon Musk’s X against the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate, writing in a judgement Monday that the “case is about punishing the Defendants for their speech.”"

Irony alert!

This was always going to happen: Musk's complaint sat on shaky ground, and the man himself is a hypocrite who says he believes in free speech but is seeking to squash speech he doesn't like at every turn.

My questions are about his other companies. He's shown his true colors through the Twitter acquisition; at what point do stakeholders at SpaceX and Tesla say enough is enough?

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Elon Musk, X Fought Surveillance While Profiting Off Surveillance

"While it was unclear whether, under Musk, X would continue leasing access to its users to Dataminr — and by extension, the government — the emails from the Secret Service confirm that, as of last summer, the social media platform was still very much in the government surveillance business."

The hypocrisy shouldn't be particularly surprising, of course. And we have to assume that something similar is happening with every centralized system. But there is an undeniably rich irony in the gap between what Musk says and what he does.

"Privacy advocates told The Intercept that X’s Musk-era warnings of government surveillance abuses are contradictory to the company’s continued sale of user data for the purpose of government surveillance."

Quite.

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Threads has entered the fediverse

"We’re taking a phased approach to Threads’ fediverse integration to ensure we can continue to build responsibly and get valuable feedback from our users and the fediverse community."

It's really great to see Meta do this and communicate well about it. However you see the company, it's a big step for one of the tech giants to embrace the open social web in this way.

In the future, this is how every new social platform will be built - so take note both on the detail and of their overall approach.

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Four things about threads.net

"We're selling ourselves out by letting Facebook own a new social network and not putting that energy into building something that preserves our choice."

I am worried that this might turn out to be correct.

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FCC scraps old speed benchmark, says broadband should be at least 100Mbps

"The Federal Communications Commission today voted to raise its Internet speed benchmark for the first time since January 2015, concluding that modern broadband service should provide at least 100Mbps download speeds and 20Mbps upload speeds."

Finally. The previous 25Mbps down 3Mbps up benchmark was pathetic - and even that is above many peoples' actual connections in practice.

The new standard should pull other FCC regulations up with it, which is a welcome change:

"With a higher speed standard, the FCC is more likely to conclude that broadband providers aren't moving toward universal deployment fast enough and to take regulatory actions in response. During the Trump era, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's Republican majority ruled that 25Mbps download and 3Mbps upload speeds should still count as "advanced telecommunications capability," and concluded that the telecom industry was doing enough to extend advanced telecom service to all Americans."

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CEO of Data Privacy Company Onerep.com 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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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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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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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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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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What Happens to Your Sensitive Data When a Data Broker Goes Bankrupt?

"The prospect of this data, including Near’s collection of location data from sensitive locations such as abortion clinics, being sold off in bankruptcy has raised alarms in Congress." As it should - although, of course, fire sales are not the only way this data gets sold and transferred.

When a business goes under, its assets are usually put on the market, either to a sole acquirer or piecemeal. For a data broker, those assets include personal information for potentially millions of people.

The only real way to stop this is to prevent it from having been gathered in the first place. Putting controls on data transfers in a fire sale is good, but preventing it from being aggregated and centralized is better. Otherwise, inevitably, it will be misused at some point during its life.

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European human rights court says no to weakened encryption

"The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that laws requiring crippled encryption and extensive data retention violate the European Convention on Human Rights."

This renders some of the EU's own proposed legislation illegal. More importantly, client-side scanning and backdoors become illegal in themselves, making it harder for vendors from anywhere to include those features, lest they fall foul of the law with EU users.

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Updating GOV.UK’s crown

A glimpse into a surprising design problem created by constitutional monarchy: the need to update the crown in your logo when a new King has taken the throne.

"On each accession, the monarch will choose a Royal Cypher, or symbol to represent their personal authority. You can see the Royal Cypher in many places, for example post boxes, on police and military uniforms or on the side of official buildings."

The longer I've been away from the UK, the more surreal this kind of thing has become. I will say, though, that the new crown looks a little less like a loaf of bread that's collapsed in the oven, so there's something a bit pleasing about that.

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