DataDownload: America, your privacy settings are wrong
DataDownload: America, your privacy settings are wrong A weekly summary of all things Media, Data, Emerging Tech View this email in your browser
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If you learn nothing else from this newsletter — know this: Daylight saving time 2021 in New York will begin at 2:00 AM on Sunday, March 14. It will mess up your dog’s walking schedule, and for those of you without dogs — it will mess up your body clock as well. EOM.
Otherwise — lots to report. The Future of Privacy Forum has critical advice via the NY Times. AI is creating new paradigms for beauty, which MIT says is terrifying. Google is trading in Cookies for FLoC. Excel survives in a way Flash couldn’t.
And… Tuesday… NYC Media Lab will convene on the SXSW virtual stage — with a relevant conversation about The Perils of De-Platforming. Ben Smith from The New York Times, Kate Ruane from the ACLU, Jillian York from EFF, Amarnath Amarasingam from Queen’s University — and (shocker) Me. Because on this topic, I have some strong opinions, as hopefully, you’ll see. You can also attend the online Watch Party the next day, on Wednesday, March 17th, at 10am EDT, once you’ve registered on SXSW Online.
If you didn’t get to stay for all of our “Tech+Storytelling” event — fear not, we’ve got lots of great videos from the event on the way…
And, if you’re looking for a book… “The Code Breaker”: Jennifer Doudna and How CRISPR May Revolutionize Mankind is getting all kinds of good buzz (putting it on my list).
Have a good weekend. Wear a mask.
The NYC Media Lab Must-Read America, Your Privacy Settings Are All Wrong
“Imagine, for example, if getting your suit pressed at the dry cleaner’s automatically and permanently signed you up to have scores of inferences about you — measurements, gender, race, language, fabric preferences, credit card type — shared with retailers, cleaning product advertisers and hundreds of other dry cleaners…. that’s the daily reality on the internet.”
Senior counsel at nonprofit Future of Privacy Forum Stacey Gray says there could be “thousands or hundreds of thousands of companies that have data on you.” Even recent laws, like Virginia’s Consumer Data Protection Act and Washington State’s tentative statewide privacy bill, are business-friendly. Internet users still have to jump through hoops to opt-out of data collection. The influential California Privacy Rights Act relies on an opt-out system. Without comprehensive federal laws in place, says The New York Times’ editorial board, consumer data privacy regulation among states and companies becomes a mess:
“The Washington State Senate just passed and sent to the State House a bill that lacks sufficient opt-in defaults. A 2019 Maine law requires internet service providers to get consumers’ consent before collecting, using or selling their data, while Nevada law provides only for users to halt its sale. Among the more stringent such laws is Illinois’s, but it applies only to biometric data, such as fingerprinting and facial recognition. Lawmakers in at least a dozen other states have proposed legislation addressing user privacy, almost entirely with rights provisions only to opt out of data collection.”
NY Times / 6 min read Read More I Asked an AI to Tell Me How Beautiful I Am
A quick Google search will yield a bevy of startups around the world — from China to Japan to Australia — offering facial recognition and analysis APIs leveraging AI for use cases like beauty scoring, makeup recommendations, dating apps, and more. The world’s largest open facial recognition platform, Face++, has a beauty scoring AI.
Large US companies have also invested in beauty AI: “Ulta Beauty, valued at $18 billion, which developed a skin analysis tool. Nvidia and Microsoft backed a robot beauty pageant in 2016, which challenged entrants to develop the best AI to determine attractiveness.”
Experts argue that companies should be more transparent about their use of these APIs. Serge Belongie, a computer vision professor at Cornell University, says companies “should own it and say yes, we are using facial beauty prediction and here’s the model. And here’s a representative gallery of faces that we think, based on your browsing behavior, you find attractive. And I think that the user should be aware of that and be able to interact with it.”
MIT Technology Review / 16 min read
Google is supplanting cookies on Chrome with Federated Learning of Cohorts, or FLoC, which it claims is better for consumer privacy. Instead of collecting sensitive personal details as you move site to site, FLoC will group users into cohorts based on their online behavior. While this sounds better on paper, Alistair Barr says it’s just more of the same. It’s not just Barr — “the proposal has been roundly criticized by privacy advocates, many in the digital ad industry and even some on Wall Street. These people don’t agree on much, so it pays to listen when they do.”
Neil Campling, an analyst at Mirabaud Securities, describes FLoC as a sort of behavioral credit score that replaces something “users hate and Google doesn’t need.” Meanwhile, the ad industry is frustrated that in the end, Google comes out on top: “Google will continue to use powerful information about individuals to run ads on its own services. So when you log in to Google Search or YouTube, the company will know who you are, and can link your online behavior to your identity.”
Bloomberg / 5 min read Read More Excel Never Dies
“If you want to see the future of B2B software, look at what Excel users are hacking together in spreadsheets today.”
According to Not Boring’s Packy McCormick, there are two main categories for business software: the new stuff that we love (until we don’t), and the old stuff we have to use but hate. But there is one piece of software that seems to transcend these categories — something old, something we love and use all the time: Excel.
Excel isn’t immortal just because it’s ubiquitous and useful — it has also been the foundation of hundreds of B2B startups that have taken what we do in Excel and make it more user-friendly; and low-code and no-code startups have been inspired by Excel’s very essence — the stuff that made it so successful. In this love letter to Excel, McCormick overviews the product’s history, its limitations, why it’s been around for 36 years and why it will be around for 36 more, and its monumental influence.
Not Boring / 31 min read Read More Twitter Says It’ll Eventually Let People Natively Record Their Spaces
While Spaces started off as a direct Clubhouse competitor with ephemeral, spontaneous audio conversations, it seems to be going in a slightly different trajectory. Recently, head of consumer product at Twitter Kayvon Beykpour said the company plans to build a way to natively record conversations:
“If you think that the conversation was worth playing back, you ought to be able to do that. I personally am a little bit more bullish on two things. One, obviously the host should be able to save it and do whatever they want. Maybe you host a Space, you save it, then want to go edit it. You should be able to do that. I also think that the notion of letting the audience pick sound bites and share them as clips could be really, really powerful.”
The Verge / 2 min read
When Twitter made the decision to de-platform Donald Trump, it was, according to Twitter, to mitigate “the risk of further incitement of violence.” Since then, a wide range of technology companies and platforms have restricted or removed speakers they’ve deemed dangerous.
Where is the line between private platforms and government responsibility? Who do we want to determine what speech should be deemed as “dangerous” and what are the appropriate remedies for publishing such speech? Register for SXSW Online’s The Perils of De-Platforming panel on March 16, from 11:15AM to 12:10PM EDT, and attend the Watch Party the next day, on March 17, 10AM EDT.
nycmedialab (YouTube) / 1 min watch
“Marvel has 7,000 characters, many of them forgotten. We want to buy one from their vault and launch our own little Planet Money franchise.” Note that this is a three-part series: here is part 2 and part 3.
Spotify / 23 min listen
Listen Now Virtual Events Free Event: Babson Sustainability Forum
Date: March 16–20
A pioneering virtual conference featuring daily fireside chats and networking events with Leaders in sustainability and a water-centric design challenge. Register Here.
Free Event: Getting Connected — The Rise of Robotics & Cellular Connectivity
Date: March 17, 11AM-12PM EDT
“Join [Verizon] for a fruitful discussion on the future of cellular connectivity, the role it plays in powering larger robotic devices, and how the 5G network is key to building a more connected world.” Register Here. A Deeper Look “The Code Breaker”: Jennifer Doudna and How CRISPR May Revolutionize Mankind
Some 7,000 human diseases are caused by gene mutations. Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna’s Nobel Prize-winning CRISPR technology, introduced only eight years ago, may hold the key to eradicating them. CRISPR is an extremely versatile tool. Scientists have already used CRISPR to breed more nutritious tomatoes, create a wheat that doesn’t contain gluten, and conduct clinical trials to treat some cancers.
The technology, of course, has a darker side. As many sci-fi movies and 2019’s CRISPR baby scandal have shown, powerful but simple genetic engineering technology can be used in unethical, even dangerous ways. But Doudna assures us that “we don’t really know which genes need to be edited…. I suspect that we’re talking about dozens, if not more…. that would be technically very challenging. So, I don’t think we’re on the verge of a world of CRISPR babies myself.”
CBS News / 5 min read