Here’s links to what I enjoyed reading this week, and why.
1. Facebook outrage. Privacy or politics? In 2014 Facebook allowed Cambridge Analytica (and many other app companies) access to user data as Facebook tried to make themselves into a software platform. People are upset enough that the Economist has an article Facebook faces a reputational meltdown.
People are mad because Facebook is sharing their data. And mad because they blame Facebook for Donald Trump’s election. So mad for both reasons. But which is more important? If mostly privacy, then people are belatedly wising up to social media. And privacy concerns should rapidly spread to Twitter, Snapchat, Google, etc. If mostly politics, then privacy is (mostly) a hammer being used to attack Facebook for the election. In that case the regulatory focus will be more on stopping fake news supportive of Trump. And less on regulating personal data. And furthermore people will forget their privacy concerns outside the very narrow context of politics and elections.
Robin Hanson has a recent post arguing against regulating Facebook prematurely. Quote: “My point here isn’t to predict or recommend specific changes for future social media. I’m instead just trying to make the point that a lot of room for improvement remains. Such gains might be delayed or prevented by heavy regulation.” Agree. Furthermore my experience is people are way angrier about Facebook helping to elect Trump, than about privacy per se. For example nobody seems to care that Snapchat is developing a data sharing API that works just like Facebook’s. That’s a tell. So I agree with Hanson’s prediction below as well. Guess we’ll find out soon enough.
2. Galaxy with no dark matter. Here’s the paper. This is mostly just cool. It doesn’t really change any physics, though indirectly is a good support for the existence of dark matter. Nearly all galaxies spin faster than we’d predict just by counting up the mass of the visible stars. Which means those galaxies must have mass besides visible stars. This is dark matter. Which doesn’t do much (observationally) beyond gravitation. NASA has a good explainer, and the video is quite good. Except. Except the video has horrific planetarium sound effects playing in the background! I’d still recommend the video from the NASA piece, but just be mentally prepared for the soul searing sounds of 1980s synthesized strings.
3. Scott Alexander reads Jordon Peterson so you don’t have to. It’s a good explainer. Alexander argues Peterson should be viewed as religious prophet with new age trappings. He compares him to C. S. Lewis. Peterson’s writing provides religious moral meaning in our secular age. So he deserves praise, or at least credit, for pulling it off. I’m certain I couldn’t wade through an entire book of Peterson, but am really glad I read Alexander’s piece on him. Here’s the second graf:
But, uh…I’m really embarrassed to say this. And I totally understand if you want to stop reading me after this, or revoke my book-reviewing license, or whatever. But guys, Jordan Peterson is actually good.
4. Cyberattack Hobbles Atlanta. “Atlanta’s municipal government has been brought to its knees since Thursday morning by a ransomware attack — one of the most sustained and consequential cyberattacks ever mounted against a major American city.” And “Cybersecurity experts estimate that criminals made more than $1 billion from ransomware in 2016, according to the F.B.I”
The way it works is security breaching software cripples computer systems. Then the ransom demand must be met or all the infected computers will have their files erased. Atlanta paid a $50k ransom in bitcoin to get their computers working again. Points to make: 1) story should have been more widely shared, 2) the tools to do this are becoming more turnkey, and 3) the solution is to move government computers into the (far more secure) cloud. So expect a push for governments to go cloud. story
5. Testing helps the underprivileged. This is old news. But Kevin Drum has a new post and I really liked the chart below. From Drum’s piece: “This means that among low-income students, the supply of college-ready grads increased nearly 50 percent simply by having everyone take the college entrance exam.”
6. Stratechery 5 years! Ben Thompson’s Stratechery was launched 5 years ago. I subscribe. If you are interested in business and strategy of tech I think it’s the best thing going. I’m happy for his very well deserved success. So let’s finish on that note. Recommended.