Saturday Links 14-Apr-2018: Facebook, China Tech fusing with government, Birds see magnetic fields, Media a side hustle for tech giants

Here’s comments and links on what I enjoyed reading this week.

1. Facebook Facebook Facebook. The 2018 deluge continues. Which aspects seemed underreported? I’d say: A. Only a vocal minority care about privacy. B. Hence privacy is weaponized in a proxy war for what people really care about — Facebook’s power over news and which political tribe wins. C. Regulations will likely backfire, locking in Facebook’s dominance. D. Facebook’s leadership has a natural cultural affinity to globalist, elite, college educated, status-quo power. E. Yet Facebook’s economic incentives derive from broad based advertising, making them natural allies to populist nationalism. Perhaps you noticed a tension between those last two.Here’s my favorite posts on those themes. Click if you find something interesting. Tyler Cowen quotes a recent privacy paper: “privacy fatigue has a stronger impact on privacy behavior than privacy concerns do, although the latter is widely regarded as the dominant factor in explaining online privacy behavior.” Zeynep Tufekci has a killer and accurate headline Why Zuckerberg’s 14-Year Apology Tour Hasn’t Fixed Facebook. Alex Tabarrok on why politicians and Facebook are both incentivized towards regulation The Peltzman Model of Regulation and the Facebook Hearings. Ezra Klein interviews Mark Zuckerberg. My (partly in jest) Straussian reading is Zuckerberg is longing for Facebook to get regulated into a quasi-governmental body, aligned to every national government power center across the globe. Key sentence “You can imagine some sort of structure, almost like a Supreme Court, that is made up of independent folks who don’t work for Facebook, who ultimately make the final judgment call on what should be acceptable speech in a community that reflects the social norms and values of people all around the world.” Klein seems amenable to Zuckerberg’s pro-regulation stance. In fact Klein’s most uncomfortable moment is when he apologizes for being ad supported himself. Now of course privacy regulation, like anti-trust rulings against Microsoft from back in the day, will be led by Europe. To see how this may lock Facebook into power, read Publishers Haven’t Realized Just How Big a Deal GDPR is. And Ben Thompson has a good post on why even though the senate and congressional hearings didn’t accomplish anything now, they’re still an important sign of things to come: The Facebook Current.

Let’s finish with Jay Rosen. On how Facebook’s impregnably idealist utopian culture is no longer something they should brag about. Perhaps an apology will arrive in 2019.

2. China’s government fusing with their tech giants. While regulating Facebook has problems, in reality there’s no easy answer to social media. The technology is driven by massive network effects. And regulation is preferable to what’s happening in China. From China Is Nationalizing Its Tech Sector:

Communist Party committees have been installed at many tech firms, reviewing everything from operations to compliance with national goals. Regulators have been discussing taking a 1 percent stake in some giants, including Alibaba and Tencent, along with a board seat. Tech companies have been widely encouraged to invest in state-owned firms, in the hopes of making them more productive. The common denominator of all these efforts is that the government wants more control.

That’s followed by a quote from an executive at a China search engine: “We’re entering an era in which we’ll be fused together.” Also see Chinese police have used facial recognition technology to locate and arrest a man who was among a crowd of 60,000 concert goers.

3. Birds sense magnetic fields with their vision. By far my favorite piece of the week. Very cool. While birds sensing magnetic fields has been speculated on for decades, the details are now being worked out. The latest is based on gene expression. And to be clear, magnetic fields aren’t detected like light, focusing in the eye. Instead the bird’s eye has magnetic field detecting proteins in the retina, and their vision becomes skewed with an overlay tied to how that protein impacts regular sight (apparently via quantum decoherence if you must know). This popular article is quite good. Or try a more technical version here. From that technical article, the image below is an excellent, if speculative, reconstruction of what birds see. The Earth’s magnetic field as a shining band in the sky, a visual compass for migrating across the globe. Look for AR glasses that can do this by, let’s say, 2025.

magnetic_vision
image source: Theoretical and Computational Biophysics Group

4. The undead zombie of Learning Styles is slayed yet again. The idea of learning styles – Visual, Auditory, Reading, and Kinesthetic – seems unkillable. So just doing my part in linking. Quote: “people do try to treat tasks in accordance with what they believe to be their learning style, but it doesn’t help them.” Yep.

5. Who’s to blame for high housing prices. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, so this one hits close to home. A bit unsurprising since I’ve talked to my neighbors, yet still depressing. People blame developers for high housing costs, rather than themselves for voting to prohibit building any housing. Excellent chart below from the piece.

Untitled
source: San Jose Mercury News

6. Media a mere side hustle for tech giants. Good post by M.G. Siegler on why the tech giants providing music/movies/TV as a side hustle should scare Hollywood. Hollywood (or more accurately the entertainment complex around LA) makes money from music/TV/movies. But for the tech giants these are a side hustle. Something done as promotion. Which is to say, they don’t care if they make money. Hard to compete against that.

7. Troop Morale. With the bombings in Syria, I’ll finish with a link to this longish piece I read a couple of days ago: Two Decades of War Have Eroded the Morale of America’s Troops. Depressing if perhaps justified ending sentence: “But if you think the mission your country keeps sending you on is pointless or impossible and that you’re only deploying to protect your brothers and sisters in arms from danger, then it’s not the Taliban or al-Qaeda or ISIS that’s trying to kill you, it’s America.”

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