Saturday Links 22-Sep-2018: Ben Thompson on internet regulation, Apple reviews, micromobility, Kipchoge’s ridiculously fast marathon

1. Ben Thompson on Facebook/Google regulation. Ben Thompson argues in an excellent 3000 word piece the current EU approaches to Facebook/Google regulation are backfiring, and transparency is a better solution. I don’t think this will get many pageviews, but at a theory and explanation level it’s outstanding.

Old style consumer companies with physical goods tended to gain market power by dominating their distribution channel. So for Corn Flakes and Tide that meant controlling shelf space in stores. But with the internet, distribution is zero cost and digital goods are zero marginal cost. So for Facebook and Google, distribution is free. That pushed internet market power towards owning a direct relationship with the consumer. In this situation, creating privacy rules like the GDPR, which require complex compliance, ultimately favor already entrenched leaders. Why? Because the more complicated it is to comply, the harder it is for a new entrant to enter the market. Ben Thompson calls these internet companies aggregators, and his framework is Aggregation Theory (link). That means the leverage point for regulating the new internet giants has to come elsewhere, and the natural place is forced transparency. If people find out what’s going on and hate it, all the consumer market power these quasi-monopolies have may be lost. So Thompson talks about “a new way to regulate, one that works with the fundamental forces unleashed by the Internet, instead of against them.”


For Facebook, the Cambridge Analytica scandal was akin to the Surgeon General’s report on smoking: the threat was not that regulators would act, but that users would, and nothing could be more fatal. That is because:

The regulatory corollary of Aggregation Theory is that the ultimate form of regulation is user generated.

If regulators, EU or otherwise, truly want to constrain Facebook and Google — or, for that matter, all of the other ad networks and companies that in reality are far more of a threat to user privacy — then the ultimate force is user demand, and the lever is demanding transparency on exactly what these companies are doing.


This is the way to truly bring the market to bear on these giants: not regulatory fiat, but user sentiment. That is because it is an approach that understands the world as it is, not as it was, and which appreciates that bad PR — because it affects demand — is a far more effective instigator of change than a fine paid from monopoly profits.

2. Male Variability, a correction. In my Sep 8 post, I made a mistake in thinking a study on greater male variability got unpublished due to politics. Andrew Gelman dug into this a bit more, and changed my mind. Now I think it was just a rather hamfisted coincidence that two publications in turn both retracted the study. My bad. Also, as a side note, if you are into stats or the replication crisis in social science, I highly recommend Andrew Gelman’s blog. A careful and deep thinker. link

3. John Gruber on the new Apple phones and new Apple watch. These are the definitive reviews. Perhaps too much detail for most, as people should just buy the latest whenever their old phone breaks. A completely reasonable heuristic, given smartphone maturity level. But if you care about the details of Apple products, especially the changes year over year, these are the posts to read. In particular this is a good on Apple Watch: “If you want a one sentence summary of what I think of the Series 4 Apple Watch, it’s this: Series 4 is to Apple Watch what iPhone 4 was to iPhone — the model that takes the original design to a new level.”

  1. Thoughts and Observations on Apple’s iPhone XS/XR and Series 4 Apple Watch Introductory Event
  2. The iPhones XS
  3. Apple Watch Series 4

4. Horace Dediu podcast on micromobility. Dediu is very sharp, with a fine understanding of the nuances of tech disruption theory. To be honest, his podcast efforts have been very hit or miss. But the first four episodes of his new podcast series on micromobility (electric scooters and their offshoots) are really good. Recommended

5. Eliud Kipchoge’s ridiculously fast marathon time of 2:01:39. You probably have to be into running to appreciate this, but Kipchoge broke the world record in the marathon by an amazing 78 seconds. Now. Being 78 second faster over a race that lasts 2 hours doesn’t seem like a lot. But recently the record breaking runs have been cutting time by 5 or 10 seconds. This is an incredible jump. Perhaps it’s more obvious to talk about his pace, which was 4 minute 38 seconds for every mile. Crazy fast. And he ran 26.2 of them. Most people couldn’t keep up for over 100 yards at that speed. If you’re curious and a casual or non-runner, read the article at The Atlantic. If you are a running nerd, of course you’ll also want to read the more jargony one at LetsRun as well.

6. Saved you a click. I’ll finish with links to a few articles that can be summarized in a sentence or two, but that sentence is still interesting.

That’s all for this post. Have a good weekend.

Categorized as Link post

By Nathan Taylor

I blog at on tech trends and the near future. I'm on twitter as @ntaylor963.


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