Issue 66

The regulated love regulations

Delivered on 24 February 2020 by Justin Pyvis. About a 5 min read.

In what should come as a surprise to no one, Facebook is lobbying the European Union for regulations to govern artificial intelligence, content moderation and more. As we wrote way back in Issue 14, "Facebook will be willing to pay the cost of being regulated if it means its competitors, both present and not yet conceived, will have to pay it as well".

Facebook is a big company and it already pays for an army of lawyers and content moderators, so new regulations are relatively less burdensome on it than its competitors.

But Facebook's latest lobbying really is something else, because it turns out that it already complies with all of the regulations it's proposing:

It's suspiciously convenient that Facebook already fulfills most of the regulatory requirements it’s asking governments to lay on the rest of the tech industry.‌‌‌‌[If the European Union regulators] follow Facebook’s suggestions, they might reinforce the social network’s power rather than keep it in check by hamstringing companies with fewer resources.‌‌‌‌Tech giants like Facebook have the profits lawyers, lobbyists, engineers, designers, scale and steady cash flow to navigate regulatory changes. Unless new laws are squarely targeted at the abuses or dominance of these large companies, their collateral damage can loom large. Rather than spend time and money they don’t have in order to comply, some smaller competitors will fold, scale back or sell out.

Well said. Every increment on this front helps Facebook maintain its dominance. There will be benefits - improved privacy, perhaps - but the adverse implications in terms of stifling digital innovation will forever remain unseen. And I don't know about you, but the last company I would want enshrined as a regulated monopoly is a company run by Mark Zuckerberg.

There's more on existing European regulations in the bits below. 👇

Other bits of interest

The Economic Consequences of Data Privacy Regulation

According to a new paper, The European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has not aged well:

...a nonnegligible number of consumers exercised the opt-out right enabled by GDPR. At the same time, the remaining consumers are more persistently trackable. This observed pattern is consistent with the hypothesis that privacy-conscious consumers substitute away from less efficient privacy protection (e.g, cookie deletion) to explicit opt out, a process that would reduce noise on remaining consumers. Further in keeping with this hypothesis, we observe that the average value of the remaining consumers to advertisers has increased, offsetting most of the losses from consumers that opt-out.

So privacy-conscious Europeans opted out of tracking, data collection and all of that nasty stuff following the roll-out of the GDPR, leaving a large (87.5%) pool of people who simply don't care enough. But that process has actually helped advertisers, as those annoying privacy-conscious individuals - who were likely using VPNs, ad blockers, fingerprint obfuscators and so on prior to the GDPR anyway - are no longer distorting the aggregate data. Brilliant!

My guess is that the 12.5% privacy-conscious Europeans also wouldn't consider using a FitBit unless it was first quarantined from Google. But that won't stop the European regulators...


Encrypted email follow-up

Last week I wrote about AT&T's "decision" to block Tutanota, an encrypted email provider, and why encrypted email is generally not that useful anyway. This week security start-up Latacora also questioned its usefulness, in far more depth. But the conclusion is the same:

Email is unsafe and cannot be made safe. The tools we have today to encrypt email are badly flawed. Even if those flaws were fixed, email would remain unsafe. Its problems cannot plausibly be mitigated. Avoid encrypted email.

Don't bother with an encrypted email service. You're much better off using that money to pay for an email service that doesn't compromise usability somewhere outside the 5-eyes, using other products designed with encryption in mind from the get-go for everything else, such as Signal, Keybase or (and Firefox Send for larger attachments).

Definitely not WhatsApp though.


Hope for Libra yet?

Maybe... just maybe. Shopify is massive but still far enough removed from the "establishment" that it might just be enough to get Libra going.

After eBay, Visa, Stripe and other high-profile partners ditched the Facebook -backed cryptocurrency collective, Libra scored a win today with the addition of Shopify. The e-commerce platform will become a member of Libra Association, contributing at least $10 million and operating a node that processes transactions for the Facebook-originated stable coin.‌‌‌‌If Libra manages to assuage international regulators’ concerns, which are currently blocking its roll out, Shopify could gain a way to process transactions without paying credit card fees. Libra is designed to move between wallets with zero or nearly-zero fees. That could save money for Shopify and the 1 million merchants running online shops on its platform.


Buying an election

Michael Bloomberg has been trying hard to buy the Democratic nomination, throwing a cheeky half billion (so far), or less than 1% of his net worth, at his campaign. It turns out he's spending a decent chunk of that on social media, buying memes, paying influencers to promote him, and even has his own little army of Twitter bots!

I tend to put a very low value on the influence possessed by 'influencers', so it will be interesting to see if this strategy pays off. For what it's worth, so far it seems to be getting him mocked more than anything else, but as Donald Trump showed in 2016, any publicity is good publicity.


Garry Kasparov on artificial intelligence

Garry Kasparov, the first person to be defeated at chess by a computer, was interviewed by Wired and had some interesting thoughts on AI (there's lots more at the link):

How it will develop I don't know. But I don't believe in AGI [artificial general intelligence]. I don't believe that machines are capable of transferring knowledge from one open-ended system to another. So machines will be dominant in the closed systems, whether it's games, or any other world designed by humans.

I agree, with one example being completely driver-less (level 5) cars. Until all the non-passenger humans are off the roads - that includes pedestrians, cyclists, e-scooters, whatever - the openness of the system will remain a major (impossible?) hurdle for level 5 automation. Mine sites, ports, railways, warehouses? No problem. But the open road is a very different beast.


Issue 66: The regulated love regulations was compiled by Justin Pyvis and delivered on 24 February 2020. Join the conversation on the fediverse at