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  • feedwordpress 01:20:42 on 2019/10/15 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , tik tok, Uncategorized   

    Tik Tok, Tick Tock…Boom. 


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    Something’s been bugging me about Tik Tok. I’ve almost downloaded it about a dozen times over the past few months. But I always stop short. I don’t have a ton of time (here’s why) so forgive me as I resort to some short form tricks here. To wit:

    1. China employs a breathtaking model of state-driven surveillance.
    2. The US employs a breathtaking model of capitalist surveillance.

    We on the same page so far? OK, great.

    Now let’s consider Tik Tok, which is a robust combination of the two. Don’t know Tik Tok? Come on, you read Searchblog for God’s sake. Ok, well, fortunately for you, there’s the New York Times. Or…maybe not. I almost threw up in my mouth as I watched the paper of record run through its decades long practice of “Gee, Golly, Isn’t This Shiny New Tech Thing Culturally Significant, and Aren’t We Woke for Noticing It” journalism last weekend. Read it if you must.

    Ok. Time for more shorthand.

    1. Tik Tok is owned by a Chinese company.
    2. Tik Tok is addictive, seductive, you can’t look away.
    3. Tik Tok has a Terms of Service and Privacy Policy that reads, for all intents and purposes, a lot like Google, Facebook, Apple, or Amazon’s terms of service (I’m studying these over at Columbia, FWIW). In other words, Tik Tok has standard clickwrap that gives it permission to do pretty much whatever it wants with the information it collects on its users.
    4. Since they’re modeled on the policies of American surveillance capitalism, Tik Tok’s TOS and Privacy Policies state that the company may collect your: Location, email, phone number, browsing history, device information, app and file names on your device, messaging content, full list of your social network connections (should you let it use your Facebook, Twitter, Insta to find your friends, and most do), content preferences, and a shit ton of other information, not to mention any and all third-party information Tik Tok chooses to acquire and append to your profile (that’d be another shit ton, in case you were wondering).
    5. There’s nothing in Tik Tok’s TOS or Privacy Policy that stops it from sending all the information it collects to the Chinese government. In fact, if you read the policies closely, you’ll see this line: “We may disclose information to respond to subpoenas, court orders, legal process, law enforcement requests, legal claims or government inquiries.”
    6. Tik Tok is clearly concerned about anyone noticing any of this – it’s nearly impossible to find stats on how many people use it in the US (though Ad Age leaked a pitch deck recently saying it was “more than 32 million”), and you won’t find the word “China” or “Chinese” in its TOS or Privacy Policy (it used to be there, but…the company wised up).
    7. Just in case you weren’t paying attention, I refer you to #1 above. If you think Tik Tok isn’t sending information to the Chinese government, you’re sweet, but you should stay inside and stick to rotary phones.
    8. Tik Tok is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on US social networks convincing US consumers, in particular kids, to download and use the app. This is fucking brilliant, by the way.
    9. China and the US are in a pitched battle for economic and geopolitical power, and that battle will be won, in large part, based on which country has access to and dominion over consumer data at scale, which will feed machine learning and artificial intelligence systems that will most certainly be weaponized, both economically and geopolitically (there’s simply not time to explain what I mean by that now, but…let’s just say Russian interference in the 2016 election was a hack job compared to what’s afoot now).

    So, I just thought I’d point that out. But those videos, they sure are cute, no?

     
  • feedwordpress 18:22:38 on 2019/09/13 Permalink
    Tags: , , Election 2020, , , , , , Uncategorized   

    Why Politics, Why Now? 


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    Last week an email hit my inbox with a simple powerful sentiment. “I miss your writing,” it said. The person who sent it was a longtime reader of this site.

    I miss writing too. But there’s a reason I’ve been quiet here and on other platforms – I wrote a very short post about that earlier this summer. To summarize, last year I decided to take the leap, for the seventh time, and start a company with my dear friend and frequent co-conspirator John Heilemann. John and I have worked on projects for the better part of three decades, but we’d never started a company together. Now we have: Recount Media is an entirely new approach to video about politics. And the truth is, Recount Media not only requires all of my time, it’s also in fields that seem pretty orthogonal to my previous career trajectory.

    That reader’s email reminded me: I’ve not really explained the connection between what I “used to do” – write about the impact of tech on society, advise startups, work on boards, start or run tech-related media companies – and what it is I’m doing now. Turns out, the two are deeply connected. Explaining why takes a bit of exposition – hence this longish post. But in short, the idea is this: The tech story is now a political story, and the political story is, well, a mess. I’m motivated by creating companies and media around consequential, messy stories. Tech used to be the biggest and most poorly covered of the bunch. But now, I’m convinced politics holds that honor.

    This post is my attempt to tie together my past, rooted mostly in the West Coast technology culture, with my present, now based in New York and focused almost entirely on politics and video. I hope by thinking out loud here, I might help make it make sense for not only you, my readers, but also for myself as I continue on this journey.

    On its face it doesn’t make much sense. A guy who has made his living writing – either coding words into posts, or starting companies that, in essence, were word factories (Wired, The Standard, Federated Media, etc.) – is now co-founder of a company that makes only video. A guy who has specialized in reporting on and sense making around technology is now deep in the utterly foreign world (for me, anyway) of politics. What gives?

    I realized that the tech story had morphed into something else back in 2015, when I was running an events business called NewCo. To support that business, I decided to create a small publication focused on the intersection of technology, policy, and business. We called it Shift. To launch that brand, I wrote “The Tech Story Is Over,” a framework of sorts for why I thought the biggest story in our economy had moved from “tech” to the wholesale reinvention of capitalism. From that piece:

    Tech hasn’t gone mainstream — it is the mainstream. It’s our cultural dowser, our lens for interpreting an increasingly complex society.Our new cultural heroes are Internet billionaires; our newly minted college graduates all want to start tech companies.

    All of which leaves me wondering : What’s the next big story on the horizon, the narrative most people are missing that will shape our future just as technology did for the past 30 years?

    I think the answer lies in the reinvention of capitalism. 

    While tech had been the defining story of the past few decades, I argued that the story of the next few would be how our society rethought the rules governing corporations. And once you start thinking about the way corporations were governed, your attention naturally turns to politics. Politics, after all, is how we collectively determine the rules of the road.

    At the same time we launched Shift, we also started a new conference of the same name, dedicated to convening a fresh conversation about business and politics. I asked Heilemann to bring his deep understanding of Washington to the stage each year. John curated the political piece, I ran the business programming. The event was very well received, and we both noticed how engaged folks were around the political conversation in particular. The first Shift event was one week after Trump’s inauguration, and nearly every business and tech leader was leaning into issues they had previously ignored or, in some cases, actively ducked. It was clear: Politics was on its way to permeating every aspect of our society, and business was a leading indicator of that trend.

    We increased the amount of political programming in the second Shift event, and once again, folks loved it. By now I was certain that the tech and business narrative I’d been chasing for so many years had grown stale – the changes wrought by tech were no longer the story – now the story was how we as a society would respond. And just as with business, that response requires wading directly into the world of politics.

    It was after the second Shift conference that I decided to move to New York. The Bay area is a lovely, inspirational place, but the conversation was dominated by entrepreneurship, and it was beginning to feel like a monoculture. I wanted to live in a place where the conversation had more hybrid vigor. I called my friend John to let him know about the move, and, turns out, he had an idea about starting a political platform devoted to covering US politics in a new way. We spent a week talking about it over the summer, got pretty excited about where it might go, and … well, that’s how we got to now.

    In the past year, I’ve come to realize that while I thought I was pretty well informed about how our political system worked, I was in fact wandering in the dark. I had spent nearly my entire career in media and tech in the Bay area, but I had managed to fundamentally avoid engaging in the national political discourse. I don’t think I’m alone – the past few years have delivered a crash course in political realities for the entire technology industry – and for business overall. When hundreds of leading CEOs sign a letter claiming profit will no longer be the true north of their firms, something pretty fundamental has shifted.

    We announced Recount Media’s public beta this past July, and we’ll have a lot more to announce later this Fall, including dates for two new Shift events, which are now part of our new company. I’m excited about the work we’re doing, and I hope those of you who’ve followed my journey from Wired through to NewCo will come along for the ride with The Recount. You can sign up for our beta newsletter here. Thanks for reading, and thanks for all your comments and encouragement along the way.

     
  • feedwordpress 03:53:38 on 2019/07/30 Permalink
    Tags: Uncategorized   

    Introducing Recount Media 


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    More than a few of you have been wondering why I’ve been so quiet here these past few months, and today I can finally reveal at least part of what’s kept me so busy. Today we’re announcing a public beta product from the company I’ve been building with my longtime friend and collaborator John Heilemann and many other talented folks. We’re starting with an email newsletter featuring a new approach to video journalism covering political news. I’ll have more to say soon, but for now, sign up here for our first product, The Recount. I hope you’ll share with friends—and let me know what you think. More soon, I promise, and thanks for reading. (CNN coverage here).

     
  • feedwordpress 14:46:33 on 2019/07/21 Permalink
    Tags: 2019, , Uncategorized   

    Halfway Through: How Are My Predictions 2019 Shaping Up? 


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    I like to keep myself honest when it comes to predictions. Now that six months of 2019 are in the books (well, nearly seven given how intermittent my postings have been this year), it’s time to see how things are tracking.

    Regular readers may have noticed I’m not really written much this year. This pains me, but it’s because I’ve been deep in a new project, one focused on a new market and a new media format. There’ll be news on that soon enough, but for now, let’s review my 2019 predictions and see how I’m doing.

    First up: 1/ Global warming gets really, really, really real.  I predicted that 2019 would be the year that climate change would become impossible to ignore. I’m writing this as more than half the country is suffering from a massive heat wave, and in the first six months of the year, we’ve seen so many extreme weather events, it’s hard to keep track. Floods, draught, monsoons, tornados, the Green New Deal, you name it, it’s all over the news. I think we’re on track for this one, sadly.

    #2: Mark Zuckerberg resigns as Chairman of Facebook, and relinquishes his supermajority voting rights. Related, Sheryl Sandberg stays right where she is. Well, so far, not happening. There have been many calls for exactly this, including a shareholder revolt that went nowhere. There’s still time, but this isn’t trending in the right direction.

    #3: Despite a ton of noise and smoke from DC, no significant federal legislation is signed around how data is managed in the United States. This is trending exactly where I thought it would be. Lots and lots of smoke, no fire whatsoever.

    #4: The Trump show gets cancelled.  Wishful thinking, but so far, not happening. But there’s still time, and I expect the Fall to be quite eventful. And who knows what might come of “Mueller Day” this coming week…

    #5: Cannabis for the win. I predicted federal legalization, and while there have been some milestones this year, and many are talking about making it happen, I think I was overconfident here. It’s going to take longer than any of us would like.

    #6: China implodes, the world wobbles. If you read the Wall St. Journal, you’d have thought this has already happened. The signs are all there, and I think it’s still entirely possible this will occur this Fall.

    #7: 2019 will be a terrible year for financial markets. So far I’ve been utterly wrong. It’s been a great year for stocks! But I think we’re at peak market and most indicators point to…bad news ahead. Trump, of course, will pull every lever he can – including bullying the Fed and claiming victory in his various trade wars – but I think we’re overdue for a correction. Again, let’s wait for the Fall to see what comes of this one.

    #8: At least one major tech IPO is pulled, the rest disappoint as a class. Several tech IPOs have been pulled, but none of the bellwethers have been yanked. Uber was a disappointment, but overall, 2019 has been a great year for tech IPOs. The year is not over, and if things go south overall (see #7), I very much doubt tech will be spared.

    #9: New forms of journalistic media flourish. I wrote this one because, well, that’s what I’m working on, and so are many other media entrepreneurs. I’ll wait till the end of the year to count them up, but I’m feeling bullish about post-platform media in 2019.

    #10: A new “social network” emerges by the end of the year. Tik Tok broke out this year (it launched in 2017), but a Chinese owned meme machine certainly wasn’t what I had in mind. I still think there’s an opening for a new challenger to Facebook, and who knows, it might emerge before the year is up.

    So where does that leave me, half a year in? Batting about .500, it seems. I’ll be taking notes as we head toward Dec. 31st. Thanks for reading, and keeping me honest. I hope to be writing a lot more in the coming months.

     
  • feedwordpress 15:59:20 on 2019/04/24 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , terms of service, Uncategorized   

    Mapping Data Flows: Help Us Ask the Right Questions 


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    I’ve been quiet here on Searchblog these past few months, not because I’ve nothing to say, but because two major projects have consumed my time. The first, a media platform in development, is still operating mostly under the radar. I’ll have plenty to say about that, but at a later date. It’s the second where I could use your help now, a project we’re calling Mapping Data Flows. This is the research effort I’m spearheading with graduate students from Columbia’s School for International Public Affairs (SIPA) and Graduate School of Journalism. This is the project examining what I call our “Shadow Internet Constitution” driven by corporate Terms of Service.

    Our project goal is simple: To visualize the Terms of Service and Data/Privacy Policies of the four largest companies in US consumer tech: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. We want this visualization to be interactive and compelling – when you approach it (it’ll be on the web), we hope it will help you really “see” what data, rights, and obligations both you and these companies have reserved. To do that, we’re busy turning unintelligible lines of text (hundreds of thousands of words, in aggregate) into code that can be queried, compared, and visualized. When I first imagined the project, I thought that wouldn’t be too difficult. I was wrong – but we’re making serious progress, and learning a lot along the way.

    One of the most interesting of the early insights is how vague these documents truly are. The conditional (“might,” “could,” “may” etc) seems to be their favorite verb tense. It likely comes as no surprise to dedicated readers, but despite the last two years of public outrage, tech companies can pretty much do anything they want with your data, should they care to. Another interesting takeaway: The sheet amount of information that *can* be collected is staggering. A third insight: Even if you can find the data dashboards that give you control over how your data is used, cranking them to their fullest powers often won’t limit data collection and use, but rather will limit their application in very specific use cases. It’s all about the metadata. Lastly, it’s fascinating to see how similar these documents are across the top four companies, and how Apple, for example, has pretty much exactly the same rights to use your data as, say, Facebook.

    I could go on, but what we really want to know is what *you* wish you understood about these companies’ data practices. That’s why we’ve built a very short, very subjective survey that we’re hoping you’ll take to give us input and feedback as we start to actually build our visualization.

    I’ve buried the lead, but here’s the ask: Will you please take a minute to give us your input? Here’s the link, and thanks!

     
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