I highly Recommend this Newsletter

by former Silicon Valley VC Benedict Evans. (He just moved back to London.) Ben has been doing this newsletter weekly since 2013 and I have subscribed since about 2015.

I find it more informative and useful than most of the tech press. He is not a knee-jerk tech cheerleader. And he knows what he is talking about. Again, highly recommended. And no charge to subscribe.


A sample from the latest:

Building the panopticon : a big NY Times splash on Clearview, a company that has scraped millions of people’s photos and names from all over the web, indexed them into a database using face recognition, and is selling this to law enforcement, so that the police can upload a random photo and (probably) get a name. Lots of interesting issues here:

  • US tech companies used to try to block and sue scrapers, until LinkedIn lost a lawsuit and the judge said that not only could they not sue, but also that they’re not even allowed to try to block scraping by any technical means. Some people celebrated this as a triumph for free competition and the open web - welcome to the unintended consequences
  • At this stage face recognition is close to a commodity technology: if you can get the photos anyone can index them like this - indeed, a government could do this with driving licence or passport photos
  • In some ways this is a rerun of concerns around databases in the late 1970s and early 1980s: databases and now machine learning mean that things that had always been theoretically possible on a small scale became practically possible on a massive scale. I wrote about this in September: Face recognition and the ethics of AI.
  • Links: NYT story, LinkedIn scraping lawsuit from last year

EU wants to pause face recognition : the EU is as usual in the vanguard on tech regulation: it’s considering a temporary ban on facial recognition in public spaces. Link

Privacy versus competition : Google wants to phase out support for third-party cookies (i.e. cross-site behaviour and ad tracking) in Chrome (which has about 70% of desktop web traffic) within two years. Apple is already doing this in iOS’s Safari, which has the majority of mobile web use in the USA. This will both protect privacy and reduce the value of current publisher ad models, such as, say, the NY Times, since they will know less about you. Of course, by pure coincidence this doesn’t affect what happens within a single closed-loop site, such as for Google search/search advertising, or Facebook. In other words, by protecting privacy, Google (and Apple) make ads on Google and Facebook more attractive and weaken most other ad models. As for the previous story, privacy conflicts with competition. Link