Newsletter #6: Google announces the end of cookies, subscription search from Neeva, Crypto and Bitcoin, and Apple and Facebook in a battle for Mixed Reality
Wiser! Newsletter 26 March: featuring cookies, robot deliveries, tech that reads your thoughts, and $300m pizzas!
What’s the fuss about Google, cookies and the so-called demise of surveillance capitalism?
As part of its Privacy Sandbox initiative last year, Google announced the demise of the 3rd party cookie from the Chrome browser. This is the mechanism that Google uses to follow and track your every move on the Internet.
It uses the data it collects to build a unique profile of you. Advertisers pay (through an auction system) to place their ads in front of you based on this profile. This is why you “coincidentally” start seeing ads appear in your browser for things related to what you were watching on YouTube.
Today, Google (with Facebook) totally boss (86%) online advertising revenues because of this ability to target personalised ads. Added to this is Chrome’s dominance with over 60% of the browser market. So, when Google posted this blog post earlier this month, they received plenty of back-slapping for getting on the privacy bandwagon.
However, upon inspection, all is not quite as it seems with the Google proposals.
Because, whilst it is the case that Google will no longer track a user based on their individual browsing habits, this is not the end of surveillance-based behavioural advertising.
The most prominent change announced by Google is something called FLoC, or Federated Learning of Cohorts (sounds dodgy already!).
The concept of the FLoC is that instead of Google stalking you as an individual, they will track you as a member of a small group of very similar individuals, aka a cohort.
Based on your online movements, Google will put you into small groups of similar individuals and target ads at a cohort level. Instead of an advertiser seeing you as you when you appear on a website, they will see you as part of your cohort. 😕
Frankly, I’m not convinced that the end result will be that much different. The incentives to gather and harvest personal information will still be there in the Google business model.
And these proposed changes do little to change the game for the biggest 1st party tracker on the Internet, which is Google itself.
In fact, there is an argument that by making Chrome more hostile to 3rd party trackers, the company simply increases its own monopoly advantages in the ad market even further!
No doubt this will be a matter widely discussed in the upcoming anti-trust facing BigTech.
Footnote: A new startup called Neeva is offering an antidote in the form of a subscription-based search engine. Read about my discussion with the founder of Neeva here.
Crypto Corner - Bitcoin is valued as the 3rd largest currency in the world (almost!)
This research note from Deutsche Bank has listed Bitcoin as the third largest currency in the world, after the US Dollar and the euro. (It didn’t include the Chinese yuan in the note which would have pushed Bitcoin to 4th).
If you think of Bitcoin as a payment method, its market cap of $1 trillion makes it more valuable than Mastercard and Visa combined (at c$875 billion)!
However, the price volatility and lack of transaction speed of BTC makes it undesirable as a payment mechanism. Not that this has stopped Tesla from accepting payment in Bitcoin.
At today’s prices, an entry-level Model 3 would cost around 1.5BTC.
This valuation as the world’s 3rd (or 4th) largest currency is due to the bull run on the price of Bitcoin over the last 12 months. Last March it was priced at around $5k and peaked at $60k earlier this month, a year later.
Strictly speaking, comparing Bitcoin to the USD or euro is not an apple-for-apples comparison. But it serves to strengthen the narrative that Bitcoin “is mainstream” and now a viable alternative to gold as a store of wealth and a hedge against inflation.
Fun Fact: The world’s first-ever Bitcoin transaction was in 2010, the year after Bitcoin was created. A computer programmer from Florida paid 10,000 BTC for 2 pizzas in the world’s first-ever exchange of goods for Bitcoin.
Back then, 10,000 BTC was worth around $41.
Today it would be worth closer to $600 million. 🍕 Enough to feed the entire population of Canada for a whole month on pizza!
NFT WTF! When Beeple sold his NFT digital artwork for the equivalent of $69m earlier this month, it placed him (real name Mike Winkleman) behind David Hockney and Jeff Koons as the 3rd highest-grossing artist sold at auction. Source: CNN
If you think that’s crazy, check this out! Toronto-based artist Krista Kim just sold the first NFT backed digital home for 288 Ether, around $500 million! To be clear, it’s a virtual home, it only exists inside your computer! Source: DeStubb c/o DeZeen
To find out more about NFTs, check out the Wiser in 5! article on non-fungible tokens here.
Facebook and Apple and the way we interact with technology
Today, we connect with computers through touch and speech. We issue commands using our fingers or by speaking to Alexa.
This is fine if you’re sat at your desk, reading your mobile on the train, or want Alexa to play the new album from Steps. But in the worlds of virtual and augmented reality (VR & AR), you are likely to be on the move, wearing a headset, and/or want your hands to be kept free.
You need a different way to instruct the machine. And I’m not talking about the extreme tech from Elon Musk’s Neuralink that involves removing part of the skull to add a digital layer above the cortex (that’s a post for another day).
This is tech that you wear.
Sensors detect and interpret the signals that originate in the brain. Algorithms make sense of the signals and artificial intelligence instructs the technology to perform the action you are thinking about.
Two recent announcements from Apple and Facebook give us a taste of what’s to come.
Apple’s announcement is for a mixed reality headset (meaning it can be used for both VR and in some cases for AR).
The headset will use eye-tracking sensors to detect and analyse eye movement.
Algorithms interpret the movement of the eyes and convert to them into signals. These signals are converted using AI to present the user with images and information in the headset based on where and what the eyes are focused on.
Apple’s tech is expected mid-next year and may even include iris recognition tech. This would mean you could use Apple Pay to make in-game purchases in the blink of an eye!
The news from Facebook Reality Labs is their latest prototype for a wrist-band VR/AR controller. This prototype controller is a neuro-motor interface that is worn like a watch rather than held in the hand.
The wristband intercepts electrical impulses travelling down the arm and through the wrist to the hand. These are the signals from the brain that move the hand or a finger to operate a mouse or keyboard or games controller.
The device can also support gesture controls, like pinching your thumb and index fingers together to create a “click.” Facebook even hopes to reimagine typing with the help of AI to remove the need for a physical screen and keyboard. 👇
SNIPPETS OF INSIGHT AND WISDOM
IonQ to become the world’s first publicly traded pure-play quantum computer company
The promise of quantum computing is huge, creating a capability to solve problems that today’s binary machines simply can not handle. IonQ is on a mission to build the world’s best quantum computers. They also happen to be the only ones on the cloud. Quantum computing is still at a nascent stage in its development but everyone interested in tech should keep a close watch as the sector develops. This issue of Wiser! is an explainer of quantum computing. Source: Marketwatch
Can robot delivery services save lives?
Robot services (like this one ☝️ from Bizero Technology in Turkey) promise many things, like faster and cheaper home deliveries. But safety is also becoming a growing motivation given the very high percentage of road traffic accidents involving food delivery drivers (approx 75% in Turkey). Source: Mashable
Meanwhile, Uber exits its robot delivery service
On the same subject, having bought into the sector a year ago for $2.6 billion, Uber has spun out its recently acquired robot delivery service. Source: TechCrunch
Clubhouse close to reaching 13 million downloads in its 1st year
The network effect is working for Clubhouse, even though it is still in beta mode, and months away from an Android version. Meanwhile, Twitter seems to have got its act together and is making swift progress with Spaces. Expect the audio media space to be a battleground this year! Source: Business of Apps
If you’re having trouble sleeping, you’re not alone!
Searches for “sleep apps” in the UK have increased by 104% during the pandemic. The peak time for searches is 3 am to 4 am! Source: TechDigest
Stuff to Read, Listen, and Watch
As a child of Gen X, I grew up and started work unencumbered by email. So, when I saw this new release by Cal Newport, it grabbed my attention. “A World without Email”!
Clubhouse reminds me of shopping in TK Maxx, you know there’s good stuff in there, it’s just a balls ache trying to find it. Here we have 3 CEO’s from the tech economy, with a combined market cap of $1 trillion, “having a chat”. Source: PressClub
Quicksand on Netflix. Ignore the dubbed version, go for the native Swedish with English subs. 🔥
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