Wiser! #63: Trump tried to stop TikTok, Biden wants to do the same | MetaFacebook added social distancing into their Metaverse | Uber earns more from delivering pizzas than people | Premium Insights is a 2-part series on NFTs
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US lawmakers considering new rules to limit TikTok & other foreign apps
BackStory: Donald Trump tried to ban TikTok in the USA. He concocted a plan to have the parent company, Bytedance, bought by a US-controlled business (Oracle). But it was more bluff and bluster than substance. When Joe Biden took over as President, he revoked the former President's administrative order relating to TikTok. But that wasn't the end to it.
Although the headlines are squarely aimed at TikTok, the social media platform owned by a Chinese company, the concerns for US policymakers apply to all foreign-owned apps that collect user data.
The rules would expand government oversight of apps that could be exploited “by foreign adversaries to steal or otherwise obtain data,” per The Washington Post.
Saloni Sharma, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, told The Washington Post, “The Biden administration believes certain countries, including the People’s Republic of China (PRC), seek to leverage digital technologies and Americans’ data in ways that present unacceptable national security risks while advancing authoritarian controls and interests”.
In response, TikTok executives have said US user data is not shared with the Chinese authorities and is stored on servers in Virginia, with backups in Singapore. However, that does not allay the concerns of critics who argue that the servers’ location is irrelevant when China has influence over a company headquartered in Beijing.
TalkingPoint: Data sovereignty is a political football. IMHO, despite the rhetoric, this is less about protecting the data of individual users and more about the economic power struggle between the USA and China (with the EU closely behind).
China has already done the same thing that the US is talking about. Last year, Beijing applied huge restrictions on its BigTech industry when it comes to collecting, storing and having access to data. The only difference; China has already done it whilst the US is thinking about it.
For the US, the big question is what to do about all of the apps borne out of China, not just TikTok. And it's more than just about data. China is already acknowledged to be ahead of the USA when it comes to AI. The Pentagon’s former software chief, Nicolas Chaillan, told the Financial Times last year that the United States “have no competing fighting chance against China in 15 to 20 years.”
Just as we saw with the Fed's recent stagnant response on CBDCs, the US administration is again slow to act. It has been 3 years since Trump first expressed concern about TikTok and sovereign data. The former President's failed attempt at palming TikTok off on Oracle has been long forgotten, but the concern still exists. Whether it is genuine or not is a moot point. Meanwhile, China is just getting on with it.
NFTs (Part 1): A passing fad, or the future of asset ownership?
BackStory: NFTs was one of the most talked-about subjects of 2021. From nowhere to a $40 billion industry in 12 months is unfathomable. But that's what you get when you combine status and scarcity with FOMO and a heavy dose of social media promotion.
Crypto took over a decade to infiltrate the public consciousness. NFTs took less than a year to gain traction. To me, it's evident that NFTs are more than just another passing new fad, a POV seemingly shared by brands like Budweiser, Nike, Adidas, Gap and Gucci. Last month Twitter embraced NFTs by creating a feature to include them in your profile pic.
The debate about NFT's tends to fall into one of two camps. Those that see value in owning an NFT, and those that don't. On the one hand, you have substantial sums of money being paid for real estate that exists in the Metaverse or digital artwork to hang on a digital wall (Samsung even made a TV for you to display your NFT collection).
On the other, there are the scoffers who chuckle at the apparent stupidity of anyone handing over hard cash for some 3D graphic of an ape or cartoon house (Dave S - you know who I mean!). Or laugh at the nonsensical story of a reality TV star who is selling "farts in a jar" as an NFT!
I'll show my hand upfront. I'm in the former camp and believe that not only is NFT technology enduring, but that one day (sooner than you think), we will all own assets with NFTs...
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Meta introduce social distancing in the Metaverse
BackStory: MetaFacebook have announced a virtual distancing mechanism for their Horizons Worlds Metaverse to gives avatars a "personal boundary". Horizon Worlds was opened up to the general public in the US and Canada in December after an extensive period of beta testing.
The social distancing mechanism is an invisible force field with a radius of 2 virtual feet that surrounds each avatar. MetaFacebook say they have done this to stop other avatars from "invading personal space", although friendly avatars can break the invisible force field to give each other a high five.
This move comes after at least one Horizon Worlds' participant claimed to have been "virtually groped" by another user during the beta tests phase. Meanwhile, a series of high-profile articles about Nina Jane Patel, co-founder of the child-focused Metaverse startup called Kabuni, have made claims that she had been virtually groped and verbally attacked by three male avatars inside Horizon Worlds.
SoWhat?: This move is almost certainly an exercise in equalising before the other team scores. In other words, this looks like a PR exercise to me. And you can hardly blame The Zuck and the leadership at MetaFacebook.
The rename to Meta and pivot to the Metaverse is hardly 6 months old and already The Zuck is facing the prospect that his vision for the Metaverse will be accused of being a breeding ground for misoginy. Harm is something The Zuck knows a lot about from the Facebook family of apps. The Metaverse was meant to be an antidote to it.
The problem is that we're talking about avatars, not humans. Legally, no crime could ever be committed between avatars in a Metaverse. I recently covered reports about Replika in this issue of Wiser! Users were creating digital personalities in the form of chatbots, and then abusing them. They pushed the Replika algorithims to learn how to respond to hateful, abusive and vile language.
In both of these examples of pitiful human behaviour, however objectionable, no human was harmed in the process. But it does beg a bagful of questions about virtual life. Are we going to need laws to protect users in the Metaverse? If yes, how do we define them? How do we enforce them? And what are the penalties for breaking the law?
It's hard to conceive that in the emerging virtual world (which is a shared make-believe utopia) we even have to ask these type of questions.
Meanwhile, in a related story....
👁 The EU's digital regulator has their eye on the Metaverse.
Margrethe Vestager has said the Metaverse poses new competition challenges. The EU’s digital czar says, "We should start thinking about it now" when it comes to regulating new digital spaces.
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Uber earns more delivering pizzas than people
BackStory: Stop thinking about Uber as only a ride-hailing service. If you still think that Uber = Taxi, then take a look at Uber's latest quarterly results and you'll see a different story.
Because revenues from home delivery are now more than ride-hailing (Uber Eats at $2.4 billion versus Uber at $2.3 billion).
The latest quarterly results revealed that Uber (the corporation) turned in a Q4 profit of $892 million (against a loss of $968 million for the same period last year). The total revenue for the business shot up 83% from the prior year to $5.8 billion.
TalkingPoint: The results show mixed fortunes for the tech company that redefined the taxi business. Whilst Uber's ride-hailing business has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels, the food delivery business is booming.
The home delivery market has been a pandemic silver lining for Uber Eats as revenues increased by 78% YoY to $2.4 billion. So much for the notion that when restaurants reopen, meal delivery would lose its appeal!
The point is that over the past 2 years, having cooked meals delivered to the home has becoming integrated into people's lifestyles. As we come out of lockdown, there's little evidence to suggest that people are turning their back on home-delivery meals. Food delivery sales are expected to top £11.4bn in the UK in 2022, an increase of £3.7bn from 2021.
This is great for Uber, which is now making more money from home delivery than it is from ride-hailing. Perhaps it's time for Uber to change its name to Uber Eats!
Do you know what a dark kitchen is?
InANutshell: Commercial kitchens set up in low-cost locations, e.g, industrial estates, houses, but not the High Street. Their purpose: to prepare restaurant-quality meals ONLY for home delivery.
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Miscellaneous Stories from the Tech Economy
📱 Apple will soon let people spend money by holding their iPhones together.
Apple said it is launching a new payment feature called Tap to Pay later this year. Tap to Pay allows customers to pay businesses by holding their iPhones close together. Apple said payment platform Stripe will be the first to provide the feature to its customers. Source: Business Insider
🤖 Bots are now targeting the younger crypto networks like Solana.
Their goal is to make profits by deploying funny-sounding strategies like “sandwich trading”. Bots are believed to dominated much of the market for Ethereum-based digital tokens, scooping up hundreds, if not billions of dollars in trading profits. Source: Bloomberg ($)
🚘 Tesla has been sued by California’s civil rights regulator.
The EV manufacturer is accused of alleged racial discrimination at its CA facilities. Source: Bloomberg Equality
🕹 Microsoft has announced a set of measures to open up its gaming marketplace.
It’s a bid to win over regulators who are scrutinising the proposed acquisition of Activision Blizzard. Microsoft’s new guidelines could help it look fairer than rivals Apple and Google as lawmakers consider legislation that could restrict behavior for app store operators. Source: CNBC
🚲 Peloton laid off 2,800 staff and then the CEO resigned.
The company is struggling to maintain the level of demand it saw during the early days of the pandemic as lockdowns come to an end and gyms reopen. Rumours are that a take-over is imminent, with Amazon, Nike and Apple all named as suitors. Source: Mashable
📱 The UK government says it may force Facebook and TikTok to ask users to confirm their age by entering credit card details.
The move may form part of a package of measures in the UK's Online Safety Bill intended to shield children from harmful online material. However, whilst the headlines are all focused on restricting access to porn sites, the small print in the Bill has a specific focus on social media firms. Source: E&T
🍪 Belgium's GDPR regulator has decided that the cookie popup consent method is inadequate.
As a result, all the data collected by thousands of companies (including Google and Amazon) would have to be deleted, across the EU. Source: DIGIDAY
🏪 Britain’s antitrust regulator has designated Amazon a grocer.
Amazon must now comply with the Groceries Supply Code of Practice. This means that Amazon could be fined up to 1% of its UK revenues if it is found to have mistreated vendors. Source: Bloomberg
🚓 Two individuals were arrested in US for trying to launder $4.5 billion of cryptocurrency.
Of this, $3.6 billion is believed to have been stolen during the 2016 hack of Bitfinex, a cryptocurrency exchange. This is another living proof that cryptocurrencies and blockchain are not synonymous with money laundry and financial crime, the blockchain technology is the most secure innovation that ever existed to disrupt traditional finance. Source: US Department of Justice.
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