Facecrap, Bezoism, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2021#37)

Really packed week, so let’s start right away.


Enhance!

Another year, another amazing contest of scientific photography. I particularly liked the third place, though all the images are really impressive.

2021 PHOTOMICROGRAPHY COMPETITION, on nikonsmallworld


Nintendo being Nintendo

Honestly, I thought that after 4 years they were not going to add bluetooth support for headphones, even though everyone knew that it was a trivial thing to do. Anyway, better late than never, I guess.

Nintendo finally adds Bluetooth audio to the Switch in new software update, on the verge

La Liga goes crypto

And jumps aboard the hype train of NFTs. Apparently, you will be able to burn waste energy buying digital stickers of Hazard soon.

La Liga Becomes First Top Soccer League to Offer NFTs of All Players, on coindesk

Kratos is back!

And the game really looks amazing. Can’t wait to get a ps5 (maybe in 2022? let’s cross fingers for production ramping up…).


The Facebook files

This week, the Wall Street Journal published a series of articles with a lot of insights of how Facebook operates, and why it has become a problem. Manipulating elections, spreading fake news, and shaming the bodies of minors are just a few examples of the stuff that happens behind the curtain in Zuckerberg company. Personally it’s been around 5 years I do not use Facebook (I left after several data breaches and privacy scandals), I’ve never been a fan of Instagram, and I left Whatsapp around one year ago (again, I did not want Facebook having any data on me).

Something I read on Techcrunch that really resonated was the argument that maybe Facebook (or big tech companies in general) is the tobacco company of our era. Will we see its negative effects for generations to come? It is clear that social networks have shaped the world we live in, and while they have brought cool stuff, I am not sure at all that these technologies are worth the negative effects we are experiencing every day. Is it really necessary that we see how other people drink a beer on Instagram? Are we really better informed about the world while browsing Twitter? What do you really learn while watching 30-second videos on TikTok?

The facebook files, on the wall street journal
Facebook knows Instagram harms teens. Now, its plan to open the app to kids looks worse than ever, on techcrunch

Bezosism my ass

It seems like there is no way of living through a week without reading negative stuff from these billionaires. A lot of good information on the piece from Wall Street Journal about how Bezos has stablished a new standard on managing your workers, achieving incredible performance (and of course, benefits). While I had read a lot of news talking about algorithms measuring the performance of workers and taking decisions on hiring/firing, I never realised about the fact that your performance is compared against the average of your peers. If you do better than average, you are fine. If your performance decreases (maybe you just had a child and are not sleeping well, maybe you have injuries because your job is shit and doing the same task for 9 hours straight should be illegal), you might lose your job in a couple of weeks. It was shocking to see that some workers really needed to dope themselves to save their jobs, which lead to everyone trying to improve their performance in an impossible loop for efficiency.

I could not stop thinking about professional cycling, where everyone seems to be so doped that many regular cyclists need to resort to illegal actions just to compete with the elite.

[…] The overall rate at which workers must complete a task in an Amazon warehouse, whether it’s putting items on shelves, taking them off, or putting them in boxes, is calculated based on the aggregate performance of everyone doing that task in a given facility, says an Amazon spokeswoman. This floating rate, Amazon argues, shows that none of its employees is being pushed beyond what’s reasonable, because that rate is something like an average of what everyone in a warehouse is already doing.[…]

[…] “If there are people who cut corners, if there are people who take tons of coffee and tons of energy drinks to go faster, that raises the cumulative rate,” says Mr. Hamilton. “Meaning, if you want to keep up with the average, then you have to cut corners and drink coffee and energy drinks at every break.”[…]

[…] A worker using the Kiva system in its early incarnations would typically triple their output, say from an average of 100 picks an hour to 300, says Mr. Mountz. But it wasn’t as if the Kiva-using companies then reduced all their warehouse employees’ hours to a third of what they once were while paying them the same wage. Instead, Staples and Walgreens, both early customers of Kiva, used their workers’ increased productivity to increase the output capacity of their warehouses; store and ship a wider range of products; shorten the amount of time required to fulfill an order, and ultimately either lower the cost of their services, increase their profits, or both. All reasons Amazon, a customer of Kiva, decided to acquire it[…]

Anyway, another mark in the legacy of Bezos, I guess.

The Way Amazon Uses Tech to Squeeze Performance Out of Workers Deserves Its Own Name: Bezosism, on the wall street journal

And that’s it for the week. Stay safe!

Some thoughts on the Protonmail case

This week there has been a lot of buzz about the fact that Protonmail (a mail provider that sold privacy above everything) tracked the IP of a climate activist and provided it to the french police, after it was requested. Of course, many people claimed that privacy should be above everything, and that Protonmail has been lying to the users for a long time now. They even changed some of the text you could read on their website regarding privacy and how they manage your data.

So, let’s talk a bit about this for a moment. I do strongly defend privacy, and I think that everyone should be able to remain anonymous not only on the internet, but everywhere on the planet. This entails a tremendous effort, because we have developed many technologies in the past few decades, but legislation has been tremendously slow, unable to follow the pace of tech development. Moreover, most of these new tools have been developed by private companies (which main objective, and usually the only one, is to get benefits). In many cases, these companies have grown so much that they stopped being national and became multinational, or basically global companies that operate all over the world. While this might seem a good thing at first glance (everyone can use their tech, no matter the country they live in), I firmly believe that the moment you go global, you have so much power that it is almost impossible to legislate your activities. We see examples of companies moving production to third-world countries to win more money, where they pay wages that are so low that people are basically slaves. In the same spirit, there are companies doing business in Europe that sell all their products through fiscal paradieses, evading taxes. During the past few years, we have started seeing countries trying to legislate these activities, with more or less success (it seems that the European Union might be on the right track now, let’s wait and see… *crossing fingers*).

So, let’s go back to protonmail. Do I think that privacy is important? For sure. Should they give information to the country in which they operate? Absolutely. You cannot ask for tech companies following the law and paying taxes but excuse them on different topics like user privacy. No company should be above the state (and ultimately, its citizens), even if I like the company and what they do. The tricky question here is: are countries always right in their claims to companies? And I fear that the answer is a clear no. In this case, France classified a climate activist as a terrorist. Let that sink for a minute. We have many other examples around the world where governments go against their citizen minorities (either for their sexuality, race, or religion). I have already posted some news in this blog about how Apple bent the knee to the China government before. Should companies bend over in those cases? Morally no, but companies are not human beings, they have no moral codes. Can companies legally fight states? Should they? It is an exceptionally tricky situation, to which I honestly do not have a solution. In any case, I think this is a very interesting (and important) problem, and for sure we will see more and more news like this one in the following years.

ProtonMail deletes ‘we don’t log your IP’ boast from website after French climate activist reportedly arrested, on the register
Important clarifications regarding arrest of climate activist, on protonmail.com
ProtonMail Amends Its Policy After Giving Up an Activist’s Data, on wired

Streamer anxiety, the cookies are back, iPrivacy, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2021#35)

Back from summer holidays (that was short), and a lot of interesting stuff to post. Let’s go!

Designed in California, Assembled in China, Purchased by You, Owned by Us.

A very interesting piece by Snowden on the recent changes to privacy done by Apple. I could not help but read tons of articles on how the system will work, and how could end up being a repression tool. Who says Apple will never tweak the databases to find for troubling people in China? They already gave their users data to them by building data centers in the country instead of storing on the US ones. Also, during the last weeks there have been more and more reports on how they handle internal problems and/or privacy of their workers which seem very troubling…

The All-Seeing “i”: Apple Just Declared War on Your Privacy, on Continuing Ed

New jobs, old? problems

I have been reading/watching many people who work as streamers/youtubers recently openly talking about the struggles they have while doing their job. At first glance, they are super successful, but they face anxiety, stress, and uncertainty almost everyday. While these problems are not new for me (as someone doing research, I have never had stability and I am 33 now…), I really enjoyed the openness with they tackled the topic.

Pokimane Has Done Enough—and Has So Much Left to Do, on Wired
The reality of being a streamer (in Spanish), on knekro’s youtube channel

Duodecillion cookies!

A cool piece on the story of idle games, in particular on the development of Cookie Clicker, which came to Steam this week (with an amazing soundtrack by C418!!!). Also on the debate of idle games actually being games, which is something I never really thought about.

‘Cookie Clicker’ Wasn’t Meant to Be Fun. Why Is It So Popular 8 Years Later?, on vice

And that’s it for the week. Stay safe!

The Facebookverse, QR privacy, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2021#30)

I am writing this at 22:30 and its 30º with ~80% humidity. So yes, I am finally back in Spain after one year without visiting. Not sure if the following weeks there will be any updates, but let’s keep the ball rolling while we can.


Ready Facebook One

If you like cyberpunk there is a big chance you know about Snow Crash. While I am not a big fan of the book, there are many ideas floating around there that are quite interesting, and it is probably the most famous book on the genre. Some years ago we got Ready Player One (the XXI century version of the book) and it was obviously worse and almost any aspect. Even more, while I could not image any way to make it worse, we got a movie adaptation and a second book. Anyway, it seems that some billionaires are not planning to go to space, but instead they want to make that dystopia real. And coming from Zuckerberg, I can’t wait to see the shitshow Facebook is gonna build. Get ready for disaster, people.

PS: it was all fun and laughs when Epic talked about a metaverse in Fortnite during the Apple vs Epic trial, but now we start to see other companies trying to go that route. Interesting times ahead…

Facebook announces Metaverse product group headed by Instagram VP Vishal Shah, on protocol
Mark Zuckerberg Wants To Build An Online “Metaverse” Accessible On All Game Consoles, on thegamer

Hi [customer_name], nice to have you back. Do you want your usual [customer_name_usual_food]?

It seems that there are many places where you can go to eat something, and the menu is digitally implemented by using a QR-code. By doing it this way, there is no need for interaction (so that’s a good thing you might think, we have corona after all), and they also need less people working there (that’s not so good?). Oh, and one last thing: they can also sell your data / use it for marketing. What a time to be alive.

QR Codes Are Here to Stay. So Is the Tracking They Allow, on the nytimes

On China and their industry decisions

Very interesting read on what does it mean to be a tech company, what value do tech companies really produce, and how different countries might have totally different views on that.

Why is China smashing its tech industry? in noahpinion

Google doing something nice?

I see on openculture that Google has been digitizing many many paintings at astonishing resolutions. Besides being super cool to “visit” virtually, I think it might be even useful for many interesting side projects (if I find some way to download them).

A Gallery of 1,800 Gigapixel Images of Classic Paintings: See Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring, Van Gogh’s Starry Night & Other Masterpieces in Close Detail, on openculture
Google Arts and Culture

And that’s it for the week (month?). Stay safe!

The weekly recap (2021#20)

Really packed week, though the topics will feel quite familiar:

There is no place like your smartphone

Quite a nice read that makes you think about how society has changed in so little time. And while it might seem a stupid thing at first glance, I found myself reflected on some of the feelings that the article exposes, like the sensation you have when using a computer or a phone that it is not yours. Also, during the last years that I have been living abroad, I have found that I really need less and less material stuff to feel home, but one of those crucial things are the devices I use to chat with friends and family…

Smartphone is now ‘the place where we live’, anthropologists say, on the guardian

Forgot about NFT?

NFTs keep appearing on the news. This week I found that Fox is making a tv show with the excuse of selling stuff (remember Transformers?). The novelty is that now they are not going to sell only toys, but animated .gif and .png files. Let’s see how many trees have to die for this.

Fox is making a blockchain animated series with Rick and Morty creator Dan Harmon to sell you NFTs, on theverge

Also this week I found this cool piece on the early days of NFTs and the impact it had on some artists. A nice read to see the other side of the coin:

The Untold Story of the NFT Boom, on the new york times magazine

Apple vs Epic, episode: whatever

The highlight this week, at least for me, was the discussion about the naked banana skin on Fortnite. I cannot help but laugh when I imagine the faces of the people at court. Also, more insight on what is a videogame and what is the metaverse, now with insights from Roblox devs. And last, some ideas on what is really behind this trial.

Apple said Roblox developers don’t make games, and now Roblox agrees, on theverge
Epic and Apple are now fighting over a naked banana, on theverge
Behind the Epic-Apple Trial Is a Booming App Market Worth Fighting Over, on the wall street journal

Is Sci-Hub gonna die soon?

Really sad to hear that people are starting to do backups of Sci-Hub via torrent. I did not notice that there were no updates to the database since the start of the year (which is a really bad sign). Also this week I saw an interview with Alexandra Elbakyan on why and how she created the site, and the hurdles of doing it. Honestly I hope that Sci-Hub dies only if science gets really open (which is how it should always had been).

Archivists Want to Make Sci-Hub ‘Un-Censorable’, on gizmodo

Privacy matters

Unless you live in China, I guess.

Censorship, Surveillance and Profits: A Hard Bargain for Apple in China, on the new york times

And that’s it for the week. Stay safe!

P.S. Seems like Internet Explorer has an official death date. What a ride.