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The Evolutionary Perspective
Category Archives: Big Tech
Posted: March 31, 2022 at 2:47 am
A HOUSE BETWEEN THE EARTH AND THE MOONBy Rebecca Scherm
Rebecca Scherms second novel, A House Between the Earth and the Moon, centers on Parallaxis, a space station designed by the tech corporation Sensus as an orbital luxury condo for billionaires. Sensus has hired a team of world-class scientists to construct the station and make it habitable long-term. In return, they are told, they and their families can live there, safe from the catastrophic climate change that is devastating society below. They are not told they will also be experimental subjects; Sensus is using the station to test Views, its new, top-secret surveillance and behavioral modification system.
The novel makes us feel the terror of a 2030s Earth where extreme weather events are so common that whole cities routinely burn to the ground and even the affluent have become nomadic, always one step ahead of natural disasters. Mass deaths are a staple of daily news, and privacy is a thing of the past, available only by going off the grid and doing without the evacuation alerts that would warn of approaching floods or wildfires. We share the desperation of Alex, whose work on carbon-extracting algae has become a race against time: He wanted to save his planet, and with each disastrous year, his work became more necessary and less possible.
Just as frightening is the depiction of space-station life, where all necessities must be flown in from a dying Earth, and weight restrictions mean that everyone wears combo clothes that come in packets the size of a deck of cards. The fake sky has a glitching panel; walls meant to have a pearlescent glow look like packing material; the air is kept safe by technology still in the process of development. The inhabitants also live at the mercy of Sensus, and the reader never loses the sense of how precarious this existence is, and how terrifying it is to depend on the whims of corporate bosses for ones survival. In that regard, it feels a lot like life on Earth in 2022.
The authors clear, relatable voice and close personal focus make the book compulsively readable. Scherm spends as much time on the questions of whether Alex will be able to heal his marriage and how his teenage daughter will deal with a cyber-bullying incident as she does on global catastrophe. Plotlines proliferate at all levels. One of the most absorbing sections concerns Rachel Son, one of the co-founders (with her sister, Katherine) of Sensus, who is sent to the space station by her dominating sibling despite her abject terror, and rapidly disintegrates from anxiety and alienation.
The approach does have pitfalls, however. It ultimately feels peculiar that the Son sisters are treated primarily as people with ordinary problems, even as they test and implement Views, their mass mind-control project. The Views plotline, meanwhile, is shown from the perspective of a lonely data scientist, Tess, who is given access to the visual feeds of Parallaxis employees and their families and becomes consumed by voyeurism, living vicariously through her subjects to the point of stalking. Scherm manages the difficult trick of making us care about these essentially unsympathetic characters, but neglects to explain how Views is meant to work, or why hiring Tess to watch their subjects go to the bathroom would be of use. Similar weaknesses undercut the novels ending, which focuses on individual emotions in a way that feels increasingly trivial, while failing to offer a convincing resolution to the political and environmental crises.
But in general, A House Between the Earth and the Moon is a thought-provoking and absorbing read. By deftly combining the subjects of big tech and climate change, Scherm has created a world that fully embodies the anxiety and indignity of our times.
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Posted: at 2:47 am
NEW YORK, March 25 (Reuters) - The S&P 500 ended higher on Friday as financial shares rose after the benchmark Treasury yield jumped to its highest level in nearly three years.
The Nasdaq ended lower, and tech and other big growth names mostly declined, but they finished off session lows following a late-session rally.
For the week, the Nasdaq and S&P 500 registered solid gains of 2% and 1.8%, respectively, and the Dow was nominally higher with a 0.3% rise.
The S&P 500 financials sector (.SPSY) gave the S&P 500 its biggest boost on Friday, rising 1.3%, while technology (.SPLRCT) and consumer discretionary (.SPLRCD) sectors were the only two major sectors to end lower on the day.
Investors are assessing how aggressive the Federal Reserve will be as it tightens policy after Fed Chair Jerome Powell this week said that the central bank needed to move "expeditiously" to combat high inflation and raised the possibility of a 50-basis-point hike in rates in May.
U.S. Treasury yields jumped on Friday, with the benchmark 10-year note surging to nearly three-year highs, as the market grappled with high inflation and a Federal Reserve that could easily spark a downturn as it aggressively tightens policy.
Ten-year Treasury yields were last at 2.492% after earlier rising above 2.50% for the first time since May 2019.
The equity market is pricing in a higher rate environment, said Keith Buchanan, portfolio manager at Globalt Investments in Atlanta.
That is causing bank stocks to outperform, while "adding more pressure to the riskier elements of the market," such as growth shares, he said.
Higher borrowing rates benefit banks, while higher rates are a negative for tech and growth stocks, whose valuations rely more heavily on future cash flows.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (.DJI) rose 153.3 points, or 0.44%, to 34,861.24, the S&P 500 (.SPX) gained 22.9 points, or 0.51%, to 4,543.06 and the Nasdaq Composite (.IXIC) dropped 22.54 points, or 0.16%, to 14,169.30.
Shares of growth companies like Nvidia Corp (NVDA.O) eased after leading a Wall Street rebound earlier this week.
The utilities sector (.SPLRCU) also rose sharply, hitting a record high as investors favored defensive stocks with the Russia-Ukraine war still raging after a month.
The sector ended up 1.5% on the day and up 3.5% for the week, while the energy sector (.SPNY) ended up 2.3% on the day and jumped more than 7% for the week following sharp gains in oil prices.
Moscow signaled on Friday it was scaling back its ambitions in Ukraine to focus on territory claimed by Russian-backed separatists. read more
Economists at Citibank are expecting four 50 basis points interest rate hikes from the Fed this year, joining other Wall Street banks in forecasting an aggressive tightening path against the backdrop of soaring inflation. read more
The U.S. central bank last week raised interest rates for the first time since 2018.
"The market's really macro driven," said Steve DeSanctis, small- and mid-capitalization equity strategist at Jefferies in New York. "Company fundamentals haven't really mattered."
Volume on U.S. exchanges was 11.92 billion shares, compared with the 14.28 billion average for the full session over the last 20 trading days.
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.08-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.40-to-1 ratio favored decliners.
The S&P 500 posted 57 new 52-week highs and five new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 73 new highs and 79 new lows.
Additional reporting by Sinead Carew in New York, Devik Jain and Amruta Khandekar in Bengaluru; Editing by Marguerita Choy
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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Posted: at 2:47 am
'Barron's Roundtable' deputy editor explains the impact of regulations on Big Tech: 'there are potentially serious repercussions here'
The U.S. Senate voted Wednesday to advance to a confirmation vote for President Biden's nominee to the Federal Trade Commission, privacy advocate and Georgetown University law professor Alvaro Bedoya.
The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee was deadlocked 14-14 on Bedoya's nomination, but the full Senate voted 51-50 on Wednesday with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie.
The U.S. Senate voted to move forward with Alvaro Bedoya's nomination to the FTC on Wednesday. (Georgetown Law)
If confirmed, Bedoya will give Democrats a majority at the FTC, which enforces federal consumer protection and antitrust laws.
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT PROBING SUPPLY-CHAIN DISRUPTIONS, TARGETING COMPANIES EXPLOITING THE CRISIS TO CHARGE MORE
"Without Mr. Bedoya, the FTC and members are left handicapped and incapable of moving forward, so today's motion to discharge is a matter of immense importance and I hope all my colleagues who care about fighting inflation and price manipulation vote to proceed with Mr. Bedoya's nomination," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor before the vote.
Bedoya, the Director of Georgetown Laws Center on Privacy & Technology, previously worked as chief counsel to a U.S. Senate Judiciary subcommittee on privacy.
His research has focused on consumer privacy, facial recognition technology, and surveillance.
FTC Commissioner nominee Lina M. Khan testifies during a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 21, 2021. (Graeme Jennings/Pool via REUTERS)
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The current chair of the FTC, Lina Khan, is an outspoken critic of Big Tech and is spearheading the agency's antitrust lawsuit against Facebook, alleging that the social media giant suppressed competition with a "buy or bury" strategy.
Posted: March 29, 2022 at 12:43 pm
My first faculty position was at Old Dominion University in southern Virginia, where I saw racism up close and personal. Southern Virginia, being a very conservative place, was also a tough environment in which to be openly gay, so I moved, eventually ending up at the University of Connecticut.
I had a very difficult experience with harassment in Connecticut that impacted my mental and physical health. That experience politicized me and led me to be more outspoken about LGBTQ+ issues. I then moved to the California Institute of Techology, which felt to me like a nirvana for both science and inclusivity. It was a place where my husband and I were welcomed and loved. However, the funding for my position was not secure, so I had to move again.
At the University of Wisconsin, where I went next, I had supportive colleagues, but I still experienced discriminatory treatment that distracted me from science and came with high legal expenses. It was because of these experiences that I decided to start being more open about discussing sexual and gender identity issues. But the real turning point for me in taking an active advocacy role was the 2012 APS March Meeting.
Posted: March 27, 2022 at 10:12 pm
Europes one-two punch
The European Union has just agreed on one of the worlds most far-reaching laws to rein in the power of tech companies.
The Digital Markets Act is aimed at stopping the largest tech platforms from using their interlocking services and considerable resources to box in users and squeeze emerging rivals. It could potentially reshape app stores, online advertising, e-commerce, messaging services and other everyday digital tools, in Europe and beyond.
The law will apply to gatekeeper platforms with a market value of more than 75 billion euros, or about $83 billion, which include Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Meta and Microsoft. Violators of the law, which could take effect later this year, would face significant fines.
The law is part of a one-two punch by European regulators. As early as next month, the E.U. is expected to reach agreement on a law that would force social media companies to police their platforms more aggressively. And these come after the bloc put the worlds strictest rules to protect peoples online data into effect in 2018. (Thats why nearly every website has pop-ups asking you for permission to track your data.)
Here are some of the potential effects of the new law:
Apple would have to allow alternative app stores for the first time, and companies like Spotify and Epic Games would be allowed to use alternative billing systems inside their apps. Google said this week that it would begin to allow this for some apps.
Speaking of Google, it would have to give Android users options to use other email and search services on handsets in Europe (similar to what it has already been doing in response to a previous E.U. antitrust judgment).
Amazon would be barred from using data collected from outside sellers on its services so that it could offer competing products, a practice that is the subject of a separate E.U. antitrust investigation.
WhatsApp, which is owned by Meta, would be required to offer a way for users of rival services like Signal or Telegram to exchange messages with somebody using WhatsApp.
The largest sellers of online ads, Meta and Google, would be limited from offering targeted ads without consent.
Europes new rules are a preview of whats to come elsewhere, since its often easier for companies to apply the standards across their entire operations rather than in one geography. Still, companies are expected to look for ways to diminish the impact of the new law through the courts.
The U.S. charges four Russians with a vast infrastructure cyberattack. The group, which includes three officials in Moscows domestic intelligence agency, is accused of hacking energy companies around the world including a nuclear power plant in Kansas from 2014 to 2018.
China Eastern Airlines grounds hundreds of Boeing jets. The airline temporarily halted the use of 223 737-800 planes, the model involved in the crash of a flight that carried 132 people; no survivors have yet been found. Adding to the mystery surrounding the cause of the crash is that both pilots were among the most experienced in China.
Uber reaches a truce with Big Taxi in New York City. The ride-hailing giant will team up with two taxi companies, Curb and CMT, to let New Yorkers order a yellow cab via the Uber app. The deal will help both sides of a longtime rivalry recover from the pandemic.
Instacart cuts its valuation by nearly 40 percent. The privately held grocery delivery app told employees it now valued itself at $24 billion, down from $39 billion. The move reflects the battering tech companies have faced in the public markets, but could also give employees more upside with newly issued stock-based compensation.
A campaign to let unvaccinated athletes play in New York succeeds. Executives at pro sports teams, including the Mets owner Steve Cohen, paid tens of thousands to lobby city and state officials on changing Covid protocols, The Times reports. Mayor Eric Adams of New York City announced the end of the ban yesterday, though he insisted lobbying played no role.
The U.S. and E.U. announced a deal that would see more American natural gas shipped to Europe, as the Continent tries to reduce its reliance on Russian energy. European officials rejected Russias demand that it pay for gas in rubles.
President Biden said that Russia should be removed from the G20 (and if not, Ukraine should be allowed to attend the groups meetings).
The Russian crew of a $700-million yacht docked in Italy, which U.S. officials say could be owned by Vladimir Putin, abruptly left their jobs. Goldman Sachs paused new business with a private equity firm whose money comes mostly from sanctioned Russian oligarchs, one of whom described to The Financial Times what his life is like under the restrictions.
The U.S. will accept up to 100,000 refugees fleeing Ukraine, but its underresourced immigration system is already struggling to process tens of thousands of Afghans.
For up-to-the-minute news, see The Timess live blog and updated maps.
Last month, Jennifer Sey quit a top job at Levis, giving up a potential shot at C.E.O., via an essay that was widely circulated online. In the post, Sey said the clothing company where she had worked for more than 20 years warned her against expressing her personal views on social media, broadcast media and elsewhere, that closing schools during the pandemic made kids worse off. She quit instead of negotiating an exit package, which attracted even more attention to her situation.
March 25, 2022, 3:52 p.m. ET
Her departure raises issues like whether corporations can control the personal speech of their employees and the politics tied to speaking on certain platforms, like Fox News opinion shows, The Timess Sapna Maheshwari reports.
Seys tweets went beyond just questioning school closings. She criticized guidance from the C.D.C. and accused Dr. Anthony Fauci of fearmongering. This came as Levis was trying to set Covid safety protocols in its stores and manage potential pushback from customers and employees. Outside of the company, Seys comments drew threats of boycotts. Levis said that its social media guidelines allow employees to speak out online, as long as they are mindful of the companys reputation.
Sey said her speech should have been protected, since she was speaking as a concerned mother, not a corporate executive. She argued she was subject to viewpoint discrimination by Levis, and said there hadnt been a problem in the past when she spoke in support of liberal causes.
Complicating matters is that executives are expected to speak out more often on social issues these days. A private employer can impose restrictions on employees speech or conduct, said Sarah Sobieraj, a professor of sociology at Tufts University. The key issue here is where that boundary lies and what about when youre not working.
Adam Silver, the N.B.A. commissioner, on criticism of the leagues stance on human rights in China. The former N.B.A. player Enes Kanter Freedom has taken the league to task for continuing to do business in the country, and said that he is being blackballed by teams as a result.
Mark Sirower has been scrutinizing deals for decades, and finding mostly failures. His 1997 book The Synergy Trap examined the major mergers of the 1980s, deeming two-thirds of them ultimately unsuccessful.
In a new follow-up with his Deloitte colleague Jeffery Weirens, The Synergy Solution, they examine more than 1,000 deals spanning 24 years, worth over $5 trillion with similarly dismal results. Yet dealmaking is hotter than ever. Sirower talked to DealBook about this moment in mergers. The interview has been edited and condensed.
Whats happening in M.&A.?
Its staggering by any historical standard. Were at all-time record highs. In 2021 we had a huge uptick in the value and volume of deals. The value went up roughly 60 percent, to $5.5 trillion. The volume went up 26 percent, to over 60,000 transactions. This is the number that really got me the number of big deals. Deals over $1 billion doubled in 2021, so 2 percent of deals made up over 65 percent of the value.
How should we interpret these numbers?
This is the fourth merger wave Ive seen. When we get to this part of the wave, companies tend to be reactive if theyre unprepared. Companies that werent doing deals start doing them, or companies that have been acquisitive now start doing more or bigger deals, and at near-all-time-high market valuations.
Why such enthusiasm?
One of the things weve learned over time is that M.&A. is highly correlated with rising stock markets. Its partly optimism, thinking it is going to go on forever.
Whats different about this wave?
In the 80s and 90s, it was still pretty much a U.S.-dominated market. Now its very much a global market. U.S. targets last year represented less than half of the total deal value.
Given the pandemic, war and supply chain strains, will the globalization trend end?
The data doesnt bear it out. I thought when Covid hit it was just going to crush our business. And it didnt.
SoftBank is said to be seeking a valuation of at least $60 billion for the chip maker Arm in its U.S. market debut; Goldman Sachs is likely to lead the I.P.O. (Bloomberg, Reuters)
Bed Bath & Beyond is said to be near a deal with the activist investor Ryan Cohen to add three new directors. (Bloomberg)
Venture capitalists are so eager to invest in crypto companies that theyre willing to forego customary board seats. (FT)
Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, has reportedly described a much smaller version of President Bidens $3.5 trillion climate and social spending bill that he would accept. (Axios)
Text messages show that Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, pressed President Donald Trumps chief of staff to pursue efforts to overturn the 2020 election. (NYT)
New York State prosecutors charged a former party producer with laundering $2.7 million in Bitcoin for criminals between 2018 and 2021. (NYT)
Best of the rest
Ned Johnson, who transformed Fidelity into an investment-management giant, died on Wednesday. He was 91. (NYT)
Irate Google employees pressed executives about pay and performance reviews at a recent internal town hall. Some also appear particularly unhappy with the company taking away heated bidets at California offices. (CNBC, Protocol)
The podcast host Joe Rogan called activist Big Tech employees lunatics. (NY Post)
As People Go Back to Offices, Competition Heats Up for Parking Spots (WSJ)
Wed like your feedback. Please email thoughts and suggestions to email@example.com.
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Posted: at 10:12 pm
SYDNEY, March 21 (Reuters) - Australia's media regulator will be able to force internet companies to share data about how they have handled misinformation and disinformation under new laws that will bolster government efforts to rein in Big Tech.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) will also be able to enforce an internet industry code on uncooperative platforms, the government said on Monday, joining others around the world seeking to reduce the spread of harmful falsehoods online.
The planned laws are a response to an ACMA investigation that found four-fifths of Australian adults had experienced misinformation about COVID-19 and 76% thought online platforms should do more to cut the amount of false and misleading content online.
The laws broadly align with efforts by Europe to curb damaging online content, which are due to take effect by the end of 2022, although the European Union has said it wants even tougher measures to stop disinformation given some of the output from Russian state-owned media during the invasion of Ukraine. read more
"Digital platforms must take responsibility for what is on their sites and take action when harmful or misleading content appears," Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said in a statement.
Australians were most likely to see misinformation on larger services like Meta Platforms's Facebook (FB.O) and Twitter Inc (TWTR.N), the ACMA said.
False narratives typically started with "highly emotive and engaging posts within small online conspiracy groups" and were "amplified by international influencers, local public figures, and by coverage in the media", it added.
The authority also noted that disinformation, which involves intentionally spreading false information to influence politics or sow discord, was continuing to target Australians. Facebook had removed four disinformation campaigns in Australia from 2019 to 2020, it said.
It said conspiracy groups often urged people to join smaller platforms with looser moderation policies, like Telegram. If those platforms rejected industry-set content guidelines "they may present a higher risk to the Australian community", the ACMA said.
The crackdown adds another element to the ruling conservative government's assertion that it has taken a big stick approach to tech giants, as it faces an election that is due by May that most polls suggest it will lose.
Fletcher said the new powers for the regulator would be introduced to parliament in late 2022, meaning it would likely be up to the current opposition Labor party to shepherd them through if the government loses the election.
A spokesperson for Labor's shadow communications minister, Michelle Rowland, told Reuters the opposition supported the expanded powers but the government had taken too long to introduce them since they were recommended in 2019.
DIGI, an Australian industry body representing Facebook, Alphabet's (GOOGL.O) Google, Twitter and video site TikTok, said it supported the recommendations and noted it had already set up a system to process complaints about misinformation.
Reporting by Byron Kaye; editing by Jane Wardell, Robert Birsel
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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Posted: at 10:12 pm
Lawmakers across the country are increasingly looking for ways to crack down on the likes of Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and others, with claims that the platforms employ addictive social media algorithms and exploit children. Last week, legislators in California and Minnesota made strides on proposed legislation that would hold companies accountable for the toll their platforms take on young peoples mental health. The bills coincide with calls in Washington to implement meaningful oversight of Big Tech to help keep kids safe.
The California bill would let parents sue companies that dont take steps to avoid addicting children. The proposal is the first of its kind in the U.S. and the most aggressive state-level effort to rein in Big Tech over its use of algorithmic tools that draw on childrens personal data to generate recommendations and other techniques intended to increase their engagement. It would hold social platforms legally accountable for features that are designed to be addictive to children, such as like buttons and endless scroll. Violators could face civil penalties of up to $25,000 per child or damages that could include $1,000 or more per child in a class-action suit, according to the University of San Diego School of Law Childrens Advocacy Institute, a co-sponsor of the bill.
Still, if passed, this type of liability law likely wouldnt be very successful at reigning in Big Tech, says Abbey Stemler, an associate professor of business law and ethics at Indiana University who specializes in internet law, regulatory theory, and Big Tech data. This law isnt really saying anything, she tells TIME. Its too vague to actually be actionable.
Dubbed the Social Media Platform Duty to Children Act, the proposal was advanced in the California Assembly on March 15 by a bipartisan pair of lawmakers, Republican Jordan Cunningham of Paso Robles and Democrat Buffy Wicks of Oakland, with support from the Childrens Advocacy Institute. Cunningham told the Los Angeles Times that some of these companies intentionally design their apps to keep children coming back for more. He asks: Who should pay the social cost of this? Should it be borne by the schools and the parents and the kids, or should it be borne in part by the companies that profited from creating these products?
Californias bill came on the same day that another state, Minnesota, made strides on another measure aimed at protecting young people from social media. A state committee voted to advance a proposed law that would prohibit social media platforms from using algorithms to recommend content to anyone under the age of 18. The states House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee will now vote on the measure on March 22. If passed, companies would be liable for damages and a civil penalty of $1,000 for each violation of the law. The bill would require anyone operating a social media platform with more than one million users to require that algorithm functions be turned off for accounts owned by anyone under the age of 18, the bill summary reads.
While these types of proposals are intended to force social platforms to bear some responsibility for the damages inflicted by their algorithms, Stemler says a more effective strategy would be to enact measures that address companies ability to access the data that fuels those algorithms in the first place.
The reason why algorithms work is because they suck in as much data as possible about what these young people are doing, she says. And once they have that data, they can use it. So instead of saying, Hey, dont create addictive systems, we really should be focused on [preventing platforms from] learning that data. The easiest way to do that is just to limit access to the data itself.
Another bill put forth by Cunningham and Wick in February, the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, takes a similar angle. The proposal would restrict social platforms collection of childrens personal and location data.
Congress has also moved forward with federal legislation designed to help reduce the dangers that kids face online. In February, Senators Richard Blumenthal and Marsha Blackburn introduced the Kids Online Safety Act, a bipartisan measure that provides kids and their parents with options to protect their information, disable addictive product features, and opt out of algorithmic recommendations (platforms would be required to enable the strongest settings by default).
The push for these regulatory efforts is driven by continued fallout over leaked company documents from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen. Those documents showed that Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, downplayed its own research on the harmful effects of its platforms on young peopleissues that included eating disorders, depression, suicidal thoughts, and more. This led to a series of Congressional hearings and growing calls for social medias biggest players to face accountability for how they keep young users scrolling through content for as long as possible.
Features that encourage endless scrolling are among the most harmful to young people, according to the companys own research. Aspects of Instagram exacerbate each other to create a perfect storm, one report leaked by Haugen read.
The algorithmic recommendation systems used by popular video platforms like TikTok and YouTube have also drawn criticism. The New York Times reported in December that the inner workings of TikToks algorithm were leaked by a source who was disturbed by the apps push toward sad content that could induce self-harm.
As state and federal efforts grow, Stemler says its crucial that lawmakers get it rightand fast.
My concern for this generations mental health is serious, she says. There are deep problems coming from the pandemic and isolation tech has become the way that young people interact with the world.
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Write to Megan McCluskey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If Congress Doesn’t Rein In Big Tech, Censors Will Eliminate The Right From Public Discourse – The Federalist
Posted: at 10:12 pm
Something both convoluted and disturbing happened on Twitter this week that illustrates why its not enough for lawmakers in Washington to haul Big Tech executives before congressional committees every now and then and give them a good talking to.
Congress actually has to do something about this. Regulating social media giants like Twitter and Facebook as common carriers, prohibiting them from censoring under the absurd pretext that speech they dont like is harmful or abusive, would be a good place to start. If that doesnt happen, Twitter will eventually ban every conservative voice and every media outlet that dares to challenge left-wing pieties about race, gender, and a host of other issues.
Heres what happened. On Wednesday evening, around the time Twitterbegan censoring Federalist articlesby appending a warning they may be unsafe and their contents could be violent or misleading, I got a notice from Twitter support letting me know that someone had complained about a tweet of mine noting that Rachel Levine, the U.S. assistant secretary for health, is a man.
As a result, my tweet would be banned, but only in Germany, where, according toTwitters explanationof what it calls, country withheld content, an authorized entity issued a valid legal demand to block my tweet.
I had written the tweet in response to news this week that Twitter locked the account of Charlie Kirk for saying Levine is a man. Banning Kirk made no sense, I wrote, because Levine is obviously a man a man who dresses like a woman, but a man nonetheless.
To be clear, Levine is a 64-year-old man who spent the first 54 years of his life presenting or living publicly as a man. He was married and fathered two children. In 2011, he decided to transition and began dressing and presenting as a woman, changing his name to Rachel Levine (previously, he went by Richard, his given name). He divorced his wife of 25 years in 2013.
Levine is and will always be a man. His story is a sad one, and far from mocking or berating him, conservatives should pray for him and hope that he gets the help he obviously needs.
But none of this is really about Levine. Its about Twitter. Twitter locked Kirks account after itlocked the account of The Babylon Beeearlier this week for postingan articleheadlined, The Babylon Bees Man of the Year is Rachel Levine, riffing onan actual USA Today piecenaming Levine as one of its 2022 women of the year, despite the fact that Levine is a man.
After Twitter locked out the Bee, which is a satirical publication, its Editor in Chief Kyle Mann tweeted, Maybe theyll let us back into our @TheBabylonBee Twitter account if we throw a few thousand Uighurs in a concentration camp, which prompted Twitter to lock Manns account for hatful conduct. Later, the Bees founder Adam Ford was locked out of Twitter for retweeting Mann.
While all this was going on, articles at The Federalist suddenly started getting blocked by Twitter. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the handful of articles that were blocked, but it started withan article by Libby Emmonspublished Wednesday morning entitled, Everybody Knows Rachel Levine Is Truly A Man, Including Rachel Levine.
When my colleague Tristan Justiceasked Twitter about it, a spokesperson told him, the URLs referenced were mistakenly marked under our unsafe links policy this action has been reversed. Nothing to see here, it was all just a big mistake!
But we all know it wasnt. It was no more a mistake than my tweet getting flagged in Germany, of all places, or Kirk and Mann and Ford and the Bee all getting locked out of their accounts. This kind of behavior from social media companies has become all too common for anyone to believe that getting locked out of your account or getting an article taken down is ever a mistake, and certainly not when the tweet or article in question is asserting the plain truth that a man does not become a woman simply by growing his hair out and putting on a skirt. When youre account is locked overthat, its on purpose, and the point is to shut you up.
And its not just Twitter. This week, YouTuberemoved a bunch of videosfrom the recent Conservative Political Action Conference, including a speech by J.D. Vance and a panel discussion with Federalist CEO Sean Davis, Rachel Bovard, and Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla. a panel discussion that happened to be aboutthe harms of Big Tech and how federal law protects them from liability.
Its obvious that these firms will eventually silence everyone who dissents from their woke ideology. Theyre not even trying to hide it anymore. If you say that Rachel Levine is a man, or that Lia Thomas, the University of Pennsylvania swimmer who just won an NCAA Division I national championship, is a man, they will come after you. It doesnt matter that Levine and Thomas are in fact men. Truth is no defense against censorship by Big Tech.
So until Congress under what would have to be a Republican majority, given Democrats enthusiasm for online censorship acts to put an end to this, it will continue. And the list of things you cant say will grow. Before long, you wont be able to say, for example, that abortion is the taking of a human life, that gay marriage is not the same as marriage between a man and a woman, or that children should not be taught that America is systemically racist.
In such an environment, the only way to ensure the censors dont come after you is to follow the extraordinary example of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was asked by Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., on Tuesday during the confirmation hearing to define the word woman. Jackson replied, infamously, Im not a biologist.
John Daniel Davidson is a senior editor at The Federalist. His writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Claremont Review of Books, The New York Post, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter, @johnddavidson.
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Posted: at 10:12 pm
Wannabe innovation hubs from coast to coast have been slavering over the prospect that the work-from-home revolution triggered by the COVID pandemic would finally break the stranglehold that California and Silicon Valley have had on high-tech jobs.
Here's the latest picture on this expectation: Not happening.
That's the conclusion of some new studies, most recently by Mark Muro and Yang You of the Brookings Institution.
They found that although the pandemic brought about some changes in the trend toward the concentration of tech jobs in a handful of metropolitan areas, the largest established hubs as a group "slightly increased their share" of national high-tech employment from 2019 through 2020. (Emphasis theirs.)
Stories of discontented California entrepreneurs decamping for up and coming new hubs or even remote (but broadband-enabled) climes are common fodder in the news.
The Times last year published a sort of diary in which Geoffrey Woo, one such expatriate, wrote about his relocation to Miami to flee the crime and pandemic lockdown of San Francisco. He's still in Miami.
Yet "the big tech superstar cities aren't going anywhere," Muro told me. "There's a suggestion that we're on the brink of an entirely different geography. I don't think recent history or the nature of the technologies point in that direction."
Muro, in harmony with other experts in the geography of work, divides tech employment hubs into three groups.
There are the superstar metro areas: Silicon Valley and San Francisco; New York; Boston; Washington, D.C.; Seattle-Tacoma; Los Angeles; and Austin. Next come "rising stars": Dallas, Atlanta, Denver, San Diego, Miami, Kansas City, Salt Lake City, St. Louis and Orlando. Finally, everywhere else.
The superstars increased their share of total tech employment by 0.3% during the pandemic less than the increase of 1.4% they experienced in 2015-2019, but still positive. The rising stars as a group increased their share by 0.1%, down from 0.5% in the earlier period. Both gains came at the expense of other would-be hubs.
"The California metropolises really do retain their irreplaceable depth and strength," Muro says. "That's not to say there won't be some movement. Early in the period we saw some exiting, especially from the Bay Area, but it turned out that much of it was within California, rather than to Kansas."
This shouldn't be too surprising. The value of concentrated ecosystems in nurturing innovation has been document for decades. As Nicholas Bloom of Stanford and colleagues pointed out in 2020, elite academic institutions attract highly skilled innovators and spin off their learning into new technologies and new industries; their presence tends to attract others like them.
That's how Boston and San Diego became biotech hubs and Silicon Valley and San Francisco centers of inventive approaches to computer hardware and software. There's a notable cross-pollination effect: Inventors who move to a city with a large cluster of inventors in the same field experience "a sizable increase in the number and quality of patents produced," according to UC Berkeley economist Enrico Moretti.
The allure of living and working in such a cluster outweighs the downsides of high living costs, taxes and congestion.
"High-tech clusters tend to be located in cities with high labor and real estate costs cities like San Francisco, Boston, or Seattle rather than in cities where costs are low," Moretti observes, possibly because for creative intellectuals, intellectual productivity outweighs those costs.
Tech companies have been moving some operations away from their traditional headquarter locations or expanding elsewhere, Moretti says, but that was happening long before COVID. "I'm skeptical that COVID-induced changes are driving an acceleration in an exodus of tech firms," he says.
Muro's research points to an evolutionary change in high-tech geography triggered by the pandemic, rather than "a wholesale decentralization of tech." There may be several reasons why a large-scale flight from the big hubs hasn't happened.
One is that most tech companies don't plan to abandon office work entirely but expect their workers to commute to work two or three days a week.
This hybrid system "allows employees to move further from their place of work, such as from a city center to a surrounding suburb," Bloom reckons. "But it does not allow an employee to move to another metro area entirely because they must still commute to work on some days."
Instead, Bloom found increased movement within metro areas, rather than between metros a trend he terms the "donut effect," signifying movement out of the central city and into suburbs or exurbs.
Bloom's data are drawn from U.S. Postal Service change-of-address records and Zillow's tracking of rent increases.
His findings cast doubt on the theory, put forth by urbanist Richard Florida and economist Adam Ozimek, that habits of remote work would give rise to "Zoom towns," communities such as Tulsa, Boulder, Colo., and Bozeman, Mont., remote from traditional business centers but inviting for workers who need only keep in touch with their bosses and colleagues digitally via the Zoom and Slack platforms.
While Postal Service statistics do show some movement from densely populated cities to distant locations, the trend is "small relative to the within-metro movement from city centers to their suburbs," Bloom wrote.
The pandemic-driven shift to remote work does seem to have opened entrepreneurs' eyes at least to the potential for doing away with centralized workforces.
In a recent survey of tech startup founders, the share of respondents saying they would prefer to start a firm with an entirely remote workforce from Day One rose to 42.1% in 2021 from only 6% in 2020. Among physical locations where the founders said prefer to launch their businesses, however, San Francisco still dominated, at 28.4%, with New York a distant second.
There have been some clues in recent years that the exodus of big business from California hasn't been all it's cracked up to be.
In 2020, the headline departures featured in reports of corporate relocations were three: Oracle, Tesla and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. The Brookings study, published this month, mentions three major tech firms: Oracle, Tesla and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. (Brookings cites a fourth Palantir, a money-losing software company headquartered in Denver, but as of year-end 2021 it employed fewer than 1,900 people in the U.S., some of whom work in California.)
Some of the assertions about a California exodus aim to make political, rather than economic or demographic, points. Consider an August 2021 paper by Lee Ohanian of the Hoover Institution and Joseph Vranich, who happens to be the CEO of a Texas business relocation firm.
Far from being a sober statistical survey of business moves, the paper is more of a screed comprising the usual conservative beefs about California, such as too much regulation. It also makes some surprising assertions: "California is notorious for imposing excessive real estate taxes," for example.
Actually, California's property taxes are the 36th-highest in the nation; Texas, Vranich's home state, ranks seventh, with an effective rate more than twice California's. Thanks to Proposition 13, California is notorious for, if anything, having low real estate taxes.
Ohanian and Vranich, asserting that corporate headquarters are leaving California in "unprecedented numbers," offer a database of 265 companies that did so from January 2018 through June 2021. The list includes such non-business businesses as the NFL Raiders, which moved from Oakland to Las Vegas in 2020. The NFL, however, actually approved the relocation in 2017.
The authors don't give this supposed exodus its proper context, which is how many businesses have been created or moved into California in the same period. The answer, according to the Census Bureau, is 133,503. In the same time span, Texas added 90,916. (By the way, California still hosts three NFL teams, tied with Florida for the most of any state.)
Communities are eager to position themselves as remote tech hubs because of the sector's economic resilience. Unlike service industries such as leisure and tourism, most tech industries experienced barely a hiccup in their long-term growth trends during the pandemic.
Although employment in semiconductor and computer hardware manufacturing fell from January 2020 through June 2021, Brookings found that software publishing, data processing and information services such as Google and Meta Platforms (formerly Facebook) suffered only brief employment losses early in 2020, but by mid-2021 had larger workforces than before the pandemic.
Would-be tech hubs can't depend on attracting digital workers naturally, Muro says; they have to work at making themselves seem attractive to a digital workforce. That means building up a technical infrastructure, including broadband access, developing a networking culture resembling Silicon Valley in its early days, and offering good schools and other crucial amenities.
The political environment is also an imponderable factor. Whether aggressively conservative politics in Texas and Florida, including hostility to the LGBTQ community and the contraction of women's reproductive health rights, will slow the influx of young and well-educated workers is hard to tell at the moment.
But the early signs should worry those states' leaders. Tech journalist Kara Swisher, who is gay, recently canceled a tech conference scheduled for next year in Miami to protest the state's so-called "Don't Say Gay" law.
The law prompted a workforce uproar at Walt Disney Co., one of Florida's biggest employers, over the company's silence about its enactment; California Gov. Gavin Newsom publicly invited Disney to reverse its decision to move 2,000 jobs to Florida from California. (The company hasn't responded to the overture.)
It's doubtful when, if ever, 100% work-from-home jobs will amount to a large share of employment. Full-scale work-from-home only applies to about 6% of workers, Moretti says. That's triple the 2% level of the pre-pandemic era, but still an exception to the rule.
For all that, it's also true that some "rising star" metros may offer entrepreneurs and tech workers some qualities that established hubs have lost. That's what has kept Woo, who wrote about his decision to relocate, in Miami.
Woo, who runs two businesses in startup mode and a venture investing fund, says he hasn't found business reasons to regret moving from San Francisco. (The dearth of decent Asian food is the one drawback he mentioned.)
The tech community in San Francisco has become dominated by large established companies led by billionaires, those who have already made their fortunes, Woo told me. The tech community in Miami is more inviting to "people who haven't made it, who aren't billionaires.... San Francisco is in harvest mode rather than create mode it's harvesting the value of all the dynamism that has been created over the last 20 or 30 years."
As for Florida politics, "the most impactful policy for normal citizens is COVID policy," he says. "I've been used to not having to wear a mask or show vax cards for every little thing, and it's been great."
Conservative social policies, he says, might undergo change as the result of the inflow of a diverse workforce, rather than keeping people away. "As people come in, the policies of the jurisdiction will evolve to match what the constituents want."
There may be a cultural shift going on in what Moretti calls the "geography of jobs." But "it's still unclear how far it will go," he says. "It will take at least a few years to know."
Michael Hiltzik is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.
2022 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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A Stigler Center discussion between Ling Chen (Johns Hopkins) and Matt Sheehan (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace), moderated by Wall Street Journal journalist Lingling Wei, explores questions regarding the interplay between the tech sector and the state in present-day China and how the recent regulatory push might impact innovation.
Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that Alibaba and Tencenttwo of Chinas largest tech firmsplan to lay off thousands of employees as both companies continue to grapple with regulatory pressures following the government crackdown that caused Chinese tech firms to lose hundreds of billions of their market value.
Chinas sweeping regulatory crackdown on the countrys tech sector, launched over a year ago, has upended an industry that until relatively recently was seen as virtually immune from governmentscrutiny. The crackdown has raised many questions regarding the relationship between Chinas government and the private sector and, despite signs of slowing, there are also signs it may not be going away just yet.
What is the current relationship between the Chinese tech industry and the state? And where is it headed? A recent Stigler Center panel, part of the Centers Chinas Political Economy: A New Era? webinar series, explores these questions and more. The panel featured a discussion betweenLing Chen, an assistant professor at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University, and Matt Sheehan, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The conversation was moderated by the Wall Street Journals Lingling Wei, co-author of the 2020 book Superpower Showdown: How the Battle Between Trump and Xi Threatens a New Cold War.
At the start of the panel, Sheehan provided a brief overview of how the relationship between the Chinese government and the tech sector evolved over the past decade. First, the Great Firewall set the parameters for competition. They basically blocked most of the big foreign information platformsGoogle, Facebook, Twitter, etc.and by doing that, they cleared space in the Chinese tech scene for homegrown giants and shaped how the tech industry grew.
The second big way the Chinese government helped shape its tech sector, Sheehan said, was how it set the parameters for online speech. By 2013, China built the tools and the bureaucratic mechanisms with which to control how information is shared online, which also served as a kind of a catalyst for the tech sector. Historically, Chinese tech is very private-sector driven; thats where a lot of the first activity happens, where a lot of the momentum starts, but the government could weigh in and be a big stimulant to the growth of an industry. I saw this firsthand in the way that the AI industry grew. In 2017, when the government came out with its big national AI plan, that was a big marker that stimulated so much more investment in the industry, so much more public sector adoption and company formation. But even then, he said, it wasnt like the government was always in the day-to-day operations of all the companies.
The relationship began changing two years ago, in late 2020, when regulators canceled Ant Groups IPO, Sheehan said. Since then, there has been a tidal wave of new regulations that are fundamentally changing the shape and the nature of those interactions.
Asked about the seeming contradiction between Chinas goal to become a world leader in AI and its regulatory push against the industry, Sheehan said that In the US, we often describe these things as in conflict with each otherthe Chinese government sees it differently.
Drawing on her research, Chen noted the differences between Chinas understanding of its tech sector and that of the US. In China, she said, the terms tech sector and high-tech sector sometimes get blended. Their understanding of Alibaba and DiDi and Tencent is different from the typical US way of understanding the tech sector.
In Chinas perspective, Chen added, online platforms are associated with bubbles because their success is not necessarily traced to hardcore technology. Rather, they are viewed as having a first-mover advantage and that may create monopolies and rents and can easily become the target of antimonopoly law and antitrust law. These online platforms are also sometimes linked to financial platforms, such as the Ant Group. The Ant Group, in the states view, is creating shadow-banking almostand thats part of the reason the state is going after it.
These online platforms also control sensitive data and user data. Even though they have operated for a couple of decades already, the regulators seem to be just waking up to realize how important it is to regulate these data and algorithms. But the state has a lot of experience or know-how about semiconductor chips, not necessarily enough experience about data management and regulation, Chen said.
Asked about the seeming contradiction between Chinas goal to become a world leader in AI and its regulatory push against the industry, Sheehan said that in the US, we often describe these things as in conflict with each otherthe Chinese government sees it differently. The fundamental bedrock of China being a productive leading power, in the Chinese Communist Partys mind, is maintaining Chinese Communist Party control. You cant let these companies run too far ahead if its going to create social problems, or financial and economic risk that undermines the partys control. Honestly, I think they looked at what happened in the US between 2015 and the present day, at the role of social media platforms in division, political influence, and stuff like that, and said, Not for us.
Asked about the impact of the new regulations on the tech sector on Chinese innovation, Chen emphasized the gradual change in the Chinese governments thinking regarding semiconductor manufacturing, from joint ventures with other countries toward the development of indigenous technologies. I dont think theres really a final answer as to whether China can succeed or notthe only thing I know is they seem to be doubling down on their effort.
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