Issue 817

Friday, 15th February 2019

In This Issue


Amazon abruptly ditches plan for fancy New York City campus

After Amazon's huge pantomime asking US cities to bid for the privileged of having a campus in their backyard and ultimately awarding it to New York in return for US$3b of incentives, they've abruptly decided not go ahead with it anymore. In a blog post (not on Medium, hah), Amazon said "a number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project we and many others envisioned in Long Island City". There's no other official details, but this New York Times article reckons a little bit of resistance from the local community against the gentrification of their area plus provisions to allow workers to unionise seemed to have spooked Amazon. Oh well, I guess Amazon will find some other city to fleece.

Telstra and Optus are taking financial hits thanks to the NBN

Telstra and Optus have posted their financial results for last year - Telstra lost $500m of profit compared to the same time a year ago and Optus had 147 million fewer dollars of profit for a similar time frame. Both blamed the NBN because customers aren't on the higher speed tiers as they envisaged thanks to NBN's shitty network and the margins reselling NBN aren't as juicy as the margins on their own infrastructure. That said, it's not like Optus and Telstra didn't know this was going to happen. Us taxpayers gave them extremely nice payouts for that infrastructure ($11bn to Telstra, $800m to Optus), so don't feel too bad for them.

Optus online account portal exposes private customer details

Optus is also in the shit today after a big privacy lapse when trying to activate pre-paid SIMs. Luke Elson told The Guardian that he "tried to activate a $30 sim, and the first time I did it it seemed to go through OK - except for when I clicked on the review your order button. All the details were wrong, the sim number, the name and address - the person must have been transferring their number over, so it also had someone else's phone number". Others tried to log in to their Optus accounts to get their bills and shit and seeing the details of "Vladamir" or "Sarah" instead. Looks like someone at Optus got test and prod mixed up - again.

FTC still preparing a big juicy fine and tougher regulation for Facebook

The FTC and Facebook are "negotiating" a record multi-billion dollar fine for Facebook's constant abuse of user privacy. There's no one specific incident Facebook is getting pinged for (although it all kicked off with the Cambridge Analytica stuff), but the FTC is really, really upset with Facebook pissing on their 2011 agreement to restrain itself when it came to using the data of its users. The FTC is also considering not just a cash money fine but increased regulation. How much regulation, dunno, as they tried that already (2011) and look how much good that did. I bet Zuck and co will simply see it as a ham-fisted government and resent the punishment, rather than a much needed moment of clarity. Facebook's not at that stage of the Data Abusers Anonymous program yet.

New text AI is so powerful, it's kept secret while we discuss the ramifications

You're aware of deepfakes right? Videos generated with such realism that it's difficult to tell if they're legit (and normally used to make porn of people without their consent). Well Elon Musk's non-profit OpenAI research group claims to have deepfakes for text and apparently, it's "so good and the risk of malicious use so high that it is breaking from its normal practice of releasing the full research to the public in order to allow more time to discuss the ramifications of the technological breakthrough". The Guardian gave GPT2 a sentence to kick things off and GPT2 wrote the rest of article. GPT2 was able to grab quotes from various press releases and assemble it all into a well formatted article that follows a style guide. Kinda scary how good it is actually.

Not News, But Still Cool

Governments around the world keep making laws that damage the internet

My friends Jack and Eliza (aka chendo and zemmiphobia) gave a 20 minute talk at RubyConf last week about governments making shitty laws that are ruining the internet. There's FOSTA-SESTA in the US, the European Copyright Directive that I wrote about yesterday and our government's lovely Assistance & Access and Mandatory Data Retention laws. If it isn't already clear, it's time for nerds to put some skin in the game and as Eliza said towards the end of the talk, "step back and actually think about what we are shipping".

Cutting Facebook, Apple, Alphabet, Amazon and Microsoft out of your life isn't easy

Kashmir Hill decided to try and cut out the big 5 tech companies (Facebook, Apple, Alphabet, Amazon & Microsoft, aka FAAAM) from her life for a week to see if it's possible to escape the 3.6 trillion dollar juggernaut that's encroached on every part of our lives. iPhone goes in the bin, replaced with a Nokia 3310. MacBook, also in the bin, replaced with a Purism laptop running Linux. Kashmir's router also took part in the experiment, getting a block-list of all known domains and services operated by FAAAM. It didn't seem pleasant constantly being inconvenienced or inconveniencing others, but it was far from the end of the world and life went on.

Cheap iPhone XR plans, Surface Go, TP-Link smart plug

Not many bargains today (or this week actually), but here's a handful worth a mention.

That's it, see ya Monday!

 Interference - Thom Yorke