Hello — thank you for your continued subscription to my weekly tech drivel. Please consider paying me to do this so I don't have to beg B2B SaaS companies to let me write vacuous content for their sterile blogs.
This week was sort of okay I guess? 🤷 — even though I write this while finally on holiday in a sunny place (it's called Devon). Take that, capitalism, I've given up work for a whole WEEK. But also, take that society, because:
- Alphabet have a cool new way of making sure they capture the African market
- The FTC spent a year building a report which confirms everything we already knew about Big Tech acquisitions...
- Apple are doing some dodgy things with your e m o t i o n s
🏹 The FTC strikes again, this time with: more nothing
Okay, I'm just going to give you a quote with no context to set the tone:
“While the Commission’s enforcement actions have already focused on how digital platforms can buy their way out of competing, this study highlights the systemic nature of their acquisition strategies [...] It captures the extent to which these firms have devoted tremendous resources to acquiring start-ups, patent portfolios, and entire teams of technologists—and how they were able to do so largely outside of our purview.”
Newly appointed FTC chair Lina M. Khan
Lina Khan is talking about a study undertaken by the FTC, where they looked at all the unreported acquisitions made by Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft from 2010 to 2019. So yes... that's quite a monstrous list. But there are no specifics about who was acquired, and exactly what kinds of technology... it's just a list of graphs that confirm what we all assumed to be true: these tech giants have spent the last decade aggressively acquiring people and technologies that are useful to them, or were a threat. Thank you for taking a year to confirm that, FTC.
🍣 My crunchy bite-sized takes on this:
- The FTC is made of a bunch of dusty humans who are very out of touch, but this isn't directly their fault — as Lina points out, this is part of a wider systemic issue: these acquisitions technically did not need to be legally reported
- Why don't the FTC have any power to influence the policy that allows this many highly consequential acquisitions to happen behind closed doors?
- Ah yes, because when it comes right down to it, the FTC is a capitalist institution that wants to foster competition, but is not equipped to even do that, apparently.
🔤 Alphabet's coolest letter, X, are doing something with the internet
Incase you didn't know, X is a subsidiary of Alphabet, and they call themselves a 'moonshot factory'. That's because they are a group of 'diverse' entrepreneurs who are obsessed with using technology to solve all the world's problems. I really don't think you can call yourselves a diverse group of people if you all agree that adding more WiFi is the first step to fixing climate change.
Anyway, X's newest thing is providing more internet connectivity in sub-saharan Africa via lasers. They called this 'Project Taara', because all connectivity projects need to have a dumb code name in order to elevate them to world-changing status. I have mixed feelings. Here we go:
✅ Taara sounds really good because of the technology behind it: currently all connectivity projects are infrastructurally complex and expensive: they either use underground/subsea cables or stratosphere-clogging satellites. Taraa is built on a network of lasers; sensors beam light to each other, transmitting internet speeds of up to 20Gbps. This is like fibre optics without the cables. E.g. Brazzaville and Kinshasa are only three miles apart, but separated by a river, so without Taara, would require a fibre cable which is 250 miles long.
- One challenge: sensors can just clip onto high up things, like already existing cell towers, but they need a clear line of sight to each other — even rain and fog gets in the way.
🛑 Taara sounds bad because: I swear to god if one more company talks about how important it is to 'connect Africa' I'm going to kick Sundar Pichai right in the Megabits. I do think that just having the internet is important, but I don't like the kind of technosolutionist angle that we all just sort of have to 'wait' for. Yes, let's all have some internet, but does it have to be because Amazon, Google, and Facebook want us to have internet?
🧠 My phone, my shrink
Apple are working with UCLA to look at how phone usage data might be able to tell them something new about mental health conditions. They will be looking at things like key strokes, facial expressions (just think about how often you use FaceID), sleeping behaviour, exercise — you know, basically everything about you that your iPhone is capable of measuring.
You might be thinking that this sounds bad and you'd rather it not happen at all: well... you're right. Luckily, using AI to figure out how someone is feeling based on their facial expressions doesn't work, apparently.
Anyway, that'll do for this week. I hope your weekend is bright and your passwords are secure.
Love from your BOF — Best Online Friend