⭕ Benedict's Newsletter

Benedict's
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This is a weekly newsletter of what was interesting and important in tech. This is the free edition, with 150,000 subscribers.

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My essays

Would breaking out 'big tech' work? What would? Most of the things we worry about aren't actually competition problems, but even where they are, breakups are unlikely to be effective. The strengths of Google Search or Instagram are based on network effects, and network effects are a natural monopoly: merely changing the ownership would not lead to new competitors. The real answers are in much more detailed and micro work: in regulating the internal mechanics of these products, line by line, much as we regulate telcos or credit cards. Link

 

News

The US president banned Americans from doing business with TikTok or Tencent (owner of WeChat), mandated that Tiktok sell or close its US business  and announced a plan for a 'Clean network'. Characteristically, this is dramatic, impulsive, incoherent and confused, in breach of every principle of good government... and unlikely to work. You can't ban every cool and popular app from outside the USA (nor rely on Apple to be privacy regulator by default). America needs workable privacy laws, and a way to think about China as an aggressive autocracy that's also an economic superpower that shares a supply chain and a global communications network. Links: TiktokWeChat/TencentClean Network

Google in the home: Google is paying $450m for a 6.6% stake in ADT, the home alarm company. Smart home penetration is still tiny, especially for things like Nest that need actual work to install, and so this gives Google a route to market (20k technicians) to compete with Honeywell etc and go deeper into the buying process than just being on a shelf in a hardware store. This still feels like a very long game (or just option value) - there's still almost no tangible benefit to Google today from any smart home stuff (I wrote the same about Alexa 18m ago). Link

Facebook/Trump 1: Facebook finally removed a Trump post, for the first time. Unlike previous controversies where FB didn't move, this was relatively clear case of a false claim about COVID treatments that was in straightforward violation of FB policies. (Previous arguments have been around stuff that didn't break existing policies and whether the policies should change). Still, a river has been crossed. Link

Facebook/Trump 2. Concerns growing inside Facebook at what might happen on the network around the US presidential election in November this year: not just the usual misinformation, but that Trump or others might in some way use online speech to undermine the process itself, or confidence in the results. How should they moderate content? How does fact-checking work? How far should FB limit what a politician can say to the electorate? Five years ago that would have been an insane question - now, not so much. Link

No streaming games on iOS. Apple has confirmed that will block cloud streaming games services, such as Google's Stadia and Microsoft's new Xcloud, from iOS. The stated logic is that it can't review the games (for abusive mechanics or harmful content, perhaps). The knee-jerk criticism is 'rent-seeking' - that Apple just wants its 30%. That may even be true, but I think it misses the deeper point: Apple has a very particular view of what kinds of things it wants to happen on its platform, and it think that games should be native apps written with its own APIs. This is partly strategy (no disintermediation), partly about UX (an iPhone game shout not require a games controller to be playable) and partly just, well, personal preference. Either way, it's self-defeating - there is no real customer benefit to Apple's decision, and if Stadia or Xcloud work (a whole other discussion) then that's a reason to switch to Android. Apple had to flex on exactly this point for WeChat in China. Link

Apple flexes in China. Meanwhile, Apple removed 15k games from the App Store in China for not meeting local licensing requirements. Link

 

Reading

Useful essay by Eugene Wei on the Tiktok product. Link

Primer on how Apple's upcoming iOS14 demolishes (and partly rebuilds) online advertising for mobile apps (which is how Tiktok grew, remember). Link

Stephanie Rieger on content regulation versus free speech. Link

Access piece on Apple's AI team. Link

How Zoom manages plausible deniability in controlling speech on its product in China (TLDR: licensing). Link

Apple released documentation for how an app can become the default browser or email client in iOS 14. Seems mostly sensible. Link

NeRF: using ML to generate photo-realistic 3D models from crowd-sourced tourist photos. Watch the video. Link

 

Interesting things

The UX of Lego Interface Panels. Link

A TZXDuino inside a Cassette Tape. Link

Google's new design language: 'Meeterial'. Link

Youtube: walking around Shibuya as though you were in Grand Theft Auto. Link

Kissa: Walking Japan by Craig Mod. Link

Pete Hamill on the New York that we've lost. Link

 

Stats

Lazard report on the state of startup funding in lockdown. Link

The UK's Ofcom has a huge new report on digital behaviour in lockdown. Link

EA had its best June quarter ever. Link

The is the free edition, which goes out on Tuesday afternoons. The premium edition goes out the previous Sunday with more analysis, a complete archive, and more. 

Also in the premium edition: Tiktok and tyranny

The current US administration clearly has a pattern of jumping on simple 'solutions' to complex problems, and both China and privacy are real and complex problems that combine into one in smartphone apps. Banning TikTok by executive order is bad process, but banning a hit app is a bad approach whatever the process - it doesn't solve the problem. What do you do about the next hit app? There will be another Tiktok, and there will be a steady flow of other cool apps from the Chinese software industry, backed by all the innovation that's possible when you have 800m mobile users - are you just going to ban all popular Chinese apps? And what if the next one is from Vietnam, or Turkey? What's the repeatable, consistent rule?... You're getting the free edition - to see everything, upgrade here.

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This is the free edition of my weekly newsletter. It was sent to you on 11 August, 2020.

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