Elizabeth Warren Wants to Break Up Tech Industry Giants

Senator Elizabeth Warren said that if she is elected president in 2020, her administration will break up the giants of the tech industry. This was announced at SXSW in Austin, and in a detailed post on Medium. In that post, Senator Warren mentioned Amazon, Google, and Facebook.

Senator Warren’s plan would classify any company that runs a marketplace and makes more than $25 billion a year in revenue as a “platform utility”, and will prohibit those companies from using those platforms to selling their own products.

The Verge interviewed Senator Warren. Her plan includes Apple – which was not mentioned in the Medium post. Senator Warren wants to break Apple apart from their App Store. As far as I can tell, the plan also calls for Google to split from Google Play. Personally, I’d like to see more specific information from Senator Warren about how that change will affect how apps are distributed.

In part of the interview, Senator Warren said:

The problem is that’s not competition. That’s just using market dominance, not because they had a better product or because they were somehow more customer-friendly or in a better place. It’s just using market dominance. So, my principle is exactly the same: what was applied to the railroad companies more than a hundred years ago, we need to now look at those tech platforms the same way.

In short, the plan would prevent Amazon from selling Amazon Basics products on the Amazon retail store. It would stop Google from promoting its own products in Google Search. And, it would require Facebook to split apart from Instagram and Whatsapp. It is a strong push for antitrust enforcement of an industry that has been untouched by those laws.

Personally, I would like to see Facebook and Instagram split apart. I’m not a fan of Facebook (and stopped using it years ago). Instagram brings me joy, but I am conflicted about continuing to use it because it belongs to Facebook. I’d also like to see YouTube separated from Google.

Fitbit Announces New Models and Drops Old Ones

Fitbit has announced a handful of new wrist-worn trackers; the Versa Lite, the Inspire, the Inspire HR, and finally for kids, the Ace 2.

The Versa Lite is available now for GB£150 with a choice of four different colours – white, lilac, marina blue and magenta – and differs from the more expensive Versa by dropping a few features. Missing from the Lite are floors climbed, swim lap tracking, on-screen workouts and music player functionality. Personally, I’d miss the swim lap tracking but if you’re more of track and field person, the Lite version might save you £50. It’s still water-resistant to 50m, so good for surface swimming, and the Versa Lite will go four days between charges.

The Inspire and Inspire HR slot into the lower end of the Fitbit line-up, replacing both the Alta and Flex product lines. Priced at £70 and £90 respectively, the key difference between the two is that the HR has constant heart rate monitoring. Both devices do activity and sleep tracking, calories burned and connect to your smartphone for notifications, but if you want heart rate measurement and sleep cycle tracking, you’ll need the HR and an extra £20. Battery life is around five days for both devices and they’re water-resistant to 50m.

For children, Fitbit have the Ace 2, which will be coming out later in the year. Building the original Ace, the new version even more child-friendly but still does all the usual activity-tracking stuff with a touchscreen that can be customised with new faces. As with the Ace, the tracker becomes part of a family group so parents can monitor their little darling’s activity. 50m water-resistance and five day battery life. Price hasn’t been announced, but the current Ace is £80 so expect something similar.

Sadly, it looks like the Fitbit Zip has followed the One into obsolescence as neither are now available in the UK store. Mind you, the Zip’s had pretty good run (sorry) for a gadget, originally coming out in 2012.

And by pure coincidence, I’ve been notified today by my Fitbit app that I’ve got the Earth badge, which is equivalent to 12,713 lifetime kilometres.

Facebook is Combating Vaccine Misinformation

Facebook announced a plan to tackle vaccine misinformation on Facebook by reducing its distribution and providing people with authoritative information on the topic.

Here is what Facebook plans to do:

  • They will reduce the ranking of groups and Pages that spread misinformation about vaccinations in News Feed and Search. These groups and Pages will not be included in recommendations or in predictions when you type into Search.
  • When Facebook finds ads that include misinformation about vaccinations, they will reject them. Facebook also removed targeting options like “vaccine controversies.” For ad accounts that continue to violate Facebook’s policies, Facebook may take further action, such as disabling the ad account.
  • Facebook won’t show or recommend content that contains misinformation about vaccinations on Instagram Explore or hashtag pages.
  • Facebook is exploring ways to share educational information about vaccines when people come across misinformation on this topic.

How will this work? Facebook points out that leading global health organizations, such as the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have publicly identified verifiable vaccine hoaxes. If those hoaxes appear on Facebook, then Facebook will take action against them.

If a group or Page admin posts this vaccine misinformation, Facebook will exclude the entire group or Page from recommendations, reduce these groups and Pages’ distribution in News Feed and Search, and reject ads with this misinformation.

In addition, Facebook is going to provide people with additional context, so they can decide whether to read, share, or engage in conversations about information they see on Facebook. They are currently exploring ways to give people the more accurate information from expert organizations about vaccines at the top of results for related searches, on Pages discussing the topic, and on invitations to join groups about the topic.

BuzzFeed reported that Facebook will use machine learning and manual human review to identify and reduce specific kinds of anti-vax misinformation (such as the hoax that vaccines cause autism). Facebook will use these tools inside closed groups that are typically preferred by anti-vaxxers.

This might be the first time Facebook has done something that I am happy about! The first step toward reducing the spread of measles and other preventable diseases is to stop the spread of misinformation about vaccines.

The Wearable Technology Show is Back

The Wearable Technology Show is back next week in London, UK, but sadly I’m not going to be able to attend this year. Co-located with both the AVR360 and Digital Health Tech shows, it’s a great event to see some of the latest innovations from and for the UK market. Over 3,000 people will attend so it’s not CES, but it means there’s much better opportunities for conversation and networking.

I will be bringing some of the announcements from the show to GNC but here’s a sneak peak of some of the speakers, events and new products that will be on show at WTS2019.

On the technology front, there are over 200 speakers on the conference programme with representatives from McLaren Applied Technologies – they’re putting F1 tech into other industries, GB Boxing – who are using wearables to improve safety for their athletes, and Sky Sports – who want to provide more information to their viewers about their favourite teams as they play.

From the health perspective, there’s a couple of big guns, as it were, with both the Health Secretary, Rt. Hon. Matt Hancock, MP, and former Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, speaking at the event. I imagine there’s quite a technology contrast between their residencies in Health, with Patricia Hewitt leaving the role in in 2007.

On the show floor there are 50 exhibitors from 15 countries and a few new products have been pre-announced.

  • Limbic – the world’s first emotion-detection AI for consumer wearables. This AI detects human emotions from heartbeat data, using an algorithm that seeks to bring quantifiability to mental health. Interesting…
  • Thermal Senz by LifeBooster. A new solution that allows users to detect the early indicators of heat-related illnesses like hypothermia and heat stroke.
  • Pulse Ox by Oxitone. The world’s first FDA-cleared wrist sensor and AI-based Continuous Care platform, enabling wearable hospital-grade continuous monitoring with predictive capabilities, creating better patient solutions.
  • HP1T by HP1 Technologies. This graphene pressure sensor for sports and leisure helmets can detect impact time, location and magnitude, to enable better outcomes for the wearer. It was originally designed to capture brain injury data in cycling incidents but has applicability across a wide range of sectors from sports & leisure, to emergency services and manufacturing.

I’m looking forward to seeing what else will be announced at WTS2019.

Edison Research Finds Facebook Usage Continues to Drop

Edison Research and Triton Digital posted “The Infinite Dial 2019”. It is the latest report in a series dating back to 1998 that covers consumer usage of media and technology and has tracked many new mediums as they develop. The Infinite Dial is the “gold standard” of nationally representative survey research.

Regarding social media, the latest study finds the number of current Facebook users continues to drop. The study shows an estimated 15 million fewer users of Facebook than in the 2017 report. The declines are heavily concentrated among younger people.

Marketplace’s Kimberly Adams interviewed President of Edison Research Larry Rosin. She pointed out the 15 million fewer Facebook users in the U.S. today than in 2017, and asked if that was a meaningful drop for Facebook. Larry Rosin responded:

I don’t see how you couldn’t say it’s a meaningful drop. Fifteen million is a lot of people, no matter which way you cut it. It represents about 6 percent of the total U.S. population ages 12 and older. What makes it particularly important is if it is part of a trend. This is the second straight year we’ve seen this number go down. Obviously, the U.S. is the biggest market, in terms of dollars,and it’s going to be a super important market for Facebook or anybody who’s playing this game.

Here is what else the study found:

  • More than half the U.S. population now reports having used YouTube specifically for music in the last week. This number is now 70% among 12-34-year-olds.
  • One-third of the population reported having listened to a podcast in the last month, representing 90 million monthly listeners. The spoken-word audio sector also saw increases with audiobooks, as the portion of the U.S. population that has ever listened to an audiobook surpasses one-half for the first time.
  • The percentage of Americans who listen to online audio (defined as listening to AM/FM radio stations online and/or listening to streamed audio content available only on the internet) has doubled since 2012, growing from one-third of the population to two-thirds.
  • Time spent listening to online audio has reached a record high this year, with weekly online audio listeners reporting an average of nearly 17 hours of listening in the last week.

To me, it sounds like Facebook is in big trouble. Fifteen million users have left Facebook in the past year, and many of them were younger people. This group is unlikely to change their minds about Facebook as they grow older.

It is possible that the growing lack of interest in Facebook had something to do with its phone number look up that users can not opt-out of. Or, maybe the teens have started to distrust Facebook after it was reported that the Facebook Research App was sucking up the data of teenagers.

Mark Zuckerberg Wants Facebook to have Privacy-Focused Vision

Mark Zuckerberg wrote a lengthy post on Facebook titled: “A Privacy-Focused Vision for Social Networking.” In it, he provides some information about things Facebook will do to protect the privacy of its users.

Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged that Facebook doesn’t have a good reputation regarding privacy.

I understand that many people don’t think Facebook can or would even want to build this kind of privacy-focused platform – because frankly we don’t currently have a strong reputation for building privacy protective services, and we’ve historically focused on tools for more open sharing. But we’ve repeatedly shown that we can evolve to build the services that people really want, including in private messaging and stories.

Facebook is going to use privacy enhancing techniques that it used in WhatsApp to build a privacy-focused platform. It includes end-to-end encryption that will prevent anyone – including Facebook – from seeing what people are sharing on their services.

Facebook will no longer keep messages or stories around for longer than necessary to deliver the service or longer than people want them. Mark Zuckerberg wrote: “As we build up large collections of messages and photos over time, they can become a liability as well as an asset.” People want to know that what they share won’t come back to hurt them later.

Stories already expire after 24 hours unless you archive them. Facebook wants messages to be deleted after a month or a year by default. Users would have the ability to change the time frame or turn off auto-deletion if they want to.

There is also a plan to make Facebook Messenger, Instagram Direct, and WhatsApp interoperable. People on one service will be able to communicate with people on the other services. This apparently won’t work on iOS, but can work on Android.

Another big thing is the announcement that Facebook will not build data centers that store sensitive data in countries that have a track record of violating human rights like privacy or freedom of expression. Mark Zuckerberg acknowledges that this could mean Facebook’s services could be blocked in some countries.

Overall, this plan sounds good. Privacy is extremely important, and I like the idea Facebook will allow users to delete things and not have them stored forever. I’m going to need to see Facebook actually make those changes before I will believe that it will follow through on this plan. Actions speak louder than words.

Alphabet’s Chronicle Launched Backstory

Chronicle, a new Alphabet company, announced the launch of Backstory. It is a global cloud service where companies can privately upload, store, and analyze their internal security telemetry to detect and investigate potential cyber threats.

Chronicle is focused entirely on enterprise cybersecurity. Their mission is: “Give Good the Advantage”. That mission is fueled by their ability to leverage significant resources to give security professionals an entirely new class of tools, perspectives, and abilities that aim to counter, and even leap ahead of, the capabilities of their antagonists.

Backstory compares your network activity against a continuous stream of threat intelligence signals, curated from a variety of sources, to detect potential threats instantly. It also continuously compares any new piece of information against your company’s historical activity, to notify you of any historical access to known-bad web domains, malware-infected files, and other threats.

In short, Backstory is designed to be used by companies, not individuals. The purpose is to provide companies with data that they probably cannot get on their own so they can use it to detect breaches and to improve their security efforts.

Overall, I think Backstory sounds like a useful thing. In their Medium Post, Chronicle used the DNC hack as an example, and showed how easy it is to miss a data breach. In addition to noticing a breach, Backstory can give a company information about whether or not any of their computers communicated with that web domain.

It seems unlikely that nefarious entities will stop trying to access data and information that they have no right to steal. Hopefully, Backstory can make it harder for hackers to harm people.