posted about 1 month ago on re/code
Plus: Spotify reached a milestone of 100 million paying subscribers and Facebook is sharing its data with more than 60 international academics. The We Company, better known as WeWork, has filed confidentially for an IPO. The coworking giant initially filed four months ago, but today revealed its plans publicly. It will be the latest of several major startups with sky-high valuations to file for an IPO this year and, like many others, it has yet to prove profitability. The company was valued at $47 billion in its latest round of private funding. While the company doubled its revenue last year to $1.8 billion, it also doubled its losses to $1.9 billion. As the New York Times writes, companies like WeWork and Uber “have argued that growing quickly is more important, and will eventually prove more lucrative, than breaking even right now.” WeWork rents coworking office space around the world and is currently one of the biggest corporate landlords in cities like New York and London — in addition to offering other business lines such as WeLive (a residential living space) and WeGrow (a preschool/elementary school).[Andrew Ross Sorkin and Michael J. de la Merced / The New York Times] [Want to get the Recode Daily in your inbox? Subscribe here.] Spotify reached a milestone of 100 million paying subscribers. The music streaming giant announced it had hit this mark in its earnings report on Monday, beating its main competitor, Apple Music, which currently has around 50 million paying users around the world. Spotify said it has seen its subscriber base increase by 32 percent since the company went public last year. While the user growth is a major accomplishment, as the New York Times writes, the company has also “stumbled slightly in its recent entry into India” over licensing agreements and has seen shrinking profit margins following its heavy investment in podcasts. Spotify purchased podcasting companies Gimlet Media and Anchor for over $340 million in February and bought another podcasting company, Parcast, for $56 million in March.[Ben Sisario / The New York Times] Facebook is sharing its data with more than 60 international academics who will study the implications of the social network. The move is an unprecedented opening of Facebook’s private data to people who research it and will allow academics to study topics like how social media use can influence elections. However, Facebook is limiting the timeframe for what data it’s making available, which “means the academics will not be able to analyse the most contentious information,” including the runup to the 2016 US presidential elections and the Brexit vote. The data-sharing initiative comes at a time when the company is facing scandals involving user privacy. Facebook has said they’ve taken steps to introduce “noise” to the data sets to anonymize user profiles and the data is strictly limited to academic use.[Hannah Murphy / Financial Times] An unsecure database stored on a Microsoft cloud service exposed details including names, addresses, and income levels of over half of US households. Security researchers Noam Rotem and Ran Locar found the vulnerability on a database from an unknown owner that included the personal demographic information of over 80 million US households. The owner of the database is ultimately responsible for securing the data, although that data was hosted on a Microsoft cloud server. Microsoft said it is working with the owner of the database to remove private information until they have a way to secure it. The incident raises troubling questions about the pervasiveness of security breaches of everyday individuals’ personal information. As CNET writes, “[u]nlike a hack, you don’t need to break into a computer system” to find data in an unsecure database, all you need is to find an IP address of an individual you want to look up. The article notes that there is no indication so far that cybercriminals have accessed this data.[Laura Hautala / CNET] Top Stories from Recode The once-hot robotics startup Anki is shutting down after raising more than $200 million. It’s a hard, hard fall. [Theodore Schleifer] Apple is under scrutiny for squashing competitors on the App Store — again. Apple built its own screen-time management app. Then things got weird on the App Store.[Emily Stewart] This is Cool The boom and bust of Chinese bike-sharing

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posted about 1 month ago on re/code
It’s a hard, hard fall. Anki, the robotics company that has raised over $200 million in venture capital, is laying off its entire staff and the startup is shuttering, Recode has learned. In a teary all-hands meeting on Monday morning, CEO Boris Sofman told his staff they would be terminated on Wednesday and that close to 200 employees would be paid a week of severance, according to people familiar with the matter. Sofman had told employees a few days earlier that the company was scrambling to find more money after a new round of financing fell through at the last minute, imperiling the company’s future. The startup is frequently called “cute” for the little robots it produces like Cozmo, but it has raised serious money from investors like Index Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz, whose co-founder, Marc Andreessen, at one point sat on the company’s board. Anki said last fall that it “approached” $100 million in revenue in 2017 and expected to exceed that figure in 2018. So this isn’t some small lemonade stand closing down. Leadership had previously told employees that it was fielding acquisition interest from companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and Comcast. The company said in a statement to Recode that it was left “without significant funding to support a hardware and software business and bridge to our long-term product roadmap.” “Despite our past successes, we pursued every financial avenue to fund our future product development and expand on our platforms,” a company spokesperson said. “A significant financial deal at a late stage fell through with a strategic investor and we were not able to reach an agreement. We’re doing our best to take care of every single employee and their families, and our management team continues to explore all options available.” Anki, founded by roboticists from Carnegie Mellon University, was a big deal in the robotics world at one point — its first product, Anki Drive, was prominently featured onstage in a demo at an Apple event in 2013. But its buzz has cooled considerably in recent years as some investors grew skittish about hardware plays and others struggled to wrap their heads around what could reductively be considered just a toy business. It’s a tough time for the consumer robotics sector, with other companies like Jibo having had to shut down recently. Despite being a popular choice at places like Toys R Us for its AI race cars, the company in recent years has tried to pivot from toys to becoming a more developed robotics company based on artificial intelligence. It’s unclear what will happen to the company’s assets going forward. “For us, it was never meant to be a toy company, or even an entertainment company. It’s a robotics and AI company,” Sofman said on an episode of Recode Decode in 2017.

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posted about 1 month ago on re/code
Apple built its own screen-time management app. Then things got weird on the App Store. Apple reportedly isn’t all that enthused about apps that help users cut down on screen time — at least when they’re made by its competitors. The Cupertino, California-based company is under scrutiny yet again over allegations of anticompetitive practices. This time, the issue stems from a report this weekend from the New York Times’ Jack Nicas that said Apple has gone after 11 of the 17 most-downloaded apps meant to help users cut down on screen time or help parents monitor and limit what their children are doing on their devices. It has removed the apps altogether or restricted them, for example, by requiring them to remove features. Apple has cast its decisions as ones meant to protect user privacy and security. It says the apps it targeted were using a “highly invasive technology” that could be used by hackers to access users’ devices for malicious purposes and that it either asked the developers to make changes to the apps or removed them. (To be sure, Apple doesn’t want people cutting down on screen time too much, either — it wants users to use its services, such as Apple News and Apple Music.) This is the latest development in an ongoing conversation about Apple and whether it seeks to stifle competition within its App Store. In March, music streaming service Spotify filed a complaint against Apple in Europe alleging that the iPhone maker unfairly stifles competition by imposing a “tax” on digital subscription services made by its rivals and otherwise seeks to give its own products advantages over those made by others. Apple insists it is just trying to foster the best and most secure App Store ecosystem possible. But some observers say its activities look like an attempt to freeze competitors out. “That’s the trade-off to focus on, the fact that Apple does state that it has a reason for what it’s doing but that the primary effect is to keep rivals out of the market,” Rutgers University law professor Michael Carrier said. Apple announced new parental-control features last summer. Then it started purging rival apps. The Times story outlines how Apple clamped down on multiple screen time and parental-control apps. It notes the suspicious timing of its activities: Apple started to require competitors to make changes to their apps or face removal from the App Store soon after it started to offer those services on its own. In June 2018, Apple announced it would build into its iOS 12 features to help users monitor their screen time and allow parents to monitor reports on their children’s mobile activity and set limits for them. It started offering the tools in September. Soon after, according to the Times, Apple started to target apps doing something similar: Apple told the companies that their apps violated App Store rules, like enabling one iPhone to control another, although it had allowed such practices for years and had approved hundreds of versions of their apps. Apple allows corporations to use such software to control employees’ phones. But last year, the company stopped apps from using the software to enable parents to control their children’s devices. The Apple spokeswoman said Apple had blocked the practice because app makers could gain access to too much information on the children’s devices. Apple cited other rule violations when removing some apps, but the spokeswoman didn’t explain the reasoning behind those moves. Some of the apps targeted include parental-control apps OurPact and Mobicip and website blocker Freedom. Apple has claimed its actions were an effort to protect users because the apps opened up too much access to their information. Apple SVP of worldwide marketing Philip Schiller told the Times that Apple had acted “extremely responsibly” in protecting children from “technologies that could be used to violate their privacy and security.” In a statement on Sunday, Apple claimed that the parental-control apps it went after were using a “highly invasive technology called Mobile Device Management,” which gives a third party control and access to sensitive information. It says the technology could allow hackers to access user information and it was trying to ensure safety and security in its decisions. “Apple has always supported third-party apps on the App Store that help parents manage their kids’ devices,” the company said. “Contrary to what The New York Times reported over the weekend, this isn’t a matter of competition. It’s a matter of security.” Former Apple executive Tony Fadell in a series of tweets over the weekend said that Apple’s screen time features were a “rush job” and are still “very non-intuitive to use.” He said Apple should instead “be building true APIs for Screen Time so the ‘privacy’ concerns are taken into account” instead of limiting choices in the App Store. “Discouraging entrepreneurs from creating more solutions is the antithesis to what we need,” he wrote. In a phone interview, Fadell told Recode that it’s not just Apple that needs an API for screen time apps but also Google, Sony, Nintendo, and others, “because you want to make a meta control app so that you can see the usage across all digital platforms.” Apple did not return a request for comment on this matter. The App Store is coming under increasing scrutiny over how it deals with competitors “We’ve heard this story before of Apple squashing competitive apps like grapes,” said Philip Elmer-DeWitt, a journalist who has covered Apple for decades and hosts a blog about the company. “This is an old story.” Perhaps an old one, but a relevant one. The conversation about anticompetitive practices from big tech companies, including Apple, is picking up in the United States and around the world. Earlier this month, Dutch enforcers started investigating whether Apple was promoting its own apps over those of competitors. Cybersecurity firm Kaspersky has filed an antitrust complaint against Apple in Russia, and, as mentioned, Spotify is targeting Apple in a complaint in the EU. In the US, buzz about Apple and how it has handled App Store rivals has picked up as well, thanks at least in part to Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s push to break up tech companies. In March, the 2020 Democratic Party presidential contender rolled out an ambitious plan aimed at promoting competition in the tech industry. In it, she proposed breaking up Google, Facebook, Amazon — and Apple. “Apple, you’ve got to break it apart from their App Store. It’s got to be one or the other. Either they run the platform or they play in the store,” she told Nilay Patel at The Verge. “They don’t get to do both at the same time.” Her issue with Apple is similar to the criticisms she’s offered of Google and Amazon: These companies get a competitive advantage in the search results on their platform and can prioritize their products over those made by third parties. “If you run a platform where others come to sell, then you don’t get to sell your own items on the platform, because you have two comparative advantages. One, you’ve sucked up information about every buyer and every seller before you’ve made a decision about what you’re going to sell,” Warren said. “And second, you have the capacity — because you run the platform — to prefer your product over anyone else’s product. It gives an enormous comparative advantage to the platform.” Fadell, who was one of the designers of the iPod and is now a principal at investment firm Future Shape, said that with the parental-control apps, Apple may have identified one app truly violating its rules and decided to shut it down, but it’s not clear why it’s gone after so many of them. “These apps have existed for years, so why not just shut down the offending one versus shutting them all down?” He speculated that Apple could be planning some sort of additional announcement on the screen-time front for its Worldwide Developers Conference in June and is attempting to clean up its App Store ahead of that to avoid more anticompetitive allegations. Apple insists its closed ecosystem isn’t a monopoly and that it’s just doing what’s best for customers. Even if you don’t buy that, Carrier, the Rutgers law professor, said, it’s not clear whether US antitrust enforcement is equipped to handle the situation: “On its face, what Apple is doing is clearly meant to hurt competitors, any argument they’re offering would really not seem to be legitimate. But nonetheless, it’s not clear that that is punished by antitrust law. I think that would strike some people as being concerning.”

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Plus: Apple restricts screen-time monitoring apps, some Uber drivers don’t know how much they make, and another mass shooting follows an internet playbook After “nearly missing” the mobile revolution, Facebook saved itself in 2011 by making a company-wide pivot away from desktop and toward mobile use of its products. Now, as the “social network on which Facebook built its empire is reaching a plateau” with slowing user growth on its core social network, Facebook is facing another era of pivoting. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has already announced a shift toward more private, encrypted, or ephemeral messaging services like its WhatsApp and Instagram apps, but the future of Facebook may also lie in other bets: virtual and augmented reality. As Kurt Wagner writes, “Facebook’s core social network isn’t going away anytime soon, but there’s a good chance — probably a great chance — that the way you use Facebook’s products in 10 years will look and feel very different from the way you use them today.”[Kurt Wagner / Recode] [Want to get the Recode Daily in your inbox? Subscribe here.] Apple has been removing apps that fight app addiction. The company has “removed or restricted at least 11 of the 17 most downloaded screen-time and parental-control apps,” according to analysis from The New York Times that together with app-data firm Sensor Tower. Many of these app-makers are saying that Apple’s sudden restrictions have devastated their businesses, and that the changes came soon after Apple built its own competing screen-time tracker. Apple has stood by their decision, saying that it comes down to a user privacy issue. The company has said they’ve only restricted apps that “abuse” the device’s mobile device management system. Philip W. Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, wrote that Apple “acted extremely responsibly in this matter, helping to protect our children from technologies that could be used to violate their privacy and security.”[Jack Nicas / The New York Times] Some Uber drivers don’t know what they make, according to a new study from Georgetown University. The report, put out by the university’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor released a two-year report on the working conditions of 40 Uber drivers in the Washington DC area. It found that while most Uber drivers knew the overall percentage the company takes from fares, but over a third didn’t know how Uber determined the amount they make on a single trip. Other findings showed that 33 percent of drivers “took on debt relating to the job” and 30 percent “reported physical assaults or safety concerns” Still, 50 percent of drivers would recommend it to a friend, and 45 percent planned to keep working for the company for at least six months.[Alison Griswold / Oversharing] Mass shootings are increasingly being broadcast and cultivated on the internet. On Saturday, 11 people died at a mass shooting at the Chabad of Poway synagogue outside San Diego, after a 19-year-old man with an assault weapon stormed the house of worship. Just hours before the attack, a user who identified as the shooter posted a manifesto on far-right message board site 8chan. It’s not the first time recently that a mass shooter has found an audience for horror online. The shooter behind the recent Christchurch mosque massacre in March posted a similar post before he killed 49. As Charlie Warzel writes, “[l]ike the Christchurch massacre, the Poway shooting is not only tailored for the internet but also sickeningly standardized.” Warzel makes a case that mass shootings like these have become a kind of “sickening meme”, making the internet “an amplification system for an ideology of white supremacy that only recently was relegated to the shadows.”[Charlie Warzel / New York Times] Top Stories from Recode Slack’s business is reliable. Its IPO-less IPO plan is risky.The workplace messaging company is gambling on a Spotify-style direct listing path to going public.[Theodore Schleifer] What the hell happened at The Markup? Part 1: Former editor-in-chief Julia Angwin on Recode Decode. And Part 2: Co-founders Sue Gardner and Jeff Larson respond to Julia Angwin’s Recode Decode interview.[Kara Swisher] Amazon’s one-day shipping Prime offer is an attempt to suck you in for life. Amazon is sending a warning shot to competitors.[Emily Stewart] This is Cool Inside a worker-run gig economy app.

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posted about 1 month ago on re/code
And the big meat companies are on board: “They wanna produce protein, and if they can do it more efficiently and make more money doing it, they’re happy to go in that direction.” On the latest episode of Recode Decode with Kara Swisher, Kara passed the mic to her executive producer Erica Anderson, who recently attended the 2019 TED Conference in Vancouver, Canada. On the new podcast, you’ll hear four interviews with TED Fellows, up-and-coming innovators in science and technology who give talks about their work on the conference’s first day. Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of the final of those four interviews: In it, Erica talks to the founder and executive director of the Good Food Institute, Bruce Friedrich. The nonprofit he leads promotes alternatives to meat, including lab-grown meat, dairy, and eggs made from plants. He said getting to a place where we can “bio-mimic” meat that tastes good could have multiple positive effects on the environment and the health of humanity. “It will require probably 99 percent less land, cause 95 percent less climate change, won’t cause a rainforest to be chopped down, won’t require any antibiotics,” Friedrich said. “If you want a scare, Google ‘the end of working antibiotics.’ Medical authorities are literally telling us that we are just about there, and a big part of that is all of the antibiotics that we’re feeding to farm animals.” You can hear all four interviews right now on Recode Decode, which you’ll find on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, Overcast, or wherever you get your podcasts. Or, just listen using the embedded audio player below. Erica Anderson: Bruce, welcome to Recode Decode! Bruce Friedrich: It’s great to be here, thanks Erica. So I have a full disclosure, I had a burger last night. From beef. Well, you could have had a burger from plants. I’m open to learning about this. So, you are a TED fellow this year, and you gave a talk about the future of agriculture. Tell me first, what’s the big idea you’re talking about this week? The big idea is that we’re going to need to produce 70-100 percent more meat by 2050 and attempting to educate or shame the public out of consuming meat — reference, your burger from last night — isn’t working that well. I do wanna say I’m a fan of activism, I think activism is great, but if we actually want to turn back the tide on meat consumption, we need to be thinking about the problem in a different way. And what we’ve learned is we can bio-mimic meat with plants. Everything in meat exists in plants, so we can make plant-based meat, which is not ... I think you called it mock meat or synthetic meat or something. It’s plant-based meat, it’s still meat, it’s just made from plants instead of from animals. And then we can also grow meat directly from cells. Both of these methods of making meat cause much less climate change, require no antibiotics, they’re just much better for global health, much better for the individuals consuming them, and much better for our environment. Quick non-important question, but I guess it is important, does it taste good? Well, that’s kind of the point, yeah. I mean, it doesn’t work if it doesn’t taste the same or better. Got it. And cost the same or less. And yes, everything in meat, meat is made up of lipids and aminos and minerals and water, that all exists in plants. What we have found is if we apply the right amount of effort and the right amount of science, you can actually construct meat from plants. Then growing meat directly from cells, there are now dozens of companies, the first one, Memphis Meats, was founded in 2016, and now there are more than 25 of them. They are all right now growing meat directly from cells. As the process scales up, because it is so much more efficient, it will cost less. It will require probably 99 percent less land, cause 95 percent less climate change, won’t cause a rainforest to be chopped down, won’t require any antibiotics. If you want a scare, Google “the end of working antibiotics.” Medical authorities are literally telling us that we are just about there, and a big part of that is all of the antibiotics that we’re feeding to farm animals. So tell me, let’s talk a bit more about the problem just so that people who maybe aren’t that familiar with, I guess the term would be “industrial farming.” What is the problem with industrial farming? I grew up in Indiana, as I mentioned to you before. My grandfather, great-grandparents, had dairy farms, I grew up in a place with lots of little farms. That’s no longer the way food is produced. What is the problem with the current state of agriculture today, in your opinion? At its most basic, it takes nine calories fed to a chicken to get one calorie back out. The chicken is the most efficient animal. So that’s nine times as much land, nine times as much water, nine times as many pesticides and herbicides. But it’s not just that, you then have to grow all of those crops, you ship them to the feed mill, you operate the feed mill. You ship the feed to the farm, you operate the farm. You ship the animals to the slaughterhouse, you operate the slaughterhouse. Once you crunch the numbers, that chicken — which, again, is the most efficient meat — also the least climate-change-inducing meat, on a per-protein calorie basis causes 40 times as much climate change, 4,000 percent of the climate change of if you were to just eat the legumes directly, if you were just to eat peas or soy or whatever directly. Nine times as much energy, nine times as much land, etc. But then all of those extra stages of energy-intensive and polluting factories and gas-guzzling and polluting vehicles, you put all of that together and it’s just environmentally, it’s catastrophic. That’s just the climate change issue. The United Nations said whatever environment issue you’re looking at from the smallest and most local to the largest and most global, industrial meat production is one of the top three causes. And then the other issue that we talk most about is antibiotic resistance. The UK government said the threat to the human race from antibiotic-resistant superbugs is greater than the threat from climate change. We’re literally talking about the end of modern medicine. In the US, 70 percent of all of the antibiotics produced by pharmaceuticals are fed to farm animals. Right, and actually I think all that is like patent-protected, right? If you asked Tyson or Purdue for information about how many antibiotics they give to their chickens, they say they can’t disclose that, right? Yeah, what they’re doing is legal, within the realm of that there’s not any reason they have to disclose it. I will say, one of the things we’re really excited about at The Good Food Institute is the fact that companies like Tyson and Purdue and Cargill, the big meat companies, they’re not tied to the idea that we have to be raising and slaughtering animals. They wanna produce protein, and if they can do it more efficiently and make more money doing it, they’re happy to go in that direction. Interesting. So next question, Bruce. What’s the inspiration for this work? Well the inspiration for me is, I have been for more than two decades advocating a shift away from industrial animal agriculture. Just watching as more and more animals are slaughtered, and we go in the opposite direction. Even in the United States, per capita meat consumption in 2018 was as high as it’s been in recorded history. Globally, it was way way up, and all of the projections indicate that we’re going to have to produce 70-100 percent more meat by 2050. The latest calculation, we’re going to have to double the amount of meat that we’re producing by 2050. It just seems that there is something in human beings, I don’t know if it’s physiology, psychology, or emotion or what, but there’s something in human beings that causes people, as they become affluent, like it’s part of ... they decide to eat more meat. That’s true in the developing world, and it appears to be true in the developed world as well, despite our decades and decades of trying to educate people about the issue. So this is a solution that can work. We can produce meat from plants at a lower price. Price, taste, and convenience is what dictates consumer choice for just about everybody. We can compete on the basis of price, taste, and convenience, and just remove animals from the equation altogether. So interesting. I wish we had something to taste here right now, but that will come later. Tell me, how do you execute this at The Good Food Institute? You’ve got this idea, you’re deeply inspired, you see this macro problem kind of on the horizon globally, how do you execute it day to day? At The Good Food Institute, people can find out about us at GFI.org. We’ve just north of 60 staff in the United States and then we have about a dozen staff across India, Israel, Brazil, Hong Kong — which is Asia Pacific — and Europe. The four programmatic areas that we focus on, one is corporate engagement, so engaging with Tyson and Cargill and ADM and kind of all of the traditional food and meat industries to help them. We don’t want this to be disruption, we want it to be transformation. We want to engage them in the shift. Our second department is policy. Policy is focused both on the regulatory side, making sure that there’s a clear regulatory pathway forward for these products, as well as the statutory side, which is focused to a significant degree on encouraging the US government and other governments to fund R&D into these products. Global governments put tens of billions of dollars into research and development focused on environmental initiatives and global health initiatives. These are the solution to a lot of problems that governments recognize they have. Governments that want to meet their obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement, this is a way to do it. Governments that have food security or food safety issues, this is a way to alleviate those problems. It’s a big part of what we’re doing in policy. And then in innovation and entrepreneurship, we help startups to be successful and we’ve actually started some companies from scratch. We have a startup manual, we have a monthly call for budding entrepreneurs, we have fellowship programs at colleges and universities to encourage the next generation of leaders and scientists to use their talents in this field. We also work with venture capitalists to help them understand why this is a colossal opportunity for them to both do good and do well. And then finally, science and technology is our fourth programmatic area. That came from a sort of realization that what happened with the plant-based meat, and clean meat — so, meat grown directly from cells, we call it “clean meat” as a nod to clean energy — what happened was people had an idea, and then they had a company. Nobody really stopped and figured out what the scientific groundwork would look like in the middle. So idea, company, with no open-source science in the middle. The first thing we did is figure out, what are the critical technology elements for plant-based meat and for clean meat? What do we know, what do we know that we don’t know, and where are the areas where there’s just a ton of stuff that we don’t even know we don’t know? And let’s start mapping that. Let’s find scientists to help us map that, and then let’s start funding this research. We gave away $2.8 million in December/January, and we should be giving away another $5 million at the end of this year and into the beginning of next year to scientists to help fill some of the gaps in both the plant-based meat side and the clean meat side. Sounds like you’ve had a lot of momentum behind this idea. Tell me about the startups. You mentioned you’re giving away money. You have these weekly or monthly calls for startups. Obviously there’s some big agricultural universities in the country, what’s that like? Who are the types of entrepreneurs that wanna do this work? Is there an entrepreneur that comes to mind that’s kind of taking this on? I should make a distinction here. So our science and technology department, that’s where we have the money for open-source research. We had two donors, one who gave us a million dollars for clean meat open-source science. And another one who gave us $2 million for open source plant-based science. I should also take a step back and say for people that want to find out more about this, we have an annual conference. It sold out about six weeks early last year, so you might wanna go check it out now. It’s goodfoodconference.com. There will be poster presentations from all of the 14 grantees for this call for proposals. Our scientists will be there to talk with people about other research that they might wanna do in the space. And then the entrepreneurship and innovation side of the Good Food Institute, we don’t actually do any of that funding, although there are a lot of venture capitalists that are particularly interested in this space. There are venture capital funds like New Crop Capital and Stray Dog Capital and Clear Current Capital, and some others that are specifically interested in investment opportunities that will remove animals from industrial animal agriculture. And then there are a bunch of other sort of just Sand Hill Road VCs that are just interested in the space primarily because of the profitability. And then interestingly, the Bill Gates investment fund has just invested in kind of all of the plant-based companies, and the cell-based companies sort of once they get to Series A. Bill and Melinda Gates are very enthusiastic about this as a way to feed the world. Fascinating. You’re definitely on to something. I think my last question for you in our final few minutes, what do you hope to accomplish? What’s your 20, 30 years from now, looking back, what have you accomplished, what’s the big moonshot here? Well, I will say I hope it doesn’t take 20 or 30 years. People have only been working on this for a very brief period of time. The first plant-based meat that really had its vision set on the idea of we are going to compete with industrial animal meat, this is not a product for flexitarians or vegetarians, this is a product for everyone. That was the Beyond Meat nugget, which came out nationally in 2013, so just six years ago. That’s the thing that caused Bill Gates to say, “What I just tasted was not just a clever meat substitute. What I just tasted is the future of food.” So that was the first one. And then the Impossible Burger didn’t debut until 2016. The first clean meat company, also 2016, also oftentimes referred to as cell-based meat. This is very new and it’s moving incredibly quickly. This is something that governments should be putting billions of dollars into. I believe that China should be putting tens of billions of dollars into this. They’ve got food safety and food security issues. They’ve got water resource issues, they want to be the leader on climate change. Countries like Singapore and Israel are small and have food security issues. India cares very deeply about this, and is just working with GFI India, put more than half a million dollars into this sort of research. That’s a great start. It should be billions of dollars into this space. The goal is that if X is plant-based meat and Y is clean meat, X + Y should equal about 99. There maybe some regenerative agriculture left, but industrial animal agriculture, the lowest common denominator stuff, the stuff people choose because it’s tasty and cheap, that should all be replaced by meat from plants and meat grown directly from cells. They’re more efficient, they solve a lot of problems. And it shouldn’t just be nonprofit organizations and venture capitalists and Tyson Foods in this. It should be governments, it should be foundations, anybody who cares about these sorts of issues. A truly global kind of cross-functional intersectional effort to change the food industry. Bruce, it was so good to talk to you, thank you so much for coming and sharing your big idea. We will be watching and hopefully tasting the future of food in the coming months. I’m thrilled to be here. If not later today. Okay, thank you so much Bruce.

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posted about 1 month ago on re/code
“If you want to discover a new thing about the universe, you have to look at the universe in a new way... [and] in order to do that, you need to invent something.” On the latest episode of Recode Decode with Kara Swisher, Kara passed the mic to her executive producer Erica Anderson, who recently attended the 2019 TED Conference in Vancouver, Canada. On the new podcast, you’ll hear four interviews with TED Fellows, up-and-coming innovators in science and technology who give talks about their work on the conference’s first day. Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of the third of those four interviews: In it, Erica talks to astrophysicist Erika Hamden, who has developed new telescopes and other technology for observing space. In the short term, that tech can help Hamden and her peers better understand the galaxies we know about, but in the long term, she has bigger goals. “We know a lot about the universe,” she said. “But then if you’d break it down, we don’t know anything. We know that 4 percent of the universe is made up of regular matter like protons, electrons, the whole rest of it is like dark matter and dark energy, which is totally mysterious.” You can hear all four interviews right now on Recode Decode, which you’ll find on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, Overcast, or wherever you get your podcasts. Or, just listen using the embedded audio player below. Erica Anderson: Welcome to Recode Decode! Erika Hamden: Thank you. I’m so happy to be here. So really quickly, let’s start ... Your background is so cool. You dropped out of MIT before going to Harvard, before now building state-of-the-art technology that’s been used in telescopes ... So give me a quick nutshell on that. I went to MIT in the fall of 2001. And I was really naive. I came from a family that like, we did everything together, and the transition to college was rough. I met these people who were going to go into business and I thought people were going to be there because they really love science. And I know those people were there, but I didn’t find them. So I left. I took some time for myself to figure out what did I really want to do. And then I reapplied to college and I went to Harvard. And I tried as much as possible while I was there to make sure that I was doing things that made me happy every day. It wasn’t worth being unhappy because maybe one day there will be an end goal that would make me happy. And so it was a hard choice to drop out of college, because I had identified so much as an achiever and being smart. And then I was an MIT dropout. So I had to realize that didn’t define me. And what mattered was enjoying my life and making sure that I was doing things because I wanted to do them. Yeah, I mean, that’s an incredible story. So I wouldn’t say that being a dropout is a bad thing. It was definitely the right call. Yeah, yeah. Because you found your path, which is so cool. And I want to talk about it. So let’s start. What’s the idea that you presented ... What’s your big idea that you were talking about at TED this week? So my big idea is that if you want to discover a new thing about the universe, you have to look at the universe in a new way. That you can do more observations with stuff that already exists. And that work is really important to kind of expand and classify the stuff that we already know. But that if you want to make like a breakthrough discovery, you want to find out what’s the new, weird thing about our universe, you have to be creative. And a lot of people don’t associate science and scientists with creativity. But it actually takes a huge amount of creativity to think about, “Well, how can I see this thing in a different way no one has looked in for this particular stuff before in this way.” And typically I find that in order to do that, you need to invent something. Because astronomers are really good about using every technology available. We’re trying to capture every single photon so people will always be pushing the limits, but that totally new technologies is usually how new discoveries get made. So like LIGO, it took 40 years. What’s LIGO? LIGO is the ... Now, I don’t know what the acronyms stand for. That’s okay. That’s good. High level. It’s basically a gravitational wave detector. It’s a totally different spectrum that we can explore the universe on. When two black holes merge, for example, or two neutron stars merge, they bend spacetime so much that it sends waves out through the universe. Got it. So having a piece of technology that can detect that. Previously, we could not detect waves in spacetime and now we can, and this whole new way of looking at the universe has opened up. So for my work on the detectors that I helped develop, they’re super sensitive in a wavelength range where we haven’t really had sensitive detectors ever. The previous best detector was actually photographic plates. Film is pretty good in the UV, but you can’t send film to space. You can, but it’s really difficult. So the other detectors that we were using, they worked for what they were doing, but the sensitivity was just not great. It’s less than 10 percent. And the detectors that I’ve helped develop, you can get sensitivities. The ones that we put on the balloon telescope I built is 60 percent. So it’s a six times improvement and you haven’t changed anything else about the telescope where you get six times as much information. Got it. Got it. Inventing technologies is really like, we call it mission enabling. That now you can do things and make observations of stuff that was previously not detectable. Yeah. And I think you’re being a little modest because I think you helped to really invent this new technology. I mean, it sounds like you’ve helped to invent it, but then, or invented it and then have overseen teams to kind of build it. What was it like? What is the problem you’re trying to solve? When you said, I think the idea of like asking new questions about the galaxy. What is the discovery that you think ... What was your inspiration for this? Well, so I will say that for the technology, I’m part of a really great team of people that are based out of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. And so the woman that actually invented the very base ... There’s a base process that has to happen that’s called delta domain or super lattice domain and her name is Shouleh Nikzad. She’s worked at JPL for a long time. So she invented this technology and then has been developing it for like 20 years. And so I came in and assisted in making it even better, basically. But it’s definitely been a team effort. And the machinery that we use is so expensive. There’s no way that one person could really do it, because you have to sort of have a team to get enough people to do all that stuff. But the work that I want to do ... So we look out in the universe and you can see galaxies. People are lazy, so they want to look at the thing that’s easiest to look at. So if you just look, your eyes will be naturally be drawn to the bright stuff, the stars that are really bright, the galaxies that are really bright. And that’s the first thing that always gets explored because everything is dim in the universe. So you go for at least the brightest stuff. But if you keep going to lower and lower brightness, you actually get a lot more interesting components. So we know galaxies exist because we can see them. And from simulations, we think that there’s these huge, influencing filaments and exploding bubbles that filaments flow in and bubbles coming out of the galaxy. That’s a dynamic environment around the galaxy of hydrogen and other gas that’s kind of swirling around and coming in and out. And some of the hydrogen is originally from the Big Bang. It’s primordial, and other gases from mergers are just like a chaotic environment around the galaxy. And we look at galaxies and we see some of them are these beautiful spirals that are gorgeous, others are totally messed up. They’ve had a bunch of mergers. There’s others that are just a perfect ring, like some wacky things out in the universe. And right now we can see them, but we can’t say like, “Well, this galaxy looks like this because of this reason.” The why behind it is not clear. And so I think that in order to figure out that why, if you look at the environment around the galaxy and you can measure the amount of hydrogen that’s there and the other gas that’s there, you can say, “Well, this galaxy is a beautiful spiral, making lots of new stars because it has huge in-flowing filaments of hydrogen that are coming in and feeding the star formation. Whereas this other galaxy that’s just a red blob doesn’t have any of those filaments. Instead, it has a really hot halo of gas that can’t fall into the galaxy,” because of complicated physics that I won’t explain here. But that you can say like, “Okay, well, this galaxy looks the way it does because of this stuff around it. And this other galaxy looks the way it does because of this totally different environment.” So that’s what I want to do in the short term. And in the longer term, we don’t really ... We know a lot about the universe. But then if you’d break it down, we don’t know anything. We know that 4 percent of the universe is made up of regular matter like protons, electrons, the whole rest of it is like dark matter and dark energy, which is totally mysterious. But even that few percent that’s made up of stuff that we understand, we don’t know where any of it is. Well, if you count how many galaxies we can see, the estimated mass for those galaxies, you add in things like planets and black holes that you can’t actually see, you add all that up and it doesn’t add up to the amount of mass that we know exists in regular matter. So there’s this problem where we don’t know where everything is. And part of the solution is that probably it’s this really faint, very low-density hydrogen that’s outside the galaxy. So it’s emitting very, very faintly. But we just haven’t been able to take a census because our detectors haven’t been sensitive enough. So that’s one of the things I want to do. So you’re obviously super passionate about the future of space exploration. It’s honestly not something I’ve thought a lot about. Which is crazy. It’s all you think about, what are the secrets in the galaxies that we need to understand? What is the modern ... What is the space race today about? For galaxies? Yeah. We can’t really explain how our galaxy got here. And I think a lot of what drives astronomers and just people who are interested in space is being able to say like, “Why are we here? And how did we get here?” Age-old question. Yeah, and our galaxy is a pretty boring galaxy. Our star’s great, I love our star, but it’s just a pretty standard star. But we see all this other stuff, these galaxies that are super active. The one where they detected the black hole last week. That galaxy is wild compared to our galaxy. Which I guess is maybe why we’re here, because our galaxy is very boring. It’s better for life. Oh, interesting. So boring equals safe. Boring is good, yeah. But I think that’s really what drives people is like, “Well, how do we explain the situation that we’re in right now?” We have made a huge amount of progress in just understanding how galaxies have changed throughout time. We can look back through history at old galaxies that are really far away and we can see that they’re different. And there’s some change through time of how many galaxies are making new stars and the sizes of them and so on. But we don’t have a full picture yet to say, “Oh, you start with this little baby galaxy and then give it 13 billion years and it becomes the Milky Way.” So you want to create that picture. Next question, how do you execute this? So there’s a lot ... It’s like a multi-pronged effort. So usually, when I feel like there’s a problem that I want to solve, my strategy is “do everything.” I think developing technology is super crucial, because that’s the basis that you can do new observations of. So I have been working on one type of detector and I’m starting to set up my lab to test a new kind of detector that is sort of an offshoot of the one I’ve been working on but it has even better noise properties. Just continuing to make better tools I think is essential. And then working on new ideas for telescope concepts and space telescopes and advocacy about making sure that young astronomers can be the principal investigators of those future space telescopes. Right now I’m working on a proposal for space telescope to NASA small explorer program. So that mission is totally theoretical. We’re just kind of figuring out, what’s the instrument, what’s the spacecraft going to be. That’s been a really interesting process for me as the PI. And there’s all this stuff that I think like, I wish someone had told me this two years ago or six months ago about who to contact at NASA centers or who to contact an aerospace company. And so I decided, like, “Well, this is annoying, there should just be like ... This information should just be out there.” So how all good solutions start: “It’s extremely annoying.” Annoying. I feel like Adam Sandler’s character in The Wedding Singer when his fiance shows up the next day and she’s like, “Oh, you are not a rockstar.” He’s like, “This is information I could have used yesterday.” I originally thought I’d just write a paper that’s like “How to build a space telescope” and just list all the things that I learned. And then I’ve decided, instead, I’m going to turn it into a workshop and bring people and actually tell them like, “Okay. You start with a science question. What’s the thing you want to know about the universe, and then we’re going to figure out whether a space mission is the way to go.” And I’ve gotten the NASA people that I’ve talked to really excited about it, and I’m working with a few other people. Typically I’ll go to meetings about space, astrophysics, and future missions, and I’m the youngest person in the room. And typically I’m one of the few women. And they’re talking about things that are going to get built in the 2030s. And a lot of the people that are in those rooms are not going to be working in the 2030s. Interesting, yeah. I hope they’re all going to be alive. They’re lovely people, and they’re so excellent at what they do. There has to be people coming up to take their places. And so that’s something that I hope I can do and at least help bring up the people behind me. And make sure that there’s new people in the pipeline, younger people, diverse people. And I also just think that’ll make the science a lot more vibrant. When you get more people asking interesting questions, you’re going to get a lot of exciting results. Absolutely. That’s something I want to ask you before we go to our last question, which is, coming up, were there female role models? Oh, yeah. Well, so Shouleh Nikzad, the woman that I worked with at JPL, she has been such an inspiration for me. She’s just a super lovely, wonderful person. And she’s always been really supportive of my work. And all the people that I’ve worked with, I’ve had a lot of male mentors and they’ve been really great. So I feel like I’ve had a lot of personal, very careful attention, which I think is really important. Great. Great. And I’m sure you are a role model for people coming up. I try to be. Yeah, no, it’s great. Well, giving a TED talk is definitely a good way to spread that. So this is the last question. What do you hope to accomplish with this idea, with these telescopes? What’s the big picture? Well, when I was young, I knew that there were astronomers and astronauts, but I didn’t know that it could be a job that you build the telescope. I knew people went to [work with] telescopes, but then in college, I discovered like, “Oh, you can make it? That’s awesome.” And I’ve always liked to build stuff and use my hands. That’s why I like cooking, because you make a thing. And so I wanted to just broaden the world a little bit, that maybe people will realize, like, “Oh, I could build telescopes.” The other thing I want to do is kind of tell people that it’s okay to try something and still fail spectacularly. I think about my experience at MIT and dropping out, that I failed in such a big way. And for an 18-year-old, it was the end of the world. But I’m here, I’m still doing exactly the work that I want to do. And I learned so much from that experience. All the stuff that I talked about in my TED talk was, you know, the stuff with the detectors. It took years for us to figure out how to get the part that we were working on to work correctly. And every step of the way it’s like, “Oh, this didn’t work. Okay. Let’s try something else.” And then that works. But then something else fails, and the only way you learn is in that space in between the failures. And with the whole balloon payload, all of our stuff works. But we had this other failure that we hadn’t planned on. This is when you sent the telescope up into orbit into the stratosphere. Into the stratosphere. Yeah. And the balloon was the thing that failed. Yeah. So all of our stuff worked. The pointing system, which was done by our French collaborators. That was gorgeous. Everything worked, and then the balloon had a hole in it. I remember thinking, I didn’t even know to be worried about that. Yeah. I feel like, if you want to do something creative or just something new in the world you have to take a risk. And society is so risk averse. I mean, I understand because the consequences of failing for a lot of people are they get fired. They lose their houses. People live on the edge all the time. So it’s hard to say, “Well, try this totally wacky thing and fail and whatever.” But I think talking more about it, maybe the people who have control and run a business, let your employees fail. Just see what happens, give them the opportunity. Because really, it’s that they’re trying, they’re wanting to do something new. Failing in service of doing something new and better. Yeah. And to take a risk and explore a little bit. And that it’s scary. And there’s a lot of times when I felt like, “God, I wish someone else had already done this so that I knew what to do.” The path would be there and it’s not. It’s hard to be going your own way. But also I would imagine really rewarding and also like you said deeply creative in the field of science. Well, thank you so much, Erika for joining Recode Decode. It was a pleasure to have you here. I’m so happy to be here. Thank you and we will watch the advancements in your work with great intrigue. So thank you.

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posted about 1 month ago on re/code
Plus: Why space will be a “trillion-dollar business.” On the latest episode of Recode Decode with Kara Swisher, Kara passed the mic to her executive producer Erica Anderson, who recently attended the 2019 TED Conference in Vancouver, Canada. On the new podcast, you’ll hear four interviews with TED Fellows, up-and-coming innovators in science and technology who give talks about their work on the conference’s first day. Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of the second of those four interviews: In it, Erica talks to astronomer Moriba Jah, a self-described “space environmentalist” who studies the old satellites and other debris floating in orbit, also known as “space junk.” At the conference, he also explained why space could be a “trillion-dollar business” — and not just because of people going up, but also because of the private data that could be gathered from cameras pointed back down at the Earth. “Knowing what people do and how they move and how they interact as pervasive and as persistent as possible, that’s a big business,” Jah said. “So now if you tie the Internet of Things on the ground with what is in orbit, that’s like a mega set of information. I’ll put it this way, people are very surprised with the level of knowledge that a company like Google might have. If they start incorporating space-based information and linking that with stuff going on the ground, that’s going to blow people’s minds, big time.” You can hear all four interviews right now on Recode Decode, which you’ll find on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, Overcast, or wherever you get your podcasts. Or, just listen using the embedded audio player below. Erica Anderson: Moriba, welcome to Recode Decode. Moriba Jah: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure and honor to be here. So let’s start. What is space junk? Yeah, so basically since we’ve been putting up satellites — Sputnik all the way to the current day — most of what we put up there doesn’t come back. It dies, it ages, it falls apart. Every once in a while, two things collide with each other or something will blow up or somebody will blow something up. And then these things become many more pieces that are also mostly never coming back. And so the population is just growing, and it grows on its own, and it grows because we’re launching stuff and more and more countries are getting involved in space, and they want to put more stuff on orbit. So currently there’s a hypothesis, about half a million objects ranging in size from a speck of paint all the way to a school bus that could harm any services and capabilities we depend upon, like global positioning system, banking, weather warnings, agriculture, TV communications, and soon even the internet. Because that’s the new thing. I mean, SpaceX and Amazon, now they all want to rush to send thousands of satellites up there to provide global internet. How did you learn about this issue? How did you learn about the issue of space junk and the need for solutions? My career started off at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. I was a spacecraft navigator navigating several missions to Mars and that sort of stuff. But then I stumbled upon the work that the Air Force Research Laboratory was doing. And from a defense perspective, one of the questions is “debris or not debris.” That is the question. Nice. So all right. Now that we understand, I think we have a baseline of space junk. Tell me, what’s the big idea? What are you here at TED talking about? Yeah. So one of the things that’s very unfortunate is that there isn’t a consistent space traffic map around earth’s orbit. If you ask the US government, “Oh, well what do you think is up there?” and where it’s at, you’ll get an answer. If you asked the Russian government, you’ll get an answer. And they’re different. If you asked the Chinese, you’ll get a different answer. Ask five people the question, you’ll get 10 different answers, sort of thing. And so one of the things that I’m trying to do is I ask people this question, “How do you know that you have the world’s most accurate clock?” And the way that you know is because you have hundreds of them. And that’s how time has actually standardized across the globe. You have hundreds of atomic clocks that predict what the time is and then they kind of crowdsource that and figure out what the actual time is. In order to get through really what’s up there and where it’s going and what can it do, the idea is to crowdsource multiple sources of independent information and see where does it seem to be consistent and where is it inconsistent, and do it in such a way that no single entity can dominate or bias what that answer is. Because some people are very happy with having this sort of mystery cloak around space, right? They can just do whatever because it’s the Wild West up there. It’s like a gold rush because people see, “Oh, wow, there are trillions of dollars to be made with space-based services. There are no space traffic rules. It’s like the Wild West. I’m just going to go up there and make my claim and make my money and get out.” And I’m like, “Ahh, hold on a second. Let’s think about long-term sustainability of that environment.” I want to make sure nothing hides. That’s my goal: to make space transparent and predictable. So you want to find the common answer with the metaphor of a clock. Exactly. What is the common answer? That’s right. You showed a chart, a visual in your presentation that had the information from the United States versus the information from Russia about the kind of the rate of space junk out there. And it was totally different. So you’ve identified this challenge is kind of different sources of truth, if you will. Exactly. Opinions. Opinions. So this is the idea. So your idea is to create really like space traffic information, a way to understand a common source of what’s happening in space. What was the inspiration for this? Basically, I worked for the Air Force Research Laboratory for a decade. I’ve seen escalatory language in the news, meaning the US is saying, “Well, China has these capabilities, and we need to prepare for a war in space.” And China is saying one thing and Russia is saying the other. And before anybody presses some weird red button, I would like to say, “Hold off, let’s really understand what’s going on.” Because people ... In the absence of knowledge, people become very paranoid. And so I want to provide a basis of scientific evidence so that we can make informed decisions and not just act in ignorance. Because right now there’s just a lot of ignorance. And I’ve got to tell you, people are very concerned about intent. “Oh, well, when this satellite comes close to mine, what’s their intent? Do they just not know they’re that close or are they trying to do something to me?” And the more people send satellites in space, that’s going to be a growing concern. So how do you execute this? So right now, at the University of Texas at Austin, there’s this thing called the Texas Advanced Computing Center, which is where Astra Graph lives, autonomously we’re grabbing several sources of information, bringing that into this graph database. And then when you go to the website, it visualizes all these things. So right now, we’re in the final stages of developing an API that would let people interact with the graph database. I want to open this up to amateur telescope operators, like people from all over the globe. “Hey, deposit your evidence in this common bucket.” And then we’re going to have algorithms that are going to try to sort this stuff out to come up with this sort of common knowledge and make it globally accessible. That’s the thing, is that anybody can have access to this stuff for safety and sustainability. So I was just going to ask, who would use this? Who would use this database? Let me give you an example. You have African countries that are developing their own kind of space agencies and that sort of stuff. Nigeria has a space agency. They only have a few satellites. Guess what? Nigeria doesn’t have a global network of sensors to track stuff in their orbital neighborhood. And so it’s like, “How do the Nigerians stay safe? How do they know when to get out of the way if something is going to come towards them?” And so this basic service would be to facilitate people who just don’t have all this capability to know where everything is at all the time. But they’re space operators. And so if they’re on the highway, it would be nice to remove the blindfold and let them see the traffic that’s around them. And really to level the playing field to make this kind of information accessible. Exactly. Yeah. I want to jump back to something you said that’s fascinating. You said that the future of space is a trillion-dollar business. What are the types of things you’ve seen happen in the space exploration area that have to do with building new businesses up there? Because we actually can’t see it. We hear about these ideas of what people are doing. But from your perspective, what are those big kind of new business ideas that are happening? Right. So I would say, by and large, there are two dominating camps. One of them is communications, and most of the money made in space is based on communications. Now with the thought of having internet anywhere on the planet, 24/7, that’s a big business. I mean, like I said, Elon Musk with SpaceX, Bezos with [Blue Origin], they want to put stuff up there, and that’s just the US. I mean, European companies have their own ideas. China has their own ideas for this stuff. So that’s definitely a big market place. The other dominant camp is the remote sensing looking down. So I mentioned things with cameras looking to the surface of the earth. I said agriculture, disaster relief. But in general, human-based activity monitoring, that’s a big deal. Everything from government intelligence agencies that want to track motion of certain people around the planet, to people that might say, “Hey, I want to see what kind of cars are being driven in this parking lot on what days of the week so I can figure out how to strategize and market.” Knowing what people do and how they move and how they interact as pervasive and as persistent as possible, that’s a big business. So now if you tie the Internet of Things on the ground with what is in orbit, that’s like a mega set of information. I’ll put it this way, people are very surprised with the level of knowledge that a company like Google might have. If they start incorporating space-based information and linking that with stuff going on the ground, that’s going to blow people’s minds, big time. Let me give you another example. Let’s say country A has all these space-based capabilities looking down, and they go to have a conversation with country B about, I don’t know, mining. Country B doesn’t have all these assets. When country A goes to talk to country B and says, “Well, so what’s the price of the gold or this and that in your country?” Country B can’t just say whatever they want because country A can say, “You know what? I actually know the answer because I see how much dirt you’re actually moving on a daily basis and based on where your mines are located and how many trucks I see, that means that your yield is only this percent.” So it completely gives an advantage to certain groups or entities if they have this knowledge over other people in just doing regular business. Wow. Big time. So space surveillance. Exactly. Yeah. And if you can sell that on tap, that is a lot of money to be made there. So it’s almost like what you’re doing in terms of like your ... it’s about space junk, but you want to understand, and you want to make it transparent, you want to kind of lift the veil a bit on what’s happening, so that it’s almost like an ethical pursuit, in some sense. In some sense, yes. Yeah. So back to the space junk, should there be junkyards up in space? And this is a silly question, but once you monitor it and understand it, what do you do with it? Do they just exist? Right. So it turns out that there actually is a junkyard in space. A junkyard. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. There is one, and it’s called the GEO Graveyard. So the geostationary space highway, if you will, is located about 36,000 kilometers above the earth’s surface. And it’s where you put a satellite such that the time it takes a satellite to go once around in its orbit is equivalent to an Earth day. So that helps you point your dish at a certain region in the sky and you’ll always get a signal. The GEO Graveyard is about 300 kilometers above GEO. And we’ve been putting things there for a long time. I can tell you that it’s bad news because things in the graveyard are actually coming back to the highway sooner than people predicted. So we actually have zombies. Yeah, zombie objects. Define zombie objects. So basically you put something up there, you think it’s dead and it can’t do any harm. And this dead thing all of a sudden breaks up and produces kids after death. And these kids now come in ... This is terrifying. I know! What? Right? Yeah. Yeah. So we see evidence of that whole thing, and it’s just not so good. So here’s the thing: If I can come up with a science that monitors this stuff, can quantify the birth and death processes of all these things, if I can develop a taxonomy to classify things and say these species of these things in this region behave this way versus that way, then we can start talking about: How do you mitigate this stuff? How do you slow down the rate of this stuff? How do you ... but you can’t get there unless you have that kind of foundational body of knowledge. Right. More specific information and ... That’s right. Wow. There’s so much to think about Moriba, my mind is blown. So last question, what do you hope to accomplish? What I want to do is I want to, A, raise awareness. I really, really want for space to be safe, secure, and sustainable long term. And my pathway to get there is by trying to make space transparent and predictable. And I can’t get to transparency and predictability without information from as many different sources as possible. And so I just want to crowdsource the living ___ out of all this information, make it automated, and make it publicly and globally accessible, so that nothing hides. I want nothing to hide in space. Wow. All right. Cool. Thank you so much for coming on Recode Decode. Thank you for having me. Thank you.

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posted about 1 month ago on re/code
Also: What Lauren Hill can teach us about sexual conflict. On the latest episode of Recode Decode with Kara Swisher, Kara passed the mic to her executive producer Erica Anderson, who recently attended the 2019 TED Conference in Vancouver, Canada. On the new podcast, you’ll hear four interviews with TED Fellows, up-and-coming innovators in science and technology who give talks about their work on the conference’s first day. Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of the first of those four interviews: In it, Erica talks to Danielle N. Lee, a behavioral biologist who has also been a vocal advocate for diversity in STEM. “I want to see other copies of me. Young women, young people, who come from the hood, who come from urban areas, who come from the South, who come from working-class families, and come from teen moms, and ... Those people have expertise and genius,” Lee said. “We don’t often think about all these different layers and flavors of genius. And you have so many nerdy black and brown kids, and they need to know it’s all right to be hood and nerdy at the same time.” You can hear all four interviews right now on Recode Decode, which you’ll find on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, Overcast, or wherever you get your podcasts. Or, just listen using the embedded audio player below. Erica Anderson: Danielle, welcome to Recode Decode! Danielle Lee: Thank you. So let’s start out. You gave a talk about the birds and the bees. It was a biology talk about mating and monogamy. But what was really interesting is, you really talked about how you can use hip-hop to frame and communicate science to a broader audience. So first, tell me a little about your talk, but what’s your big idea that you want to talk about today? I like that you called it “the birds and the bees.” I sometimes call it “the birds, the bees, and the beats.” So my big idea is using culturally relevant context to communicate science to audiences who have been traditionally overlooked by popular science outreach and media. I grew up listening to hip-hop, and I was that kid who liked watching nature shows, but I always felt like I could narrate it better by using a vernacular and lexicon that represented how I spoke and how we talked in my neighborhood. Just like, “You see that bird, he rolling up on her, because he’s like, hey mama, what’s up?” Tell me a little bit about how you got into ... you’re a scientist. Why did you decide to become a scientist? I’ve always loved animals. I was that kid who spent time outside a lot, because I got to go to work with my mom, she worked outdoors. And so I lived in a park, I was hunting four-leaf clovers, and I’d learn this ecology, I didn’t know the word at the time, about when things were happening in my neighborhood. So my little patches of nature were my parks and my schoolyard and backyard, and I was always just collecting stuff and bringing stuff home and asking a lot of questions about why animals did this and why they did that. And throughout school and college I could get no satisfactory answers. None. Until one day, one of the papers I wrote in my Animal Communications class, the professor said, “This is a great idea, you should do a project on it.” And he sketched out the experimental design, because I wasn’t really there yet, and it started as just a simple summer project. He told me, he said, “You can do this, this is research, you can do in two months.” I worked on that for two-and-a-half years. But it was the hook. That got me hooked into doing science formally. Until then, I was set on going to veterinary school, because I thought the only career available to you if you liked animals was veterinary medicine, or maybe a zoo keeper. But what I loved about it, doing science, was I no longer asked anyone any questions any more. I was equipped to answer my own questions. That’s amazing. So your big idea that you’re bringing to TED and that you want to talk about today is about ... you talked to me a little bit about, like centering marginalized voices in the conversation and this idea of inclusive science. Talk about what that means. That means making room at the table. Even if you think the table is full, you make space available to scooch over. And you bring people to the table and recognize who’s not there, who’s voices aren’t there, who’s ability to communicate and tap into audiences that are being left behind. So I come from what I call under-served audiences, like urban audiences and African American and brown, these kind of mixed-culture audiences are often overlooked and completely under-served. If you look at the average science information going out, like science magazines ... I’ve written for Scientific American. The average reader of those types of magazines is a 49-year-old college-educated white man who works in middle management. That’s the average reader of those types of magazines. Who’s being left out? We’re leaving a lot of folks out. And I can’t talk to everybody, but I know my audience, because I come from that audience. So I was like, I speak both science and I speak what’s happening ... some variations of hood, Southern vernacular in particular, and I want to at least communicate with younger versions of myself. Yeah. So what was the inspiration for this idea? What’s the inspiration for inclusive science and dedicating yourself to talking about this on such a big stages? I am trying to replace myself. Tell me, what does that mean? That means, I want to see other copies of me. Young women, young people, who come from the hood, who come from urban areas, who come from the South, who come from working-class families, and come from teen moms, and ... Those people have expertise and genius. We don’t often think about all these different layers and flavors of genius. And you have so many nerdy black and brown kids, and they need to know it’s all right to be hood and nerdy at the same time. You can talk about Three 6 Mafia and what’s happening in nature and quantum physics. They need to know that that’s normal. So what I’m trying to do is, until we get the numbers, I’m trying to create a perception of normality, that we are there and present. I love that. In Silicon Valley you often hear, the problem with inclusion is there’s a pipeline problem. And you would probably refute that. Somewhat. There is genius out there. Now the pipeline problem is real as far as the formal education part. We are losing people. Because some of these spaces are not welcoming enough, or the people who are in charge of educating them and holding these precious young people and preparing them sometimes lack patience to let people go through stuff or find their way. Or they just don’t recognize genius if it doesn’t come in a package that they’re prepared for. Interesting. Yeah. Right. That makes sense. So did you have role models, did you have people, teachers, who drew ... saw your genius, when you were coming up? A little bit. Now I was ... I think they did, yes, no doubt. But I was ... I’m also very tenacious. I refuse “no” as an answer. So much of it ... I’ve had professors who were like, “You just weren’t going away.” I’m like, “Exactly.” Yeah. That is ... that’s good, that works. I refuse to wait for ... I don’t ask for permission. Ask for forgiveness. If that. Okay. Okay, all right. I can take a tip from you. So, next question. How do you execute this ambition of centering marginalized voices and making science more inclusive? How do you execute that? How I got started was actually through social media. I used blogging, so the golden age of blogging around ‘06, ‘07, when it was really hitting. I just started blogging about these experiences, and so these were ideas that had been swirling around in my head for the longest time, and I started a blog called Southern Playalistic Evolution Music. Say it again. Southern Playalistic Evolution Music. It was a play on an OutKast song. And it was ... what did I say? Explaining evolutionary science with fat beats. Amazing. And that’s how I got started, by using social media. Probably weren’t a lot of blogs like that. There were not. This was the golden age of blogging, when you had the Google blog search and you could find other great blogs. That’s when I started blogging. Yeah. The highlight of networks. Yeah. So I was on a ... at the time it was a brand-new science network, because there was a lot of reconfiguring. That was the other play, it was on the Southern Fried Science blog network, science blog network. Very clever. So it was a play on the Southern Fried Science, and also the fact that I’m from the South. Yeah. Cool. So you started ... that was, what, 10 years ago, 12 years ago? Yeah. So you started using social media, you started telling stories, you started creating your own content. Where are you at today, like how do you execute this work today? I know you’ve spent a lot of time in Tanzania conducting research, the other part of your life spent in St. Louis teaching. So what is the execution like for this idea? So the execution for this idea is primarily me talking to my students in class. Now, some of them, my music is dated, so I get blank looks, but I’m like, “You all know these songs, I hear you all bopping to them.” But it means interacting with my students. I’ve done some ... I still get invited to do speaking engagements. So that’s really where it happens, in the speaking engagements and venued events to talk about these things. Yeah, yeah. I spent eight years in tech, I worked at Twitter and Google, and there’s a huge focus on scale. What can you scale? But the kind of work I did, which was talking about the company’s role in journalism, kind of doesn’t scale. You just have to go out and have conversations. Yeah. And that’s why I think being in academia puts me in a safe space to do that, so that I can pop in and out and do this. As I see it, that’s the place right there. Everything’s not always easily scalable. Something you said to me is, “Observation is the foundation of scientific process.” Tell me about that, because I asked you yesterday when we talked, “Why is this important?” Like, why? And you talked about that, the scientific process. So explain that. All right. So you know in school you learn a scientific method, like there’s seven, eight steps, and they’re like, there’s question, and hypothesis ... I was not paying attention but this is my own fault. Yes. But what they don’t tell you is, you can’t ask questions about the world if you haven’t been paying attention. So the real first step of science, of a scientific process, is observation. And we got ... as we say in the hood, the streets is watching. We got a lot of folks with eyes out there, who have a really good understanding of the ecologies, the ecosystems, the science, both wildlife and natural science, which I study, or even the night skies and the stars and how things are moving. There’s a lot of observers out there that we don’t recognize as authentic observers. And they have good questions in them. And just giving them the space and recognizing, when you have a question in you, how can we help you cultivate the science in you to ask that question, to test it, to validate it, and to affirm the science genius I know that already exists. And so we are missing out on a lot of good questions. So what people don’t recognize is that all the innovation we have in the world, how science works, people are pursuing questions that are personally relevant. There is no recipe. You’re not told, “You’re studying this, you’re studying that.” And so from my perspective, it’s a miracle we have amassed as much knowledge as we have, because everyone’s simply pursuing personally interesting questions. Wow. Which questions aren’t being asked because whole demographics aren’t participating in science? Wow, that’s fascinating. It’s such a good point. What questions aren’t being asked? So that’s why I want to recenter ... who’s at the center. So when we look at, what questions are marginalized communities asking themselves every day? That I just want to recenter. Let’s pick this microscope up, literally, or telescope, and let’s move it 30 degrees. Yeah. What’s so interesting about that is, that’s where innovation comes from, new ideas and the circulation of new ideas. Absolutely. So, last question before we send you back to the TED conference. What do you hope to accomplish with this work? What’s the moonshot? If we’re dreaming big ... We are, yeah. Sky’s the limit. I started blogging because I wanted a science show. At the time, there was zero women and zero people of color and definitely no one who was intersectional, who occupied these multiple identities of a woman and a person of color. So I wanted a science show, so I was documenting and putting out content of what I thought would be great little episodes. So the moonshot for me would be to do a science show. It’d be awesome to do a whole ... a hood version, if you will, of a nature show, of me explaining, “You see what’s happening now? Let me explain this.” I would watch that. All right, you’re the new ... let’s get PBS on this, or Netflix. Yes, David Attenborough, move over. What y’all need is a Southern accent. Yes! I love it. I love it, I love it. Well, I’ve learned a lot from speaking with you. So thank you for your time and I guess the one last, last question is, what’s the hip-hop song we should all be listening to to learn more about science? Wow. See, you got me with that one. It depends on what we’re talking about. So, a lot of what I’ll talk about in the evolutionary context is sexual selection. And if you want a really good first introduction to this foundation concept in sexual selection, we call it sexual conflict. And that’s because males and females of any species, they’re not always on the same page. And so it’s the conflict of getting what you want, which may not always line up with what the other sex wants. And so the perfect song that explains it perfectly, is Lauren Hill’s “That Thing.” Okay. All right. So if you want to understand sexual conflict, listen to “That Thing” by Lauren Hill. All right. We’ll roll the tape. All right. Thank you, Dr. Danielle N. Lee, former TED fellow, who spoke onstage at TED 2019. Thank you so much for joining us. Thank you. This was fun.

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posted about 1 month ago on re/code
Haskell took up the reins of New York Magazine this year after its 15-year editor Adam Moss stepped away. On the latest episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka, Peter was joined in studio by David Haskell, the recently appointed editor-in-chief of New York Magazine. Haskell minced no words about how intimidating it is to replace Adam Moss, his well-liked predecessor who restored New York Magazine to cultural relevance. “He saw a moment to leave the New York Times Magazine and then he was up high in the masthead at the Times,” Haskell said of Moss. “To leave that for New York Magazine — which was, at that moment, not a great magazine, you know? It had the bones of something amazing and an early history that was exciting, but Adam got to oversee this massive restoration project and it was like all upside for him.” Haskell told Kafka that he never actively sought out the editor-in-chief job, so being asked to take the job by the magazine’s owner, Pam Wasserstein, was a surprise. ”I was never interested in the pressure of the job that I have right now,” he said. “But I did find myself, over the course of last year, recognizing that I wanted next in my career the opportunity to lead an editorial project with the ambition and resources to be excellent. That was a sentence that I typed the morning that Pam called me into her office.” You can listen to Recode Media wherever you get your podcasts — including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, and Overcast. Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of Peter’s conversation with Jessi. Peter Kafka: This is Recode Media with Peter Kafka. That’s me, talking to you from Vox Media headquarters in New York City. My guest today is David Haskell, the brand-new editor-in-chief of New York Magazine. Welcome, David. David Haskell: Thanks. You’re looking at me askance. Did I get something wrong? No, that’s all right. Did I pronounce your name wrong? Did I get the title wrong? You got it all right. New York Magazine is correct. It just still feels a little bit weird. Because it’s brand new. Because it’s brand new. As we’re speaking, you have your first new issue as the new editor-in-chief of New York Magazine. Yep, that came out on Monday. Today’s Thursday, I think? Thursday-ish. Mayor Pete’s on the cover. Mayor Pete’s on the cover. Lot of ... How much pressure is there in issue No. 1 for you? Or do you feel like you’re just going to ease into this job? Well, I spent a lot of February and March telling people not to judge. Yeah. And that the real project for the first couple months was just me adjusting and the whole editorial operation adjusting to saying goodbye to Adam, basically, and finding our way in this new world. Let’s fill it in for listeners who don’t know who Adam is. Sure. Adam Moss is one of the bold-type big-deal editor-in-chiefs — formerly big-deal chiefs — left in the magazine business. There was Graydon Carter, there was Anna Wintour, Adam Moss. It’s kind of a triumverate. David Remnick. David Remnick. David Remnick. Jeffery Goldberg, but yes. Jeff is not in New York, so that’s a different thing. Jeffery’s a great person. But this is one of the people that you like moved to New York to work for. Right, right. And you are filling his shoes. Yeah, that’s ... Of all of the things, that is the scariest part. Yeah. Just the filling of the shoes of Adam. And I’ve known him for my entire ... I’ve worked at New York Magazine for 12 years. I knew Adam for a handful of years before that in a kind of mentor/friend relationship. I had started a magazine of my own in graduate school, a little magazine called Topic. Originally, it was at Cambridge University and then I moved it to New York City, and Adam, who was editing the New York Times Magazine at the time, I got in touch with and he just was really generous with his time and gave me a lot of advice about how to make a magazine. So, we had that kind of a relationship. Then he went to New York for a couple years. He was there and I was editing Topic magazine. We’d sort of loosely had conversations about me going there and then in 2007, that all made sense. And I went. I can’t underscore how big a deal Adam is in the magazine world. Yeah, he’s a big deal. I mean, the thing that’s interesting to hear you, to me as you talk, is that he is such a big deal in all of those ways and then at the same time as a person, incredibly approachable, friendly, warm, understated, modest. He doesn’t play a character. How many people did he have working for him to read his emails? I heard Graydon Carter had four different assistants that would print out his emails and read them. Adam had these two ... [email protected] was sort of the public email and his assistant read that. And then, he had a shorter email for internal, all of us to reach him more directly. And he read his own email? Of course, yeah. Down to earth, great. He was a very hands-on editor, not the kind of editor who sort of set the stage and then did a lot of public events. He was the opposite of that. We can name names, if you want. So, there was a public announcement that he was leaving. Yeah. And then there was a gap in between that and you being anointed. Behind the scenes, was that already a done deal? How did that work? Yeah, yeah. I found out soon after Thanksgiving. He pulls you in ... No, not him. Pam. Pam Wasserstein. Who’s the CEO of the company. Owner. And with her family, the owner of it. So it was really a decision that Pam had already made after some time of sitting with the news that Adam had told her that he didn’t want to stick around for another re-up of his contract. So they had already been having months of conversations of what that meant and she landed on a plan and looped me into that plan. She brings you in and says, “Sit down. I have news.” Yeah, it was kind of a ... it was a classic scenario where I completely didn’t expect it, it was an informal ... Because Adam had not told you he was leaving. No. Yeah. And it wasn’t like there was a meeting that showed up on my calendar, an important conversation that I was about to have with Pam. It was literally a, “Hey, can you come by?” She had a few things to talk to me about that were completely tiny and then she said ... “Oh, by the way.” Yeah, oh, by the way, some sad news, but good news, is that Adam is leaving and I’d like you to take his job. So anyway, that was in December, right after Thanksgiving. She says to you, “You are going to replace Adam Moss. He’s leaving, you’re going to replace him.” Do you go, “Great”? Do you go, “Holy shit”? My face flushed and I was so taken aback, I really, truly was. It was not what I was imagining was going on. And I mean, I was just so appreciative. Inside, incredibly nervous already, but I think all that fumbled out of me was just ... thank you, I guess, and I’m so excited? Something along those lines. So no introspection, no, “I got to think about whether I could do this or whether I want to do this”? No. I mean, I had weirdly, I had just filled out, you know, maybe you have this here too, but we instituted a couple years ago this annual review, annual summary HR process. And part of that is you have to write your own assessment and answer a handful of questions. And one of the questions was a sort of long term, or what is your view of the future, something like that. And I had been at this place for 12 years and I have been always sure that I didn’t want Adam’s job because of the pressure of inheriting something that’s performing so well. It seems like it’s the kind of thing that tears up your stomach lining, where you’re filling his shoes, the magazine is doing really well and ... And the thing that I so envy about Adams’s career is that he saw a moment to leave the New York Times Magazine and then he was up high in the masthead at the Times, to leave that for New York Magazine, which was, at that moment, not a great magazine, you know? It had the bones of something amazing and an early history that was exciting, but Adam got to oversee this massive restoration project and it was like all upside for him. Because the history of New York was city magazine, back when city magazines didn’t get respect, and then it was the new journalism … Well, the first 10 years of New York Magazine were amazing. It’s Tom Wolfe. Exactly, Clay Felker built it with Milton Glaser and a handful of other people, Tom Wolfe, Nora Ephron, Gloria Steinem, Jimmy Breslin, just an incredible collection of journalists. It is a local magazine, but it’s definitely a national magazine. Yeah, it was writing about Watergate. It was writing about Hollywood. It had a New Yorker’s point of view of the world and then very specific, useful, no-bullshit service about how to actually get around the city. That was sort of its thing. It invented what city magazines could be. And then, the “city magazine” kind of became this thing and it often wasn’t that ambitious. It was more service, less impact. Yeah. But you know, the simplest way of understanding what Adam did was look to those first years, the Clay Felker era, and find in that history a template for what the print magazine could be and also what a digital magazine could be, which we could talk about more. But just to finish my story, I was never interested in the pressure of the job that I have right now. That job, yeah, yeah. But I did find myself, over the course of last year, recognizing that I wanted next in my career the opportunity to lead an editorial project with the ambition and resources to be excellent. That was a sentence that I typed the morning that Pam called me into her office. And so, somehow internally, I had gotten myself to the place and I really, truly did not think it was going to be here because I didn’t think Adam was going to be leaving and so it just felt like I should let Adam and Pam know that kind of long term, I’d like to run something. And anyway, then she called me into her office and so that was, sorry, that was December and then we were all very nervous about how to break this news. And it was Adam’s very smart, although at the time I thought maybe not correct idea that the best way to do it would be to split the news cycles, create two news cycles, basically. “Someone’s leaving, someone’s coming.” Two different stories. Someone’s leaving, yeah. Exactly. And in that gap, people wouldn’t jump out the window. That was the thing I was worried about, that Adam is so beloved in the office and truly has created a magazine and its digital incarnation in his image and what would the staff think to know that he’s going and not to know who’s coming. So anyway, we got through those 24 hours, and there was an enormous and glowing article in the Times about his career and all that stuff. And then, people were interested in my news too, so that didn’t get buried either. So it was ... Well played. And then Adam, his last day was going to be and was March 31st. And this was mid-January now that the news came out. So then we had a like, 10-week transition, which was, every week very different from the week before. Is he pulling you aside and saying, “Listen, I mean, we never talked about this, but this is actually the secret to doing the whole thing.” We had a handful of conversations of like, “All right, big picture. How does this place work? And big picture, if you look at the staff ...” Because again, you’re there, you’re obviously high up the masthead now and thought ... so you had access to a lot of this, you knew how a lot of the mechanism worked. The last iteration of my job at the magazine was in a position of some leadership and was pretty strategic. So I was involved in a lot of conversation about where this place was going. I wasn’t as clued into the mechanics and the budgeting about how it currently works. So that was a big education. You are, by the way, how old? I just turned 40. That’s the right age to start running a magazine. Yeah, so I started it when I was 39 ... You already aged. And then April 10th, I turned 40. So there had been a series of high-profile magazine leaders leaving in the last couple years. Yeah. Sometimes on the business side, sometimes on the editing side. And very often, the through line is — whether it’s stated or not — is this person is leaving because the magazine business is contracting and there isn’t the budget for them to get paid the gazillion dollars they’re getting paid, or there’s cutting and they don’t want to do the cutting or they just need a cheaper person. Graydon Carter just did a thing for Hollywood Reporter where he more or less says, this whole thing’s shrinking and its less fun for me. Radhika Jones has that job, and part of her job is to run that thing at a smaller budget but still have it be a big deal. Right. How much of that is ... It’s not really applicable to this situation. Yeah, yeah, so how different or applicable is it? Pretty different. I mean, it was ... it’s a pretty exciting time to be the editor-in-chief of the magazine. I feel that and Adam also feels that. So he wasn’t sort of, it wasn’t a kind of ... I mean, you should ask him, but I believe him when he says in public and in private that it was truly a sense of personal ... exhaustion’s not the right word, but ready for something else. It’s kind of surprising to me, it has been, that so many magazine editors are still interested in being in the job for as long as they sometimes are. It doesn’t necessarily reflect … Because in the old days, it was was a great gig, right? Yeah, I mean, I guess that’s true. Town cars and expense budgets and ... But just, Adam’s incredibly, has an incredibly creative, fertile mind. And the fun thing about this job is you’re constantly reinventing things. You’re not only constantly looking around the world and saying, “Oh, that’s a story we want to do, this is actually changing in the world and let’s notice it,” but you’re the magazine itself and the digital newsroom and the brands that we’re creating, the verticals, all of that … going to film, television, podcast, events, there’s so much to create all the time. So that is really fun and makes the job exciting. But it doesn’t surprise me that after 15 years of that Adam was like, “Oh, okay. Let’s sort of see what else I’ve got in me.” And specifically, the management drain was wearing on him. It’s a lot of work. So anyway, that’s why he left. And it really didn’t have anything to do with the business. But it was interesting when we were trying to plot out how to manage this announcement, there aren’t that many playbooks that we could find of a successful transition in magazine editorship, especially recently. It’s all been kind of rocky. And I’m just so grateful that he saw as part of his legacy transitioning well, you know? That was part ... he has set me up in every possible way to succeed and that’s also super stressful because I might not, but it’s such a different situation compared to, say, Graydon and Radhika. Normally, this would be the part of the conversation where I’d say, “Hey, magazines, what’s up with magazines? What’s the point of a magazine, isn’t this all digital?” But New York in particular has done a very good job of adapting in a lot of ways to a digital world, right? Yeah, I think so. You’ve been publishing aggressively online for a long time and I think have done a really good job of providing useful information, big important stories, and also service-y stuff, so you’re getting both eyeballs and attention, positive attention. How much of that was your hand? Not that much. I think one way to look at the last 15 years of Adam’s tenure and also the Wasserstein family’s ownership of this place is that we as a magazine figured out how to be a digital publication and to bring the qualities of magazine-ness to the digital world and our magazine in particular. That was like the big accomplishment. And I had very little to do with it. Most of my time was editing big features. Doing actual magazine editing? Yeah. Yeah. Not that much time spent on decoration of ... our verticals, with the exception of The Strategist, which is ... Yeah, explain what The Strategist is. Sure. I think a lot of people in the magazine business know what it is, but others might not. Well yeah, so really quickly, one thing that we as a company realized early on is that New York Magazine is a general interest magazine. Right? It’s a very particular point of view and voice. It’s sort of known for its stylish journalism and all that stuff, but it’s general interest. Whereas on the internet, what really performs, what really works is deep obsessional reporting and commentary and attitude around specific topics. ”I want this thing. I equate this brand with this thing, and that’s why I value it.” Yeah, or like Vulture, which is one of the first verticals that we created, New York Magazine has always covered culture in a very obsessive way. Rather than just sort of add a lot of culture covers to what New York Magazine was digitally, we created this thing out of nowhere called Vulture. It just was this repository of, it’s motto for a long time has been, “Mind of a critic, heart of a fan.” And some people are consuming Vulture and don’t know it’s a New York Magazine product. Exactly, right. The big discovery was that we could create these verticals of excitement and enthusiasm attitude, blah, blah, blah, and that they could completely live on their own, independently. You really truly could be — and there are millions of them out there — huge Vulture fans, and not really have that much of a relationship to the rest of what we’re about, same with The Cut. There’s five of them, Vulture, The Cut, Intelligencer, The Strategist, and Grove Street. The Strategist is the newest one? Yeah, The Strategist is named after a section of the magazine that gives you service journalism, tells you how to do life more. Right, and it’s fashion-centric, right? Well, no. It’s not fashion-centric, but it’s practical centric. It’s main job in the magazine originally was your strategies for getting through New York City. It’s where our food coverage is, “This is the restaurant to go to,” but also, “This thing is trending right now, and this is literally the best route.” We just did this thing on everything guide to umbrellas, and it included, “What is the right way to walk through certain areas of the city to get rained on the least?” And it’s very specifically ... That’s good. Does it have an umbrella etiquette, because people are ... It has an umbrella etiquette. Good. Exactly, and it also has “these are the best umbrellas.” So there was an aspect of what we were doing that was always a lot of really rigorous testing and research and filtering through our point of view to say, “This is worth buying.” What we decided to do a few years ago is create a digital expression of The Strategist that was all about internet shopping, and saying that, “The internet, like New York City, is both overwhelmingly exciting and just overwhelming.” ”We recommend you buy this stuff.” That’s what we do. So we say in a million different ways, and we have different forms for doing it, we look at what’s out there in the world and say, “This is worth buying.” It’s a different business model for us than the rest of our ... Because it’s e-commerce. Because it’s e-com affiliate-revenue based. So you’re sending people to Amazon, other retailers, getting a cut of that. You guys were early on that. Everyone’s very interested in it now. New York Times bought Wirecutter. I think they in their filings they said that’s now doing $50 million a year for them. BuzzFeed is pushing it. We’re doing it at Vox Media ... It’s still growing for you guys, I’m assuming. Yeah, it’s growing very quickly. It’s a great business story for us. It’s really exciting editorially, because it’s ... business incentives are so in line with editorial excellence. You have to be trustworthy in order to convince people to click on a link. Then if you do, Amazon or Nordstrom or whoever’s gonna sell that product eventually, is really appreciative of our referral, because they know that we were for something we’d genuinely believe it and the people who are coming are “qualified.” Right? They pay us for that, and they have no influence over what we choose. From the outside, it seems like the obvious problem here is you have a race to the bottom where you have Amazon dominating this business, and then Walmart and a few other retailers. They know that all the publishers really want this business, and they can afford to give them less and less on each cut. I was just talking to someone who’s doing this business and they were providing the counterargument. Did you want to explain why this is ... Yeah, I’ll give you a counterargument. Why this is sustainable? We’re in a stronger position than the Amazons of the world are. Really, in a sense that ... Very few people can say that with a straight face. Well, they’ve got a great business. I’m not saying we’re a better business, but in this relationship ... In a world without storefronts, it’s really hard for e-commerce retailers to get people to discover products. That is a dilemma that they’ve got. So even though Amazon has everything ... It has everything, but how are they gonna get you to some of the stuff? In my opinion, it’s a pretty sustainable business if it’s not ... You don’t wanna have all your eggs in the Amazon basket, and we don’t. We work with pretty much anybody who sells anything online, but I just see that ecosystem needing referral sources. Right. As big as Amazon is, they need you guys to funnel shoppers to them to buy a specific thing. So they’ll pay a small ... a few pennies. It’s just cutting into a tiny bit of their margin and saying, “Sure, take some of it for getting these people here.” I think that’ll keep going. I really do. From our point of view, where we’re more concerned is just making sure that we have, on the business side, relationships with a lot of different places, so that if Amazon is changing its plans ... Right, and they’ve already gone, they’ve already said once, “We’re cutting the fees for this in general.” Well, they did to their non-preferred relationships, but if you are ... If you’re a generic link provider… Yeah, if you are a kind of blogger, you’re not as valuable to them, but for us, for the Times, I’m sure that a handful of other places, that relationship is getting stronger over time. Yeah, someone told me that they’re actually going to expand in specific territories around the world, because Amazon is saying, “We would like it if you went to country X and generated more leads for us.” Yeah. Which sounds both creepy and, “Our office supports journalism. We’ll take it.” Yup. That’s what I was saying. Let’s have the “whither magazines?” talk, though. So you guys make great stuff online, and then there’s stuff that’s also online but exists in print. How do you demarcate, “Okay, this is an online-only thing,” “This deserves to be in the magazine,” or “This should be in the magazine”? Yeah. Because as a reader, I don’t care. Right? Yeah, right. I mean, everything that we publish shows up digitally, so it’s really just a question of, “What also is in the print product?” Historically, the way that the editorial operation was built, the print magazine was really the engine for a lot of journalism. One thing I know I want to do is shift that a bit, so it’s more a showcase for it, but the engine exists outside of the print magazine. Over the years, our verticals, digital verticals in general, have gotten more ambitious, more layered in their approach, borrowed a lot of the tools of magazine-making, becoming real magazines. When you look at “enterprise journalism,” which was like traditionally the very expensive journalism that was happening in the magazine, and then that would show up on Vulture and be the big Vulture story. Vulture itself is making enterprise journalism, and it should be doing more of that. We’ll get to this place where they are somewhat now, it’s not gonna be completely there, but we will push more towards a place where the magazine is just, “Every two weeks, how can we package it all together and just something that has a lot of magazine drama?” Magazines are such a theatrical experience. Explain that, because I think — again, I moved to New York 20-plus years ago because I loved magazines and I wanted to work at them. I thought they were great products. For a bunch of reasons, I think, well, economic reasons and just culturally, they become devalued, and it’s hard to sort of explain how big a deal they were, again, even 20 years ago. Again, as a reader, and I read voraciously, it’s all in my phone. It kind of all looks the same. You did your Biden story, “Joe Biden creeped me out,” kind of story, and that’s online, and I can’t imagine ... Didn’t run in the magazine. Didn’t run in the magazine, and again, it said, I think everyone said, “This is a New York Magazine piece.” And The Cut. And The Cut, right? Right. But as a reader, it’s all the same stuff. I value it, but I don’t value it. The idea of this sort of ... curated, very specific thing is kind of lost, I think. Even to someone like me who’d love this magazine. Yeah, I think that that’s true. That’s the world we’re in that so much news comes at you in a kind of uniform way. It’s just the world we live in. And I’m not saying that we’re gonna live in a different world, but there is something ... What is the drama of a magazine then? Well, starting with the cover, what you’ve got is this opportunity to shake people and say, like what we just did with this Mayor Pete cover, “How about Pete?” That was the cover line. It took most of my 24 hours of Thursday into Friday just focusing on that and the deck, the language going into the cover line, to figure out what is it that we’re actually going to say? It was that important to me to get that language right, because it’s a big jolt of a statement. We took a kind of weird ... a live photograph that was both real and slightly cartoonish. From the very beginning, a magazine cover can announce something and make something big happen in the world. Right, and there’s iconic Esquire magazine covers, bunch of famous magazine covers. Even, again, fairly recently, if you were a magazine editor, you spent a lot of time thinking about how this would work on a newsstand. “What would this sell? I mean, the newsstand of today is Instagram. I assume that you don’t care. Yeah. It’s not that I’m ... New York Magazine’s never really had a newsstand business, so actually that is special to us. ”We’re gonna make this print thing that we have been ...” We’ve always been more based on subscribers. So the value of a cover for us isn’t so much like, “You’re walking in an airport and you see it.” I mean, that’s great, fine, but it’s a marginal part of the business now. It always kind of has been, but it’s really kind of just like, “Oh yeah, this is why I subscribed, because wow, that’s exciting, or weird, or provocative.” Someone’s already giving you money, you feel better. Then you also expect this is gonna travel around the internet, have a certain brand for you. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. That’s just one part of my magazine experience, but I’ve always appreciated a kind of curated intentional ... dramatic walk-through of my news. I mean, I find that when I go to a museum, I want to know whether to turn right or left, and I want somebody to have guided me through what they think is the right way to see something. So that’s sort of a bias of mine, but I think it’s what’s exciting to a lot of people about magazines, is that you can really go on a journey in a kind of regularized weekly, bi-weekly, monthly cadence. It’s kind of this form, right, where there’s the front of the book and the shorter, snappier pieces? Then, once you get into that kind of how it all works, that’s where I’m like, “Eh.” You don’t care. Yeah, or like, “Let’s shake it up.” None of those rules are important. Really, the only thing that I would argue for in terms of a print magazine is just that it forces you as editors to spend a lot of attention to making a full experience, and it gives a reader a chance to break from the world and have an experience. That’s the argument for print. The core thing of what New York Magazine is translates beyond print because it’s about voice, attitude, and approach to journalism. So the same reason, like when people who still make albums care about track listings and the order, even though most of the stuff is gonna get disaggregated and the single’s gonna go out or someone’s gonna stream it. They still think it’s important to like, “This track starts this side.” Well, there’s no sides anymore, but still, “We’re gonna go in order. We’re gonna tell you a story.” I think, whatever you think of what Apple News+ is, the fact that they, Apple, a tech company’s in magazines matter in the world. I think what they’re saying is, not just that flip-through cadence are the digital equivalent of that, but that there is a type of content out in the world, a type of journalism that isn’t newspapers, and it isn’t nonfiction books, and it isn’t documentaries on Netflix. It’s this other thing where it is a relationship that you can have with a brand of journalism that shares a point of view and an attitude with you, and is your sort of partner in understanding the modern world. Let’s talk about Apple News+. Sure. You guys were prominently featured in it. A lot of Rebecca Traister in that promo reel. She looked great. A lot of the magazine publishers are in it in part because they were in a contractual... They had this thing called Texture and they sold it to Apple, and they’re bought, but you guys have opted into this. No, we were part of Texture too. You were part of Texture to begin with. Okay. Yeah. But you weren’t owners of Texture? We weren’t, but we had already had a relationship with ... There were people, not many of them, who were reading us on Texture already. You didn’t need to be part of Apple News+, right? I’m not sure, but we definitely decided it was worth jumping on. So, I’ve talked about this a couple times. I think it is a pretty cool experience if you like magazines but don’t particularly care about any one magazine. Yeah. It’s kind of what Apple is saying sort of like, but not onstage. It’s sort of like if you, same thing for the Wall Street Journal. If you love the Wall Street Journal, it’s not a replacement. Just sort of interested in “premium content” but across a wide variety of stuff, and you’re not too loyal to any one thing. So the upside for you guys is there’s money potentially, and then theoretically you’re exposing your stuff to someone who maybe doesn’t read your stuff all the time. That’s all good. The flip side is, there’s a real disincentive, I think, to subscribe to New York Magazine if you’re getting Texture, because it’s already in there. You guys are getting a very, very small slice of $10. The one thing for us, because we put everything on the internet, you could get it all on Apple News regular. We’re already giving you all of our content there. Now Apple is coming to us and saying, “Can we put it in this premium locked category, and we’ll actually be paying you for some of the readers of it?” So that’s sort of just an up. So, “We’re already giving it away, and now we’re getting paid for it.” But the other thing that happened this year, probably most significant, second-most significant thing after Adam leaving, is that we launched a digital subscription business back in December. Now, we are asking our readers to pay $5 a month or $50 a year. If you look at what we’re about from a macro business thing, Pam Wasserstein, our CEO, she’s been here for three years. She made this big decision early on that even if we thought — and we do think we can grow our advertising business — the overall business is better if it’s diversified. That there are these two other business models out there that are best for us. One is the affiliate revenue, with The Strategist, and one is the digital subscription business. The cool thing about being an editor is that both of those are basically rewarding good journalism. Right? It’s just, as an editor, I need to try to get some percentage of the 50 million people who are reading us each month to decide that we’re that good that they want to pay for it. So okay, great. Because you get this, and you get five free articles or whatever it is, and they pay up. Yeah, we have this thing, “dynamic paywall,” which means you never really know what the tally is, but at some point if you’re ... You get a tap on the shoulder. You get a tap on the shoulder, and then you get a full wall and it says, “You’re up for the month. Please subscribe.” When you go to Apple News, then again, which is gonna allow me to pay, I’m paying for it now, $10 and then I can read you and the New Yorker and everything else in there. In theory, when I get to your tap on the shoulder and the paywall goes up online, I go, “Oh, I don’t wanna pay you directly. I’m already paying Apple.” “I’m just gonna go to Apple News.” Yeah. That might happen with enough frequency that the whole thing doesn’t work for us. The answer is, you don’t know. Yeah, of course we don’t know. We’ll see. The sense is that there [are] two different use cases, really. That there are people who are gonna get to us from Apple News, and they’re really not. There’s a huge number of them, first of all, and for the most part they’re not the people who are already going to our site all the time. That’s a billion iPhone owners that are gonna flip through it periodically. And I know folks at the New Yorker have made a separate argument. If you really love us the best experience of us is gonna be on our site. If you’re kinda ... The New Yorker’s online editor said, “please, please don’t go through it, Texture, through Apple News+, please subscribe to us directly.” Yeah, and I would say a similar thing. If you really like us, you’re gonna get the best experience from us. And that’s on us to make sure, from a product point of view, we’re giving you the best version of us. But if you’re just casually interested in content, I think Apple News is probably worth it. I mean, it’s definitely a deal. So this is, even though you guys are prominently featured and you’re a big part of this, you view this as an experiment, wait and let’s see how this goes. Yeah, I think we as a company, I mean, I don’t know what the deal is and how much flexibility we have, but I know that just strategically, jury’s out on how much it will cannibalize the digital subscription. And you have the capacity to get out at some point, I think. I don’t know, honestly. I think you do. I think we do. I think you do. Yeah, I’m sure. And all of this business conversation, right, in newspapers, in the old model, the editors were proudly ignorant of how any part of the business worked, they wanted no part of it. In magazines, I think there’s always been more of a blend, right? ‘Cause you’re selling the product, you’re well aware of it, at least with the magazine experiences I’ve had. Even if there’s a clear wall between edit and advertising, you guys were talking all the time. Yeah, and I’ve also felt, always, like a kind of entrepreneurial editor, so I’m not afraid of any of the business conversations. I’m very protective and careful of our journalism and brand, so I’d rather be in the room and say, “Let’s double down on The Strategist. It was really important to me that we grow that business. It felt completely in line with who we are as a company and would facilitate a lot of really great journalism that was on brand, so I was like, “If this is the business that’s gonna work, let’s go deep into it.” But then, we’ve had other conversations about X, Y, and Z ways of making money that would obviously be intentioned with editorial quality, and that’s super important to me to be in that room and say, “Nope, not that one, let’s not do that,” and make that case. And it’s not just being defensive, right, it’s like, “I think we should pursue this, but let’s do this, this is a good revenue opportunity for us.” Exactly. Exactly. I really think, and it’s very fun to be Pam’s partner in this because she is very interested in ways of growing the business that is smart. But she’s also very discerning and has really great taste, so that is a nice combo to have in a boss. By the way, last fall there was a story saying you guys had hired a banker, and you were exploring alternatives, I haven’t heard anything about that, it sounds like it didn’t go anywhere. Yeah. The magazine’s owned by the Wasserstein family, they’re a pretty private family and you should talk to them about what happened. But I will say that at the town hall meeting, our big company-wide meeting in February, Pam was asked by one of our employees, “Are we still for sale?” and she said no. And in all of my conversations with her, too, that is a true answer. Good, we got it out of the way! Good. I know. Just one more business question for you, what percent of the revenue comes from strategists and e-commerce and that stuff right now? That, I don’t know, I know that a couple years ago the whole company had about 85 percent of its business was advertising. And this year we’re on track, Pam was telling me the other day, to be around 60 percent, even though the advertising business is growing. Okay, so that’s not just the ad business declining, okay. Right, so the ad numbers are growing in absolute terms but going down pretty significantly in overall ... And this is the new normal for publishers, they want that. Yeah. I mean, at least for Pam. And for this company, I think it’s like, you find a few different business models that all, in different ways, make money on high-quality content. And so, anyway, that number I can give you. This year, we’re on pace for advertising to be at around 60. But I can’t break it out between the others, I don’t know what they’re ... All right, I’ll get the pie chart from you later, we’ll publish it. Let’s talk about politics, and then how you guys think about your role in covering politics in general and 2020. Again, clearly, like we talked about, you guys are New York Magazine, but you are a national publication. Everyone wants to cover Trump, everyone’s gonna cover the Democratic race. How do you stand out in that crowd? That’s a conversation we’re having all the time, and it changes all the time. Looking back on the last few presidential cycles, it’s kind of been interesting to study what our lane has been. John Heilemann was writing for us for the 2008 race and the drama, that was a premium cable show. The primary between Clinton and Obama, the race itself, so narratively-focused. 2012, and also ‘16, by that point, we had a kind of murderer’s row of commentary with Frank Rich, John Chait, Rebecca Traister, Andrew Sullivan, giving really super-smart analysis of what’s going on. In addition to obviously a lot of strong reporting, also. So I’m, just in a sort of theoretical in-my-head way, that you try to plan things, and then in reality, things just happen, trying to think of how we can really meet the 2020 race with our greatest assets. But if you look at the piece that Olivia Nuzzi wrote about Pete, it was actually a pretty quick turnaround piece, we decided just a few weeks ago that our internal Pete obsession was actually maybe worth covering. And so we were like, “All right, let’s do this, the classic New York Magazine piece. She’s gonna fly to New Hampshire, she’s gonna watch him, she’s gonna have a lot of conversations with him, but she’s not just gonna write a piece that transcribes her conversations, she’s gonna download all of the wisdom that she’s picked up of what’s going on, she’s gonna be a super-smart observer, what’s happening.” Meanwhile, we’re getting a photographer out to New Hampshire to try to document what these surreal early primary meetings are there. And then we’re also on the phone with the campaign to convince them to give us a portrait session, because if that could come through, that really felt to me like a cover. And then we realized that he’s actually going to be announcing right when the piece is coming out, and that’s just ... Just serendipity. Yeah, it’s luck that you sort of fall into and sort of make for yourself kind of thing. It’s funny, all those elements are still how big magazine covers are made, which is, there’s a combination of, “we have a gut feeling of this is an interesting person, and we’re trying to catch that wave, and we wanna be out a little bit early, and then by putting him on the cover, we’re now part of the wave, it’s self-perpetuating,” and then also, like you mentioned, needing a photo. Again, I think for a lot of folks, especially folks who consume stuff online, you don’t think about photography, and if you’re us at Vox Media, generally you go to the Getty archive and there’s a photo. Yeah, photography’s really important for me. But for you guys, the photo is a big deal, it’s very important, and if you don’t get the photo, it makes it less compelling for you, it makes it less likely to put on the cover. Yeah, or it’s a bigger cover challenge. I think by the end of that cycle, of closing that issue, I was sure that that should be the cover, with or without the picture, and so, if it wasn’t going to be that, then that’s really fun, because we as a magazine don’t have the kind of cover constraints that ... we don’t need to make a commercial cover. We can really do anything we want on it. So, it could be in all type, just a bunch of words, it could be ... we have this weird picture of — or not weird, but a kind of cute picture of the back of a teenager’s head where he had shaved, “Pete for President 2020” on it. And I was like, “all right, well, that could be a cover.” That’s your backup. Yeah. Anything could be, but you just need it to solve the cover problem. And thinking about politics going forward, I really do want to apply our journalistic talent to each of the candidates while there is still an opportunity to be observing a lot of them, but at the same time, write about the systems of how a race works, the money behind it. New York Magazine’s always been particularly strong on the media of politics, and the money of politics, and the behind-the-scenes, how something is constructed. So there’s a lot of that that I wanna be able to do. And then, also, we all feel like, you never want to feel stuck, hostage to the horse race coverage. So where can we be surprising, and who is the senator who’s not on anyone’s radar right now but an incredible story right now? I definitely want to be assigning into the heat of the 2020 stuff, not just the obvious 2020 pieces. I’ve been asking people this for a couple of years, there was all this soul-searching post-Trump on the media side. What did we get wrong, how do we fix it? I feel like maybe you guys were exempt from that conversation because you weren’t supposed to be providing a national take, but maybe I’m wrong. Well, I don’t know. We were definitely a part of that conversation. I mean, obviously you had Rebecca writing about Clinton, and she was deep into that, and you guys really focused a ton of resources on that. The cover of the magazine that was out on election day on 2016, it was a piece by Barbara Kruger where you had a big image of Donald Trump and it said “loser” on it. And he wasn’t. But he is. I’m not afraid of anticipating the future. I think we’re actually really good at that. A lot of our political commentary is, “Okay, what does this mean next?” We’re talking right now, as the Mueller report, I assume, is being released any minute now, and the job of ... It’s already out. It’s out, okay. So, the job of our political writers and editors is not just to say what’s in it, but how is that changing the near future. And so we’re gonna get that wrong sometimes. And there’s a lot of conversations we’re having internally about responsibility and how much has actually changed in the world of political media? What did the 2016 election permanently do? In what way did it permanently change how you can responsibly cover politics? We are deep in those conversations. Trump famously is a New York-centric media person, likes the Post, the Times, are you guys in his media diary? I mean, he “likes,” quote-unquote. He’s complained about us. But consumes it. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So he’s aware. He’s aware. That’s good. Or is it good? Of course it’s good. You wanna be ... You want the president of the United States reading your copy. Yeah. You wanna be in the conversation. Last question is about whiskey. You have a side hustle. You’re running New York Magazine and you have your own distillery. How did that happen? It’s a business I started with a friend of mine from college. And he, at the time, was working at an architecture firm, I was working at a magazine, the economy had just crashed, both of those jobs seemed pretty precarious, and we had this little hobby going on where he had brought some moonshine back from eastern Kentucky, where he’s from, we bought a still on the internet. We’re making — illegally, because you aren’t allowed to distill anything without a license in this country — but we were making some whiskey. Realized we could be the first in New York City to get a license if we moved quickly, and therefore always “the oldest distillery in New York City,” and that seemed like a great business proposition. Oldest distillery in New York City means incorporated in 2009. Yeah, actually, our birthday was last week, so we’re officially nine years old. What’s the name of the brand? Kings County Distillery. And if you go to a certain kind of liquor store, meaning the ones I go to all the time, your stuff is all over the place. Yeah, that’s good to hear. The little bottles of moonshine. The big news in our business is that we’re about to finally release to the world a 750-milliliter bottle, which is the average size bottle of liquor. But we started so small, we were not only first in New York City, we were the smallest distillery in America by a factor of 20 or something, when we started. Where do you actually make the stuff? In the Brooklyn Navy Yard. But now, we’ve amassed enough juice that we can put out a regular-size bottle, and that’ll be a big deal for us. Are you gonna branch out of whiskey, or you go whiskey, whiskey, whiskey? Well, the big bet was to be just a whiskey distillery. We bought stills that were only good for whiskey and not gin and vodka and other stuff, which was a departure from how a lot of other micro-distilleries were building their businesses. So now that we’ve got ... all we really do is whiskey, but we’ve played with brandy, and we’ve played with our version of tequila. You didn’t make a gin, right? I had some kind of Brooklyn-y gin for a sort of industry setting. No. Yeah, so there’s around, I think, 30 distilleries in New York City now. The first. But we’re always the oldest. And if you’re ever in ... On your Twitter account, there’s one post from you, it’s an image of I guess of you in a cornfield. Yeah, I don’t know how to be on Twitter. I mean, I use it all day long as a way of reading the news, but in terms of expressing myself on Twitter, it’s never made sense for me. You can’t fuck up that way, right? I used to promote stories I worked on, but I just couldn’t find a language that felt true to myself, so I deleted all of those before the news came out, because I was like, “eh, that’s just kind of awkward.” Ah, okay, so you have used it in the past. I’ve played with it. You’ve made more than one post. And I’ve made more than one, but none of them made any sense to me. Okay, so we can buy your liquor anywhere in New York City and beyond? Yeah, we’re in most states and a handful of other countries. We can buy your magazine at a newsstand, via Apple News, online ... people can figure it out. Or just nymag.com. You can pay an extra 20 bucks a year beyond your 50 and get it in your mailbox, which is also pretty cool. We subscribed, post-election. Yeah, all right, good. I don’t know if it renewed. I gotta check. I’ll look at it. David, this is great. Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. I’ll let you get back to reading the Mueller report. Can’t wait.

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posted about 1 month ago on re/code
Amazon is sending a warning shot to competitors. Amazon has set out to cut its two-day free shipping offer to one. It’s a warning shot to competitors — and yet another example of the edge it has in setting the bar in e-commerce. In a Thursday call discussing its first-quarter earnings, the Seattle-based company said it is in the process of overhauling its Amazon Prime delivery service to offer free one-day shipping instead of two. Amazon CFO Brian Olsavsky said Amazon would spend $800 million in the second quarter to make the necessary improvements to its fulfillment and logistics network to make one-day delivery the rule, not the exception, for members of Amazon Prime. “It’s a significant step, and it will take us time to achieve,” Olsavsky said. This is a big deal for Amazon, which a year ago hiked the priced of its Prime membership from $99 to $119 and has spent more than 20 years laying the logistics for its e-commerce business to position itself ahead of its competitors. It has more than 100 million Prime members worldwide. Shares of Target and Walmart declined on Friday, a sign that Amazon’s one-day shipping threat is to be taken seriously. “I see it as a major and potentially groundbreaking initiative to go from two-day free shipping to one day,” Tuna Amobi, an analyst at CFRA Research, told Recode. “It’s a massive endeavor that is going to take a lot of details to pull off.” In other words, one-day shipping for Prime isn’t going to be the norm for all members by June. Amazon will initially focus much of the one-day initiative on the United States, but the plan is for it to eventually go global. (Some markets, including the United Kingdom, Germany, and France, already have free one-day shipping on some items.) In the US, Amazon has been offering accelerated shipping for a while, depending on the product — one-day, same-day, and even two-hour delivery. “We have significantly expanded our selection and eligible zip codes in the past month and we aren’t done,” Amazon spokesperson Julie Law said in an email. “We’ve taken a significant step, and it will take some time to achieve. We want to ensure a good delivery experience for customers as we evolve this offer.” Amazon has the privilege of setting some of the rules in e-commerce Amazon has positioned itself as the standard-setter for shipping in online shopping and has spent years and billions of dollars refining its supply chain. As Gaby Del Valle at Vox notes, beyond Amazon Prime, which launched in 2005, Amazon has also introduced other delivery streams, including Amazon lockers for customers to pick up their packages and Amazon Day, where customers pick a single day of the week for all their orders to arrive. Amazon will be able to build on the massive infrastructure it already has in place to get one-day delivery up and running. The service will also depend somewhat on the shippers FedEx, UPS, and USPS, though Amazon has been expanding its own delivery capabilities as well. As Bloomberg notes, Amazon’s announcement will likely put “fresh strain” on shippers to achieve the requisite pace, and Amazon is a big customer for them. “To me, this whole thing is Amazon flexing their ability to do this,” Juozas Kaziukėnas, the founder and CEO of the business intelligence firm Marketplace Pulse, told Del Valle. “This renders Prime shipping much more valuable, because even if some orders are delayed, the perception of one-day shipping is very valuable, because no one else can do it. That’s what’s going to keep people subscribing to Prime.” She said that for some competitors, trying to match Amazon will be “borderline impossible.” Part of the reason Amazon is able to even attempt this one-day Prime rollout is that it’s had so much runway and money to develop its e-commerce business that its competitors do not. Much of this is due to Amazon Web Services, the company’s cloud services solution, which has represented the bulk of its profits for years. Plus, a long leash from Wall Street has allowed it to slash retail prices and spend on building out its logistics network. I outlined part of the story at Vox last year on some of the antitrust concerns surrounding Amazon: For years, the company — which Bezos founded in 1994 — has had an ethos of prioritizing growth over profits. After it went public in 1997, Wall Street largely accepted losses and razor-thin profits quarter after quarter with the expectation that Amazon would ultimately be a good bet. It has been: Amazon’s stock price has multiplied five times over in the past five years, and it saw $1.9 billion in profits in the last three months of 2017 alone. Prime is an expensive endeavor for Amazon, and this one-day shipping push will likely make it even more so. As Recode’s Jason Del Rey noted the last time Amazon upped its membership fees, beyond Amazon’s heavy spending on its own logistic network and increase of product offers to more than 100 million, it has also invested heavily in creating a library of movies and television shows for Prime members to stream at no extra cost. To be sure, Amazon Prime is not a perfect service. In December, Fast Company’s Mark Wilson described a “slow dilution” of Prime, including shipping times much longer than the two-day promise and markups from third-party sellers. But people generally really like Amazon — it consistently ranks as one of the most liked brands in the United States — and Prime is part of that. Amazon’s latest move is an attempt to improve its standing even more. “This is something they’re doing to make their Prime membership much stickier and a much bigger catalyst for Prime member growth,” Amobi said.

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posted about 1 month ago on re/code
The workplace messaging company is gambling on a Spotify-style direct listing path to going public. Slack, the workplace messaging tool that has become the platform of choice for industries like tech and media, is growing revenue at a rapid pace as it prepares to finally become a public company later this year. Slack on Friday unsealed its paperwork with the SEC and revealed about $400 million in revenue in the fiscal year that ended this January — 80 percent more than it took in the year before. Revenue grew by about 110 percent in the year prior. The company is still turning a profit, but losses have been relatively stable — read: not declining — over the last three years, at about $140 million. So its path to profitability is uncertain. The company will offer the second test of a novel way to go public: a direct listing, which Recode first reported Slack was considering late last year. Rather than selling new shares in the company to Wall Street insiders in advance of the opening day of trading, Slack — as Spotify did a year ago — will publicly offer existing shares to anyone who wants to buy them on opening day. That’s risky because selling stock to those insiders is meant to keep the price stable, as does the lockup that keeps shareholders from immediately selling their shares for a number of months. But the draw is that a direct listing is seen as more democratic — after all, anyone can buy shares — and reduces the cut of Wall Street banks, which some say have too much influence in the process. Spotify’s direct listing is generally viewed by bankers and IPO experts as successful. The downside, which Slack acknowledges, is that it could make for a more volatile run on the stock market because Wall Street has not put up the guardrails around a company’s opening trades the way it typically does (although Spotify’s first year as a public company has not been out of the ordinary). “The public price of our Class A common stock may be more volatile than in an underwritten initial public offering and could decline significantly and rapidly,” the company described as one of its risk factors, on the typically dour list of things that could go wrong. Slack’s direct listing is in some ways riskier than Spotify’s because it is not a broadly known consumer company. Bankers have generally advised that a direct listing might make sense for brands like Airbnb, but Slack is gambling that enough regular people are familiar with their product that they will flock to the stock when trading begins. The company claims 10 million daily active users. Slack is one of 2019’s most highly-anticipated “IPOs” (it’s not really an initial public offering, since there is no “initial” sale) because it has built a subscription software company of scale. Slack could be valued at as high as $20 billion in its opening days, which would easily make it the highest-valued enterprise company to go public in 2019. That is, if it’s not bought first. Slack has been the target of acquisition interest in the past, and could very well find itself fielding suitors over the next few weeks. One shareholder has an unusually large ownership grip on the company, the S-1 reveals. Accel Partners, an old-guard venture capital firm primarily known for its Facebook payday, owns almost a quarter of the company — which is pretty rare. Accel led both of Slack’s first two funding rounds when the company wasn’t even called Slack yet. The company, led by founder Stewart Butterfield, grew out of a gaming startup called Tiny Speck that flopped — but with some money in the bank before it totally combusted. With the final dollars, Butterfield pivoted the company toward the messaging infrastructure that Tiny Speck used internally to communicate, and Slack was born.

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posted about 1 month ago on re/code
Gardner said Angwin “is going out and just making up an entirely whole-cloth kind of theme around this advocacy thing.” The leaders of data-driven media startup The Markup are engaged in a public battle — and they haven’t published a single article yet. The super-quick recap: On Monday, The Markup’s editor-in-chief Julia Angwin was fired by her co-founders Jeff Larson and Sue Gardner. On Tuesday, five of the site’s seven reporters publicly resigned. On Wednesday, Larson tried to defend the firing in a Medium post. And also on Wednesday, the site’s largest financial backer — Craigslist founder Craig Newmark’s philanthropic organization — joined other funders in issuing a written statement that they would “reassess our support.” (Recode reached out to Newmark yesterday, to see if he had any additional comments, but did not hear back before the publication of this piece.) That brings us to yesterday, Thursday. In Washington, DC, Angwin joined Recode’s Kara Swisher onstage for a live taping of her podcast, Recode Decode, in which she reiterated what she had told other outlets: That the firing was a kind of “coup” that stemmed from disagreements about The Markup’s identity and whether it “should be a cause, not a publication”; according to Angwin, Gardner wanted to aim a critical light on Big Tech, while she wanted to stick “with the facts,” not pursue an agenda. Then, on Thursday afternoon, Gardner and Larson called us seeking to dispute what Angwin had said. “I’m kind of amazed by what she’s doing,” Gardner told Recode. “The idea that she is going out and just making up an entirely whole-cloth kind of theme around this advocacy thing, I’m kind of baffled by it. I’m not loving stories that frame this as ‘she said, she said’ or whatever.” The co-founders have said many of their disagreements surfaced at private dinners and meetings, so here’s some more “she said, she said.” To follow the twists and turns, it’s best to listen or read Swisher’s full interview with Angwin here, first. Below, you’ll find Gardner and Larson’s reactions to some of what Angwin said. Gardner said that changing the mission of The Markup into one of advocacy “was never contemplated. She totally made it up.” Asked about this after the podcast interview, Angwin wrote in an email to Recode that “as we evolved, she [Gardner] started removing references to our scientific approach of data journalism, removing references to investigative work for various brand positioning documents.” Gardner said disagreements among the three co-founders were not ideological but rather routine debates about things like how long the stories on the site should be and what tone they should have. “It would have been ridiculous of me to do some kind of ludicrous pivot into advocacy,” she said. “It’s not what I wanted to do. My background is in journalism. Jeff’s background is in journalism. Julia’s is in journalism.” How, then, to account for the five other employees who resigned this week? Gardner said that when they quit, she believes they had only heard Angwin’s side of the story: “If I was a journalist and the editor-in-chief told me the boss was radically changing the organization,” Gardner said, she would have quit, too. On the podcast, Angwin told Swisher that Gardner and Larson had urged her in March to step down as editor-in-chief, but become a columnist instead. Gardner initially didn’t remember such a proposal, but said the three co-founders had had multiple conversations “to suss out what was most suited” for Angwin and Larson, who had previously worked together on award-winning data journalism for ProPublica. However, Larson recalled the same dinner in March, at which he and Gardner — already disappointed with the progress of The Markup’s development — talked to Angwin about journalists like Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias, now respectively the editor-at-large and senior correspondent at our sister site Vox.com. The point, Larson said, was that “people who were there at the beginning of news organizations” could have active, public roles without the formal editor-in-chief title. “I remember saying, ‘No one is asking you to be a columnist. You are an investigative reporter,’” Larson said. In her email to Recode, Angwin said the issue was that there was “no job offer was given or job description provided, so I don’t really know what job they were proposing that I take.” What Angwin is now, post-firing, is still up the air, but she told Swisher she wants to continue reporting. “If I could do this somehow, somewhere, that’s what I would do,” Angwin said. “I want to build this field. This is too important an issue for there not to be a team like this doing this type of work. It doesn’t have to be at The Markup. It can be somewhere, but I’m going to try to figure out a way to make it happen.”

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posted about 1 month ago on re/code
Angwin was fired Monday evening, and most of her staff resigned in solidarity. “I have to brush up on my coup literature,” she joked. Last year, award-winning journalists Julia Angwin and Jeff Larson left ProPublica to start a data-driven media startup called The Markup. This week, the future of not-yet-launched The Markup appeared to be in jeopardy, as Angwin was fired by Larson and their other cofounder Sue Gardner, and most of their reporters publicly resigned in solidarity. On the latest episode of Recode Decode with Kara Swisher, recorded in front of a live audience at the Line Hotel in Washington, DC, Angwin said the firing stemmed from a fundamental disagreement: Whether The Markup should be based on reporting, or on an explicit anti-tech advocacy agenda. After people in attendance at the taping shared some of Angwin’s comments online, Larson and Gardner called Recode to dispute her claims; you can read their objections here. “Once we started getting into it, it just became clear that she was taking a much more anti-tech position than I,” Angwin said of Gardner. “And I’m obviously known for being very skeptical about tech, but I’m a reporter. I go in with the facts.” She also recalled several meetings where Gardner and Larson told her she was “failing as editor-in-chief and bringing down The Markup,” but not offering ideas for how she could improve in that role. Instead, Angwin said, they urged her to be a columnist, which she didn’t want to do. “I’m not really a columnist,” she said. “I mean, every once in a while I’ve written an op-ed here or there about an investigation I did. So, I just said, ‘That doesn’t make sense.’ ... I didn’t feel like I could stay there and not be the person in charge of editorial.” “I don’t know how this plays out,” Angwin added, referring to the fact that The Markup’s staff is now a fraction of the size it was last week. “I have to brush up on my coup literature. ... Actually, somebody told me, ‘The coup’s already happened. This is the countercoup.’” You can listen to Recode Decode wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, and Overcast. Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of Kara’s conversation with Julia. Kara Swisher: Hi everybody. First of all, I want to know what the hell you’re doing out here at this time of day. I don’t know what I’m doing. I got excited to drive my kids to work … to school, to work, whatever. Anyway, I’m sorry for being dressed like this. I’m freezing, so I’m gonna stay dressed like Johnny Cash this morning, so you’re gonna have to deal with it. I’m really excited to do this. I love Vox. Recode has recently been united with Vox, and we’re doing all kinds of cool things together, and we’re very excited, including these events. It’s their fifth anniversary, of Vox itself. It’s I think the 59th anniversary of what Recode has been over the years, but we’ve been going for a long, long time. We’ve just started doing these amazing live podcasts, and so when they asked me to do this, I thought, “Who could we get where we could talk about journalism and where things are going, and perhaps there’s a little controversy we could talk about at the same time?” And so I brought up someone I worked with for many years, Julia Angwin from the Mark — well, not from The Markup. She’s gonna come up. We’re gonna talk about a lot of things. We’re gonna talk about The Markup and a bunch of other things. Sit in my gold chair. My golden chair. So anyway, Julia and I worked at the Wall Street Journal together 20 years ago, 30? Julia Angwin: I don’t remember, gosh. We worked in traditional journalism for a long time, and both of us left traditional journalism to do other things. Let’s get Markup out of the way. Tell us what happened there. Explain what The Markup was supposed to be, what happened there, and any other incredibly awful details you can bring to mind. It’s great to be here, guys. I never knew being fired from the company I founded would be so good for my social media presence. I left ProPublica a year ago to found The Markup. I have been a tech journalist along with Kara for 25 years, and I had built up a specialty in doing investigative journalism alongside and with computer programmers who would help me build big data sets, and analyze data to do really deep investigative work. Before we get to that, how did you decide to do that? You were a traditional media ... you were in media. I was in the early internet and one of the few people who was covering tech long ago. Talk about how you got into that. You had covered just companies, right? Yeah. I remember I covered Jim Bankoff when he ran AOL, and I covered AOL. You obviously were the original AOL person, wrote the book on it, literally. But I remember actually Jim Bankoff, I wrote a story, he’s the first reference ever being quoted using the term “social media.” It’s in the OED, in a story that I wrote about him. He was running the content stuff for AOL. Yeah, right. The way that I ended up in this weird sort of fusion of programming and journalism is that I grew up in Palo Alto and started programming in fifth grade, so my parents were the early, early ... You went to Palo Alto High School? I did go to Palo Alto High School, also known as Paly. I actually grew up in the personal computer revolution. Computers have gone from the size of the stage to the size of this, and everybody was super excited, including my parents who drove out there in their VW in 1974, and said, like, “Let’s join this.” I never had a typewriter. I learned to code in fifth grade, actually, because of Steve Jobs. He had done a program in the Palo Alto schools to have all the kids learn how to program in BASIC. I actually thought there were only two life choices: Hardware, software. So you were going to get into computer tech. Yeah. I went to college. I studied math at the University of Chicago. They didn’t have a CS degree, so I took CS classes. I spent my summers working at Hewlett Packard and there was no reason I wasn’t gonna go back except that I fell in love with the college paper and started writing for it. I thought, “I’ll just do this for a couple years,” just as like a rebellion against tech. That worked out for a little while. I was here in DC after college. I covered the Hill. Eventually, in 1996, the San Francisco Chronicle hired me to cover tech, because it became clear that there were no reporters who knew anything about it, and so they were like, “Oh wait, you’ve used computers before, please cover technology.” That’s about it. Yeah. That’s the qualification. That was it. You had this computer background, had you ever thought of moving into tech itself, like, getting a job at Google or wherever? No. After my summers in Hewlett Packard in college … I mean, to be completely candid with you, Kara, my boss there was sexually harassing me. I was so young that I didn’t know there were any options, and I don’t even know if there were options at that time, so one of the main reasons I left tech is I was really, early, pushed out by #MeToo. When I had a job waiting for me after college I thought, “I just can’t go back to that. I’m gonna go into journalism.” That was a good choice for me, I think. At that time, tech was dominated by men, as it is today. You decide to get into journalism, you went to the Chronicle, and then to the Journal. Yes, right. How did you get into the idea of using computers to do this? People had been doing it for crime statistics and everything else, but you shifted it in a different way. Most newsrooms have like a data desk. Actually, I don’t know if all of you guys know, but it was called the Computer-Assisted Reporting desk, the CAR desk. That field is still called that, which is kind of terrifying. What happened was, I went on book leave to write a book about MySpace, because I thought social networking was gonna be big. I was right about that. I was wrong about which one to write a book about. When I came back I thought ... One of the many things I was shocked about while writing that book was sort of the dawning of the realization that there was a market for personal data. That’s really what the social networks were doing is monetizing your data. And so, I thought, I want to start an investigative project on that topic. I started reading the literature, and I found that there was this programmer at Berkeley in graduate school, Askhan Soltani, who had sort of done this scan of the web to see how much tracking was going on. I convinced my boss to let me hire him just to do that research again for me. That’s how it started. I was just like, “Oh, that seems cool, that seems like an investigative project,” and I hired him. That spawned a whole series of articles called “What They Know,” where I continued to hire him, and I stole programmers off the graphics desk, and I stole them from wherever I could to do all sorts of different types of analysis. What I found was that that type of reporting, it could lead to more concrete results, because the fact that you diagnosed the problem so clearly and you released your data set meant that people could really clearly identify the problem, and there was a way to solve it. I mean, obviously, we haven’t solved any of those problems, but ... When you were writing those things, there was no people being upset about it that much. There was some. They were doing this wholesale taking of data, not stealing, you gave it up. There wasn’t that much anger over it. It was celebrated. It has been celebrated for a long time. I was too early for the outrage. People were like, “Why are you writing about this? It’s just creepy ads.” I think it had to get to the point where ... The election was where people realized, “Oh, this is affecting our common discourse,” in the elections. That’s why I feel like people woke up in 2016. When I was writing in 2010, Jeff Jarvis blogged, like, “this is so dumb, you’re taking down the innovation economy, like, what a stupid series of articles.” That was kind of the common tech view of it. That this was a good thing. We finally found a business plan. Yep. That works and that people don’t care, and they want to willingly give up their information. Yeah. Right. That was the thought about it. I’m gonna fast-forward to what happened at Markup. You had gone to ProPublica, which is a fantastic organization that does investigative ... and had done this, and come across a story around Facebook. Basically, we were looking into Facebook and what Facebook knew about you. We offered readers a tool that let them download all the things that Facebook said it knew about you, and what we noticed was that we hadn’t realized that they were profiling people by race. They would identify you as “African American affinity.” Their description was actually “affinity,” meaning like you liked black people, which was weird. Somebody tipped me off to the fact that meant, if advertisers could choose that category, they could probably discriminate in their ads by race, so we thought, “Oh, let’s see if we can break the Fair Housing Law, and make a housing ad that’s only targeted to white people,” and we put it through the system and it went through. We wrote an article like, “Wow, didn’t know you could break the Fair Housing Law, that’s cool.” Facebook said, “Oh, we’ll fix it. We’ll build an algorithm.” Whatever. They built the algorithm, they released it, we tested it again, and we could still break the Fair Housing Law. Then they were like, “We’ll try to fix it again.” HUD began an investigation and then we noticed other things. We actually tested other things. We were able to buy ... we didn’t actually buy the ads. We noticed actually that employers were putting age categories in their ads, so their ads would only be targeted to people like 18-24, which also is a violation of age discrimination laws. We started looking at more and more different aspects of the way that you could discriminate in advertising, and after about two-and-a-half years, three years, actually, it was only about a few weeks ago, Facebook finally said it would stop offering what I call the “dropdown racism menus” that they were offering before. Right. They don’t call it that. It’s really helpful to people to target their ads properly. Right. It’s a service. Were they very, very sorry? They were! They were very, very sorry. Incredibly sorry. You know what they were gonna try to do? Have an “I’m sorry” tour? They were gonna do better. They were gonna do better. It’s like this: “We didn’t mean to do this, and we’re gonna do really, really better.” They have hand signals when they do it … not Mark. When you put into this, what was the attitude towards Facebook? Now, you had written about MySpace in your book. Had you seen the power of Facebook? Had you thought about what was happening there? You mean prior to the advertising? Yeah. Actually, back at the Wall Street Journal, we had done a story, literally the same story as Cambridge Analytica, about a company that was taking your voting information, stealing data from Facebook and using it to target ads. It’s just that we were too early. It was literally the same thing, and Facebook, by the way, said they were sorry and that they were gonna change the third-party controls so that people couldn’t steal this data anymore. I’d been increasingly concerned about this data and market for a long time. Why do you think they have that attitude? You’ve approached them from a computer point of view, which is something they understand. Why do you think they continue to do this? Today, there’s news they just announced they’re gonna pay a $3 billion to $5 billion fine, which is, they have it in their drawer, it is not a fine. It is not fine. It won’t touch them in any way. Right. Why do you think they’re like this, from your perspective? It’s always hard to prove intent. We’ve noticed that. I have to say that I feel like there was a little bit of an engineering mindset. I feel like whenever I would talk to the people at Facebook they’d be like, “Well, if you choose to target ads, what is the difference between targeting towards a group versus having a dropdown menu to exclude a group?” In the engineering mindset, they literally were like, “Well, if you could target ads to people with brown hair, like, why couldn’t you have a dropdown menu to exclude your ads from ever being shown to a black person?” It was this lack of context about humans and laws that I feel like maybe there was just a lack of education about it? Their response to you was that? That this was … fine? It evolved over time. The very initial response was, “I don’t think you understand ad-targeting.” And then, it became, “Oh, this was a mistake, we’re gonna fix it.” What do you imagine is gonna happen today to Facebook, and companies like this? Because I think a lot of people feel that people have outrage over privacy, but I don’t think people do. I think they’re gonna get fined, and they’re gonna move on and find ever-more-nefarious ways to spy on you. If you look at Google, they paid an almost $6 billion fine to the EU last year. It literally didn’t move the stock, make a blip in their earnings, it didn’t change any behavior. We’ve seen that these companies can weather these kinds of fines. I don’t know. I try to be optimistic. I do think that public ... when they’re embarrassed, they try to eventually sort of fix things, but it doesn’t feel systemically there’s a fix that anyone is pursuing. I don’t know how that works, because these are companies that are almost ungovernable. They’re absolutely ungovernable. They’re bigger than any nation. They regulate speech, around the world. Their decisions about what people can say to each other is the decision in any country. And every country is struggling with how can I... “This is something bigger than me that I can’t control.” It’s a force that I don’t think we even know how to deal with in the world. Right. How would you deal with it? I’m not that great at solutions. I’m super good at problems. But, I do feel that there has to be ... something structural has to change, and I don’t know what it looks like, but I do feel like governments have to have some control over how speech happens in their countries. Which happened in Sri Lanka. They just shut it down. Yep. That happens. And Germany is doing a pretty good job of keeping the Nazis off Facebook. So, it’s weird. And Twitter, too. You can go there and have a Nazi-free experience on the internet. And so you realize, there is a world where you could have a Nazi-free experience, which is cool. Not in this country. They’re trending. So, let’s talk about what you decided to do. You just said this is about journalism, because one of the things that’s being impacted by Facebook and Google and the changes they’ve made in targeting is to suck up all the digital advertising dollars. Correct. Let’s talk about ... you decided to go off from ProPublica where you had the very traditional, even though ProPublica’s more of an outlier than the Wall Street Journal, than the San Francisco Chronicle, to start The Markup. Yeah, yeah. What is the concept? What I wanted to do was I had a little team at ProPublica, two programmers and a researcher, and we were doing our investigations. And one year we did Facebook, one year we did software that was used to assess criminals and predict their future criminality, which we showed was biased against black defendants. Big surprise. And one year we did car insurance, how red-lining worked. But each year we had to pick. And I felt like, everything is happening all at once and, I want four teams like this! Because technology is not just impacting the companies that we think of as tech — Facebook and Google — but every bit of our lives is being algorithmically decided. And some of these decisions, like the criminal risk scores, have enormous consequences, incarceration or not. And so my idea was, I want it to scale up this work and sort of build a field around tech accountability journalism. Tech journalism, its origins were really very much fanboy. Right? And so, the field is evolving, but I wanted to build that investigative wing and really make a model for the field of how this could be done using technology to investigate technology. To investigate things. So, you went around to raise money and got how much money? More than 23 million. From? Mostly from Craig Newmark, who pledged 20 million. Right. Who ruined classified advertising for the San Francisco Chronicle, for example. Craigslist founder. Yeah. So, he was taking his money, and he’s talked about this. He was taking his money that wrecked the newspapers to try to do something about it. He said that to me. I mean, I’ll let you put words in his mouth. I shall. Because he said them. So, $23 million to form a team to look at ... instead of just what had been done, which is piecemeal, or else someone like me, which I just stand outside of tech companies and yell at them from the side. Which, by the way, is very effective. I know it is. It’s really effective. And I will continue to do so. So, you decided to do this, you got two partners, one was someone you worked with at ProPublica. Yeah, my colleague Jeff Larson. He and I had been doing these investigations together for years. And then, he and I recruited this woman, Sue Gardner who’d run Wikimedia foundation, to be our business partner, because we had heard that journalists were not good at running businesses and so we thought we needed someone to help us with that. Right. And, you’d seen people trying this thing? I did it. There’s lots of efforts in this area. What did you think was going to ... Vox itself was within the Washington Post and then moved to here. What did you think about going into business as a reporter? The word is “reportrepreneur,” in case you’re interested. Oh, jeez, I didn’t know that. Please don’t use it ever again. So, go ahead. I won’t. So, did you worry about that part of it? I did worry about it, but I actually felt like the nonprofit model that we were pursuing had a little bit more hope. I feel like the for-profit model has led to ... it’s just been really hard because it trends towards clickbait, you know? And you have to really push against that because the ad model is really this incredibly transactional model and it’s not based on the quality of your audience at all. I was hopeful that we could build a nonprofit model by getting our readers to understand that we weren’t going to have any tracking on the website. It was going to be very privacy-protecting. It was going to feel like a service. Because a lot of places charge subscriptions, but then they still track you and still advertise to you and it’s like, come on guys. So, we felt like, okay, maybe people would donate the amount that they would have subscribed somewhere because they understood that we were on their side. We weren’t selling their data, collecting it at all. So, it’s like ProPublica, a nonprofit model that you would have people who supported you, which is like a subscription. Yep. Essentially. And then, money from rich people. Yeah. Right. Combination. You got to always have a billionaire in journalism these days. Apparently. Apparently. Yeah. Yeah. So, you did that and then moved into this. So, I guess the only question is, what the hell happened? Yes. So, I did a kind of founders mistake, which was I recruited Sue to be the business partner. And we didn’t talk about what our roles would be until we were a couple of weeks away from closing the gift from Craig. And then, she gave me an ultimatum that she would quit if I didn’t make her CEO and my boss. And I was scared. I thought, “Oh my God, we’re going to lose this money. How do I go back to them and say we’re starting again with a different team?” And so, I said, “Okay, well, I’ll agree to that.” Because honestly, I didn’t want to do the business-side stuff. Most of that job is actually stuff I don’t want to do. But I need an employment guarantee. I need a contract so that I can’t be fired at will. And she said, “Sure, let’s totally do that. But it’s going to take a couple of months. Let’s just close this stuff and we’ll get to it. We’ll get to it.” And we never got to it. Right. And so, that’s why I was fired by email on Monday. Right. Right. So, what was the problem? I know starting things, like I started mine with Walt Mossberg, we had plenty of fights. We had plenty of issues. We had less fights than we had agreements, which was, that’s the way it should work, essentially. But in starting these things, it’s really ... and we had a for-profit model and we had events and complex things. What happened there? What was your fault? What did you do wrong? Like you said, first of all, you didn’t get this guarantee. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think we weren’t aligned on the vision as much as I thought, right? Because once we started getting into it, it just became clear that she was taking a much more anti-tech position than I. And I’m obviously known for being very skeptical about tech, but I’m a reporter. I go in with the facts. Right? And, we had numbers of meetings where she was talking about how we should have a take, write a policy paper about our position on tech, how we should be a cause, not a publication. She built a spreadsheet ranking all of the employees that I was thinking about hiring by how skeptical they were on tech and how negative, and wanted them to be more negative. And I felt like not only these were morally questionable, but they were legally, very risky. And so, we had a lot of conflict about that and I started to feel very nervous about where this was going. Was this going to be an advocacy organization? Because honestly, I could sort of see why, from a financial point of view, probably it’s easier to raise money if you’re like, “We’re out there swinging.” Right? And so, from a business-side perspective that may have been a better play. Well, talk about that. The difference between skepticism and being negative. Because I get accused of being super negative all the time. Constantly. And I think it’s fair. It’s a fair point of view. I think I’ve been with them long enough to be warning people about what’s happening. Talk about that idea, because there are advocacy publications. I guess you might put Mother Jones in there. You might put some others. But you didn’t think of yourself as that. No, because I actually had this other idea. So, I really felt like journalism is always put on the pedestal of objectivity, which is this weird neutral tone and point of view, and it really has led basically to false equivalency. Right? On the one hand, climate change is happening. On the other hand, some random person says it’s not. And, the truth is that’s not a fair representation of what the reality is. The fair representation is that 99 percent of the science suggests that climate change is happening and 1 percent of people who don’t have credentials say it’s not. So, I wanted to move a little bit more towards what I call the scientific method approach, which was, you have a hypothesis. Hypothesis: Facebook allows dropdown menu for racism that allows advertisers to break the law. Test that hypothesis. Okay, how much data do we need to collect? In that particular case, buy one ad, you’ve basically proven it. Some hypotheses need thousands of data points, right? For criminal risk scores, we collected 18,000 scores of defendants. And then you basically say, “Here’s our finding. Our finding is x, and here’s our limitations.” So, the limitations of our finding is we couldn’t test every ad on Facebook. Right? And so, I felt like that was our approach. And that is different than Mother Jones and the Nation. But it’s also different than normal journalism. It was just an idea of, could we bring a more scientific approach? Because I feel, right now, despite all the craziness in the world, I do feel data changes the narrative. When you bring data to the table, people are willing to take it onboard, and it does lead to change and impact and policy changes. And so I felt like that was our calling, as a journalist, was to bring that data to the table so that we could make change. And, what happened? So, I don’t know why I was fired. Right? She would never give me a reason. The reason that’s been out there is the management issues, leadership, that’s what she said publicly. You didn’t hire fast enough. Yeah. Did you not hire fast enough? I wish we had been hiring faster, but we had a pretty aggressive hiring schedule so I felt like we were definitely on track to launch in July. We some investigative stories that were coming down the closing finish line. I felt excited about it, but she took me aside in January with Jeff, the two of them, and they said, “You’re not suited to be editor-in-chief.” And the reasons were things like “You don’t like meetings.” That’s true. But I did go to all of them. I went to all the meetings, but I just didn’t like them. Another reason was I wouldn’t agree to take a personality test. I don’t believe they are based on evidence and she was really insistent that she needed me ... A personality test? A personality test. Which one? Actually, I think she wanted me take ... there were a couple. Enneagram or something, I don’t know. I don’t know what these things are. And so there were a whole bunch of reasons like that that I wasn’t “suited” to leadership. But it wasn’t a performance improvement plan, like “here’s the ways you can grow as a leader” or anything like that. It was just a negative thing. And this is someone who had not run a publication previously. I mean, I think she ran some ... Wikimedia. ... the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation internet site. So she’s been in journalism, like radio, and TV. So that was disturbing. That’s when I sort of realized that, oh, this isn’t going that well. Right? Right, right. And then, we continue to have conflicts about the mission and the advocacy. And then, in the end of March, she and Jeff took me to dinner again and said that I was failing as editor-in-chief and bringing down The Markup. And once again, there was no plan of how I could improve. It was just a declaration. And they said, “You’re probably better suited as a columnist.” And I was like, “Oh.” Well, I mean, I’m not really a columnist. I mean, every once in a while I’ve written an op-ed here or there about an investigation I did. So, I just said, “That doesn’t make sense.” So, you would not step down in the way they wanted you to. They asked... Yeah. Honestly, though, they didn’t even offer me a job. It was just like, “You might be suited as a columnist,” but there’s no job description of what that would look like and what would your role be or anything. So, I wrote them a letter with my lawyer saying, “Look, it seems like you’re reneging on your agreement to give me my employment contract. It’s been sitting with you, my lawyer’s given it to you. But I’m not going to step down as editor-in-chief because I have promised our donors and employees that we’ll pursue a particular vision and I don’t have faith that you’re going to carry that out.” You thought they were going to do much more advocacy. Yeah, that’s what it seemed like. And I don’t actually know what they’re going to do because there’s two journalists left in the newsroom and I don’t know what that publication is at this moment. But that’s where it looked like it was heading. And I didn’t feel like I could stay there and not be the person in charge of editorial. And so I wrote that letter, and then she fired me. Then she fired you. Yeah. So, what happens now? Now, Jeff has written a very problematic memo, very defensive memo, which I said on the internet yesterday, about what’s going on and begging the people to come back, which was odd, at the same time. Yeah, it’s worth pointing out. So, there were seven reporters, five of them resigned after I was forced out. Quit. Right. So, most of the staff is gone. Craig has given this money. Now he’s written a note and tweeted that he’s thinking of reconsidering it. So what happens? I don’t know. I don’t know how this plays out. I have to brush up on my coup literature. I can help you there. I can help you a lot, actually. Right. Actually, somebody told me “The coup’s already happened. This is the countercoup.” The countercoup, yes. It’s the countercoup. We’ve got to get some Mother of Dragons into you. I can help. So, what do you want to do now then? Then we’ll get some questions from the audience here. Well, I just want to do the thing I was doing. It would be awesome if I could just do that. We had some great investigations. I feel like we were going to launch. I had some great people who were going to come. The people who were there are great. If I could do this somehow, somewhere, that’s what I would do. I want to build this field. This is too important an issue for there not to be a team like this doing this type of work. It doesn’t have to be at The Markup. It can be somewhere, but I’m going to try to figure out a way to make it happen. Questions from the audience? Right here. Audience member: Hi. I’m really interested in what you said about it being easier to raise money for a journalism organization that’s focused more on advocacy. Can you talk more about that and maybe suggest an alternative business model or model in general for journalism that can be more objective, but also investigative? Julia Angwin: Yeah, I’m actually not sure about that but I do feel like ... I could imagine that people donate to their favorite causes and I could understand why you might want to position your journalism as a cause. What I feel, though, about that is that from my experience doing this type of work, that it undermines your findings when you go in with an agenda. You have to be willing to follow where the data leads you, and so I think it’s a dangerous road. I can see it’s tempting, but I think it’s dangerous for the pursuit of truth. Because in the end, “Facebook sucks” is your end point, right? Yeah. For example, which it probably is true. It’s probably accurate but you don’t want to start with that. You want to give them the benefit of the doubt when you start something. You could go down another road, for example. Yeah. No, and many times our stories have taken many surprising turns, right? So we were looking at Amazon, I had been told that if you shopped on your mobile phone versus desktop, you would get different prices. So we put all this testing software up — in the Amazon Cloud, of course — and ran tests on Amazon from Amazon Cloud and we found no results. We were like, “Oh, there’s nothing here.” I thought, “This is really disappointing,” but happens. Then I went to drinks with Barry Lynn, the guy from Open Markets Institute, and I was like, “Yeah, we looked into Amazon. We couldn’t find anything.” He said, “Oh, well have you tested ... The real question with Amazon is how do they treat themselves as a seller on their own platform that they control?” So we tweaked our hypothesis. We said, “Okay, let’s ask that question. We already have all this stuff running,” and boom, we were like, “Oh my gosh, they give themselves a huge advantage when they’re the seller,” or one of their favorite sellers, what are they called? I’ve forgotten the name, but the ones who pay them fees to be in their warehouses, Fulfilled by Amazon. So then we were like, “Oh,” we had a huge finding. That’s where you just let the facts lead you to where you want to go. Right, so they were up to something, you just didn’t find the thing they were up to. Yeah. Right? One thing. That would make more sense for them to advantage themselves. Right, and also ... That’s one of the big issues. ... we would have been fine with no finding, right? Right. If there’s nothing to find, then there’s nothing to find. Right, but you keep looking and pushing at various parts. But advocacy is fine, too. There’s a lot of people with points of view who do reporting, reported analysis. I also feel like there is, I actually feel like we’re not lacking right now for opinions about tech online, in my feeling. So I feel like that space was fully owned and was good, it was great. Everyone’s doing it. We could bring just a different piece to the table. Okay. Over here. Audience member: Thanks so much for coming out. I’m interested in your take on media literacy for youth and how we are educating high schoolers, in particular, to consume the news. So how do you, and how does that, relate to the work that you’re doing with data where a lot of people in general and young people don’t really care about data. They just want the stories and they don’t sometimes respond to data in the ways that we want them to. So how do we teach young people to care more about what the data is saying rather than other, frivolous things? I will push back at you. I have a son who literally is, I call him Wikipedia, Walking Wikipedia, because he has so many, well, not those facts, but he’s so factually oriented that he will not talk about anything else, so it’s an interesting change. But how do you…? Julia Angwin: Yeah, I’m not sure that hypothesis is true. I’d like to see the data for that, but I do think that media literacy in general is a challenge and I actually just feel like that’s a classic case of pushing the burden onto the user, right? The fact is that if you’re being completely spammed with lies all the time, is it actually your responsibility? I feel like one thing that we kind of haven’t paid attention to enough is the literature around persuasion and the fact that all of us are very persuadable, and we used to have information gatekeepers who had certain standards and they didn’t publish things that were untrue, and the reason was they were at risk for a lawsuit, right? Yeah. The Wall Street Journal, where Kara and I worked together for years, every story in there we could be sued for. We could be sued for the letters to the editor. Those were fact-checked, right? Right. The advertisements we were actually responsible for. The internet companies got a special exemption in the 1996 Telecom Act so that they’re not liable for anything that anyone writes on their platform. If you’d like to know, because I’m going to write about it in the New York Times next week and they’re very nervous, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act gives internet companies broad immunity from anything that flows over, it’s sort of treating them like a phone company essentially, and it was done at the time, and I was there and I wrote about it for the Washington Post, actually, in order to allow these companies to grow. They were small startups and they didn’t want to be sued out of existence from the very get-go. AOL was a big part of pushing for that and other sites at the time were. So what they did is got this broad, broad immunity and it was a gift. I just interviewed Nancy Pelosi about it and she said it was a gift that they’re abusing. It certainly was a gift. And so the question is, do we want to allow people who are the richest people on earth now from using this gift to abuse it further? I think it’s been chipped away over issues of FOSTA and ... Yeah, there’s only one chip in it so far. Yeah, so the question is, do you remove it for the large companies? Do the world’s richest people deserve immunity from behavior? Because what’s resulted is it’s sort of like giving kids sugar all the time. Sure, you can have sugar. Sugar. You can keep your room messy. You can do this. What do you imagine is going to result? This is why we have what we ... This is my belief, but other people have different beliefs, so it’s going to be a big question. But as to younger people, I do think they get inundated. It’s like sludge. You can’t be protected from it. The government really should be protecting people from this — or lawyers, suing. In the US, we usually choose lawyers. Yeah. So question right here. Audience member: Hi. I’m a huge fan of your podcast. Thank you. Audience member: My question is, if there’s a politician that starts getting rhetorically and legislatively very tough on tech, do you believe that the tech companies will kind of resort and hunker down like the hydrocarbon companies did in the ’80s and ’90s? They’ve hired a lot of lobbyists. You might look at that. There’s a lot of data on that in terms of they didn’t have lobbyists before and now they have a ton of lobbyists, first of all. I think their approach is a little different than, say, Big Oil or Big Banking or stuff like that. They’ll show up, they’ll apologize, they’ll have meetings, they’ll have dinners, they’ll have “thought time.” Mark is having a lot of dinners with smart people, like getting his Harvard education now, which is kind of fascinating. He’s having these ... Everyone will go. If you’re, I don’t know, the guy who wrote the Hamilton book, Ron Chernow, you’d go to dinner with Mark Zuckerberg, right? Why not? So they’re doing it that way. I think they’re allowing the discussions to go on and then secretly, behind the scenes, sort of trashing people, correct? I don’t know. I think they seem to be ... It’s a different way of approach but there’s no question they’re doing heavy-duty lobbying on lots and lots of issues that affect them. I think the question is who can they ... They try to find people they can work with on their side. Like you have somebody like Senator Warner who’s very tough on them on some issues or Senator Klobuchar is tougher on them. Senator Bennett is moving into that direction. Senator Wyden is very interested in voting machines. That’s more of his area, so they tend to try to coopt them. When I wrote a column this week about Sri Lanka, the first call was a Facebook person saying, “Hey girl, want to chat?” I’m like, “No! Call me Friday,” and then Friday, I’ll not pick up the phone. So it’s a much softer approach. I can’t explain it but it’s just as effective. I think Mark’s piece about his wanting legislation was fascinating. You should read between the lines of that particular thing, I think. Okay, quickly here and here. Audience member: I’m interested in the notion of scientific journalism in an era in which there’s a lot of examining of science itself. Between p-hacking and replication problems, academic science has started examining how the apparent rigor isn’t actually as real as we thought. Julia Angwin: You know, that’s a great question. I say “scientific journalism” and what I mean by that is it’s better than the normal journalism, which is “three anecdotes and you’re out,” right? So when we had our meeting with Craig he was like, “Okay, let me just see if I understand this. Basically all you’re talking about is increasing the sample size?” I was like, “Yes, that’s basically it.” That’s not entirely true, right? So we have a data ethics policy — or we had — at The Markup which actually said we will not do p-hacking, and also that we aim for replicable results and we will publish our data and our code as often as possible, which is what I’ve done all my career. So I do think journalism can aspire to the standards of science, but we are journalists, right? And so I think of us as the first people out of the trenches, right? We’re doing the first draft and then actually science usually comes in and does a lot of followup work to validate and solidify the results. This happened with our work on criminal risk scores. We put up the data set, there’s been ... I think I have more academic citations than my husband, who is a professor, because it’s been replicated and written about so much and it’s really moved the field in terms of the field of computer science fairness and algorithms. Okay, we have to go but the very last question, what would you investigate right now if you have a publication to work for? You will. Trying to break my heart over here? God, there’s so much. But you know, one of the things I’m really upset about is the use of algorithms to score people in ways that actually aren’t really seen as tech. Your resume is sent through an algorithm, right? People work for algorithms, fired by algorithms. People who work everywhere, and so this idea that, and I do, I just think it’s worth pointing out, the people who are scored and sifted by algorithms strangely are often people of color and poor people, and so we’re getting into a world where actually some people get human judgment and some people are judged by machines, and that’s a very upsetting thing. Great answer. Julia Angwin.

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posted about 1 month ago on re/code
Plus: Joe Biden’s quiet Silicon Valley network revs into gear and Facebook broke privacy laws in Canada. Amazon sellers are finding pricey new ways to cheat the marketplace and mislead customers, according to documents obtained by BuzzFeed News. The intense competition on Amazon’s marketplace has led to “the emergence of a secretive, lucrative black market where agents peddle ‘black hat’ services,” BuzzFeed found. These black hat services provide information that is sometimes procured through bribing Amazon employees to leak internal communications or business reports and help sellers manipulate Amazon’s ranking system to promote their products and protect accounts from disciplinary actions, all for the low, low price of $10,000 a month. Leticia Miranda writes that “other tactics to promote sellers’ products include removing negative reviews from product pages and exploiting technical loopholes on Amazon’s site to lift products’ overall sales rankings.”[Leticia Miranda / BuzzFeed] [Want to get the Recode Daily in your inbox? Subscribe here.] Joe Biden’s quiet Silicon Valley network revs into gear: Silicon Valley high-dollar donors have so far been primarily drawn to the likes of Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and increasingly Pete Buttigieg, says Recode’s Teddy Schleifer. But one person with a quiet high-dollar donor network here is Joe Biden, whose announcement on Thursday that he was entering the 2020 race will introduce a new competitor for Silicon Valley money. Unlike Harris or Booker, Biden’s support comes less from tech billionaires and more from older, institutional, Obama-aligned moneyed corridors of the Bay Area. People like Tom McInerney, a San Francisco lawyer who is raising money for the former vice president. Last week — even before Biden announced he was running — McInerney sent a note out to possible supporters asking them to mail a check to back Biden early and “make a splash when he announces,” according to a note seen by Recode.[Teddy Schleifer / Recode] Facebook broke privacy laws in Canada, according to a new investigation. Canadian and British Columbia privacy commissioners have released the results of an investigation into Facebook’s privacy policies and the misuse of user data inspired by the Cambridge Analytica scandal last year. They found that Facebook “committed serious contraventions of local laws and failed generally to take responsibility for protecting the personal information of Canadians,” TechCrunch reports. This news comes on the heels of reporting that Facebook expects a $5 billion fine from the FTC, though it’s pretty clear the money won’t be enough to change its behavior. Meanwhile, Wall Street is unfazed: Facebook’s stock was up 8 percent in after-hours trading following the company’s earnings report on Wednesday[Natasha Lomas / TechCrunch] Microsoft joins the $1 trillion company club. Population: 3. Microsoft briefly become the third US company to pass a market cap of $1 trillion on Thursday after the company reported Q3 earnings. Microsoft’s stock price opened at $130 per share, up from the $125 closing price the day before. Microsoft has pushed its cloud products in recent years and its stock price has been pushed up thanks to that. Azure is now second behind Amazon for cloud services; the company is aiming to catch up to AWS’s dominance. The Verge notes that “while the $1 trillion valuation is something that investors pay close attention to, it’s not something that Microsoft cares about.”[Tom Warren / The Verge] Top Stories from Recode A $5 billion fine from the FTC is huge — unless you’re Facebook. The $3 billion to $5 billion fine Facebook says it expects from the FTC probably won’t be enough to change its behavior.[Emily Stewart] This is Cool Spoiler-free Avengers: Endgame reviews are here.

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posted about 1 month ago on re/code
The $3 billion to $5 billion fine Facebook says it expects from the FTC probably won’t be enough to change its behavior. Facebook’s stock price jumped after it said it expects to incur a fine of up to $5 billion from the Federal Trade Commission. And that’s all you really need to know about whether the historically large penalty matters to the company. The Menlo Park, California-based social media giant reported its first-quarter earnings on Wednesday and revealed it had set aside $3 billion during the period related to the FTC’s investigation into its handling of user data and potential privacy violations. Facebook expects the matter could wind up costing it between $3 billion and $5 billion. The possibility of a fine wasn’t a surprise — the Washington Post reported in February that the FTC and Facebook were negotiating a multibillion-dollar fine. But Facebook’s earnings confirmed it. The question now becomes whether the fine, if and when it hits, is just a slap on the wrist. The amount is orders of magnitude larger than the FTC’s previous largest fine to date — $22.5 million against Google in 2012. But for Facebook, while it may be a knock to the bottom line, it’s far from the end of the world — even with the $3 billion it set aside in the first quarter, the company still made a profit of $2.4 billion. “Is this going to get their attention? It will get their attention to the extent that they’re going to try to be more careful in the future,” said Peter Henning, a law professor at Wayne State University and a former federal prosecutor. “But does it really deter violations? I think the answer to that question is no. For some companies, it’s viewed as the cost of doing business.” To be sure, the FTC could impose other penalties on Facebook beyond a fine, such as requiring it to change its data sharing and privacy practices. But at least for right now, the threat of what would be a blockbuster fine for the FTC doesn’t really seem to be that much of a negative for the company. In fact, investors seem to have taken it as a positive: Facebook’s stock price climbed after its announcement on Wednesday, adding about $40 billion to its market capitalization. What this FTC-Facebook probe is about in the first place, briefly explained A quick reminder of how we got here: This all goes back to the Cambridge Analytica scandal and whether Facebook’s action violated a consent decree it reached with the FTC in 2011. In March 2018, reports revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm that had worked with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, among others, had accessed the personal information of millions of Americans through Facebook. In 2014, the company shared the personal information of tens of millions of people with an outside app developer. That developer then sold that information to Cambridge Analytica. The FTC subsequently announced that it would launch an investigation into Facebook’s privacy practices. Specifically, it is looking into whether Facebook violated a 2011 agreement, or consent decree, it reached with the FTC over charges that it had deceived consumers about their privacy. Beyond the consent decree, Kurt Wagner recently noted at Recode that the FTC could be probing other Facebook-related matters as well: Cambridge Analytica is what set off this investigation in March, but the company has had a number of privacy slip-ups since then that the FTC could be looking into. A number of software bugs created privacy concerns for Facebook this summer: One changed the privacy settings for as many as 14 million people without their knowledge; another “unblocked” people that hundreds of thousands of users had blocked, putting users’ safety at risk; yet another “vulnerability” exposed to hackers the personal Facebook data of almost 30 million people. When Facebook announced that breach, a company spokesperson said Facebook was “closely coordinating” with the FTC to let them know what happened, so the two sides have been in touch about more than just Cambridge Analytica. In the grand scheme of things, this fine isn’t that big of a deal for Facebook “What a start to 2019,” Morgan Stanley analyst Brian Nowak said in a note to clients about what he called “another storybook quarter” for Facebook. While $3 billion is a lot of money, including for the FTC, in the grand scheme of things for Facebook, it’s not that big a deal. It’s money the company will likely make up in a matter of months. Foreshadowing the potential fine is a bit of an unusual move, but it’s also a way for Facebook to get out in front of the potential news, set investors’ minds at ease, and reclaim some of the narrative around the story. “Wall Street hates uncertainty,” Henning said. “Once you give them a dollar figure, they’re going to look at it and go, ‘Okay.’” This could also be a negotiating tactic on the part of Facebook, noted Ashkan Soltani, a former chief technologist at the FTC. Facebook might be attempting to leverage anchoring bias, the tendency in negotiations to give outsize weight to the first number put forward and set it as the starting point. To be sure, not everyone was happy with the amount Facebook foreshadowed would be coming down. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a 2020 presidential contender who has called for the breakup of big tech, including Facebook, tweeted that the potential fine was a “slap on the wrist.” This is a slap on the wrist—a fraction of the profits Facebook makes in a year. Facebook is a repeat offender & fines like this won’t stop them from breaking the law & violating our privacy again. It's going to take big, structural change. #BreakUpBigTech https://t.co/yXjj6F8RWR— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) April 25, 2019 Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), chair of the House’s antitrust subcommittee, echoed Warren’s assertion and called on Congress to act. Last month, I said that a fine in the low billions of dollars would amount to a slap on the wrist for Facebook. Tonight, we learned that’s how Wall Street sees it too - as a slap on the wrist. If the FTC won’t act, Congress has to. https://t.co/rkrS4XfaGY— David Cicilline (@davidcicilline) April 24, 2019 Freedom From Facebook, an offshoot of the Open Markets Institute anti-monopoly think tank, slammed the FTC in a statement. “Their continuous passivity is now positively affecting Facebook’s bottom line,” the group’s co-chair, Sarah Miller, said in a statement. “Congress must consider moving resources from the FTC to state Attorneys General, who are demonstrating a willingness to act and serve the public interest.” Matthew Stoller, a fellow at the Open Markets Institute and a vocal part of the left, said he thinks the potential fine is, in essence, a joke. “It’s like saying to a bank robber, ‘We’re going to penalize you by forcing you to give back 15 percent of the money that you stole,’” he said. Fines are often seen as the cost of doing business Blockbuster fines for companies that behave badly isn’t new in corporate America — nor is companies shrugging, paying the fine, and moving on. Look no further than the banking industry, which has shelled out billions of dollars over its misdeeds: Bank of America agreed to pay $16.7 billion in a 2014 settlement with the Justice Department related to its activities leading up to the financial crisis. In 2013, JPMorgan agreed to a $13 billion settlement with the Justice Department tied to its sales of securities containing “toxic mortgages.” Both of those banks today are doing just fine. As the Information notes, the European Union has also hit tech companies Apple and Google with bigger fines than is expected from the FTC. Soltani told me he doesn’t believe a $3 billion to $5 billion fine will do much to influence Facebook’s behavior, but other remedies from the FTC could. For example, if the commission puts restrictions on how Facebook collects data and who it shares it with. “The more significant impact for individuals or for Facebook users and the public will be around injunctions and the limits on certain behaviors, not necessarily the fine,” he said. In February, the German government ordered Facebook to change its data collection practices, including blocking the site from combining user data it collects through apps such as WhatsApp and Instagram and restricting it from collecting data on third-party websites in order to target users with advertising. The order would imply some big technical changes for Facebook, which has vowed to fight it. It’s unclear whether the FTC would ever go that far, but requiring behavioral remedies would likely be more meaningful than asking for a check — however big it might seem.

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posted about 1 month ago on re/code
Plus: Google drones are cleared for take-off, New York is trying to intercept tip theft, and Ford bets on Rivian, not Tesla, for self-driving vehicles. Facebook expects to be hit with a fine of between $3 billion and $5 billion as part of its settlement with the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC has long been investigating Facebook for violating a consent decree in 2011 and we’ve known for a while that a big fine was coming. The Washington Post said in February it would be a “multi-billion dollar” penalty. Now we know that Facebook is expecting it to be at least $3 billion (the company disclosed this in its quarterly earnings). It could actually be as high as $5 billion, the company says, calling the “ongoing inquiry” one that is “unresolved.” So we’ll see just how screwed Facebook is, but keep in mind even that large a fine will remain relatively affordable for the tech giant: Facebook brought in $56 billion in 2018 revenue. [Mike Isaac / New York Times] [Want to get the Recode Daily in your inbox? Subscribe here.] Prepare your doorsteps for goods to be delivered by a Google drone. Google has received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to begin delivering goods via drone in rural Virginia, Recode’s Emily Stewart reports. She writes: “The approval is an important one, given that this marks the first time the FAA has granted a so-called air-carrier certification for drone delivery of items such as food, medicine, and small consumer products.” This is all through Google’s Wing program, which will compete primarily with Amazon, which has also been exploring drone-enabled delivery for its Prime membership program. The key thing for consumers will be to make sure these internet giants and regulators prioritize safety in the skies. [Emily Stewart / Recode] Can New York City keep gig economy startups like DoorDash and Instacart from alleged “tip theft”? Delivery companies have in recent months been battling allegations that they are effectively stealing from the workers who bring groceries or restaurant meals to customers. Regulation could be the answer. A New York City lawmaker is drafting a bill to compel companies like DoorDash and Instacart to share if they are committing “tip theft.” “There’s a special place in hell for companies that confiscate the tips of low-wage workers,” the councilman told the New York Daily News. [Chavie Lieber / Vox] Ford has made a $500 million bet on a Tesla rival. The electric-car startup Rivian now counts the Detroit automaker as an investor. Carmakers have been some of the biggest strategic investors in transportation startups, and Ford is now deepening its rivalry with General Motors, which has also expressed interest in working with Rivian. The startup is battling Tesla — which has been careening from drama to drama over the last year — and is focusing first on an SUV and an all-electric pickup truck. Rivian accepted $700 million in an investment round led by Amazon just a few months ago. [Matthew DeBord / Business Insider] Top Stories From Recode What’s up with Twitter’s follower counts, explained for everyone — including Trump. It’s part of Twitter’s efforts to make its platform less bad.[Emily Stewart] This Is Cool Airbnb is reportedly trying to develop travel programming in Hollywood.

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It’s part of Twitter’s efforts to make its platform less bad. President Donald Trump wondering what’s up with declines in his Twitter following isn’t actually that strange. But there’s a pretty simple explanation for that, too: It’s a result of the company’s efforts to make its platform better. Trump on Tuesday took to Twitter to complain about … Twitter. He said the company doesn’t treat him well, is “very discriminatory,” and is constantly “taking people off list” — meaning, presumably, his list of followers. He claimed his following should be “much higher than if Twitter wasn’t playing their political games.” “The best thing ever to happen to Twitter is Donald Trump.” @MariaBartiromo So true, but they don’t treat me well as a Republican. Very discriminatory, hard for people to sign on. Constantly taking people off list. Big complaints from many people. Different names-over 100 M.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 23, 2019 .....But should be much higher than that if Twitter wasn’t playing their political games. No wonder Congress wants to get involved - and they should. Must be more, and fairer, companies to get out the WORD!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 23, 2019 In a private meeting with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey later in the day, Trump reportedly pressed the executive for answers on his Twitter following. The Washington Post reported that Trump spent a “significant portion” of the sit-down discussing whether Twitter had limited or removed some of his followers. White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told reporters on Wednesday that Trump and Dorsey had a “very productive conversation about keeping the media platforms open in 2020” and that Trump is “very concerned about what he sees as losing followers or people being blocked for certain actions.” This isn’t a new theme from Trump — he and many conservatives have often claimed that internet companies, including Twitter and Google, are censoring them or limiting their reach online. In summer 2018, for example, Trump seized on the narrative that Twitter was “shadow banning” some conservatives after a Vice News report that some Republican officials weren’t showing up in automatic search results. And after Twitter and other platforms took action to ban far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, the president claimed that social media was “totally discriminating” against Republican and conservative voices. Twitter and Dorsey have repeatedly denied that they are out to get conservatives. As far as the follower count thing goes, they’ve got a straightforward explanation: It’s fluctuating as a result of Twitter’s efforts to cut down spam. What Trump’s complaining about has been going on for a while In July 2018, Twitter announced that as part of its efforts to “build trust and encourage a healthy conversation,” it would start the process of removing tens of millions of suspicious and fake accounts from its follower counts. Specifically, the company said it would remove locked accounts — suspicious accounts it puts a temporary lock on until owners validate them and change their passwords. In a blog post discussing the change, Vijaya Gadde, head of legal, policy, and trust and safety at Twitter, acknowledged that some Twitter users weren’t going to be super enthused with the change. “We understand this may be hard for some, but we believe accuracy and transparency make Twitter a more trusted service for public conversation,” she wrote. For most people, she said it would result in a change of four followers at most, but for others with more follower counts, the drop would be more significant. Twitter estimated that the decision would reduce the total number of Twitter accounts by about 6 percent. The impact of the decision became apparent fast: The day Twitter announced it, Trump’s follower count dropped by 100,000, and former President Barack Obama’s fell by 400,000. Obama has more followers than Trump — currently, Obama has 106 million, and Trump has 60 million — which explains why Obama’s following fell more than Trump’s. According to the Post’s report on Trump’s Tuesday meeting with Twitter, Dorsey explained to the president that his follower count is fluctuating because of Twitter’s efforts to clean up the platform and said that even he had lost followers. “Our focus is on the health of the service, and that includes work to remove fake accounts to prevent malicious behavior,” a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement. “Many prominent accounts have seen follower counts drop, but the result is higher confidence that the followers they have are real, engaged people.” Dorsey’s reassurances seem to have appeased Trump — at least for now. The president tweeted out a picture of the meeting on Tuesday and said he looks forward to “keeping an open dialogue.” Great meeting this afternoon at the @WhiteHouse with @Jack from @Twitter. Lots of subjects discussed regarding their platform, and the world of social media in general. Look forward to keeping an open dialogue! pic.twitter.com/QnZi579eFb— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 23, 2019 Dorsey responded and thanked Trump for his time. Thank you for the time. Twitter is here to serve the entire public conversation, and we intend to make it healthier and more civil. Thanks for the discussion about that.— jack (@jack) April 23, 2019 Twitter is working on being less bad, to mixed results Twitter over the past year has engaged in a broader effort to make its platform a better place to be. It’s framed the initiative as one to foster a “healthy conversation.” As Kurt Wagner explained in Recode in March, many of Twitter’s latest undertakings, ranging from cracking down on bots to building out new conversation features, have been put under the umbrella of its health push. But fostering a healthy conversation — and defining what that even means — is easier said than done, per Wagner: Measuring the health of interactions is just one part of that broader effort, but it’s one of the more challenging and confusing parts. Removing bots and spam are technical problems. Truly understanding the health of a conversation requires things like understanding who is talking, what they’re talking about, or when someone is using sarcasm. Not all arguments, of course, are bad. Trump in particular might pose a problem for Twitter on the health front. On the one hand, he is the leader of one of the most powerful countries in the world, and what he says — whatever the forum — matters. On the other hand, Trump tweets some pretty awful things. This month, for example, Trump tweeted an edited video of a speech from Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) intercut with footage from the 9/11 attacks. Omar said that the tweet resulted in an increase in death threats she was receiving, including on Twitter, which was slow to react and take them down. Twitter has generally given Trump and other major public figures a pass on behavior that might not be permitted from other users. But in March, the company indicated that might soon change and said it was looking at how it might be able to label tweets that are of public interest but break its rules. If it does take that step, Twitter will likely hear from Trump, just as it has about his follower account. And just like in this latest case, it will have an explanation that this policy applies to everyone and that the president isn’t being singled out. But it’s unclear whether Trump, who is often eager to hold up any punching bag he can find, will buy it.

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This could speed up the process for other companies to get the FAA’s okay. A Google offshoot just got the FAA’s first go-ahead for drone deliveries. The Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday authorized Alphabet’s Wing Aviation to start delivering goods via drones later this year. Wing will start delivering commercial packages in unmanned aircraft in Blacksburg, Virginia. It partnered with the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership and Virginia Tech as a participant in the Transportation Department’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program, an initiative to accelerate drone integration and help the department and the FAA devise rules surrounding drones. The approval is an important one, given that this marks the first time the FAA has granted a so-called air-carrier certification for drone delivery of items such as food, medicine, and small consumer products. Wing plans to reach out to the local community before getting started in order to get a sense of its needs. Amazon has for some time been working on drone package delivery via its Amazon Prime Air division, for which it has development centers in the US, UK, Austria, France, and Israel. And George Mason University this year said it would let students have some food and drinks be delivered via drones on the ground. Still, there is a long way to go before consumer delivery via drone is a widespread reality in the United States. As the Wall Street Journal notes, it probably won’t be until 2020 or 2021 that the FAA implements broader rules for drones that would set out the lay of the land for delivering packages. There are a number of potential issues that still need to be addressed, including noise restrictions, safety, and air traffic control. There are privacy concerns surrounding drone deliveries as well. But Tuesday’s approval signals the FAA is willing to grant some carriers approval even before the final framework is in place. James Ryan Burgess, Wing’s CEO, spoke with Bloomberg about the approval and said it had been “pivotal” for both the company and the wider drone industry. “It shows these devices can be value-added in our communities,” he said. “They can be a faster, cleaner, less expensive way to transport things while still adding to the safety of society.” Wing will be able to send drones beyond the visual sight of the people operating them in order to deliver goods to consumers. The devices can only be operated during the day, and a pilot can operate as many as five drones at a time. The type of certification Wing received as an air carrier is the same one granted to charter airlines and small air-cargo haulers and means it can fly longer ranges and charge customers. Wing’s drones have a wingspan of about 3 feet and weigh approximately 11 pounds, and they can carry packages that weigh up to a little more than 3 pounds. They fly up to 400 feet above the ground. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in a statement said the approval was an “important step forward for the safe testing and integration of drones into our economy.” She also emphasized that safety would be the department’s priority as drone technology is further deployed and developed. The department said that Wing demonstrated it met the FAA’s safety standards to qualify for an air carrier certificate because of extensive data and documentation and thousands of flights the company conducted in Australia in recent years. The way Wing’s delivery system works is that a user orders something — including meals, beverages, and over-the-counter drugs — from a merchant via the Wing mobile app. The merchant than packages the goods and requests a Wing drone pick-up. Wing’s approval could speed up the process for other companies seeking the same go-ahead from the FAA. As The Verge notes, that could very well include Amazon’s Prime Air. Prime Air completed its first drone delivery demonstration in 2017 but still hasn’t gotten its consumer delivery service off the ground.

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posted about 1 month ago on re/code
Plus: Elizabeth Warren’s case for breaking up big tech is Amazon’s worst nightmare and the fall of the Kleiner Perkins empire. Discount retailer Kohl’s said on Tuesday that it will soon start accepting Amazon returns at all 1150-plus of its stores, solidifying an experiment that it first started testing out in a small number of locations in 2017, as Recode previously reported. Instead of shipping returns back to Amazon, Amazon customers can bring unpackaged orders to Kohl’s store near them and get them returned for free. The goal for Kohl’s of letting the fox guard the henhouse? To give consumers a new reason to come into their stores, in the hopes that they will make a purchase as part of their visit.[Lauren Thomas / CNBC] [Want to get the Recode Daily in your inbox? Subscribe here.] ICYMI: Elizabeth Warren’s case for breaking up big tech is Amazon’s worst nightmare. At Warren’s CNN town hall on Monday night, an audience member asked her why an Amazon user should still support her policy, Vox reports. Her response: Big tech is crushing competition. As Warren sees it, major tech firms have two functions, one being that they are platforms for buying and selling goods and the second being that they are “an information aggregator, collecting vast amounts of data on what people who use their platforms want.” And having all that data allows them to micro-target and crowd out competitors. Vox writes that Warren’s core argument for breaking up Big Tech is to prevent Amazon (and Google and Facebook) from this kind of anticompetitive behavior. Podcast alert: 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar also has a plan to regulate Big Tech if she wins. She told Kara Swisher in March that she would propose a tax on companies that exchange the private data of their users.[Zack Beauchamp / Vox] Sri Lanka’s social media shutdown suggests that Facebook cannot be trusted to combat misinformation. Facebook seems endlessly behind the curve when it comes to monitoring the content on its platform, perhaps especially in South and Southeast Asia. And despite years of its platform being used to spread misinformation around terrorist attacks or other news events, it’s still not clear that Facebook has an adequate plan to deal with the issue, or whether it has committed the necessary resources to try. But as far as it goes for Sri Lanka, the government is signaling that when it comes to Facebook controlling the platform after a crisis hits, they’ve given up hope the company has the capacity to do so. So the question is, is Sri Lanka a one-off? Or is it a sign that we’ve stopped giving Facebook the benefit of the doubt? As Ankit Panda, senior editor at the Diplomat, told Recode, “These governments ultimately have to rely on the companies to take these problems seriously, and there really haven’t been signs until about the last year that Facebook was taking this seriously at all.”[Emily Stewart / Recode] The fall of the Kleiner Perkins empire: Fortune writer Polina Marinova takes a deep dive into one of Silicon Valley’s most influential venture capital firms’ two-decade-long losing streak. Marinova writes of the internal struggle between longtime Kleiner leader John Doerr and famed Wall Street analyst and Kleiner partner Mary Meeker as Meeker’s team, not the venture capital investing unit, was landing stakes in the era’s most promising companies, including Slack, Spotify, and Uber. The piece outlines the “resentment over tension points as old as the investing business: Who gets the credit and, more important, who gets paid.” It also details the class system that developed inside the VC firm and the ramifications the firm has suffered by not adequately grooming the right successors.[Polina Marinova / Fortune] A cofounder of The Markup is out ahead of the tech news site’s anticipated July launch. According to the New York Times, The Markup’s editor-in-chief Julia Angwin has been fired, but the circumstances around her departure are murky. Angwin wrote a letter to Craig Newmark, the Craigslist founder who donated $20 million to The Markup, saying that the site’s two other cofounders wanted to change the editorial direction of the venture, reported the Times. Cofounders Sue Gardner and Jeff Larson have denied her claims and say the dispute leading to Angwin’s departure had been playing out for some time. For your listening pleasure: Peter Kafka interviewed Angwin last fall about her direction for The Markup, and Kara Swisher interviewed Newmark about his decision to give big bucks to journalism. Top Stories from Recode Digital media lifestyle brand Brit + Co is in financial trouble. CEO Brit Morin told Recode that her company was not shutting down, but confirmed that it was laying off a large number of her staff. [Theodore Schleifer] Tesla’s 2020 self-driving car promise sounds too good to be true because it is. Well, probably. [Emily Stewart] You’re going to die someday. WeCroak’s Hansa Bergwall says remembering that will make your life better. “If they were going to write your obituary tomorrow, would you be happy with what they said? That’s an important question,” Bergwall says on Recode Decode. [Kara Swisher] This is Cool Trump meets with Jack Dorsey, complains about his Twitter follower count.

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“If they were going to write your obituary tomorrow, would you be happy with what they said? That’s an important question.” On the latest episode of Recode Decode with Kara Swisher, WeCroak co-founder Hansa Bergwall joined Kara in studio to talk about his app, which reminds you about death five times a day. “One of the things that makes us most unhappy is we tend to get caught up in things that don’t matter,” Bergwall said. “We tend to get caught up in an angry voice or in minutiae or in stress or in tons of things that ultimately aren’t that important to us. And when we remember our mortality, we can take a deep breath and just go, ‘Oh, I don’t have to think about this. I don’t have to engage. I don’t have time for this.’ And move on.” The app, which uses a picture of a poison dart frog as its logo, is based on a Bhutanese folk saying: “To be a truly happy person, one must contemplate death five times daily.” It pushes quotes about death, loss, and acceptance to users at five randomly selected times every day, between 7:00 am and 10:00 pm. Bergwall said he and his cofounder, Ian Thomas, are proud that their 30,000 monthly users spend less than two minutes in the app daily. They designed WeCroak to have no advertising or hooks to social media, lest they cheapen the experience or compromise their own values. “We know what social media is: It’s addictive,” he said. “It’s not really a safe place. If you feel safe there, great, take it there. But we’re not gonna make a button encouraging you to do that. Because we take the responsibility of reminding people of their mortality, which is a vulnerable thing, seriously.” On the new podcast, he also talked about the “deluded” ways Silicon Valley is trying to hack death and why tech moguls who encourage employees to meditate may be tricking them into working longer hours. You can listen to Recode Decode wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, and Overcast. Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of Kara’s conversation with Hansa. Kara Swisher: Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, editor-at-large of Recode. You may know me as a mightily morbid media mogul, but in my spare time I talk tech and you’re listening to Recode Decode from the Vox Media Podcast Network. Today in the red chair is Hansa Bergwall, the founder of WeCroak, which is my favorite app that I absolutely love and I talk about all the time and I post pictures of it. Every day the app sends you five invitations to stop and think about death. Hansa, welcome to Recode Decode. Hansa Bergwall: Yeah, thank you so much. And actually, co-founder of WeCroak. Co-founder, okay. Yeah. Ian Thomas is out on the West Coast. Okay, cool. So give me your background. I want to know how you got to this. Because it is my favorite app. It is. I talk about it all the time and I posted, the quotes are fantastic. I want to sort of get a sense of the entire business, because there’s been a lot of interesting mortality stuff going around Silicon Valley these days. They’re in a much more grave, so to speak, point of view lately. Because there’s a lot of ... Things have not turned out as well. Now, obviously getting older and things like that. So talk a little bit about your background and how you got to create this. Yeah, well, it started really because I’m a meditator and have been for a little while and death recollection meditations are just part of what meditation has been supposed to be about. Explain that. Going way back thousands of years, this practice of different ways of recalling your mortality and death have been part of mindfulness and meditation techniques taught in many different ways for a long time. Everything from meditating in charnel grounds, which are places where bodies decompose, to get a sense of why you repeat mantras. You know, “my body will be like that decomposing body one day.” Mm-hm. And there’s also stories of, you know, the Buddha using his actual death as a teaching moment to say, “Hey, look at me, you know, this will happen to you too. This is absolutely important.” Right. And I even read, you know, some old texts that stated that, of the 40 different kinds of meditation, there are only two that are always beneficial: the cultivation of kindness and the recollection of death. Okay. So this stuff is supposed to be central. Like, right central trunk current of absolutely how you’d do mindfulness. You were an entrepreneur. Where are you from? I’ve been an entrepreneur for about six years and I have a PR business that I still have that mostly does work in natural foods. It’s a small boutique agency. Natural foods, like granola? Yeah, like stuff you ... Like granola. Okay. Stuff you buy at like a Whole Foods. The stuff downstairs at Vox Media that they give to the millennials. But go ahead. So, I have a lot of independence. I just want to say, I just got a thing from WeCroak. “Don’t forget you’re going to die. Open for a quote.” Anyway, go ahead. That’s my favorite thing, “Don’t forget you’re going to die” is my favorite thing every day. But go ahead. Yeah, so I was running my own business, was interested in all of these meditation things and I was just like, “Hey, I’m not doing this. I probably should be.” And no one else I know who’s on this sort of bandwagon of mindfulness is talking about that. This seems like it’s a problem. Why was that? Why? Because it’s not ... Mindfulness is more, the calm meditations, the ... Yeah, I just think, you know, sometimes when things hop cultures and go from one place to another, we sort of take what we’re most comfortable with and leave out the rest. That’s pretty natural. But, you know, the risk of that is sometimes you’ll leave out one of the most important pieces. Right, right. Absolutely. So anyways, so you were doing this PR firm ... And I was just really interested in this stuff. I came across the Bhutanese formulation, which seemed really simple and programmable, which is just, think about it five times a day. Right. Sounded like a lot, but it sounded achievable. And explain that. Explain the Bhutanese things, people don’t ... I just want to say, the quote I just got, which is one of my favorites, I’ve gotten it before. “Trying to remember you is like carrying water in my hands a long distance.” I feel like that about a lot of people. Stephen Dobyns. That’s not a death quote, per se. So I want to talk about this in a minute. It’s a relationship, kind of. Yeah, that’s from a poem about grief. Yeah. Oh it is. That’s right. It’s a longer poem. So talk a little bit about the Bhutan, the concept of Bhutan. Explain that to ... What I liked about it is, this was, like a folk saying for everybody, not just for monks or serious meditators. It’s just if you want to be a happy person, do this five times a day. And it seemed to me like, “Hey, they’re making a claim on truth here.” Right. “This works.” And explain why you think that is. Why I think ... I mean, it’s the saying. If you want to be happy, think about this five times a day, you know? Why do I think that makes people happy? Mm-hm. Oh, because one of the things that makes us most unhappy is we tend to get caught up in things that don’t matter. Right. We tend to get caught up in an angry voice or in minutiae or in stress or in tons of things that ultimately aren’t that important to us. And when we remember our mortality, we can take a deep breath and just go, “Oh, I don’t have to think about this. I don’t have to engage. I don’t have time for this.” And move on. Right. It’s just a little way of making a micro adjustment so that your whole day, which remember is one of your limited days on earth, isn’t taking it up with BS. Right, right. So you saw the saying and then how did you get it into an app form? Well, Ian, my co-founder, rented my room on Airbnb. Mm-hm. And he’s an app developer. And I’d had this idea for an app since, you know, for a little while, but I’m not in the tech world, or at least I wasn’t until we made this together. And so one evening when we were sitting around the kitchen table ... So he was visiting from somewhere, just ... From California. Right. Okay. So he was working here. I told him the idea and asked if he wanted to do it with me. And he said yes. It was one of those weird, magical things that just happens in life. It’s perfect. Okay. And so he said, “Yes, I’ll make this for you.” And how did you conceive of it? How did I conceive of it? How did you guys do it together then? So you decide to do it together? Yeah, we decided to do it together. We talked about it around the kitchen table. And at first this is like a project, something we wanted on our phones to correct our own bias toward not remembering that death is real, that it can happen at any time. And we wanted a tool. You know, we were ... I was personally angry at my phone for constantly distracting me with addictive technologies and wanted to ... I knew I wasn’t going to give up my phone and wanted to fight back. And he was into that idea, too. And so we just came up with the product that we thought would work for us, you know, like incessant, constant reminders that can happen at any time. Just like death. And a nice quote to remember that it’s also much bigger than just, you know, a folk saying from Bhutan. Like people have been confronting their mortality all over the world in different ways for thousands of years. Right. So we would include quotes from anyone we thought said something wise about death. So, talk about how you find the quotes. It’s a very ... just so people who haven’t used it, it’s called WeCroak. It just pops up a reminder that you’re going to die, first of all. At any time, by the way, it doesn’t have a time thing, does it? It’s between 7:00 am and 10:00 pm. Right. So you’re not going to get them at four in the morning. Yeah. But within that, those parameters, anytime. Anytime. It can come very quickly too, like one can come after the next, which I think is very funny. Because sometimes I get two in a row and I’m like, “What’s going on with that?” It just doesn’t have any rhyme or reason in that way. No, it’s randomized. Randomized. On purpose. Right. Because death can come at any time, right? Mm-hm. And so, it pops up first with a reminder. It says, “you’re going to die.” Which is always like ... When people see it on my phone, they’re like, “Kara, what are you doing?” And I’m like, “I’m gonna die.” Which I think is really a fun idea to think about. And then it pops up with a quote. So talk about the quotes, because they’re wonderful quotes. You recycle a bunch of them, but there’s always a new one, and so how do you manage that? And how do you think about it? Because they’re not all about death. Yeah. Well, they’re all in some way, at least in my mind, about impermanence and, you know, how everything’s always changing. Right. Which is ultimately what death recollection is supposed to be about. Sure, sure. And I guess I read a lot. It’s just one of the things I do. So I’m constantly looking for good quotes. Right. And I used the Emily Dickinson sort of test, which is, if it hits me once, like it feels like it takes the top of my head off, then it can go on the app. Right. And if it doesn’t doesn’t do that, then I don’t put it in. Wait, what’s the Emily Dickinson? It’s just, “I know it’s poetry if it takes the top of my head clear off.” Sure, clear off. Okay. Just really has an emotional impact. So you pick them yourself? I do, yeah. Okay, so you pick them yourselves and then you add them in. We have a, on our website, a suggestion tab too. So if you know of any good ones. And people send them. Yeah. Oh, I’ve got lots of good death quotes. Are you kidding? I like, I collect them. Yeah. Anytime. I’ll send you all of them. I’m always looking for more. Okay, good. They pop up and you decided to make people pay 99 cents for it, right? We did, yeah. That’s just because when we were launching this, we weren’t sure what kind of effect it would have on people. No one had ever done anything like this. So we just ... Did you do any research whatsoever? On death things? We did. There’s not that many. I did a lot of research on death recollection practices, of which there are hundreds around the world. Right. Sure. And just chose one to go with. I didn’t do market research or anything like that. Right, that’s what I’m ... none of that. No. None of that. Just, like there aren’t any, there really aren’t. I actually looked for them. It’s a really interesting thing. Years ago when ... I forget, it was Meg Whitman? Someone had a new job. I’m like, “Really what you should do is funeral.com and help people ... Make people memorialize people. Someday you’re going to want be memorialized online. And all of your things that you put up need to be part of like a grave area.” And she thought it was crazy. And she moved on and did eBay and that worked out well for her. But so you decided to put it in the App Store, you had not had any experience with the App Store, correct? Ian, my co-founder, had launched apps before. Okay. So he did all the coding and walked me through that process. I picked every quote and figured out how to do the storytelling because that’s what I do. And then you launch it. When did you launch it? How long ago? It was August of 2017 is when it was sort of on our phones and working. Right. And why did you call it WeCroak? It was funny. It was, really? Just ... Yeah, it’s just a pun, you know. And the frog? Honestly we were just looking for something that wasn’t like a somber sort of cliche of death. Sort of a new death image or metaphor. Right. What were some of the other names? It was really always WeCroak. YouDie? Oh is it? YouDie. GoodBye. Yeah, we just didn’t want to have like a grim reaper on the top. Right, right. We want something like that felt different and fresh. And the frog just because WeCroak. Yeah. It’s a poison dart frog. It could kill you, so it’s nature’s own symbolism. We think it works. Okay. All right, so you launched this thing and what happens? Well at first it’s, you know, 80 of us — our friends and maybe some friends of friends using it. Right. Enjoying it, working with it. And then ... 99 cents you decided to charge, right? Yeah, we wanted the people on it to at least think once, “Do I really want this?” Right. Like, you know, just to be sure. Sure. And that was that for, you know, a few months. And then I spoke to this journalist, Bianca Bosker over at the Atlantic, and she decided to give it a try for a couple months. And you know, I had no idea what she would do with it. I thought maybe it would be in a bigger roundup or something like that. But it ended up being a two-page review all about the experience and sort of what it was like to have tech that sort of puts you back on track rather than takes you off, that doesn’t try to distract you at all. We don’t link to social media or have any sort of other things to do. Right. I wanna talk about that next. Which was very intentional on the design because we were looking for something to basically bring us back to ourselves. Like power of decision-making. It doesn’t do anything. No. Yeah. We resisted every other bell or whistle we could possibly add and got emails, by the way, from people saying, “You’re doing it wrong. You could 10X your amount of downloads if you would just have a button to, you know, link it to Facebook and Twitter.” Yeah. And we were just like, “Okay, but we’re not going to do it.” We’re here with Hansa Bergwall. He’s the co-founder of WeCroak, which is my No. 1 app, I have to say. It really is. I like, I love Twitter. You know how much I love the Twitter. I actually put WeCroak ... I’m sorry, I do so much flacking for you, but I love it so much. So the idea of not doing anything with it, there’s a big trend of this idea, of people getting off their phones, or not using your phones. Kevin Roose just wrote a great story about trying to get away from it and there’s all kinds of things to do to be more measured with the way we’re doing it. But you guys decided to use an app to do this because you use your phones, right? Can you talk a little bit about that thought? I want to talk about why you didn’t add more bells and whistles and where it goes, but you’re using a phone to take people away from phones, correct? You know, I have struggled over the years with iPhone addiction or something like ... I don’t know if that’s the right word for it. But just, you know, noticing that I’m spending way too much time on a stupid game or on one of the social media apps or, you know, who knows what can be really distracting. And sometimes it’s okay and sometimes it’s really not. It’s not how I plan to use my day. So I wanted something that would occasionally, at a time I couldn’t expect, to sort of ping me. And I didn’t want it to be like, “Okay, time for a long deep breath.” Like, I really hate people telling me what to do. That’s on the iPhone. On the phone. I hate that watch. I just, I can’t with that. “Stand up.” No! I shall not. So actually this was, you know, a better way, I thought, to do it. Just like, tell you something that’s always true and always relevant. “You are going to die.” And if you like what you’re doing in that moment, then great. Pat yourself on the back. It’s your choice. And if you don’t like where you are at that moment, you know, it’s time for a little adjustment. Like put the phone down or change it up, take a walk, you know, do whatever you want, it’s up to you. But you don’t give suggestions? No. One thing you don’t do at all is give suggestions. Never. Because you could have. That’s a very good point, where if you have someone’s attention for a second, why don’t you do this? A lot of them are very prescriptive. A lot of these apps. Yeah, I hate that. Yeah. It’s just, it rankles me. It rankles you. I don’t want some app, I don’t want an algorithm telling me what to do. Right, right. To get up or do anything. So you don’t give suggestions, it’s just the quotes. And then the linking. Talk a little bit more about that. Because again, people want to grow bigger. I’d love to get an idea of how big you ... How people use it. I’m trying to make it bigger. I want people to use it. Well, 75,000 people have downloaded it. We get about, like 12 to 15,000 on it every day. About 25, 30 [thousand] on it every month. A lot of people love it, and some people try it and don’t keep using it. Over the course of the last year, we’ve sent 25 million reminders that everyone is mortal and going to die, so that feels really, really cool. It is growing. We still spent no dollars on advertising or marketing whatsoever, just our time talking about it. Right. It keeps growing, because I think there is at least a core of people that love it and want to share it. So, talk about this concept of the idea of mortality, because one of the things, obviously one of the most famous speeches about that is Steve Jobs, his speech about mortality, about dying. Yeah, of course. I have that quote in the app. Yes, you do. You do, and there’s lots of them. That whole speech has like 20 quotes, if you wanted to pick any of them. But his famous quote is remembering he’s going to die is the single most motivating thing in his life. Here’s a man who was at the time dying, and actually recovered that time, and then got sick again. But it was a really interesting speech, and surprising for people, from him. Yeah. Well, I agree with him, first of all. I find it very clarifying for me as I go about and try to make decisions about what’s important to me. How I’m going to use my day and my time, how to have a little bit more courage, and let go of the fear of, “Hey, I’m going to reach out to this person!” I started a WeCroak podcast, so I reach out to people all the time who are more famous and have more books and are more interesting to me. It helps to cut away the things that don’t matter and just go after what I do care about. When you think about that … you started a podcast, talk about that. You talk about death with people, or death experiences? Yeah. There’s a lot of great books from people in hospice, palliative care. The theme of the podcast is actually all the things we don’t talk about enough, starting with death, but not ending there. Really just we’re ... And on it, there’s a lot of people who’ve written books about palliative care or hospice or done meditation or in philosophy or history. It’s been really fun. Why do you think people don’t think about it a lot, talk about it? There’s a lot of books about it and everyone does die, but why do you think that is? Oh, there’s a deep-seated aversion to thinking about death in our brains. It seems to be recurring in every single generation. It’s probably built into our biology, and the problem with it is that it’s sort of a first delusion that a lot of other things are built on. Explain that. What do you mean? Well, when we try to manage our fear of death by saying, “Yeah, but I’m not going to die until I’m 90.” I would say that’s a pretty common negotiation where people forget like it could be tomorrow. Right. Or it could be later today. Then all of a sudden, life isn’t urgent. Right. You might not notice that you’ve gotten caught in a rut, in a job that you hate, or in a relationship that isn’t right for you, or doing something really unethical and keep doing it because you’re not really thinking about your time being precious or valuable or important. So all these other little negotiations that we make are built upon that first lie, that our time isn’t important, it doesn’t matter, and that it isn’t precious. So if we can cut down to that one, we can start breaking away all the ones on top. We don’t really know all the ways you can start believing things about life that aren’t true, but we can be pretty sure that you’re going to start trying to manage your fear of death by making up little negotiations with it. If we can cut to that, we can cut a lot of the, frankly, deluded ideas just circulating widely in our society. No, I would agree with it. I mean, it’s one of the themes I talk about a lot. It’s like, “Why do you do things?” It’s like, “I’m gonna die, that’s why.” You tend to understand, you don’t have time, you don’t have time. It was odd. I took my son to see Hamilton last night and that was a theme in that. It’s a very strong theme and I hadn’t realized that until I saw it. I’d seen it before but the second time he writes like he has no time. Or he’s running out of time. And that is clear in his life. Maybe he didn’t know he was going to die as he did, at a younger age. Of a duel, of all things. But although, when you’re going to a duel, you kind of have to assume you could be dying, I guess. But the concept of running out of time is one that is not comfortable for people. They don’t like to talk about it. They don’t tend to dwell on it and lose themselves in other things. No, but the thing is, when you avoid thinking about it the consequences are usually way worse than trying to remind yourself of what’s real. Just because, I’ve personally been stuck in job ruts or life ruts for years of my life. And they’re awful. I think back to whole years in my 20s and I’m like, “Wow, I wish I could have used that time a lot better.” I didn’t have this tool yet. It’s true. At least I have it now. I’m not gonna do that again. So when you’re ... let’s go back to the tool. So you had the podcast where you’re talking about that and discussing death. Is it hard to get advertising for that? I’m just curious. There’s no advertising. We have a Patreon, so if you like the podcast, you can go on there. “We like to talk about death, Casper Mattress. You’ll be not lying on this mattress someday. This mattress will outlive you.” Yeah. I’m gonna do that for my Casper ad. “This mattress will be around very long after you’re gone. Probably forever because it’s made of who knows what.” That kind of stuff. So you’re doing the podcast. Where do you want to go with this business, with this concept? You want to just make it, that’s it? You just leave it on. You spend time on it, right? Oh yeah. It’s a passion project. I love it. Ian, my co-founder, loves it. We still have our day jobs, mostly because we haven’t really thought too hard yet about, “how are we gonna monetize this?” You haven’t had the monetization discussion. We might do that one day in order to spend more time on it. But right now, it feels really good to have freedom. Like people don’t remember how wonderful that particular value can be sometimes. We don’t have investors, we don’t have any other pressure besides ... Yeah, it doesn’t cost anything Besides making it something we love, so that gives us incredible freedom to not link to social media, to not have advertising. To do any of the compromises that, frankly, a lot of other companies have to make. I couldn’t even think how you could do advertising on that. I guess it could flash in there. Like an ad for something. Yeah, there were lots of people telling us we should. And we didn’t. Right, you see the quote, then you see an ad. I don’t even know what I would want there. It would be so offensive. Like whatever it was, I would hate them. It would be a terrible idea. It would be a terrible idea. But I guess you could link to meditation apps, I guess. Yeah. I guess. It’s nice not having that pressure right now. Right, right. We know we are never gonna have ads on there. Just because as soon as you have an incentive to make people buy things through ads, you have an incentive to make them spend more time on it. Just sort of hook their attention in ways ... I do marketing for a living, so I know the psychology of it. But why not get it on social media? You don’t want people to share that they’re thinking about death? Well, people do. They take screenshots and that’s fine. Yeah, that’s what I do. And we love it when they do. But it’s more a matter of, we know what social media is: It’s addictive. It’s not really a safe place. If you feel safe there, great, take it there. But we’re not gonna make a button encouraging you to do that. Because we take the responsibility ... Like share this quote? Of reminding people of their mortality, which is a vulnerable thing, seriously. So we remind people. We give them a quote and then we don’t encourage them to do anything else. We encourage them to just have a moment in the app doing whatever they want, and then they close it. We’re proud that most of the people who even open it five times a day spend less than two minutes in the app total per day. That’s about right. Yeah, and that’s it. We’re trying to give you a little reminder to live ... what’s important to you and then that’s it. We’re not gonna push you into some kind of ... Other action. Like Twitter hole, where you spend an hour responding to people, or searching hashtags. If you want to go there, fine. We’re not gonna push you in that direction. Take you there. So the business just doesn’t have to go there. People just have to use it, right? That’s all. I love this. This is my favorite app now. You’re now my absolute favorite app. Because it is, it’s like that. There’s no other reason for it. It’s like looking at a rock garden, kind of thing. You know, I’ll share something personal, in that my mother passed away of an aneurysm when I was 11. Oh, my father died when I was 5. I read that in your Times article, so I knew that we shared that. So sort of the “anytimeness” of death, which is one of its qualities, has always sort of haunted me in the sense that no matter how much I got caught up in life, part of me would always feel like it’s kind of phony. It could all come crashing down because I knew it could. There’s a part of me, a very traumatized little boy, that could feel that. So as I became an adult and got interested in that, it just became an important value to remember that. And to remind ... No, it’s a key value for people who’ve lost parents at a young age. There are all kinds of ... there have been some interesting studies and books on that topic. A lot of people become highly functional, nothing bothers them kind of thing. And the other thing is that they do have a bigger sense that disaster is afoot. Not in a morbid way. It’s an interesting thing because a lot of people ... I talk about it a lot. I think you should think about death all the time. Or it should be a daily reminder, at least, for you. And people always call me morbid or “why are you so death-oriented?” I’m like “I’m not. I don’t want to die.” Yeah, so like you, it’s one of the more important things in my heart. If I can tell people one thing that has helped me it’s like, “your life is precious. Remember that, because it’s gonna end one day and it could be any day.” One of the magical things about technology that’s just not some sentimental wish I have in my heart, I actually get to do it. You know, 25 million reminders in the last year. It happens now. Sort of on command through the magic of technology and that’s really cool. We’re here with Hansa Bergwall. He’s the founder of We Croak, my favorite app, which is an app that you pay 99 cents for and it sends you five very simple invitations to stop and think about death. There’s no social media attached to it, there’s no advertising, there’s no nothing. It’s just one quote that pops ... a reminder that pops on your phone that says “you’re gonna die” and then you read the quote, which is usually pretty amazing. They’re pretty amazing quotes, and I want to go over a few of them in a minute. But what’s going on in Silicon Valley now is really interesting. It’s this concept that you don’t have to die. Tell me what you think about that. You’re not an expert on this but certainly ... I thought about it, though. They are investing billions, or hundreds of millions, in this concept. I mean, it’s always going to be a dangerous illusion, I think. The minute you make an excuse that death can’t happen at any time, a lot of really harmful frames of mind start really quickly. You don’t remember the urgency of time. You might not hold yourself as accountable to yourself and to others. All of these kinds of suffering that come from the idea that you can control death. I believe that strongly. Insofar as these technologies are marketed as ways that you don’t have to worry about death anymore, I think that’s harmful. The scientific method is such that, we’re definitely going to have more life extension, probably, at some point. Yeah, it’s called healthcare. That you live longer and that you also live more healthily toward the end of your life, which is not a bad thing. That’s not the worst thing. No, but it’s never going to be foolproof and it’s never gonna change the nature of the world, that you could die at any time. And so you know, to be frank, we’ve already had lots of life extension. The average lifespan used to be 40 and now it’s twice that. We don’t know how to use that time well. Our mortality rate in the United States is starting to tick down, precisely because of things like addiction, depression, suicide are apparently the things driving it down. So we don’t even really know how to use the extra time we have now, per se. We have a crisis on our hands and I don’t really see how pushing that line out further is going to help us do that. Without accompanying it with something, to deal with it. That’s absolutely right. The other thing that bothers me about marketing “you don’t have to worry about death anymore” technology to people is it’s just ... I don’t think they are really asking the right questions. When you look at ... let’s say they can turn off a gene that makes us age or make it much slower like a tree, like a living organism … Senesence. It’s a word I know now which I don’t believe I do. … that can live 500 years. When you look at those living things that live much longer than we do, they live in a particular way. They take care of each. They’re highly networked. They’re world builders basically, where they change the atmosphere and the temperatures and the amount of winds that whip through that makes it a temperate, easier-to-live existence. You know, you never hear about how we’re making the world much safer for everyone. Combating climate change, because we are kind of world builders too, and we’re making the world much less stable in terms of our environments, our climate, inequality problems, social kinds of things. So the world we’re building right now and that Silicon Valley is building and these investors that I hear are investing, are not making it a place where you can have a lot of assurance that you’re gonna live forever or for hundreds of years. Why do you think that’s attractive to the tech people? They do talk about it a lot. They do discuss it, especially in terms of life extension things, but in terms of this idea that they are meditating, they’re part of this greater whole, and then they don’t live it. That’s part of my ... they talk about it a lot but they don’t live it in any way. Why do they talk a lot about ...? The concepts of meditation, of life extension, with hacking death, hacking the body, hacking everything. Well, remember, every kind of meditation can be abused, except for kindness and death recollection. So they’ve created an extremely stressful work environment. I’ve heard from friends, people who are working 60, 80-plus hours a week. So meditation becomes how you cope in an environment like that. You basically can work longer at an insane job, rather than realizing this is an unsustainable situation for a human and quitting. So I think meditation is often being abused in that context to get people to stay in places that no human should really have to do. Right, right, yeah. So talk about ... you do meditation, are you thinking about doing other kinds of apps in that regard that are to pull people from things, or not at all? This is just a one-off. We have a few ideas we’ve been talking about. It’s kind of one thing at a time. I’m working on a book right now and the podcast, so we do have some ideas, but want to make sure it’s really as like ... What would you like to see tech do more of? Given these things are in your pocket. They are reminders. There used to be worry beads or there used to be all kinds of ways people were reminded of things, of all kinds of ways to stop for a second. One, I think we need to remember we’re going to die and think, “Is this spot I am today where I really should be? Am I living my best values?” And if we’re not, what changes can we make? It’s urgent. If they were going to write your obituary tomorrow, would you be happy with what they said? That’s an important question. And with what you built, I think that’s really important. In a lot of ways, the message I have for Silicon Valley and ... it is an app, so it is sort of a message to them because when I was working on it, when Ian was working on it, we were a little angry at them for creating so much addictive technology that was getting us off track and making us feel bad about ourselves and our friends and stuff. As far as what’s next, we’ll see. It’s definitely going to be in this sort of direction of a little bit more provocative than, let’s say, the Calm meditation app. Yes, please do. I think you should have a death countdown. What about that? People have them. They are popular. I’ve seen them. I don’t ... they’re not quite right. The issue I have with them is, once again, it’s the anytime-ness of death they forget. They assume you’re going to have a natural human lifespan. And I think that is one of the more common delusions we carry about death. So if you’re a certain age, you’re going to live until 80.4 whatever, 86. They are useful in sort of mapping out what you could have and seeing, “Oh wow, this really is limited. The max span I could have is this many weeks,” and it doesn’t sound like that many. But we don’t have a countdown because we think it could ... it’s a little dicey on that one important piece. Right, that you’re not as safe as you think you are. I always tell them that and they don’t listen. They don’t listen, that’s okay. Do you think that they ... I always thought that the death of Steve Jobs would have an impact on them in a more profound way, but it actually sped everything up, in a different context. It didn’t slow things down, and this is the person who sort of gave us the iPhone, or got us there. I don’t know these people and I haven’t looked into their souls like you have, Kara. I don’t look into their souls. I’d be looking a long time, Hansa. I just think they have a lot of incentives that are pretty powerful on the brain. Like billions and billions and I guess trillions of dollars are what these companies are worth now? Yes, they are. And it creates a lot of incentive to keep that going, and that can compromise you. I don’t think I have to list here all the problematic things that Facebook and some of these other big tech companies have done. The thing is, it’s pretty predictable that huge pressures like that get you off track, and that’s why you need to remember that you’re going to die, to sort of cut away the bullshit so that you can take a stand and do something courageous. Maybe make a choice that’s right rather than profitable. No, they’re not going to do that. I mean, I’m not holding my breath, but ... that is like the ... They can do basic designs on these phones. You’re not in your Uber app all the time. It could be in the front versus some others. WeCroak is proof that you can design an app that you don’t stay in all day and people can still value it and like it and tell their friends. Right, no, 100 percent. We designed it to do the opposite and it works. Have you thought of audio or video or anything else? Just the quotes. We have thought about it. We don’t have the money to do it right now. It would be fun to ... What would you do? Oh, this speech, you could... pieces of a speech, people listen to things. Oh, there’s a lot of different things we could do. Yeah, you could do. I can think of ... We’ve thought about it. Everything from guided meditations to talks to looking at different impermanence reminders and cultural things. There’s cool content you could do. But right now, it’s just words. I’m going to read some of your quotes, so tell me why you put this one in. “Once we’ve accepted the story, we cannot escape the story’s fate,” from P.L. Travers. What a great quote. You know, P.L. Travers is a writer and it’s just, all stories end in death and that seemed like an important point to always keep in mind as you’re living your story. It comes to an end. And also that you should change. If you accept the story you’re in, that’s the fate you get. Here’s another one. This is another good one. David Sedaris, “If you’re looking for sympathy, you’ll find it between shit and syphilis in the dictionary.” That’s not death exactly, but just funny. Well, no, because when people get morbid or something like that, they think “Oh, poor me, I have to die or so and so.” Death is normal. Everyone has to go through it. And you gotta remember that. This isn’t the world singling you out, it’s just part of the story. And there’s a problem in our culture where people going through a big impermanence moment, let’s say someone in their family dying, like a spouse or a child, they get shunned. And I hear from these people because they write me and they say, “I’m using your app to help me grieve the death of my son and people aren’t talking to me anymore or people don’t know what to say.” We actually ostracize people. Yes, Sheryl Sandberg actually wrote about that in her book, this idea of people not speaking to her about her husband dying. Grief experience. So it’s important to remember that this is for everybody. You are not alone. If you go through this, so will everyone else, even if they’re being mean to you because they don’t know what to say. They’re going to go through this, too. This is everybody. All right, Kurt Vonnegut: “I was some of the mud that got to sit up and look around. Lucky me, lucky mud.” Why that one? That was a good one. That’s about life. That’s about living your life. Yeah, I mean, we’re all made from the same things, you know? The mud of this earth and animated, and it seems like we’re here for a short time, we get to be us. That’s our fortune that we do get to have this day, alive. Absolutely. Same with, “Tomorrow is tomorrow, future cares have future cures and we must mind today.” Sophocles. Yep, always fun to go back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. Ancient Greeks, you do a lot of those. Do you have any one that you ... just go anywhere, you find quotes. You had Mary Oliver just recently. We have drag queens, we have comedians, we have activists, we have anyone we thought that said something wise about impermanence or death and really trying to find something from every continent, find something from every culture. I have one my grandmother used to say a lot, but I think it’s from someone, that “the graveyards are full of busy people.” Oh that’s a good one. I know, right? I’ve gotta find out where it’s from. I’m gonna send you that when I find out. I love that one. Whenever I wouldn’t go visit her, she’d say, “The graveyards are full of busy people.” Yeah, in terms of the quote selection, we’ll take them from absolutely anywhere. The one thing is, we talk about death, we don’t talk about afterlife. Right. You don’t! You’re right, I hadn’t thought about that. There’s a reason for that. Yeah, explain please. I do believe it’s perfectly worthwhile to ask these deep questions in your own faith community. Once we start talking about afterlife, we start to tribalize again into different groups who agree to disagree, but the moment of death is something we absolutely all share and it can open up a lot of passion and common feeling of how we’re all the same. And I think we need more togetherness in this world, so that’s what I’m interested in putting in here. That’s really smart. You had one from Wallace Stevens: “The way through the world is more difficult than the way beyond it.” And then, of course, Charles Bukowski, who’s just a piece of work. “We’re all gonna die, all of us. What a circus. That alone should make us love each other, but it doesn’t.” But it does, actually. But it doesn’t! When we remember to think about it, it does help. But we don’t, that’s why we’re all so hateful. Anyway, I really appreciate your app, I have to tell you. It’s the best 99 cents I’ve ever spent, I’d spend a lot more on it. I will buy any app you make. Oh, thank you. It’s a really wonderful experience. And we’ll see more, hopefully, from you all, correct? We’ll see more. We’re gonna do more. There’s gonna be more quotes on the app, there’s gonna be ... I will take more from you, I will pay more for the things. …more podcast episodes. There’s probably gonna be ... It’s so much better time than spent on Twitter, I can’t even tell you. Though, sometimes Twitter is very funny, they had a whole thing... I mean, Chrissy Teigen on the hamster is completely life-affirming in so many ways. Follow Chrissy Teigen, you’ll find some wise-ness there. Well, okay. I’m not a total ... She discusses spaghetti and it’s hysterical. It’s just a wonderful app. And she’s wonderful at doing it. Sorry. Some people on Twitter are very useful. I agree. I’m on Twitter, I really enjoy it too. I just like to have it be on my terms and be in control. Yes, exactly. It’s hard because it is meant to be addictive. It’s designed that way. Anyway, this is not addictive. This is a wonderful app. It’s called WeCroak. We’re here with one of the co-founders, Hansa Bergwall. Again, I recommend you download it. Every day the app sends you five invitations to stop and think about death, and let me tell you, it’s the most fun I’ve had with any app. Thank you so much for being here. Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

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posted about 1 month ago on re/code
Well, probably. Even Elon Musk seems a little skeptical of his promise to get 1 million completely self-driving Tesla “robotaxis” on the road next year. The South African-born entrepreneur at Tesla’s Autonomy Investor Day on Monday made a number of bold claims about what’s ahead for the electric car company. Musk unveiled a new microchip that he claimed would be “objectively” the best in the world, predicted that fully autonomous Teslas capable of operating without a human driver would be on the road by mid-2020, and said the company would have a fleet of “robotaxis” out by next year as well. This isn’t the first time Musk has predicted that a fully autonomous car was on the one-year horizon for Tesla — the company made a pretty similar guarantee in October 2016 when Musk said Tesla would have a vehicle that could make a handsfree, self-driving trip from Los Angeles to New York by the end of 2017. He didn’t hit that deadline, and there’s a lot of skepticism that he’ll hit his new one, including from Musk himself. “Sometimes I am not on time,” he said on Monday, “but I get it done.” Plenty of observers agreed that 1 million Tesla robotaxis by 2020 is probably not a thing that’s going to happen. “It’s totally off-base. There’s just no way that that is going to happen the way it was presented. They’re not even close,” Steven Shladover, a retired research engineer at the University of California Berkeley, told me. “To be polite, I think we saw their vision of the best-case scenario. I think that’s what they rolled out. And their track record would suggest that that best-case scenario doesn’t always pan out the way they hope,” said Lou Whiteman, a contributor at the investment site Motley Fool and a veteran transportation reporter. “The Tesla Network robotaxi plans seemed half baked, with the company appearing to either not have answers to or not even considered pretty basic question on the pricing, insurance liability, or regulatory and legal requirements,” Cowen analyst Jeffrey Osborne said in a note to clients. That’s not to say that a fully autonomous vehicle, including a Tesla, may not be a reality eventually. (That would be level 5 autonomy, meaning the car could operate completely driverless anywhere, under any circumstances.) But the scenario is a long way away — Shladover told me he believes decades. Right now, Tesla’s automation system, similar to those from Mercedes, General Motors, and Volvo, is a partial one, or level 2. That basically means the car will control steering and speed on a well-marked highway, but it still requires continuous supervision by a driver. In other words, it’s highly unlikely you’ll see a bunch of driverless Tesla taxis on the road en masse anytime soon. Musk says your Tesla can be a taxi when you’re not in it There are two prongs to Musk’s new plan: one, that Tesla will have fully autonomous vehicles on the road by 2020; and second, that those vehicles will be able to act as driverless taxis. (Tesla isn’t quite there yet on the technology, but Musk says that once the software is finally set for the vehicles, the concept should be ready to go.) Once this robotaxi system is in place, basically what would happen is that Tesla owners would be able to turn their vehicles into a taxi when they don’t need them. Then strangers, using the Tesla ride-sharing app, would pay to take rides — similar to Uber or Lyft — but in your fancy electric car. Think about it: You drive to work, flip a switch to put your vehicle into taxi service, and then off it goes until you need it back. Musk says the prospect could be a lucrative one. He predicted robotaxis could earn owners $30,000 a year, even after Tesla takes 25 percent to 35 percent of each rider’s fee. Not all of the cars will be owned by individual customers. Tesla recently rolled out a new leasing structure for its Model 3 where customers can lease a car — but they won’t have the option to buy it once the lease is up. Tesla said it plans to use those vehicles in its ride-hailing network. “Even if they were to achieve it, there are questions regarding the revenue and margins, if it would even be material to the overall company,” Garrett Nelson, a senior equity analyst at research investment firm CFRA Research, told me. “You have to look at the financials of Uber and Lyft, neither of which are profitable.” Musk on Monday said that, given the potential for Tesla’s vehicles to be a moneymaker for customers who loan out their cars as taxis, it would be “financially insane” to buy anything else. “It’ll be like owning a horse in three years. I mean, fine if you want to own a horse, but you should go into it with that expectation,” he said. If Tesla were able to deliver customers $30,000 a year on a roughly $40,000 vehicle, of course it would be amazing. “If it wasn’t hard to believe, everyone should go out and buy five of these,” Whiteman said. “Forget buying the stock, buy the cars.” To be sure, growing timelines in automated vehicles isn’t a problem that’s exclusive to Tesla, Greg McGuire, the director of the MCity autonomous vehicle testing lab at the University of Michigan, said. “If you look at what has been announced in the industry to date and the timelines, you can see that there’s a lot of exuberance, and then reality comes in,” he said. “Some companies have announced very aggressive time scales that have lengthened over the last few years and shown that it’s a really hard problem.” A Tesla spokesperson did not return a request for comment for this story. The timing of this is interesting There are multiple hurdles Tesla and Musk have to get over to make this robotaxi dream a reality. They have to perfect the technology, and both they and their competitors seem to still have some significant hurdles to cross. As Tim Higgins at the Wall Street Journal notes, Waymo, the self-driving car unit owned by Google parent company Alphabet, has been working on autonomous technology for a decade. It has deployed a robot taxi service in Phoenix, but a human operator still has to be in the car. And the safety of autonomous vehicles is still in question — Tesla’s vehicles have been involved in crashes, and so has one operated by Uber. The PAVE Campaign, an automated vehicle industry group, in a series of tweets after Musk’s comments on Monday, warned that promises of “fully autonomous” and “driverless” vehicles can make people think their cars have more automatic capabilities than they actually do, thus putting drivers at risk. Most vehicles available for sale today offer driver assistance features; in all vehicles available for sale today, even those with the most advanced of these aids, the driver must always monitor and be prepared to control the vehicle.— PAVE Campaign (@PAVECampaign) April 22, 2019 This includes terms such as "fully automated," "full self-driving," "fully autonomous," "auto pilot" or "driverless," which can create an inaccurate impression of vehicle capabilities that can put drivers and other road users at risk.— PAVE Campaign (@PAVECampaign) April 22, 2019 McGuire also pointed out that the industry hasn’t yet defined what counts as safe. “How many millions of miles should we drive then before we’re comfortable that a machine is at least as safe as a human? Or does it need to be safer? Does it need to be 10 times as safe? What’s our threshold?” he said. There is also the regulatory question. Musk said on Monday that he doesn’t think his robotaxis would get regulatory approval everywhere. He said he thinks he’ll get it somewhere, but he didn’t go into specifics. While it’s certainly possible that Tesla might win local approval for robotaxis, state and potentially federal regulators might be less game. The timing of Tesla’s investor autonomy day itself is “curious,” Nelson said, because it lands right before the company’s earnings report, set for Wednesday, in which it is expected to report a loss. “This may be a way to kind of boost interest in the story, given the difficult results that we expect them to report on Wednesday,” he said. “There’s no reason why they couldn’t have held this until after earnings.” Tesla may have been hoping to distract from its other problems — pressures on its margins, its cash burn, and its governance shake-up, etc. — with the announcement that fully autonomous cars are just a year away. But it appears Musk, who often promises things he ultimately cannot deliver, at least in the timeline he promises, didn’t nail the pitch. Case in point: Tesla’s stock price fell by nearly 4 percent on Monday. “We’re at the point in this story that people are not believing him anymore,” Nelson said.

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posted about 1 month ago on re/code
CEO Brit Morin told Recode that her company was not shutting down, but confirmed that it was laying off a large number of her staff. Brit + Co, a buzzy digital media brand for millennial women, is in financial danger after an acquisition failed to pan out. CEO Brit Morin, a prominent Silicon Valley executive who is also the figurehead at the core of the site’s brand, told staff on Monday that the company is dealing with financial issues after the acqusition talks crumbled and was until recently working to secure a last-minute investment. She had to answer questions from her 50-person staff about whether they will receive any more paychecks from the company, according to people familiar with the matter. A fuller update is expected to come to staff on Tuesday afternoon. Morin told Recode that her company was not shutting down, but confirmed that it was laying off a large number of her staff. She said she did not yet have an exact number. “We see the Brit + Co brand being valuable as a brand and less as a digital publishing business,” she said. “The last decade of media and the next decade of media are going to be completely different.” Some staff has been frustrated that Morin is not being more transparent with them about the company’s financial woes. Morin’s answers to questions at the company meeting on Monday were described as tight-lipped — she did not identify the possible acquirer — and the meeting lasted at most 15 minutes. The company, which runs a lifestyle website that it says reaches 130 million people a month — mostly young women — could be the latest digital media company in recent months to suffer a hard landing amid a cash crunch and competition from advertising behemoths Facebook and Google. Mic, a well-funded site that promised to be the marquee news source for millennials, sold in a fire sale late last year. Other venture-backed sites, such as BuzzFeed and Vice Media, have recently had to make waves of layoffs. Morin, a well-connected operator who considers Martha Stewart an inspiration, has pitched herself as something of a role model for the new generation of media executives. Since starting the company at the age of 25 eight years ago, she has expanded Brit + Co into other revenue models like live events, online classes, and direct-to-consumer merchandise. But Morin has been at the core of the company’s strategy. “The number of people who asked me, ‘What happens if you get hit by a bus?’ is more than I can count on my fingers,” she said on Recode Media in 2017. “To me, developing a company that was all about giving back to creative America and these artisans who live in small town USA — and go to like Jane’s Nails and Fred’s Auto Shops, where you know Jane and you know Fred, and you have that trust and that authenticity factor with those real humans — was so important to me, and that outpowered the idea that Brit could get hit by a bus tomorrow and the company could die.” The company has raised at least $50 million from venture capital firms like Lerer Hippeau, Oak Investment Partners, and Verizon Ventures. Brit + Co, though, has shown signs of duress. Last year, it laid off some employees, with its team page showing 92 employees in September 2017 but only 78 as of January. Other positions since then have not been filled, people say. As of now, only 52 names are listed on the site. Over the next few days, that number will drop even more.

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posted about 1 month ago on re/code
“It demonstrates this kind of degradation of trust in the platforms.” In the wake of a series of bombings in Sri Lanka that left more than 300 people dead, the country’s government shut down a number of social media platforms, including Facebook and WhatsApp, out of concern they could be used to spread misinformation or incite more violence. But across the region, the problem of fake news is widespread. Facebook — facing a patchwork of different laws, sectarian tensions, and a constantly growing pool of users to police — is seemingly endlessly behind the curve when it comes to monitoring the content on its platform, including and perhaps especially in South and Southeast Asia. In India, for example, the Menlo Park, California-based company has struggled to control misinformation and hate speech heading into the country’s elections, and Facebook has acknowledged its efforts fell far short in curbing the way its platform was used to incite violence in Myanmar. Even so, it’s still not clear that Facebook has an adequate plan to deal with the issue, or whether it has committed the necessary resources to try. In Sri Lanka, government officials are signaling that when it comes to Facebook controlling the platform after a crisis hits, they’ve essentially given up hope the company has the capacity to do so. Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook Messenger, along with YouTube, Viber, and Snapchat, were all blocked in Sri Lanka after a wave of attacks on Easter Sunday, according to the internet monitoring group NetBlocks. On Monday, the group also detected that the Sri Lankan government appeared to be blocking the website of a VPN service that would help users get around the ban. “What the Sri Lankan government did was authoritarian, but it is also probably what needed to be done to prevent social media from really throwing fuel onto this fire afterward,” said Ankit Panda, senior editor at the Diplomat. This isn’t the first time Sri Lanka has taken such a measure: It temporarily restricted access to Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram last year in order to calm anti-Muslim riots there in 2018. The maneuver has ignited a global discussion about the role of social media in the face of crisis. On the one hand, it can be an important tool for first responders, humanitarian groups, and journalists to gather information and for potential victims to let their loved ones know that they’re safe. On the other, social media platforms can be weaponized to spread false information and potentially cause more violence, and companies do not have a great track record of being able to get things under control. “It demonstrates this kind of degradation of trust in the platforms,” Ivan Sigal, the executive director of Global Voices, an international blogging and digital rights organization, told me. “And they own that, they have to own some of that.” Facebook has a rough history in the region The deadliest and most tragic example of the potential for Facebook’s weaponization has come from Myanmar, where government forces carried out an ethnic cleansing campaign and genocide against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority group. According to a report from the Human Rights Council, more than 725,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh to escape persecution. In October 2018, Paul Mozur at the New York Times laid out how Myanmar’s military utilized Facebook over multiple years to spread anti-Rohingya propaganda in the country. He described how military personnel set up distribution channels for “lurid photos, false news, and inflammatory posts.” It wasn’t a secret that the platform was being used to incite violence in the country: Observers had for months been flagging that doctored images, unfounded rumors, and other anti-Rohingya propaganda was being spread online. In November 2018, Facebook released the results of an independent assessment on what was happening in Myanmar and admitted that it hadn’t previously done enough “to help prevent our platform from being used to foment division and incite offline violence.” The company said it agreed that it “can and should do more” and that it had invested heavily to “examine and address the abuse of Facebook in Myanmar.” But acknowledging the problem didn’t end it. In December 2018, Facebook removed hundreds more accounts sharing anti-Rohingya messages. And as Kurt Wagner explained at Recode at the time, Facebook’s reach in Myanmar makes the situation especially perilous: The social network is used by an estimated 20 million people in Myanmar, or roughly 40 percent of the population. That’s the same number of people who have the Internet there, according to a human rights impact report Facebook commissioned and published in November. The Facebook app comes preinstalled on many smartphones sold in the country. Officials in India have also sounded the alarm about Facebook’s potential to spread fake news and incite violence, especially in light of its elections, which take place this month and next. In March, an Indian parliamentary panel asked Facebook global policy head Joel Kaplan to tighten controls on WhatsApp and Instagram, and in April, Facebook laid out its approach in a blog post. Facebook India managing director and vice president Ajit Mohan said the company had spent 18 months planning for its handling of the national elections there. India is contemplating new regulations that would require companies to screen user posts and messages to make sure they’re not sharing anything illegal. It’s a controversial issue because it would likely entail companies such as WhatsApp, which use end-to-end encryption, to fundamentally change their platforms. There are also legitimate concerns about privacy and potential government surveillance. Earlier this year, false content spread on Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp heightened tensions between India and Pakistan. And as mentioned, Sri Lanka has had issues with misinformation and the incitement of violence via Facebook in the past as well. Last year amid communal violence between Sri Lanka’s majority Sinhala Buddhist community and its minority Muslim community, officials declared a state of emergency and blocked access to multiple social media platforms, including Facebook, WhatsApp, and Viber (which Facebook does not own). Panda said the problems in India versus Myanmar and Sri Lanka are similar, but because India is more stable politically, the scenario is perhaps less perilous: Myanmar has been rocked by ethnic violence and was ruled by a military dictatorship until 2011; Sri Lanka only emerged from a 25-year-plus civil war in 2009. “When the baseline level of political cohesion and the ethnic fault lines are much higher … social media becomes a much more dangerous instrument,” Panda said. “We’ve partnered with 47 third-party fact-checking organizations around the world, hired 30,000 people to work on safety and security, and strengthened our policies to help keep people safe from harm,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. “We’re expanding our efforts every single day to keep people on Facebook safe from those who try to exploit and abuse our service.” In Sri Lanka, specifically, Facebook has taken a number of measures to make improvements since the last ban was lifted in 2018, including significantly increasing the number of Sinhalese language experts it employs and expanding its automatic machine translation capabilities. It has held a roundtable and conducted research in Sri Lanka as well. Facebook has also put in place a dedicated product team focused on countries where there is a potential link between online content and real-life activity, though the argument could be made that the potential for such a link is everywhere. There’s no single explanation for what the problem is here The spread of misinformation and incitement of violence via social media, including on Facebook and the platforms it owns, is an issue in many parts of the world. There’s no way to know if Southeast Asia is the most problematic region because there’s no global data on the matter available, explained Claire Wardle, the founder of First Draft News, a nonprofit that combats misinformation. “But what we do know is that in many places in Southeast Asia, there is a very, very high usage of social media, and there is a very high usage of closed messaging apps,” she said. In the Philippines, for example, an estimated 97 percent of the population with access to the internet is on Facebook, according to Maria Ressa, a co-founder of the news site Rappler. Ressa is a frequent critic of President Rodrigo Duterte and has been arrested in the country twice. In places such as the Philippines and Myanmar, Facebook basically is the internet for a lot of people. Many people don’t trust traditional sources of information, such as local news sites, and social media functions as the primary source. In places where Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram are zero-rated, meaning users don’t have to use up their data to access them, false information can spread through memes, pictures, and screenshots of headlines. Because people don’t want to use their data, they don’t click through. Facebook’s staffing is problematic as well — in smaller markets, it often doesn’t have the necessary teams in place to completely oversee what’s happening. “They just haven’t got the staff in place to be able to understand what’s happening and to be able to moderate what’s happening in the local languages,” Wardle said. At the start of the year, WhatsApp limited group message forwarding to try to slow the spread of misinformation. But because no one can see what’s going on behind the wall of encryption, there’s little to be done beyond brute-force measures to control virality and investing in literacy campaigns. Facebook should have motivation to better address the issues it’s facing in South and Southeast Asia, because it’s a region where it has a lot of room for growth, especially compared to the United States and Europe. Is Sri Lanka a one-off, or a sign that we’re giving up on giving Facebook the benefit of the doubt? Sri Lanka’s decision to shutter social media entirely in the wake of Sunday’s attacks has not been without scrutiny. Some argue that the move was necessary to stop the situation from potentially worsening, while others say it undermines the benefits social media is supposed to provide in such scenarios. Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush, said he believes Sri Lanka made the right move. “I read it as, ‘We the government of Sri Lanka are under attack, and our citizens are under attack.’ The indication is that it’s temporary,” he said. He pointed to the mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March, which left 50 people dead. The gunman streamed the act online, and in just a 24-hour span, Facebook and Instagram users tried to upload video of the incident 1.5 million times. “Facebook can’t stop it, they can’t. There’s just no way they can stop it,” Pachter said. He added that in the grand scheme of things, a temporary shutdown isn’t the end of the world for Facebook, business-wise. “It will almost always be less than 1% of the world’s population (75 million people, likely a small fraction of that) and then only for a few days (1 percent of the year),” he said. “That means every time there is an incident like this, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Snap revenues are hit by maybe 0.01 percent. Even if we assume this is a monthly occurrence, it rounds to 0.1 percent, so not significant.” Others, however, warned that Sri Lanka shuttering social media could set a bad precedent for other countries in the future to follow suit. Yes, platforms can be used to spread fake information and incite violence. But they can also help journalists tell the story of what’s going on, allow first responders and humanitarian groups to identify where they should send aid, and let people get in touch with loved ones to let them know that they are safe. Alp Toker, the executive director of NetBlocks, which detected the outages in Sri Lanka, said that the blockage there made sense last year to prevent misinformation from spreading to incite more violence. But in the current scenario — in the wake of a widespread terrorist attack — he doesn’t believe it’s the right approach. “It’s a particularly bad time to be restricting the platforms, and it’s not traditionally the kind of period where we see social media being used for great harm,” he said. Facebook has, like it so often does, promised to get better. It has updated its policies on credible violence within its community standards so that it is quicker to remove information when it’s reported as contributing to violence or physical harm, and it has specifically sought out local organizations to partner with in the endeavor. It is also not clear how effective social-media blackouts are in impeding the spread of false rumors and violence. A working paper from Jan Rydzak at Stanford University looking at India suggests shutdowns could potentially lead to an increase in the intensity of violent mobilization. And bad actors often just find workarounds and just go somewhere else to spread fake information. The philosophical debate about whether Sri Lanka’s decision is merited or an infringement on free speech aside, this sends a clear signal of the declining trust in Facebook and other social media platforms. “These governments ultimately have to rely on the companies to take these problems seriously, and there really haven’t been signs until about the last year that Facebook was taking this seriously at all,” Panda said. It may, at least in some cases, be too late.

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posted about 1 month ago on re/code
Plus: When Sri Lanka shut down social media sites, Kara Swisher’s first thought was, “good”; and Apple and Amazon have a particularly intimate business relationship. Two organizers of the Google walkout say they are being retaliated against for their involvement in organizing thousands. The two Google employees are planning to hold a “town hall” to discuss alleged instances of retaliation by the company. Wired reports that Meredith Whittaker, the head of Google’s Open Research, said that “after Google disbanded its external AI ethics council on April 4, she was told that her role would be ‘changed dramatically’” and that to stay employed at Google she would have to stop her AI ethics work and leave her role at AI Now Institute, a research center she co-founded at New York University. Another Google employee, Claire Stapleton, says that months after the protest she was demoted from her role at YouTube. The two are part of a group of seven employees who helped organize the mass walkout from Google over the company’s mishandling of sexual harassment claims. Kara Swisher recently interviewed Whittaker at a Recode Decode live event on her work in AI ethics in March.[Nitasha Tiku / Wired] [Want to get the Recode Daily in your inbox? Subscribe here.] Apple and Amazon have a particularly intimate business relationship, even as they vie for the biggest share of consumer dollars. As CNBC reports, “Apple is spending more than $30 million a month on Amazon’s cloud.” Apple’s reliance on cloud infrastructure — particularly for online services like iCloud — means that it has little choice but to shell out tens of millions a month to a rival. As Recode has previously reported, Apple is focused on beefing up online services, particularly streaming content, as iPhone sales slow. In May, the company’s earnings report touted “strong momentum” of its services business, including iTunes and Apple Music, the App Store, iCloud and Apple Pay, as the company tries to gain market share from streaming competitors.[Jordan Novet / CNBC] When Sri Lanka shut down social media sites, Kara Swisher’s first thought was, “Good.” Swisher makes the argument in her recent column for the New York Times that “this is the ugly conundrum of the digital age: When you traffic in outrage, you get death.” When those who run the social media giants “seem incapable of controlling the powerful global tools they have built,” there’s little option but to cut the cord in order to save lives. She notes that “as a tech journalist, I’m ashamed to admit it. But this is how bad the situation has gotten.” Swisher ends her column writing that though she supports the move, shutting down social media sites like Facebook and Twitter in times of crisis ultimately isn’t going to work.[Kara Swisher / The New York Times] Incels: How a support group for the dateless became one of the internet’s most dangerous subcultures. One year ago, a self-described “incel” drove a van into a group of pedestrians in Toronto as part of a “war” against the society that he felt had deprived him of sex. After the attack, Vox’s Zack Beauchamp spent months speaking with incels and reading online forums to investigate what this community believes — and what kind of danger it poses. The “incel,” or involuntarily celibate, community began as a open-minded support group for men and women with dating troubles — one where people could make virtual friends, commiserate, or work to overcome shyness in the real world. But over the past two decades, it’s devolved into a breeding ground for unbridled, misogynistic rage. The internet has allowed the ideas and mindsets that spurred online movements like Gamergate in 2014 and online-turned-irl movements like 2017’s “United the Right” to spread to young men and mutate with unprecedented speed.[Zack Beauchamp / Vox] Top Stories from Recode How tech founders are trying to disrupt — and replicate — the Giving Pledge. Silicon Valley billionaires can make promises to give away fortunes to charity. Why can’t the rest of us?[Theodore Schleifer] This is Cool Tesla’s going all in on “robotaxis.”

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posted about 1 month ago on re/code
Silicon Valley billionaires can make promises to give away fortunes to charity. Why can’t the rest of us? The Giving Pledge is the brainchild of some of the most prominent elders of Silicon Valley — people like Bill Gates, Pierre Omidyar, and Larry Ellison — who made billions of dollars in the first wave of tech giants only then to pledge to give most of it away. Silicon Valley, though, thrives on disruption. And in an age when billionaires are on the ropes — and when tech leaders are reckoning with their corporate and personal responsibilities — there is new movement behind the scenes in tech to broaden the conversation that Gates began nearly a decade ago. That’s the backdrop for efforts gaining steam like the Founders Pledge, which on Monday shared with Recode that it had amassed $1 billion in commitments. That milestone reflects both its recent momentum and also (in tech-speak) the strength of an incumbent like the Giving Pledge, which is expected to funnel close to $500 billion toward philanthropy. Rivals to the Giving Pledge — including a separate effort spearheaded by Salesforce founder Marc Benioff — are, in ways, trying to both disrupt it and replicate it simultaneously. “They sort of made the market of pledges of this kind, and started challenging the wealthiest of the wealthy to do more than token philanthropy — to really put their name and reputation on the line,” David Goldberg, the head of Founders Pledge, said in an interview. “Founders Pledge is a way to hold their future selves to account.” To be clear, the Founders Pledge has not signed up brand names like Warren Buffett or Mark Zuckerberg. Its highest-profile commitments are from people like Miguel McKelvey, a cofounder of WeWork; Niklas Adalberth, the founder of Klarna; and Jose Neves, the founder of Farfetch. But it’s trying to appeal to a younger, less-endowed class of the aspiring rich — and focusing exclusively on tech. Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Fast Company Founders Pledge signer Jose Neves, the founder of Farfetch. In fact, not only do you have to not be a billionaire to sign the Founders Pledge like you must with the Giving Pledge, you don’t even have to be a millionaire. Or even have a likely company exit. Or even have company revenue. Or anything, really. (Okay, you generally need to be the company’s founder.) All it asks is that you commit to a future gift. It’s a percentage of your profits — a minimum of 2 percent of your personal proceeds — which leaves open the possibility that you could be giving away hundreds of millions of dollars if you build a unicorn company or, more likely, a big fat zero. That also makes the effort much more accessible. About 1,500 people have signed the Founders Pledge — eight times the number who have signed the Giving Pledge — which has led to about $360 million in commitments that have been fulfilled, according to the organization. The big idea here: What if there were a way for today’s younger aspiring tech billionaires to publicly affirm their willingness to donate some of their personal fortunes — but to do so before they really have the money to make good on the promise? In 2019, billionaires find themself in a philanthropic bind Even critics generally admit that the Giving Pledge has shifted the conversation around philanthropy, bestowing some social stature around large donations (even if not quite stigmatizing the act of passing along inheritances). Since 2010, 190 billionaires have signed the Giving Pledge, committing to give away at least half of their assets. But the easiest-to-convince pledgers signed up, as you’d expect, early on: 122 people committed in the first four years, but only 65 over the next five years (three have signed up so far in 2019). And while adding roughly 15 people a year might sound like a lot, only about 7 percent of the world’s billionaires have affixed their name to a document; the Giving Pledge particularly has work to do overseas. The most prominent snub is the world’s wealthiest person, Jeff Bezos, whose omission fits with his historically paltry giving to charity (although he has recently tried to atone for that). Some of the wealthiest people in tech remain conspicuously absent from the Giving Pledge rolls: Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Steve Ballmer, and Michael Dell, who are each worth tens of billions of dollars. And the on-the-rise set? The 40-and-under leaders of the next generation of iconic tech companies? People like Evan Spiegel, Adam Neumann, or Ben Silbermann are also no-shows. Rob Rosen, who oversees philanthropic efforts like the Giving Pledge from his perch at the Gates Foundation, argues that it still appeals to today’s younger tech entrepreneurs, naming recent additions like Brian Armstrong, the founder of Coinbase; Garrett Camp, the co-founder of Uber; and especially citing the trio of 30-something Airbnb founders who announced together in 2016 that they would join the effort. Rosen said it felt it had “strong representation” from the tech community, with his team pointing to 46 couples that it says signed the pledge from that sector. The broader challenge for the Giving Pledge — and, to be fair, for all philanthropic efforts — is that newly rich CEOs are often less than eager to want to commit to giving away half their net worth. Who knows what life could bring? So they tend to set up family offices, preserving their options; maybe they’ll begin to think more seriously about philanthropy as they get older, when the money appears less “spendable,” so to speak. But a big push in the philanthropy world is to encourage lifetime giving so that the principals can be hands-on with their charitable efforts rather than passing those duties to offspring. More time to give also means more time to improve as philanthropists. That’s why younger entrepreneurs can have such a big impact if they commit early. That’s essentially the premise of the Founders Pledge — but committing even earlier. People who experiment with philanthropy only when they become billionaires, Goldberg says, are going to have some pretty painful experiences. “When you’re a billionaire, those mistakes are at a different scale than when you’re just Joe on the street,” Goldberg said. Neither Rosen nor Goldberg considers the other a rival — you could certainly sign both pledges, or maybe you’d graduate to the Giving Pledge once a few more millions hit your bank account. “One of the goals of the pledge is to put the conversation on the table of what’s even possible,” said Rosen. “Tech has historically been quite innovative in doing this, so it’s not surprising that you’re seeing some traction.” One reason why rivals’ efforts are gaining traction? Well, the problem with megadonors giving away $5 billion to the Giving Pledge in 2019, for instance, is that they still might have $5 billion more in assets that they’re not donating to the Giving Pledge. And being a billionaire is not particularly popular right now. Some Giving Pledge signers these days, such as hedge funder Paul Tudor Jones, are barely publicizing when they sign it lest they remind people of their massive net worths during a time when voices on the left are pounding billionaires for personifying American income inequality. Rosen said his donors are as aware as ever about how their wealth is perceived, but that when it comes to the new dialogue about bllionaires, “net-net, I don’t think it’s had an impact.” Another big difference between the two: The Giving Pledge, as its critics point out, has no teeth but is merely a public affirmation. Founders Pledge is a binding document; it can recoup the money if the signatory renegs. “The reality is: Why do we only have 1,500 people? Because a lot of people don’t want to make a legal commitment.” The Founders Pledge, which is headquartered in London and at first hooked European founders, clearly is getting beat in Silicon Valley. So, last month, it opened an office in San Francisco, and Goldberg visits the Bay Area once or twice a quarter for dinners with prospective pledgers. He says his program has merely been a “beta test” until now. What Goldberg has been hearing from Silicon Valley millionaires during that beta: Show me the numbers, not the narrative. “Our members were increasingly frustrated with being told stories,” Goldberg said. “The same way we invest money — we’re hyper-rational and utilitarian in a certain respect — I’d rather achieve more return than less,” he said. “They want to be as rational with their philanthropy as they are with their investments.” And just like Silicon Valley investors claim to offers startups more than money, almost all Silicon Valley-focused philanthropic efforts claim to be more than soliciting money: They offer a “network.” They help you think “long term” and are “patient.” They are a “partner” that wants to be part of a “movement.” Can’t all the Pledges get along? A third pledge effort that has adopted some of this VC-style messaging — and seen some of this traction — too: Pledge 1%, which asks tech companies to promise to donate 1 percent of their company equity, time, product, or profit to philanthropic efforts. If that sounds like a rather loose way for a corporation to satisfy a philanthropic commitment, that’s intentional. It’s also, like the Giving Pledge, not binding in any way, and it’s pretty difficult to track. (How do you define “time,” really?) More than 8,500 companies have signed this classic initiative in corporate and social responsibility, which Pledge 1% says has led to over $500 million in philanthropy. Amy Lesnick, the Pledge 1% CEO, said she considered the two other efforts not competitive because she is focused on signing up a company rather than a billionaire. But her organization is still competing for the mindshare of a company founder — who might be a Giving Pledge-eligible billionaire, too — who is trying to weigh his personal and professional charitable obligations. Lesnick still stressed ways in which her organization differs from the other pledge drives trying to remake tech philanthropy. “I think that Pledge 1% has a reach and accessibility that is infinitely broader,” Lesnick told Recode in an interview. “We are not just saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to look at who are going to be the companies that are going file for IPO in the next 12 months — and we are only going to talk to them.’” To be sure, there is a world in which all three of these programs patch together to make a philanthropic quilt. Maybe a young entrepreneur signs the Founders Pledge, setting a standard for her personal philanthropy, and then Pledge 1% to set a standard for her company’s philanthropy. And when she really makes it big — becoming a bona fide billionaire — she signs the Giving Pledge. For instance, Benioff, the Salesforce founder behind the Pledge 1% initiative, has signed the Giving Pledge as well. But Benioff is perhaps Silicon Valley’s most omnipresent (and, yes, abrasive) advocate for philanthropy. And given Benioff’s own words in the past about Silicon Valley billionaires, it probably wouldn’t surprise him to learn that they’re not jumping to participate in all three programs simultaneously. “Not all of them are giving money away. A lot of them are just hoarding it,” he told the Guardian last year. “They’re keeping it. That’s just who they are and how they look at their money.”

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