J.P. Morgan once responded to President Teddy Roosevelt’s charge that he’d violated federal antitrust law by saying, “If we have done anything wrong, send your man to see my man, and we’ll fix it up.” That used to be the gold standard for monopolist arrogance in dealing with government, but Google and Apple have put J.P. Morgan in the shade with their latest instruction to the governments of the world: You can’t use our app to trace COVID-19 infections unless you promise not to use it for quarantine or law enforcement purposes. They are only able to do this because the two companies have more or less 99% of the phone OS market. That’s more control than Morgan had of US railways, and their dominance apparently allows them to say, “If you think we’ve done something wrong, don’t bother to send your man; ours is too busy to meet.” Nate Jones and I discuss the question of Silicon Valley overreach in this episode. (In that vein, I apologize unreservedly to John D. Rockefeller, to whom I mistakenly attributed the quote.) The sad result is that a promising technological adjunct to contact tracing has been delayed and muddled by ideological engineers to the point where it isn’t likely to be deployed and used in a timely way.


Continue Reading Episode 315: Google to Washington: “Send your man to see my man. And we’ll stiff him.”

This Week in the Great Decoupling: The Commerce Department has rolled out proposed telecom and supply chain security rules that never once mention China. More accurately, the Department has rolled out a sketch of its preliminary thinking about proposed rules. Brian Egan and I tackle the substance and history of the proposal and conclude that the government is still fighting about the content of a policy it’s already announced. And to show that decoupling can go both ways, a US-based chip-tech group is moving to Switzerland to reassure its Chinese participants. Nick Weaver and I conclude that there’s a little less here than Reuters seems to think.


Continue Reading Episode 290: The Right to be Forgotten Shoots the Shark

I propose this episode’s title as Baker’s Law of Evil Technology, something that explains Twitter’s dysfunctional woke-ness, Yahoo’s crappy security, and Uber’s deadly autonomous vehicles. Companies with lots of revenue can afford to offer a lot of stuff they don’t much care about, including protection of minority voices, security, and, um, not killing people. But as Uber’s travails show, all that can get tossed out the window when corporate survival is at stake. And here’s Baker’s Law in action: Airline algorithms that deliberately break up families sitting on the plane so they can charge to put the kids back in the same row.


Continue Reading Episode 241: “You’ll never know how evil a technology can be until the engineers deploying it fear for their jobs”