Hello and welcome to the latest State of the Cloud, Cloudwards.net’s monthly column where we go over the tech news from the past 30 days in hopes of finding method to the madness. September was all about Facebook (as per usual), though Google and a few other big players will be making an appearance.
The biggest news, however, is reserved for us. During the past five months, the Cloudwards.net team has been working hard on putting together a map of internet censorship around the world, a gargantuan task. You can view the fruits of our labor here, and we wish you much scrolling pleasure. Now, on to Facebook.
Down In the Muck with Zuck
Facebook has yet to miss appearing in a single issue of these columns since we started writing them back in April 2018, even though we wish we could give it a miss sometimes. The thing is, though, that not a week goes by when we don’t see some evidence of the almost totalitarian ambitions of the company and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg.
The biggest example of how the company basically wants to take over the world is with the Libra, a not-very-crypto currency that the social media network is pioneering, but more about that later. For now, we’ll stick to more garden-variety ways in which Facebook is messing with people’s lives.
As you may or may not know, during the past few months there have been rumblings about who exactly is listening to the audio recordings made by your digital assistant. If you need a refresher: turns out that Alexa is listening in on you. By now, most tech companies have forsworn the use of human operators for these recordings, so that’s good news, we guess.
Except that, surprise, Facebook still has our fellow humans listening to recordings made by Portal, its not particularly popular digital assistant. This spells bad news for anybody using Facebook peripherals — like the new AR glasses it’s reportedly developing — because these will not only be used to make consumers’ lives easier but also to line The Zuck’s pockets with information gleaned from what you’ve said around your house, including your bedroom.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Facebook also makes it very easy for cybercriminals to access these treasure troves of information. We reported on some very sloppy security practices back in April of this year, but this past month 400 million users’ phone numbers were discovered sitting on an unencrypted server. That’s just beyond careless.
Control Beyond Control
Compounding this blatant disregard for people’s privacy is Facebook’s ambition for control. Apparently not merely content with being the go-to social media platform, it seems to want to become its own state, with its own currency and own court system. Though we understand why the company is doing it, the language used in the press release still sends shivers down our collective spine.
It’s almost as if The Zuck is drawing his platform away from the world at large, creating its own ecosystem that not only follows people, but also makes some of their choices for them. In a world where U.S. border agencies are using social media to decide whether or not travelers should be let into the country, that seems like a bad position for people to be in.
Libra Out of Balance
Another good example of Facebook’s ambition is the Libra, the currency that the company announced back in July. The Libra was touted as a way in which Facebook users’ lives could be made easier, and that it would, online at least, replace regular currencies (though that tune has changed lately).
However, financial authorities the world over were far less enamored of the plan. As outlined, the Zuck Buck would have a massive impact on the way people pay for things. That’s not bad in and of itself, but it would be controlled by a company with motives that seem to fall well on the side of evil. No wonder, then, that the EU, for example, is taking a strong stance against it.
This, in combination with the hard questions being asked in Washington, led Zuckerberg and his coterie to try and get the Libra accredited in Switzerland, with its snowy mountains and flexible morals in regard to money. There, too, though, Facebook has been warned that getting Libra approved won’t be a walk in the park.
It looks like the Libra has a big battle ahead of it, if it wants to tip the scales in its favor. Let’s hope the fight will prove too much for it.
Google In Hot Water
It’s not only Facebook that’s under siege among the Big Four: Google is feeling the heat, too. In the U.S., attorneys general of more than 30 states have banded together to get an antitrust investigation off the ground, in light of federal unwillingness, as we reported last month.
It’s not just a threat, either: Long-time Google rival Oracle has received information requests from investigators. Unsurprisingly, the database giant was more than happy to comply, as would you, if the cops asked for information on your competitor.
This means that Google is facing possible antitrust action on both sides of the Atlantic, though the Europeans got off to a much earlier start. That said, France doesn’t seem content with just waiting to see what the EU probe will bring, and it is taking more proactive steps.
For one, Google was forced to settle its French tax bill to the tune of $1 billion, which, though still less than the $1.6 billion allegedly owed, is still a pretty big whack out of the tech giant’s budget.
On top of that, France is also enforcing the EU’s Article 11 copyright law, the only country to do so up till now, and making Google pay publishers for showing snippets in search results.
Rather than pay, Google has decided to simply not show snippets, thus giving search results a back-in-time look. Though we’re not sure where to come down on with this exchange, at least somebody is standing up to Big Tech.
In this section, where we house the stories that don’t fit comfortably amid the others, we’ll continue the Google trend by linking to this interview with a former employee of Alphabet who is seriously worried about “killer robots” (military AI) running amuck. Before you laugh, though, please note that Google is actively developing these kinds of programs.
Jeff Bezos, not content with the laws as drafted by elected legislators, has suggested that his company, Amazon, should write up laws concerning facial recognition and have those put to a vote. Though we’re sure the future will eventually bring us corp-drafted legislation, we’ll hold off for now, thanks, Jeff.
Nevada has joined California in enacting GDPR-like rules on the state level that will punish companies for selling customers’ data. This is because the Feds are just too busy playing silly partisan games to write up bills that would actually help people. Hey, if you want a job done right….
The German ministry of the interior has decided to ban Microsoft products in the near future, preferring to focus on developing its own software for internal use. Microsoft’s data collection and its high cost are the main worries, proving — we hope — to software companies that users will only take so much before moving onward.
In a world first, a security breach has exposed the data of pretty much an entire country. Due to a very serious security error, Ecuador’s main database was compromised, and with it the addresses, phone numbers and financial information of virtually all its residents. “Whoops” doesn’t quite cover it, though we figure congratulations are in order for the achievement.
With that slightly dystopian bit of news out of the way, we’ll start making ready for the new month. October promises to be pretty busy, with Big Tech under attack on all sides, as well as U.S. domestic politics coming to a head. We can’t wait to bring you next month’s State of the Cloud.
What do you think of September’s news? Did we miss any big stories? Let us know in the comments below and, as always, thank you for reading.