Monday Moves v1.9: StarLinks Were Meant to Fly
Sam: Need some good tunes while reading this week’s edition? Make sure to check out Poolside.fm for some retro summer vibes. Party on!
Raj: Sam and I have thoroughly enjoyed writing this second series of Monday Moves. We’ve improved readability and engagement, expanded our subscriber base, and delivered better stories. Doing all this every week can take a toll, so we are wrapping up Monday Moves v1.x with this edition and taking a short hiatus. Watch out for Monday Moves v2.1 in your inbox in just a couple weeks. Cheers!
Sam: If you planned on buying a black market antiquity on Facebook, you will have to look elsewhere.
News this week that major corporations were boycotting advertising on Facebook dominated headlines; however, a much more interesting story has been playing out in the background. In what seems like an obvious move, Facebook has finally decided to ban the sale of historical artifacts on the platform after it became an international hub for illegal trade. For years ancient artifacts have been bought and sold in Facebook groups, and many of the items for sale were stolen by ISIS members and other terrorist organizations from looted cultural sites. Last month the New York Times published a report outlining the extent of the illegal activity and it is shocking to say the least. Many of the items were removed directly from the ground, rather than stolen from museums. A majority of the activity took place in the open, with photos and descriptions of items being posted for sales, and buyers posting what they were looking to buy. There were even guides posted on how to get started in the black market trade. A 2019 report from the ATHAR Project found “488 individual admins managing a collective 1,947,195 members across 95 Facebook Groups” composed of a “mix of average citizens, middlemen, and violent extremists.” The admins of these groups collected fees from each transaction, and they were highly coordinated in their operation. Like many recent tech company blunders, Facebook’s action on the situation only came after news on the situation became public. Facebook was aware of the situation for years and never did anything about it.The new rule prohibits “attempts to buy, sell or trade in historical artifacts,” defined as “rare items of significant historical, cultural or scientific value.” Unfortunately, Facebook only has the power to stop the activity on their platform. Although the convenience of Facebook is hard to beat, the illegal activity is sure to find a home somewhere else.
Raj: Apple once again proved that rubbish design decisions have become the hallmark of the now insular, backwards-thinking company.
The WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference) showcased the latest and (supposedly) greatest of Apple’s innovations. I expected so little, yet I was still left disappointed. Apple seriously wanted me to get hyped over new Memoji features. Frankly, the weirdly smooth look of Memojis should be offensive to anyone over the age of 12, and I’m livid that I’ve never figured out how to delete mine.
Do you really remember Apple? The company that pioneered the aesthetics of both software and hardware the past several decades? It seems like such a distant dream. Apple has completely lost its aesthetic advantage this past decade, with rubbish decisions like the Mac Pro aka the $52,000 cheese grater. At this WWDC, they unveiled another retrograde design decision: widgets. Apple is now following Android, which already has had widgets for a while. Widgets are something that seemed cutting edge in 2010, not in 2020. Another example of how Think Different has become Think Ancient.
A couple of the features Apple announced drive home just how much of a walled ecosystem the company has created. Firstly, the new picture-in-picture mode sounds great until you realize that it’s still not compatible with YouTube. Why bother with this feature at all when YouTube is by far one of the biggest video apps? Another feature is being able to pin iMessages, which is useless when communicating with the Android-using world (which is easily the global majority).
Apple is still pretending to be a leader in aesthetics, but it’s way behind the curve and losing market share globally because of its walled ecosystem. Last week I detailed how Apple no longer cares about developers. It’s unfortunately looking like it barely cares about its consumers either.
Sam: With 500 satellites in orbit, Elon Musk’s Starlink Internet service is ready for beta testing
Over the weekend I had the pleasure of catching up with a few college friends before as they passed through town on the way to a climbing trip in the North Cascades. With no cell phone range where they will be climbing, they rely on a SPOT satellite messenger to keep in contact, and ping their location if something goes wrong. Over dinner we talked about how much communication has changed within our lifetimes, especially in remote parts of the world. Elon Musk’s SpaceX project, Starlink, has the goal of providing internet globally via satellites at faster speeds and at a more affordable price than ever before. Musk boasts Internet speeds of a gigabit per second, and is aiming for global coverage by 2021. Starlink now has the necessary satellite capacity in orbit to begin beta testing, and SpaceX is inviting fans to sign up as beta testers (obviously I threw my name into the hat). Over half the world still does not have access to the internet, and projects like Starlink along with competitors like OneWeb, Facebook, and Amazon are working to bridge that gap. I am excited about the possibilities expanded internet access will bring, and am looking forward to seeing how the beta test of Starlink’s network goes. *Elon Musk if you are reading this please choose me as a tester.*
Raj: Back off, TikTok.
India has just banned TikTok and 58 other Chinese apps in an unprecedented move against the technological soft power of the Chinese government. This move comes in the wake of the India-China border conflict, and is the biggest tech impact of the dispute thus far. The 59 banned apps were described by the Indian government as “prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India.” India is by far the biggest user base for TikTok, making up 30% of all app downloads (China is a distant second with 9%). While concerns over TikTok parent company ByteDance’s connections to the Chinese government have raised numerous concerns from several American and Indian agencies, this is the largest move ever by a government against Chinese apps. The ban also comes mere days after TikTok was caught exploiting an Apple bug to read users’ clipboards. Because of TikTok’s reliance on the Indian market, this ban promises to be a tough hit for the rapidly accelerating app. Moreover, the Great Firewall ensures that China cannot simply respond with a tit-for-tat approach, since Indian apps haven’t been allowed in the first place. It’ll be interesting to see how big a hit this ends up being for TikTok, and in what way China ends up responding.
Raj: Just today, Reddit has shown its hand in a brazenly authoritarian cleanup of its site.
This Monday morning, Reddit users woke up to find more than 2,000 different political forums (aka subreddits) banned in the largest cleanup of a site that has generated countless free speech and media bias controversies over the past few years. The most prominent banned subreddit is r/The_Donald, the famous pro-Trump forum with nearly 800,000 members. Friction between the large subreddit and Reddit administrators was nothing new, and in 2016 Reddit CEO Steve Huffman admitted to editing comments critical of him.. Another major banned subreddit is r/ChapoTrapHouse, a leftist forum with over 160,000 members.
Along with this purge, Reddit has announced a new hate speech policy explicitly protecting “marginalized or vulnerable groups” and exempting “groups of people who are in the majority” from exemption. It’s meaningless to analyze this policy from a demographic standpoint; no logic matters when particular groups have already been anointed as a “global” majority and thus the Public Enemy Number One.
With this move, Reddit has announced that it can’t be happy with merely quarantining pro-Trump statements. This is part of a larger trend where sites like Reddit, YouTube, and others see themselves as the arbiters of acceptable thought. This move clearly draws a line in the sand as to what is acceptable and what isn’t, and it couldn’t be more telling: pro CCP propaganda, degrading and senseless pornography, and open calls for violence on communist forums are all encouraged on Reddit while dissident thought of many political stripes is punished.
I do not see this move ending well for Reddit. Anti Big Tech sentiment is on the rise, and spurning hundreds of thousands of users is not a way to favorably reverse public opinion.
Sam: Right as experiential retail is catching on, Microsoft decides to toss their retail concept away.
My office in downtown Portland is just a few blocks away from both the Apple Store and Microsoft Store. Each time I walked by both stores I could not help but notice the difference between the teeming Apple store and the rather empty and much smaller Microsoft counterpart. In fact, it seems to me that many people didn’t even realize the stores existed (for example Raj), and the primary customer was an older businessman or a 12 year old playing Minecraft while their parents shopped at Eddie Bauer. The Microsoft Store concept was introduced in 2009 as competition to Apple’s wildly successful retail stores, but they never seemed to generate the same level of excitement or sales. Microsoft shuttered its stores as a part of the nationwide shutdown, but, as the company announced recently, they will not be reopening. Microsoft noted the pivot to online sales as a reason for closing the stores, and say that the marketplaces on microsoft.com, Xbox, and the Windows Store, reach over 1.2 billion customers a month. Personally I think the move is a step in the wrong direction. Recently, many retailers have shown strength in the omnichannel model, and “showroom” type storefronts (such as Microsoft’s) have been particularly successful. With Microsoft’s smaller footprints and limited staffing it seems the benefit of having customers have hands-on experiences with new products is outweighed by the costs. Without their own stores Microsoft will need to strengthen their relationships with other retailers.
Who’s Making Moves?
↗ UP: Boeing Stock jumped almost 15% on news that the 737 Max would begin flight testing again.
↘ DOWN: Facebook has lost over $60 billion in market value as companies boycott advertising on the social media platform. Companies are pressuring Facebook to combat hate speech and misinformation.
🦘 KANG: Sam and Raj’s energy levels over a hectic couple of weeks. We’re taking a much needed break!
That’s all for this week. Keep on moving.
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Until next Monday,
Raj & Sam