‘I wish GoFundMe didn’t need to be around’

My profile of crowd-funding site GoFundMe is up today, in which I examine how the site has grown, and some the complications that have come with it. I spoke to the site’s CEO, Rob Solomon:

“I wish GoFundMe didn’t need to be around to solve problems that shouldn’t exist. Everyone should have access to health care. I would love for there never to be another medical campaign on GoFundMe. But that’s not the reality we live in.”

UK report says news via tech giants should be regulated 

A government-backed review of the UK news industry has come to several interesting conclusions. From BBC News:

A regulator should oversee tech giants like Google and Facebook to ensure their news content is trustworthy, a government-backed report has suggested.

The Cairncross Review into the future of the UK news industry said such sites should help users identify fake news and “nudge people towards reading news of high quality”.

It also backed tax reliefs to encourage the provision of local journalism. In addition, the report called for a new Institute for Public Interest News. Such a body, it said, could work in a similar way to the Arts Council, channelling public and private funding to “those parts of the industry it deemed most worthy of support”.

The review’s goal was to look at the threats to sustainability for high-quality news. No conversation on that can happen without investigating the behaviour of the tech giants, of course:

Services like Facebook, Google and Apple should continue their attempts to help readers understand how reliable a story is, and the process that decides which stories are shown should be more transparent, it said.

“Their efforts should be placed under regulatory scrutiny – this task is too important to leave entirely to the judgment of commercial entities,” according to the report.

A regulator would initially only assess how well these sites are performing, but if they are not effective, the report warned “it may be necessary to impose stricter provisions”.

Yet the report fell short of requiring Facebook, Google and other tech giants to pay for the news they distribute via their platforms.

In his analysis, my colleague Amol Rajan points out that the report drops short of recommending any drastic measures, such as charging social networks to have news content on their platform. Which, as is obvious, would never happen anyway.

Rajan’s conclusion is that if people want high-quality news, they’ll need to pay for it. It can be done – the New York Times reported record-breaking revenues last week. But, there are questions in the UK about whether the BBC’s ubiquity makes commercialising “serious” news more difficult.

Here are the recommendations in one handy, bullet-pointed guide:

Sky’s Rowland Manthorpe:

LinkedIn launches live video

LinkedIn Live is a new live video streaming feature for the business network, writes TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden:

Initial live content that LinkedIn hopes to broadcast lines up with the kind of subject matter you might already see in LinkedIn’s news feed: the plan is to cover conferences, product announcements, Q&As and other events led by influencers and mentors, office hours from a big tech company, earnings calls, graduation and awards ceremonies, and more.

This might seem ludicrously late to the party, but while Twitter, Facebook, Google et al have been doing this for years, there’s still a lot of scope for a business-focused platform to have a go at live video.

There’s also a lot of monetisation potential here. A seminar function with a tip jar, perhaps?

Netflix is raiding the BBC’s most brilliant asset

The BBC has announced three new major nature programmes, fronted by the voice of Earth himself, David Attenborough.

But, according to the Guardian, the corporation (for which I work) should be worried. Its unmatchable history in this genre has made it prey to a younger, wealthier beast:

The announcement comes after senior staff left the BBC’s Natural History Unit, lured to the commercial sector by the prospect of working for rapidly-growing streaming services, which can offer bigger budgets.

Soon, Netflix will be airing One Planet, a nature documentary voiced by David Attenborough and produced by “former staff” from the BBC’s Natural History Unit:

The Blue Planet II creator, James Honeyborne, left the Natural History Unit last month after almost 30 years to found an independent production company, which instantly signed a deal with Netflix to produce nature and science series.

The shift of this expertise from a public broadcaster to the commercial sector is sad. This programming shouldn’t be accessible only to those with a Netflix account, particularly if it’s to have its goal of influencing how we appreciate and treat our world.

I believe David Attenborough is passionate about the true power of public broadcasting, and for that reason I hope he continues to work with the BBC. That said, he clearly cares deeply about quickly getting out his message about a global crisis. And so, if he were to leave, none of us should blame him for it.

Stanford and the ethical dilemma of Silicon Valley’s next generation

This is a great insight into one of Silicon Valley’s most important brainbox factories, where current students, who once dreamed of landing at Google or Facebook, are grappling with the tech industry’s vilification. The Ringer’s Victor Luckerson:

As tech comes to dominate an ever-expanding portion of our daily lives, Stanford’s role as an educator of the industry’s engineers and a financier of its startups grows increasingly important. The school may not be responsible for creating our digital world, but it trains the architects. And right now, students are weighing tough decisions about how they plan to make a living in a world that was clearly constructed the wrong way. “To me it seemed super empowering that a line of code that I wrote could be used by millions of people the next day,” says Matthew Sun, a junior majoring in computer science and public policy, who helped organize the Theranos event. “Now we’re realizing that’s maybe not always a good thing.”

A report last year by the Wall Street Journal looked at the issue of employee retention and recruitment in the wake of a torrid year for Facebook’s reputation. It found that while existing employees were mostly happy (partly, the piece speculated, thanks to a stock price that has remained strong), but that there were some signs getting new people on board was becoming more difficult:

Since the disclosures, more candidates for jobs in some units at Facebook have withdrawn from consideration than during any other period in memory, according to a person familiar with the company’s recruiting. Mr. Zuckerberg said in a recent company meeting that the Cambridge Analytica flap didn’t seem to be deterring job applicants broadly across the company, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Instagram bans self-harm images

Less than a month ago, BBC journalist Angus Crawford reported on the absolutely heartbreaking story of Molly Russell, a 14-year-old girl who took her own life. Her father said he felt Instagram, which hosted images of self-harm, was partly responsible for what happened.

Today, Instagram boss Adam Mosseri announced the site will no longer allow (most) pictures depicting self-harm:

Adam Mosseri said Instagram was trying to balance “the need to act now and the need to act responsibly”.

He added the site was “not where we need to be on the issues of self-harm and suicide”.

When asked by the BBC’s Angus Crawford when the images would be removed, Mr Mosseri replied: “As quickly as we can, responsibly.”

Digital minister Margot James told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme the government would “have to keep the situation very closely under review to make sure that these commitments are made real – and as swiftly as possible”.

That last paragraph is especially important. Goes without saying that we’ll be keeping a very close eye on whether Instagram lives up to this promise.

In interviewing Mosseri, Crawford didn’t mess around:

When asked if he would resign if graphic self-harm content was still on the platform in six months, Mr Mosseri, 36, said: “I will certainly have a long thought about how well I am doing in the role that I’m in.”

On Spotify’s ability to revolutionise the profitability of podcasts

Verrrrryyy interesting deal by Spotify, confirmed on Wednesday, to acquire Gimlet and Anchor – two promising podcasting companies.

For BBC News I offered this analysis on how Spotify can inject some steroids into the podcast business, though not without risks:

What’s particularly powerful is Spotify’s ability to match users with podcasts the same way it does (spookily) well with new music. There are 16,000 different “signals”, the company says, that help it do that. Those same signals will mean Spotify bring the earning potential for podcasts to the next level: if you listen to a health and fitness playlist, you’re likely to respond well to podcast ads offering fitness gear, perhaps.

But on the other hand, I realise the future I’m describing here sounds rather awful. Imagine having a podcast on in the car, with your friends judging you based on the advertising that is being played out. “If you’re suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, you should try…”


Spotify typically takes its sweet time in rolling out new features – though that’s surely not a bad thing in this instance. Getting this right is going to be hard.

Using AI to locate victims of sex trafficking

From The Register:

A group of researchers from George Washington University, Temple University, and Adobe in the US have built a large dataset containing over a million images from 50,000 hotels across different countries. They hope their public Hotels-50K dataset will help developers train neural networks that can spot where a victim may be in seconds, judging from the background of their online ad.

A room’s decor may indicate its general vicinity, based on the hotel it is likely to be in. Curtains, wallpaper, bedspreads, and so on, can be analyzed to narrow down victims to particular chains and locations.

Very interesting work, though not something that should be undertaken without considering what some of the unintended consequences may be. Most obviously, identifying locations in this way may lead to pimps going to darker lengths to hide these women.

And this recent report should give added pause for thought:

Violent crime is way down in San Francisco, according to the latest police statistics. But one major category is bucking the trend: police recorded a 170 percent jump in reports of human trafficking in 2018.

The huge spike appears to be connected to the federal shutdown of sex-for-sale websites. The goal of shutting them down was to curb human trafficking. Instead, it seems to have had the opposite effect.

What can we learn from this? Measures to help women in the sex trade tend to be more successful when people listen to the women.

Rosalind Brewer, formerly of Starbucks, becomes Amazon’s first black board member

USA Today on the appointment of Rosalind Brewer at Amazon:

The appointment comes after Amazon caved to pressure from shareholders, employees and the Congressional Black Caucus in May and agreed to adopt a shareholder proposal to increase the diversity of its board. The proposal required Amazon to consider women and minorities for board openings, similar to the National Football League’s Rooney Rule, which has increased the diversity of coaching staff by mandating that teams interview at least one minority candidate.

She will become the 10th member and fourth woman on the board.

Attacking a pay wall that hides public court filings – NYT

Encouraging reading in the NYT this morning. A report details how there’s a fight brewing against Pacer, the atrocious and expensive US court records system:

The costs of storing and transmitting data have plunged, approaching zero. By one estimate, the actual cost of retrieving court documents, including secure storage, is about one half of one ten-thousandth of a penny per page. But the federal judiciary charges a dime a page to use its service, called Pacer (for Public Access to Court Electronic Records).