Pentagon worried it lost ‘hearts and minds’ on defense tech

Great piece in Wired with some startling insights from internal Pentagon memos. After a year in which Silicon Valley employees – particularly at Google – have demanded their firms shun defense contracts, there was considerable panic within the DoD about how to recapture the narrative so that progress is not slowed:

“We have stumbled unprepared into a contest over the strategic narrative,” said an internal Pentagon memo circulated to roughly 50 defense officials on June 28. The memo depicted a department caught flat-footed and newly at risk of alienating experts critical to the military’s artificial intelligence development plans. “We will not compete effectively against our adversaries if we do not win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the key supporters,” it warned.

Silicon Valley was, of course, built on war. But the cultures cultivated by tech firms in more recent years – where employees go to work feeling they are changing the world for the better – has made companies almost completely incompatible with the military’s desire to improve its weaponry.

There is a major exception, though: Amazon. Jeff Bezos has made his thoughts on this perfectly clear. I predict it’ll become a leading revenue source for the firm next year.

Security lapse at Blind

When your business is in getting people to spill secrets about their employers, you really can’t afford a slip up like this. TechCrunch reports:

Blind left one of its database servers exposed without a password, making it possible for anyone who knew where to look to access each user’s account information and identify would-be whistleblowers.

And if you do have a slip up, you need to handle it better than Blind apparently did, only acting when TechCrunch got in touch – rather than when researchers first informed the company of the lapse. The report adds:

Kim said that there is “no evidence” that the database was misappropriated or misused, but did not say how it came to that conclusion. When asked, the company would not say if it will notify U.S. state regulators of the breach.


WhatsApp’s child abuse problem

Troubling story in the FT looking at child abuse images being shared via groups on Facebook-owned WhatsApp.

It’s concerning not just because of the material, but the fact has apparently failed to tackle the specific complaint, months are being told about it. From the report:

These groups were monitored and documented for months by two charities in Israel dedicated to online safety, Netivei Rishet and Screensaverz.

Their purpose was often obvious from names such as “cp” and from explicit photographs used on their profile photos. Such identifiers were not encrypted, and were publicly viewable so as to advertise the illegal content, yet systems that WhatsApp said it had in place failed to detect them. 

A review of the groups by the Financial Times quickly found several that were still extremely active this week, long after WhatsApp was warned about the problem by the researchers. 

This story gives a hint, I think, of one of the biggest challenges going into 2019, not just for the social networks, but for those who are monitoring and reporting on them. Conversations of all kinds are moving to closed groups, on platforms where the contents of messages are hidden by encryption.

Shortlist’s editor says goodbye – to an era

A close friend of mine is part of the team that’s been left heartbroken by the closure of Shortlist magazine, the free magazine distributed mainly in London.

It’s a big loss – not just to him, but everyone. If FHM was a boozy New Year’s Eve with bad (yet fun) life decisions, Shortlist to me always felt like New Year’s Day – a magazine that told men it was important to be aspirational, to have goals that went beyond getting hammered on a Friday. It celebrated talent over basic celebrity, and its cover stars were not soap stars with their boobs out, but interesting and noteworthy people worth listening to.

In his final editor’s note, Joe Mackertich tackles the end of not just his magazine, but of this era in UK media entirely. From Loaded to today it’s been an evolution of men’s mags at a time in history when what it means to be man has evolved too. What will happen to the direction of that change now we’re headlong into the internet era? I can’t help feel that many young men, who would have been brought up on reading magazines, are instead being made angry by what’s out there on social media. The minimal but meaningful progress we’ve made in leaving the “lad” mentality behind is in danger of being overshadowed by a different kind of toxic masculinity. On the internet, it’s more effective and profitable to wind up young men, rather than entertain them.

The Register skewers Facebook on honesty

Kieran McCarthy over at The Register does the best job so far of gathering the instances in which Facebook has taken a consent inch – and turned it into a consent mile:

Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: Facebook, its CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and its COO Sheryl Sandberg, and its public relations people, and its engineers have lied. They have lied repeatedly. They have lied exhaustively. They have lied so much they’ve lost track of their lies, and then lied about them.

UK court rules: Uber drivers are employees and deserve benefits

Billed as a landmark decision regarding the future of the gig economy, the UK Court of Appeal has ruled that Uber drivers are not self-employed, and are therefore entitled to employee benefits such as holiday pay, a guaranteed minimum wage and break allowances. CNBC reports:

A judge at the U.K.’s Court of Appeal, the second-highest court in the land, ruled in favor of Uber drivers James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam, who in 2016 argued at an employment tribunal that they were employees working for the company, rather than self-employed.

Uber argues that its drivers should be treated as self-employed — much in the same way that most traditional taxi drivers are — rather than workers directly employed by the company. It says it should be treated more like an agency that connects drivers with passengers. According to the company, this arrangement provides more flexibility for its drivers, allowing them to work on their own terms.

As you can imagine, Uber is rather upset at the ruling, arguing (not without merit) that many drivers don’t want to be considered employees anyway. A spokesperson sent this to reporters today:

“This decision was not unanimous and does not reflect the reasons why the vast majority of drivers choose to use the Uber app. We have been granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court and will do so.

Almost all taxi and private hire drivers have been self-employed for decades, long before our app existed. Drivers who use the Uber app make more than the London Living Wage and want to keep the freedom to choose if, when and where they drive. If drivers were classified as workers they would inevitably lose some of the freedom and flexibility that comes with being their own boss.

Over the last two years we’ve made many changes to give drivers even more control over how they use the app, alongside more security through sickness, maternity and paternity protections. We’ll keep listening to drivers and introduce further improvements.”


Elon Musk’s tunnel is just a tunnel (for now at least)

I’m back in the UK for Christmas so sadly missed my opportunity to try out the tunnel Elon Musk has been boring underneath Los Angeles:

Doesn’t look like I missed much. This is a long way from the fully-autonomous transport tubes Musk was promising between Washington and New York last year.