Domination!

A sweetheart deal for Amazon that could put communities across America at risk; Facebook's Wild West early days; and more.


  • This is civic tech: Danya Glabau, the founder of Implosion Labs, shares observations from Personal Democracy Forum 2018, in particular on her session on using science fiction to imagine futures we want.

  • Tufts University’s Institute for democracy and Higher Education has released a new tool for visualizing the potential of the college student vote in 2018, district by district.

  • Chris Nehls of the Democracy Fund shares news of fresh grants to several civic tech efforts centered on helping Congress modernize how it engages with constituents. Congrats to PopVox and Fireside21!

  • Attend: If you are in Boston, today at 7pm Logic Magazine is hosting a conversation called “Tech won’t build it: the new tech resistance,” with Sasha Constanza Chock, Kade Crawford, Valeria Do Vale and Ben Tarnoff.

  • Life in Facebookistan: Adam Fisher’s oral history of the early days of the social web, excerpted in Wired with a focus on Facebook, is full of examples of the horrible instincts and social assumptions of the white male bros who got rich off those days.

  • Example: Early Facebook investor Sean Parker brags that “The most important thing I ever worked on was developing algorithms for optimizing virality at Plaxo.” Not explained by Fisher: the fact that Plaxo, which was founded by Parker, tried to grow by automatically spamming every user in your address book.

  • Example: At the first Facebook office in Palo Alto, founder Mark Zuckerberg paid a graffiti artist to decorate it. As Ezra Callahan, an early product manager and head of internal communications for Facebook recalls to Fisher: “The office was on the second floor, so as you walk in you immediately have to walk up some stairs, and on the big 10-foot-high wall facing you is just this huge buxom woman with enormous breasts wearing this Mad Max–style costume riding a bulldog.” And then, he says Sean Parker’s girlfriend “painted this explicit, intimate lesbian scene in the woman’s restroom of two completely naked women intertwined and cuddling with each other—not graphic, but certainly far more suggestive than what one would normally see in a women’s bathroom in an office.”

  • And this, also from Callahan: “We had company parties all the time, and for a period in 2005, all Mark’s toasts at the company parties would end with ‘Domination!’”

  • Speaking of domination, the British Information Commissioner’s Office, which enforces the country’s data protection laws, has hit Facebook with the maximum possible fine (a paltry 500,000 pounds), for allowing Cambridge Analytica to access information on millions of users without their consent, Adam Satariano and Sheera Frankel report for The New York Times. The agency is expected to release a report on its investigation into Facebook today.

  • Wired’s Issie Lapowsky spots the fact, buried deep in 700 pages of responses from Facebook to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, that the company gave Russian internet giant Mail.ru special access to its API and allowed it extra time to wind that down.

  • In India, WhatsApp is running full-page newspaper ads to educate users about not falling for rumors spread on its platform, and it has also added a feature to label forwarded messages, Rich Iyengar reports for CNN Tech.

  • Speaking of fighting domination, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has just released a tough report on Amazon’s new joint purchasing contract with U.S. Communities, an organization that negotiates on behalf of many local governments. ISLR says “the terms of Amazon’s contract with U.S. Communities depart in striking ways from established norms in public procurement, favoring Amazon at the expense of the public. The contract lacks standard safeguards to protect public dollars, and puts cities, counties, and schools at risk of spending more and getting less.” It also changes that “the request for proposals was written in a way that favored Amazon and precluded competing offers.” ISLR warns that “as cities shift their spending away from local office supply companies, or from chains that have local locations, and to Amazon, they’re contributing to the erosion of their own tax base.” More than 1500 jurisdictions have adopted the contract, but a number of cities are balking.

  • Trump watch: In an audible whistle to the far-right, two Oregon ranchers whose arson sentences triggered an armed occupation by a militia group of a wildlife refuge in Oregon have been pardoned by President Trump. The men, Dwight Hammond and his son Steven Hammond, had been convicted by a jury of using fire to destroy federal property. As Huffington Post reporter Chris D’Angelo points out, while White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called them “devoted family men” in a statement on the pardons, in 2016 they were accused of child abuse (trigger warning, upsetting images included with that story).

  • Members of Trump’s exclusive private clubs in Florida, who pay him hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to hobnob in his hangouts, were invited to tour Air Force One last year, Tarini Parti and Jeremy Singer-Vine report for BuzzFeed. I’m old enough to remember when it was a scandal for Democrats to give big soft money donors a night in the Lincoln Bedroom—now the president profits personally from giving clients access to his taxpayer-funded jet.

  • Based on his past judicial writings, Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has a terrible set of opinions on issues involving the internet and the rights of users online, April Glaser reports for Slate.