Save the Internet

Going at net neutrality regulations with a weed whacker; dreading the apocalypse in Silicon Valley; and more.

  • FCC chairman Ajit Pai has announced his plan to “fire up the weed-whacker” and eliminate rules protecting net neutrality and the open internet, and as Dominic Rushe reports for The Guardian, he is going to run into a buzzsaw of opposition.

  • Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, commented:

    “When I invented the web, I didn’t have to ask anyone for permission, and neither did America’s successful internet entrepreneurs when they started their businesses. To reach its full potential, the internet must remain a permissionless space for creativity, innovation and free expression. In today’s world companies can’t operate without internet, and access to it is controlled by just a few providers. The FCC’s announcements today suggest they want to step back and allow concentrated market players to pick winners and losers online. Their talk is all about getting more people connected, but what is the point if your ISP only lets you watch the movies they choose, just like the old days of cable?”

  • A coalition of internet freedom groups including Demand Progress, Free Press, Center for Media Justice, and Fight for the Future are raising money on GoFundMe to restart the BattlefortheNet project to help defend net neutrality. It remains to be seen whether big tech platforms like Google, which helped defeat the SOPA and PIPA bills, will step up to this fight.

  • Valley talk: “In the 17 years I’ve spent covering Silicon Valley, I’ve never seen anything shake the place like his victory,” writes Farhad Manjoo in the course of a long New York Times Magazine piece on Facebook. He adds, “In the span of a few months, the Valley has been transformed from a politically disengaged company town into a center of anti-Trump resistance and fear. A week after the election, one start-up founder sent me a private message on Twitter: ‘I think it’s worse than I thought,’ he wrote. ‘Originally I thought 18 months. I’ve cut that in half.’ Until what? ‘Apocalypse. End of the world.’” Despite that portentous beginning, Manjoo’s article doesn’t really delve into the change in the Valley’s mood, and spends most of its time exploring Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s evolving thinking about the problem of media misinformation and what the company can do about it. The tl/dr version: Zuck used to deny that Facebook’s News Feed algorithm was reinforcing people’s information prejudices, now he admits it’s a problem.

  • Related: Google is making changes to its search algorithm to “bury fake news,” Mark Bergen reports for Bloomberg.

  • Also related: Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is out with a new project called Wikitribune that aims to combine the power of the crowd with the skills of progressional journalists to combat the rise of fake news, and longtime media-watcher Mathew Ingram draws on the long history of previous efforts at crowdfunded journalism to explain in Fortune why the odds aren’t in Wales’ favor.

  • Albert Wenger, one of the partners at Union Square Ventures, blogs that he is favor of “the shareholder proposal to study alternative forms of ownership for Twitter.”

  • Ex-Precedents: With former President Barack Obama facing strong criticism from the likes of Vox’s Matthew Yglesias for taking a $400,000 speaking fee to speak at a health care conference organized by Wall Street bond firm Cantor Fitzgerald, his spokesman released a statement insisting that Obama “will be true to his values, his vision and his record” and insisting that he will spend most of his post-presidency on “training and elevating a new generation of political leaders in America.”

  • In my humble opinion, it’s kind of silly to criticize Obama now for raking in big bucks from Wall Street. As campaign finance expert Thomas Ferguson pointed out years ago, more than one-third of the early money that floated Obama’s 2008 campaign came from the financial sector (more than Hillary Clinton). In 2009, he pointedly told top Wall Street bankers that he was the only thing standing between them and the people with the pitchforks. He’s never spoken out against any of his top aides cashing in (c.f. David Plouffe, Uber; Robert Gibbs, McDonalds). And now, with a massive library to be built, he has to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in order to encase his good works in stone. If fundraising for good causes is a zero-sum game, then every dollar Obama takes from Wall Street arguably is a dollar less that he has to raise from more socially-responsible donors. Leaving some for that new generation of leaders…

  • Trump watch: Jewelry designer and First Daughter Ivanka Trump is raising money for a fund to benefit women entrepreneurs, Mike Allen reports for Axios. His colleague Dan Primack reports that “early commitments have already come in from some government-linked investors in Canada, Germany, and the Middle East.” The Trump administration says she will not personally be involved in soliciting donors, but the new fund looks like a fresh way to buy favor with the Trump family.

  • President Trump has been regularly huddling with Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report, the online rightwing scandal sheet. (Drudge last drew attention in October when he published a story alleging that Bill Clinton had fathered a child with an Arkansas prostitute.) That’s the new news embedded deep inside Josh Dawsey, Shane Goldmacher and Alex Isenstadt’s long and depressing report in Politico on how the White House manages(?) all of its dysfunctions.

  • Yesterday the administration launched a phone hotline for people to report “crimes committed by illegal aliens,” part of its effort to stigmatize the undocumented, and in response activists led by the anti-Trump veterans group Common Defense have flooded the number with reports of UFO encounters, as Brianna Sacks reports for BuzzFeed.

  • Danny Sriskandarajah, the head of Civicus, is warning of “a global emergency around civil space, that for a variety of reasons governments and sometimes non-state actors are going out of their way to shut down the ability of citizens to collectively organise and mobilise,” Bibi van der Zee reports for The Guardian.

  • Need help getting dressed? Amazon’s new Echo Look comes with StyleCheck, an AI-enabled app that will make fashion recommendations for you. As Zeynep Tufekci pointed out on Twitter, “With this data, Amazon won’t be able to just sell you clothes or judge you. It could analyze if you’re depressed or pregnant and much else.”

  • This is civic tech: With the application deadline for Big Apps NYC 2017 coming on April 30, Colin Wood reports for StateScoop on how the revamped program designed by our Civic Hall Labs team has helped participants make connections and improve their proposals.

  • TICTec, The Impact of Civic Technology conference run annually by mySociety, just topped off its third convening in Florence, Italy by announcing a spin-off event in Taipei, Taiwan on September 11-12, hosted by the Civic Tech Fest. They’re currently accepting proposals for talks and sessions.

  • Your moment of zen: Here’s one sure way to know that companies are selling your data to third parties.


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