TL;DR: Facebook’s brush with the FTC, Dropbox drops & more

Lewis Ashman
A nervous Facebook 'f' climbs stairs toward the scales of justice

The week in tech, for you

We know. The news can be a little Too Long; Didn’t Read sometimes. TL;DR is our roundup of the week in tech, just for you. We digest the biggest stories and trends in technology, business and innovation from across the web, and dish it out to you in 5 easy bytes (get it?).

1/ Tipping the scales

Facebook is officially under investigation. In the wake of the data privacy scandal centering on Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of supposedly private data, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it would be launching an inquiry into Facebook’s handling of users’ personal information. According to the BBC, the FTC was taking the issue “very seriously”, and would be considering whether or not to use “enforcement action”.

Mark Zuckerberg is expected to testify before the US Congress in the coming weeks – as reported in Wired – but has not extended the same courtesy in response to an invitation from concerned politicians in the UK (where Cambridge Analytica is based). That hasn’t gone down very well, as noted in the Guardian.

Cue stock market blowback – WSJ has the lowdown.

This is a big deal not just for Facebook, but for other tech companies too – especially those with a comparable business model (we’re talking about you, Google). We could be witnessing the beginnings of a major shift in the digital advertising economy – and therefore in pretty much the internet as we know it. Stay tuned.

2/ The trouble with being human

After the tragic death of a pedestrian in an accident with a self-driving Uber car, the vehicles have been banned from Arizona roads, as reported in Axios. But what does this mean for the role of humans on the road? It was quickly revealed that the self-driving Uber in question had an employee behind the wheel. The episode raises a lot of questions about the relevance and value of humans in relation to AI-driven (excuse the pun) technology. In what sense can we ever trust machines more than people? This fascinating piece in Popular Science breaks down the state of safety procedures and the rationale of current road testing in Uber’s self-driving operation.

These issues are even more urgent now that a (completely human) Uber driver got their car stuck on a flight of stairs… *sigh* – TNW has pictures and an explanation.

3/ Drop it like it’s hot

In a week of hell for Facebook, and nervousness for the tech industry in general, Dropbox’s successful IPO went somewhat under the radar. Their stock price rocketed on Monday, as covered by The Verge – a reason for cheer in an otherwise gloomy week for tech stock.

This piece in Forbes pours a little cold water on all that heady optimism, citing recent cases of companies like Snap not living up to initial promise. But Dropbox has nonetheless made a big statement. As cloud storage becomes increasingly cheap, and with businesses making up only around 30% of its customer base, expect the company to start dropping some exciting new features and services for professionals in the not too distant future.

4/ Moderate Madness

YouTube has taken some bold steps in recent weeks to try and head off an unwanted reputation for “fake news” and recommendations for inappropriate content. Wired took an in depth look at the human army calling the shots behind the scenes – and, in the process, training YouTube’s algorithm to moderate itself.

Public pressure has forced YouTube to clean up its act. So CEO Susan Wojcicki announced some content would be accompanied by entries from Wikipedia (who they decided not to consult on the matter, according to The Verge).

This may well not be enough to clean up YouTube completely. Fake news is serious business these days, as this Politico report into a bogus conspiracy theory makes plain. But if people don’t feel comfortable with what YouTube is showing them, will they start to look elsewhere?

5/ Do I need to #deletefacebook?

Elon Musk certainly thought so. After being dared on Twitter, as AdWeek noticed, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX gave the green light for those businesses’ Facebook pages to be deleted. Apparently, they didn’t run any ads on the platform anyway, but some companies who did decided to suspend their campaigns – such as Mozilla (the not-for-profit behind the Firefox browser), who said it was “pressing pause”.

Hardly a corporate exodus. But the backlash from users will worry Facebook more. Without users, there’ll be no one to watch ads – not great for their profitability. Revelations like this viral Twitter thread captured in Mashable are opening people’s eyes to the extent of Facebook’s data gathering operation.

In short, more people who use Facebook are waking up to the consequences of a business model based on the commercialization of their personal information – the next step is for them to decide whether or not they’re happy with the trade-off… Meanwhile, the company has revamped its privacy settings, as detailed in NPR.

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