Did Tech Companies Ever Have Our Best Interests At Heart?

An adapted essay from Noam Cohen new book The Know-It-Alls: The Rise of Silicon Valley as a Political Powerhouse and Social Wrecking Ball showed up several weeks in the New York Times in the article Silicon Valley Is Not Your Friend. It’s an important one to read slowly and carefully as there are several key points in it.

In the last week, two early Facebook execs made remarkably critical statements about what they were involved in helping create. It started when Sean Parker talked with Axios about how Facebook exploits human psychology.

“I don’t know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying, because [of] the unintended consequences of a network when it grows to a billion or 2 billion people and … it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other … It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing

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How Technology Tests Our Trust

Rachel Botsman, the author of Who Can You Trust?, talks about how trust works, whether in relation to robots, companies, or other people. Technology, she says, speeds up the development of trust and can help us decide who to trust. But when it comes to making those decisions, we shouldn’t leave our devices to their own devices.

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There’s a Gender Gap in Internet Usage. Closing It Would Open Up Opportunities for Everyone

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We have all heard about a gap when it comes to participation of women in the tech industry. Facebook, Google, and Apple have 17%, 19% and 23% women in their technology staffs, respectively. Multiple surveys, such as the “The Elephant in the Valley,” have documented systematic discrimination against women. And there’s a continuous barrage of news stories regarding the challenges that women face across a raft of iconic Silicon Valley firms. No more than a quarter of U.S. computing and mathematical jobs are held by women, consistent with the data that around 26% of the STEM workforce in developed countries is female. In developing countries, those differences are even greater.

But the gender gap problem doesn’t stop there. There’s also a shortage of women using some of the industry’s products. The International Telecommunications Union reports that the proportion of women using the internet is 12% lower than the

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Biometrics Won’t Solve Our Data-Security Crisis

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The history of proving one’s identity with official documentation dates back 600 years to the realm of King Henry V in England. Prior to that, your name and local reputation was pretty much all you needed to prove who you were. The Safe Conducts Act of 1414 created the first documentation for the English to prove themselves as subjects of the king when outside England: Thus, the creation of the first official passport.

Surprisingly little has changed since then, at least in the U.S.: Your driver’s license is the default proof of identity for everything from flying domestically to buying a new house. For transactions over the phone or internet, we rely on publicly available information to verify identity (name, address, where you went to high school). If we really want to be secure, we rely on our Social Security number, nine digits that were assigned to

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The Breakout Tech Company Of 2017

For a while, on this blog, I attempted to pick one startup for that year which truly “broke out” of its shell. Dialing back the clock, one could say 2011 was Uber and Airbnb; in 2012, I wrote about Stripe; in 2013, I wrote about Snap; in 2014, I prematurely said there were none but then backtracked when Slack exploded; in 2015, I didn’t write one, and in 2016, my thesis was the big tech incumbents would grow even more powerful from the web’s and mobile’s network effects that startups wouldn’t even have the chance.

Now with 2017 nearing the end, I’m back to the point where I can point to this year’s tech breakout company: Coinbase. I know, it’s likely an obvious pick, but I unpacking “why” is a fun exercise I’ll attempt below.

Right Person(s): Founded by Brian Armstrong and Fred Ehrsam, blending backgrounds in Continue reading "The Breakout Tech Company Of 2017"

Driverless Cars Will Change Auto Insurance. Here’s How Insurers Can Adapt

Tim Evans for HBR

There is little doubt that the widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles will have a huge impact on the automobile insurance industry. Research and computer modeling conducted by Accenture in collaboration with the Stevens Institute of Technology indicates that as many as 23 million fully autonomous vehicles will be traveling U.S. highways by 2035 (out of about 250 million total cars and trucks registered in the U.S.)

This rapid growth of autonomous vehicles will involve a major shift, not only in our driving habits and patterns, but in the ownership of vehicles. We believe that most fully autonomous vehicles will not be owned by individuals, but by auto manufacturers such as General Motors, by technology companies such as Google and Apple, and by other service providers such as ride-sharing services. Unlike individual car owners – whose vehicles typically sit idle most of the time

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The Most and Least Digital Jobs – and How Well They Pay

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In all likelihood, your job involves using computers – probably more so than it did a decade ago.

In a recent study, researchers at Brookings attempted to quantify that change across the U.S. economy, using Department of Labor data on the digital requirements of 545 different occupations. They found that 95% of those occupations became more digital between 2002 and 2016, meaning that computers became a more important part of the job.

The researchers combined several measures of an occupation’s use of digital technology into a digital score, ranging from zero (least digital) to 100 (most digital).

You can see where your job and industry fell on that scale, as of 2016, using the interactive below. Once you select an occupation, you’ll see below the main chart how that score changed since 2002, as well as the change in average pay.

How the Internet of Things Can Prepare Cities for Natural Disasters

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When a disaster strikes, federal, state, and local governments need a coordinated strategy, accessible data, and a skilled workforce to manage the response. Natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods have devastating effects on communities across our country. Since 1980 the U.S. has sustained more than 200 weather and climate disasters, with cumulative costs exceeding $1.1 trillion.

Government agencies should consider leveraging the internet of things (IoT) and other web-driven technologies to obtain timely and accurate data that can better inform decisions and actions. Using the most current technology could help them more efficiently and safely address these costly disasters. However, this type of progress will require more than just employing the IoT to improve emergency preparedness and response; response teams have to be ready to receive, interpret, and take action on the data.

Gathering Data Before a Disaster Strikes

Today, disaster responders gain reliable,

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Apple Platform Layer Bugs

The word “platform” used to mean something in the technology industry. Like many other words, it has been applied to so many different things to almost be meaningless.

Yesterday, when I started seeing stuff about the MacOS High Sierra blank root password bug, I took a deep breath and clicked on the first link I saw, hoping it was an Onion article. I read it, picked my jaw up off the floor, and then said out loud “Someone at Apple got fired today.”

Then I wondered if that was true and realized it probably wasn’t. And, that someone probably shouldn’t be fired, but that Apple should do a very deep root cause analysis on why a bug like this could get out in the wild as part of an OS release.

Later in the day, I pulled up Facetime to make a call to Amy. My computer sat

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How Facebook’s Annual “Hacktober” Campaign Promotes Cybersecurity to Employees

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While the word “cybersecurity” may evoke thoughts of highly sophisticated attacks that require fancy computing equipment and skilled hackers, the reality is that most attacks — especially in a corporate environment — involve simpler strategies that depend upon one thing: exploiting human behavior.

Most companies are hard at work building technology to better protect themselves and their users or customers. But technology can only get us so far. People are the most important factor in any company’s cybersecurity strategy, and investing in security engagement goes a long way in helping companies reduce the probability of a breach.

Facebook runs security engagement programs year-round, but the most important tool in our arsenal is Hacktober, an annual, monthlong tradition each October designed to build and maintain a security-conscious culture. It’s our version of National Cyber Security Awareness Month, a campaign to get people involved in cyber security and play

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Bitcoin at $10K – The Beginning

The price of bitcoin reached $10K earlier today.  Over the years I have seen a significant change in conversations around virtual currencies (“it’s for drug dealers!”; “there’s no underlying asset!”; “it’s a fraud!” to “how do I buy bitcoin”?;“can you help me look at this ICO?”) and we are no doubt at the cusp of more widespread acceptance of the concept.  It’s important to note that a fair amount of the recent capital in the market is driven by speculation from the astronomical returns that cryptocurrencies have achieved in 2017, and a “fear of missing out” (FOMO).  True alpha returns have been difficult to achieve in the globally low interest rate environment and softening of many real estate markets, all factors that have been fuel for cryptocurrency market cap growth.  Many of these investors have not experienced the price volatility many Continue reading "Bitcoin at $10K – The Beginning"

How We Reorganized Instagram’s Engineering Team While Quadrupling Its Size

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When I joined Instagram in 2015 as head of engineering, the company had been part of Facebook for three years. It had 115 engineers, but we would soon scale to 300, and later grow to over 400 in 2017. It was not an easy task, but I had a powerful weapon in mind from the start: reorganization.

Companies frequently underutilize – or, worse, misuse — reorganization. While it sounds like (and is) a big step, it’s often the most important tool a company has. When I was brought on, Instagram’s executives knew they needed help. The engineering department needed better organization and management, and its employees were craving more career development. It took us three months to reorganize, and another 18 months to scale to a bigger department. By the end, my group had quadrupled in size, yet functioned even better than it had before. We were

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Companies Need More Than Two-Factor Authentication to Keep Users Safe

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We all know the basics of cybercrime, such as phishing emails with malicious links or attachments, or phone calls from fake help desks seeking to take over your computer.

But schemes in the cyber world continue to get more sophisticated. One of the latest scams has hackers stealing phone numbers to drain cryptocurrency accounts such as Bitcoin. How? Hackers have identified a weakness in the way we use our phones to authenticate our identities to mobile service providers, as well as to online accounts. They’re exploiting this weakness to steal whatever they can get their hands on. And it all goes back to two-factor authentication, or 2FA.

If you’ve enabled 2FA on Twitter, Facebook, or Google, you’ve probably received a one-time password, through SMS text message, for logging in or making changes to the account. Many online cryptocurrency wallets and services also use SMS text messages as a

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Quality of the 70s with quantity of the 10s

When I was a child we had vinyl records and CDs but no music streaming services. We had Nikon, Canon and Leica cameras and lenses and slow chemical photography. When I was a child we had paper books. To see movies you had to go to a movie theater. When I was a child we had less experiences, but much better quality experiences. Now we live in an era in which everything is accessible in your smartphone or tablet. But the question is at what quality? For example, people are uploading childhoods to Instagram. But how good will those pictures look when kids grow up? Or you get Alexa to play your music and you have an endless music library with Spotify which is awesome. But the quality of that music? Can you compare that to sound systems of the 70s? And now we can watch any movie on my Continue reading "Quality of the 70s with quantity of the 10s"

What Digital Change Demands of IT Organizations – SPONSOR CONTENT FROM DXC TECHNOLOGY

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There’s no question that legacy IT systems are too slow and rigid for the agility that digital business demands. As companies modernize their IT infrastructure, they are looking to gain flexibility, scalability and above all, speed. And that means buying more new technology: IT organizations must adopt new platforms and processes and integrate services in new ways.

Are IT organizations ready for the challenge? In a new global survey by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, overall executive confidence in internal IT was very mixed, with only 17 percent of the executives viewing their own IT organization as being extremely capable of executing their company’s digital agenda. About 45 percent saw their IT organization as moderately capable, while over a third believe their internal IT organization is not at all capable of executing the digital agenda, rating them 1 to 4 on a 10-point scale.

How to Reduce Primary Care Doctors’ Workloads While Improving Care

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Not long ago, many services such as tax accounting were delivered episodically and in-person, as most health care still is today. Periodically, a client and accountant would meet, review financial materials and status and, at the end of the encounter, make an appointment for the next meeting. Increasingly, in-person accountant visits have been replaced by phone or web meetings and do-it-yourself software like TurboTax. There is still a need for accountants and face-to-face meetings, but typically accountants now require such visits for only the more complicated cases that can’t be managed with software or a call.

Health care has proved resistant to a similar transition, although everyone would benefit. While some aspects of care clearly require doctor and patient to be in the same place at the same time, many demonstrably don’t. Nonetheless, even those parts of care that could be freed from the doctor’s office

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How India Is Moving Toward a Digital-First Economy

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On November 8, 2016, India’s government did something that no other government had attempted before at the same scale: It decided to remove 86% of the country’s currency notes by value from circulation. Over the months that followed, more than 1 billion people participated in a “reboot” of the country’s financial and monetary system.

An active debate has since ensued as to how the transition unfolded. Some have seen calamity for the economy, while others, like us, see something quite different: a threshold moment in India’s digital transformation. Consider, for example, a government payment system created in 2016 that was processing 100,000 transactions per month in October of that year, prior to the sudden demonetization. A year later, after demonetization, the same system is processing 76 million transactions per month. Meanwhile, according to India’s Ministry of Finance, the country’s economy is operating with $45 billion less cash than

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The Story Behind My Investment In Perlara

Almost two years ago, I met a founding team during Y Combinator batch. It was in a field I haven’t invested in before, but I have spent time in during a previous life and career. We met for coffee on the Embarcadero, and while my “life sciences lexicon” is quite rusty, I somehow managed to carry on an entire conversation and even (I hope) earned the respect of the founding scientists for being able to recall some of the core elements of why their company, Perlara, had a chance to make a big impact.

What was able to recall from my previous life in the world of life sciences? I remember that while traditional pharmaceutical companies needed to develop drugs to address large markets, a new wave of biotech firms emerged that would be able to more efficiently identify and serve less “popular” afflictions, often referred to as orphaned diseases. Continue reading "The Story Behind My Investment In Perlara"

The Story Behind My Investment In Optimus Ride

About a year ago, thanks to an investor friend who, in this particular case, shall remain nameless (but you know who you are, and thank you!) was kind enough to tip me off about a great team he met on the east coast but one that he couldn’t invest in. Often investors only take referrals from other investors if that introducing investor has invested him- or herself; here, this was a close friend, and it was a very interesting company. I’m glad I took the referral.

That is how I came to meet the team from Boston’s Optimus Ride. This week, Optimus Ride announced a large Series A investment led by Greycroft. You can read more about that news here. And, read this great piece by Xconomy on how Optimus fits into the landscape.

I was lucky to be involved in the seed last year, a round led by Continue reading "The Story Behind My Investment In Optimus Ride"