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Facebook’s plan for regulating Facebook

Good morning! This Tuesday, Facebook has ideas on how to regulate Facebook, medical records really need to get out of the CD era, and Jeff Bezos is spending billions of dollars to fight climate change.

People Are Talking

Tech companies can't be held responsible for what's on their platforms, Facebook said in a new white paper:

  • "Despite their best efforts to thwart the spread of harmful content, internet platforms are intermediaries, not the speakers, of such speech, and it would be impractical and harmful to require internet platforms to approve each post before allowing it." (More on this in a second.)

And George Soros said Mark Zuckerberg should be fired in a letter to the Financial Times:

  • "Mr Zuckerberg appears to be engaged in some kind of mutual assistance arrangement with Donald Trump that will help him to get re-elected … Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg should be removed from control of Facebook."

Craig Wright still claims he's Satoshi Nakamoto, and said he's taking more control of Bitcoin:

  • "As the creator of Bitcoin, I maintain the sui generis rights to any copy of the database created from Genesis in January 2009. I shall not be relinquishing the ownership."

Why isn't there an Instagram app for the iPad? Adam Mosseri offered a very boring reason:

  • "We only have so many people and lots to do, and it hasn't bubbled up as the next best thing to do yet."

Using Huawei equipment is a vote for autocracy over democracy, said Nancy Pelosi:

  • "This is the information highway of the now, and why would we want to give license to the Chinese to direct the traffic on that information highway of the future?"

Apple said coronavirus is causing more problems than it expected:

  • "While our iPhone manufacturing partner sites are located outside the Hubei province — and while all of these facilities have reopened — they are ramping up more slowly than we had anticipated."

The Big Story

Facebook wants to follow the rules (and help write them)

The Financial Times published an op-ed by Mark Zuckerberg this weekend that laid out the Facebook CEO's preferred plan for tech regulation:

  • Zuckerberg called for regulation in four areas, echoing his own words from last year: elections, harmful content, privacy and data portability.
  • One question runs underneath seemingly all of Zuckerberg's thinking: Who decides? Who decides what counts as personal data? Who decides what's political? Who decides what's true?
  • Zuckerberg has long said he doesn't want to decide these things, and neither does Facebook. But somebody has to decide!

Then on Monday, Facebook also published a white paper with much more specific thinking on one of Zuckerberg's areas: regulation of harmful content.

  • It helps illuminate why this is such a contentious issue: Not least because there are so many tradeoffs in content moderation — proactive approaches vs. reactive ones, industry standards vs. platform-specific solutions, text vs. video and images.

The EU, for one, isn't buying it. Facebook's deluge of ideas comes while Zuckerberg is in Brussels meeting with EU officials about regulatory issues. But POLITICO reports that multiple officials told Zuckerberg that he ought to stop asking regulators to solve Facebook's problems for it.

  • "I want companies like Facebook to make an extra effort to help defend our democracies," the European Commission's Věra Jourová told the FT. "This will require looking at transparency and oversight of algorithms to avoid decisions being taken in black boxes and in the ways they moderate content … Facebook cannot push away all the responsibility."


A $10 billion plan to solve climate change

"Climate change is the biggest threat to our planet," Jeff Bezos wrote — on Instagram, next to frankly a pretty boring picture of the blue marble — as he announced the Bezos Earth Fund, a $10 billion commitment to fund "scientists, activists, [and] NGOs" in their bid to save the planet.

The announcement is unquestionably good news, but did cause some to question Bezos' motives and timing. What do you make of someone giving so much of their fortune, when that fortune came from founding a company that recently disclosed that it emitted about 44.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2018 alone?

  • This debate has raged internally at Amazon for a while, even as the company has recently done more to combat climate change. And it hasn't always been friendly: Last year, Amazon reportedly threatened to fire employees who spoke out against the company's efforts — or lack thereof.
  • The group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice said in a statement on Monday that "The people of Earth need to know: When is Amazon going to stop helping oil & gas companies ravage Earth with still more oil and gas wells? When is Amazon going to stop funding climate-denying think tanks like the Competitive Enterprise Institute and climate-delaying policy? When will Amazon take responsibility for the lungs of children near its warehouses by moving from diesel to all-electric trucking?"
Bezos said the fund will begin issuing grants this summer, and the $10 billion is only "to start." I like to think of it as a hedge against what Bezos has professed to really wanting to spend his money on, which is space exploration. Trying to save the Earth is a pretty good plan B.


Built For Better.

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Health Care

Can hospitals #DitchTheDisk?

A group of doctors and tech executives have been working on a project they call #DitchTheDisk, in an attempt to make it easier for hospitals to store and share images like MRIs and X-Rays. The current approach involves burning patient data onto CD-ROMs, and we can all agree that in 2020, anything that involves CD-ROMs ... shouldn't involve CD-ROMs.

  • Tech companies are finding "that their rate of progress is stymied by the lack of interoperability," CNBC reports. "Medical information is still trapped in legacy IT systems, making it hard to access for research and other purposes."

I asked Ashwini Zenooz, a radiologist and Salesforce executive behind #DitchTheDisk, why this is such a complicated issue. Nobody could possibly think a CD-ROM-based system is a good one, right?

  • Right now, she said, the system is like it used to be when AT&T customers could only send texts to other AT&T customers. Things work fine within each system, but the systems don't talk to each other. And most companies don't have much incentive to worry about others' systems. Hence CD-ROMs, when the system should be more like sharing a link to a webpage.
  • Zenooz said the team is working with regulators to figure out how medical images should be stored and shared. Should hospitals just be able to upload medical images to Dropbox? "There's some component of hospitals not knowing what's safe and not safe," she said.

"Maybe at some point those files were really big and not manageable," Zenooz told me, but now there's no excuse for not having better systems. And she's betting that any cost in upgrading would be less than the cost of buying and burning all those CD-ROMs.

Coming Up This Week

On Wednesday, the EU will publish a plan for Europe's digital-age future, its first proposed regulations for artificial intelligence, and a strategy for how to handle personal digital data. Mark Zuckerberg may have had ... thoughts in those Monday meetings.

There's a Democratic debate in Vegas on Wednesday. We'll be watching closely to see if the candidates get stuck into tech policy — especially reacting to the EU's proposals.

And on the earnings calendar, Walmart reports its figures today, and Dropbox on Thursday.

In Other News

One More Thing

A thoroughly modern songwriting story

Justin Bieber releases a song. People accuse Bieber of stealing the song's bouncy hook from another artist, Asher Monroe. In reality, the hook is called MDSN_LXCTY_melody_good_morning_clone_80C#min.wav (catchy title!), and it's a royalty-free sample from a site called Splice, where anyone can find and use music. So while it's the same thing, nobody's stealing at all. Remember a few years ago, when the same GarageBand loops were showing up in songs everywhere? Thanks to sites like Splice and BeatStars — where Lil' Nas X bought the beat that became "Old Town Road" for $30 — the world of music sharing is going to get even crazier.


Built For Better.

Society is demanding corporations help drive meaningful change on some of the world's most difficult topics. Is your company ready?

How Can Your Company Be Built for Better?

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to me,, or our tips line, Enjoy your Tuesday, see you tomorrow.

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