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Big Tech in the real world

Big Tech in the real world

Your five-minute guide to the best of Protocol (and the internet) from the week that was, from the latest in the Theranos trial to an unforgettable investigation into Facebook's inner workings.

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The best of Protocol

Gary Gensler is not your daddy, and other lessons from the Senate hearing, by Ben Pimentel

  • "Do you consider yourself to be their daddy?" is not a question you expect to hear a U.S. senator ask. And yet that's exactly what John Kennedy wondered of Gensler, during a hearing about crypto regulations. But that strangeness aside, the hearing was full of interesting tidbits about how the SEC plans to approach all things crypto.

A Theranos lab worker says blood tests were like 'flipping a coin,' by Biz Carson

  • The Theranos trial is already deep in the weeds, with long discussions about Excel spreadsheets, complicated financial questions and endless debates over medical procedures. But Erika Cheung, one of the initial whistleblowers at Theranos, laid bare in her testimony just how far the company was from achieving its goals.

Refugees are buying groceries with iris scans. What could go wrong? By Anna Kramer

  • In some Jordanian refugee camps, all you need to pick up cash and food is your eyes. But to what end? It raises big questions about the purpose of biometric identification, the balance between convenience and privacy and just how high-stakes data privacy is becoming.

Tencent dominates digital donations in China. That's the problem, by Zeyi Yang

  • It's hard to overstate how important Tencent is, Exhibit No. 45,695: It's an absolutely critical part of the philanthropic ecosystem in China. That comes with complicated platform dynamics, questions about favoritism and algorithms, and a lot of game theory and questions from charities in the country.

Big Tech builds bit by bit. The FTC is challenging that, by Ben Brody

  • A few big acquisitions make all the headlines, but Big Tech got big by buying and hiring a slew of startups and teams you may never have heard of. The FTC was long left out of the process, but now wants to know what's going on. And what needs to be stopped.

Google's latest plans for Chromecast are all about free TV, by Janko Roettgers

  • Streaming and cable, TV and tech — all parts of the Future of Media Industrial Complex are coming together. Just this week, Janko reported that Comcast wants to sell TVs, and Google wants access to over-the-air channels. Everything old is new again.


Thousands of U.S. businesses sold more than $50 billion worth of their products to Chinese consumers with Alibaba last year. Alibaba provides the tools and infrastructure that U.S. businesses need to build their brands in China and reach local consumers.

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The best of everything else

The Facebook Files — The Wall Street Journal

  • Unquestionably the story of the week, this series is worth taking some time this weekend to go through. It shows exactly how Facebook works, what it knows about its effect on the world and what it's doing — or, more often, not doing — to fix it.

Revolt of the delivery workers — New York Magazine

  • A deep look into the lives of the people who really power the delivery economy, and the systems they've built because the apps they rely on refuse to do so. You'll think about this story every time you open Uber Eats or DoorDash.

Jamie Wheal Is Austin's Cassandra of Techno-Optimism — Texas Monthly

  • The tech industry loves a spirit guide, and Wheal is a powerful one. But he's not so sure the story he's been telling is the right one anymore. And he's trying to figure out that age-old question: What happens when your out-there, countercultural ideas become big business?

Peter Thiel gamed Silicon Valley, Donald Trump, and democracy to make billions, tax-free — Bloomberg

  • An excerpt from "The Contrarian," a forthcoming book from Max Chafkin, paints a picture of how Thiel inserted himself into the relationship between Trump and tech, made it work in surprising ways, and made himself a bundle in the process. And he's not done yet.

What I learned from a year on Substack — Platformer

  • A really interesting dive into the economics, process and daily reality behind life on Substack, with lessons that will apply to almost anyone in the creator economy. There's more paperwork, more freedom and more Discord.


This year, China will become the first country where ecommerce sales will outpace brick-and-mortar transactions. U.S. businesses are using Alibaba's platforms to sell to 900 million digitally savvy consumers in China and untap new opportunities for long-term growth.

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