Screenshot of Upland
Screenshot: Upland

The digital real estate boom is a mess

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Good morning! If you can’t afford Bay Area housing prices on real earth, you might be able to on virtual earth. But probably not for long. I’m Janko Roettgers, and I hope the AR version of my house won’t need quite as many repairs.

Whose streets? AR streets.

Do you live in the Bay Area, New York or Chicago? Then there’s a good chance that your house has recently been purchased by a stranger.

A digital version of your house, anyway. Those three metro areas have become some of the hottest markets in Upland, a blockchain-based game that allows people to buy, develop, rent out and sell virtual land parcels based on real-world property borders. It’s a bit like Monopoly, but instead of a game board, everyone uses Google Maps, and every real-world address is in play.

Geospatial AR is coming. Upland launched in early 2020, and reached over 100,000 daily active users in December.

  • Typical rents are extremely low. The person who “owns” my property in Upland right now makes the equivalent of 4 cents a month.
  • Still, some people have amassed thousands of dollars worth of property in the game, and the company allows players to sell their properties for real hard cash.
  • In the future, Upland wants to expand into AR, and give developers a way to leverage its geospatial ownership contracts for their own apps and services.
  • Upland isn’t the only company doing something like this, either: Others include Spotland, which promises to share ad revenue with whomever owns the AR layer to a house, and the Geo Web, which eventually wants to empower others to build geospatial AR apps and services.

But is it legal? Can someone else buy, rent out or sell the AR layer associated with your home address? Turns out there’s no clear-cut answer.

  • “This is not something the law has dealt with before,” said Stanford Law School professor Mark Lemley.

AR companies have to make up rules on the spot absent of a clear legal precedent — and their ideas about property rights in AR vary widely.

  • Upland is basically letting the market decide, even if that means replicating existing problems. “It eventually becomes like the real world,” Upland co-founder and co-CEO Dirk Lueth told me. “You have some real estate mogul [who owns] more land than others.”
  • Spotland is giving property owners the right to opt out and effectively remove their addresses from its AR map.
  • The Geo Web is based on an economic theory called Harberger Taxes, which in theory should prevent AR land grabs and give late-comers a chance to still participate. However, even the folks behind it admit that there’s no proof it will work as intended.

It will take a few more years for companies like Apple, Meta and Google to produce AR glasses suitable for everyday wear. The industry, regulators and everyday people may need that time to figure out which role real-world property rights should play in AR, and who ultimately gets to decide what kind of AR layers can be pinned to your favorite coffee shop, your office or even your home.

Whatever the answer may be, games like Upland make it clear that we will encounter all kinds of weird problems as more of the real world goes virtual. Or, as veteran media exec Greg Kahn put it on Twitter this week: “We’re entering ‘Black Mirror’ territory here.”

— Janko Roettgers (twitter)

A version of this story also appeared on Read it here.

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People are talking

Jack Dorsey thinks Meta wasted a lot of time and effort on Diem:

  • “Those two years or three years, or however long it’s been, could have been spent making bitcoin more accessible for more people around the world.”
Coinbase's Faryar Shirzad said the key to crypto regulation is to start it from scratch:
  • "When you've got a disintermediating technology like crypto, it's really a mind-bender how you fit a disintermediating technology into a regulatory system organized around the regulation of intermediaries."

Tom Brady said he’ll work on NFTs now that he’s done with the NFL:

  • “I’m fortunate to have co-founded incredible companies like … that I am excited to continue to help build and grow.”

Pinterest's head of engineering Jeremy King said AR helps shoppers find products they’d otherwise pass off:

  • “Consumers not only love it, but brands, especially brand-new brands, love it because it’s a great place to get unique products in front of a whole bunch of consumers.”

Making moves

MariaDB wants to go public through a SPAC. The deal would give the open-source database company an enterprise value of $672 million.

Crisis Text Line cut ties with, which the text line had reportedly been sharing data with to create customer service software.

Meta will report earnings today. The company is expected to pull out numbers from Reality Labs for the first time.

Kieran Luke is the new COO of Lunchbox. Luke previously served in the same role for the General Assembly.

James Shih joined Velo3D as VP of Supply Chain Management. He’s worked on supply-chain issues at companies including Logitech and Foxconn.

Jesslyn Tannady is leaving Meta. She’s been with the company for about two years and most recently served as a developer advocate.

Amrita Ahuja and Leslie Kilgore are joining Discord's board. Ahuja is the CFO of Block, and Kilgore previously worked at Netflix as CMO.

In other news

A Section 230 bill is back. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Richard Blumenthal reintroduced the EARN IT Act, and this version would take away Sec. 230 immunity regarding child sexual abuse material from some state and federal laws.

CEO flight tracking is becoming a business. Remember Jack Sweeney, the teenager we told you about who built @ElonJet? It has since gotten so popular that Sweeney turned it into a company called Ground Control.

Alphabet's earnings were huge. The company broke $200 billion in yearly revenue for the first time, and its ad business just keeps on climbing. PayPal, on the other hand, came in short of expectations and said things might get worse.

The FTC will look over Microsoft’s Activision deal, a source told The Wall Street Journal. The commission will review whether the acquisition could reduce competition.

A few notable tech companies weren't in a New York Times climate ad, including Google, Netflix, Microsoft and LinkedIn. Others like Salesforce and Etsy appeared on the ad, which pressed lawmakers to address climate change.

India will introduce its own digital currency. There aren’t a ton of details on the digital rupee, but the country’s finance minister said it’ll launch using blockchain and “other technologies.”

Ford is dropping big bucks on electric vehicles. The company plans to spend as much as $20 billion over the next five to 10 years on EV production, sources told Bloomberg.

Google added the National Domestic Violence hotline to search results. A box with contact information for the hotline will appear when people look up topics related to domestic violence.

Dropbox’s move to remote-first hasn’t been greatfor company culture or retention, former employees told Business Insider. When in-office perks like happy hours and an arcade went away, and some top execs departed, ex-workers said they decided to head out.

David Letterman’s YouTube channel

“Late Night with David Letterman” hit a big milestone yesterday: The show has now been around for 40 years. To celebrate, it launched a YouTube channel.

The Letterman YouTube channel features highlights of the show over the decades, from interviews with Taylor Swift and Mr. Rogers to a playlist called “Stupid Pet and Human Tricks.” Clips from the show have been around on YouTube for much longer, thanks to YouTuber Don Giller, but now the show finally has its own place on the platform.

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