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Small satellites can help bring Internet access to more citizens around the world. Great.
You know what’s confusing? Rich dudes scrambled to see whose space toy was better.
Let me tell you about the satellite rivalry between Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, the technology they’re developing, and the risks of too relying on technology to solve complex problems.
The result: Musk’s rocket company SpaceX, Amazon and other wealthy companies are working on relatively small satellite networks projecting internet access to the ground. These networks orbit at lower layers than conventional satellites and are cheaper to build and launch.
Proponents say these networks can extend internet service, especially in remote areas, to ships at sea and other hard-to-reach spots. Similar small satellites are being used for other projects such as forest fire monitoring. There are limitations, but we should rejoice in the possibilities.
This week started to be buzzing because SpaceX wanted the US government to allow some of its satellites to be moved into lower orbit. Amazon says that will jam its satellites. Musk angry. Amazon to speak that SpaceX is trying to “stop competition in the cradle”. (Note: The dominant US online retailer probably shouldn’t accuse others of stifling competition.)
Usually I like to watch rich people argue. The Kardashians! But this time… ugh.
I understand why SpaceX and Amazon want to convince a US agency. But I hope trash talk doesn’t distract them from these important questions: Is this satellite technology the best approach to helping billions more people online? Or is this another potentially misdirected attempt to throw complex technology at a complex human problem?
To put it more simply: Is this a good idea?
We should be driven by ambitious technology but not blinded by it. Compared to even thousands of satellites, the best internet pipes out there can carry more web traffic. Satellite internet often requires specialized terrestrial equipment, which is not easy to build or pay for. These emerging internet projects could be a very useful addition rather than an alternative to an already established internet infrastructure. That is a fact.
Another fact is that if you want technology to change the lives of billions of people, you also have to think about… what is the word? Ah yes: people.
Even in a rich country like the United States, people don’t lack Internet access just because the technology isn’t strong enough. There are also erroneous government policies, structural inequalities, the need to spend money on more immediate necessities and more.
That means bringing more people online in the United States – not to mention the rest of the world – cannot be done by technology alone. We also need to think holistically about barriers to interpersonal and social access to the internet.
Look, billionaires can snip on each other, obsess about missile protocols, and Think about government policies and human incentives. But even billionaires must prioritize. If they and the rest of us try to win the “space race,” they run the risk of not putting people first. (Or they can be motivated by making money rather than bringing the world online. They can do both, I think.)
Satellites made me reflect on this interview with Tracy Chou, who developed software that helps filter out harassing posts online. She says some companies want to believe smarter technology can solve everything. It cannot.
I’m sure Bezos, Musk, and others involved in satellite internet projects all know that. They just need to act like that.
Robinhood’s wild ride
Everyone from the Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for the right-wing personality Ben Shapiro announced stock exchange app Robinhood to be a villain on Thursday. Robinhood likes to say that it allows anyone to enter the crowded financial markets. Critics claim the company messed with the free market to strangle the little guy.
But this week’s story could be simpler: A company failed money.
What happened: One Reddit-inspired teams have been helping to drive the share prices of GameStop and other companies. Robinhood and a number of other stockbrokers this week later restricted clients’ trading in the rotating stocks. People went crazy and said that Robinhood was trying to protect wealthy investors from losing to younger online traders.
But maybe Robinhood has no money? Securities brokers like Robinhood are legally required to have enough cash to pay their clients, cover losses, and have a cushion if things go wrong. This week seemed to strain Robinhood’s ability to do that, and my colleagues reported that the trading platform needed to raise $ 1 billion in cash urgently.
What is the lesson here? My colleague Andrew Ross Sorkin request An important question: What’s wrong with Robinhood when it doesn’t have enough cash without emergency funding or customer cuts? My DealBook colleagues asked: Will Robinhood’s business model be broken?
Also, maybe people should tweet less and ask more questions from the financiers.
Pay attention to how Robinhood makes money: What a wonderful moment to re-read the article by colleague Nathaniel Popper about people getting hurt by rapid stock trading and how Robinhood lured young Americans into risky financial trades.
And these free stock-trading apps may be less democratic than you might think. Robinhood and its competitors are paid by Wall Street firms who do actual stock trades and try to squeeze a few pennies from the deals compared to what Robinhood customers pay. This is an old industry practice and not bad at all. But being paid by the Wall Street giants does not match the image of Robinhood empowering the masses to defeat the rich.
Before we go …
The Twitter crowd for a corporate agenda: My colleague, Adam Satariano, examines how a company exploits the techniques of social manipulation that are often used by authoritarian governments to advance its policy goals.
The mystery of the deleted paragraph by Google: A human rights group has criticized Google’s opening of a computer hub in Saudi Arabia. The company subsequently changed a blog post about their project in Saudi Arabia. The protocol explained what happened.
Warm weather, a Bitcoin-friendly mayor and (purely by accidentlow tax: Please enjoy my colleague Nellie Bowles writing about kite surfing clubs and other cultural changes such as giants from technology decoding to Miami. One relocation company called it “Mass Techxodus”.
A beautiful snow owl was discovered in New York’s Central Park this week for the first time in more than a century. Look at this owl stare down to the crow! (Alas, the owl seems to have left the park.)
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