This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. You can register here to receive it weekdays.
One of my obsession is whether our current state of technology is immutable.
Are Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple and other tech giants invincible? Will they forever control a large portion of our attention and money, shaping how economies and labor markets operate and influence what people believe? Or is there room for the others?
One way to explore these questions is to look at technology replicas. When we did, I saw a glimmer of hope.
This story begins with TikTok. It’s a rare example of an internet fortune going huge and not owned by one of America’s tech stars. It is owned by… a very large Chinese internet corporation called ByteDance. But that still counts as different.
There are a lot of concerns about TikTok, including what it is doing with people’s personal information.
But TikTok’s popularity shows that an Internet star with a new face still has the ability to break through.
With any success, there are sure to be risks. Tech news outlet The Information recently wrote about one of China’s internet superpowers, Tencent, which tried and mostly failed to copy Douyin, ByteDance’s version of TikTok in China.
Efforts include Tencent’s widely used WeChat app that requires people to use a copy of the company’s Douyin if they want to send in virtual currency envelopes, a common practice on Chinese New Year. It is not clear whether WeChat’s hand rotation is working or not.
Both YouTube and Instagram (owned by Facebook) have introduced their own similar app TikTok. My colleagues wrote last year about how much they dislike the Instagram version, Reels. It’s hard to see how Reels is working, but it certainly hasn’t taken over the internet yet.
But having a second-class product – maybe even a bad one – doesn’t mean doom. A powerful company can create a successful product with its sheer will, an insane willingness to spend money and interacting with millions of people.
That’s what Slack, the chat app at work, says Microsoft is trying to do with software like its Slack. And that’s what Facebook did with its video and photo montage “story” feature, copied from Snapchat.
Sometimes tech mimics succeed – just look at Microsoft’s Windows, iPhone, or Facebook’s social network. (Also, sometimes the extract is much better than the original.)
But it doesn’t always work. Tencent’s WeChat is an inevitable force on the Chinese Internet, but its popularity hasn’t successfully translated into the company’s Douyin clone. And now.
We’ve seen that big strides in technology take down industry giants, like the pioneer in Nokia mobile phones. But the boy, it feels like today’s tech giants are so trying, so good at what they do – and perhaps, so adept at leaning in their favor – that they can’t be defeat.
It would be better for all of us if Big Tech was not an absolute force and inviolable. I would see the wobble of TikTok clones as a sign that Big Tech could still fail.
Facebook cannot acknowledge how Facebook works
Catching up fast: Last month there was a slight global turmoil when WhatsApp started informing people of what appeared to be new steps forcing WhatsApp users to hand over their personal data to Facebook, company that owns the application.
WhatsApp really hasn’t changed much, but its communication is terrible. And it’s a moment for people to ponder about something they probably never have before: Facebook has gathered a lot of information from what people do on WhatsApp.
Responding to the screenplay, Facebook and WhatsApp said they would pause and reflect on everyone’s criticism. On Thursday, WhatsApp responded. It was better, but not quite.
WhatsApp continued to say what it does is not Do with everyone’s personal info – messages are scrambled so that no one can see through the content and WhatsApp doesn’t share your phone number with businesses. But WhatsApp still said nothing it does with everyone’s personal information.
Put simply, Facebook collects information when people use non-Facebook apps on their phones. The company collects people’s physical location information even when they’re not using Facebook. It keeps track of the people you unlinked, all the websites you visit, and your contacts. Many of us understand this, even if we don’t want to admit all the gory details.
Most of Facebook’s data collection also applies to WhatsApp, although Facebook says WhatsApp contacts are not shared with Facebook.
So why can’t WhatsApp say all of this?
Here’s the basics, I think: People at Facebook don’t want to be honest about how Facebook works.
When people wonder about privacy on WhatsApp and Facebook, they usually mean they want privacy from Facebook and its data monitoring machine. Facebook can’t give them that. As WhatsApp’s contact information suggests, Facebook won’t even say outright what the problem is.
Before we go …
Protect everyone from surveillance or activate it? Software company Oracle has offered to help buy TikTok and prevent the data from flowing to the Chinese authorities. However, The Intercept writes that Oracle has also marketed its own software so that the Chinese authorities collect and analyze further data about their citizens.
Would you like to read about farmers hacking their tractors ?! (You know.) The more important point in this article by Vice is that companies like John Deere are using software keys to keep us from fixing our belongings. Apple does this too.
Garfield is the soul of the Internet: Dan Brooks, an avid fan of Garfield, writes for The New York Times. There are cartoons about Garfield with Garfield scrapped and boards created by artificial intelligence featuring twitching molluscs characters.
Meet Elizabeth Ann, the first black-footed ferret to clone successfully. She is extremely cute, and can show ways to protect species from extinction. (The article also mentions a cloned horse named Kurt.)
We want to hear from you. Let us know what you think about this newsletter and what else you’d like us to explore. You can contact us at [email protected]
If you have not received this newsletter in your inbox, Please register here.