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Show Notes: The telecom industry isn’t the tech industry, dammit

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February 23rd, 2017

Amazon Echo and books

Before every episode of The Vergecast I sit down, read through a bunch of news, and take a bunch of notes. It’s one of the most enjoyable parts of my week, and I started thinking it might be fun to do every day on the site. So, every day this week I’m sitting down and writing some notes on the news as though I’ll be talking about it later. Are you into this? Am I into this? I don’t know. But it’s fun to do! Give me some feedback and we’ll keep mutating this into something good.

FREE SPEECH ALEXA

  • The news that cops in an Arkansas murder case served a warrant on Amazon for the voice recordings on the suspect’s Echo rocketed around the web last December, and Amazon’s response to the court, filed today, is fascinating. Basically: the First Amendment has long protected against government snooping into your media purchasing history and search queries; the Echo is just another way to consume media and search the internet; and thus the Echo’s recordings of your voice queries and subsequent spoken results are protected by the First Amendment. (One of the cases Amazon is relying on protected your Google search results under a similar theory.)
  • But Amazon isn’t arguing for a total prohibition on the government accessing your Alexa recordings — just a “heightened standard” for those requests being granted. Which basically means the courts have to find the cops have to show a significant connection between their investigation and the data they want, and that they’ve tried everything else.
  • One of the things Amazon says the cops could try before it hands over Alexa recordings and results? Cracking the suspect’s phone and opening the Alexa app to view the history there. The defendant has a Nexus 6P that the cops haven’t been able to unlock; asking the court to order the suspect to put his fingerprint on the sensor opens up a Fifth Amendment issue that has been ruled on in different ways across the country so far. This is a case to watch — we’ll be following it closely.
  • (In other Alexa news, Alexa now has 10,000 skills. It’s getting to where Alexa will be the voice platform that always has the five skills any random user needs and every other platform inevitably falls behind. Think Instagram on Windows Phone.)

THE TELECOM INDUSTRY IS NOT THE TECH INDUSTRY, AJIT

  • I mentioned Ajit Pai’s first real interview as FCC Chairman yesterday, but today Jake Kastrenakes did the hard work of decoding exactly what his answers meant. Translation: cutting taxes on ISPs. Which, fine, he’s a Republican. That’s what they do.
  • But I want to flag this particular line, which telecom execs and lawyers love to use (my emphasis): “Light touch regulation in this context means we let this dynamic industry — arguably the most dynamic the free market has ever known — develop, and if there are targeted cases where action might be necessary and that the FCC has authority to act, we take action.”
  • This is bullshit hand waving. The telecom industry is not the most dynamic industry the free market has ever known. Do you really think AT&T and Verizon and Comcast qualify as the most dynamic and competitive companies in the history of the world? Of course you don’t. It’s the tech industry — really, the internet industry — that’s the wild competitive rocket ship. And that industry — the one with Apple and Google and Facebook and Snapchat and Netflix and Amazon — has mostly been actively hindered by telecom industry nonsense.
  • Comcast throttled Netflix until Netflix paid up. AT&T and Verizon have each blocked system-level iOS and Android features from working. Google’s entire messaging strategy is a mess because the company seemingly doesn’t want piss off carriers. And on and on and on.
  • Snapchat, in its IPO filing: “If the FCC... [modifies] these open internet rules, mobile providers may be able to limit our users’ ability to access Snapchat... Were that to happen, our business would be seriously harmed.”
  • The big fierce tech industry we love — the most dynamic industry the free market has ever known — is built on top of the telecom industry, and in many cases in spite of the telecom industry. Don’t let telecom lobbyists and politicians pretend otherwise.
  • Asking the man in charge of regulating the telecom industry to keep it from fucking up the tech industry doesn’t seem like too big of a demand.
  • As always, Chairman Pai is welcome to come talk to us about these issues, and what he thinks “market failure” looks like. You can do it, Ajit!

RIDE FLAILING

  • Uber’s been a real shitshow lately. The company’s reputation is fully in the toilet after shocking revelations of workplace sexism and a toxic corporate culture came out this week, following the #deleteuber campaign last month. And now Alphabet’s Waymo self-driving division is suing Kalanick and company for stealing tech — which was revealed by an accidentally CC’d email. These are huge blows to a company that doesn’t seem to have a lot of loyalty from drivers or riders; expect an apology tour that is fast and furious.
  • Late last night Lauren Goode scooped the memo Arianna Huffington sent to Uber employees after meeting with them. The company’s investigation into its culture feels dangerously like a bunch of nothing, but we’ll see.
  • Read Kara Swisher on Uber. She sees things more clearly than anyone.

LIGHTNING ROUND

  • This explainer from Russell Brandom on how and why Google broke the SHA-1 encryption algorithm is a fun read. Google’s reliance on web advertising revenue has a lot of pros and cons, but the company aggressively pushing the web to be more secure is an interesting and beneficial side effect.
  • A real thing that happened today is that a rep for Depeche Mode had to say that the alt-right is stupid after that one irritating Nazi who got punched said he liked Depeche Mode. Nazis are stupid, Depeche Mode is wonderful. I can’t believe we’re confused about any of this in 2017.
  • Chris Plante played with the Nintendo Switch! I think his hands-on is just a beautiful piece of writing. We need more beautiful writing about technology in this world. Read it, share it, remark on the fact that Nintendo doesn’t seem to have... completed this product at all?
  • I love it when Vergecast producer Andrew Marino writes for the site — he’s so good at noticing weird sounds in videos. And his latest post, about a video of an old computer booting up, is just that, and well worth reading.
  • Today in The Kaitlyn Tiffany Experience: people take break-up photos, and that is just fine.
  • Finally, I promise that our cars-as-gadgets review series is coming, but we’re trying to lock in a perfect name. (Dan Seifert keeps trying to make DASHBOARD CONFESSIONAL happen, but it is not going to happen.) I did a poll — any other suggestions?