January 2020: A Flavor of the Month
Before we all get stuck into February’s many delights, let’s take a fond look back at a vintage January.
We’ll kick off with five great stories I hope you’ll enjoy, before discussing Apple’s upcoming dilemma in Russia.
5 Things That Made Us Smarter This Month
1. Ending the app trap: why (and how) we need to reform the gig economy
A thoughtful report on the ‘gig economy’ with useful ideas on how it can resolve its many problems.
2. How Japan could reinvent the hotel
Modern hotels in Japan are drawing on the cultural heritage of the ‘ryokan’ (traditional inns with lots of communal areas) to attract new visitors. Large hotel chains around the world are starting to pay attention.
A great article from what looks like being an enlightening series on Japanese culture.
3. What can we learn from the French Revolution today?
When assessing the French sense of national ‘self’, one can trace a pretty-much-unbroken line from 1789 to the present day.
But what do we really understand of the Revolution?
This splendid article looks at the true legacy of Robespierre et al, and how it can shape our worldview today.
4. Pinterest details the AI and taxonomy systems behind its new ‘Trends’ feature
Some mighty useful insight into Pinterest’s new feature, Trends. It’s a similar premise to Google Trends, but Pinterest’s willingness to share their workings is always welcome.
This also helps when using the Pinterest Ads interface, which is built on top of the same taxonomy.
Overall, Pinterest looks set for a very positive 2020 after some predictably turbulent post-IPO months.
5. The secretive company that might end privacy as we know it
- NY Times
Facial recognition algorithms are much more effective than they were 5–10 years ago, but they still need lots of reliable training data. Police departments have typically been restricted to using government-approved images, which limits what they can do with the technology.
New start-ups, including ClearView AI, take images from all over the Internet and our streets to provide the fuel the algorithms need.
⚖️ Technology and Politics
📰 Russia’s new “Apple Law”
Apple had a mixed January.
On the one hand, it was a huge, unprecedented success. Apple posted records for both quarterly revenues and profits for Q1 of its fiscal year, on the back of strong iPhone sales over the holiday period.
Its services division has also taken off, with plenty of room to grow for the likes of TV+ and Arcade. Services raked in $12.7 billion for the quarter, an increase of 17% year-on-year.
Investors see the upcoming 5G iPhone launch as the impetus the product needs for a new growth spurt, too.
Against that backdrop, the company’s market cap has doubled in the past 12 months.
Pas mal. I’ve had worse quarters.
On the other hand, Apple now needs to navigate some heady winds abroad.
Russia aims to develop a “sovereign Internet” and briefly shut off international services in December to test its readiness to go it alone.
Vladimir Putin wants more (yes, even more) control over citizens and sees a model to imitate in China and Iran.
A new law has been dubbed the “law against Apple”, due to its implications for the iPhone creator. When the legislation goes into effect, in July 2020, all smartphones sold in Russia must come with list of government-approved apps installed. These apps will then share data with the government about the user’s location, finances, and social media use.
Apple has been very vocal in its pro-privacy stance and will have to exit a market valued at $3bn for the company, if it refuses to comply with the law. The Russian government has previous in this arena; LinkedIn has been blocked in the country since 2017, for failing to provide access to data on its Russian servers.
In late 2019, Apple refused to unlock iPhones to help with an investigation into a shooting at a US naval base, defying the request of Attorney General William Barr.
The company released a statement saying, “We have always maintained there is no such thing as a backdoor for just the good guys.”
And yet, there are signs that Apple has convenient room for manoeuvre.
Apple Maps shows the Crimean peninsula, regarded by the international community as Ukrainian, as Russian land to users within Russia. This change was made in December, soon after the new “law against Apple” was passed.
Google also makes this concession to the Russian government. Crimea is marked as part of Russia in its Maps app, for users within Russia.
The big tech companies are heavily involved in global geopolitics today, whether they want to be or not.
The Internet can be a tool of control and only governments have the power to wrest that authority away from the likes of Google, Apple, and Facebook. The tech companies then need to decide which side they’re on, even if they really just want to sell phones.
Apple has taken a strident position on privacy. That is much a business decision as it is an ethical one, and it puts Apple into sharp relief when compared to its competitors. Google and Facebook have attempted to ‘pivot’ on this issue, but the damage is already done.
While Russia is not a core territory for Apple, China is. Moreover, new data privacy laws in the US and Europe will put Apple’s public statements to the test there, too.
How Apple manages the upcoming deadline in Russia will tell us much about its true intentions for the rest of the world.
👚A quick-fire round-up of the latest in retail:
📰 Pinterest launches an AR “try on” feature for beauty brands. TechCrunch
📰 Why luxury brands want to sell you a home — Financial Times
📰 Korean fashion startup Omnious’ AI technology uses fashion data to propel sales — Korea Tech Desk
Admittedly, this is not the biggest story January had to offer. It’s still interesting to see how this Korean company is providing access to visual search for smaller retailers.
It even claims to be “20% more accurate than the biggest global competitor”, but of course they would say that.
📰 Google acquires Pointy for £125 million — Retail Week
📈 Digital Marketing News
📰 Influencer fraud ‘on the rise again’ — Digiday
📰 Data firm behind ‘zero-click’ studies shuttered — Search Engine Land
🤯 Other, Mad Stories
📰 Bridesmaid ruins wedding and costs bride £50,000 after faking job for seven months — Mirror
📰 Artist draws 120km koala on Australian beach — BBC
📰 Liverpool mum finds ‘world’s largest crisp’ — Liverpool Echo
🤔 Tidbit of the Month
We don’t know for sure why fruit flies drink alcohol (they can’t talk, and especially not after a few glasses of vino), but we do know their alcohol intake spikes if they are spurned by an attractive member of the opposite sex.