Bookmarked India, Jio, and the Four Internets (Stratechery)

One of the more pernicious mistruths surrounding the debate about TikTok is that this will potentially lead to the splintering of the Internet; this completely erases the history of China’s Great Firewall, started 23 years ago, which effectively cut China off from most Western services. That the U.S. may finally respond in kind is a reflection of reality, not the creation of a new one.

What is new is the increased splintering in the non-China Internet: the U.S. model is still the default for most of the world, but the European Union and India are increasingly pursuing their own paths.

Ben Thompson continues his exploration of TikTok in his discussion of the ‘four internets’: China, Europe, Silicon Valley and India. In particular, he highlights the rise of Jio and the Indian internet.

It is increasingly impossible — or at least irresponsible — to evaluate the tech industry, in particular the largest players, without considering the geopolitical concerns at stake. With that in mind, I welcome Jio’s ambition. Not only is it unreasonable and disrespectful for the U.S. to expect India to be some sort of vassal state technologically speaking, it is actually a good thing to not only have a counterweight to China geographically, but also a counterweight amongst developing countries specifically. Jio is considering problem-spaces that U.S. tech companies are all too often ignorant of, which matters not simply for India but also for much of the rest of the world.

This is missing Washington DC’s commercial internet and the Moscow mule model from Kieron O’Hara’s list.

Bookmarked The TikTok War (Stratechery)

What matters more in an ideological war, though, is influence, and that is why I do believe that ByteDance’s continued ownership of TikTok is unacceptable. My strong preference would be for ByteDance to sell TikTok to non-Chinese investors or a non-Chinese company, by which I mean not-Facebook. TikTok is not only a brilliant app that figured out video on mobile, it is also shaping up to be a major challenge to Facebook’s hold on attention and thus, in the long run, advertising. This would be a very good thing, and I fear that simply banning TikTok will simply leave the market to Instagram Reels, Facebook’s TikTok clone.

Ben Thompson reflects on the growing concern around TikTok. He explains that we often focus on US relations and in so doing ignore the Chinese part to the conversation.

One of the gravest errors made by far too many people in the U.S. is taking an exceptionally self-centered view of U.S.-China relations, where everything is about what the U.S. says and does, while China is treated like an NPC.

In many ways TikTok is similar to Facebook in that it vacuums up data.

That is not to say that TikTok is not capturing data: it is vacuuming up as much as it can, from your usage to your IP address to your contacts and location (if you gave the app permission). This, as many TikTok advocates note, is similar to what Facebook does.

This, to be clear, is absolutely true. It is also at this point where important differences emerge. First, Facebook is a U.S. company, and while TikTok claims that it is independent from ByteDance and stores data in the U.S. and Singapore, its privacy policy is clear:

We may share your information with a parent, subsidiary, or other affiliate of our corporate group.

That means that TikTok data absolutely can be sent to China, and, it is important to note, this would be the case even if the privacy policy were not so honest.

However, the focus of this data is as much political as anything else. ByteDance’s focus is primarily about machine learning and building an algorithm that allows it direct access to our thoughts and attention.

TikTok’s algorithm, unmoored from the constraints of your social network or professional content creators, is free to promote whatever videos it likes, without anyone knowing the difference. TikTok could promote a particular candidate or a particular issue in a particular geography, without anyone — except perhaps the candidate, now indebted to a Chinese company — knowing. You may be skeptical this might happen, but again, China has already demonstrated a willingness to censor speech on a platform banned in China; how much of a leap is it to think that a Party committed to ideological dominance will forever leave a route directly into the hearts and minds of millions of Americans untouched?

It is interesting to think of this all alongside Cory Doctorow’s critique of platform capitalism.

Replied to

Ben, this call for everyone to have their own blog reminds me of Cal Newport’s recent discussion of the limits of expert Twitter. I am also interested in Thread Reader’s recent support for of micropub to aide blogging / archiving.
Bookmarked First, Do No Harm (Stratechery by Ben Thompson)

as much as I regret that the Instagram acquisition happened, I am deeply concerned about upending how Silicon Valley operates in response. The way things work now has massive consumer benefit and even larger benefits to the United States: regulators should be exceptionally careful to “First, do no harm” while pursuing the perfect over the good.

Ben Thompson discusses the US Federal Trade Commission’s investigation of past tech acquisitions. He explains the complicated nature of the Silicon Valley start-up culture.

Federal Trade Commission being better informed about the tech industry; what increasingly concerns me is the potential unintended consequences of the government getting involved in tech acquisitions, particularly the small-scale ones implicated in this investigation.

He explains some of the challenges associated with changing the culture of start-ups and acquisitions.

Another way to consider these benefits, meanwhile, is to think about a world where acquisitions by large tech companies are severely constricted or banned:

  • New technology would be diffused far more slowly (as the new startup scales), if at all (if the startup goes out of business).
  • The amount of investment in risky technologies without obvious avenues to go-to-market would decrease, simply because it would be far less likely that investors would earn a return even if the technology worked.
  • The risk of working for a startup would increase significantly, both because the startup would be less likely to succeed and also because the failure scenario is unemployment.

Instagram aside, this change would only ever impact the start-up, not big tech.

Bookmarked The End of the Beginning (Stratechery by Ben Thompson)

In this understanding of tech dominance, the driver of generational change is a paradigm shift: from mainframes to personal computers, from desktop applications to the web, first on personal computers, and then on the web. Each shift brought a new company to dominance, and when the next shift arrives, so will new companies rise to prominence.

What, though, is the next shift?

Ben Thompson contends that there are no new paradigm shifts in regards to technology and instead we are moving into a time of diversification.

In other words, today’s cloud and mobile companies — Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, and Google — may very well be the GM, Ford, and Chrysler of the 21st century. The beginning era of technology, where new challengers were started every year, has come to an end; however, that does not mean the impact of technology is somehow diminished: it in fact means the impact is only getting started.

This has me thinking about Genevieve Bell’s argument that every company is a data company today. It also reminds me of Venkatesh Rao’s discussion of history in regards to the internet of beefs.

Replied to Portability and Interoperability (Stratechery by Ben Thompson)

To be very clear, I’m pretty excited about Facebook’s announcement. Data portability is absolutely consumer friendly, and I’m glad that Facebook is making it easy to move photos and videos that have been lost to time to applications that are better suited for long-term storage.


At the same time, we shouldn’t kid ourselves that this has any sort of impact on competition. It is interoperability that cuts to the core of these companies’ moats, and to the extent regulators see it worthwhile to act, interoperability should be the priority.

Ben, this reminds me of Kin Lane’s argument that interoperability is a myth.
Bookmarked A Framework for Moderation (Stratechery by Ben Thompson)

The question of what should be moderated, and when, is an increasingly frequent one in tech. There is no bright line, but there are ways to get closer to an answer.

Ben Thompson responds to CloudFlare’s decision to terminating service for 8chan with a look into the world of moderation. To start with, Thompson looks at Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and the responsibility platforms have for content:

Section 230 doesn’t shield platforms from the responsibility to moderate; it in fact makes moderation possible in the first place. Nor does Section 230 require neutrality: the entire reason it exists was because true neutrality — that is, zero moderation beyond what is illegal — was undesirable to Congress.

He explains that the first responsibility lies with the content provider, however this then flows down the line to the ISP as a back stop.

Bookmarked Data Factories (Stratechery by Ben Thompson)

Facebook and Google and other advertising businesses are data factories, and regulation will be most effective if it lets users look inside

Ben Thompson unpacks the world of data and shadow profiles derived by platforms, such as Google and Facebook. He discusses some of the issues with this:

Establishing clear requirements that users be able to view not only the data they uploaded but their entire processed profile — the output of the data factory — would be far less burdensome to new and smaller companies that seek to challenge these behemoths. Data export controls could be built in from the start, even as they are free to build factories as complex as the big companies they are challenging — or, as a potential selling point, show off that they don’t have a factory at all. This is much easier than trying to abide by rules that apply to every user — whether they want the protection or not — and which were designed with Facebook and Google in mind, not an understaffed startup.

This is interesting to read in light of the Facebook’s release of a tool to view data collected.