Around the Web
Issue No. 006
Gig work regulation, Mark Sauron, Elon from Twitter, the AI of Google, the Fuckups of Crypto, 25 years of web accessibility, and a different look on earth.
Welcome to a super dense issue of Around the Web. I have bunch of links, so will keep the intro short. Enjoy the read.
You can still feel the aftermath of the unionisation of the JFK8 warehouse last week. Over the course of the week, many stories reported on how the Amazon Labor Union made the seemingly impossible possible. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the Huffpost piece about the organising efforts.
“The whole [idea] was to lead by example,” he said. “The last thing you want is someone to go up to the polling booth and be too scared to check off ‘yes.’ If you can get in the managers’ faces and show how pro-union you are, then voting ‘yes’ seems like nothing in comparison.”
The City profiled Chris Smalls and Derrick Palmer in the run-up to the vote.
Resistance against Amazon isn’t confined to the USA. Campaigners in France have been successful in blocking multiple warehouse projects.
Pam Greer is the latest among senior HR staff departing from Amazon. Her last task was to make Amazon the world’s best employer. Bad luck.
The “future” of work
The EU Commission proposed a new Directive to regulate gig work in the European Union. The Ada Lovelace Institute published a criticism of the Directive. It might lead to weakening of already existing national court rulings, not protecting enough of the 28 million people currently working in the gig economy, and therefore further segregation of the workforce.
It stands to reason that policy changes can’t be enough, but has to accompanied by worker organising. Unfortunately, workers at German delivery company Gorillas suffered a setback in court. The workers were fired after participating in a strike that was not endorsed by a union, which is illegal in Germany. The workers and their lawyers will try to overturn this law.
Free speech, but they say what you can say
Language matters. This fact might get disputed from time to time, but it only takes a look at the fierce battle capitalism takes to enforce language.
The Intercept leaked plans of a blocklist of words in a planned internal Amazon chat app. Besides obvious candidates such as «unions» Amazon employees would not be allowed to say restroom, accessibility, or pay raise.
Google, meanwhile, has instructed their Russian translator to not call the war in Ukraine a war. Falling in line – as is Google’s specialty, remember Project Dragonfly – with the official propaganda doctrine of the Russian government. What is a «special operation» for the Kremlin is now «extraordinary circumstances» for Google.
Remember, kids, making money is more important than telling the truth.
The German police and the German nazis
Police in Germany raided multiple locations linked to the German arm of Atomwaffen Division. Right-wing terrorism has been declared a mayor threat by the new Minister of the Interior, Nancy Faeser.
After being blocked by Horst Seehofer and the government led by Christian Democratic Party, a study of right-wind tendencies in the German security apparatus appears to be underway finally. Given the fact that this week yet another right-wing chat group in Hesse’s police was disclosed, and the involvement of a member of the German army with Atomwaffen Division are a stark reminder that the Police in its current state are not part of the solution to the Nazi problem.
Social, they said
My brain was melting at some points this week, but probably never more than when I read that Mark «Android» Zuckerberg honestly thought that employees calling him the Eye of Sauron is not an insult. Yes, Mark. Of course.
Elon from Twitter
I don’t really want to write about it, but I have to. Elon Musk bought 9.1% of Twitter. Because of the lulz, right? Shortly thereafter, Parag Agrawal, Twitter’s CEO, announced that Elon Musk will join its board.
After initially filing his stake as passive investor, Musk has since corrected the paperwork. It remains to be seen if he faces trouble from the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for disclosing his stake too late.
Update 11.04.2021 Elon Musk will not join Twitter’s board, as Agrawal shared on Twitter.
As a condition of joining the board, Musk agreed to limit his stake to 14.9%. As a board member, he also would have been bound by Twitter's code of conduct. Musk, whose past behavior suggests a studied lack of respect for rules, will not have to abide by those ones.
His Twitter habits have been controversial. He is required to have any tweets involving Tesla approved before posting. He insulted Vernon Unsworth, who helped rescue 12 boys from a cave in Thailand as «pedo guy». Musk won an ensuing defamation lawsuit.
Musk’s excitement over Twitter, came along with anewed racism allegations at his Tesla’s facilities. Black workers describing the factory as «the plantation» and «the slave-ship». This Machine Kills discussed the allegations, calling Tesla «the world’s most valuable racism factory». Those reports are not the first ones.
Tesla’s recent factory opening in Brandenburg, Germany happened amidst massive pushback over its water demands. The Berlin senate now announced that it is looking into rationing fresh water for its residents.
Musk’s much publicised Starlink shipment to Ukraine hasn’t been so charitable after all. As the Washington Post reports, a part of the Starlink terminals has been purchased by the United States Agency for International Development.
In other news, Truth social, a free-speech social network with mostly bots, lost two core members. I’m thrilled that this is the only thing I’ve heard about it so far.
This ain’t intelligence
Google announced a new Large Language Model. The Pathways Language Model (PaLM) is a supposed technical marvel. Google claims «breakthrough performance». Critics have been quick to point out the environmental impact and the impossibility to thoroughly review the ethical implications of such a large model. Google also quoted the paper they fired Timnit Gebru for, while not addressing any of the concerns raised by Gebru et al in their Stochastic Parrots paper.
This interview with Margaret Mitchell by Hugging Face is well worth your time.
What are you looking at?
PimEyes is back. After its inception in 2020 netzpolitik.org quickly found the company to be ultra-creepy.
Our investigation shows: PimEyes is a broad attack on anonymity and it is possibly illegal. A snapshot may be enough to identify a stranger using PimEyes. The search engine does not directly provide the name of a person you are looking for. It does however find matching faces, and in many cases the shown websites can be used to find out names, professions and much more.
In March they returned to the EU. Cher Scarlett searched for her face on PimEyes. Before I link to what she found: The story talks about sexual abuse, and attempted suicide. I’ll not detail those parts here. Want to see scenes from an actual sex trafficking torture porn? Check out PimEyes.
What I will talk about is PimEyes business model. It touts itself as a mechanism to preserve privacy. But as it scans the internet deeper than most and combines this with facial recognition technology and a public search, it really achieves the opposite. Cher and other affected users have to pay the hefty monthly fee of $299.99.
That’s when I noticed I could ask PimEyes to hide all of the images of me from their search results. That makes sense, right? Surely I should be able to control who can search for my face? Wrong. For an ongoing monthly fee of $79.99, PimEyes will allow me to control the search results in their basic search results features. To get all of them, of course, I’ll need to pay $330.59 ($299.99 + taxes) every single month, indefinitely, to stop people from finding them using PimEyes service.
If you meet someone working for, or advertising, PimEyes … chase them through the streets.
The road to hell is paved with crypto intentions
Crypto had some weeks. After the Axie Infinity hack should have blasted every little bit of trust anyone had into some kind of far away orbit, it was Bitcoin Conference this week.
And while it might be a good idea to come up with something reassuring, good ideas are – still – not crypto’s strong side.
They invited the favourite tech billionaire of everyone who likes not so good ideas on stage. Peter Thiel. And oh did he deliver. Coming on stage, ripping $100 notes into pieces, it only went downhill from there. In a weird but, giving the larger (very large) picture coherent, attack on anything that isn't him. Which is basically the story of his life. He invented the «financial gerontocracy» – firing shots at Warren Buffett and the CEOs of JP Morgan and BlackRock. Issue 002 of Around the Web focussed on Thiel and his ventures into politics.
But alas, Thiel wasn’t the only speaker with … interesting views. On Friday JP Sears, dubbed the Clown Prince of Wellness, took to the stage. Sears has promoted a mixture of esoteric beliefs and conspiracy theories.
Worldcoin, another grand idea to solve the world by scanning faces in a dystopian device called The Orb, failed to live up to its promises.
The currency has not yet been launched, but a BuzzFeed News investigation has found that Worldcoin is already wrestling with a host of problems, from managing angry Orb operators to concerns that the company is using its cryptocurrency as a way to amass millions of biometrics and perfect a new kind of authentication technology for the blockchain era.
The NFT bubble continues to shrink. On LooksRare, one of the larger marketplaces, most transaction are users selling to them themselves.
NFT projects focussing on women have been dubbed the girlbossification of NFTs. Gwyneth Paltrow, Mila Kunis, among others, pushing NFTs is basically a digital version of the white, «Lean in» type of capitalist confirmative feminism.
Block, Jack Dorsey’s new endeavour, confirmed a breach of CashApp. An employee downloaded customer information.
The Tech & the Web
What a week, huh? Let’s take a look at the technical side of tech, at least there I’ve ignored anything which does not fill me with joy.
Josh W. Comeau has the ability to explain complex systems in words and pictures you get. Which is an invaluable skill. Recently, he has explained CSS layout algorithms, and it frankly does not get any more complex than this.
One of the cornerstones of the modern web had its twenty-first birthday this week. April, 4th 2001 saw the first draft of the Media Queries specification. It took nine more years until Ethan Marcotte came up with a name for the thing media queries enabled: Responsive Web Design. What a ride it has been.
Another anniversary, but unfortunately, one with a lesser impact: The Web Accessibility Initiative was invoked twenty-five years ago. Despite this early commitment, today 96.8% percent of the top million homepages have detectable accessibility issues. WebAIM has been tracking this kind of errors since 2019 in their annual WebAIM million report. A sobering read every spring.
Pre-dating both stories is Windows 95. The launch video has been finally uploaded in full glory. While I’m writing this issue, I’m sitting in a train that’s running late, so of course I’m watching this. Gizmodo has the highlights.
Another part of history is this republication of a 1985 story in IEEE Spectrum about the Commodore 64. I only understand half (not even) of the technical details, but still think it’s a rather enjoyable read. My favourite parts might be the lengths devs had to go to build graphics back then, and results they achieved. This nerding about colours, in a time when we are leaving sRGB behind is a great blast of the past. All in all, it is a fascinating story about tech, the effects of saving costs, and of course: marketing.
“If you let marketing get involved with product definition, you’ll never get it done quickly," Yannes said. “And you squander the ability to make something unique, because marketing always wants a product compatible with something else.”
Not so much has changed since 1985.
Wondering about products of the recent past? Take a look at Killed by Tech, a list of all the products sunsetted by Google, Microsoft & Co.
Loose ends in a list of links
It sucked to be famous on YouTube this week. Drake, Justin Bieber, and Taylor Swift all had their YouTube accounts hacked.
I’m probably late to the party, but have only recently discovered the earth visualiser made by nullschool.net. It gives all kinds of overlays, showing wind and waves. The kind of website I can look at for hours on end.
What a week, huh? Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this issue, why not share it with a friend. Until next week. Stay sane, hug your friends, and donate to Sea Watch.