Friday roundup: A week in tech | News

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The Innovation and Technology Network

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Friday roundup: A week in tech

Good news for fans of successful search engine creators: Larry Page and Sergey Brin have finally hit the big time, and each have $100bn in their bank accounts.

Even in proper British money, $100bn is still quite a lot, and the Google founders join a small club of eight folk who have at least that amount in personal wealth.

The digital duo's lucky boost came after a sharp rise in the share price of Alphabet, Google’s parent company. Mr Page’s wealth has risen by $21bn in 2021 to $103.6bn, while Mr Brin’s has increased $20.4bn to $100.2bn.

And all they had to do was gather data on almost everyone on earth without them being particularly aware of it! I wonder what they’ll spend all that money on?

Who else is in this club? It’s mostly your favourites! Microsoft’s Bill Gates ($145bn); Jeff Bezos ($197bn); Elon Musk ($175bn); Mark Zuckerberg ($118bn); Warren Buffet ($104bn); and someone called Bernard Arnault who’s apparently involved with LVMH, a luxury goods company, but I’ve never heard of him or the firm. Anyway, he’s worth $132bn and he didn’t even make it with computers!

So, the world’s richest people are mostly men in tech (apart from the mysterious Bernard Arnault), so it looks like there is money to be made on the internet after all.

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The European Union is growing concerned about the prospects of technology CONTROLLING EVERY ASPECT OF OUR LIVES and has proposed regulations to limit the impact of AI.

According to a leak of the ideas, the EU is aiming to ban systems that:

  • [are] designed or used in a manner that manipulates human behaviour, opinions or decisions...causing a person to behave, form an opinion or take a decision to their detriment
  • [are] used for indiscriminate surveillance applied in a generalised manner
  • AI systems used for social scoring
  • [can] exploit information or predictions and a person or group of persons in order to target their vulnerabilities

All sounds very reasonable, doesn’t it? But maybe it isn’t because some are concerned the plans are vague and open to loopholes.

European policy analyst Daniel Leufer isn’t very impressed and was moved to tweet: “How do we determine what is to somebody’s detriment? And who assesses this?”

The EU also wants ‘high-risk’ AI systems to be fitted with a kill switch that could immediately bring things to an end should it all get horribly out of control. Sounds like fun.

To be honest, I don’t truly understand the article I’ve pinched this story from. In a roundabout way, I understand what the EU is trying to do, but I can’t fully grasp what the detractors are saying. Would anyone be willing to read it and let me know what exactly is going on? Cheers.

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As everyone knows, Facebook has been bringing the world together in peace and harmony while boosting our collective intelligence and knowledge since some point in the noughties – so what’s been happening this week in those bountiful Elysian Fields?

Well, firstly, the firm has had to say sorry after its look-at-me app, Instagram, pushed weight-loss content to people suffering with eating disorders.

An exciting and clearly carefully devised new feature keeps users gripped with helpful search terms curated by their interests. However, people with eating disorders were hit with search suggestions such as ‘appetite suppressant’, which the Guardian reckons increased the “risk of a relapse or worse”.

Facebook blathered: “To help people discover content they’re interested in…blah blah blah…we recently…blah blah blah…Weight loss should not have been one of them…blah blah blah…We’re sorry for any confusion caused.”

Now, secondly, would you believe that there are those who are concerned about leaving children in the hands of Facebook?

Well, it’s true: a global group of deeply worried public health advocates want the company to abandon its dream of launching a version of Instagram especially for kids.

I know! What could possibly go wrong?

The social media giant has thought of loads of good reasons to go ahead with its plans to snap up the under-13s market – in fact, it sounds like it's delivering an essential public service: "Kids are already online, and want to connect with their family and friends, have fun, and learn.

“We want to help them do that in a safe and age-appropriate way, and find practical solutions to the ongoing industry problem of kids lying about their age to access apps.”

“Have fun, and learn.” Of course!

Someone who isn’t moved by Facebook’s glib fantasies is Kathryn Montgomery, senior strategist at the US digital rights group Center for Digital Democracy, who said: "Facebook claims that creating an Instagram for kids will help keep them safe on the platform.

"But the company's real goal is to expand its lucrative and highly profitable Instagram franchise to an even younger demographic, introducing children to a powerful commercialised social media environment that poses serious threats to their privacy, health and wellbeing."

And, thirdly, some good news. Only joking! The Irish Data Protection Commission (IDPC) says it’s going to investigate a data leak which saw the details of millions of Facebook dupes, sorry, happy users published on the internet.

The fiasco-ridden firm had claimed that the data was old (nothing to see here) and from a leak way back in 2019 (leave us alone).

However, the IDPC thinks data laws could have been breached and believes it’s “appropriate to determine whether Facebook Ireland has complied with its obligations, as data controller, in connection with the processing of personal data of its users".

In a statement, Facebook said: “This whole enterprise has been a disaster for the world. We’re shutting it all down with immediate effect for the good of the human race.” No, they didn’t.

They really said that the inquiry "relates to features that make it easier for people to find and connect with friends on our services. These features are common to many apps and we look forward to explaining them and the protections we have put in place."