Encryptions vs Safety. Most popular messaging services, like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, are moving towards end-to-end encryption. This means that if I send you a text through Facebook Messenger, no Facebook employee will be able to read the contents of our message. This is good if we’re planning to protest our government, or if we’re building a Facebook competitor, or for any host of other privacy reasons. But it’s bad if the messages are hateful, or predatory or criminal. 

So how do you police bad behaviour in messages when you can’t read them? Many governments approach this by asking “how can law enforcement have a key, but nobody else?” Which is tricky. Tech companies instead are phrasing the question as “assuming a scenario where no-one but the sender and recipient can read the message, what other things could we do to improve safety?”

In that spirit, Facebook have announced plans to build safety alerts based on the metadata about the encrypted messages. For example, if an older person is sending messages to many young people they aren’t friends with, that might flag as potentially predatory. In that instance, Facebook would alert the recipients and encourage them to report it.

WhatsApp already do metadata analysis like this. If a text message (or a meme or a link) has been forwarded 5 times in a row, they limit people’s ability to share it further. This helps reduce the spread of disinformation, and it can be done without knowing the content of the message.

This broadly feels like the right approach, encrypting securely and layering safety on top. Read More.

Maximum Media, owners of Joe.ie and Her.ie, is set to enter examinership. Aaron Rogan has a good overview of the rise and fall in the Business Post. While some of the details involve bad behaviour – like artificially inflating viewership figures for advertisers – most of the financial troubles are fairly run-of-the-mill. Paying large, fixed costs for high profile sports stars and broadcasters and getting low-margin, variable revenue from digital advertising, especially since Covid-19. Whatever happens to the business, it unfortunate to see the end of one of the few media properties aimed at young men which talks frequently about mental health, wellbeing and sexual consent. Read More.

RTE tried to invest in Maximum. The most interesting nugget in all of this, for me, was the emergence of the fact that RTE had bid for a minority ownership stake in the business back in 2018. I don’t have any strong opinion on the specifics of the deal but I do find the strategy quite interesting and generally positive. We often refer to RTE as our “national broadcaster”, but these days it seems more apt to think about their two key functions separately – the “national content producer” and “national content distributor”. Investing in teams that produce popular, Irish, digital content probably makes sense. Link.

How Facebook Moderates Content. Richard Allen, formerly of Facebook, shared a framework for how social media platforms think about a controversial content and decide whether or not it should be removed.

He describes a weighing scales. On one side is both “Harm” and “Falsity”. If something is very harmful, but not false, they’ll probably remove it. If something is very false but not particularly harmful (“the moon is made of cheese!”) they’ll leave it.

On the other side of the scale is “resilience” and “partisanship”, which increase the likelihood the content will be left up. Resilience refers to the notion that a population may already be well educated against a claim, and therefore naturally recognise its falsity, so it may not need to be removed. Partisanship is a measure on whether removing it would disproportionately impact one political side, party or candidate.

Covid-19, for example, has been mostly non-partisan. All sides of the political debate are generally agreed, so removing disinformation doesn’t favour one side/party/candidate over the other. But saying “this government is doing a bad job handling Covid-19”

This framework why Mark Zuckerberg said they wouldn’t remove political ads containing lies about opponents, but that they would remove political ads with incorrect information on election dates or polling centre locations, for example.

It’s a good framework for understanding the inner workings of their arbitration policies, but one would worry the “partisanship” measure just further incentivise bad actors to make partisan issues out of conspiracy theories. Read More.

Eir sold it’s tower infrastructure to Phoenix Tower International for €300m. This is the concrete and the metal part of their mobile network. Always interesting to see how different the economics of mobile data are to wired, where competition can happen much easier with spectrum than with fibre. I guess that’s why privatisation of our rural-fibre causes ministerial resignations, but this proceeds without much notice Link

Getting Irish Business Online. Two interesting case studies from Enterprise Ireland on Irish businesses who have used some of the Department’s €2m Covid-19 Online Retail Scheme (up to €40k per business). Good to see supports there to push through the transitions while demand is high. Kilkenny GroupInish Pharmacy.

Remote legislating. The UK Parliament has moved to remote, digital voting during the lock-down. Link

Shane Curran, the 20-year old Irish founder, has just raised $16m for his security startup, Evervault. He’s certainly one to watch. Link.

E-Scooters. The UK Govt are looking at legalising e-scooter rentals. These operate in many European cities already. With our newfound desire not to pack into buses and trains, it may be worth looking at here. Link.

Virgin Media is offering Free TV AD space to Irish SMEs affected by Covid-19. Link.

Uber let go 140 of it’s 500 staff based in Limerick. Link.