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Last Week Online #13 – Not everything online is fun

Anna Loverus
Anna Loverus
3 min read

More serious flavours dominate this week's topics.

Google refuses to remove an app that enables Saudi men to control women’s movements

Google has decided not to remove the controversial Saudi government app Absher in its Play store after a probe found the app did not violate its terms of service. The app reinforces Saudi laws that allow men to control women’s movements.

Last month, 14 members of Congress wrote a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai asking both companies to stop hosting the app, and both companies launched internal investigations into the app.

After Google’s investigation, the company told the office of Congresswoman Jackie Speier, one of the letter’s signatories, that they concluded the app doesn’t violate any agreements. Apple’s is still ongoing.

Sponsored by the Saudi government, Absher allows citizens to complete a variety of bureaucratic tasks, from renewing driver’s licenses to male guardians permitting women to seek a job – something legally required in Saudi Arabia.

Some Saudis say the app saves time and makes bureaucratic tasks more manageable, but American lawmakers seem to disagree. Senator Ron Wyden, who sent a separate letter to Apple and Google, said, ”American companies should not enable or facilitate the Saudi government’s patriarchy.”

Elizabeth Warren proposes to break up the Big Four

This week, Elizabeth Warren proposed breaking up Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook as part of a plan to regulate tech platforms as utilities. The Massachusetts senator has been a longtime critic of the consolidation of economic power by the tech giants, and now she’s making their break-up a key component of her presidential platform.

Warren suggests that we should view companies - with annual global revenue above $25 billion - that provide a marketplace, exchange or third-party connectivity as “platform utilities”. One goal is to prohibit these companies from owning both the platform and any participants on that platform. She also suggests that platform utilities would not be allowed to transfer or share data with third parties.

The other major part of Warren's plan would use existing antitrust laws to "unwind anti-competitive mergers" such as Amazon's purchases of Whole Foods and Zappos, Facebook's acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram, and Google's purchases of Waze, Nest, and DoubleClick. Warren writes "Unwinding these mergers will promote healthy competition in the market — which will put pressure on big tech companies to be more responsive to user concerns, including about privacy".

The move from text to messaging apps have made NSA shut down one of its surveillance programs

The system that analyses Americans’ domestic calls, texts and the linked metadata have quietly been shut down by the National Security Agency. The NSA has not used the system in months, and the Trump administration might not try to renew its legal authority when it expires at the end of the year.

The purpose of the program, initiated by President George W. Bush’s administration in the weeks after the 2001 terrorist attacks, has been to analyse social links to hunt for associates of known terrorism suspects. Edward Snowden disclosed the program’s existence to the public in 2013 – sparking a growing awareness of how both governments and private companies harvest and exploit personal data.

The way that intelligence analysts have gained access records of Americans’ phone calls and texts has evolved. With the rise of messaging apps, the program is most likely less useful since it's no longer the telcos but the messaging platform providers who own this data.

Tool of the week: Elin

Elin describes itself as a culture officer for remote teams. By adding Elin to your Slack team, she keeps track of how you and your team are doing on metrics such as purpose, collaboration, work-life balance and more.

You answer a couple of questions each week and get your data, as well as the entire organisation's data, visualised both as a timeline and a spider chart, with key metrics on each axis. Only you have access to your data, and you shouldn't be able to identify any of your colleagues from their anonymous answers.

If your team is too small, it might be hart do keep single individuals anonymous, but pretty quickly the aggregated data can tell a lot about how your organisation is doing at any given point. Are people happy? Are they working too much? Do they feel like they are contributing to your overall vision? Those questions are quick to answer with Elin.

Last Week Online

Anna Loverus Twitter

Thinker and doer. Loves running, wine, and human behaviour.

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