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This week: Facebook hides the hoodies as 2021 brings the first cataclysm of Marc Andreessen’s tech prophecy
The dream of working for Facebook â€” and of signalling your elite status through a snazzy company hoodie â€” is now a dangerous liability; something to be concealed. The immediate reason is the moves by Facebook, Twitter, and other Big Tech companies to ban Donald Trump and to snuff out Parler, the social network favoured by conservatives and the far-right. Trump loyalists are not happy, and Facebook is appropriately taking steps to protect its employees from misguided individuals.
A couple things comes to mind here:
2. This was probably inevitable.
Facebook board member Marc Andreessen declared back in 2011 that software is “eating the world.” And it appears he was right. Digital technology has overtaken everything, opening up exciting new experiences, new markets, and improvements in quality of life â€” as well as rendering long-established business models and established rules obsolete.
But what’s become clear in the initial days of 2021 is that the first major cataclysm of Andreessen’s prophecy will not involve jobs, but rather, the idea of free speech.
- The vast platforms created by Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are unprecedented in size (roughly 42% of the Earth’s population uses a Facebook product), and the companies that run the platforms are gatekeepers with a power no media has ever before possessed.
- Even some of the Trump’s most fervent opponents â€” from the ACLU to venture capitalist Fred Wilson â€” have said they were perturbed by the banning of the president, and what that decision could mean for others on the platforms.
- And yet, the tech companies’ previous hands-off approach has allowed conspiracy movement QAnon to flourish and led toxic conspiracy theories to spiral out of control.
This is a much bigger issue than anything that can be resolved through changes to Section 230, or antitrust litigation. The very notion of speech is undergoing a tech-driven paradigm shift, and figuring out the right rules and principles for the new reality is going to be a process.
Will this take one year to play out? Five years? Longer?
It’s impossible to say. But however long it takes, tech companies are certain to be in centre of the storm. And Facebook employees will have to keep hiding their hoodies.
With all the dramatic news unfolding, you may not have noticed that Tuesday was the first day of CES, the annual consumer electronics tradeshow where a menagerie of new gadgets and doodads bask in the spotlight.
Instead of hosting 150,000 visitors in Las Vegas, CES is doing things virtually this year. Insider is covering the show with updates on all the latest news and speeches here.
It’s an unusual time for a tech show, not just because everything is happening online. The number of smartphones sold declined by nearly 9% in 2020, according to Digitimes, while the long-stagnant PC market increased by 11% â€” the strongest growth since 2010, per Canalys. Strange times indeed.
So what kind of gadgets are coming this year? They will be plenty of giant flat screen TVs, connected fitness devices and work-from-home technology. But in a sign of the times, the real stars of this year’s show could be smart masks and disinfecting robots.
Snapshot: How badly do you want this job?
Tech companies are famous for job interviews that include tough,“brain teaser” questions. But one cybersecurity startup has come up with a more hands-on way to test the mettle of job applicants: an encrypted hard-drive that must be cracked.
Job applicants to Red Balloon Security receive a box in the mail with the hard drive and instructions. The drive contains 0.1337 bitcoin, or about $US4,400. Crack the hard drive and you’re instructed to use the bitcoin to purchase a ticket to New York City for a meeting.
According to Red Balloon CEO and founder Ang Cui, the solve rate for the hacker test is around 1%. And the company regularly changes parts of the test to make sure no one shares the work online.
“If I send out 150 to 200 pounds of hard drives, I will typically get back one human team member,” Cui said. “It’s a worthy investment.”
Not necessarily in tech:
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