A Grand Bargain to Make Tech Companies Trustworthy

As we use these services, they learn more and more about us.  They see who we are, but we are unable to see into their operations or understand how they use our data.  As a result, we have to trust online services, but we have no real guarantees that they will not abuse our trust. Companies share information about us in any number of unexpected and regrettable ways, and the information and advice they provide can be inconspicuously warped by the companies’ own ideologies or by their relationships with those who wish to influence us, whether people with money or governments with agendas.

To protect individual privacy rights, we’ve developed the idea of “information fiduciaries.”  In the law, a fiduciary is a person or business with an obligation to act in a trustworthy manner in the interest of another. Examples are professionals and managers who handle our money or our estates.  An information fiduciary is a person or business that deals not in money but in information. Doctors, lawyers, and accountants are examples; they have to keep our secrets and they can’t use the information they collect about us against our interests.  Because doctors, lawyers, and accountants know so much about us, and because we have to depend on them, the law requires them to act in good faith—on pain of loss of their license to practice, and a lawsuit by their clients. The law even protects them to various degrees from being compelled to release the private information they have learned.

Source: A Grand Bargain to Make Tech Companies Trustworthy

Congress’s big tech report shows why antitrust history is so important – The Washington Post

This week, Congress released a report on big tech monopolies that makes clear what so many Americans instinctively know: A handful of powerful corporations rule over our lives and our economy. The report details the actions the four big tech platforms — Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple — have taken in gaining and preserving their monopoly power across numerous markets. (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.) The report’s prescription for undoing their power is just as clear: We must break them up. Alongside this essential recommendation, the report also calls for strengthening the antitrust laws and adopting new rules to ensure the dominant platforms do not exploit their power. If we fail to confront the tech monopolies head on, the report argues, we relinquish our control over the way we shop, sell and speak to one another.

Source: Congress’s big tech report shows why antitrust history is so important – The Washington Post

Understanding the Blockchain Economy: An Introduction to Institutional Cryptoeconomics: The Independent Review: The Independent Institute

The thesis of the Berg et al. effort is that the key problem (at the margin, at least) is trust. The optimizing organizational response involves institutional cryptoeconomics. As they note, the chief problem in cryptoeconomics is designing mechanisms for generating reliable consensus; this is rather technical, and involves code that embodies solutions to strategic problems. Institutional cryptoeconomics asks what institutional forms will best embed cryptoeconomic solutions organically and with little friction into their daily operations.Again, the authors recognize the significance of their claim. If they are right, the new solutions to the problems of trust are just as important, and as disruptive, as the creation of the joint stock corporation. That means that the transformation, if it occurs, will happen on a massive scale and at breathtaking speed. The institutional advantages of the joint stock corporation, in terms of raising large amounts of capital and monitoring and enforcing contracts, were such that the commercial world went from “no corporations” to “above a certain size, only corporations” within a century. By analogy, at this point, uses of blockchain protocols to solve large-scale commercial problems are nearly unknown, but, in a few years, no other form of organization will be viable.

Source: Understanding the Blockchain Economy: An Introduction to Institutional Cryptoeconomics: The Independent Review: The Independent Institute

Tracking historical changes in trustworthiness using machine learning analyses of facial cues in paintings | Nature Communications

Social trust is linked to a host of positive societal outcomes, including improved economic performance, lower crime rates and more inclusive institutions. Yet, the origins of trust remain elusive, partly because social trust is difficult to document in time. Building on recent advances in social cognition, we design an algorithm to automatically generate trustworthiness evaluations for the facial action units (smile, eye brows, etc.) of European portraits in large historical databases. Our results show that trustworthiness in portraits increased over the period 1500–2000 paralleling the decline of interpersonal violence and the rise of democratic values observed in Western Europe. Further analyses suggest that this rise of trustworthiness displays is associated with increased living standards. Quantifying how social trust evolved throughout history can help us understand the long-run dynamics of our societies. Here, the authors show an increase in displays of trustworthiness, using a face processing algorithm on early to modern European portraits.

Source: Tracking historical changes in trustworthiness using machine learning analyses of facial cues in paintings | Nature Communications

The unrelenting horizonlessness of the Covid world – CNN

Moving around is what we do as creatures, and for that we need horizons. Covid has erased many of the spatial and temporal horizons we rely on, even if we don’t notice them very often. We don’t know how the economy will look, how social life will go on, how our home routines will be changed, how work will be organized, how universities or the arts or local commerce will survive.


Ethereum is a Dark Forest. A horror story. | by Dan Robinson | Aug, 2020 | Medium

In the Ethereum mempool, these apex predators take the form of “arbitrage bots.” Arbitrage bots monitor pending transactions and attempt to exploit profitable opportunities created by them. No white hat knows more about these bots than Phil Daian, the smart contract researcher who, along with his colleagues, wrote the Flash Boys 2.0 paper and coined the term “miner extractable value” (MEV).Phil once told me about a cosmic horror that he called a “generalized frontrunner.” Arbitrage bots typically look for specific types of transactions in the mempool (such a DEX trade or an oracle update) and try to frontrun them according to a predetermined algorithm. Generalized frontrunners look for any transaction that they could profitably frontrun by copying it and replacing addresses with their own. They can even execute the transaction and copy profitable internal transactions generated by its execution trace.

Source: Ethereum is a Dark Forest. A horror story. | by Dan Robinson | Aug, 2020 | Medium

Amazon’s top UK reviewers appear to profit from fake 5-star posts | Financial Times

Amazon’s top UK reviewers appear to profit from fake 5-star posts FT investigation finds suspicious behaviour by 9 of top 10 UK contributors on product feedback Amazon’s problem with fake or manipulated reviews appears to have worsened since the pandemic turbocharged the number of people shopping on its site © FT montage Share on Twitter (opens new window) Share on Facebook (opens new window) Share on LinkedIn (opens new window) Dave Lee in San Francisco 7 hours ago 177 Print this page Amazon is investigating the most prolific reviewers on its UK website after a Financial Times investigation found evidence that they were profiting from posting thousands of five-star ratings. Justin Fryer, the number one-ranked reviewer on Amazon.co.uk, reviewed £15,000 worth of products in August alone, from smartphones to electric scooters to gym equipment, giving his five-star approval on average once every four hours. Overwhelmingly, those products were from little-known Chinese brands, who often offer to send reviewers products for free in return for positive posts. Mr Fryer then appears to have sold many of the goods on eBay, making nearly £20,000 since June. When contacted by the FT, Mr Fryer denied posting paid-for reviews — before deleting his review history from Amazon’s website. Mr Fryer said the eBay listings, which described products as “unused” and “unopened”, were for duplicates. At least two other top 10-ranked Amazon UK reviewers removed their history after Mr Fryer. Another prominent reviewer, outside of the top 10, removed his name and reviews, and changed his profile picture to display the words “please go away”. The FT’s analysis suggested nine of Amazon’s current UK top 10 providers of ratings were engaged in suspicious behaviour, with huge numbers of five-star reviews of exclusively Chinese products from unknown brands and manufacturers. Many of the same items were seen by the FT in groups and forums offering free products or money in exchange for reviews. The Competition and Markets Authority, the UK’s competition watchdog, launched in May its own probe into online stores over “suspicious” and manipulated reviews, which it estimates influence £23bn in UK online shopping spend every year. “We will not hesitate to take further action if we find evidence that the stores aren’t doing what’s required under the law,” a CMA spokeswoman said. Justin Fryer’s Amazon review, and an eBay listing for an identical Item sold from his account the day before Amazon’s longstanding problem with fake or manipulated reviews appears to have worsened since the coronavirus pandemic turbocharged the number of people shopping on its site. One estimate, from the online review analysis group Fakespot, suggested that the problem peaked in May, when 58 per cent of products on Amazon.co.uk were accompanied by seemingly fake reviews. “The scale of this fraud is amazing,” said Saoud Khalifah, Fakespot’s chief executive. “And Amazon UK has a much higher percentage of fake reviews than the other platforms.” Amazon said it took such fraud seriously and used AI to spot bad actors, as well as monitoring reports from users. It said it would investigate the FT’s findings. “We want Amazon customers to shop with confidence knowing that the reviews they read are authentic and relevant,” the company said, adding that it suspends, bans and sues people who violate its policies. Amazon and the problem of fake reviews But Amazon has known about the activity on Mr Fryer’s account since at least early August, when one user of the site emailed chief executive Jeff Bezos directly after his complaints had been ignored. “Jeff Bezos received your email,” an Amazon employee later replied, pledging to investigate Mr Fryer and the other high-profile accounts. A number of reviews highlighted were subsequently removed — but no broader action appears to have been taken. Since February, Mr Fryer’s reviews from China-based brands have included three gazebos, more than a dozen vacuum cleaners and 10 laptops — as well as everything from dolls houses to selfie lights to a “fat removal” machine. His contributions typically contained a video of the product taken out of its packaging but delicately handled, with comments mostly about the exterior features and the quality of the box it came in. Many of the same products were then listed as “unopened” and “unused” on an eBay account registered under Mr Fryer’s name and address. On August 13, for instance, Mr Fryer sold an electric scooter for £485.99, seven days before posting a review of the same product on Amazon, describing it as “hands down my favourite toy” that he liked “so much we purchased a second one for my fiancée”. When contacted this week, Mr Fryer said the items on his eBay listings were duplicates, and that the accusation he was receiving free products in return for positive reviews was “false”. He said he had paid for the “large majority” of goods, but could not say how much he had spent “off the top of his head”. “I have relationships with and I know some of the sellers,” he said. “My partner’s Chinese and I know a lot of the businesses over there . . . and I just review.” Daily newsletter #techFT brings you news, comment and analysis on the big companies, technologies and issues shaping this fastest moving of sectors from specialists based around the world. Click here to get #techFT in your inbox. Unlike bloggers and influencers, who can accept and publicise free products with proper disclosure, Amazon’s community guidelines explicitly prohibit “creating, modifying, or posting content in exchange for compensation of any kind (including free or discounted products) or on behalf of anyone else”. The exception is the company’s “vine” review programme, an invite-only scheme where top reviewers are sent free products that are not contingent on a positive review. Observers of Amazon’s marketplace say the site’s algorithms greatly incentivise paying for positive reviews, even if it means doling out expensive products. Alongside price and delivery time, reviews are a crucial factor in pushing the product up Amazon’s rankings and help gain algorithmically calculated endorsements, such as the influential “Amazon’s Choice” badge. “You are more than twice as likely to choose an inferior product online versus the best product online if there are fake reviews on those inferior products,” said Neena Bhati, head of campaigns at consumer group Which?. The organisation has campaigned heavily for more stringent checks on online reviews.

Source: Amazon’s top UK reviewers appear to profit from fake 5-star posts | Financial Times

Publications – Trust in Digital Life

Trust in Digital Life is a membership association comprising leading industry partners and knowledge institutes who exchange experience, share customer, market and technology insights, with the intention of improving the quality of trustworthy digital services and platforms available through joint research and development. Our vision is of a vibrant European Digital Single Market that benefits and can be trusted by both businesses and citizens. Find out more about what we do.


Trust in Digital Life Ecosystem letter

Source: Publications – Trust in Digital Life

Ulrich Beck Is the World’s Most Important Pandemic Intellectual

But, as Beck acknowledged, there were also at least two other possibilities. One was a retro politics of going back to the future. This would be a politics that aimed to restore the certainty of social development and the rule of organized politics and scientific reason that had guided the first modernity. The United States’ “war on terror” was one such attempt. It turned a 21st century security risk into a conventional war against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. It was a disaster. The most successful effort to control risk society within the framework of a classic industrial modernity is China. Its response to the COVID-19 crisis has put that on full display. COVID-19 was contained and CCP rule ensured by a full-bore mobilization of societal discipline, targeted deployment of medical spending, and state power, all of it clad in the guise of what the regime calls 21st-century Marxism, a self-confident narrative of modernization and progress. There is no room for questioning the modern epic of the China dream. The lack of a positive attitude is enough to trigger suspicion.

Source: Ulrich Beck Is the World’s Most Important Pandemic Intellectual