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Issue 155
The Centre Cannot Hold

Social media briefly blew up last week when Twitter's Jack Dorsey tweeted about decentralisation. Seems Twitter will be setting up an independent research group, dubbed BlueSky, to create an open and decentralised standard for social networks. The goal, said Dorsey in a long tweetstorm, is for Twitter to ultimately be a client of this standard, along with many other apps. 

There was outrage, mainly from those who saw this as a U-turn on Twitter's earlier move to limit third-party API access to its data. Lots of scepticism over whether Dorsey's proposal is just more talk about 'a far-out idea' that may not come to fruition. Also contentions about how this is just a way for Twitter to sidestep responsibility for moderating content—if content is no longer 'owned' by the platform, it would no longer be accountable for what goes out. In his tweets, Dorsey even acknowledged the 'terrible challenges' placed on content moderators.  
But the idea of decentralised social networks is not new. There are plenty out there, offering themselves as friendlier and more user-centric alternatives to the centralised behemoths that are Twitter and Facebook. They are not without their issues though. Researchers investigating several decentralised platforms back in 2017 concluded they'll never work for reasons ranging from challenges in acquiring users and gaining developers' attention to potential security threats and issues with content curation. A recent example is Mastadon, whose reputation as a harassment-free version of Twitter was threatened when far right network Gab migrated to its platform
Still, Twitter's blue sky initiative feels significant: an existing centralised platform unpicking itself into a decentralised one, potentially upending its own ad-based business model as it opens its doors to competitor services. Regardless of whether this will happen within the next year or decade, it feels like a step in the right direction. Over a year ago I wrote about decentralisation offering entirely new models for working, a force of general good that may well win in the end. As we move into the new decade, let's see more of such moves away from centralised systems.
This is MadHATTERS's last issue for 2019. Wishing you all the best for the festive season, and see you in the new year/decade!

Yours in HAT,

Leila Trilby, Editor-in-chief

Also Important...

There's an Alexa/Siri/Google Assistant in almost every home these days, but few users think of the actual humans behind them. Lots of them, transcribing voice data to help improve smart speakers' voice recognition capabilities. But also listening into conversations and activities they're not meant to, an intrusion of privacy many transcribers are uncomfortable with, even if their employers are not. And while we're here, let's spare more than a thought for the humans keeping YouTube and Google clean of extreme content. The low-paid, PTSD-suffering moderators who go through hate speech and violent videos every day­­—so we don't have to.  
So much for a tech-driven world that's meant to make humans better off.  

The Past

The Present

Personal data of 29,000 Facebook employees was breached recently, in a pretty old school way.

Facebook's no-factchecking policy on political ads meant loads of misleading claims were let through during the recent UK election. Surprise, surprise.

You can now share your personal data to invest in the stock market. What will they think of next to get your data?

The Future 

Tech's next big challengethe digital underclass

There are ways to avoid meeting Mr/Miss Wrong. And then there's DNA dating

The Doghouse

The Google-Fitbit deal hits a stumbling block—in the form of a Department of Justice probe
Smartwatches for children: great idea for a Christmas gift, not so great for your kids' privacy.
Stalking children. Livestreaming harrassment. Demanding ransom. Hackers are having a field day with Amazon Ring cameras. Time to pull the plug, like this couple who were extorted for Bitcoin.


Entertain the extended family over the holidays with these games. No gadgets—or Monopoly—in sight. Promise.

HAT News 

New website. The Ethical Tech Alliance's got a spanking new website. Check it out at and find out more about this week's featured ETA project and Preferred Developer Partner. 
Welcome. To Yapily, as Dataswift's Open Banking service provider being tested in the sandbox.
Caught in action. MadHATTERS sure know how to have a good time, as these photos from last week's HAT Christmas Party show.

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