Switchback: Talking Tech (August 8)

Aug 08, 2014

The team from The Switch discussed everything from the latest political tech news to the gadgets you’re eyeing.

Aaaaand we have liftoff:

We're going to kick things off with a question to the room. Google has scrubbed 50 links to Wikipedia as a result of Europe's right-to-be-forgotten law. What do you guys think? Is the law an important tool for protecting people's privacy, or could it harm our access to accurate information?

One of the things I find particularly interesting about the debate is the degree to which we're empowering search engines -- and in Europe, that's largely Google -- to make decisions about the appropriateness of removal requests. They're granting well more than half, but they admit that they're doing it on the basis of very little information. Asking them to adjudicate the relevance of a piece of online content in, say, Latvia seems like a great deal to put on a company. And it also, it seems to me, just makes it that much more difficult for there to be any new Googles or Bings, because you need a compliance department capable of working in all the covered countries where you want to provide search.

Nancy, this seems like a huge opportunity (responsibility, even) for tech companies to develop some common standards rather than having each write their own policies and then having individuals try to interpret them on the fly.

On the one hand, I certainly DO think we should have a right to scrub things off the internet that are relics of our personal past - like, the social media profile I set up at 16 and can't access anymore. I don't think, however, we should have the right to scrub things that are a matter of public record - newspaper articles, for example. Now, I have no idea how you draw the line (is Wikipedia an encyclopedia that shouldn't be touched or a forum where gossip can be spread?), but there needs to BE a line without a doubt. And in my opinion Wikipedia falls on the wrong side of it and shouldn't be taken off of search results.

It's interesting that you bring up news articles, because it evokes the debate about media shield laws and who constitutes a journalist. A lot of media critics would say that blogging is journalism — so is a YouTube video that documents human rights abuses or other violence. I wonder if those should be considered part of the "public record" even though they've been posted by unofficial channels. Just draws more attention to the role of search engines and tech companies as the arbiters of what we know and can see online.

There's some talk amongst privacy advocates in favor of degrading information, that is, baking into our platforms the idea that a 15-year-old tweet (and there will be a day when we have 15-year-old tweets) should be harder to find than ones from six months ago.

What do you think about the work to build a nationwide public safety broadband network? Will the allocated$7B be enough to cover the US? How will commercial vendors react to losing customers to the government?

It's a huge undertaking. Officials I've spoken to don't foresee funding to be a problem; for instance, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has told Congress that he expects FirstNet to be substantially funded even before the agency gets around to holding its massive auction of TV spectrum next year (proceeds of which are meant to help pay for FirstNet). 

The real trick will be working out how to share the network so that first-responders will have priority access to it when needed, but that others will be able to take advantage of the network (and therefore maximize its potential) when there's no emergency. The technology to do this exists, but coordination across different vendors, agencies and the public will be a challenge.

Personally, I think that FirstNet is a waste of money. Remember listening to all those "This is a test" radio announcements of the "Emergency Broadcast Network"? Did you hear anything except a test from that network EVER, including on 9/11? No, you didn't. Same fate of wasted billions awaits FirstNet.

What do you guys make of the Sprint-T-Mobile merger falling through? What's T-Mobile going to do next?

I'm happy that the merger didn't go through because I think Sprint would have brought its poor customer service and higher prices to TMobile. I've been a Tmobile user for years and it works wonderfully around DC. The only problem I have is the dreadful signal along I95 in South Carolina. I do wonder how they are going to get to profitability, and worry about what will happen if they run out of money.

That seems to be the worry among investors, too. How long can T-Mobile extend its campaign against the cellular orthodoxy? 

Thanks for joining, everyone! We'll see you next week — same time, same place.

In This Chat
Brian Fung
Andrea Peterson
Nancy Scola
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