Kevin’s Week in Tech: Crypto Tokin’
Hi, everyone. It’s me again. One of my kind and magnanimous colleagues will be writing this newsletter next week since I’ll be on vacation somewhere far, far away from email and social media. (I have a large tolerance for internet inanity, but the Laurel vs. Yanny debate finally broke me.)
My week took a weird turn on Tuesday, when I walked a few blocks uptown to check out Blockchain Week New York City, a three-day cryptocurrency extravaganza. The conference itself wasn’t particularly unusual — lots of big hitters in cryptocurrency were there, holding onstage panels and talking about their plans to revolutionize this-or-that industry by putting it on the blockchain. There were a few Lamborghinis parked outside — Lambos being the semiofficial status symbol of the crypto-wealthy — but inside, it was mostly business as usual.
The more interesting scenes were found at the many after-parties, lavish invitation-only bacchanals where the irrational exuberance of crypto-world was on full display. I went to one party thrown by Ripple Labs at a venue in the Meatpacking District, during which Snoop Dogg performed a short set while smoking a large blunt on stage, as is apparently his custom. Rumor was that somewhere else in town, Busta Rhymes was performing at another cryptocurrency party.
I’m not an expert on the cryptocurrency markets, and wouldn’t venture to guess what will happen to currencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum in the coming months. But it’s clear that the cryptocurrency community hasn’t been cowed by the price swings in recent months, and that elements of Wall Street’s pre-crash culture of celebratory excess are everywhere you look.
Some other tech stories of note this week:
• In a surprising reversal, Uber eliminated forced arbitration agreements for employees, riders and drivers who bring sexual assault or harassment claims. Now, instead of being required to negotiate these cases in arbitration, people with sexual assault and harassment claims will be able to sue the company. It’s an olive branch to the company’s critics, including Susan Fowler, the ex-engineer who had pushed for the changes, and further proof that Uber’s chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, is trying to put the ride-hailing company’s troubled past behind it.
• Facebook did some spring cleaning this week, announcing in a “transparency report” that it removed 865 million posts in the first quarter for violations of its community standards. The deleted posts were mostly spam, but posts containing nudity, graphic violence, hate speech and terrorism were also taken down.
• I loved this story about Clear My Record, an automated app that helps people in California with marijuana-related convictions get those convictions expunged from their records. The program, which was a dual effort by San Francisco’s district attorney, George Gascón, and the nonprofit Code for America, will collect information from users and generate a digital file that the district attorney can submit to courts, eliminating the need for lots of messy and confusing paperwork. Eventually, the tool could help as many as 250,000 Californians by making it easier for them to get jobs, loans, and housing.
• My colleague Vindu Goel had a fascinating article this week about the use of WhatsApp, the messaging service owned by Facebook, as a political tool in India, where large and unruly WhatsApp groups spread false or sensational stories that came to play a central role in a state election this month. One political strategist said that WhatsApp had become the most important tool in digital campaigns in India. “We wrestle on Twitter. The battle is on Facebook. The war is on WhatsApp,” he said.
• And speaking of Facebook-owned products wreaking havoc in the developing world, if you haven’t listened to Wednesday’s episode of “The Daily” featuring my colleagues Max Fisher and Amanda Taub, who went to Sri Lanka to investigate how Facebook-fueled rumors are inflaming ethnic violence there, you really should. It’s a harrowing story, and something I hope people in Menlo Park, Calif., where Facebook is headquartered, will hear and take to heart.
Kevin Roose writes a column called The Shift and is a writer at large for The New York Times Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter here: @kevinroose.