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The scramble to archive Capitol insurrection footage before it disappears

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As a violent mob incited by President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol on January 6, halting the procedure in Congress to formally certify Joe Biden as president-elect, a Redditor with the username Adam Lynch began a thread on the subreddit r/DataHoarder — a forum dedicated to hoarding data that might be erased or deleted. “Archiving videos before potential removal from various websites…” it began. 

Within minutes, the thread was so inundated with Twitter links, Snapchat uploads, and other videos that the link was shut down by Mega, a New Zealand–based cloud storage service. Since being reopened, the Reddit thread has received over 2,000 comments with detailed data from the incident.

Lynch, who asked not to be identified by their real name because they have received death threats for their work, is Canadian and was shocked to see the images from Washington. Lynch said they felt an urgency to archive data as soon as possible because they had seen videos, posts, and livestreams get quickly taken down by both platforms and users afraid of repercussions in the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter protests last summer.

“I knew I had to start immediately,” Lynch said.

Livestreams were turned off by platforms and broadcast news networks during the attack on the Capitol, and companies like Facebook, YouTube, Twitch, and Twitter have since systematically removed posts that violated policies against violent or incendiary content. As Redditors send in content, Lynch has spent hours each day uploading it to Mega as well as to offline hard drives for backup.

“If it weren’t for the Mega thread, I am very confident a substantial part of this would not be kept,” Lynch says. But many others are also working to protect information before it disappears. An Instagram account, @homegrownterrorists, garnered about 242,000 followers, crowdsourcing efforts to identify members of the mob. (The account was briefly deactivated and cleared of posts; it was reactivated and started posting ordinary links to news articles on January 8. The account holder did not respond to a request for comment.) The journalism site Bellingcat, which specializes in investigations based on publicly available online material, invited the public to contribute to a publicly editable Google spreadsheet of links, and the Woke collective is protecting livestreams from being erased by publishing them on its own YouTube and Twitch accounts. Other firms, like European search engine Intelligence X, are also collecting and storing data.

These efforts are notable for their broad reach, says Gabriella Coleman, an anthropologist at McGill University who studies the politics and ethics of hacking. “Places like Reddit were really central in the past [for doxxing, i.e. revealing people’s identifying information] and continue to be because you get subreddits and threads where everybody is contributing to particular efforts,” Coleman says. “The difference now is that people share that information on Twitter and once that person is identified, that information is far more visible. It used to just be [hacktivist group] Anonymous that did that.”

Coleman says that Anonymous’s efforts were once considered extreme, but with each passing protest, doxxing has become more mainstream. “Of course, you’ve also got groups like Bellingcat who are like amateur professionals when it comes to open source intelligence formalized into an organization,” Coleman says. “But you’re continuing to see masses of people come together online [and doxx].”

That creates ethical quandaries. The data now being archived could haunt people in the photos for years afterward, even if they later renounce or pay criminal penalties for their actions. On r/DataHoarder, for instance, someone asked, “Do you think it’s ethical to preserve content that features someone who now wants the content to no longer be public?” 

I asked Lynch whether it was two-faced for them to ask me to protect their anonymity when they were busy exposing members of the mob. 

Lynch says their conscience is clear. “I believe people have the right to protest and share their voice,” they say. “If they [mob members] wanted to protect their identity they could have easily worn a mask or not livestreamed. But they didn’t wear a ski mask, not even a covid mask.”

“I think certainly a lot of this is context dependent,” Coleman says. “If you are engaging in an activity that is meant to call attention to the activity itself and don’t take precautions to hide your identity, it’s understandable how there will be people who will take that information and make it public.”

Lynch, who plans to ultimately submit the data they’re collecting to the Library of Congress,, believes they are preserving history. “We can only hoard what the world gives us,” they say. “We’re just librarians.”

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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Facebook predicts ‘significant’ obstacles to ad targeting and revenue in 2021

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While Facebook’s fourth quarter earnings report included solid user and revenue numbers, the company sounded a note of caution for 2021.

In the “CFO outlook” section of the earnings release, Facebook said it anticipates facing “more significant advertising headwinds” this year.

“This includes the impact of platform changes, notably iOS 14, as well as the evolving regulatory landscape,” the company wrote. “While the timing of the iOS 14 changes remains uncertain, we would expect to see an impact beginning late in the first quarter.”

Facebook has already been waging a bit of a campaign against Apple’s upcoming privacy changes, which will require app developers to ask users for permission in order to use their IDFA identifiers for ad targeting — although the PR focus has been the impact on small businesses, not Facebook.

Facebook also highlighted two broad economic trends that it says has benefited from during the pandemic: The “ongoing shift towards online commerce” and “the shift in consumer demand towards products and away from services.” But again, it took a cautious stance, writing that “a moderation or reversal in one or both of these trends could serve as a headwind to our advertising revenue growth.”

As for those fourth quarter earnings earnings, Facebook reported $28.1 billion in revenue, of which $27.2 billion came from ads, with earnings per share of $3.88. Wall Street analysts had predicted EPS of $3.22 and revenue of $26.4 billon.

Facebook also reported an average of 1.84 billion daily active users and 2.80 billion monthly active users for the quarter, up 11% and 12% year-over-year, respectively.

“We had a strong end to the year as people and businesses continued to use our services during these challenging times,” said CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a statement. “I’m excited about our product roadmap for 2021 as we build new and meaningful ways to create economic opportunity, build community and help people just have fun.”

As of 4:45pm Eastern, Facebook shares were up 0.7% in after-hours trading.

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How trading apps are responding to the GameStop fustercluck

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The furor surrounding GameStop and its stock price has consumed social media, business television, and the hopes and dreams of many retail investors. It has even convinced some folks that causing short-term economic damage to a few hedge funds is similar to shaking up the global financial market.

It isn’t, but a lot of folks are doing some downright risky things with their personal capital all the same. And some of them are making those investments — bets, let’s be honest — on platforms that have lowered barriers to buying and selling stocks by cutting trading fees to zero. Apps and services like Robinhood, Public, M1 Finance and Freetrade.

After noting reports that some traditional brokers were limiting access to GameStop and other so-called meme stocks, TechCrunch was curious what the newer, app-based investing services were doing for their own users.

A spokesperson for M1 Finance, a Midwest-based consumer fintech player that offers a basket of banking and investing services — more on its growth here and here — told TechCrunch via email that it wasn’t taking “specific” steps regarding individual stocks.

But the company also provided a statement from its CEO, Brian Barnes. In his comment, Barnes drew a delineation between investing, and trading, which he likened to a casino, adding that his firm “question[s] whether short-term trading is predictable, sustainable or repeatable.”

It isn’t for nearly anyone, of course. Barnes went on to say that his company thinks that “ownership of great companies and assets at reasonable prices that compound for long periods of time is the most straightforward and repeatable way to build wealth,” and that they have focused their company more around that ethos, “forego[ing] the mania of the moment.”

Turning to the well-known Robinhood, an impressive 2020 growth story, TechCrunch asked the same question regarding warnings or other guardrails for users concerning certain equities.

In an email a Robinhood spokesperson directed TechCrunch to a comment that its CEO, Vlad Tenev, made on CNBC earlier today:

Like other brokerages do, we monitor volatility and we take steps as appropriate like raising the margin requirements. I do think it’s wrong to assume though that most of our activity is characterized by trading of volatile stocks. As I’ve said before, most of our customers are what’s called buy and hold. They deposit and buy over the long term.

Robinhood changed margin requirements for GameStop and AMC Entertainment to 100%, TechCrunch understands. And like M1, Robinhood doesn’t allow users to short equities. So, there’s that.

Something notable about the companies we are discussing is that not one of them wants to be labeled as the place where folks like to trade a lot. Which amuses me as cutting fees to zero, which they have largely done, is at once a great way to democratize investing, and, also, a great way to encourage folks to trade more frequently. And as the apps and services that offer free trading often make money when users trade (read this), their chatter about their users being focused on buying and holding always rings slightly thin.

Anyhoo, some apps are going as far as adding warnings. Public, a company that TechCrunch recently covered, said that the company has added “‘High Risk’ safety labels” to the meme stocks that are causing so much ruckus.

Public has long had a stated focus on building community over trading, which led to us having a question or two about when it is going to kickstart its monetization plans. The company did just hire a CFO, which makes this move appear in concert with its general ethos, so more to come there we presume.

And, finally, U.K.-based Freetrade. TechCrunch has covered the service before, making it a good company to rope into this group. Per the company, Freetrade restricts small-cap stocks to the subscription tier of its service, which should limit access amongst its user base to GameStop and other memetic equities.

The company also stressed that it does not offer options or “any other form of leveraged derivatives” and has made “huge investment in investor education and financial literacy.”

So there’s a general bent toward either building products that are not tuned for day trading in silly stocks or providing some protection against users’ worst instincts amongst the cohort of companies that have also made it inexpensive to trade. There’s tension there, akin to this.

But they can only do so much. People are dumb, and it’s not looking like that’s going to get much better anytime soon.

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SoftBank teams with home goods maker Iris Ohyama for new robotics venture

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You’d be forgiven for being underwhelmed by the output from SoftBank Robotics thus far. The firm’s best-known product to date is almost certainly Pepper, a humanoid robot designed for greeting and signage that grew out of it 2015 acquisition of French robotics company, Aldebaran.

There’s also the matter of the investment firm’s acquisition and eventual sale of Boston Dynamics. The deal certainly went a ways toward accelerating the company’s go-to-market approach, but Boston Dynamics changed hands fairly quickly, when it was sold to Hyundai late last year (SoftBank maintains 20%).

The latest wrinkle in SoftBank’s robotic ambitions is nothing if not interesting. The firm announced today that it is joining forces with Iris Ohyama. The Japanese brand, which will hold a 51% stake in the venture (with SoftBank controlling the remainder), is best known for its home goods. The company makes a broad range of products, that includes, as Reuters put it, “everything from rice to rice cookers.”

You’ll be able to add robotics to that list, soon enough. The newly formed Iris Robotics has set an extremely aggressive goal of $965 million in sales by 2025. In a joint press release, the company noted Covid-19-related concerns as a major catalyst in the launch of the division. Certainly that makes strategic sense. There’s little question that the past year has kickstarted serious interest in robotics and automation.

The first couple of products from the venture don’t appear especially ambitious out of the gate, however. To start, it seems they’ll be rolling out “Iris Editions” of a pair of existing devices: Bear Robotics’ restaurant robot Servi and cleaning robot, Whiz.

Here’s a quote from SoftBank Robotics CEO (forgive the Google translate),

With the urgent need to realize the new normal in the corona virus, various new expectations are being placed on robots. This strong partnership with Iris Ohyama is a huge step forward for the expansion and penetration of robot solutions. Taking full advantage of the strengths of both companies, we will respond quickly to the challenges facing society.

Certainly the technical ambitions seem more modest than what the folks at companies like Boston Dynamics are currently working on, but Iris Ohyama seems well positioned to make some headway in the home robotics category to start.

 

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