Slow Build Digest
Innovations in economic empowerment, and the fights to follow
(A reminder that Slow Build is returning to its roots and publishing once-a-week, on Fridays, starting next week. If you’re a paid subscriber interested in a refund, just let me know.)
This week’s new adventure: federal jury duty. Blessedly, “Laptop computers, cell phones, and beepers are permitted.” Kindles? Let’s say Kindles.
Wednesday’s House Energy and Commerce Section 230 hearing — on how U.S. law should think about online platforms’ responsibilities when it comes to handling what people post to them — was a reminder there’s no clear end in sight.
This has been going on for years now, which if unsurprising — legislating complex topics in unsettled fields, especially ones with technical elements, sometimes takes real time — is still frustrating many who’ve been through endless rounds without seeing much change.
One ripple effect of that frustration is to make things difficult for one of President Biden’s high-profile remaining nominees.
Gigi Sohn, his pick for the non-chair Democratic spot on the Federal Communications Commission, is getting tough questions, including over old tweets Republicans say they find offensive.
Sohn said some of her more provocative tweets were in the context of Section 230.
Sohn has a lot of friends in D.C. after decades of media policy work, but Republicans also haven’t had the win lately of blocking a Biden nominee.
Square Inc. is now “Block,” riffing — like the last name — at least in part off the blocky design of its keystone reader.
And Square’s reader was, well, square partly to make clear its ambitions went far beyond being any ol’ rectangular credit card swiper.
That ambition now: “Block is an overarching ecosystem of many businesses united by their purpose of economic empowerment,” per the company.
A key takeaway: Where innovation meets “economic empowerment” is emerging as a major theme for 2022, in D.C. and beyond. There’s a lot — not just overflowing bucketloads of money but the very structure of American society — at stake, and there will be fights.
To wit: “Locked out of traditional financial industry, more people of color are turning to cryptocurrency,” in the Washington Post earlier this week.
Even the Postal Service is getting in on it. USPS is small-scale experimenting with converting paychecks into gift cards. Please don’t call it “banking,” though.
Back to Block. CEO Jack Dorsey’s leaving Twitter to go full-time there, writes Kevin Roose, because it’s a lot less fun to be the founder of a fraught legacy Web 2.0 company right now than it is to rush headlong into exciting uncharted worlds like, indeed, crypto. (Not for nothing does “Block” also evoke blockchain.)
“Less fun” like defining like what privacy means in practice. Twitter is now saying users can’t post “media of private individuals” without their consent. TechDirt’s Mike Masnick finds the whole thing “truly head-scratching.” (Not helping matters: that “private” seems to mean a variety of different things in Twitter’s post attempting to explain the change.)
Under a new federal rule change, debt collectors can now pursue borrowers via social media.
The FTC is using its 6(b) powers under the Federal Trade Commission Act to demand insights from nine companies — including Amazon — about how they’re handling supply-chain challenges, including “the impact these disruptions are having in terms of delayed and canceled orders.”
Using the agency’s statutory powers to peel back the curtain on the complex ways American corporations are making a dollar today — and thus rebalancing the public-private data differential — is one of advocates’ big hopes for this FTC.
And the idea that Donald Trump’s busy building some sort of Twitter-killer is proving to be a useful fundraising tool, if nothing else.
What I’m reporting and writing on elsewhere: crypto comes to D.C. Know things? Get in touch.