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Slow Build’s Friday digest
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It’s weirdly cold for early November here in Washington D.C., with frost appearing in the corners of our windows this morning. Add in that it’s Friday, and it’s contributing to a sense that it’s time to slow down, to take a bit of time to read and consider. With that in mind, here’s Slow Build’s digest of things to contemplate in our areas of focus — policy, politics, and public tech — plus a couple good reads to carry us into the weekend. Enjoy.
The Cuban cryptocurrency conflict | The Trump administration’s restrictions on bank-processed remittances to Cuba meant that “almost overnight, firms such as Western Union could no longer operate,” writes the Economist — which drove Cubans to embrace cryptocurrency and the Cuban government to freak out about it. It’s a rare example of cryptocurrency seeming to fulfill its ambition of a being a tool for the redistribution of power away from centralized governments and financial institutions, and Havana’s reaction could provide a playbook for how official pushback could play out in other places. Alas, “as is so often true in Cuba, details of the new rules remain cryptic.”
The D.C. crypto lobbying wave | Speaking of digital currency, the California-based VC firm Andreessen Horowitz is descending on D.C. in an attempt to help define the rules around it. One thing to keep in mind though: Andreessen Horowitz has long pitched to founders that a key differentiator between it and other funders is that it understands Washington and thus can expertly help fledgling companies navigate the confusing world of public policy. So it also wants to be seen as the folks on the scene in the capital, making stuff happen.
Hidden Americans | The U.S. Census Bureau’s attempt to protect people’s identities through so-called differential privacy — or adding noise and mistakes on purpose — is causing some of them to disappear from the data altogether.
People, they’re the worst | The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation explains why it’s closed comments on its Facebook pages and otherwise lessened its investment on the platform. Part of the reason was to protect the subset of those who they knew would have to deal with a mess of hate: “Our story subjects were attacked. Other commenters were attacked. Our journalists were attacked… As a result of this toxicity, we were posting fewer of our stories and videos to Facebook, knowing our story subjects would face certain abuse and particular communities would be targeted.”
Sandanistas and social | Facebook (sorry, not ready to do the “Meta Platforms, Inc.” thing) says it removed more than a thousand accounts and groups tied to Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista National Liberation Front in the run-up to the election in that country this weekend. It’s a potentially powerful intervention in a contest so controversial that Secretary of State Antony Blinken has already called it a “sham.”
Access for the Global South | Facebook’s impact on life all over the globe and the limited ability for people living in many places to shape what the company does has some calling for non-U.S. outlets to be included in the so-called ‘Facebook consortium’ of publications given access to internal corporate documents.
Pulling together Global Team Internet | The Biden White House is planning a Summit for Democracy next month that could include the launch of some sort of “Alliance for the Future of the Internet,” but the details are extremely fuzzy — and civil society groups are complaining about being left out.
“Boston is a very antiquated city.” | That was Michelle Wu back in 2014, when she was a councilor-at-large on Boston’s city council working to update what the Boston Globe called at the time “Boston’s silly old rules” around business permitting and licenses. (One gem of a statute referred to a “common victualler’s license,” which sounds like you should be hawking whole leg of dinosaur.) Wu’s data-driven work on that caught the attention of then-Mayor Marty Walsh, it seems, and after making permit streamlining part of her platform, Wu is as of this week going to be mayor herself.
It’s ABCs-meets-Uber | Long-time Democratic digital strategist Joe Rospars offers a tongue-in-cheek way of convincing left-leaning billionaires that what they really should be doing is funding school board elections. It involves “incubat[ing] ~13,800 hyperlocal ventures” with a “multi-generational impact.”
The 2022-est of job descriptions | The Democratic National Committee has opened up hiring for a “civic engagement and voter protection technology and data director.” It’s a mouthful, but it’s also an attempt to marry data-driven voter turnout work with making sure those votes count in the face of challenges to them — challenges that are pretty much an inevitability in the mid-term elections that shall soon be upon us.
Pivot. Piiiiiiivot. | With FTC Democrats now lacking a voting majority with the departure of commissioner Rohit Chopra to the CFPB, focus at the agency’s turned to staffing up to carry out the new regime’s vision. One new hire: Meredith Whittaker, a long-time Google researcher who helped organize walkouts of the company in 2018. Whitakker also co-founded NYU’s AI Now Institute, a hub for investigating artificial intelligence’s social impacts that itself grew out of a 2016 Obama White House symposium on AI.
New data lead at 1600 Penn | The White House Office of Science and Technology has brought on a new U.S. chief data scientist — Denice Ross, whose background includes Georgetown’s Beeck Center, New America, the Office of Management and Budget, etc. Created in only 2015, the U.S. CDO role has never been all that well defined, so it’ll be up to Ross to put her stamp on it.
The proof of the law is in the… | It’s striking to see Biden’s domestic policy advisor — and old-school Washingtonian — Susan Rice echoing an idea from civic-tech circles: “Writing legislation is critical. But so is writing the code that makes that legislation mean something.”
WFH circa 1811 — Clive Thompson has an essay out exploring the idea that what Luddites were really objecting to was the way that technology changed what it meant to work — including “moving out of the home, and into centralized locations.” It was, writes Thompson, about losing the freedom to start the day’s labors a little bit later, go for a walk in the middle of the day — the sort of liberties that more than two centuries later remote workers are balking at again giving up.
It’s not the Internet, you’re just using it wrong — In his new Adjacent Possible newsletter, author Steven Johnson argues that while the sort of ambient fame the Internet can create for people who’d once been the audience is potentially problematic, that dynamic also gives us the opportunity to get quick exposure to people and ideas we’d otherwise miss. Writes Johnson, “Every single day on Twitter I stumble across probably at least a dozen clever or funny or provocative things that total strangers have shared, many with links leading off to longer articles or podcasts or videos.” It’s the sort of interaction, Johnson suggests, that in the best cases we get from cities — and that broadens perspectives enough to let concepts like Black Lives Matters and Me Too in.