Farhad’s Week in Tech: A Power Outage at CES, and Facebook Wants to Get ‘Meaningful’

We should probably get used to such slim pickings at CES. As I’ve been saying for a while now, traditional “gadgets” seem to be dying. We saw more evidence of that trend this week when GoPro, the extreme-camera company, lowered its revenue forecast, shut down its effort to build a drone, laid off 20 percent of its staff and said it would be open to a sale.

More and more gadgets, now, are really run off services or content in the cloud — Amazon’s Alexa, for instance, or the fitness videos created by Peloton, the fitness start-up I wrote about this week.

On the other hand: When the self-driving suitcase is perfected, I’m buying one.

Twitter Isn’t Stopping Trump

When President Trump tweeted a threat of nuclear war against North Korea this month, it at the very least seemed to constitute a threat of violence that might violate Twitter’s terms of service. The company has lately been trying to crack down on abusive accounts. So some people on Twitter started to wonder, would the company possibly decide that Mr. Trump had crossed the line?

Oh, no, not at all. On Monday, Twitter said the tweets of world leaders got special deference from the company; world leaders can now essentially say anything on Twitter. “Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate,” it said.

I don’t think anyone is surprised by this. And I saw some good arguments for allowing the president to stay on Twitter. As Will Oremus at Slate argued, barring Mr. Trump from the site is a “misguided fantasy” that wouldn’t really stop the underlying problem of his saying things that many people consider outrageous.

Still, I do think there’s something to the argument that Twitter — by its very nature a platform meant for people to yell things at the news, usually without nuance — encourages the sort of reflexive communication that we probably don’t want in our world leaders.

Sure, if Twitter barred him, he could always just go on TV and say what he had planned to tweet. But that would be slower and less automatic, and perhaps — I’m going out on a limb here — he might not blurt out threats of nuclear war.

Computer Security Is a Mess, Almost by Design

We’re still seeing fallout from Meltdown and Spectre, the two big computer chip flaws that were announced last week. Intel said this week that its fixes for the two flaws would slow computers down by single-digit percentages; the exact performance hit depends on what you’re doing on your machine.

This is a small slowdown, but it’s not insignificant. After all, people buy new computers for speed, so being hit with a slowdown after you’ve already purchased the thing is going to make lots of customers seethe.

There’s a bigger story here: When technology is found to be insecure, many companies evade any great degree of responsibility for the problems. As Nathaniel Fick, chief executive of the security company Endgame, wrote in The Times, “Cybersecurity today is being treated like accounting was before the fallout from the Enron scandal.” There are few lasting repercussions for flaws, and after a time everything goes back to normal. Equifax, for example, has already partly recovered after its massive breach.

Unless the government steps in with stricter penalties, this system seems headed for catastrophe. Everything is interconnected now; it’s only a matter of time until there’s a hack big enough to cause widespread social and economic disruption. We should probably do something about that, maybe?

Big Changes to the News Feed

Finally, in a late-breaking update, Facebook said on Thursday that it would be making huge changes to make you feel less terrible about using the service. It’s an unusual goal for a tech company — Facebook plans to alter its News Feed to increase your interactions with friends and family and reduce how many posts you see from brands and publishers, all in an attempt to make the service more “meaningful” for users.

The move could have wide repercussions for media outlets — which depend on Facebook for traffic — and potentially for Facebook’s own bottom line. But as with all Facebook product changes, it will probably be months before we know how the move plays out. One thing is for sure: Initially, you’re bound to hate it, because that’s just how it goes with anything new online.

O.K., that’s it for now. Tune in next week for another Mike-free newsletter. Bye!

Farhad Manjoo writes a weekly technology column called State of the Art. You can follow him on Twitter here: @fmanjoo.

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