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The Lede, Facebook Status Update. And Using Tech to Catch a Bomber

The LEDE
Facebook Status Update

This follows on an item I wrote a couple days ago warning that the public image problems of some big tech companies, including Facebook, invite additional regulation, on any sector remotely technological in nature. Amid a clamor, regulators may, of course, overreact in severity, .

A slightly related story appears today at Axios, where Kim Hart notes that tech, in general, is running away from social media tech. The top of Hart’s story, which is worth a read if you’re interested in modern business.

“Not so long ago, social media companies were the poster children of the internet’s power to connect. But now that they’re being hammered over mischief on their platforms — which now includes Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal — other tech companies are parting ways with them on policy fights and dropping not-so-subtle hints about the need for greater social responsibility.

Why it matters: The tech industry is splintering in the wake of the controversies surrounding social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google’s YouTube. A wide range of companies — from legacy Silicon Valley firms like IBM and Oracle to business-focused firms like Salesforce and Cisco — want to be seen as responsible players who can be trusted to make wise decisions when faced with tough calls.”

Look for big tech – social media and otherwise – to, in the face of plenty of government talk about needs for additional regulation, start highlighting ways in which companies are responsive to customer interests in data privacy. I’d bet you will, in the next few days, get at least one email from some company that has your data, telling you all the ways they’re protecting it.

But remember, people want to use many of these services for free. The use of that data is sometimes baked into the business model of companies – because we demand it. We give information about ourselves to Facebook and Google and others willingly, because we want to see pictures of our high school friends and have an outlet for communicating socially from the comfort of home – without having to pay for it.

What to watch for: Will that change? Will people start to say that they don’t want to live without the ability to post photos on Facebook or Instagram, but they’d rather pay a fee than give advertisers their info. What about Amazon? Would you be willing to pay more just to see stuff on Amazon, just to “enter the store?” How about Youtube? Want to pay for those videos?

The Follow
Keep Austin Safe.

The details are still coming in, but there’s a very interesting trade-off story, a chapter in the ongoing story of the difficult balance between the advanced technological abilities of police and the American desire for some degree of civil liberty, coming out of the serial bombing story in Austin.

As you likely heard this morning, the suspected bomber, who killed two and injured several others, blew himself up this morning as police closed in.

The “how-did-they-find-him-story,” while still murky, is already very interesting from a tech-and-civil liberties perspective.

I can promise you that in Austin, where many residents have been on edge for days now, there’s a sigh of relief and an appreciation for the technology police used to locate the suspect, Mark Anthony Conditt.

According to media reports, law enforcement officials said they used surveillance footage from a Fed-Ex store, and a review of Google searches made by Conditt, and cell phone triangulation technology as they homed in on their suspect. They learned he was at an area hotel, and followed him as he left. As they closed in, he killed himself.

The details of how police used new technology to find Conditt are sketchy.

A law enforcement official told Autsin’s American-Statesman that “investigators accessing Austin bombing suspect Mark Conditt’s Google search history found that he had been looking up other addresses in Austin and the surrounding area.”  But it’s not clear how they knew to search Conditt’s history or how they did it, whether they were able to get access to his account information remotely, or had access to his computer.

Authorities, for obvious reasons of not wanting to let criminals know exactly how they work, have been kind of vague. “Fortunately we were able to do some digging and find this individual over the past 48 hours,” was what one ATF agent said during one news conference this morning.

The Statesman reported that police did have a warrant for Conditt’s Google search history, after identifying, him, it seems, from several reports from mostly traditional detective work involving looking at Fed-Ex store surveillance video.

The use of cell phone triangulation to track Conditt to his hotel hideout is mentioned in anonymously sourced reports from local media as well, but again, details aren’t yet available. The issue of cell phone tracking by police – and whether they need a warrant – is, coincidentally, one the U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering. It’s possible, of course, police had a warrant to track Conditt’s cell phone, maybe even likely since they had one for the Google search.

It will certainly be worth trying to go back and get a full account of what technologies police used to stop this guy once the investigation is complete and the city of Austin has gotten back to normal. I’d be willing to bet that even the most hard core civil libertarians in Austin are happy this morning to make that examination under the current circumstances, and not with a bomber still at large.

THE MOST INTERESTING RICKY WILLIAMS

I’ve said for years that Ricky Williams has to be one of the most interesting professional athletes, ever. Aside from whatever your feelings and beliefs about marijuana are – this cat is just plain fascinating.

Plenty of average athletes quit in their prime to follow other passions, but few athletes as good at their sport as Ricky Williams was just walk away. The guy won a Hesiman trophy. He set a single season rushing record for the Miami Dolphins. Yet ultimately, the NFL couldn’t keep him interested. Far from the stereotype of a single-minded athlete, Williams had a broad interest in the world (which he traveled around) and a searcher/seeker personality that led him to study (seriously study, like in schools, not just dabble) with Eastern medicine and holistic wellness. Conveniently, perhaps, that interest in wellness, and bettering human performance also led him back around to his earlier interest in marijuana.

Williams tried to “clean up” and go more establishment after drug use suspensions and developing the reputation as the stoner football player who’d rather quit and smoke dope than play. But now he’s noticed that instead, American culture has moved more toward his attitude on marijuana.

So, being a smart guy, Williams has started a company to sell marijuana, legally.

Here’s my short look at his new company from yesterday.

NOTES FROM THE AGE OF DISRUPTION: 

Aeromobil
Has a flying car concept that also will roll. LedeTree

Travis Kalanick 
Has a new gig, LedeTree

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About David Royse

David Royse
David Royse is the Editor-in-Chief of Ledetree.com. He has been a professional journalist for more than 20 years, including stints with The Associated Press and The News Service of Florida. He enjoys writing about health and medical science, and hopeful stories about scientific breakthroughs and new technology.

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