RLY resetting oversight + parking lots
This is a newsletter about regulatory hacking featuring (mostly) Canadian startups.
Every week, I contextualize a Canadian startup in the legislative landscape.
Because all start-ups need a policy strategy to succeed.
👔 company: reef technology
🔦 spotlight: the REAL facebook oversight board
📕 book: Reset: Reclaiming the Internet for Civil Society
🚀 space: Netflix's - The Final Flight
📻 tune: wild time
*Back to our regularly, semi-scheduled programming! 🔥
🐠 company: reef technology
Reef is neat. It is ostensibly a parking lot company, advertising as “the largest operator of mobility, logistics hubs, and neighbourhood kitchens in North America.” The firm animates public space in interesting ways, like: pop-up voting stations, COVID-testing stations, and making space for food trucks (among others). Because of the flexibility of the land’s use (they aren’t developing it per se, but they *are* sharing it in novel ways) the firm may operate in a space of relative regulatory ambiguity.
REEF’s platform has an important opportunity to derive lessons from Sidewalk Labs - much in the way that other technology platforms/companies [tried to] learn from UBER’s messy first-mover-ship when it comes to legitimately working with local communities to transform under-utilized urban spaces.
👀 “real” facebook oversight board
Did you catch the latest from The Citizens (?) - they are a collective of journalists, technologists, academics, filmmakers, academics, lawyers, advertising creatives and individuals from all walks of life.
They have carved out a novel accountability mechanism as a tongue-in-cheek agitator that replicates or mimics existing “boards” - except they seem to *actually* speak truth to power. Their initial activation is The Independent Sage (@IndependentSage), an independent group of scientists providing advice during the COVID crisis in the UK.
As a major, epic troll of/to Facebook’s “Oversight Board,” they’ve assembled an alliance that is creating a new source of external, almost guerilla accountability.
Facebook dismissed the board as “longtime critics creating a new channel for existing criticisms.”
And yet, the RFOB got action ASAP - with Facebook announcing that it will ban ads that seek to delegitimize the US election as an early win. INTERESTING.
Never underestimate the power of a Zoom meeting with your brainiest friends.
See also - Rebels within: the Facebook staff openly challenging Zuckerberg.
🦉Facebook’s Oversight Board when they heard of Real Facebook Oversight Board 👇
📕 Reset: Reclaiming the Internet for Civil Society
This year’s Massey Lecture asks whether and how we can negotiate our relationship(s) with the internet.
*My small beef is that “the internet” is used interchangeably with our devices (surveillance) which leads to some muddling. Deibert is at his very berry best when sharing anecdotes from the Citizen Lab’s work that illuminates the connections to security and geopolitics via our phones and digital devices. I also appreciated his descriptions of the physical infrastructure that powers the internet and implications for the environment. Overall, I found his lecture to be thoughtful and accessible.
More: it’s memoir-ish and puts a lot of critical digital regulation issues all in one place (data brokers, social media, facial recognition and data sharing, rare earth elements, Black Cube + more).
SPOILER: His key proposal is build a “reset” through the principle of restraint. Deibert seems to use “restraint” as a proxy for policy interventions (among other approaches) and I wish they were a little more concrete. I think it would have been just fine it the Massey Lecture pitched global and domestic policy proposals directly informed by the excellent work of the Citizen Lab. Modest, incremental interventions can be meaningful, too.
This newsletter draft is already too long for me to share my COOL notes from my e-reader, so I will just say: precision is leadership! Precision is provocative.
🚀 space: Netflix’s challenger mini-series
This four-part docu-series chronicles the buildup and aftermath of the devastating Space Shuttle Challenger disaster on Jan. 28, 1986. I found it to be fascinating and unsettling.
I’ve long known that the Challenger launch is used as a business school case study of a series of seemingly innocuous decisions going horribly wrong (“normalized deviance”). But is the failure *really* about decision making in a bureaucracy, or just arrogant cognitive dissonance and lack of accountability? You tell me, I’m no MBA.
The Challenger’s explosion comes down to the resilience of “O-Rings” (this is not a spoiler). The docu-series seeks to describe how this happened and make sense of why. Your stomach will churn and your teeth will grind (hello, again, mouthguard) as the devastating lack of accountability smacks you from the screen.
The Harvard Business Review has a Case Study - Group Process in the Challenger Launch Decision - with supplementary materials to help students of business appreciate key learnings from everything that led up to the launch. While we can point to government, technology, and procurement, it feels like it’s about *more* than just the mechanics of decision-making. Studying the Challenges is about the forces that discourage and extinguish dissent - in this case, government pressure from commitments and over-promising the public expectations.
It made me think a lot about how we speak up and out: who gets to do it, who doesn’t, who listens, and who absolves themselves. Because O-rings abound! Products STILL get shipped with built-in-bias, and bad contracts get signed - like that Hootsuite and ICE contract - that, my friends, is a mother fucking O-ring.
This Sam person (a furious inter-sectional feminist that worked at Hootsuite) also commented on the disincentives re: speaking out - namely, it’s a pandemic and the labour market feels extra precarious. And yet, she still went for it. She wrote the memo, and she shared it. What happened after that? Did the rocket launch?
Sam got action. She also got canned.
Yvonne Corder shouted out an O-ring in Call Center Call Out re: Planet Money and ProPublica’s investigation into the erosion of customer service contracting, risking retribution but deciding that it’s worth it. I salute her. 🖖🏼
Recently the Coinbase CEO told people not to talk about O-rings (*discouraged employee activism and political discussions via a MEMO) and then offered them [severance] packages if this stance made them want to bounce. 😠
Is the UK logging COVID in an Excel sheet an “O-ring”? You tell me. The point is:
💪 There are brittle O-rings lurking all over the place and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to call them out - but you SHOULD (*call things out + hold people accountable, not be a rocket scientist).
📻tune: weyes blood - wild time 🌼 🌺 🌷🌵
There's nothing left to keep
By the bottles that broke you
From the solace you seek
Didn't know you were one in a million
Stuck inside the wall
I'm wondering how we ever got here
With no fear, we'd fall
Taking hold of our eyes
Beauty, a machine that's broken
Running on a million people trying
Don't cry, it's a wild time to be alive
🤓Vass Bednar is a smart generalist working at the intersection of technology and public policy.