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This is a newsletter about regulatory hacking featuring (mostly) Canadian startups.
Because all start-ups need a regulatory strategy to succeed.
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abolish silicon valley
Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space
“Get divorced without leaving home,” why wait until after quarantine?
I learned about this Edmonton-based company at last year’s Collision Conference, and found the juxtaposition of divorcing with classic cartoonish start up stills oddly charming (still do).
I believe that at the time, one of the questions on their intake quiz was, “Are you able to physically locate your spouse?” which is fantastic and absurd. The company has evolved since then, and has some productive partnerships. Also in the land of the absurd: you can refer a divorcing friend to undo and receive a $50 gift card.
I am interested in the user tests that revealed *having to leave the house* as being a primary pain point related to divorce worth solving for through the creation of a company referred to as the “Turbo Tax of divorce.” Jokes aside, making the divorce process more streamlined, with less stress and financial strain and minimizing the in-person processing on an already over-burdened system seems savvy. The typical (amicable) divorce in Ontario costs ~$1200.
Once your paperwork has been digitized, you can have a Commissioner for Oaths pop by to administer your oath of affirmation. I think this would still be part of their full-time work, and wouldn’t contribute to the erosion of it.
Online dating statistics show that 20% of those in current, committed relationships began online, and even if you can’t text message break up, it does make sense that you might be able to initiate the divorce process online.
What else? I also found a similar company, the competitor Untie The Knot. LawTech is a growing field, largely aimed at making components of the legal system more accessible and…faster.
If you want to survey more, you can check out current startups in the legal innovation zone.
Blink-and-you-missed-it: the Australia government has said it will adopt a mandatory code to require tech giants such as Google and Facebook to pay local media for reusing their content. Read more: Here’s News – We’ll Hold Digital Giants to Account.
In a groundbreaking report that took 18 months to prepare, the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission found that more than 98 per cent of online searches on mobile devices are with Google, while Facebook has approximately 17 million users who are connected to its platform for at least half an hour a day.
(Not sure if it is groundbreaking that almost 100% of online searches are with Google - but that is a stat that really hits you).
The code will include a number of provisions, including those related to value exchange and revenue sharing; transparency of ranking algorithms; access to user data; presentation of news content; and the penalties and sanctions for non-compliance. The intention is to have a draft code of conduct released for comment by the end of July and legislated shortly thereafter.
Their original idea was to make it a voluntary code of conduct, but then they switched gears and made it mandatory after there was a lack of progress during dialogues between companies and Australian officials. Is a mandatory code of conduct…a law?
Here’s Australia’s Competition and Consumer Commission Final Report and Executive Summary.
The policy announcement is a bit stunt-like, but I am appreciative of their first-mover attempt. I don’t think that the rationale for search engines paying to display news content relevant to a search was made clear (or compelling). A key challenge with any sort of digital platform regulation comes down to the “teeth” - if enforcement efforts fail, constituents may have less trust in the state overall. The policy from Australia is directly related to compensating news media for use of their publications, and it not a digital sales tax.
legislative pages: abolish silicon valley
Wendy Liu is another millennial memoirist critically reflecting on technology, culture, and power - I put my copy of her cool-looking book on the shelf next to Anna Weiner’s dreamy “Uncanny Valley” and Susan Fowler’s gritty “Whistleblower: My Journey to Silicon Valley and Fight for Justice at Uber” and even Brittany Kaiser’s cognitively dissonant “Targeted: My Inside Story of Cambridge Analytica and how Trump, Brexit, and Facebook Broke Democracy,” (jk I read that one electronically and wish I could get the time back, alas).
Her (@dellsystem)’s “Abolish Silicon Valley: How to Liberate Technology from Capitalism,” is a thoughtful read chronicling the aggressive futility of the startup she co-founded out of her undergrad with friends, and how her ideas around purpose and success evolved. Though they were accepted to a prestigious New York-based incubator (but not THE incubator), they lacked a business model and struggled to articulate their offering - for more than a year. Sound familiar?
I expected that Liu might call out the pantomime of many early-stage venture-backed companies that are little more than a vague concept (no matter how active their founders are on Slack), but she leaves that community untouched until chapter 11, suggesting that a new model of entrepreneurship as a “public service” (190) could be useful (essentially non-profits or…volunteering) and backed by the government(?).
Liu makes broad allusions to regulation - an early project idea “an almost comical ignorance of contemporary copyright law” (13) and she has the feeling that a company that monetized user data for marketing purposes seemed “shady” (85). She also references Quebec being “awash” in government money for funding startups (55).
I don’t agree with her that unethical business practices persist because it’s not on everyone’s course list - she makes passing/implicitly accusing references to the fact that in the course of her four year computer science degree, she “never had to take a single class on anything remotely resembling ethics” (46).
If Silicon Valley is “not a place,” then maybe it’s more of a meritocracy mirage. She acknowledges that, “doing a startup had felt a bit like engaging in my own personal war: everything was permissible except admitting defeat” (140).
Reading these memoirs is a little like reading a romance novel - it’s more fun to read the ending first. Liu’s ideas for a new industrial model:
Reclaiming Entrepreneurship [as above, strip away private interests];
Reclaiming Work - a “maximum” wage + labour reforms;
Reclaiming Public Services - basically describes Canada (universal healthcare, better funded education);
Reclaiming Intellectual Property - reducing copyright and term lengths, data portability;
Reclaiming Culture - limiting advertising, banning some forms of ads.
Some of the aspirations of the book felt start-up-y to me like, “the aim of abolishing Silicon Valley is to reclaim our world from capital, which means diminishing the power that money holds over our lives” (206) - it sounds sort of nice but on second read is somewhat meaningless. What is the central problem of the book? One steady thread is Liu’s metric of her salary as a key indicator of her self-worth, which dissolves into the concession that there could be more to life beyond compensation. Perhaps Covid-19 has blown apart the myth of Silicon Valley innovation, further advancing her thesis.
Aside: through this memoir I came across “Tech Against Trump,” a 2017 book from the magazine Logic chronicling the rising tide of anti-Trump resistance by tech workers and technologists. Looks neat but they only ship to the US :(
While I’m not sure that capitalism is something that we can click undo on from the comfort of our very own homes, perhaps the pandemic and its associated austerity (not from government - we’re spending a lot - I meant the feeling that your household budget is newly constrained) will help us click refresh on our collective priorities, motivating us to engage in deep regulatory and legislative reform. A girl can dream!
space policy: license to launch
I was wondering how you get permission to launch *something* into outer space - what’s the ticket to ride? In Canada, this is the application for authorization to launch high power and advanced high power rockets, it’s a simple one-pager.
These are the requirements for launching high power rockets in Canada, as overseen by the Aeronautics Act.
In the US, the register is kept by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and includes:
Name of launching State;
An appropriate designator of the space object or its registration number;
Date and territory or location of launch;
General function of the space object.
Information on registered objects is available at the UNOOSA site.
tune: alex cameron, “divorce”
I got friends in Kansas City with a motherfucking futon couch
If that's how you want to play it
I'm drinking in the dark because my battery's all ran out
All you got to do is say it
Vass Bednar writes “regs to riches” and is a public policy solopreneur.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her (er, me) on Twitter @VassB.
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