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Facebook’s quest for wearable tech superpowers and the curse of the ‘glassholes’

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Hello, and welcome to this week’s edition of the Insider Tech newsletter, where we break down the biggest news in tech, including:

I’m your host Alexei Oreskovic. Hit me up with your thoughts, tips, rants and raves at aoreskovic@businessinsider.com.

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Soundtrack: This week’s newsletter has been specially designed to be consumed while listening to DEVO’s “Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA”


This week: Facebook’s quest for wearable tech superpowers and the curse of the “glassholes”

Marc Andreessen Google Glass

Google Glass circa 2013


Glass Collective



Remember the “glassholes,” those idealistic, starry-eyed pioneers of wearable tech who enlisted to be Google’s Glass guinea pigs in 2013 only to be greeted by the public with derision and hostility?

In the years since that fiasco, wearable tech has steered clear of sci-fi stylings and worked on improving familiar products that consumers are already comfortable with: Snap made relatively normal-looking sunglasses with a built-in camera and Apple focused on wireless earbuds and a wristwatch

It’s been working. Apple’s gadgets now dominate the wearables business, accounting for 36% of the market in the last quarter of 2020. But sure enough, with sales of these ordinary-looking wearables growing, tech companies are getting excited and drifting into sci-fi territory again. 

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  • Facebook showed off a neural bracelet prototype this week that reads motor signals for hand movements you intend to make, allowing you to control a computer with your brain (while wearing a pair of augmented reality glasses of course). “It’s sort of like having a superpower like the Force,” Facebook promises. 
  • Google is working on secret project code-named Wolverine, as Insider’s Hugh Langley exclusively reported this month. The gadget, a sensor-packed device that can be worn near or in your ears, would deliver “hearing superpowers” like the ability to tune different speakers in or out in a crowded room. 
  • And Apple is working on a virtual reality headset that The Information reports includes dozens of cameras to track hand movement as well as an 8K display and support for advanced eye tracking.

Will any of these futuristic doodads catch on? It’s generally not wise to bet against technological progress, even when the ideas initially seem silly, ugly or just unnecessary. Clunky and rudimentary smartphones were around for at least a decade before Steve Jobs finally cracked the code with the iPhone in 2007. 

This next generation of wearables being cooked up in the labs by Big Tech will probably fall short of the mark. But eventually someone will figure out how to make brain-reading headsets that actually work and that don’t look ridiculous — and like it or not, we’ll all be glassholes some day.


Welcome to the Elon Economy

elon musk dogecoin pumping stocks 4x3



Yuriko Nakao/Getty Images; Britta Pedersen-Pool/Getty Images; Samantha Lee/Insider


For someone who is the CEO of several companies, Elon Musk manages to find a lot of time to tweet. And as Becky Peterson writes, those tweets have become an economic force of their own.

A loyal crowd of the celebrity CEO’s fans, many of whom will never buy anything produced or sold by one of Musk’s companies, treat his frequent tweets as inspiring calls to action, sending ripples of demand in the direction of whatever Musk mentions.

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This year alone, Musk’s tweets have spiked the price of the cryptocurrency Dogecoin and have contributed to a massive surge in downloads of the encrypted messaging app Signal. He has spurred a global arms race to develop carbon-capture technologies and has left superfans straining to decipher absurdist puns in search of hidden financial advice.

The result is a spontaneous and unpredictable market that ebbs and flows according to Musk’s musings, often with dramatic results. The phenomenon has invigorated Musk’s followers, incentivized opportunists, and exasperated those who see reckless speculation in the personality-driven marketplace.

Read the full story here:


Quote of the week:

“At the outset of the pandemic, none of us knew how long this would last, and we kind of just threw our laptop on the kitchen table, and a couple of months in, we’re like: ‘Wow, I need to find a way to structure this for myself, and learn how to unplug.’”

— Laura Mae Martin, Google’s in-house executive productivity advisor, on the importance of setting boundaries while working from home and structuring no-tech time into the day.

Google's Executive Productivity Advisor Laura Mae Martin

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Google’s executive productivity advisor Laura Mae Martin

Google



NDA callout 4x3



iStock; Insider


Insider is working on a first-of-its-kind reporting project examining the role of non-disclosure agreements in forming Silicon Valley’s culture of secrecy. The documents themselves, combined with stories we are hearing from sources about the culture surrounding NDAs at their workplace, will serve as the foundation from which we tell the definitive story of how money and power enforced silence across an entire industry.

Want to participate in our reporting process? Please consider sending us a copy of your NDA.

Click here for all the details on how to participate.


Recommended Readings:

China’s tech giants are exploring a way around Apple’s privacy changes, and the move could have major implications for Apple’s relationship with a crucial market

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I tried Starlink, Elon Musk’s satellite-internet project, for 3 weeks after moving to rural Vermont. It’s a game changer.

Amazon’s ‘underappreciated’ B2B unit is on pace to become an $80 billion marketplace. And execs from Citi to Uber are praising it this week.

How the Collison brothers built Stripe into Silicon Valley’s most valuable startup and became 2 of the youngest billionaires alive


Not necessarily in tech:

A woman featured on YouTube star David Dobrik’s channel says she was raped by a Vlog Squad member in 2018 the night they filmed a video about group sex


Thanks for reading, and if you like this newsletter, tell your friends and colleagues they can sign up here to receive it.

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— Alexei

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See also  Facebook's Oversight Board will rule on Trump ban on May 5

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Facebook-Meta Earns the ‘Worst Company of 2021’ Title in This Survey

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Facebook has had its share of controversies this year. The company was under more scrutiny after whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked a series of internal documents.

Facebook parent Meta has been named the Worst Company of the Year (2021) by Yahoo Finance respondents. According to the publication, an “open-ended” survey was published on Yahoo Finance on December 4 and 5, where 1,541 respondents participated. Facebook received 8 percent of the write-in vote, but respondents were seemingly mad about the Robinhood trading app as well. Electric truck startup Nikola, which was named last year’s worst company by the same publication also faced respondents ire.

Yahoo Finance notes, “Facebook has had its share of controversies this year.” Starting in January, Meta-owned WhatsApp got caught up in a huge controversy after the messaging app announced a new privacy policy (Terms of Service). WhatsApp said it would collect user information and share it with third-party apps for a better user experience. However, the app gave users no choice but later made modifications to the policy under pressure. Similarly, the company was under more scrutiny after whistleblower and former Facebook employee Frances Haugen leaked a series of internal documents showing the company’s problematic practices. It was revealed that Meta-owned Instagram had a negative impact on teenage girls, but the company did almost nothing to rectify the problem.

Yahoo Finance even highlights, “At the same time, some critics, including conservatives, say Facebook over-policed the platform’s speech and stifled their voices.” Critics also blame Facebook and other social media platforms for not curbing hate speech that led to Capitol Building riots.

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However, around 30 percent of Yahoo Finance readers said that Facebook or Meta could redeem itself. One respondent suggested that the company could issue a formal apology for negligence and donate a sizable amount of its profits to a foundation to help reverse its harm.

On the other hand, respondents chose Microsoft as the Company of the Year (2021). The Satya Nadella-led company touched the trillion-mark this year and introduced notable upgrades. The most notable is the Windows 11 OS update that succeeds Windows 10.

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Facebook pays 1.7 Cr fine to Russia after failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal

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In the latest legal tussle with Russia over controversial social media regulation laws, Facebook paid 17 million roubles (Rs 1.7 Crore) for failing to remove content deemed illegal by Moscow. With a threat of potential larger fines looming, Facebook parent company Meta, owned by Mark Zuckerberg, is scheduled to face court next week over repeated violations of Russian legislation on content, Interfax News Agency reported. As per the latest updates, the social media giant could be fined a percentage of its annual revenue.

In October, Moscow sent state bailiffs to enforce the collection of 17 million roubles. Meanwhile, as per Interfax report citing a federal bailiffs’ database, on Sunday, there were more enforcement proceedings against the company. Apart from the popular social media app, Telegram has also paid 15 million roubles in fines for failing to comply with the Russian social media legislations that came into force in 2016.

Facebook pays $53k to Russia for refusing controversial social media laws

It is pertinent to mention that Facebook has locked horns with Moscow earlier in November, resulting in it paying 4 million roubles ($53,000) over its refusal to adhere to Russian data localisation laws, the Moscow Times reported. The Moscow court on November 25 had said that Facebook paid the fine levied in February, following which all proceedings against the US-based social media giant. The payment comes against the litigation filed against the company in 2018, alongside Twitter. The tech companies were also forced to pay an additional 3000 rubles ($40) for failing to comply with user data sharing rules as per the law. The Russian authorities have also previously blocked LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft, for failing to abide by the laws.

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Russian social media laws

As per Moscow Times, under the Russian social media regulation laws, all foreign technology companies are required to store data related to Russian customers and users on servers located in Russia. Additionally, the Russian tech companies will also have to share encryption data with the federal authorities as well as record user calls, messages and civil society group conversation records. The apparatus is said to be a severe breach of privacy rights and unfettered back-door access to personal data that could be used to harass Kremlin critics.

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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

Meta has announced the arrival of a new Split Payments feature in Facebook Messenger. This feature, as the name suggests, will let you calculate and split expenses with others right from Facebook Messenger. This feature essentially looks to bring an easier method to share the cost of bills and expenses — for example, splitting a dinner bill with friends. Using this new Split Payment feature, Facebook Messenger users will be able to split bills evenly or modify the contribution for each individual, including their own.

The company took to its blog post to announce the new Split Payment feature in Facebook Messenger. 9to5Mac reports that this new bill splitting feature is still in beta and will be exclusive to US users at first. The rollout will begin early next week. As mentioned, it will help users share the cost of bills, expenses, and payments. This feature is especially useful for those who share an apartment and need to split the monthly rent and other expenses with their mates. It could also come handy at a group dinner with many people.

With Split Payments, users can add the number of people the expense needs to be divided with and, by default, the amount entered will be divided in equal parts. A user can also modify each person’s contribution including their own. To use Split Payments, click the Get Started button in a group chat or the Payments Hub in Messenger. Users can modify the contribution in the Split Payments option and send a notification to all the users who need to make payments. After entering a personalised message and confirming your Facebook Pay details, the request will be sent and viewable in the group chat thread.

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Once someone has made the payment, you can mark their transaction as ‘completed’. The Split Payment feature will automatically take into account your share as well and calculate the amount owed accordingly.


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Tasneem Akolawala is a Senior Reporter for Gadgets 360. Her reporting expertise encompasses smartphones, wearables, apps, social media, and the overall tech industry. She reports out of Mumbai, and also writes about the ups and downs in the Indian telecom sector. Tasneem can be reached on Twitter at @MuteRiot, and leads, tips, and releases can be sent to tasneema@ndtv.com.

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