The Very Mathematical History of a Perfect Color Combination

A couple of years ago, I fell in love with a color scheme: off-white text accented with a buttery yellow-orange and a neutral blue against a deep gray, the “color of television, tuned to a dead channel,” to borrow a phrase from Neuromancer author William Gibson. The colors were part of a theme called “Solarized Dark” for the popular MacOS code editor TextMate. To be honest, I didn’t think much of Solarized at first. But I soon found that I couldn’t work with any other color scheme. Staring at screens all day can make you particular about fonts and colors.

It turns out I’m not alone. I’m not a coder by trade, but I like to use code editors for writing and organizing notes. While hunting for tools after switching from a Mac to Windows, I started to see Solarized Dark and its sibling Solarized Light, which uses the same 16-color palette, practically everywhere I looked. It’s hard to say how many programmers use it. The design is free [...]  read more

TypeScript’s Quiet, Steady Rise Among Programming Languages

Microsoft’s programming language TypeScript has become one of the most popular languages among developers, at least according to a report published by the analyst firm RedMonk this week.

TypeScript jumped from number 16 to number 12, just behind Apple’s programming language Swift in RedMonk’s semiannual rankings, which were last published in August. Microsoft unveiled TypeScript in 2012, and while it hasn’t grown as quickly as Swift—which has grown faster than any other language, ever since RedMonk started compiling the rankings in 2011—TypeScript’s own ascendance is impressive, given the sheer number of available programming languages.

More and more applications these days use TypeScript. Google’s programming framework Angular, the second most popular tool of its type according to data released last year by the [...]  read more

Why Tech Platforms Don’t Treat All Terrorism the Same

In January 2018, the top policy executives from YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter testified in a Senate hearing about terrorism and social media, touting their companies’ use of artificial intelligence to detect and remove terrorist content from groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda. After the hearing, Muslim Advocates, a civil rights group that has been working with tech companies for five or six years, told executives in an open letter it was alarmed to hear “almost no mention about violent actions by white supremacists,” calling the omission “particularly striking” in light of the murder of Heather Heyer at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and similar events.

More than a year later, Muslim Advocates has yet to receive a formal response to its letter. But concerns that Big Tech expends more effort to curb the spread of terrorist content from high-profile foreign groups, while applying fewer resources and less urgency toward terrorist content from white supremacists, [...]  read more

The Deeper Education Issue Under the College Bribery Scandal

The college admissions bribery scandal has all the components of a made for TV movie, including suspense, celebrities, and unexpected twists and turns. Behind the broken admissions process and the drama, however, a different educational crisis is looming. According to a 2018 Korn Ferry study, by 2030, there could be a global talent shortage of more than 85.2 million people, costing an estimated $8.5 trillion in unrealized annual revenue. In the US alone, the study forecasts $1.7 trillion in lost revenue due to labor shortages—roughly 6 percent of the entire economy.

The scandal du jour makes it easy to wag fingers and focus on the foibles of prominent helicopter parents, but perhaps we should be having a different discussion about how to level the educational playing field. The often-cited solution to the global labor shortage—upskilling, where employees or the unemployed learn new skills—is only viable if people have access to education.

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Facebook Changes Its Ad Tech to Stop Discrimination

On Tuesday, Facebook reached a historic settlement with civil rights groups that had accused the company of allowing advertisers to unlawfully discriminate against minorities, women, and older people by using the platform’s ad-targeting technology to exclude them from seeing ads for housing, jobs, and credit—three areas with legal protections for groups that have historically been disenfranchised.

After fighting back against the accusations for years, Facebook announced it will make significant changes to its advertising platform so that advertisers can no longer target, or exclude, based on characteristics like gender or race. This is a big deal because Facebook’s immense revenue primarily comes from ads, which are so successful because of their micro-targeting capabilities. But when a company or advertiser shows an ad only to certain people—say, people under the age of 55, as  [...]  read more

The People Trying to Make Internet Recommendations Less Toxic

The internet is an ocean of algorithms trying to tell you what to do. YouTube and Netflix proffer videos they calculate you’ll watch. Facebook and Twitter filter and reorganize posts from your connections, avowedly in your interest—but also in their own.

New York entrepreneur Brian Whitman helped create such a system. He sold a music analytics startup called The Echo Nest to Spotify in 2014, bolstering the streaming music service’s ability to recommend new songs from a person’s past listening. Whitman says he saw clear evidence of algorithms’ value at Spotify. But he founded his current startup, Canopy, after becoming fearful of their downsides.

“Traditional recommendation systems involve scraping every possible bit of data about me and then putting it in a black box,” Whitman says. “I don’t know if the recommendations it puts out are optimized for me, or to increase revenue, or are being manipulated by a state actor.” Canopy aims to release an app later [...]  read more

Why Tech Didn’t Stop the New Zealand Attack From Going Viral

At least 49 people were murdered Friday at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in an attack that followed a grim playbook for terrorism in the social media era. The shooter apparently seeded warnings on Twitter and 8chan before livestreaming the rampage on Facebook for 17 gut-wrenching minutes. Almost immediately, people copied and reposted versions of the video across the internet, including on Reddit, Twitter, and YouTube. News organizations as well started airing some of the footage as they reported on the destruction that took place.

By the time Silicon Valley executives woke up Friday morning, tech giants’ algorithms and international content moderating armies were already scrambling to contain the damage—and not very successfully. Many hours after the shooting began, various versions of the video were readily searchable on YouTube using basic keywords, like the shooter’s name.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this pattern play out: It’s been [...]  read more

How Cambridge Analytica Sparked the Great Privacy Awakening

On October 27, 2012, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote an email to his then-director of product development. For years, Facebook had allowed third-party apps to access data on their users’ unwitting friends, and Zuckerberg was considering whether giving away all that information was risky. In his email, he suggested it was not: “I’m generally skeptical that there is as much data leak strategic risk as you think,” he wrote at the time. “I just can’t think of any instances where that data has leaked from developer to developer and caused a real issue for us.”

If Zuckerberg had a time machine, he might have used it to go back to that moment. Who knows what would have happened if, back in 2012, the young CEO could envision how it might all go wrong? At the very least, he might have saved Facebook from the devastating year it just had.

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But Zuckerberg couldn’t see what was right in front of him—and neither could the rest of the world, [...]  read more

Facebook’s Head of Product Chris Cox Leaves After Privacy Pivot

Just last spring, Chris Cox, the chief product officer of Facebook, was promoted to also oversee WhatsApp, Messenger, and Instagram. It seemed at the time almost like succession planning. If Mark Zuckerberg were to ever leave the company, Cox, his longtime confidante and a represen­tative of the engineering and product side, would be set up to run it.

But Cox announced today that, after 13 years at the company, he’s leaving. “For over a decade, I’ve been sharing the same message that Mark and I have always believed: Social media’s history is not yet written, and its effects are not neutral. It is tied up in the richness and complexity of social life. As its builders, we must endeavor to understand its impact—all the good, and all the bad—and take up the daily work of bending it towards the positive, and towards the good. This is our greatest responsibility,” he wrote.

Cox has been a beloved employee at the company, leading orientations for new hires [...]  read more

Facebook’s Sloppy Data-Sharing Deals Might Be Criminal

In the past nine days, Facebook has said it is rethinking its business and a presidential candidate said it should be broken up. In the past 24 hours, the company’s services, including Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger, and Oculus, froze for most of a day and a newspaper revealed that a new crop of prosecutors is investigating the company for criminal behavior related to a slew of data partnerships.

For most companies, this would be a catastrophe. For Facebook, it’s just another week and a half.

For the past 15 years, Mark Zuckerberg has pushed Facebook to be the most innovative, influential, fast-growing, and profitable company in the world—to move fast and break things. It worked great, as we all know. It also broke a lot of things Facebook didn’t anticipate. And the cleanup bills are piling up.

The new investigation, by federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York, is related to deals with more than 150 partners, including many big tech companies. [...]  read more