The Latest Big Innovation In News? Human Editors

This post is a bit of a throwback to my days at The Schwartz Center at Fordham, where we spent a lot of our time investigating what was happening to the news business. We looked at the algorithmic gatekeepers that were replacing the human ones who once decided what was worthy of our attention, and we looked at the new business models that were feeding off that new locus of attention.

What seemed inevitable five or six years ago was that the future of news would be a grim collision between user generated content and dodgy social media algorithms, with the craft of journalism left out of the picture. That’s true in the darker corners of the Web, but, just as Tim Cook’s privacy speech this week showed, Apple may be charting a new, more human way forward.

Apple employs about thirty human beings with journalistic acumen to select the stories that show up in its news app, which reaches about 90 million people each week, according to this profile of the head of Apple News. You’ll never have the chance to meet the algorithm that selects the distractions in your Facebook feed–not so for Lauren Kern, Apple’s editor-in-chief.

I’d long ago deleted Apple News, preferring as I do to pay editors and writers to deliver the news to me in print each week. That’s still my preference, but for those of you who prefer thumbing through the news on an app for free, Ms. Kern’s operation may be the best option.

Dept. of Wonkery: Why is Apple so Strong on Cybersecurity?

This morning, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook spoke at the 40th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners in Brussels, and he came out strongly against the exploitation of data by Apple’s Silicon Valley peers. According to Fortune, Cook said ‘“people’s personal data is being ‘weaponized’ with  ‘military efficiency,’ and technology is being used to deepen divisions and ‘undermine our sense of what is true and what is false.”’ Cook even warned of a “data-industrial complex,” in a reference to the “military-industrial complex,” a phrase coined by Eisenhower to describe a combination of interests he felt were hostile to democracy.

The salvo is in keeping with Cook’s previous statements on data privacy, most notably his justification of Apple’s refusal to let the FBI hack into the data on a phone owned by one of the shooters in the San Bernadino shooting of 2016.

Why is Apple so strong on protecting the data consumers store inside its devices?

One reason is that the position supports Apple’s business model. Unlike Google and Facebook, Apple does not sell your personal data to advertisers. They are a hardware company, with ambitions to become a media brand, a la Netflix and Amazon, a more mainstream and family-oriented one. In addition to associations with Pixar and Disney, Apple has also put its toe in the water of original content, having just licensed the rights to Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy. There is a utopianism to Apple’s media ambitions which recalls that of the early days of the telephone and radio, when benevolent, self-regulating monopolies like AT&T and NBC would own both hardware and the content it distributed, and preserve a standard of excellence in both.

It’s that utopianism that is the key to the deeper reason for Apple’s stance on cybersecurity. The data that resides on Apple devices in our pockets and on our wrists will someday reside on devices that are implanted inside our bodies, or will even be integrated with them. Some may shudder at the thought, but in countries like Sweden, the implantation of chips that allow the user to access their data, go through security, and pay for goods and services are already in demand. Consumers can’t wait to get them, and even mark their implantation with celebrations. Before smartphones, the idea of having a device with a camera and microphone with us at all times would’ve been horrifying, but in exchange for the conveniences they offer, such squeamishness was easily set aside.

Apple and Tim Cook are adamant about data privacy because they want to dominate the future market in voluntary cyborg implants. To violate the data privacy of our phones would set the precedent that we should someday violate the data privacy of our bodies. Whether in our brains or implanted devices, the memories under our skins should be inviolate.