Hosted by Molly Wood, “Marketplace Tech” demystifies the digital economy. The daily radio show and podcast uncovers how tech influences our lives in unexpected ways and provides context for listeners who care about the impact of tech, business and the digital world. Transforming breaking news to breaking ideas, Marketplace Tech uncovers themes that transcend the hype in an industry that’s constantly changing. Reporting from Oakland, California host Molly Wood asks smart questions that connect the dots and provide insight on the impact of technology to help listeners understand the business behind the technology rewiring our lives.
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On the show recently, we talked about tech companies and social media platforms regulating speech, banning President Donald Trump and other accounts, removing groups and topics and even booting Parler off of app stores and Amazon web hosting. And of course, there’s been a lot of backlash and claims of censorship and questions about whether speech on social media should be regulated by the government. All of that gets us to a topic that’s worth revisiting right now, which is the First Amendment. Molly speaks with Berin Szóka, the president of the nonprofit TechFreedom. He says, first of all, we’ve got to get our vocabulary right.
Back in March 2019, a gunman killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and streamed the whole thing on YouTube. After that event we took a weeklong look at how social media radicalized people to violence, and how a troll becomes a terrorist. Now, nearly two years later and after a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, there still seems to be some surprise that online speech leads to offline consequences, so I wanted to revisit some of what I heard that week.
Pro-Trump Republicans are furious that Twitter, Facebook and Amazon Web Services have taken President Donald Trump’s accounts and the app Parler offline. Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, as well as other Republicans, called it “cancel culture.” Last March, Molly spoke with futurist Amy Webb, who predicted that cancel culture and the backlash to it would become an even bigger deal in the year ahead. She said that’s proving true in more ways than she expected.
Since the attack on the U.S. Capitol, which was filmed and photographed extensively, there’s been a scramble to find and archive all those images. Law enforcement and researchers are collecting them for clues and also to understand what happened. The research and investigative journalism site Bellingcat collects open-source intelligence and publishes reports on news and global events with a small staff of researchers and digital forensics experts and a big crew of volunteers. Molly speaks with Giancarlo Fiorella, an investigator at Bellingcat. He said the site just published a sort of forensics report on the movements of the San Diego protester Ashli Babbitt, who was shot and killed during the riot.
As we examine the fallout from the attack on the U.S. Capitol last week, what are the cybersecurity implications? Maybe not the top thing on your mind. But consider that for hours rioters had almost unimpeded access to offices, networks and computers on desks. A laptop was even stolen, and security experts say there’s the potential for all kinds of hacking and intrusions. And the cybersecurity threat is made worse by a unique feature of Congress: Everyone is in charge of their own IT. Molly speaks with Bruce Schneier, a security technologist. He lists some of the things intruders could have done.
The insurrection at the Capitol last week was inspired by social media, organized on social media and finally, recorded on social media. We saw images of extremists breaking windows and sitting at Nancy Pelosi’s desk. In some ways, those images were one of the goals of the insurrection: for extremists to prove they were there and to inspire others to take part in the movement. But Wendy Schiller, professor of political science at Brown, says they could soon be replaced by other images of, for example, mugshots. “Marketplace Tech” host Molly Wood talks with her.
The federal government, along with state and local governments, spends billions of dollars every year on security and surveillance technology. In theory, to prevent things like the attack on the U.S. Capitol that happened last week. It’s sophisticated, comprehensive and creates a whole lot of privacy concerns, but also might not be accomplishing the right things. Molly speaks with Alvaro Bedoya, director of the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown.
Facebook and several other platforms have banned President Donald Trump indefinitely. Twitter banned Lin Wood, Trump’s conspiracy theory-spouting lawyer, but new conspiracies theories are spreading, for instance that antifa was actually behind Wednesday’s deadly events at the U.S. Capitol. And all of it is fueling the question of how to deal with hate speech and online radicalization. Molly speaks with Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism. She said historically in the U.S., hate speech has been treated like any other speech.
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For years, and especially in the past year, far-right groups have used social platforms like Twitter and Facebook to organize violent movements. On Wednesday, once again, we saw the results of that online organization lead to real-life violence with an armed insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. In response, Facebook and Twitter removed posts by President Donald Trump that seemed to encourage the mob, and locked Trump’s accounts on both platforms. Facebook and Instagram started blocking hashtags related to the attack on the Capitol, and Facebook said it would also scan posts for mentions of bringing weapons to any location, in or outside Washington. Molly speaks with Joan Donovan, research director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School. She said Wednesday that an event like the Capitol assault, though, felt almost inevitable.
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A few weeks ago, Apple released an iOS update that shows you how much data every app on your phone or tablet is collecting — and it can be surprising. For example, even though WhatsApp offers encrypted messaging — no one can read your actual messages — it still collects a ton of other information, like your location, what you buy through the service, who your friends are, and shares all that with parent company Facebook. The idea here is much like the idea that once you find out a single burrito has 1,000 calories, you’ll be horrified and make better choices. Of course, Apple would love for people to choose its built-in apps instead. Molly speaks with Ashkan Soltani, a fellow at Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy & Technology. He says the labels could surprise people if they care.
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To deal with the massive logistical problem of distributing COVID-19 vaccines, the federal government and some states are turning to private companies to create algorithms for prioritizing shipments. Some hospital systems, like George Washington in D.C. and Stanford in Palo Alto, California, created their own software systems to prioritize which health care workers get it first. In Stanford’s case, we now know the process went notoriously wrong, prioritizing doctors and administrators working remotely over residents working directly with patients every day. We wondered, is vaccine allocation a problem algorithms are meant to solve, or are officials letting algorithms take the blame for built-in inequality? Molly speaks with Karen Hao, who reported on this for the MIT Technology Review.
Telehealth — remote doctor visits for non-emergency treatment — has spiked dramatically since the start of the pandemic. The American Medical Association is throwing its support behind legislation that would expand funding and reduce regulations on telehealth, by letting anyone access telehealth services no matter where they are. And legislators on both sides of the aisle have called on congressional leaders to expand access. PwC’s Health Research Institute put out a report late last year, saying telehealth will be huge in 2021. But there are roadblocks, especially around equity. Molly speaks with Karen Young, PwC’s Health Industries Leader.
This episode originally aired on Sep. 17, 2020.
All this week, we’re revisiting some of our shows from 2020. That includes an interview Molly did with Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is trying to eradicate polio and malaria globally. He created a billion-dollar climate investment fund. He’s funded multiple factories to find a vaccine for COVID-19 and played matchmaker to companies around the world to get that vaccine distributed. Gates is in the position to do all this because he is one of the world’s richest people. So Molly asked Bill Gates how his philanthropy ends up doing so much of the work of government. He said some of it is mission creep.
This episode originally aired on Jun. 23, 2020.
All this week on, we’re revisiting some of our shows from 2020 that touch on issues we think will continue to be pivotal in the year ahead. Chief among those is the internet. It now touches pretty much every part of our lives, but not everyone has access to good service. Earlier this month, the FCC announced the results of a $9 billion auction to provide high-speed broadband to homes and businesses that don’t have it. The money comes from something called the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, and this is just the first chunk of money to come from it. The FCC is planning to allocate billions more. But the data the FCC is using to map where broadband is most needed is wildly inaccurate, even by the agency’s own admission. Molly speaks with Nicol Turner Lee, who researches technology access as a fellow in the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution. She says the coronavirus pandemic has made the mapping problem even more obvious.
This episode originally aired on Sep. 21, 2020.
This week, we’re taking a look back at some of the shows from 2020 that deal with issues that continue to be, shall we say, challenging. That includes education and the complexities of dealing with remote school every day. With parents trying to figure out the best remote-schooling options, enrollment in alternative online schools rose significantly this fall. Some of these are for-profit schools that get public money from states or public school districts for each student that they enroll, and have been around for years. Molly speaks with Jennifer King Rice, a professor of education at the University of Maryland, who’s studied for-profit virtual schools. She says you shouldn’t assume that having experience in remote learning means the school is better.
This episode originally aired on Sep. 14, 2020.
If your kids are going to school online, then one thing you’re probably concerned about is the data that’s being collected about them, and how it’s being stored and used. Well, there are some rules — actually, lots of them. You’ve probably heard of COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, and perhaps FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Those are both federal laws governing data collection and kids. And, in the last six years, states have passed dozens more student privacy laws. But the problem is not everyone knows about them. Molly talks about it with Amelia Vance of the nonprofit Future of Privacy Forum.
We’ve been looking at how technology can help us adapt to climate change as part of our series “How We Survive.” One big problem is the technology that could help us survive is not being evenly distributed. So building resilience can’t only be about one home, one tribal chapter, one town at a time.
This episode originally aired on Sep. 30, 2020.
For the past year, we’ve been talking about how to adapt to climate change and how the tech industry can help. But here’s the part, even on a tech show, where we acknowledge that climate change isn’t just about tech solutions or whiz-bang inventions. In fact, like the pandemic, climate change is a problem that reflects and exposes a lot of things about our society. Molly Wood speaks with Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine Wilkinson, who co-edited a book called “All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis.” It features poems, essays and other works of art by women working on climate issues.
Now, more than ever, we rely on technology when we work, go to school, get health care and connect with people we can’t visit in person. But technology is only useful if it’s accessible. Host Kimberly Adams speaks with Microsoft’s Mary Bellard, who says we are in a “data desert.”
For many small businesses, the pandemic-driven shift to selling on the internet is a huge change. Plenty of brick-and-mortar store owners were selling in person only, using everything from spreadsheets to paper and pencil to keep track of it all. So companies are increasingly offering new tools to help those brick-and-mortar stores manage their inventory and figure out which online platforms are best for them. Intuit launched something called QuickBooks Commerce earlier this year to help companies sell everywhere. Molly speaks with Alex Chriss, the EVP of the small business group at Intuit.
This week, we’re looking at how small businesses are navigating e-commerce during the pandemic, and today, we hear from one business owner navigating that world. Kathleen Donahue is the owner of Labyrinth Games & Puzzles, a store in the Eastern Market neighborhood of Washington, D.C. She only sells analog games, not electronic, and perhaps unsurprisingly, she was a reluctant entrant to the world of e-commerce. We hear the story of her store’s transition online.
The costs of this pandemic are staggering. Most importantly, in lives lost. And increasingly, businesses lost or struggling to survive. Changing lockdown rules upended supply chains and a wary public. A lot of those businesses have been scrambling to get online, and as it happens, there are a lot of places online to list your goods beyond your own website — almost too many. Do you go to Shopify, Amazon, Facebook or Etsy? Molly speaks with Sucharita Kodali, a retail analyst with Forrester. She says the options can be overwhelming.
Climate change is here. Experts say we need to adapt, but what does that look like? This one-hour special from “Marketplace Tech” explores the role of technology in helping humanity weather the impacts of climate change. The time of complete prevention has passed, and we must turn toward adaptation.
We learned this week that hackers have been spying on the U.S. departments of State, Homeland Security, Commerce and the Treasury and maybe the Nuclear Security Administration — bad, bad stuff. The intrusion began in the spring, and the hackers are thought to be working for the Russian government. And the ongoing news about this hack have some worried about all kinds of things from a physical attack on critical infrastructure to data manipulation to more election shenanigans. We wondered, what should we be worried about? Molly speaks with Jackie Schneider, a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford.
We talk a lot on this show about how social media platforms have been slow to react to disinformation over the years, and especially around elections — and now the coronavirus and also the coronavirus vaccine. But perhaps the slowest to take a stand is YouTube. The video platform waited until Dec. 9 — more than a full month after the presidential election — before it started to remove videos falsely claiming election fraud or rigging. Researchers have worried about its radicalizing algorithm for years, and the company has basically no interest in working with them. Molly speaks with Evelyn Douek, an affiliate at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. She said YouTube is flying firmly under the radar.
The European Union is proposing new regulations on big tech companies and how they use their data, potentially to the detriment of competing companies. That is on the heels of the FTC and 46 states suing Facebook, and the FTC opening investigations into lots of other tech companies. One thing that both the EU and the FTC say is that these big tech companies impose anti-competitive conditions on third-party developers that operate on their platforms. Apple has been criticized over its App Store rules and Amazon over how it treats third-party sellers. The EU regulations would determine some companies to be “gatekeepers” subject to different rules. Molly speaks with Mark Lemley, a law professor at Stanford.
At least three government agencies have been the target of a major cyberspying campaign, apparently by the Russian government. We learned this week that hackers have been spying on the U.S. departments of Commerce, Treasury and even Homeland Security since the spring, and officials say it’s likely there are more victims that haven’t been revealed yet. The attackers got in by corrupting software updates from the company SolarWinds, which provides network management tools to the agencies. Molly Wood speaks with Kim Zetter, a cybersecurity journalist and author.
Millions of Americans remain unemployed in this pandemic and can’t pay their rent, so people are being evicted all over the country. Eviction hearings have moved to Zoom or Webex or even the phone, to limit the spread of COVID-19 in courtrooms. But some tenants’ rights advocates say the virtual hearings violate people’s rights. There aren’t procedures in place for people who don’t have broadband access, and translators that would be required in court aren’t required online. Molly speaks with Eileen Guo, a senior reporter on tech policy, ethics and social issues at MIT Tech Review. She’s been reporting on this and described a hearing she virtually attended in Jackson County, Missouri.
The Federal Trade Commission and almost every state are calling for Facebook to be broken up in what is probably the most groundbreaking tech antitrust lawsuit since Microsoft was sued in the 1990s. We take a look back at that Microsoft case to see if it offers any lessons for today’s tech giants. Molly Wood speaks with Margaret O’Mara, a history professor at the University of Washington and author of the book “The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America.”
Pandemic plus holidays? That equals a huge increase in online shopping and about 800 million more packages to be delivered than last year. But shipping companies and merchants that aren’t Amazon aren’t handling it all that well. For example, last week UPS limited the number of packages it would pick up from certain merchants like the Gap and Macy’s. In some ways, this seems like something folks should have prepared for, but it’s a big deal for shippers to increase capacity. It takes warehouses, fulfillment centers, trucks, planes. And unlike Amazon, shipping companies can’t spin up a quick army of independent contractors. Molly Wood speaks with Matthias Winkenbach, director of the MIT Megacity Logistics Lab.
COVID-19 vaccines are being administered this week in the United Kingdom, less than a year after COVID-19 became a devastating pandemic. And the vaccines from Pfizer, in partnership with BioNTech, and Moderna use a new type of vaccine technology that’s sort of like cellular engineering. Traditional vaccines introduce fragments of virus protein into the body for it to learn to recognize and attack. These vaccines, however, use something called messenger RNA, or mRNA, to give the body a blueprint to manufacture its own virus fragments to attack. Molly Wood speaks with Safi Bahcall, a biotech investor and author of “Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries.”
The coronavirus pandemic has gone hand in hand with an infodemic of misinformation about everything from homemade cures to whether masks work (spoiler alert: They do). Now, if possible, the misinformation stakes have gotten even higher as the COVID-19 vaccine begins to roll out. Doses are set to be administered in the U.K. as soon as Tuesday, and disinformation researchers say there’s a whole new wave of renewed activity spreading lies about vaccine safety and the origin of the virus. Molly Wood speaks with Joan Donovan, the research director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School.
For years, President Donald Trump has been calling for the repeal of Section 230, the part of the Communications Decency Act from 1996 that says an online publisher or platform like YouTube or Facebook can’t be sued for things that are posted by other people. The president recently said he would actually veto the country’s annual defense spending bill if it didn’t include a repeal of Section 230. But, see, a lot of what people say they don’t like about Section 230, like claiming that social media platforms censor conservatives, really has nothing to do with that law. Molly speaks with Jeff Kosseff, author of a book on Section 230 called “The Twenty-Six Words That Created the Internet.”
The West is in a drought that’s only getting worse, and drought is an even bigger problem in places that have uneven access to water to start with. In the Navajo Nation, in the southwestern U.S., many homes have no running water at all. The tribe is working with the startup Source, which makes Hydropanels — solar-powered panels that pull water vapor from the air and condense it into clean drinking water. Molly speaks with Milton Tso, president of the Cameron chapter in the Navajo Nation, where one family got Source panels this summer. He described the water they make.
Geothermal energy systems let people heat and cool their homes using energy from the Earth. The technology has been around for decades and is incredibly efficient, but fewer than 1% of homes in the U.S. use it. Now, Dandelion Energy wants to do for geothermal heating what Tesla did for the electric car — make it cool.
Increasingly, in the U.S., people are having to adapt to a world without reliable power. Storms, fires and even power shut-offs designed to prevent fires have lots of people trying to figure out local solutions for electricity. One solution is microgrids — decentralized power generation often with solar energy as its source. Molly speaks with Jose Alfaro, a professor at the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan. He says microgrids can represent freedom.
A big element of the business story around climate change is risk. The risk to cities, states and countries, to businesses and the banks that invest in all of them. Some regulatory bodies, like the European Central Bank, require climate risk assessment. It’s possible the Federal Reserve may eventually as well. Molly speaks with Emilie Mazzacurati, who runs the climate data firm Four Twenty Seven, which was acquired by Moody’s last year. It uses big data analysis to help companies and governments figure out the risk climate change poses to them.
All this week on Marketplace Tech, we’re looking at technology that can help us become more resilient to climate change. The startup BlocPower uses software to identify buildings that are prime candidates to receive more efficient energy systems. At the individual building level, this has immediate effects on both comfort and cost. And the company’s founder and CEO, Donnel Baird, says that doing this at the community level makes the entire grid more resilient. He talks with Marketplace Tech host Molly Wood.
This month in California, voters approved Proposition 22, a ballot measure that says drivers for apps like Uber, Lyft and Instacart will remain independent contractors, not employees. We hear from four gig drivers both in and out of California who have mixed views on the law.
As the pandemic recession drags on, people are turning to gig work to fill the gaps, and the nature of that work is evolving. Proposition 22 in California, which passed last week, lets companies classify delivery and ride-hail drivers as independent contractors. There are some new requirements, such as a wage floor and some health benefit options. Some describe it as a “third way” between benefit-free part-time work and traditional full-time employment. If the idea catches on more broadly, what could it mean for how we work? Molly Wood speaks with David Weil, dean at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. He says the idea comes from Canadian labor law.
In this pandemic, we are shopping online way, way more than we ever have. And sometimes we want to return the things we buy, which can be a hassle — with shipping and restocking fees and printing out return labels with printers we may or may not have at home. This holiday season, some retailers are trying to make returns easier. For example, employees at Simon malls will process returns for brands like Levi’s and Gap, so all you have to do is go to a mall kiosk with your item and a QR code. But as annoying as online returns can be for us, they might be worse for the retailers. Marielle Segarra speaks with Sucharita Kodali, a retail analyst at Forrester.
Shopping is a big part of the holiday season: We go downtown or to a packed mall, browse the store windows, smell the chestnuts roasting in the street. The pandemic has obviously changed all this, but some retailers like Gap, Ted Baker, and Ralph Lauren are trying to deliver that experience through our computers. Marielle Segarra recently clicked through a virtual tour of Ralph Lauren’s Beverly Hills store and talked about the virtual storefront experience with Joe Turow, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the book “The Aisles Have Eyes.”
We’ve been waiting for 5G, the fifth generation of wireless technology, for years. And the promise of it is great: that it’ll eventually be 100 times faster than 4G and make technologies, like driverless cars and augmented reality, more sophisticated. But there’s still a lot the incoming Biden administration and telecommunication companies will have to do before we have the 5G we’ve been promised. Marielle Segarra speaks with Doug Brake, director of broadband and spectrum policy at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. He says there are several different kinds of 5G, and we’re pretty far off from having the fastest kind from coast to coast.
The social media site Parler doesn’t fact-check, doesn’t moderate and doesn’t label or remove misinformation. Conservatives and far-right conservatives love it, and disinformation researchers are worried. But there is one other interesting element to Parler: There’s no algorithm that amplifies stories, like the kind that tends to make disinformation go viral on YouTube or Facebook. So, could that lessen its impact? Molly speaks with Shannon McGregor, a professor studying social media at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
There’s been a lot of talk this week about new Twitter features, mostly disappearing tweets. But Twitter also announced Tuesday that it’s planning voice-only chat rooms called Spaces where you talk instead of type. Earlier this summer, Twitter experimented with letting people send audio-only tweets, but didn’t allow for captioning those tweets, so they were inaccessible to the deaf community. Twitter put that feature on pause and has now created two new teams — one to make Twitter a more accessible place to work and another to vet product ideas for accessibility. And, according to Twitter, accessibility has been “top of mind when developing Spaces.” “Marketplace Tech” host Molly Wood speaks with Dalana Brand, vice president and head of inclusion and diversity at Twitter.
One thing the Biden administration will inherit when it comes into office is a trade and a tech war with China. President Donald Trump put all kinds of restrictions on American companies doing business with China on the use of technology from Chinese companies like ZTE and Huawei, bans on Chinese smartphone sales here and, of course, an executive order banning TikTok and WeChat, which is still in court. The moves were ostensibly about national security, but also an effort to keep China from developing the next generation of technology faster than the U.S. Molly speaks with Samm Sacks, a cyber policy fellow at the nonprofit New America and a research scholar at Yale. She asked her what U.S.-China tech relations are like right now.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA, was created two years ago within the Department of Homeland Security to shield America’s critical infrastructure from cyberattacks. Last week, CISA’s assistant director was pushed out, and there have been reports that its director expects to be fired. So what does this all mean for that critical infrastructure? Molly speaks with Kim Zetter, a cybersecurity journalist and author.
The pandemic has forced lawmakers around the world to get creative about passing legislation. But in the U.S., members of Congress still have to show up to vote in person or have another member cast a proxy vote on their behalf. A report out last week by the House Administration Committee says Congress could conduct remote voting if it wanted to securely with existing technology. Amy Scott speaks with Beth Simone Noveck, who studies the impact of technology on governing as a professor at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering. She says remote voting is already happening in other countries and in several U.S. states via app or roll call by phone.
Lies and unfounded allegations about the U.S. election are not going anywhere. And though we talk about Facebook and Twitter a lot, critics say YouTube hasn’t been doing nearly enough to prevent the sharing of videos that make false or misleading claims. It’s hard to overestimate just how big YouTube is. Over a quarter of U.S. adults get news from it. Amy Scott speaks with Rebecca Heilweil, a reporter for Vox’s “Open Sourced” project.
The incoming Biden administration promises a more open approach to immigration, including the H-1B visa program for highly skilled foreign workers employed by U.S. companies. The Trump administration has moved to restrict foreign work visas. This summer, an executive order temporarily halted new H-1B visas, and last month the Labor Department announced new rules making them more difficult to qualify for. This matters to tech, of course, because the industry employs a huge portion of H-1B visa holders in jobs companies say there aren’t enough skilled American workers to fill. Amy Scott speaks with Britta Glennon, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.