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RIM, RIP: How BlackBerry Lost its Way, and How iPhones and iPads are Tapping to Success

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April 2, 2012 – I admit to being taken in yesterday by Google’s April Fools prank – Gmail Tap. This priceless video promises to bring Morse code back for the smart phone era.

Gmail Tap hit a powerful nerve: how to make smart phones more useful for the things we do besides talking on them.

“Think of the size of the device…, and we are trying to cram an entire 26-key keyboard into that space,” said “David Brook,” listed as VP, Communications Services for Google. “It’s so many keys. I feel constricted by the keyboard,” says “Beth Dunning,” listed as Engineer, Gmail Tap.

Well, Morse code may be too far of a stretch. (“It’s just a dot and a dash. What’s simpler than that,” says “Mitch Fedenko” of the Tap team.) But the concept is a testament to the spirit of constant innovation in order to use technology to make our lives simpler.

Indeed, Gmail Tap is the perfect foil for the problem now faced by Blackberry manufacturer Research in Motion. The lead story in Friday’s Wall Street Journal described the scale of the problem faced by the Canadian company RIM – with sales tumbling 25 percent in the last quarter, long-overdue devices now further delayed, and corporate customers beginning switch accounts to iPhones and Android devices.

It’s time to let RIM to Rest in Peace – but not before we can learn some lessons about its saga.

The ‘Crackberry’ Did One Thing Right

For many years of the past decade, I was one of many “Crackberry” users who loved the device for what it did right: e-mail. Blackberrys once weren’t even telephones. They were merely portable e-mail retrieval systems. And they weren’t just for enterprise users: I bought my first Blackberry for personal use, never synchronizing it to a Microsoft Exchange Server.

By 2006, Blackberry worked seamlessly with Gmail: was a good app. Because I could use it with my wireless provider at the time, I happily upgraded to the Blackberry World Phone. While I never found the web browsing experience entirely satisfactory, the Blackberry met most of my needs: email, robust contact management, a decent interface for mobile maps, one of the earliest Twitter Apps, and the ability to talk wirelessly.

Here’s where the Morse code joke comes in: I didn’t find the keyboard constricting. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have “fat fingers” (watch the Gmail tap video, ;->), but typing quick messages on my Blackberry was about as good as e-mail could get, I thought.

Rely on Other Companies to Do Their Part

We all know that the iPhone – which is less than five years old, having been released on June 29, 2007 – changed so much in mobile computing and connectivity. Not the least was the savior-faire that it brought to what we now know of as the App economy. But because the iPhone was restricted to the AT&T network, Apple forced users to choice between device and network.

This tension was captured by the difference between Apple’s slogan, “there’s an app for that,” and a short-lived counter-punch from Verizon Wireless: “there’s a map that that.” Verizon was referring to maps of its extensive wireless network.

As Apple maneuvered out of its exclusivity contract with AT&T, the iPhone has become ingrained into America’s psyche as the premier smart phone, a class-busting phenom that appeals to the elite and to the masses. I find it hard to say which one thing the iPhone does right – because of the elegant way in which it puts so many disparate things together. But Apple needed to break out a single-carrier deal.

Nearly 18 months after I began using my first iPhone, I now prefer the one thing I didn’t like about it –Apple cramming in an entire 26-key keyboard into a tiny, virtual space. I can type faster and more pleasurable on the iPhone 4 than on my late-model and last-legged Blackberry Curve.

Discover New Needs

The personal computer emerged victorious over specific purpose instruments because of its flexible platform for innovation. The PC can do a lot of things – but can it do any of them well?

I’ve written frequently about how telephone, computers, radios and televisions are no longer separate objects. They are all central processing units, with radio-frequency communications capabilities – but with different “form factors” for input and output.

The ever-so-slight ways in which our preferences evolve – beveled keyboard or touch-screen device – shift market power among the equipment-makers. The same goes for the alliances between CPU-makers and network operators. Apple can sell more iPhones if it works with more wireless companies.

This past Christmas, I briefly considered ditching by Sprint-network Blackberry for an Android device running on Verizon or Sprint. (My iPhone is on AT&T’s network, the only one available at the time of purchase.) Nothing grabbed me.

Then, less than a month ago, the iPad 3 came along. It was Apple’s first device that can access broadband through Verizon’s LTE (for Long Term Evolution) network. The speed results are astounding. In a head-to-head comparison test using the Federal Communications Commission’s mobile broadband test on March 16, the Verizon LTE iPad yielded 13.38 megabits download, and 13.26 megabits upload; while the AT&T iPhone yielded 0.70 megabits download, and 0.51 megabits upload.

Speeds and coverage areas of networks are constantly changing, so these results are no more than a snapshot in time. But in partnering with the best wireless providers, Apple opens new opportunities for consumer use of its device.

Much has and will be written about the new iPad as more consumers get their hands on it. My first impression is similar to many others: a gorgeous reading machine, which will be a killer-app for newspapers, magazines and books. At its heart, the iPad appears to be nothing more than an oversized iPhone, so why would anyone want both? For the same reason that consumers want a small screen for “everywhere” tasks, a bigger screen on a laptop computer for “work” tasks, and a super-big screen for a home theater television “entertainment.”

The new iPad is striking the next balance between the three screens. In doing so, it’s putting a screen on another industry that once had a dim future of its own: the newspaper business.

Drew Clark is the Chairman of the Broadband Breakfast Club, the premier Washington forum advancing the conversation around broadband technology and internet policy. You can find him on and Twitter. He founded BroadbandCensus.com, and he brings experts and practicioners together to advance Better Broadband, Better Lives. He’s doing that now as Executive Director for Broadband Illinois, based in Abraham Lincoln’s Springfield.

Breakfast Media LLC CEO Drew Clark is a nationally respected U.S. telecommunications attorney. An early advocate of better broadband, better lives, he founded the Broadband Census crowdsourcing campaign for better broadband data in 2008. That effort became the Broadband Breakfast media community. As Editor and Publisher, Clark presides over news coverage focused on digital infrastructure investment, broadband’s impact, and Big Tech. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Clark served as head of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, a state broadband initiative. Now, in light of the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, attorney Clark helps fiber-based and wireless clients secure funding, identify markets, broker infrastructure and operate in the public right of way. He also helps fixed wireless providers obtain spectrum licenses from the Federal Communications Commission. The articles and posts on Broadband Breakfast and affiliated social media, including the BroadbandCensus Twitter feed, are not legal advice or legal services, do not constitute the creation of an attorney-client privilege, and represent the views of their respective authors.

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Social Media

Twitter Takeover by Elon Musk Forces Conflict Over Free Speech on Social Networks

Transparency laws in Calif. and N.Y. are the ‘liberal’ counterpart to the ‘conservative’ speech laws in Texas and Florida.

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WASHINGTON, November 23, 2022 — As the Supreme Court prepares to hear two cases that may decide the future of content moderation, panelists on a Broadband Breakfast Live Online panel disagreed over the steps that platforms can and should take to ensure fairness and protect free speech.

Mike Masnick, founder and editor of Techdirt, argued that both sides of the aisle were attempting to control speech in one way or another, pointing to laws in California and New York as the liberal counterpoints to the laws in Texas and Florida that are headed to the Supreme Court.

“They’re not as blatant, but they are nudging companies to moderate in a certain way,” he said. “And I think those are equally unconstitutional.”

Censorship posed a greater threat to the ideal of free speech than would a law forcing platforms to carry certain content, said Bret Swanson, a nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

“Free speech and pluralism, as an ethos for the country and really for the West, are in fact more important than the First Amendment,” he said.

At the same time, content moderation legislation is stalled by a sharp partisan divide, said Mark MacCarthy, a nonresident senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation.

“Liberals and progressives want action to remove lies and hate speech and misinformation from social media and the conservatives want equal time for conservative voices, so there’s a logjam gridlock that can’t move,” he said. “I think it might be broken if, as I predict, the Supreme Court says that the only way you can regulate social media companies is through transparency.”

Twitter’s past and current practices raise questions about bias and free speech

While talking about Elon Musk’s controversial changes to Twitter’s content moderation practices, panelists also discussed the impact of Musk’s rhetoric surrounding the topic more broadly.

“Declaring yourself as a free speech site without understanding what free speech actually means is something that doesn’t last very long,” Masnick said.

When a social media company like Twitter or Parler declares itself to be a “free speech site” is really just sending a signal to some of the worst people and trolls online to begin harassment, abuse and bigotry, he said.

That is not a sustainable business model, Masnick argued.

But Swanson took the opposite approach. He called Musk’s acquisition of Twitter “a real seminal moment in the history and the future of free speech,” and called it an antidote to “the most severe collapse of free speech maybe in American history.”

MacCarthy said he didn’t believe the oft-repeated assertion that Twitter was biased against conservatives before most Musk took over. “The only study I’ve seen of political pluralism on Twitter — and it was done by Twitter itself back when they had the staff to do that kind of thing — suggested that Twitter’s amplification and recommendation engines actually favored conservative tweets over liberal ones.”

Masnick agreed, pointing to other academic studies: “They seemed to bend over backwards to often allow conservatives to break the rules more than others,” he said.

Randolph May, president of The Free State Foundation, said that he was familiar with the studies but disagreed with their findings.

Citing the revelations from the laptop of Hunter Biden, a story that the New York Post broke in October 2020 about the Joe Biden’s son, May said: “To me, that that was a consequential censorship action. Then six months later before a congressional committee, [Twitter CEO] Jack Dorsey said, ‘Oops, we made we made a big mistake when we took down the New York Post stories.’”

Multiple possibilities for the future of content moderation

Despite his criticism of current practices, May said he did not believe platforms should eliminate content moderation practices altogether. He drew a distinction between topics subject to legitimate public debate and those posts that encourage terrorism or facilitate sex trafficking. Those kinds of posts should be subject to moderation practices, he said.

May made three suggestions for better content moderation practices: First, platforms should establish a presumption that they will not censor or downgrade material without clear evidence that their terms of service have been violated.

Second, platforms should work to enable tools that facilitate personalization of the user experience.

Finally, the current state of Section 230 immunity should be replaced with a “reasonableness standard,” he said.

Other panelists disagreed with the subjectivity of such a reasonableness standard. MacCarthy highlighted the Texas social media law, which bans discrimination based on viewpoint. “Viewpoint is undefined: What does that mean?” he asked.

“Does it mean you can’t get rid of Nazi speech, you can’t get rid of hate speech, you can’t get rid of racist speech? What does it mean? No one knows. And so here’s a requirement of government that no one can interpret. If I were the Supreme Court, I’d declare that void for vagueness in a moment.”

MacCarthy predicted that the Supreme Court would reject the content-based provisions in the Texas and Florida laws while upholding the transparency standard, opening the door, he argued, for bipartisan transparency legislation.

But to Masnick, even merely a transparency requirement would be an unsatisfactory result: “How would conservatives feel if the government said, ‘Fox News needs to be transparent about how they make their editorial decision making?’”

“I think everyone would recognize immediately that that is a huge First Amendment concern,” he said.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. Watch the event on Broadband Breakfast, or REGISTER HERE to join the conversation.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022, 12 Noon ET – Elon and Ye and Donald, Oh My!

With Elon Musk finally taking the reins at Twitter after a tumultuous acquisition process, what additional new changes will come to the world’s de facto public square? The world’s richest man has already reinstated certain banned accounts, including that of former president Donald Trump. Trump has made his own foray into the world of conservative social media, as has politically polarizing rapper Ye, formerly Kanye West, currently in the process of purchasing right-wing alternative platform Parler. Ye is no stranger to testing the limits of controversial speech. With Twitter in the hands of Musk, Parler in the process of selling and Trump’s Truth Social sort-of-kind-of forging ahead in spite of false starts, is a new era of conservative social media upon us?

Panelists

  • Mark MacCarthy, Nonresident Senior Fellow in Governance Studies, Center for Technology Innovation, Brookings Institution
  • Mike Masnick, Founder and Editor, Techdirt
  • Randolph May, President, The Free State Foundation
  • Bret Swanson, Nonresident Senior Fellow, American Enterprise Institute
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources:

Mark MacCarthy is a Nonresident Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings. He is also adjunct professor at Georgetown University in the Graduate School’s Communication, Culture, & Technology Program and in the Philosophy Department. He teaches courses in the governance of emerging technology, AI ethics, privacy, competition policy for tech, content moderation for social media, and the ethics of speech. He is also a Nonresident Senior Fellow in the Institute for Technology Law and Policy at Georgetown Law.

Mike Masnick is the founder and editor of the popular Techdirt blog as well as the founder of the Silicon Valley think tank, the Copia Institute. In both roles, he explores the intersection of technology, innovation, policy, law, civil liberties, and economics. His writings have been cited by Congress and the EU Parliament. According to a Harvard Berkman Center study, his coverage of the SOPA copyright bill made Techdirt the most linked-to media source throughout the course of that debate.

Randolph May is founder and president of The Free State Foundation, an independent, non-profit free market-oriented think tank founded in 2006. He has practiced communications, administrative, and regulatory law as a partner at major national law firms. From 1978 to 1981, May served as Assistant General Counsel and Associate General Counsel at the Federal Communication Commission. He is a past Chair of the American Bar Association’s Section of  Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice.

Bret Swanson is president of the technology research firm Entropy Economics LLC, a nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a visiting fellow at the Krach Institute for Tech Diplomacy at Purdue University and chairman of the Indiana Public Retirement System (INPRS). He writes the Infonomena newsletter at infonomena.substack.com.

Drew Clark (moderator) is CEO of Breakfast Media LLC, the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he served as head of the State Broadband Initiative in Illinois. Now, in light of the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, attorney Clark helps fiber-based and wireless clients secure funding, identify markets, broker infrastructure and operate in the public right of way.

Social media controversy has centered around Elon Musk’s Twitter, Ye’s new role in Parler, and former U.S. President Donald Trump

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook.

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

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Trump’s Twitter Account Reinstated as Truth Social Gets Merger Extension

The merger, delayed by a federal probe, has left Truth Social without expected funding.

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Elon Musk next to a phone displaying the Twitter account of Donald Trump, who has said he will continue to post only on Truth Social.
Photo courtesy of Steve Jurvetson. Graphic by Em McPhie.

WASHINGTON, November 22, 2022 — Digital World Acquisition Corp. shareholders voted Tuesday to extend the Dec. 8 deadline for its merger with Truth Social, giving the platform a chance at survival as it faces financial and legal challenges.

The right-wing alternative social media platform championed by former President Donald Trump is currently under federal investigation for potential securities violations, which has delayed the merger and forced Truth Social to operate without $1.3 billion in expected funding.

The DWAC vote was delayed six times in order to raise the necessary support, with the company noting in a securities filing that it would be “forced to liquidate” if the vote was unsuccessful. Private investors have already withdrawn millions in funding.

Trump indicated on Truth Social in September that he was prepared to find alternative funding. “SEC trying to hurt company doing financing (SPAC),” he wrote. “Who knows? In any event, I don’t need financing, ‘I’m really rich!’ Private company anyone???”

Trump’s potential return to Twitter poses another risk for Truth Social

Meanwhile, under the new leadership of Elon Musk, Twitter reinstated Trump’s account, which was banned after then-Twitter executives alleged he stoked the January 6 riot at the Capitol. The reinstatement was made official after Musk asked in a public Twitter poll — which received around 15 million votes — whether he should allow the controversial former president back on the platform.

Trump’s potential return to Twitter could undermine Truth Social’s primary attraction, which could be another blow to the fledgling platform.

On Truth Social, the former president encouraged his followers to vote in the poll while indicating that he would not return to Twitter. But with 87 million followers on Twitter and fewer than 5 million on Truth Social, Trump may be tempted to make use of his newly reinstated account despite statements to the contrary, particularly in light of the official announcement of his 2024 presidential campaign.

The campaign could also allow him to bypass his agreement to first post all social media messages to Truth Social and wait six hours before sharing to other platforms. The agreement makes a specific exception for political messaging and fundraising, according to an SEC filing.

Musk’s decision to bring back Trump was one of many controversial decisions he’s made in his short tenure at the social media company — including a number of high-profile firings and the reinstatement of multiple formerly-banned accounts — which has led several major advertisers to pause spending.

Musk tweeted in October that he would convene a “content moderation council with widely diverse viewpoints” before making any “major content decisions or account reinstatements.” No such council has been publicly announced, and the Tweet appeared to have been deleted as of Tuesday.

Ye returns to Twitter while details of Parler acquisition remain uncertain

Trump’s reinstatement seems to have motivated at least one controversial figure to return to Twitter: Ye, formerly Kanye West, whose account was restricted in October after tweeting that he would go “death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE.” The restrictions were lifted prior to Musk’s acquisition of Twitter, but the rapper remained silent on the platform until Nov. 20.

“Testing Testing Seeing if my Twitter is unblocked,” he posted.

Right-wing social media platform Parler announced in October that Ye had agreed to purchase the company. Completion of the acquisition is expected by the end of December, but further details, including financial terms, have yet to be announced.

Twitter draws legislative attention, with changes to the social media landscape on the horizon

One of Musk’s first major changes to Twitter attempted to replace the existing verification system with a process through which anyone could pay $8 per month for a verified account. The initial rollout of paid verification sparked a swarm of accounts impersonating brands and public figures such as Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who responded with a letter demanding answers about how the new verification process would prevent future impersonation.

Markey also co-signed a Nov. 17 letter written by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Twitter for consumer protection violations in light of “serious, willful disregard for the safety and security of its users.”

Musk responded to the letter by posting a meme that mocked the senators’ priorities, but he later appeared to be rethinking the new verification process.

“Holding off relaunch of Blue Verified until there is high confidence of stopping impersonation,” Musk tweeted on Monday.

Other changes to the platform may be out of Musk’s hands, as state and federal legislators consider an increasing number of proposals for the regulation of digital platforms.

The Computer and Communications Industry Association released on Monday a summary of the trends in state legislation regarding content moderation. More than 250 such bills have been introduced during the past two years.

“As a result of the midterm elections, a larger number of states will have one party controlling both chambers of the legislature in addition to the governor’s seat,” CCIA State Policy Director Khara Boender said in a press release. “This, coupled with an increased interest in content moderation issues — on both sides of the aisle — leads us to believe this will be an increasingly hot topic.”

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Social Media

Twitter Loses Senior Officers, Gains White House and Federal Trade Commission Scrutiny

The current kerfufle isn’t the first time Twitter has had a run-in with the Federal Trade Commission.

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Screenshot of Katie Harbath, a fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center

WASHINGTON, November 10, 2022 – Elon Musk’s Twitter is facing headwinds as the Federal Trade Commission and the broader administration of President Joe Biden signal scrutiny of the company, as the company’s former senior officers resign amid chaotic policy changes.

“We are tracking recent developments at Twitter with deep concern,” an FTC spokesperson said Thursday. “No CEO or company is above the law, and companies must follow our consent decrees. Our revised consent order gives us new tools to ensure compliance, and we are prepared to use them.”

And in a post-Election Day press conference on Wednesday, Biden generally signaled a tough stance against Musk.

Asked if Musk was “a threat to U.S. national security” and whether the federal government should “investigate his joint acquisition of Twitter with foreign governments, which include the Saudis,” Biden replied, choosing his words carefully:

“I think that Elon Musk’s cooperation and/or technical relationships with other countries is worthy of being looked at,” Biden said. “Whether or not he is doing anything inappropriate, I’m not suggesting that.  I’m suggesting that it [is] worth being looked at.  And — and — but that’s all I’ll say.”

Following up on her question, Jenny Leonard of Bloomberg asked “how,” and Biden replied, “There’s a lot of ways.”

Resignation by top Twitter officials

Thursday morning, Twitter’s now-former chief information security officer, Lea Kissner, stepped down in a Tweet. Basedon an internal company message, several outlets reported the same day that the platform’s chief compliance officer and chief privacy officer also quit.

According to The Verge, a Twitter attorney wrote the following on a company forum: “Elon has shown that his only priority with Twitter users is how to monetize them. I do not believe he cares about the human rights activists. the dissidents, our users in un-monetizable regions, and all the other users who have made Twitter the global town square you have all spent so long building, and we all love.”

Twitter’s woes don’t stop there. After Musk instituted a subscription-based verification badge, many fake accounts soon gained verification – including imposters claiming to be former President Donald Trump, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and basketball star LeBron James.

Nor is this Twitter’s only recent run-in with the FTC. In May, the watchdog ordered the platform to pay a $150 million penalty for alleged deceptive use of user data for advertising purposes.

 “I expect…a big increase in the number of whistleblower complaints and other things that people might be filing (against Twitter),” said Katie Harbath, a fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center, on a web panel Thursday afternoon.

“[The FTC doesn’t] proactively put out statements regularly, so this is a pretty big deal today,” said moderator Rebecca Kern, a tech-policy reporter for Politico.

In September, Twitter’s former head of security, Peiter Zatko, testified before the U.S. Senate, alleging that the platform doesn’t adequately protect customer data and is vulnerable to meddling by foreign actors.

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