Yesterday I wrote about getting stuck in an hour long reading loop on the Apple / FBI situation. As much as I didn’t want it to happen again today, it did. More on that in a minute.
But first, I want to encourage you to go watch the movie Race which is the story of Jesse Owens and the 1936 Berlin Olympics. It was superb and the double entendre of the title played out for a full two hours as the movie made us think hard about race in America in the 1930s and what was happening in Nazi Germany at the same time. I also thought the acting by the primary characters, including Stephan James (Jesse Owens), Jason Sudeikis (Larry Sanders – Owens coach), and Barnaby Metschurat (Joseph Goebbels – Nazi propaganda minister) was incredible. Metschurat was a special bonus – he brought an extremely uncomfortable feeling of deep menace to every scene he is in.
At the end of the movie, the entire theater clapped (that doesn’t happen very often.) As Amy and I walked to our car, we commented that while we’ve made a lot of progress since 1936, we’ve got a very long way to go. On our way home, we talked about current events against a backdrop of 1936 racism in America and a systemic racism in preparation for a genocide in Nazi Germany. I read the NPR review of Race this morning after seeing the movie and agreed with everything in it.
This morning, as I was going through my morning reading stuff online, I fell down the FBI / Apple rabbit hole again. It’s interesting how the substantive analysis is improving every day, and I finally feel like I have my mind around the technical issue, the mistakes the government already made that prevented it from getting the data it wanted, Apple’s consistent and appropriate supportive behavior with law enforcement up to this point, the government overreach that is now happening, and the correctness of Apple’s position. In other words, nothing has changed in my opinion that Apple is in the right in this situation, but I can now explain it a lot more clearly.
If you want to spend time in the rabbit hole with me (I’ve set up a couch, have poured some drinks, and have nice music playing down here), here are some things to read.
As humans, I think it’s important to remember that the TechnoCore is paying attention to this and watching everything we do. Even if they are looking back at us from the future, what we are doing now matters.
Super Cooper (our new dog – now one year old) woke me up at 4:45 this morning so I got up, let him out, got a cup of coffee, sat down in front of my computer, and spent the next hour going down the rabbit hole of the FBI / Apple phone unlock backdoor encryption security controversy.
After an hour of reading, I feel even more certain that Apple is totally in the right and the FBI’s request should be denied.
The easiest to understand argument is Bruce Schneier‘s in the Washington Post titled Why you should side with Apple, not the FBI, in the San Bernardino iPhone case. His punch line is extremely clear.
“Either everyone gets security or no one does. Either everyone gets access or no one does. The current case is about a single iPhone 5c, but the precedent it sets will apply to all smartphones, computers, cars and everything the Internet of Things promises. The danger is that the court’s demands will pave the way to the FBI forcing Apple and others to reduce the security levels of their smart phones and computers, as well as the security of cars, medical devices, homes, and everything else that will soon be computerized. The FBI may be targeting the iPhone of the San Bernardino shooter, but its actions imperil us all.”
Given that the law being used to try to compel Apple to do this is based on the All Writs Act of 1789, precedent matters a lot here. And, if you thought the legal decisions from 1789 anticipated the digital age, please fasten your seat belts – or maybe even encase yourself in an impermeable bubble – for the next 50 years as it’s going to get really complicated.
Once I got past the advocacy articles like Why Apple Is Right to Challenge an Order to Help the F.B.I. in the NY Times, I read a few of the “what is really going on here” articles like Wired’s Apple’s FBI Battle Is Complicated. Here’s What’s Really Going On. The context was starting to repeat, so I got it at a high level but wanted to understand the technical underpinnings of what was happening.
Since it’s the Internet, it was pretty easy to find that. The Motherboard article Why the FBI’s Order to Apple Is So Technically Clever was a good start. Dan Guido’s Trail of Bits post Apple can comply with the FBI court order was super interesting since he only focused on the technical aspects rather – focusing on feasibility rather than getting tangled up in whether it’s a good idea or not. Ars Technica has an article that ads a little in Encryption isn’t at stake, the FBI knows Apple already has the desired key.
I think wandered around a few random articles. Troy Hunt’s Everything you need to know about the Apple versus FBI case has some great historical context and then unloads with current activity including Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai’s Twitter support of Apple / Tim Cook. I ended with Why Tim Cook is wrong: A privacy advocate’s view.
Interestingly (and not surprisingly), the titles don’t reflect the actual critical thinking you can derive from reading the article, so just scanning headlines creates huge bias, whether you realize it or not. When I started reading the various articles, I immediately forgot most of the headlines and was surprised by some of them when I put this post together since the headline didn’t correspond with the message of the post.
I expect there will be lots of additional commentary on this as it continues to unfold in court and in public view. What I read, and thought about this morning, reinforced my view that I’m very glad Tim Cook and Apple are taking a public – and loud – stand against this. We are going to have to deal with stuff like this with increasing frequency over the next 50 years and what happens in the next decade is going to matter a lot.
After all these years, I’m still a heavy RSS user. Every morning I click on my Daily folder in Chrome, open it up, and spend whatever time I feel like on it. The vast majority of what I read is in Feedly and includes my VC Collection as well as a bunch of other stuff. It’s almost entirely tech related, as I stay away from mainstream media during the week (e.g. no CNN, no CNBC, no NYT, no WSJ, no USA Today, no … well – you get the idea) since I view all this stuff as an intellectual distraction (and much of it is just entertainment anyway, and I’d rather read a book.)
This morning I came across a number of interesting things that created some intellectual dissonance in my brain since they came from different perspectives. I’d categorize it as the collision between optimist and pessimist, startup and already started up, and offense vs. defense. However, they all shared one thing in common – the message and thoughts were clear.
Let’s start with Tim Cook’s remarkable Message to Our Customers around the San Bernardino case and the need for encryption. My first reaction was wow, my second reaction was to read it again slowly, and my third reaction was to clap quietly in the darkness of my office. I then went on an exploration of the web to understand the All Writs Act of 1789 which is what the FBI is using to justify an expansion of its authority. I love the last two paragraphs as they reflect how I feel.
“We are challenging the FBI’s demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country. We believe it would be in the best interest of everyone to step back and consider the implications.
While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products. And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.”
Thank you Tim Cook and Apple for starting my day out with something deeply relevant to our near term, and long term, future in a digital age.
Shortly after I came across Danielle Morrill’s post Surviving Whatever Comes Next and Heidi Roizen’s post Dear Startups: Here’s How to Stay Alive. I’m an investor in Danielle’s company Mattermark and was partners with Heidi at Mobius Venture Capital. I have deep respect for each of them, think they are excellent writers, and thought there were plenty of actionable items in each of their posts, unlike many of the things people I’ve seen in the last few weeks about how the technology / startup world is ending.
Unlike the sentiment I’ve been hearing in the background about deal pace slowing down (not directly – no one is saying it – but lots of folks are signaling it through body language and clearly hedging about what they are actually thinking because they aren’t sure yet), our deal pace at Foundry Group is unchanged. Since we started in 2007, we’ve done around ten new investments per year. I expect in 2016 we’ll do about ten new investments, in 2017 we’ll do about ten new investments, in 2018 we’ll do about ten new investments – you get the picture. We have a deeply held belief that to maximize the value and opportunity in a VC fund, investment pace should be consistent over a very long period of time. We did about ten investments in 2007, 2008, and 2009 – which, if I remember correctly, is a period of time referred to as the Global Financial Crisis. Hmmm …
So it was fun to see my partner Seth’s post titled Welcome to Foundry on the same morning as Danielle and Heidi’s posts. That started the intellectual dissonance in my brain. If you want to see what Seth sends every company he joins the board of after we make an investment in, it’s a good read. It also clearly expresses how we approach working with companies the day after we become an investor.
I then read Ian Hathaway‘s great article for the Brookings Institute titled Accelerating growth: Startup accelerator programs in the United States. There are a few people doing real research of the impact of Accelerators and Ian’s work is outstanding. If you are interested in accelerators, how they work, how they impact company creation, and what trajectory they are on, read this article slowly. It’s got a bonus video interview with me embedded in it.
I’ll end with Joanne Wilson’s post #DianeProject. Joanne shared a bunch of info about the #DianeProject with me when we were together in LA two weeks ago. While I don’t know Kathyrn Finney, I now know of her and her platform Digital Undivided. I strongly recommend that you pay $0.99 (like I just did) to get a copy of the report The Real Unicorns of Tech: Black Women Founders, #ProjectDiane. The data is shocking, and there is an incredible paragraph buried deep within it.
“A small pool of angel and venture investors fund a majority of Black women Founders. For those in the $100,000-$1 million funding range, a majority of their funders were local accelerator programs and small venture firms (under $10 million in management). One angel investor, Joanne Wilson and Gotham Gal Ventures, has invested in three of the 11 companies that raised over $1 million. On the traditional venture rm side, Kapor Capital and Comcast’s Catalyst Fund have invested in at least two of the Black woman-led startups in the $1 million club. Wilson, Kapor, and Comcast often invest together, aka “co-invest”, in companies, thus increasing the amount of funding a company receives.”
So – was that more interesting than CNN or CNBC?