The Week in Tech – Amazon Steps Into Health Care With Some Friends, Kaz Hirai Steps Out as Sony CEO

There’s a ton of tech news to get to! Maybe you didn’t get to it all, because who’s got time for that? Well, that’d be us — here are a handful of stories from the week that was that might affect you!

Amazon joins with Chase and Berkshire Hathaway to take on health insurance, kind of

Not much to say here, unfortunately, but just the announcement alone was enough to send shock waves throughout the health care industry. Amazon, along with Chase and Berkshire Hathaway, revealed that they will get into health care with a non-profit approach, in dramatic contrast to our current system that relies on for-profit insurance companies. If they stick to those principles, the lack of a profit motive could allow the company to offer much cheaper and better health care. But, Amazon hasn’t announced exactly how they will do that or how they’ll build out provider networks — a significant challenge since none of the three companies involved have a background in health care. All we know is that if their plans do move forward, their products won’t be available to the public — they’ll start by providing health insurance exclusively to the three companies’ employees, who total over 1 million.

Next page: The CEO of Sony steps down

Kaz Hirai departs as CEO of Sony

By cellanr (Flickr: Kazuo Hirai, Sony President) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
A CEO is stepping down! Can’t wait to see what kind of scand-oh, none? Well, the company must be in the toil-no, it’s kind of OK? Alright, well, I guess it’s just a natural move for Kaz Hirai, who is leaving his post as CEO of Sony in April after about six years — he’ll become chairman, while CFO Kenichiro Yoshida will be the new CEO and the current chief strategy officer will become the new CFO. It’s musical super comfy executive chairs, no one’s in trouble, and no grand change in strategy is planned as far as we can tell. The story is that for once, a CEO is leaving and it’s actually a non-story. No word on whether or not he’ll still be doing keynotes at conventions, which if not would be a truly heartbreaking loss.

Next page: Facebook usage dips, light starts peeking through the tunnel

Facebook usage falls after news feed changes

When Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook would be showing you fewer posts from media outlets and more from friends and families, he admitted that he expected usage to go down as a result, with the belief that the time still spent on the social network would be of a higher quality. I don’t know how to measure the latter, but the former has proven true — this week, it was reported that 50 million fewer hours per day worldwide were spent on Facebook in the past quarter, while the number of active users in the United States and Canada fell from 185 million daily active users to 184 million (there was a slight increase in users worldwide). Given that Facebook has well over 2 billion users, those dips don’t seem to mean much yet unless they become a trend in 2018.

Next page: Is the government seriously going to build its own 5G network?

Reports of a government-built 5G network circulate

Nationalization is not a word you often hear in the United States, especially not under a Republican administration. But, that was what was in the headlines last weekend, with Axios reporting that the Trump administration has taken into consideration a plan that would see the government build out a nationwide 5G network, citing concerns about the use of Chinese equipment should telecoms build it themselves. The Axios report also suggests that the government is concerned with United States economic competitiveness, with progress in AI, autonomous driving, and drone delivery networks all relying on a fast, stable, and low-latency 5G network.

The report says the administration is undecided as to whether the network would be owned and operated by the federal government or rented to telecoms like AT&T and Verizon. The former would be unprecedented and would represent a substantial threat to the big four of AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint. Additionally, representatives from telecoms and chipmakers have told us in the past that any 5G network will need to rely on a 4G LTE network as a backstop — as the government doesn’t own or operate any 4G network, their 5G network would lack that backdrop unless 4G LTE networks were also nationalized.

A nationalized 5G network would also raise concerns about the ease with which the government could collect intelligence on United States-based individuals, although that would strictly speaking still be illegal without a warrant (the recently renewed FISA Section 702 allows the government to spy on foreigners located outside the United States, and while messages from U.S. citizens can be caught up in that, 702 does not allow the government to target U.S.-based persons without a warrant). On the other hand, renting the network out could rankle the public depending on how the price works out — if the government rented out the network to telecoms at a low enough rate to make it cheaper than it would have been to build the networks themselves, it would be an outrageous case of corporate welfare at the expense of United States citizens.

The main concern seems to be China, which is also odd — the United States has long blocked Chinese companies (most prominently Huawei) from selling networking equipment in the United States, and without a change to that policy, it’s unclear where exactly the threat would coming from.

If this all sounds unlikely, it is. In the days after the Axios report, both FCC chairman Ajit Pai and the White House disavowed the plan, with the White House suggesting that the plan is old and was at some point discarded.