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Hello! On Tech is back from our holiday break. I read books, took walks, ate far too many desserts and watched a million episodes of “Midsomer Murders.” I hope you also had a chance to reflect and recharge.
For our first newsletter of the new year, I asked a selection of New York Times journalists to predict technology-related developments that they think will be big in 2021.
Digital remittances will most likely soar in 2021.
Miriam Jordan, national immigration correspondent:
I saw firsthand how the pandemic made immigrants more receptive to smartphone apps such as Remitly and TransferWise to send money back home. There may be no going back to more traditional remittance payments.
In August, I spoke to Mexican guest workers harvesting tomatoes on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Because of the coronavirus risks, their employer had restricted their daily travel to the fields and their dormitories. The workers couldn’t make the usual visits to tiendas, or stores, where attendants typically assist with money transfers that help family members back home pay for food, education, clothing and consumer goods.
I recall one guest worker showing me an app for one of the digital-transfer companies on his cellphone and telling me it worked well and was cheaper.
Lawmakers will take on comprehensive federal privacy legislation. (Hopefully.)
Greg Bensinger, member of the New York Times editorial board:
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have indicated that they suddenly care about Americans’ privacy rights online. I am looking forward to them putting their money where their mouth is in 2021 by rolling out comprehensive federal privacy legislation.
Is this a pipe dream? Yes. But if anything good comes from backlash against technology companies, I hope it’s that consumers have more control over the rights to their own data.
Policy challenges for technology companies will probably grow.
Cecilia Kang, technology and regulatory policy reporter:
I have no reason to believe the Biden administration will go easier on the technology sector than its predecessor. His choices to lead the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department will most likely continue to pursue the antitrust cases against Facebook and Google. There could be lawsuits against other big tech companies, too.
An important legal shield for internet companies, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, will be high on the list of tech policy fights for 2021. And I can’t wait to sit in the courtrooms as the government antitrust lawsuits against Google and Facebook unfold. It’s rare to hear top technology executives and their rivals bring their cases into the open. The legal theories are also interesting and could set precedents for the internet.
But I’ll have to wait awhile to satisfy my curiosity. The judge for the Google antitrust case has said the trial will start … in 2023!
You may have to download an app to attend a game.
Kevin Draper, sports business reporter:
The pandemic will most likely encourage more sporting venues to require fans to ditch paper tickets and money and instead download an app from the team, the stadium or Ticketmaster. In one example of the digital shift that may spread, people who want to buy concessions in cash at the Atlanta Falcons stadium must already go to kiosks to convert money into a prepaid debit card.
Mobile payments and tickets reduce scalping and ticket fraud, speed up purchases and provide security officials with information on who is in the building. But forcing fans to use apps allows them to be more easily tracked or hacked, excludes people who can’t or won’t use credit cards or smartphones and denies people who love collecting ticket stubs — as well as sports halls of fame.
Our fancy gadgets won’t be where the action is.
Brian X. Chen, personal technology columnist:
I believe that in 2021 we are going to see an even bigger emphasis on software and internet services that help us live through screens, and a reduced focus on gadgets.
Video chat apps like Zoom, Google Meet and Webex have been around for years, but they were forced to improve quickly when so many people flocked to them during the pandemic. We’ll probably see more products similar to Peloton and Apple Fitness+, which virtualize fitness classes. I’ve seen farmers market merchants accepting mobile payment services like Apple Pay and Square, and I don’t see them reverting to cash-only operations for a long time — if ever.
Notice that none of the above is about hardware. Our phones, laptops and other devices are already very capable, so the focus is going to be on the capabilities we gain through software and services.
Before we go …
An unusual step for workplace organizing: Labor unions are relatively rare among the white collar employees at big technology companies. But my colleague Kate Conger reported that more than 225 Google workers said they formed a union with a goal of providing structure for employee activism on issues including pay discrimination and technology ethics.
Technology that really helped in 2020: In his annual Good Tech Awards, The Times’s Kevin Roose praised less-heralded technology projects that made a difference. They include a volunteer group that helps improve government technology, community-based efforts to inform communities of color about potentially harmful technologies, and party-style games that kept Kevin sane.
The echoes of FarmVille: The silly farm game that everyone was playing on Facebook in the early 2010s shut down last week. My colleague Daniel Victor wrote that the techniques FarmVille popularized — including nagging notifications to friends and encouragements to check back daily to tend to your crops — are “now being imitated by everything from Instagram to QAnon.”
Hugs to this
Check out this series of cats navigating an obstacle course of plastic cups. Extra cuddles for the extremely ungraceful Flounder.
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