- A space station inspired by science fiction
- The human “pangenome”
- Starlink’s “mega constellation” has been upgraded
It’s not just China that actively surveils on citizens’ smartphones and computers around the world and sends back data to its home country.
Meta (Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram) just got tagged with a $1.3 billion fine by the European Union for doing the same.
It’s an impressive fine. In fact, it’s the largest privacy fine issued by the European Union in history. Meta now has five months to suspend any future transfer of personal data to the U.S. And it has six months to cease the unlawful processing, including storage, in the U.S.
Regular readers of The Bleeding Edge understand Meta’s business practices well. Through its empire of social media and messaging applications, Meta collects data from all its users, and even from those who don’t use its applications, through the spread of small pieces of software known as cookies.
Meta creates detailed profiles on all of us, updates that information daily, and then sells access to that information to advertisers. That’s the business model that’s made Meta into one of the most successful companies in history.
All of the data is aggregated in a central location for processing, storage, and data extraction when needed. This centralized model was attractive to Meta as it simplified data operations, reduced cost, and enabled the company to basically run with one global “stack” of software, one “feed” for the world.
However, several years ago, a wrench was thrown into the model. The European Union implemented its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which restricted companies from sending data on European users outside of Europe, sometimes even outside of an individual country.
The regulation was implemented in May 2018. And it was not well received for any business that looks to monetize users’ private data. But it wasn’t insurmountable. The solution was to build data centers in the EU that could store EU citizen data while still enabling Meta to generate advertising revenues. It would have cost more, and it would be a technological inconvenience, but it was doable.
And as we’ve just learned, Meta chose not to bother, thus the record fine from the EU.
Its defense? Doing so would harm the millions of people who use Facebook every day. Hilarious. I’m pretty sure having regional or even national “feeds” of Facebook wouldn’t harm a soul. There would be no physical or emotional injuries
Not to pick only on Meta, but the list of GDPR violations and fines is quite long. And it’s probably no surprise to see Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp on the list a few times. Google and Amazon are also right up there in the mix, along with a wide range of other companies, some of which may come as a surprise.
But the more interesting angle to this latest development is the European Union’s concerns about U.S. intelligence agencies having unfettered access to Meta’s data repository on EU citizens. The EU also noted that there weren’t any sufficient means for EU citizens to appeal such privacy violations when they occur.
And therewithin lies the most interesting dynamic. The U.S. government, the intelligence agencies, the EU, and even most individual governments in the EU love to surveil on “their” populations. They want companies like Google and Meta to exist. And as we learned from the Twitter files, these U.S. agencies did have access to these data repositories. And not only could they see our information, they also had the ability to censor, ban, and even deplatform us with the wave of a finger.
Meta will of course appeal the decision. Their goal is to buy time and argue for a smaller fine. At the same time, there is a new data deal that is being proposed between the U.S. and the EU with regards to data transmission and storage.
Who knows if the two sides will come to an agreement. It has already been a three-year negotiation. Sadly, one thing I’m certain of is that the U.S. and the EU will preserve their own abilities to surveil on their citizens, and others for that matter.
As for Meta, Alphabet (Google), and the others… the fines are just written off as the cost of doing business.
Vast Space goes head to head with Axiom Space…
Vast Space just booked a launch with SpaceX to get its first-generation space station into orbit. This is huge…
We first highlighted Vast Space last September. If we remember, this is the company that was founded by Jed McCaleb. McCaleb is also the founder of Ripple Labs – one of the world’s most successful blockchain projects.
And McCaleb’s vision for Vast Space is to create a space station that creates artificial gravity. This is something that hasn’t been done before. But the physics is straightforward. A space station – or long duration spacecraft – can be designed with the ability to rotate around an axis.
By creating centripetal force, the wall of the space station will “push” against us simulating gravity and allowing us to stand or sit up. This has been popular in science fiction for years. Subscribers might even remember the space station from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Source: Stanley Kubrik Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Notice how the space station looks like a wheel with spokes that rotates, thus creating the feeling of gravity.
This is critical because the human body naturally weakens in a zero gravity environment. We need gravity pushing against us to maintain healthy bone density. The solution today is for astronauts to regularly walk or run while tethered to a treadmill. That works well enough now, but it’s not practical for long-duration space flights.
So Vast Space has a very clear vision of what it wants to accomplish. Its initial target is to demonstrate gravity roughly equivalent to that of the moon. And the company has a roadmap towards getting to the type of space station in 2001.
It all starts with the Haven-1. This is Vast’s first-generation commercial space station.
Source: Vast Space
This is the space station that Vast will launch in partnership with SpaceX. That could happen as soon as August 2025.
What’s interesting here is that they designed the Haven-1 to fit neatly inside a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Check this out:
Source: Vast Space
Clearly, Vast Space planned specifically for the Haven-1 to go up in a Falcon 9 rocket. That’s step one on the roadmap.
From there, Vast Space has several modular space station designs that it plans to launch on a SpaceX Starship. These modular designs will go up piece by piece. Then they’ll need to be assembled in space.
This has now become a legitimate race to space. Vast Space will compete directly with companies like Axiom Space and Blue Origin’s Orbital Reef project. Axiom has been in the lead for years with a clear plan towards a launch in 2025. If I had to bet, Axiom will stay on track for its first launch, and Vast will experience some delays that will push the launch into 2026.
Either way, nothing accelerates timelines as much as a competitive marketplace. SpaceX has enabled low launch costs to orbit, enabling exciting new businesses like Vast, Axiom, and Blue Origin to create commercial space stations that will ultimately become their own travel destinations.
The pangenome’s impact on personalized medicine…
Some interesting research was published in the scientific journal Nature a few days ago. It entails new insight into the human genome.
As we know, the scientific community sequenced the full human genome decades ago. That sequence has been the basis for all genetic research on the human genome to this point.
But what I don’t think many people realize is that sequence came from a single person. The industry has been using this one person’s genome as a reference for all related research.
That certainly served as a great starting point… but there’s a problem. Obviously human genetics vary from person to person – especially when it comes to people living in markedly different parts of the world.
So there’s a limit to how much insight we can glean from just a single genome. And that’s where this new research comes into play…
A group of scientists just created the first human pangenome. It’s a conglomeration of the first human genome along with those of 47 other people. This includes genetic sequences from both men and women across a wide range of ethnicities.
As such, the human pangenome captures the little variances across individual genomes. It contains 119 million base pairs that did not exist in the first human genome sequence. Here’s a simplified visual:
Source: Human Pangenome Reference Consortium
With this latest research, the industry now has a larger sample size. And as the sample size grows, the data becomes more and more reliable and insightful.
This is so important because genetic diseases can take slightly different forms across different genetic structures. That’s why it’s important to understand the subtle genetic differences between men and women, as well as the variances across people of different ethnicities.
This understanding can help inform therapeutic development in a far more comprehensive way. That’s what’s so exciting about this research.
Of course, the ultimate goal is to have a healthcare system that is completely personalized. That would entail sequencing every patient’s genome and then prescribing therapies specific to their own genetic makeup.
That’s the end goal. But it’s still a ways off. And until we get there, the human pangenome will serve as a great reference for the industry.
Starlink’s demand drives new service plans…
We have had a lot of fun following the rise of SpaceX’s Starlink constellation over the years.
It started as just an idea with a few satellite launches in 2019. Then Starlink launched broadband satellite internet service in 2020. And as we discussed in January, Starlink now has over 3,200 satellites in orbit. This image gives us a stunning visual of how extensive the network is:
This extensive satellite network can serve as a global backhaul network for space. It can shuttle information around from satellite to satellite and then beam it back down to ground stations on Earth. That’s the ultimate goal that I envision.
And Starlink’s latest announcement shows us just how popular its network has become. Starlink just rolled out some additional service levels for its broadband internet service. Here they are:
Here we can see that Starlink now offers a tiered structure. It starts with the standard service level – that’s the only offering that’s been available up to this point.
The standard tier provides satellite internet connectivity for $120 a month… but it can’t guarantee a high speed. That’s just due to how satellite internet works. The more people accessing the service through a given satellite, the more Starlink has to throttle down the bandwidth available to everyone. That means slower speeds.
Clearly Starlink is starting to experience some performance degradation due to high usage. That’s created the need for priority tiers. As we can see, Starlink is offering priority service – faster speeds – to those willing to pay more for it.
We may think that this isn’t fair to those in the standard tier… but it all comes down to necessity. Some people may need or want the assurance of higher performance than others. And if they do, they’ll be willing to pay for it.
Ultimately, Starlink plans to have as many as 42,000 satellites in their constellation. As more satellites go up, the demand on each individual satellite may go down depending on how many subscribers are accessing through an individual satellite.
It’s clear from this latest announcement that Starlink is thriving. It wouldn’t be establishing these tiers if it wasn’t. Utilization is high, and there is a clear business model in place that will lead to a very successful business as it scales its satellite constellation.
Given the latest development, and the recent deployment of Starlink’s second generation satellites, it feels to me like we can expect SpaceX to spin out Starlink in the next 12-18 months and take it public.
Needless to say, we’ll be following any potential IPO very closely.
Editor, The Bleeding Edge