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IS FACEBOOK GOING TO A NEW BUSINESS MODEL ? Specific chips, Facebook and information security issues.

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According to a Russian TV (ROSSIA 24), Facebook is hiring at Moscow and Saint –Petersburg Chip designers to be based in the country (Russia). The target is to build an ASIC Design team (ASIC : Application Specific Integrated Circuits).

The official reasons given to russian engineers are a bit strange :
1) the first target is to break the dependance from Qualcomm devices
2) the second is to fight fake news.

On one hand, it is known that Qualcomm is one of the main chips providers for mobile equipments as pads, tablets, phones, etc.. In the second hand, Facebook Business model is, so far, device free : its is not linked to specific devices (computer, mobile phone, etc..).
Does the facebook first argument means that Qualcomm devices lock some facebook computing features ?

Fake news can be processed at software level. Is it necessary to deal with fake news at chip / transistor level ?
If I can make an assumption, I would do so by giving a question : is Facebook going to make deep processing of users data by avoiding public comments /eye ? In fact, device level computing is more silent that application level.

Maybe the target is natural language processors, i.e. specific artificial intelligence ASICs. Anyways, this needs to be clarified by Facebook. Otherwise, the social media would look more and more like an opaque boxe. It would’nt help the company reputation, especially after the Zuckerberg audition by the american congress.

Generally speaking, from microelectronic point of view, there are 7 arguments that may justify the benefit of embedding electronic functions in one ASIC compared to a solution using off-the-shelf components.

7 arguments for using ASICs
At least one of them is required to justify the decision to develop an ASIC embedding all or parts of the electronic functions.

#1- Performance increase
ASIC may allow to reach some performances (meaning here power consumption, frequency, low noise, sensitivity to radiations…) which cannot be reached by a mere assembly of standard components.

#2- Miniaturization.

#3- Protection of ownership

#4- Durability
For some applications, requiring to provide products over a long period (eg over 10 years), the ASIC offers the best guaranty.

#5- Cost reduction
ASIC may be the appropriate solution when the (volume x unit price) becomes significantly higher than the development price.
This argument is valuable in particular when only sub-functions of standard components are used.

#6- Obsolescence
When some electronics has been designed a long time ago and is using some components becoming obsolete, ASIC may be a solution to replace a complete functionality.
A typical example is the obsolescence of FPGA

#7- Specific constraints
We can put into this category, electronic circuits requiring to obey to some specific constraints for which standard component do not exist.

All these 7 arguments seem incompatible with the Facebook current Business Model.

Maybe, Facebook plans to become an equipment maker. In this case, the motivation for this new added activity cannot be fake news processing. Why ? Because the actual Facebook model is based on fake news. By the way, what is a fake news ? When someone has 1 million friends, for example, this is already a fake news. Isn’t it ?

By definition, infomation security is the intersection region of three domains : Confidentiality, Integrity, Availabity. Fake news belong to the Integrity domain. In conclusion, a business model based on a so-called Arabic phone cannot be free of fake news. Otherwise it would be an autodestruction.
In fine, about the Facebook future ASICs activities, let’s conclude by a Bob Marley song tittle ‘’ Time will tell’’. As people are used to say in Swizerland : it is urgent to wait !

Author : Dr. Seraphin ITOUA
Contact : seraphin@itoua.ch