Policy

U.S. companies banned from selling components to ZTE

This time last year, Chinese electronics giant ZTE pled guilty to violating sanctions on Iran and North Korea. This morning, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced a seven-year export restriction for the company, resulting in a ban on U.S. component makers selling to ZTE.  The company’s initial guilty plea was met with up to $1.2 billion penalties and fines, along with the dismissal of four senior employees, along with more fallout for lower level employees. As part of the initial agreement, ZTE was allowed to continue to work with U.S. companies, assuming it adhered to the rules laid out in the agreement. The DOC, however, contends that ZTE failed to significantly penalize those employees. “ZTE made false statements to the U.S. Government when they were originally caught and put on the...

UK report urges action to combat AI bias

The need for diverse development teams and truly representational data-sets to avoid biases being baked into AI algorithms is one of the core recommendations in a lengthy Lords committee report looking into the economic, ethical and social implications of artificial intelligence, and published today by the upper House of the UK parliament. “The main ways to address these kinds of biases are to ensure that developers are drawn from diverse gender, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, and are aware of, and adhere to, ethical codes of conduct,” the committee writes, chiming with plenty of extant commentary around algorithmic accountability. “It is essential that ethics take centre stage in AI’s development and use,” adds committee chairman, Lord Clement-Jones, in a statement. “The UK has a ...

The psychological impact of an $11 Facebook subscription

Would being asked to pay Facebook to remove ads make you appreciate their value or resent them even more? As Facebook considers offering an ad-free subscription option, there are deeper questions than how much money it could earn. Facebook has the opportunity to let us decide how we compensate it for social networking. But choice doesn’t always make people happy. In February I explored the idea of how Facebook could disarm data privacy backlash and boost well-being by letting us pay a monthly subscription fee instead of selling our attention to advertisers. The big takeaways were: Mark Zuckerberg insists that Facebook will remain free to everyone, including those who can’t afford a monthly fee, so subscriptions would be an opt-in alternative to ads rather than a replacement that forces eve...

How to save your privacy from the Internet’s clutches

Another week, another massive privacy scandal. When it’s not Facebook admitting it allowed data on as many as 87 million users to be sucked out by a developer on its platform who sold it to a political consultancy working for the Trump campaign, or dating app Grindr ‘fessing up to sharing its users’ HIV status with third party A/B testers, some other ugly facet of the tech industry’s love affair with tracking everything its users do slides into view. Suddenly, Android users discover to their horror that Google’s mobile platform tells the company where they are all the time — thanks to baked-in location tracking bundled with Google services like Maps and Photos. Or Amazon Echo users realize Jeff Bezos’ ecommerce empire has amassed audio recordings of every single interaction they’ve had wit...

Austin is piloting blockchain to improve homeless services

While the vagaries of the cryptocurrency markets are keeping crypto traders glued to their CoinDesk graphs, the real potential of blockchain is its capability to solve real human challenges in a decentralized, private, and secure way. Government officials have increasingly investigated how blockchain might solve critical problems, but now one city intends to move forward with an actual implementation. The city of Austin is piloting a new blockchain platform to improve identity services for its homeless population, as part of a competitive grant awarded by the Mayor’s Challenge program sponsored by Bloomberg Philanthropies. Austin was one of 35 cities to be awarded pilot grants, and the top city from that group will ultimately be awarded $5 million. Steve Adler, the mayor of Austin since 20...

Apple details its crackdown on leakers…in a leaked memo

In an internal memo to employees, Apple threatened severe consequences for leaking confidential company information – reminding staff that those who leak can lose their jobs, have difficult finding future employment, and even get arrested. Last year, Apple claimed to have busted 29 leakers, 12 of whom were arrested. The memo itself was leaked, and its content was published by Bloomberg this afternoon. Apple has always cultivated a culture of confidentially about its work, as a means of maintaining a competitive advantage over the competition. Given how large Apple has grown over the years – the memo says there are “135,000 people” working there – it’s become more difficult to keep things under wraps. By the time a new iPhone launches, for example, people already know what to expect. That c...

Facebook shouldn’t block you from finding friends on competitors

Twitter, Vine, Voxer, MessageMe. Facebook has repeatedly cut off competitors from its feature for finding your Facebook friends on their apps… after jumpstarting its own social graph by convincing people to upload their Gmail contacts. Meanwhile, Facebook’s Download Your Information tool merely exports a text list of friends’ names you can’t use elsewhere. As Congress considers potential regulation following Mark Zuckerberg’s testimonies, it should prioritize leveling the playing field for aspiring alternatives to Facebook and letting consumers choose where to social network. And as a show of good faith and argument against it abusing its monopoly, Facebook should make our friend list truly portable. It’s time to free the social graph — to treat it as a fundamental digital possession, the ...

Backpage pleads guilty to sex trafficking, CEO faces up to 5 years for money laundering

Backpage .com, for years the primary online platform for the sex trade, has pleaded guilty as a company to charges of sex trafficking in Texas, the state’s attorney general announced today. Its CEO, Carl Ferrer, pleaded guilty to money laundering, for which he may be sentenced to up to 5 years in prison. The site was seized last week and a 93-count indictment issued days later. Ferrer was arrested back in 2016, and will be sentenced “once he’s fulfilled the terms of his plea agreement.” The Texas AG’s office does not elaborate beyond the charges mentioned in the press release, except to say that Ferrer’s cooperation could lead to new ones. Considering the site was an international and popular platform for all kinds of sex-related commerce — allegedly including child trafficking — it seems ...

Can SaaS principles transform political campaigns as we know them?

In life, they say you get what you pay for. That is no less true in politics, which is fueled by campaign donations and lobbying dollars that move policy on every important issue under the sun. The disclosed expenditures of the DC lobbying industry are more than $3 billion per year, while just the presidential political campaigns spent more than $1.5 billion in 2016. Despite the key role that money plays in American politics, almost no one actually donates to a political campaign. According to the campaign finance watchdog OpenSecrets, just 0.68% of American adults donated more than $200 throughout the 2016 campaign cycle. A $200 contribution may sound like an extraordinary sum, but it’s roughly $8.33 per month throughout the two-year election cycle. Compare the 1.67 million people engaged...

The government seizes Backpage.com

Visitors to Backpage.com today were greeted by a simple message from the U.S. Department of Justice, noting that it had seized the classifieds site. According to the static image, the move was a joint effort that included the FBI, IRS and the U.S Postal Inspection Service. The action, while brash, perhaps wasn’t unexpected. The site has come under scrutiny from authorities in recent years for its adult ads, which helped make it the second largest classifieds site behind Craigslist. After pushback against specific ads promoting illegal activity, the site has been insistent that it simply hosts third-party content, removing offending ads when brought to its attention. A Washington Post story from last year, however, noted that, “A contractor for the controversial classifieds website Backpage...

Facebook demands ID verification for big Pages, ‘issue’ ad buyers

Facebook is looking to self-police by implementing parts of the proposed Honest Ads Act before the government tries to regulate it. To fight fake news and election interference, Facebook will require the admins of popular Facebook Pages and advertisers buying political or “issue” ads on “debated topics of national legislative importance” like education or abortion to verify their identity and location. Those that refuse, are found to be fraudulent or are trying to influence foreign elections will have their Pages prevented from posting to the News Feed or their ads blocked. Meanwhile, Facebook plans to use this information to append a “Political Ad” label and “Paid for by” information to all election, politics and issue ads. Users can report any ads they think are missing the label, and Fa...

Facebook, AggregateIQ now being jointly probed by Canada, B.C. data watchdogs

Privacy watchdogs in Canada and British Columbia are combining existing investigations into Facebook and AggregateIQ. The latter being a Victoria-based ad targeting tech company that has been linked to Cambridge Analytica, the political consultancy at the center of the Facebook data misuse storm. CA whistleblower Chris Wylie — who last month gave public testimony revealing how millions of Facebook users’ data was passed to his former employer for political ad targeting — has described AggregateIQ as the Canadian arm of CA’s parent entity, SCL. (Although AggregateIQ has denied any affiliation with CA or SCL, claiming on its website “it is and has always been 100% Canadian owned and operated”.) “The investigations will examine whether the organizations [Aggregate IQ and Facebook] are in comp...

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