government

Sen. Harris tells federal agencies to get serious about facial recognition risks

Facial recognition technology presents myriad opportunities as well as risks, but it seems like the government tends to only consider the former when deploying it for law enforcement and clerical purposes. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) has written the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Trade Commission, and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission telling them they need to get with the program and face up to the very real biases and risks attending the controversial tech. In three letters provided to TechCrunch (and embedded at the bottom of this post), Sen. Harris, along with several other notable legislators, pointed out recent research showing how facial recognition can produce or reinforce bias, or otherwise misfire. This must be considered and accommodated in the rules, guidance, ...

Loot boxes face scrutiny from an international coalition of gambling authorities

The world of online gaming is changing so quickly that players, developers, publishers and regulators are all scrambling to keep up with each other. Case in point: loot boxes, randomized in-game rewards that may or may not have monetary value or be purchasable with real money, are after years of deployment only now being scrutinized globally for being what amounts to thinly veiled gambling. A suggestive new study from British researchers and a just-announced coalition of governments are the latest indicators that the loot box phenomenon and its derivatives likely won’t continue to be the wild west they’ve been for the last few years. Many factors have led games to resemble services or channels more than pieces of entertainment with a start and end. And that in turn has changed ...

Why the Pentagon’s $10 billion JEDI deal has cloud companies going nuts

By now you’ve probably heard of the Defense Department’s massive winner-take-all $10 billion cloud contract dubbed the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (or JEDI for short). Star Wars references aside, this contract is huge, even by government standards.The Pentagon would like a single cloud vendor to build out its enterprise cloud, believing rightly or wrongly that this is the best approach to maintain focus and control of their cloud strategy. Department of Defense (DOD) spokesperson Heather Babb tells TechCrunch the department sees a lot of upside by going this route. “Single award is advantageous because, among other things, it improves security, improves data accessibility and simplifies the Department’s ability to adopt and use cloud services,” she said....

California is ‘launching our own damn satellite’ to track pollution, with help from Planet

California plans to launch a satellite to monitor pollution in the state and contribute to climate science, Governor Jerry Brown announced today. The state is partnering with satellite imagery purveyor Planet to create a custom craft to “pinpoint – and stop – destructive emissions with unprecedented precision, on a scale that’s never been done before.” Governor Brown made the announcement in the closing remarks of the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, echoing a pledge made two years ago to scientists at the American Geophysical Union’s 2016 meeting. “With science still under attack and the climate threat growing, we’re launching our own damn satellite,” Brown said today. Planet, which has launched hundreds of satellites in the last few years...

Senator claps back after Ajit Pai calls California’s net neutrality bill ‘radical’ and ‘illegal’

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has provoked a biting senatorial response from California after calling the “nanny state’s” new net neutrality legislation “radical,” “anti-consumer,” “illegal” and “burdensome.” Senator Scott Wiener (D-CA), in response, said Pai has “abdicated his responsibility to ensure an open internet” and that the FCC lacks the authority to intervene. The political flame war was kicked off this morning in Pai’s remarks at the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market think tank. You can read them in full here, but I’ve quoted the relevant part below: Of course, those who demand greater government control of the Internet haven’t given up. Their latest tactic is pushing state governments to...

The clock is ticking for e-cig companies to block underage users

The FDA is giving makers of e-cigarettes 60 days to come up with a more effective, forceful plan to combat underage use of the products. FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb is yet again moving the goal posts for e-cig companies. He now considers underage use of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) an epidemic, forcing the government to make a choice that we all knew was coming: save the smokers or save the kids? “I believe in the power of American ingenuity to solve a lot of problems, including this one,” said Gottlieb in a statement. “I’m deeply disturbed by the trends I’ve seen. I’m disturbed by an epidemic of nicotine use among teenagers. So, we’re at a crossroads today. It’s one where the opportunities from new innovations will be responsibly seized on right no...

Interview with Priscilla Chan: Her super-donor origin story

Priscilla Chan is so much more than Mark Zuckerberg’s wife. A teacher, doctor, and now one of the world’s top philanthropists, she’s a dexterous empath determined to help. We’ve all heard Facebook’s dorm-room origin story, but Chan’s epiphany of impact came on a playground. In this touching interview this week at TechCrunch Disrupt SF, Chan reveals how a child too embarrassed to go to class because of their broken front teeth inspired her to tackle healthcare. “How could I have prevented it? Who hurt her? And has she gotten healthcare, has she gotten the right dental care to prevent infection and treat pain? That moment compelled me, like, ‘I need more skills to fight these problems.’” That’s led to a $3 billion pledge towards curing all disease from the Chan Zucker...

Trump wants to just tariff the hell out of China

Another day, another whopper of a tariff. The Trump administration has been busy finalizing the rulemaking process to put 25 percent tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods, which will almost certainly affect the prices of many critical technology components and have on-going repercussions for Silicon Valley supply chains. That followed the implementation of tariffs on $50 billion of goods earlier this year. Now, President Trump, as reported by reporters on Air Force One this morning, has said that he is prepared to triple down on his tariffs strategy, saying that he is ready to add tariffs to another $267 billion worth of Chinese goods. Although the president has a flair for the dramatic in many of his policies, the China tariffs are one arena in which his rhetoric has matched the action...

Twitter is a Nazi haven for the same reason its CEO claims no bias

“From a simple business perspective and to serve the public, Twitter is incentivized to keep all voices on the platform”. That’s Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s argument for why “Twitter does not use political ideology to make any decisions” according to his prepared statement for his appearance at tomorrow’s hearing with the US House Committee on Energy and Commerce. But it’s also validates criticism of why Twitter is reluctant to ban Nazis, hate-mongers, and other trolls that harass people on the service: It makes money off of them. Twitter has been long-known to ignore reports of threats or abuse. It’s common to see people posting the screenshots of the messages they get back from Twitter saying that sexist, racist, homophobic, and violent remarks don’t violate its policies. Only when they ge...

When battery life saves human life

Few would equate human life with battery life, but for many migrants escaping war or famine, a single percentage point of battery can mean getting the right information at the right time – or not surviving at all. Smartphones today have become an integral part of a forced migrant’s journey. From navigating mountains in Central Asia using Google Maps to staying connected with family back home via WhatsApp, smartphones have transformed the migrant experience – though not always for the better. No electron spared In Eastern Europe, many migrants pushed back from Hungary stay along the border on the Serbian side in abandoned buildings. Volunteers visit these sites to bring supplies, including repurposed car batteries that migrants use to charge their phones. At one abandoned building less than...

It’s time for Facebook and Twitter to coordinate efforts on hate speech

Since the election of Donald Trump in 2016, there has been burgeoning awareness of the hate speech on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. While activists have pressured these companies to improve their content moderation, few groups (outside of the German government) have outright sued the platforms for their actions. That’s because of a legal distinction between media publications and media platforms that has made solving hate speech online a vexing problem. Take, for instance, an op-ed published in the New York Times calling for the slaughter of an entire minority group.  The Times would likely be sued for publishing hate speech, and the plaintiffs may well be victorious in their case. Yet, if that op-ed were published in a Facebook post, a suit against Facebook would...

California lawmakers are one step closer to bringing back Obama-era net neutrality protections

California’s state Assembly voted 58-17 on Thursday to advance a bill, called S.B. 822, that would implement the strongest net neutrality provisions in the U.S. The bill now heads back to the Senate for final approval. If a vote is not held by end of day tomorrow — the deadline for lawmakers to pass any legislation until 2019 — it won’t get the official green, or red, light until next year. The bill, written by Democratic Senator Scott Wiener, would not only bring back Obama-era net neutrality rules ousted by the FCC in December, but go a step further, adding new protections for internet users. The bill prohibits internet service providers from blocking or throttling lawful content, apps, services or non-harmful devices. Plus, it bans paid prioritization, the practice of directly or indire...