As we quickly approach the middle of May, we see some recurring themes emerging in the tech policy world: Facebook, Huawei, a push for an Office of Technology Assessment and emerging surveillance technology, all in this week’s Protego Press Round Up.
In Case You Missed It: In “Should We Tax Big Tech Companies To Pay For Local Journalism?”, Erik Martin has a Q&A with FreePress executives Tim Karr and Craig Aaron about a new proposal by the watchdog organization Free Press to address America’s dried out journalism landscape. Specifically, they discuss plans to create “ a tax on targeted advertising to fund a public-interest media system that places civic engagement and truth-seeking over alienation and propaganda.” The full proposal is laid out in a new white paper titled Beyond Fixing Facebook.
Facebook Still Under Siege: Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes published an op-ed in The New York Times on Thursday arguing that the company that he helped build as a college student at Harvard had grown too large and unaccountable. Many politicians echoed Hughes views; however, his stance was not universally supported as some like AEI’s Jimmy Pethokoukis claim that splitting up Facebook would not solve problems like fake news.
In other Facebook news, Motherboard is reporting that “Leaked internal documents show that Facebook’s content moderators are explicitly instructed to allow “white separatism” and “white nationalism” on the platform, but note that “white supremacy” is banned. Facebook makes this distinction because it argues in those documents that white nationalism “doesn’t seem to be always associated with racism (at least not explicitly.)”
And, finally, a confidential whistleblower’s complaint to the Securities and Exchange Commission obtained by The Associated Press alleges the social media company has exaggerated its success. Even worse, it shows that the company is inadvertently making use of propaganda by militant groups to auto-generate videos and pages that could be used for networking by extremists.
Bipartisan Push For Office of Technology Assessment: A vast coalition of bipartisan and neutral groups have penned an open letter to the Senate asking it to appropriate $6m to reopen the OTA, joined by a long list of tech luminaries, executives, academics, veterans of former administrations, etc. Read more about why the OTA is so important by Zach Graves, the author of the letter, in his piece on Protego Press.
Huawei and Vietnam: While the news surrounding Huawei has recently focused on the United States, the complications arising from potential relationships with the Chinese tech giant are more broader. As Bennett Murray writes in Foreign Policy: “Vietnam’s Viettel, a military-owned mobile network operator with ventures spanning from Myanmar to Haiti, is not only planning to deploy 5G. It is also trying to develop its own core technology, vowing that 80 percent of the tech will be developed at home. And while the firm has conceded it may need help from the handful of multinational firms building the hardware, it has emphatically stated that Huawei, the Chinese tech giant, will not be involved.”
Facial Recognition In The News: Ever, a photo storage app and website, reportedly used millions of uploaded user photos to train facial recognition technology without proper disclosure, then put the technology up for sale to third-party entities, including law enforcement and the military. NBC News broke the story, including that the Ever AI promises prospective military clients that it can “enhance surveillance capabilities” and “identify and act on threats.” It offers law enforcement the ability to identify faces in body-cam recordings or live video feeds. On April 15, one week after NBC News first contacted Ever, the company added a sentence to explain what it meant by “our products.”
And, in other facial recognition news, Face++, a Chinese developer of facial recognition technology, raised $750 million at a valuation just north of $4 billion. Reuters reports that the company also has hired bankers for a Hong Kong IPO that’s expected for later this year. Human Rights Watch reported that Face++ technology is being used by the Chinese government to identify potential terrorists — an extensive and highly-subjective data collection process that has helped result in the detention of over 1 million Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region.
GPS Tracking On Kids Apps: A popular GPS tracker — used as a panic alarm for elderly patients, to monitor kids and track vehicles — contains security flaws, which security researchers say are so severe the device should be recalled. As TechCrunch highlights: “Researchers at U.K. cybersecurity firm Fidus Information Security say the device can be tricked into turning over its real-time location simply by anyone sending it a text message with a keyword. Through another command, anyone can call the device and remotely listen in to its in-built microphone without alerting anyone.”
Additional Quick Hits:
Bishop Garrison, a member of the Protego Press Masthead and a US Army veteran, brings us a sci-fi piece that examines ethics and AI in a future vision of warfare in which AI is forced to confront the traumas of combat.
Jacqueline Klimas writes about “How the Trump administration is helping some space spy tech go commercial.”
New America and the Anti-Defamation League have built an interactive dashboard to monitor and better understand extremist activity on Twitter. The dashboard provides a visual and quantitative understanding of the scale and scope of hateful content targeting minority communities.