While most of the world will be tuning into Robert Mueller’s testimony in front of Congress on Wednesday, the tech policy world continues to make ripples. From US election security, to 3D printed firearms, to cyberstalking your friends and a new documentary on the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook data scandal, this week’s Protego Press Round Up has you covered.
In Case You Missed It: In what could be a seismic ruling, the Third Circuit held that Amazon is a legally responsible seller of defective marketplace items, exposing it to potentially enormous liability. This represents the worst loss yet for Amazon over marketplace sales. However, it’s consistent with the long-term jurisprudential arc against online marketplaces. Eric Goldman writes about the implications of this ruling in Amazon, Online Marketplaces and Section 230.
In Case You Missed It II: A new Federal Election Commission ruling will allow a private company firm, Area 1 Security, to provide services to federal political campaigns at a discounted rate without violating laws that prohibit in-kind donations. Alex Howard writes that this is an important step, but its importance should not be overstated, especially given how much more work needs to be done to secure American political campaigns at every level of government from escalating digital threats.
US Voting Security: Microsoft on Wednesday announced that it would give away software designed to improve the security of American voting machines, even as the tech giant said it had tracked 781 cyberattacks by foreign adversaries targeting political organizations so far this election cycle. The company said it was rolling out the free, open-source software product called ElectionGuard, which it said uses encryption to “enable a new era of secure, verifiable voting.” The company is working with election machine vendors and local governments to deploy the system in a pilot program for the 2020 election. Microsoft claims that ElectionGuard can enable a new era of secure, verifiable voting. The demo shows how it’s also possible to make voting more accessible for people with disabilities and more affordable for local governments while increasing security. It is unclear if Microsoft will be addressing the voting machines that will be impacted when Microsoft ends its support of Windows 7.
Facebook Facebook will allow some users to promote blueprints for 3D printed firearms on its services, potentially opening the door to sales of untraceable “ghost guns” using Facebook and Instagram. The social network said it would let “legitimate” gun shops and online vendors offer instructions for printing so-called “downloadable guns” on both Facebook and its sister app Instagram. According to the Telegraph, Facebook is allowing “vendors to direct users towards other websites where the [blueprint] files can be downloaded” – but not allow Facebook users to share such files on their profiles or pages.
Track Your Friends: A creepy new app that lets your Instagram followers track your location has launched on iOS and Android. The app, called Who’s in Town , takes all the places you have visited and shared online since creating your Instagram profile, and plots them on a map.
The map updates in real time, and users can filter location updates from the last 24 hours, the last week, or the last month. It’s creepy and concerning—and that’s the point, according to the app’s founder, Erick Barto. He created the app to illustrate the wealth of sensitive and telling data users willingly share on a public platform without considering the access that Instagram and outside developers have to it, or what they could be doing with it.
Tech Companies Increase Lobbying Activity: The tech industry is spending millions on lobbying in Washington on a range of issues such as antitrust, privacy, facial recognition, immigration and blockchain. Newly released disclosures show Facebook and Amazon spent the most money of the tech giants in the second quarter — each topping more than $4 million and surpassing their previous quarterly spending records, and more than financial giants like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase.
The Great Hack: A new Netflix documentary, The Great Hack, is out this week. The documentary uncovers the dark world of data exploitation with astounding access to the personal journeys of key players on different sides of the explosive Cambridge Analytica/Facebook data scandal. Cambridge Analytica’s deceptive and criminal relationship with, and conduct on, Mark Zuckerberg’s social media platform had world-altering consequences: helping launch the Brexit movement, and successfully aiding the election campaign of Donald Trump. It was the opening of Pandora’s Box, and as reporter Paul Hilder opines, “some things get broken and stay broken.” The film premieres on July 24th.