Protego Weekly Update: June 12th, 2019

It’s the middle of June, and while not quite summer, Congressional hearings are beginning to heat up. Be it hearings on antitrust or deepfakes, Russia’s data sharing, and facial recognition advances, there is a lot to cover in this week’s Protego Press Roundup.

Russia and Tech Data: Russia continues to flex its power over foreign entities as it relates to data-sharing rules. Tinder is the most recent platform to get the message. Last week, the Russian communications censor Roskomnadzor added the popular dating site to a list of 175 companies that it says have agreed to store user data and messages in Russia and to share that data with Russian government and intelligence agencies.  This is just the latest step in a sweeping clampdown on free speech in the country by President Vladimir Putin. While avoiding pressure so far, Twitter and Facebook may be next. One thing is apparent: in Russia, a shrinking private life is becoming a close companion of the dwindling public sphere.

Breaking Up Tech Companies? After months of increasing rhetoric calling for increased scrutiny of tech companies, the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, led by Rhode Island Democrat David Cicilline, finally kicked off its antitrust investigation into Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook with an examination of the way they affect the news media landscape. During the hearing, Cicilline stated that “These are huge monopolies and we want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to make markets work,” while House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy says Democrats are trying to “create another utility company” rather than focus on privacy and innovation.

So far, some in tech are concerned, including Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, who says that “ There is an increasing regulatory burden that is coming on some of the tech companies. Some of it deserved,” while addressing the Economic Club of Washington, D.C. Meanwhile other tech company executives are shrugging off the growing calls to split apart their companies gaining traction in capitals around the world.  “We don’t spend a lot of time talking about it,” Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon Web Services, said about the possibility that federal regulators could spin off his unit from its parent company, Amazon.

Facial Recognition Advances: Chinese technology giants have leapfrogged U.S. companies in popularizing mobile payments. Now, they are trying to get people to bypass their smartphones and make payments by simply looking into screens.  Coming from a Country that is taking surveillance technologies to new heights, the efforts are a reflection of what’s going on throughout China, where facial-recognition technology has become a feature of daily life. Unfettered by regulations or privacy concerns, Chinese authorities use it on public streets, subway stations, at airports and at border controls.

Deep Fakes: An ad company posted a deep fake video of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to Instagram last week to test the social media giant’s moderation policy. The video was created by artists Bill Posters and Daniel Howe in partnership with advertising company Canny, according to Vice News. Zuckerberg is seen giving a sinister speech about Facebook’s power but with audio and video that is fully synthetic. “Imagine this for a second: One man, with total control of billions of people’s stolen data, all their secrets, their lives, their futures,” Zuckerberg appears to say in the deepfake video. “I owe it all to Spectre. Spectre showed me that whoever controls the data, controls the future.”

Meanwhile, Nicholas Diakopoulos and Deborah Johnson have developed a set of scenarios that describe an array of possible uses (arguably, misuses or unethical uses) of deepfake technology in the 2020 elections. These speculative fictions explore how the current state-of-the-art technology could be deployed by actors with various motivations to impact election outcomes.

And, tomorrow, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence will convene an open hearing on “ the national security challenges of artificial intelligence (AI), manipulated media, and ‘deepfake’ technology.” Specifically, the Committee is looking at  “democratic governance, with individuals and voters no longer able to trust their own eyes or ears when assessing the authenticity of what they see on their screens.”  

Quick Hits:

YouTube had a bad week, infuriating critics across the political spectrum this week in its handling of controversies over harassment, extremism and exploitation.

Google has spent $21.7 million on lobbying last year to influence lawmakers, becoming the leading corporate spender among the tech companies facing increasing scrutiny from US regulators over privacy practices and market control.

Global tech giants will soon find themselves paying more in taxes after G20 finance ministers co-ordinated a crackdown on corporate tax loopholes exploited by international tech businesses.

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