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Jun 27, 2022

Novak Djokovic’s Vaccine Stance Could Cost Him All-Time Grand Slam Record + More

Heading Into Wimbledon, Novak Djokovic’s Vaccine Stance Could Cost Him All-Time Grand Slam Record

USA TODAY reported:

There have been strange periods throughout the career of Novak Djokovic where his motivation waxed and waned, his body didn’t cooperate or his temper got him thrown out of a U.S. Open he would have been heavily favored to win. But never has Djokovic tried to navigate as complicated a moment as the 2022 season has brought upon him.

Despite still being considered the best player in the world and the favorite heading into Wimbledon, which begins Monday, he has lost the No. 1 ranking and will slip further regardless of what he does over the next two weeks (more on that in a moment).

After finally tying Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal with 20 major titles last July and having a shot to win the calendar Grand Slam, he surprisingly finds himself now two behind Nadal. And unless the U.S. government changes its policy barring people who haven’t had a COVID-19 vaccination from entering the country, Djokovic will not be in New York for the U.S. Open this year or perhaps ever again.

It is abundantly clear that Djokovic has no intention of getting vaccinated and is prepared to skip half the Grand Slams (and several other significant tournaments) if the U.S. and Australia continue to have strict vaccine mandates for visitors entering their borders.

Are You Ready to Be Surveilled Like a Sex Worker?

Wired reported:

Friday’s Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade is one of the most devastating rulings to come out of Washington. It’s also the next step in a larger campaign to expand state surveillance and erode the right to privacy — a campaign that sex workers have been fighting for decades.

A dim silver lining is that sex workers, fully aware that the general public is unconcerned with our well-being, have already been forced to develop strategies and guides on how to evade detection despite the heightened scrutiny, strategies that can help abortion seekers and more as the carceral state expands.

HIPAA Won’t Protect You if Prosecutors Want Your Reproductive Health Records

STAT News reported:

With Roe v. Wade now overturned, patients are wondering whether federal laws will shield their reproductive health data from state law enforcement, or legal action more broadly. The answer, currently, is no.

If there’s a warrant, court order or subpoena for the release of those medical records, then a clinic is required to hand them over. And patients and providers may be made legally vulnerable by the enormous trail of health-related data we all generate through their devices every day.

“People think HIPAA protects a lot more health information than it actually does,” said Kayte Spector-Bagdady, a professor of bioethics and law at the University of Michigan.

It all comes down to state law. She said the federal privacy rule contains exceptions that could allow prosecutors to compel businesses to relinquish information relevant to a criminal investigation — and the same is true for other kinds of legal action, too.

Army Guard Troops Risk Dismissal as Vaccine Deadline Looms

Associated Press reported:

Up to 40,000 Army National Guard soldiers across the country — or about 13% of the force — have not yet gotten the mandated COVID-19 vaccine, and as the deadline for shots looms, at least 14,000 of them have flatly refused and could be forced out of the service.

Guard soldiers have until Thursday to get the vaccine. According to data obtained by The Associated Press, between 20% to 30% of the Guard soldiers in six states are not vaccinated, and more than 10% in 43 other states still need shots.

Guard leaders say states are doing all they can to encourage soldiers to get vaccinated by the time limit. And they said they will work with the roughly 7,000 who have sought exemptions, which are almost all for religious reasons.

In ‘Zero-COVID’ China, a Daughter’s Struggle to Get Her Father Medicine Hits a Nerve

CNN World reported:

What was meant to be a simple errand, a daughter driving her aging father to the hospital to pick up his medicine, has pulled a small city on China’s border with North Korea — and its nearly two-month COVID-19 lockdown — into the national spotlight, after the pair ran afoul of pandemic rules.

Video of the scene — whose related hashtag has been viewed over a billion times on China’s Twitter-like platform Weibo — shows a confrontation between the driver, identified by police as a 41-year-old woman surnamed Hao, her father and a local police officer, who stopped Hao at a security checkpoint because she did not have proper clearance.

In the video, shot in the northeastern city of Dandong, Hao has gotten out of her car and can be heard yelling — with palpable angst — that she already took a COVID-19 test, and that her housing community gave her permission to leave to go the hospital to pick up the medicine.

Pandemic Lockdowns, Closures Tough on People With Disabilities

U.S. News & World Report reported:

When the early days of the pandemic prompted social distancing measures and gym closures, people with certain disabilities had a much harder time getting exercise and their mental health suffered, new research shows.

Researchers studying those impacts surveyed more than 950 people with diverse disabilities. They identified four categories of individuals within the disability community with varying levels of impact, with the most affected group known as “heavily impacted.”

People with neuromuscular disabilities, blindness or low vision and/or cognitive or intellectual disabilities were more likely to be in this group. This heavily impacted group comprised about 39% of study participants, many of them veterans and women.

One Day, AI Will Seem as Human as Anyone. What Then?

Wired reported:

From here on out, the safe use of artificial intelligence requires demystifying the human condition. If we can’t recognize and understand how AI works — if even expert engineers can fool themselves into detecting agency in a “stochastic parrot” — then we have no means of protecting ourselves from negligent or malevolent products.

This is about finishing the Darwinian revolution, and more. Understanding what it means to be animals, and extending that cognitive revolution to understanding how algorithmic we are as well. All of us will have to get over the hurdle of thinking that some particular human skill —  creativity, dexterity, empathy, whatever — is going to differentiate us from AI. Helping us accept who we really are, how we work, without us losing engagement with our lives, is an enormous extended project for humanity, and of the humanities.

‘Watchdog Moms’ on TikTok Are Trying to Keep Minors Safe

CNN Business reported:

Seara Adair is part of an emerging community of so-called “watchdog moms” calling attention to potential issues for younger users on TikTok and other platforms, and building up an online following in the process. This small group of parents flags issues ranging from the sharing of exploitative videos to more routine concerns about the oversharing of photos and personal information about children online. Adair, along with these peers, works to get problematic content taken offline, which she said is often a “very long battle.”

Sarah Adams, who is part of this advocate cohort and known as mom.uncharted on TikTok, has attracted millions of views on the platform for exposing these types of dangers. She started by creating videos on TikTok about child safety and sharing practices and eventually began highlighting specific examples of the problematic content she’d find, including how seemingly harmless photos shared by parents online can be fetishized by sexual predators.

How to Scrub Yourself From the Internet, the Best That You Can

The Washington Post reported:

Data brokers collect detailed information about who we are based on things like our online activity, real-world purchases and public records. Together, it’s enough to figure out your political leanings and health status, even if you’re pregnant. Friday’s news that the Supreme Court had overturned Roe v. Wade, and abortion could become illegal in 13 states within a month, highlight concerns about ways these piles of information could be used.

You can’t fully scrub yourself from the internet. A little bit of you will always linger, whether it’s in data-broker databases, on old social media you forgot about or in the back of someone else’s vacation photos on Flickr.

That’s no reason to give up! You can absolutely take steps to protect your privacy by cleaning up things like your Google results. For the best results you’ll need time, money, patience and to live in a country or state with strong privacy laws.

Google is what most people think of when they worry about their data online. The search engine is the largest index of websites, but it’s often just the messenger. Know that anything you manage to remove from a search result will likely still live on the site hosting it unless you also get them to take it down. You’ll want to ask those sites to remove it as well.

U.S. Senators Ask FTC to Investigate Apple and Google Over Mobile Tracking

Engadget reported:

A group of Democratic senators is urging the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Apple and Google over their collection of mobile users’ information.

In a letter addressed to FTC Chair Lina Khan, the lawmakers — Senators Ron Wyden, Elizabeth Warren, Cory A. Booker and Sara Jacobs — accuse the tech giants of “engaging in unfair and deceptive practices by enabling the collection and sale of hundreds of millions of mobile phone users’ personal data.” They added that the companies “facilitated these harmful practices by building advertising-specific tracking IDs into their mobile operating systems.”

The senators specifically mentioned in their letter how individuals seeking abortions will become particularly vulnerable if their data, especially their location information, is collected and shared. They wrote the letter shortly before the Supreme Court officially overturned Roe v. Wade, making abortion immediately illegal in states with trigger laws.

They explained that data brokers are already selling location information of people visiting abortion providers. The senators also stressed how that information can now be used by private citizens incentivized by “bounty hunter” laws targeting individuals seeking an abortion.

Jun 24, 2022

Roe v. Wade Overturned: Here’s How Tech Companies and Internet Users Can Protect Privacy + More

Roe v. Wade Overturned: Here’s How Tech Companies and Internet Users Can Protect Privacy

CNBC reported:

The Supreme Court’s decision on Friday to roll back the right to receive an abortion raises new questions about whether and how tech companies should protect the information of users seeking reproductive healthcare.

Tech companies may have to contend with issues about user privacy related to such healthcare whether they want to or not. That could be the case if they are ordered by a court to hand over certain types of data, like location information of users at an abortion clinic, search histories or text messages.

The official decision puts online platforms in a tricky spot. Though major tech companies have spoken out on political issues that align with their values, including advocating for certain types of privacy laws and for immigration reforms that would protect their workforce, wading into an issue as controversial as abortion rights can come with significant backlash from both sides of the debate.

Former Employees Suing Mayo Clinic Over COVID Vaccine Mandate Terminations

Star Tribune reported:

More than two dozen former employees have brought lawsuits against Mayo Clinic and related entities alleging they were wrongly terminated after the clinic did not grant them religious exemptions to a policy mandating COVID-19 vaccination.

Nine lawsuits against Mayo, listing a total of 27 plaintiffs, have been filed in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota in May and June.

Former workers say the clinic failed to undertake an individual and interactive process for evaluating their requests for religious exemptions.

The clinic “put itself in the position of deciding the sincerity of the religious belief of the plaintiffs and whether a belief was ‘religious’ or not,” says the first of the lawsuits, which was filed by Sherry Ihde, a supervisor in the bacteriology lab who worked at Mayo for 23 years.

Twitter Suspends Doctor for Sharing Study That Shows Pfizer Vaccine Impacts Semen

The Epoch Times reported:

Twitter has suspended a doctor for sharing the study that shows men who received Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine had lower levels of semen and a loss in motile sperm count.

Dr. Andrew Bostom, with the Brown University Center For Primary Care and Prevention, shared the peer-reviewed study on June 19.

Twitter informed Bostom that the missive violated its policy against “spreading misleading and potentially harmful information related to COVID-19, according to a message reviewed by The Epoch Times. It suspended Bostom’s account over the post.

Bostom’s post included a link to the Israeli study, which analyzed semen and sperm in men who received two doses, or a primary series, of Pfizer’s vaccine.

Special Olympics to Apologize to Athletes for COVID Vaccine Mandate, DeSantis Says

SunSentinel reported:

The Florida Department of Health has dropped its threatened $27.5 million fine against Special Olympics International over the charity’s “unlawful” vaccine mandate for the recent USA Games in Orlando, although Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday the organization will apologize to athletes who missed out because of the rule and pay for their lodging and travel to a Special Olympics Florida event in the fall.

After receiving notice of the fine, the international organization rescinded its mandate three days before its USA Games opening ceremony on June 5. But the reversal came too late for some eligible athletes to attend.

The governor’s announcement said Special Olympics International will “financially sponsor” an unknown number of affected athletes by covering uniforms, lodging and travel to October’s All-Star Champions Showcase and 50th Anniversary Games, hosted by Special Olympics Florida.

Doctors’ Group Urges Biden Administration to End Quarantine, Vaccine Recommendations for Children

The Epoch Times reported:

A group of doctors is urging top government officials to quickly reverse recommendations that have left children in isolation for days and advice that virtually every child get a COVID-19 vaccine.

“We strongly urge you to revise the CDC’s COVID-19 guidelines with regards to testing, isolation and vaccine recommendations for children to ensure that public health policies are not doing more harm than good,” the group, Urgency of Normal, wrote in a June 21 open letter to Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator, and Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The doctors noted that many European countries, U.S. states and other areas have updated COVID-19 policies to greatly reduce periods of quarantine, COVID-19 testing frequency and forced vaccination.

The CDC should also change its vaccine recommendations, which have led to vaccination mandates at colleges and even some lower-level schools, to state that children getting a vaccine should be discussed between the individual and their doctor.

State Dept. to Pay 6-Figure Sums to Havana Syndrome Victims

Associated Press reported:

The State Department is preparing to compensate victims of mysterious brain injuries colloquially known as “Havana Syndrome” with six-figure payments, according to officials and a congressional aide.

Current and former State Department staff and their families who suffered from “qualifying injuries” since cases were first reported among U.S. embassy personnel in Cuba in 2016 will receive payments of between roughly $100,000 and $200,000 each, the officials and an aide said.

Despite nearly six years of investigation, scientists, physicians and government officials have been unable to determine the cause of the injuries, which some have speculated are the result of microwave or other types of attack from a foreign power. Russia is most often accused of being behind the alleged attacks, although there has been no evidence to back up such claims.

The mysterious injuries first began to be reported among U.S. embassy staff in Havana, Cuba, in late 2016 and have since spread to nearly 70 countries on all continents except Antarctica. The number of reports has tapered off dramatically since the beginning of this year.

Queensland Drops COVID Vaccine Mandates for Teachers, With NSW to Follow

The Guardian reported:

Queensland has joined Victoria in removing COVID vaccine mandates for public school teachers for term three, with New South Wales on track to do the same.

On Friday, Queensland’s premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, revealed that from next Thursday, residents of the state would no longer require COVID vaccinations to work in schools, childcare, prisons and airports or to visit jails, aged care and disability facilities.

However, Palaszczuk said individual employers would still be allowed to continue mandates in schools, daycare, prisons and airports.

She said mandates would remain in force for workers in healthcare, hospital, aged care and disability care facilities. Under the proposed policy, schools would be able to re-engage unvaccinated casuals, and unvaccinated staff who resigned or were dismissed can apply for advertised positions.

Pentagon Unveils Plan to Make ‘Responsible Military AI’ More Than Just a Buzzword

Gizmodo reported:

The Pentagon’s marching forward with AI weapons of war… responsibly.

This week, the Department of Defense released a lengthy 47-page document outlining the military’s plan to implement its responsible artificial intelligence principles, which basically seeks to integrate AI in the military without turning the world into a Terminator-Esque hellscape.

Though the DoD first outlined its ethical AI goals in 2020, this week’s Responsible Pathway to AI Development and Acceleration document details systematic ways the department plans to realize those claims and elevate them beyond mere wishful thinking.

In the document, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks defended the military’s pursuit of AI technology, claiming U.S. adversaries have increased their AI investment in ways that “threaten global security, peace and stability.” The Pentagon wants to respond to that “threat” by ramping up investment at home.

Apple and Android Phones Hacked by Italian Spyware, Says Google

The Guardian reported:

An Italian company’s hacking tools were used to spy on Apple and Android smartphones in Italy and Kazakhstan, Alphabet Inc.’s Google said in a new report.

Milan-based RCS Lab, whose website claims European law enforcement agencies as clients, developed tools to spy on private messages and contacts of the targeted devices, the report said.

European and American regulators have been weighing potential new rules over the sale and import of spyware.

“These vendors are enabling the proliferation of dangerous hacking tools and arming governments that would not be able to develop these capabilities in-house,” Google said.

Exclusive: Privacy Experts Warn the End of Cookie Consent Pop-Ups Will Come at a Cost

TechRadar reported:

Multiple data privacy advocates have criticized plans in the U.K. to replace cookie consent pop-ups with an “opt-out model”, which they believe will do more damage than good.

In an email exchange with TechRadar Pro, Jon Callas of the Electronic Frontier Foundation described the plans as inherently flawed. “A good privacy regime needs to revolve around opting-in, rather than opting out,” he said. “The responsible thing is to ask, to get permission from someone before they are surveilled.”

These concerns were echoed by a spokesperson from privacy software company Brave, who acknowledged that the current system needs reform, but warned the new proposals will remove an important safety net. “This may lead to users being opted-in to privacy-eroding practices. We believe the proposals are likely to lead to more tracking and privacy harms, not less,” they told us.

Of Course, T-Mobile Is Being Shady With Your App Downloads and Browsing History

Gizmodo reported:

In yet another example of T-Mobile being The Worst with its customer’s data, the company announced a new money-making scheme this week: selling its customers’ app download data and web browsing history to advertisers.

According to AdExchanger, which first reported news of the announcement from the Cannes Festival, the new product will let marketers track and target T-Mobile customers based on the apps they’ve downloaded and their “engagement patterns” — meaning when or how often they open and close particular apps.

These same “patterns” also include the types of domains a person visits in their mobile web browser. All of this data gets bundled up into what the company calls “personas,” which let marketers micro target someone by their phone habits.

Jun 23, 2022

NY City Mayor Stopped Enforcing Vaccine Mandate for Businesses + More

NY City Mayor Stopped Enforcing Vaccine Mandate for Businesses

The New York Times reported:

Mayor Eric Adams of New York City has not enforced the city’s coronavirus vaccine mandate for employees at private businesses and has no plans to begin inspecting businesses or begin fining those that are not in compliance.

Newsday first reported on the lack of enforcement of the vaccine mandate for private employers.

“We have been focused on prioritizing education instead of enforcement when it comes to the private-sector mandate, which is how we’ve been able to get more than 87% of all New Yorkers with their first dose to date,” Fabien Levy, a spokesman for New York City Mayor Eric Adams, said in an email.

The city has been more rigorous in enforcing the vaccine mandate for public-sector employees, many of whom have been fired from their jobs for failing to comply.

HHS Releases New PSAs to Encourage COVID Vaccinations for Children Under 5

CNN Health reported:

Just days after the United States rolled out child-sized doses of COVID-19 vaccine for children younger than 5, the Biden administration has launched a new ad campaign to encourage parents to give their kids the “best protection” against COVID-19: a vaccine.

In one video advertisement from the campaign, titled “Promise,” parents are shown with their babies and toddlers — cuddling and kissing them, holding their hands as they walk — while text on the screen notes that “all kids 6 months and older can get a COVID vaccine.”

These new PSAs, released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and first reported on CNN, are part of the agency’s ongoing COVID-19 vaccine public education campaign. The ads will be distributed to English and Spanish media outlets throughout the country as a public service announcement, according to HHS.

Meta Made Millions From Ads That Spread Disinformation

Wired reported:

Between July 2018 and April 2022, Meta made at least $30.3 million in ad revenue from networks it removed from its own platforms for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior (CIB), data compiled by WIRED shows. Margarita Franklin, head of security communications at Meta, confirmed to WIRED that the company does not return the ad money if a network is taken down.

A report from The Wall Street Journal estimates that by the end of 2021, Meta absorbed 17% of the money in the global ad market and made $114 billion from advertising. At least some of the money came from ads purchased by networks that violated Meta’s policies and that the company itself has flagged and removed.

Instagram Is Testing an AI Tool That Verifies Your Age by Scanning Your Face

The Verge reported:

Instagram is testing new methods for users to verify their age, including an artificial intelligence (AI) tool built by a third-party company, Yoti, that estimates how old you are just by scanning your face.

Officially, you have to be at least 13 years old to sign up for an Instagram account, but for years the company made little effort to enforce this rule. Until 2019, it didn’t even bother to ask new users their birthdate, let alone try to verify this information. After being raked over the coals by privacy and child safety experts, though, Instagram has introduced more and more age-verification features, as well as methods to separate younger users from adults.

Currently, Instagram asks users to verify their age only when teenagers try to edit their birth date to show them as 18 or older. To verify their age, users can send in pictures of various ID cards, and, from today, users in the U.S. will have two additional options: social vouching and AI estimation.

Austria Scraps COVID Vaccine Mandate, Says It Split Society

Associated Press reported:

Austria’s health minister announced Thursday that the country is scrapping a dormant coronavirus vaccine mandate, saying the measure risked polarizing society and could even lead to fewer people getting the shot.

The government announced plans last year requiring all people aged 18 and over to get vaccinated against COVID-19, the first country in Europe to do so. The law took effect in February but lawmakers suspended the mandate before police were due to enforce it in mid-March.

Health Minister Johannes Rauch said the rise of new virus variants had changed citizens’ perception of the effectiveness and necessity of vaccination, even among those willing to get the shot.

This could deter them from voluntarily getting booster shots that will help curb the outbreak in the fall, he said. “The vaccine mandate hinders some people who are generally willing to get the shot from taking the booster, the idea being: I’m not going to be told what to do,” said Rauch.

Students Show ‘Shocking Growth in Support for Censorship,’ Ministers Warn

The Guardian reported:

Ministers have warned that students are showing “shocking growth in support for censorship” after a survey revealed that many favored safety and avoidance of discrimination over unrestrained free speech.

The survey by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) found that current students are more likely to support measures that restrain freedom of speech or expression on campus, and approve of removing offensive materials and memorials, compared with their predecessors six years ago, when it last conducted the survey.

Nick Hillman, Hepi’s director, said the survey showed “a very clear pattern” of a majority of students preferring interventions such as trigger warnings on course content and restrictions on speakers.

‘People Have to Stand up Before We Are Led Into a Really Bloody Civil War’: Retired U.S. Major General Paul Vallely

The Epoch Times reported:

Retired U.S. Army Major General Paul Vallely is vigorously sounding the alarm against a potential communist takeover of the country and is also very concerned about the mandatory COVID vaccination of all members of the military.

Vallely asserts that there have been many adverse reactions within the force since the rollout of the vaccines, singling out the risk of blood clots and heart problems with the jabs.

“The mandatory vaccines and boosters … under Department of Defense guidance and directives to the commands throughout the Armed Forces have caused a great deal of controversy. Number one: those that declined mandatory vaccination under the First Amendment religious rights,” Vallely told The Epoch Times.

“They can take [the vaccines] as an option, but we’ve got to stop this mandatory vaccination. It’s hurting the armed forces.”

Australia Launches $11M Ad Campaign to Encourage Uptake of COVID Boosters and Flu Vaccines

The Guardian reported:

A new advertising campaign will launch on Thursday urging Australians to get their COVID booster shots ahead of an expected spike in cases over winter, with the federal health minister, Mark Butler, warning the country was “still very much in this pandemic.”

Butler said the new Labor government had no plan to extend fourth vaccine doses to the general population or to expand COVID rules like density limits and mask mandates, even as the nation records hundreds of deaths a week.

The federal health department will launch an $11m six-week campaign encouraging people to get vaccinated against both COVID and seasonal influenza. Under the title Take on winter, Australians are told “it’s safe to get both at the same time”, with ad campaigns particularly targeted at First Nations communities, children under 11 and people in aged care.

South Africa Repeals COVID Rules as Fifth Wave Fades

Reuters reported:

South Africa has repealed COVID-19 rules that made masks mandatory in indoor public spaces, limited the size of gatherings and imposed entry requirements at its borders, the health minister said on Thursday.

Minister Joe Phaahla said authorities had noted a decline in cases, hospitalizations and reported deaths and concluded that a limited fifth wave was dissipating.

South Africa’s vaccination campaign initially struggled because of limited supplies and protracted negotiations with manufacturers but more recently it has been dogged by hesitancy.

Meta Says U.K. Bill Risks Messages Being Surveilled and Censored

TIME reported:

Meta Platforms Inc. said U.K. online safety legislation “risks people’s private messages being constantly surveilled and censored” unless it’s changed, adding to a long list of complaints recently lodged against the proposed law.

The sweeping Online Safety Bill is winding its way through Parliament and it’s intended to come into force next year. The government has estimated it will apply to more than 25,000 services.

The bill still faces possible amendments, but a draft pushes the very biggest social media and search engines to help people avoid “legal but harmful content” on their so-called user-to-user services, Meta said.

That doesn’t distinguish between messaging and public social media, and could imply “scanning all private messaging,” WhatsApp and Facebook owner Meta argued in written evidence published Wednesday, adding to a list of concerns and proposed amendments published since the draft bill’s publication in March.

TikTok an ‘Invasive Tool’ for Beijing: Lawmakers Warn of Threat After Report Shows U.S. Data Accessed in China

The Epoch Times reported:

The hugely popular short-video app TikTok is but “another invasive tool” for Beijing’s espionage campaign on America, U.S. lawmakers said after news of leaked internal recordings allegedly showing the app’s private U.S. user data being repeatedly accessed in China.

Between at least September 2021 and January, engineers in China had access to the app’s U.S. data, according to leaked recordings of 80 internal meetings cited by BuzzFeed News. In addition, TikTok employees at times had to turn to their colleagues in China to determine how U.S. data was flowing, which the U.S. staff weren’t authorized to independently access, the report said.

TikTok is owned by Beijing-based tech giant ByteDance and has drawn concern in the United States and elsewhere over whether its data can be accessed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), given that its laws compel companies to cooperate with security agencies when asked.

Talk Therapy Apps Face New Questions About Data Collection From Senators

The Verge reported:

At the start of the pandemic, demand for talk therapy apps skyrocketed. Prominent players, like BetterHelp and Talkspace, saw their downloads nearly double throughout the first few months of lockdown in 2020. Now, lawmakers like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) are demanding details on how these companies protect the privacy of their users.

In letters to BetterHelp and Talkspace executives on Thursday, Warren — along with Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) — called on the mental health companies to explain how their apps collect and use data obtained from their patients. Specifically, lawmakers requested information on the apps’ relationships with online advertisers, data brokers and social media platforms like Facebook as well as how those relationships are disclosed to users.

While personal information isn’t as sensitive as medical data, it can still reveal intimate insights into a user’s life. For example, Jezebel reported in 2020 that BetterHelp shared the metadata of messages between a patient and therapist with Facebook. The data does not include the contents of these messages but could alert online marketers to how frequently and where a user could be using the app.

Jun 22, 2022

Your Health Data Might Be for Sale + More

Your Health Data Might Be for Sale

Slate reported:

The leak of the draft decision overturning Roe v. Wade has prompted numerous stories about the privacy of health data. For instance, Vice reported that data broker SafeGraph was collecting and selling the GPS locations of people who visited abortion clinics — in many cases, likely without their knowledge. There have also been numerous concerns raised about period tracking apps and other technologies that could enable surveillance of and even violence against those seeking medical care.

Most Americans assume that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, known as HIPAA, and other health privacy laws prevent entities like their doctor from sharing sensitive personal information — and that’s true. Healthcare providers are covered under HIPAA’s privacy rules.

But companies outside the narrow scope of HIPAA, from data brokers to period tracking apps, can legally sell Americans’ health-related information, and they do, from a list of your surgical procedures to your mental health conditions.

Wearable Trackers Could Spot COVID Early

U.S. News & World Report reported:

Could your smartwatch know you have a COVID infection before you do? It might be possible one day. ​​New research suggests that wearable activity trackers that monitor the changes in your skin temperature, heart and breathing rates, combined with artificial intelligence, could be used to identify an infection days before the symptoms start.

The findings were based on a tracker called the Ava bracelet, which is a regulated and commercially available fertility tracker that monitors breathing rate, heart rate, heart rate variability, wrist skin temperature, blood flow and sleep quantity and quality.

Researchers wanted to see if monitoring physiological changes could help develop a machine-learning algorithm to detect COVID in people who could be spreading the infection days before they know they have the virus.

For this study, published June 22 in BMJ Open, the team drew 1,163 people from the study between March 2020 and April 2021.

NJ Colleges Would Be Required to Mandate COVID Vaccine Under New Bill

New Jersey Monitor reported:

Many New Jersey colleges and universities put a COVID-19 vaccine requirement in place for students and employees during the pandemic.

Now one lawmaker — who’s also a doctor — is joining a push to make the coronavirus vaccine a legal requirement for all university and college students and employees to attend in-person classes and events.

Under the measure introduced in the Assembly Monday (A4334), higher education institutions would be barred from enrolling students to attend in-person classes or employing people for non-remote work if they have not received the COVID-19 vaccine, beginning in the 2022-2023 academic year.

The legislation, sponsored by Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-Burlington), would add the coronavirus vaccine to the list of inoculations students must receive to attend classes in person.

New Orleans Grill Becomes First Business Allowed by Court to Recover Damages for COVID Lockdown Losses

The Epoch Times reported:

Oceana Grill, a popular seafood restaurant in New Orleans, has achieved a first-of-its-kind victory in its long-running legal battle to receive payouts from insurer Lloyd’s of London for loss of revenues during its COVID-19 shutdown beginning on March 20, 2020.

On June 15, a Louisiana state court reversed an earlier decision and ruled in favor of the claim for damages brought by the company owning Oceana Grill, Cajun Conti LLC.

The June 15 decision is highly significant for businesses that seek compensation for often massive and crippling losses of revenues suffered when they were forced to curtail their operations or cease altogether as COVID-19 swept the country in the early months of 2020.

But the June 15 ruling does not mean that all such businesses will now be able to pursue claims that insurers and courts had previously refused to entertain. Rather, it is likely to benefit the minority of businesses whose insurance policies do not contain exclusions for the contamination of buildings and food, said John Houghtaling, a name partner of the Metairie, Louisiana-based law firm Gauthier Murphy & Houghtaling, which represented Cajun Conti in the litigation.

‘I See the Impact on Our Readiness’: Matt Gaetz Pushes to Reinstate Service Members Dismissed Over the COVID Vaccine

The Daily Wire reported:

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) plans to introduce an amendment Wednesday reinstating armed service members who were dismissed for refusing the COVID vaccine.

When the House Armed Services Committee marks up the National Defense Authorization Act, Gaetz will introduce an amendment protecting armed service members who refuse to get the COVID vaccine, reinstating members who were dismissed over their refusal at the same rank and grade, and providing back pay and benefits to the members who were dismissed.

“I see the impact on our readiness from these mandates,” he said during a Tuesday afternoon phone interview with The Daily Wire. “We are hundreds of pilots short in the Air Force and we’ve lost a number of pilots as a consequence of these mandates.”

As of late May, the Army had discharged at least 742 active-duty soldiers for refusing to get vaccinated, Military.com reported, noting that the number had more than doubled since the previous month. Many of the service members who submitted religious exemption requests got back blanket form-letter rejections, the congressman said.

Broadway Theaters Drop Their Mask Mandate Starting in July

Associated Press reported:

In another sign that the world of entertainment is returning to pre-pandemic normal, Broadway theaters will no longer demand audiences wear masks starting in July.

The Broadway League announced Tuesday that mask-wearing will be optional next month onward, a further loosening of restrictions. In May, most Broadway theaters lifted the requirement that audience members provide proof of vaccination to enter venues.

The latest policy will “be evaluated on a monthly basis as we continue to monitor the science,” according to a statement by the League, which represents Broadway producers. It also said that “audience members are still encouraged to wear masks in theaters.” Producers have long complained that ticket sales may be depressed due to the mask ban.

Defense Chief to Review Canadian Armed Forces COVID Vaccine Mandate

Global News reported:

Defense chief Gen. Wayne Eyre is reviewing the Canadian military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which remains in effect even though a similar requirement for most other federal employees has been suspended.

Eyre first ordered all troops vaccinated against COVID-19 in October, saying the requirement was intended to protect the Armed Forces and “demonstrate leadership” as the Liberal government adopted vaccine mandates across the federal public service.

Yet while the majority of federal mandates were lifted Monday, including for civilians working in the Department of National Defence and members of the RCMP, the requirement still applies to those serving in military uniform.

Those who refused to comply with the order were warned they could face disciplinary proceedings, including their forced removal from the military. That stood in contrast with non-military employees, who were allowed to go on leave without pay and have since been cleared to return to work now that the requirement has been lifted.

New Draft Rules Portend More Internet Censorship in China

Axios reported:

China’s Internet regulator has released a new set of draft rules that, if implemented, would impose stricter censorship of comments posted to social media platforms, MIT Technology Review reports.

Tighter restrictions could close off what few spaces remain for Chinese people to speak their minds online.

Comments and videos posted to social media platforms have become one of the only ways Chinese people living through COVID lockdowns can communicate their desperation for food and medical care with each other and the outside world.

The Chinese government has already created one of the toughest Internet censorship regimes in the world, enforced in large part by content reviewers employed by social media companies to police posts.

Facebook Oversight Board Says Company Should Be Much More Transparent

The Washington Post reported:

More than a year after its creation, the Facebook Oversight Board argued in the first of what are to be annual reports that the social media company should be far more transparent about how it decides which posts and accounts to leave up and which to take down.

The board, an international panel of human rights advocates, politicians and academics that oversees Facebook’s thorniest content moderation decisions, said the company had made some progress in implementing the board’s policy recommendations but needed to share more information about content removal systems.

The group took aim at the opaque nature of the company’s strikes system, which gives users who break the platform’s content guidelines a specific number of passes and a tiered system of punishments before their accounts are suspended.

After EU Child Safety Complaints, TikTok Tweaks Ad Disclosures but Profiling Concerns Remain

TechCrunch reported:

A long-running EU engagement with TikTok — initiated following a series of complaints about child safety and consumer protection complaints filed back in February 2021 — has ended, for now, with the video-sharing platform offering a series of commitments to improve user reporting and disclosure requirements around ads/sponsored content; and also to boost transparency around its digital coins and virtual gifts.

However European consumer organization, BEUC — which originated the complaint — has warned that “significant concerns” remain over how TikTok operates its platform which raises questions over the decision, at the EU level, to accept TikTok’s commitments and monitor implementation — rather than take tougher enforcement action.

“We are particularly worried that the profiling and targeting of children with personalized advertising will not be stopped by TikTok. This is in contradiction with the five principles on advertising towards children adopted by the data protection and consumer protection authorities last week,” said BEUC’s deputy director-general, Ursula Pachl, in a statement.

Microsoft Limits Access to Facial Recognition Tool in AI Ethics Overhaul

The Guardian reported:

Microsoft is overhauling its artificial intelligence ethics policies and will no longer let companies use its technology to do things such as to infer emotion, gender or age using facial recognition technology, the company has said.

As part of its new “responsible AI standard,” Microsoft says it intends to keep “people and their goals at the center of system-design decisions.” The high-level principles will lead to real changes in practice, the company says, with some features being tweaked and others withdrawn from sale.

Microsoft’s Azure Face service, for instance, is a facial recognition tool that is used by companies such as Uber as part of their identity verification processes. Now, any company that wants to use the service’s facial recognition features will need to actively apply for use, including those that have already built it into their products, to prove they are matching Microsoft’s AI ethics standards and that the features benefit the end-user and society.