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Big Brother News Watch

Jun 14, 2022

You Agreed to What? Doctor Check-In Software Harvests Your Health Data + More

You Agreed to What? Doctor Check-In Software Harvests Your Health Data

The Washington Post reported:

The doctor will sell you now. Your intimate health information may not be as private as you think if you don’t look carefully at the forms you sign at the doctor’s office. There’s a burgeoning business in harvesting our patient data to target us with ultra-personalized ads. Patients who think medical information should come from a doctor — rather than a pharmaceutical marketing department — might not like that.

Here’s what’s going on: A company called Phreesia makes software used by more than 2,000 clinics and hospitals across the United States to streamline check-ins, replacing the clipboard and photocopied forms with screens on a website or app. The company says it was used for more than 100 million check-ins in the past year.

Phreesia says it does not “sell” your data. Instead, Phreesia mines your data and uses it to target you with ads on its own system without passing the information to others. (That’s a privacy argument I also often hear from Facebook and Google.) Phreesia also says it doesn’t track you in other digital places, and consenting won’t result in you seeing eerily targeted ads on other websites and apps.

Phreesia is not the only medical-data business that wants access to your records to show you ads. I’ve also investigated “patient portals” used by many doctors that, if you read the small print in their privacy policies, claim the right to your information to show you ads.

A Hacked Kaiser Permanente Employee’s Emails Led to Breach of 70,000 Patient Records

TechCrunch reported:

Kaiser Permanente, the largest nonprofit health plan provider in the United States, has disclosed a data breach that exposed the sensitive health information of almost 70,000 patients.

In a notice to patients on June 3, Kaiser revealed that someone gained access to an employee’s emails at the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington on April 5 that contained protected health information — including patient names, dates of service, medical record numbers and lab test result information. Financially sensitive information, including social security and credit card numbers, was not exposed by the breach, according to the healthcare provider.

Although the company didn’t reveal the scale of the breach, a separate filing with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services confirmed that 69,589 individuals were affected.

It is unclear why it took Kaiser almost two months to inform patients affected by the breach.

After Rogan COVID Controversy, Spotify Forms a Safety Council to Rethink Its Content Moderation Policies

TechCrunch reported:

After finding itself embroiled in a lengthy saga over how its star podcaster Joe Rogan spread COVID-19 vaccine-related misinformation on his show earlier this year, Spotify has announced a new initiative that could help it in situations like these in the future.

It has formed a Safety Advisory Council, with the aim of making better decisions about content moderation and more generally forming new policies related to that.

Spotify’s also aiming to experiment with things like live audio and text-to-speech AI, and the external body will be looking at the firm’s policy in these emerging areas, too.

The Safety Advisory Council won’t make decisions about specific content or creators. So you can’t appeal Spotify’s decision on a particular incident. This is in contrast to the Facebook Oversight Board, which advises the company on specific content takedown decisions and policies around those.

Canada to Suspend Vaccine Mandates for Domestic Travel, Civil Service — Source

Reuters reported:

Canada will suspend its requirement to be vaccinated against COVID-19 for domestic travel and to work in the civil service, a government source said on Tuesday, after provinces lifted most health restrictions in recent months.

The mandates may be reinstated later, especially in the case of a surge of a new variant, the source, who was not authorized to speak on the record, said. International travelers coming to Canada still will be required to show proof of vaccination.

Unvaccinated people departing from Canada will be allowed to travel, the source said.

Meta Rolls out New Parental Controls for Instagram and Quest VR Headsets

TechCrunch reported:

Meta announced today that it’s rolling out new tools on Instagram and Quest VR headsets that are designed to give parents additional supervision controls. On Instagram, parents and guardians can now send invitations to their teens to initiate supervision tools. Prior to this change, only teens could send invitations. Parents and guardians can now also set specific times during the day or week when they would like to limit their teen’s Instagram usage.

With this new update, parents and guardians will also be able to see more information when their teen reports an account or post, including who was reported and the type of report. Meta notes that if you already have supervision set up on Instagram in the United States, these updates are now available.

In addition to the new parental controls, Instagram is rolling out “nudges” that will encourage teens to switch to a different topic if they’re repeatedly looking at the same type of content on the Explore page. Meta says the new nudge is designed to encourage teens to discover something new and “excludes certain topics that may be associated with appearance comparison.”

Advocates Call on Congress to Bolster Protections for Kids in Privacy Bill

The Washington Post reported:

On Tuesday, House lawmakers will hold a legislative hearing on the American Data Privacy and Protection Act, a recently unveiled draft privacy bill that marked the biggest breakthrough for efforts to pass a federal law in years. The proposal includes a number of provisions aimed at safeguarding children’s data in particular, including a ban on targeted advertising.

The proposal has drawn praise from a broad coalition of groups, including tech trade associations such as TechNet and children’s safety groups like Fairplay, even as many have called for at-times conflicting changes to the legislation.

But many kids’ privacy advocates are sounding the alarm that the bill contains major loopholes, which could help tech companies like YouTube and Instagram dodge accountability.

Currently, the proposal would prohibit companies from serving targeted ads to users if they have “actual knowledge” that they are under 17.

Religious Watchdog Groups Warn Secular Society Causing ‘Self-Censorship’ Among Christians

Fox News reported:

Christians are practicing “various forms of self-censorship” and find it increasingly difficult to express their faith freely even in countries that have historically been Christian, according to a new study from religious watchdog groups.

The report, titled “Perceptions on Self-Censorship: Confirming and Understanding the ‘Chilling Effect’,” was compiled by the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians (OIDAC) in Europe, the OIDAC in Latin America and the International Institute for Religious Freedom.

The data is based on “unstructured interviews” with people who have experienced what the report calls “the chilling effect” by which Christians self-censor about their faith, even unwittingly.

Madeleine Enzelberger, executive director of OIDAC Europe, told Christian Today that the study “raises the legitimate question of: how is it possible in a mature, liberal democratic society that stands for tolerance, diversity, and inclusive and open discourse, that people are frightened to freely speak their minds?”

Policy Expert: One More Reason to Abandon High-Tech Period-Tracker Apps

Newsweek reported:

The leaked majority ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has sounded alarms about the future of reproductive rights in the United States.

Among the concerns raised are privacy risks associated with using period-tracking apps, and whether the data they amass — detailed entries by people about myriad aspects of their menstrual cycles — can be exploited by law enforcement or private actors in states where abortion and even pregnancy outcomes are criminalized.

Legal experts acknowledge that period-tracking apps indeed pose a potential hazard for users, even when companies tout stringent privacy protocols. Some recommend opting instead for a simple pen and paper calendar.

Apple and Google Are Coming for Your Car

Vox reported:

We may have gotten a sneak peek at the long-rumored, long-awaited Apple Car when the company unveiled the next generation of its CarPlay feature at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference. The new CarPlay, due to be released next year, will essentially turn your car’s dashboard into a giant iPhone.

If you love Apple products (and cars), this was probably a thrilling announcement. But antitrust advocates and lawmakers who believe Big Tech already has too much power over too many aspects of American life feel differently.

Google and Apple have been moving into cars for nearly a decade now, from powering dashboards and infotainment systems to building autonomous and electric vehicles. As cars have become, essentially, giant computers, it stands to reason that the tech companies that make smaller computers would want to (and be able to) capitalize on that.

As an added bonus, it’s an opportunity for them to attract new customers to their digital ecosystems — which then makes it much harder for companies that don’t have those ecosystems to compete — and get that much more data on where we go and what we do. That data then gives those companies even more of a competitive advantage.

Meta, TikTok, Google and Twitter All Preparing to Sign on to New Misinformation Rules in Europe

SocialMediaToday reported:

Amid ongoing debate around the impact of misinformation shared online, and the role that social media, in particular, plays in the spread of false narratives, a new anti-disinformation push in Europe could play a big role in improving detection and response across the biggest digital media platforms.

As reported by The Financial Times, Meta, Twitter, Google, Microsoft and TikTok are all planning to sign on to an updated version of the EU’s ‘anti-disinformation code’, which will see the implementation of new requirements, and penalties, in dealing with misinformation.

The push would see an expansion of the tools currently used by social platforms to detect and remove misinformation, while it may also see a new body formed to set rules around what classifies as ‘misinformation’ in this context, which could take some of the onus on this off the platforms themselves.

Though that would also place more control into the hands of government-approved groups to determine what is and isn’t ‘fake news’ — which, as we’ve seen in some regions, can also be used to quell public dissent.

Jun 13, 2022

Feds Withhold $1.2M as Florida Refuses to Enforce COVID Vaccine Rule for Healthcare Workers + More

Feds Withhold $1.2M as Florida Refuses to Enforce COVID Vaccine Rule for Healthcare Workers

SunSentinel reported:

As Gov. Ron DeSantis fights COVID-19 vaccination passports and mandates — most recently by threatening the Special Olympics with a $27.5 million fine — there’s one mandate he can’t stop.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is enforcing a federal vaccine requirement for healthcare staff that offers only medical or religious exemptions. The rule, which the U.S. Supreme Court validated in January, contradicts a state law that requires employers to offer broad exemptions that are not allowed by CMS.

Though the Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration has vowed not to monitor or report whether Florida healthcare facilities are following the requirement, that isn’t stopping the federal government from checking. CMS required 100% of eligible Florida healthcare workers to be fully vaccinated or receive an exemption by Feb. 28.

CMS has reduced Florida’s federal allocation of survey and certification funding by $1.2 million and will pay contractors to check if healthcare facilities are following the law, which would typically be the state’s responsibility, a CMS spokesperson said. The agency plans to cut funds to non-compliant states in future years until they start overseeing the vaccine requirement, a Feb. 9 memorandum said.

Brock Juarez, communications director for the Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration, in a Thursday email said the CMS moves do not change the agency’s policy. “1.2 million dollars is a small price to pay to protect the freedom of healthcare workers,” he wrote.

How Defending Your Privacy in the Metaverse May Be More Challenging Than You Think

Newsweek reported:

Most people can understand the importance of data privacy and the countless protection measures that many cybersecurity professionals have to lean into to protect personal and corporate data. However, as many have already learned by now, Meta Platforms, Inc., otherwise doing business as Meta and formerly known as Facebook, Inc., is a multinational technology conglomerate and the parent organization of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, among other subsidiaries.

As digital consumers start to integrate the term ‘metaverse’ into their vocabulary, the way data is protected may have to shift dramatically. The days when hackers tap into your bank account through some loose password are over; instead, known technology companies are tapping into your biometrics, digital real estate locations and your metaverse avatar’s favorite shade of eye color.

According to one source, “One aspect of the metaverse that raises privacy concerns is the vast amount of personal data that may be collected on participating individuals. However, compared to traditional social media, metaverse platforms can more closely track individuals.

For example, companies can monitor physiological responses and biometric data such as facial expressions, vocal inflections and vital signs in real time while participants are in their metaverse. This depth of information allows companies to understand users’ behavior, which can be used to tailor advertising campaigns in an exceptionally targeted way.”

Andrew Giuliani Says He’s Banned From GOP Debate Over Vax Proof

NBC New York reported:

Republican New York gubernatorial candidate Andrew Giuliani said he has been barred from an upcoming primary debate because he has refused to submit proof he’s been vaccinated against COVID-19.

At a news conference Sunday outside the offices of CBS-TV, which is televising the debate Monday night, the son of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said he has chosen not to be vaccinated but that he told debate organizers he would take multiple tests leading up to and on the day of the debate.

Giuliani said he was told initially that he only needed to take a test on the day of the debate, then was told he had to show proof of vaccination. Giuliani has criticized vaccine mandates in New York City and said Sunday that, if elected, he will restore the jobs of public workers fired for not getting the vaccine.

Shanghai’s Censors Can’t Hide Stories of the Dead

Wired reported:

Zhou Shengni needed a doctor, and fast. The 49-year-old, who was having an asthma attack, was being driven by her family to Shanghai East Hospital, where she worked as a nurse, for urgent treatment. It was March 23, and the Chinese city was under a strict COVID lockdown.

However, when they arrived at the emergency department, Zhou’s family found that it was closed for disinfection under Shanghai’s rules to contain the spread of COVID. In urgent need of medical care, they had no choice but to drive to another hospital about 9 kilometers away. Zhou later died.

Zhou’s death caused outrage on Chinese social media, but it was not an isolated incident. Shanghai’s citywide lockdown lasted two months, with most restrictions removed on June 1. But, for those two months, almost nothing moved — including the city’s hospitals, which were hit by sudden closures, with many restricting their services to emergencies only. Patients in need of medical help were told to present a negative PCR test to access care.

From February to May, health authorities in Shanghai had reported 588 deaths related to COVID-19, the majority elderly residents. But officials didn’t count people like Zhou, who may have died as a result of the city’s lockdown restrictions.

Beijing Tests Millions to Stem ‘Developing’ COVID Cluster at 24-Hour Bar

Reuters reported:

Authorities in China’s capital Beijing raced on Monday to contain a COVID-19 outbreak traced to a 24-hour bar known for cheap liquor and big crowds, with millions facing mandatory testing and thousands under targeted lockdowns.

The outbreak of 228 cases linked to the Heaven Supermarket Bar, which had just reopened as restrictions in Beijing eased last week, highlights how hard it will be for China to make a success of its “zero-COVID” policy as much of the rest of the world opts to learn how to live with the virus.

Google Places Engineer on Leave After He Claims Group’s Chatbot Is ‘Sentient’

Ars Technica reported:

Google has ignited a social media firestorm on the nature of consciousness after placing an engineer on paid leave who went public with his belief that the tech group’s chatbot has become “sentient.”

Blake Lemoine, a senior software engineer in Google’s Responsible AI unit, did not receive much attention last week when he wrote a Medium post saying he “may be fired soon for doing AI ethics work.”

But a Saturday profile in the Washington Post characterizing Lemoine as “the Google engineer who thinks the company’s AI has come to life” became the catalyst for widespread discussion on social media regarding the nature of artificial intelligence. Among the experts commenting, questioning or joking about the article were Nobel laureates, Tesla’s head of AI and multiple professors.

At issue is whether Google’s chatbot, LaMDA — a Language Model for Dialogue Applications — can be considered a person. Lemoine, who had been given the task of investigating AI ethics concerns, said he was rebuffed and even laughed at after expressing his belief internally that LaMDA had developed a sense of “personhood.”

Anger at Big Tech No Excuse to Abandon Free Market

Fox News reported:

No one is angrier at YouTube than I am. When I used that platform to educate the public on the potentially deadly consequences of relying on ineffective cloth masks to prevent transmission of COVID-19, YouTube took my video down and suspended my ability to upload additional videos for a week.

Such was my punishment for the crime of daring to disagree with Chief Medical Advisor to the President Anthony Fauci, for which there was no appeal, even though the Centers for Disease Control now admits I was correct.

I was appalled that YouTube rejected the principle of free speech and embraced the Orwellian tactic of disappearing messages that did not adhere to the official party line. In response, I simply used my power as a consumer to post my videos to YouTube’s free-speech supporting competitor, Rumble.com.

While many of my colleagues share my anger with big tech companies, they do not share my free-market principles. Instead, the bipartisan zeal for vengeance inspired an antitrust crusade against Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Twitter. But these proposals to ostensibly cut the tech giants down to size would, instead, perpetuate the dominant position of these companies and deprive consumers of the technological innovation that only free-market competition can provide.

Rune Labs Gets FDA Clearance to Use Apple Watch to Track Parkinson’s Symptoms

Reuters reported:

San Francisco-based startup Rune Labs on Monday said it received clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to use the Apple Watch to monitor tremors and other common symptoms in patients with Parkinson’s disease.

The Rune Labs software uses motion sensors built into the Apple Watch, which can already be used to detect when a person falls. Rune Labs Chief Executive Brian Pepin said in an interview that Apple Watch data will be combined with data from other sources, including a Medtronic Inc (MDT.N) implant that can measure brain signals.

Digitization Dominates: What Financial Leaders Say the Market Will Look Like in 30 Years

ZeroHedge reported:

Investing is often all about capitalizing on and getting in early on revolutionary and secular trends that are going to shape the economy going forward for decades. In an attempt to try and determine what the future holds in that regard, this week Bloomberg asked several prominent members of the financial world what markets would look like in the year 2052, thirty years from now.

The CEO and President of NASDAQ, Adena Friedman, focused on cloud infrastructure and digitization of assets, telling Bloomberg: “The next 30 years I think are going to be really focused on value-added intermediation in the markets. The technology will exist to allow for every asset on the planet to be digitized and available to be bought and sold in an instantaneous way.”

Among her “digitization” predictions was a call for a central bank digital currency:

“If the blockchain can scale a lot more than it can today, I think you would see regulators get more comfortable bringing the digital-asset construct into traditional markets. You could see the potential for a central bank digital currency really forming the basis for a much more digital payment structure. And then you could see capital markets opening up into a much more globalized format.”

Jun 10, 2022

U.S. Will End COVID Testing Requirement for Air Travelers Entering the Country + More

U.S. Will End COVID Testing Requirement for Air Travelers Entering the Country

CNN Politics reported:

The Biden administration is expected to announce Friday that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will lift its requirement for travelers to test negative for COVID-19 before entering the U.S., according to a senior administration official.

The move, which CNN was first to report, will go into effect for U.S.-bound air travelers at midnight on Sunday.

The CDC is lifting the restriction that the travel industry had lobbied against for months after determining it was no longer necessary “based on the science and data,” the official said. The CDC will reassess its decision in 90 days and if officials decide they need to reinstate it, because of a concerning new variant, for example, will do so. The measure has been in place since January 2021.

Tim Cook Expects Our Behavior to Change When We Feel ‘Surveilled All the Time’ by Tech: ‘It Changes Society in a Major Way’

CNBC reported:

Apple CEO Tim Cook is no stranger to criticizing other tech companies for monitoring their users’ data. Now, he’s upping the ante — by indicating that such data collection could soon become a widespread problem for society at large.

At the TIME100 Summit 2022 on Tuesday, Cook said he was “quite worried” about tech companies surveilling their users because it could change the way most humans behave and interact with each other.

“I fear deeply the loss of privacy,” Cook, 61, said. “If we begin to feel like we’re being surveilled all the time, then our behavior changes. We begin to do less. We begin to think about things less. You begin to modify how you think. In a world like that where you’re restraining yourself, [it] changes society in a major way.”

Break Government Officials’ Monopoly on Public Health

Newsweek reported:

Public health initiatives in the United States are suffering from a crisis of trust. Recent polls show that only a third of the public trusts insurance and pharmaceutical companies, while just 56% trust the government health agencies that are meant to regulate these industries.

Another survey during the COVID-19 pandemic showed that only around half of Americans have a “great deal” of trust in the CDC, while a mere third have such trust in the Department of Health and Human Services.

This lack of trust is not merely temporary. Yes, our health agencies and companies have made mistakes and propagated falsehoods in the past two years. But their deep unpopularity is not merely the result of circumstance. Without alternatives, these institutions will always lack accountability, and therefore, trust. America is nothing without our unique history of popular sovereignty. We can no longer give public officials unilateral decision-making power over our public health response without competing voices, checks and balances.

Think back to late 2020. When the mRNA vaccines for COVID-19 were made available to the public free of charge, a national conversation began about “vaccine hesitancy” — the phenomenon of Americans choosing not to be vaccinated even when incentivized and, in some cases, coerced.

NY Stops COVID Testing Mandate for Unvaccinated State Workers but Not yet for Teachers

Lohud reported:

New York quietly lifted its weekly COVID-19 testing mandate for unvaccinated state workers on Tuesday, ending one of the few remaining pandemic restrictions intended to limit the coronavirus’ spread.

And a similar measure requiring weekly COVID-19 testing of unvaccinated teachers and school employees will end June 30, state officials said.

Meanwhile, many healthcare facilities — including hospitals and nursing homes — are still prohibited from employing unvaccinated workers. That mandate has been in place since it led to a roughly 3% reduction in the healthcare workforce last fall.

Air Force Academy Assistant Track and Field Coach Terminated, Claims It Is Due to Refusal to Get COVID Vaccine

The Gazette reported:

Dana Lyon has spent Memorial Day in recent years receiving calls from people who send their condolences and appreciation for her husband, David, who died in Afghanistan during a suicide bomb attack in December 2017.

This year was different. The Gold Star widow said that on May 31, the U.S. Air Force Academy told her that they would not renew her contract as an athletic department employee and said that by statute, her last day would be 30 days later, on June 30. She is listed as an assistant throwers coach for the academy’s track and field team.

Lyon believes her termination was due to the fact that she has not gotten a COVID-19 vaccination. Lyon and her attorney Mike Rose appeared on Fox News on Thursday, where Lyon claimed that she was let go two months before her retirement benefits were set to kick in.

She’ll be working in an administrative capacity until August, but Lyon said she feels betrayed by the academy where she won a pair of NCAA titles in javelin, where she graduated in 2006, was inducted into the academy’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2015, and has worked in the athletics department since 2014.

Rosberg Barred From F1 Paddock Over Vaccine Status

Associated Press reported:

Former world champion Nico Rosberg has not been allowed to enter the Formula One paddock this season because he isn’t vaccinated against COVID-19. Rosberg has been working as a commentator and pundit on TV after he won the F1 title in 2016 with Mercedes and retired from racing shortly thereafter.

Rules for this season issued by F1′s governing body, the FIA, require anyone entering the paddock, where the teams are based, to be fully vaccinated or hold a medical exemption. The rules apply to team members, journalists and other staff.

“Nico Rosberg recovered from a coronavirus infection and currently holds a recovery certificate. He has his antibody levels tested regularly and, on the recommendation of his doctor, does not currently need any vaccinations,” Rosberg spokesperson Lena Siep said in e-mailed comments Friday.

That Didn’t Last Long: Shanghai Locks Down Millions for COVID, Again

Gizmodo reported:

Little more than a week after Shanghai, China crawled out of one of the most severe and taxing COVID lockdowns anywhere in the world, the city is once again on notice for COVID spread while millions are being told to hole up and prepare for mass testing.

Reuters reported Friday that city officials announced mandatory PCR testing for all residents in 14 of 16 districts to take place this weekend. The announced testing initiative was related to a cluster of community-transmitted cases tied to a popular beauty salon.

The testing initiative was announced only 10 days after officials ended their harsh two-month lockdown on June 1, and less than a month since city officials said they hit their “zero-COVID” milestone.

FTC Chair Issues a Warning Shot to the Tech Industry

CNN Business reported:

The Federal Trade Commission is keeping a close eye on Big Tech as the industry expands into newer technologies such as artificial intelligence and the metaverse.

In an interview with CNN on Wednesday, FTC Chair Lina Khan said regulators risk “fighting yesterday’s war” if they fail to comprehend how tech giants might take advantage of societal technology shifts to strengthen their own position, in ways that may violate antitrust laws.

The message is a warning to the tech industry as companies ranging from Facebook-parent Meta (FB) to Microsoft (MSFT) have announced big investments in virtual reality tech, and as AI-powered smart speakers have become ubiquitous (and have already inspired some competitive complaints).

Scientism, Not Science, Drives Technocracy and Transhumanism

Technocracy News reported:

Science has long been regarded as a stronghold of logic and reason. Scientists don’t draw conclusions based on emotions, feelings or sheer faith. It’s all about building a body of reproducible evidence. Well, that’s what it used to be, but as technocracy and transhumanism have risen to the fore, it has brought with it its own form of science — “scientism” — which is basically the religion of science.

Whether the war against humanity is truly underpinned by religion or not is open for debate and interpretation. But what is clear is that something has shifted science away from its conventional foundation into something that very much resembles religious faith. In other words, it’s a belief even in the absence of evidence, or in the face of contrary evidence, and this is a very serious problem.

Big Tech Has Become a Creature of the Swamp

Wired reported:

The geeky founders of big tech companies used to view government as something to be avoided at all costs. They were building stuff. The relationship they hoped for with the wonks and suits in DC was that each side would leave the other alone. The muck of lobbying seemed a bit unsavory. So the techies did their best to ignore the government.

That changed in the late 1990s as Microsoft found itself defending against — and losing — a huge antitrust suit from the Department of Justice. Companies beefed up their DC presence, but even as late as a decade ago, rising companies tried to keep their existence on the down low.

In 2021, seven tech companies spent $70 million to lobby the federal government. The ranks of those companies are loaded with former executive branch and legislative officials.

And how is that going? Let’s see. The congressional docket is filled to the brim with bills designed to thwart tech’s appetite for domination. There’s an antitrust enforcement act that would fast-track efforts to police dominant companies, and maybe make it easier to break up Facebook. There’s a bill to rein in digital advertising, which might break up Google. Yet another bill would constrain tech platforms from favoring certain of their own products, a ban that would harm Amazon. Oh, and once again there’s a privacy bill that would address the wanton hoovering of people’s personal data.

New Research Suggests Always-On Bluetooth Could Be Used to Track Your Phone

Gizmodo reported:

If you didn’t think there were enough ways for people to know your location, then best find something soft to bite down on to keep yourself from screaming.

Your phone is effectively emitting a lighthouse-like beacon while it’s on through its Bluetooth signal, and researchers recently proved they can discern individual devices through all that electronic noise. This new technique bypasses current means of avoiding phone stalking, such as changing IP addresses or Apple’s Safety Check.

Computer scientists at the University of California San Diego proved in a study published May 24 that minute imperfections in phones caused during manufacturing create a unique Bluetooth beacon, one that establishes a digital signature or fingerprint distinct from any other device. Though phones’ Bluetooth uses cryptographic technology that limits trackability, using a radio receiver, these distortions in the Bluetooth signal can be discerned to track individual devices.

A.I. Gurus Are Leaving Big Tech to Work on Buzzy New Start-Ups

CNBC reported:

Artificial intelligence gurus are quitting top jobs at companies like Google, Meta, OpenAI and DeepMind and joining a new breed of start-ups that want to take AI to the next level, according to people familiar with the matter and LinkedIn analysis.

Four of the best-funded new AI start-ups — Inflection, Cohere, Adept and Anthropic — have recently poached dozens of AI scientists with backgrounds in Big Tech.

The start-ups are building their products and services with a relatively new “architecture,” which is a set of rules and methods that are used to describe the functionality, organization and implementation of a computer system.

The new architecture — developed by a team of Google staff in 2017 and now available for anyone to use — is known as a “transformer.” The transformer allows AI systems to be scaled in ways that had never been considered before, meaning it’s possible to make them far more powerful and capable.

Jun 09, 2022

Meta Hit With 8 Suits Claiming Its Algorithms Hook Youth and Ruin Their Lives + More

Meta Hit With 8 Suits Claiming Its Algorithms Hook Youth and Ruin Their Lives

Bloomberg reported:

Meta Platforms Inc. is now a leader in another social media trend — lawsuits claiming the company built algorithms in its platforms that lure young people into a destructive addiction.

Eight complaints filed in courthouses across the U.S. over the last week allege that excessive exposure to platforms including Facebook and Instagram has led to attempted or actual suicides, eating disorders and sleeplessness, among other issues.

“These applications could have been designed to minimize potential harm, but instead, a decision was made to aggressively addict adolescents in the name of corporate profits,” attorney Andy Birchfield, a principal at Beasley Allen, the law firm that drafted the suits, said in a statement Wednesday.

The complaints add to a spurt of recent cases against Meta and Snap Inc., including some filed by parents whose children took their own lives. The litigation follows a former Facebook employee’s high-profile testimony in Congress that the company refused to take responsibility for harming the mental health of its youngest users.

NYC Lifts Mask Mandate for Kids Between 2 and 4 Years Old

New York Daily News reported:

New York City kids between 2 and 4 years old will no longer be required to wear masks in daycare and preschool starting Monday, Mayor Adams announced Thursday.

The so-called “toddler mask mandate” remained in place even after mask requirements were lifted for older city public school students in March, with city health officials arguing it was premature to lift it for young kids with cases on the rise citywide and children under five still ineligible for COVID-19 vaccines.

But now that cases are starting to decline once again across the city, Adams said he’s ready to lift the mandate.

New Vaccine May Be Option for Troops With Religious Concerns

Associated Press reported:

A COVID-19 vaccine that could soon win federal approval may offer a boost for the U.S. military: an opportunity to get shots into some of the thousands of service members who have refused other coronavirus vaccines for religious reasons.

The Novavax vaccine may be an acceptable option for some of the 27,000 service members who have sought religious exemptions from the mandatory vaccine. Military officials say many troops who refuse the shots cite certain COVID-19 vaccines’ remote connection to abortions.

One group involved in lawsuits targeting the military’s vaccine requirement said it’s possible some shot opponents may see Novavax as an amenable option.

“I definitely think it is for some, but certainly not for all,” said Mike Berry, director of military affairs for First Liberty Institute. “There are some for whom abortion is really the ultimate issue, and once that issue is resolved for them spiritually, then they’re willing.”

Airline Officials Press Biden to End COVID Testing for International Travelers

The Hill reported:

Airline industry officials and lawmakers are pressing the Biden administration to drop pre-departure COVID-19 testing requirements for vaccinated international travelers, arguing the mandate is costing the sector billions of dollars in revenue each month.

Many other countries have dropped such requirements, and industry leaders argue the policy does not match the threat posed by the virus. Lawmakers are also pushing the Biden administration to drop the testing requirement, which has been in place since January 2021.

Even as domestic travel has rebounded from pandemic-era lows, international travel to the U.S. has lagged behind. Industry officials told lawmakers Tuesday that the greatest inhibitor of international travel is the testing requirement.

CDC Sparks Backlash After Ditching Monkeypox Mask Advice

Newsweek reported:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has sparked a backlash for scrapping advice for travelers to wear face masks to prevent the spread of monkeypox.

Last week, the CDC updated its monkeypox travel guidance to read: “Wear a mask. Wearing a mask can help protect you from many diseases, including monkeypox.” It also raised the monkeypox alert level to Level 2, indicating that people should “practice enhanced precautions.”

On the evening of June 6, however, the mask recommendation was deleted from the monkeypox travel notice on the CDC website. The CDC’s decision to delete the mask advice for travelers prompted anger from some Twitter users.

Boston Public Schools Ending Mask Mandate

CBS Boston reported:

Students in Boston will no longer be required to wear masks in school starting on Monday. Boston Public Schools will encourage masks but not require them.

The city cited sustained downward trends in COVID cases and hospitalizations as the reason for changing the policy.

Masks will still be required in certain instances, including when a student tests positive and returns to class before 10 days of isolation.

Virus Testing the New Normal as China Sticks to ‘Zero-COVID’

Associated Press reported:

Thousands of coronavirus testing sites have popped up on sidewalks across Beijing and other Chinese cities in the latest development in the country’s “zero-COVID” strategy.

Lines form every day, rain or shine, even where the spread of the virus has largely stopped. Some people need to go to work. Others want to shop. All are effectively compelled to get tested by a requirement to show a negative test result to enter office buildings, malls and other public places.

Regular testing of residents is becoming the new normal in many parts of China as the ruling Communist Party sticks steadfastly to a “zero-COVID” approach that is increasingly at odds with the rest of the world.

Many cities including Beijing are requiring a negative test result within the last three days to enter a public place or take the bus or subway. Some have made it a week or 10 days. The tests are free, with the result reflected on the person’s smartphone health app roughly 12 hours later.

Shanghai to Lock Down 2.7 Million, a Week After Easing COVID Restrictions

The Guardian reported:

Shanghai will lock down a district of 2.7 million people on Saturday to conduct mass coronavirus testing, city authorities said, as the Chinese metropolis struggles to fully emerge from punishing curbs.

The city eased many restrictions last week, after confining most of its 25 million residents to their homes since March as China battled its worst COVID outbreak in two years.

But the lockdown was never fully lifted, with hundreds of thousands in China’s biggest city still restricted to their homes and multiple residential compounds put under fresh stay-home orders.

The south-western district of Minhang, home to 2.7 million people, will be placed under “closed management” on Saturday morning and all residents will be tested, district authorities said in a social media post on Thursday.

Everyone Sees Something Different on Delta’s New Face Recognition Airport Display

Gizmodo reported:

Finding your flight information on those giant densely packed airport screens can often feel as daunting as trying to interpret a wall of hieroglyphics without the Rosetta Stone. But Delta passengers traveling through Detroit will have a much easier time as a new display being installed there tailors the on-screen information to whoever’s looking at it: up to 100 travelers at once.

The displays, developed by a company called Misapplied Sciences, will be ready to greet passengers at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport starting on June 29 as part of a beta program with Delta Air Lines.

So instead of spending several minutes studying a giant screen to confirm which gate a flight is departing from, passengers traveling with Delta will see only the details for their specific flight on the screen, even when several of them are crowded around it at once.

It sounds like a privacy nightmare, but assuming it works as promised, the information is only visible to the passenger while gazing at the display, and to no one else. But how does it confirm who’s specifically looking at the Parallel Reality display and where they’re standing? Facial recognition.

Dems and GOP Unite in Fight Against Big Tech: ‘It’s Common Sense’

Newsweek reported:

A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers made it known on Capitol Hill on Wednesday that if Congress does not pass their bill aimed at cracking down on the power of internet behemoths like Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Google, the U.S. could face serious national security challenges.

According to a report released in December by Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, China has emerged as a serious competitor in “foundational technologies of the 21st century,” with current trajectories predicting it could overtake the U.S. in the next decade.

To inspire greater innovation in the sector, Democratic Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island has joined Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and Republican Congressman Ken Buck of Colorado in authoring the American Innovation and Choice Online Act.

The bill would require large online platforms, like those mentioned above, to cease the practice of preferencing their own products and services to users over those offered by smaller companies that conduct business on their sites.

Democrat Senators Call ID.me’s Handling of User Data ‘Careless, Irresponsible and Improper’ After Insider Report

Insider reported:

Three Democratic senators this week criticized identity verification contractor ID.me’s privacy and security standards after an Insider investigation found user data was left unsecured on internal dashboards. The senators, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, called the company’s handling of personal information “reckless” and “irresponsible” in statements to Insider.

Data for any ID.me user, which included veterans and people seeking unemployment benefits, was easily accessible with a company laptop for most customer service workers, sometimes before background checks were complete, Insider previously reported.

Some customer service workers were instructed to screenshot and upload users’ personal documents (including passports, driver’s licenses and Social Security cards) to an internal Slack channel if they needed help verifying whether they were fake or real.

ID.me has won contracts with the Internal Revenue Service, Social Security Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs and dozens of state unemployment agencies for its identity verification product. Most of those deals were closed in the last two years, during which time the company grew rapidly, hiring nearly 1,500 people and setting up new offices in Tampa, Florida, Insider previously reported.