Miss a day, miss a lot. Subscribe to The Defender's Top News of the Day. It's free.

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.