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California Lawmaker Scraps Plan for Preteen Vaccine Consent

Associated Press reported:

California lawmakers on Thursday amended a bill that would have let preteens be vaccinated against a range of health conditions without their parents’ consent, instead raising the proposed minimum age to 15, which would still be among the youngest in the U.S.

Currently, minors aged 12 to 17 in California cannot be vaccinated without permission from their parents or guardians, except for vaccinations to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. California state law already allows people 12 and older to consent to the Hepatitis B and Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines.

The bill that cleared the state Senate last month on a 21-8 vote would have allowed those aged 12 and up to receive any vaccine that has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including against the coronavirus, even if their parents objected. It would have been the youngest age of consent in any state.

New Kamala Harris Task Force Looks a Lot Like the Disinformation Governance Board

The Daily Wire reported:

Vice President Kamala Harris announced the launch of a new White House task force on Thursday, aimed at addressing “online harassment and abuse” — and critics have raised concerns that in practice, it could be the Disinformation Governance Board under another name.

The task force, according to Thursday’s announcement, plans to address all online harassment and disinformation but will also focus specifically on the disproportionate online harassment faced by women and girls and people within the LGBTQ community.

But as one reporter noted during Thursday’s White House press briefing, several of the task force’s objectives appeared to be very similar to those of the recently-scrapped Disinformation Governance Board.

Data Tracking Technology Used During Pandemic at Risk of Abuse, Privacy Expert Warns

The Epoch Times reported:

The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to tech-based surveillance, opening up opportunities for the government and corporations to harvest citizens’ data under the radar, says a technology policy director.

The comment comes after media reports in Australia in early June revealed the state government of Victoria — known for spending the longest number of days in lockdown globally — had been using a data agency, which was initially set up to inform pandemic decision-making, to monitor Victorians’ everyday activities beyond COVID-19.

In late May, Human Rights Watch found that 89% of educational technologies (EdTech) used for remote learning exploited their access to children by harvesting their personal, location or learning data. Many of these apps and websites are endorsed by the Australian government, such as Zoom, Minecraft Education and Microsoft Teams, which remained in place after COVID-19.

Pfizer Stock-Owning Judges Play Musical Chairs in New York City Vaccine Mandate Lawsuits

Fierce Pharma reported:

What do you do when you can’t find a judge who doesn’t own Pfizer stock? Keep looking. Then look again — and again.

Such was plaintiffs’ plight this week in two consolidated federal lawsuits taking aim at the New York City Department of Education’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Since Monday, two judges have come and gone, thanks to their financial ties to pandemic vaccine companies. Meanwhile, a third has vowed to stick around, arguing her investments in Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson are out-of-date.

The stock-owning saga kicked off Monday when U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni in New York’s Southern District recused (PDF) herself from the lawsuits. The move followed the plaintiffs’ efforts last Thursday to disqualify Caproni after discovering she held up to $100,000 in Pfizer stock in 2020.

Japanese Children Allowed to Talk Again Over Lunch as COVID Cases Fall

The Guardian reported:

After two years of eating in near-monastic silence, children in Japan have been given permission to chat to their classmates over lunch, as COVID cases in the country continue to fall.

Throughout the pandemic, primary and middle school classrooms have reverberated to the sound of cutlery meeting crockery and, in some cases, piped music, but the young diners have been silenced as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.

In many schools, children have been told not to eat while facing each other and to refrain from talking to their classmates. Instead, they must observe mokushoku — or silent eating.

But with COVID-19 cases falling across the country, some schools have abandoned the code of silence, amid concern that it is affecting the social and educational development of children as young as six.

German Health Minister Pushes Fourth COVID Shot Ahead of Autumn Wave

Reuters reported:

There will not be another attempt to make COVID-19 vaccinations compulsory, said German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, while making the case for more people to get a second booster shot.

Anyone who is often in contact with others and wants to protect themselves and others should consider a fourth shot, regardless of age, said Lauterbach. Some 80% of Germany’s over-60s have not had their fourth COVID-19 shot, he added.

Victoria Pressed to Scrap Two-Jab COVID Vaccine Mandate Amid Worker Shortage

The Guardian reported:

The Victorian government is facing pressure from epidemiologists and industry groups to scrap its two-vaccine mandate, despite an expert suggesting Australia is on track to have more than 15,000 COVID deaths this year.

Epidemiologists Catherine Bennett and Nancy Baxter told a Victorian parliamentary inquiry on Thursday that the two-dose vaccine mandate for most industries was no longer necessary.

While some industry groups have called for the two-dose mandate to be abolished to help ease the skilled workers shortage, the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) said the decision was up to health officials.

Belinda Clarke, chief executive of the Restaurant and Catering Association, said “now is the time to move on” from the double-dose vaccine mandate requirement. “Other states have already taken this step with no demonstrable downsides,” she told Guardian Australia.

China Defends ‘Zero-COVID’ After U.S. Envoy Warns of Costs

Associated Press reported:

China on Friday defended its tough “zero-COVID” policy after the U.S. ambassador said it was causing serious damage to the global economy and foreign business sentiment.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said the Chinese economy is recovering from the effects of the pandemic and “facts prove” the policy mandating lockdowns, quarantines and mass testing is “suitable for China’s national conditions and has stood the test of history.”

Ambassador Nicholas Burns said on Thursday that the “zero-COVID” policy has “had a major impact” on business sentiment, singling out as especially damaging a two-month lockdown in Shanghai, China’s largest city and key financial hub.

Critics say the policy is disrupting global supply chains and hurting employment and consumption in China. The U.N.’s World Health Organization has called it unsustainable. China denounced the remarks as irresponsible.

FTC Recommends Congress Use ‘Great Caution’ in Promoting AI to Address Online Harm

The Hill reported:

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommended Congress proceed with caution in promoting artificial intelligence (AI) tools to combat online harm in a report the commissioners voted to publish Thursday.

The report concluded that “great caution is needed in either mandating the use of or over-relying on these tools even for the important purpose of reducing harms,” according to a summary delivered by FTC staff attorney Michael Atleson at Thursday’s commission meeting.

While continued innovation in this area and research is important, Congress should not be promoting the use of these tools and focus instead on putting guardrails on their use,” he said.

Tech companies need to be more transparent about and accountable for the use and impact of AI tools to figure out what the guardrails should be, he said.

Cops Will Be Able to Scan Your Fingerprints With a Phone

Wired reported:

So-called contactless fingerprinting technology uses your phone’s camera and image processing algorithms to capture people’s fingerprints. Hold your hand in front of the camera lens and the software can identify and record all the lines and swirls on your fingertips. The technology, which has been in development for years, is ready to be more widely used in the real world. This includes use by police — a move that worries civil liberty and privacy groups.

Contactless fingerprints are just one part of a rapidly expanding biometrics industry, which sells ways to gather and process the data created by our bodies. Biometrics can include face recognition, the way you walk, the patterns of veins in your wrist, and the way you sound.

Among other things, the technologies are being used to replace passwords and help with proving your identity when opening a new bank account. Biometrics is a big business, with some estimates saying the market could be worth $127 billion by 2030.

Despite the increase in biometric technology, it can prove controversial. Theft or spoofing of fingerprints and other biometric information can lead to fraud and identity theft. Some lawmakers in Europe are pushing for bans on the use of biometric technology to identify people in public spaces — saying such surveillance technology could be “the end of anonymity.”

Fed up With Endless Cookie Consent Boxes? The U.K. Plans to Kill Them Off

CNBC reported:

Britain wants an end to the barrage of cookie consent pop-ups.

The government says new data reforms will heavily reduce the number of banners that appear on websites asking people to consent to cookies. The plans are part of a broader package of reforms from the U.K. seeking to diverge from EU data protection rules.

Cookies are small files created each time you visit a new website. They store information about your browsing habits and preferences. Some are practically harmless, helping sites function correctly.

Others, like the ones used by advertisers to track your browsing habits, have led to concerns over privacy. Google is actually planning to ditch third-party cookies used for advertising and replace them with a privacy-preserving alternative.