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Companies Are Dropping Vaccine Mandates
Some companies are rolling back mandates for employee COVID vaccination — but few are making official public statements about it. Why it matters: These moves signal that we’ve shifted into a new chapter of the pandemic — and that employers are desperate to get people back to the office.
Companies mostly don’t want to talk about this, seeing little upside given the controversial history of mandates. But a few large employers’ plans are public: Starting this week, Goldman Sachs lifted vaccination requirements everywhere but New York City, where it still has a mandate for workplaces.
Between the lines: Things have changed a lot since these mandates were first put in place last year — a time when vaccination was seen as very effective against spreading disease. Now with the variants, that’s less true, says Dr. Leana Wen, a public health professor at George Washington University.
But not all companies are giving up on mandates. Many hospitals and other healthcare providers do require vaccination. Boeing, Google, Edelman and Facebook told Axios Seattle reporter Melissa Santos that employees who enter the office must be vaccinated.
Meta Dissolves Team Responsible for Discovering ‘Potential Harms to Society’ in Its Own Products
Meta’s “Responsible Innovation Team,” a group meant to address “potential harms to society” caused by Facebook’s products, is no more. The Wall Street Journal reports that the team was recently “disbanded” though “most” members will stay on with other teams at the company. A Meta spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal the company was “committed to the team’s goals,” but didn’t provide a reason for the change in strategy.
The Responsible Innovation team was first formed “several years ago,” according to a 2021 blog post written by Meta’s Margaret Stewart, the Facebook VP who oversaw the team.
The team was made up of engineers as well as people with backgrounds in civil rights and ethics, and advised the company’s product teams on “potential harms across a broad spectrum of societal issues and dilemmas,” she wrote last year. Zvika Krieger, the Meta employee who led the team, departed earlier this year, according to The Journal.
The Responsible Innovation team isn’t the only team to recently be reshuffled. Earlier this summer, Meta reorganized its entire artificial intelligence (AI) team, which included folding the Responsible AI group into its Social Impact team.
Mask Mandate Ends on Domestic and International Flights as Australia Rolls Back COVID Protections
The mandate ended at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, however, travelers are still advised to consider wearing them for their own safety.
Masks may still be required on outbound international flights depending on the requirements of the destination country.
And across Australia, isolation has been reduced for people infected with COVID to a minimum of five days for those with no symptoms. Workers in high-risk settings including aged care, disability and home care must still isolate for seven days.
Lawsuit Contests Montana Vaccine Mandate Ban on Tribal Land
The Glacier County Regional Port Authority filed the complaint Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Great Falls. The litigation comes after Montana Labor and Industry Department officials determined the port authority discriminated against an unvaccinated person who attempted to attend one of its meetings, in Browning.
Browning is on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Attorneys for the port authority contend that the state lacks jurisdiction on tribal lands to enforce Montana’s prohibition on vaccine mandates.
Montana’s Republican-dominated Legislature last year passed a first-in-the-nation law making it illegal to discriminate based on a person’s vaccine status in providing services, access to public accommodations or employment. The law applies to all vaccinations.
From ‘Stop the Spread’ to ‘You Do You’: NY Mask Policy Has Experts Facepalming
New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority faced immediate backlash Thursday after unveiling a new mask-optional policy featuring the tagline “You do you” below a silly cartoon of a person improperly wearing a mask over just the nose, not the mouth.
Generally, the new policy lifts the MTA’s previous requirement that riders wear a face mask — properly. Earlier signage showed a cartoon person correctly wearing a mask, with the tagline “That’s the one!,” after several examples of how not to wear a mask, including over just the nose. The requirement and the sign came with the slogan: “Stop the spread. Wear a mask.”
But the new guidance dramatically flips the collective-effort messaging to a more individual-based approach to public health, with the slogan: “Masks are encouraged, but optional. Let’s respect each other’s choices.” The new signage repeats the same cartoon examples of how not to wear a mask for protection but now labels them all as acceptable.
Health experts and Twitter commenters quickly mocked and criticized the new messaging. “Nothing says ‘we’re in this together’ like ‘you do you’ on public safety messaging,” cosmologist Katie Mack replied on Twitter.
Washington’s COVID State of Emergency to End Oct. 31
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday that the state of emergency sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic will end on Oct. 31, nearly three years after the Democratic governor first issued the order.
A vast majority of the 85 orders issued — including most mask requirements, restrictions on commerce and restaurants — had already been previously lifted. An additional 13 healthcare-related orders are set to end on Oct. 27, including one that offered flexibility for locations pharmacies could store vaccines.
Inslee noted that employers can continue to require vaccination as a condition of employment if they choose, and Inslee had previously announced such requirements would remain an employment requirement for most state agencies.
For Many Weary Chinese, Lockdown Dread Trumps Fear of COVID
When COVID-19 case numbers started ticking up in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen last week, Robin Chen got in his car and fled to nearby Huizhou.
It wasn’t because he feared the virus — many of his friends overseas had caught it and recovered — but he didn’t want to lose his freedom again as speculation swirled that Shenzhen was headed for its second lockdown in six months.
Many people in China say they are weary and frustrated that China is sticking with draconian methods to stop the spread of COVID-19, pointing to how the coronavirus appears to have mutated into a less deadly form, with the vast majority of cases in China classified as having mild or no symptoms.
TikTok Unites Tech Factions Against It
TikTok has managed to get everyone in tech on the same page, wherever they stand on regulation, antitrust and all the other controversies raging in the industry.
Driving the news: While TikTok had no official presence at the Code Conference, the Chinese-owned firm was the talk of the annual gathering of tech world notables this week — serving as the foil of choice for a parade of tech executives, pundits and even some government officials.
Why it matters: Growing as other giants slow, the social app for short video has emerged as a target for Silicon Valley giants worried about losing users and also for Beltway insiders who fear the company’s ties to Beijing will undermine national security.
Be smart: It’s not what TikTok is doing today that has people most concerned, but rather what it could do with millions of users, many of them young people, and a powerful algorithm that seems perfectly tuned to reach their hearts and minds.
White House Renews Call to ‘Remove’ Section 230 Liability Shield
The White House on Thursday called on Congress to remove an important liability shield for tech companies.
President Joe Biden had previously called for revoking the liability shield, which allows platforms to disseminate content without being liable for it — known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 — on the campaign trail in January 2020.
But the latest announcement builds upon increased calls by the administration to rein in large tech companies. The announcement was made at a “listening session” at the White House about tech platform accountability.
Your turn Congress: Biden can’t get rid of the Section 230 liability shield without Congressional action. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who heads the House Energy and Commerce consumer protection panel, said she’s supportive of Biden’s calls for “fundamental reforms” to Section 230.
A spokesperson for Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the committee’s ranking member, said, “This administration is using Big Tech to silence their opponents so they can advance their own power. Any reforms of Section 230 should lead to more speech, not less.”
Google and Amazon Workers Protest Their Companies’ $1.2 Billion AI Contract With Israel
Hundreds of Google and Amazon workers on Thursday staged protests around the country to speak out against the two tech giants’ cloud contracts with the Israeli government, fearing the military could use the technology to surveil Palestinians.
The demonstration stretched across four U.S. cities — San Francisco, New York, Seattle and Durham, North Carolina — as workers protested Project Nimbus, a $1.2 billion contract that both Google and Amazon have signed to provide Israel with artificial intelligence services and other computing tools.
The technology could be used for facial detection and “sentiment analysis,” a form of machine learning that purveyors claim can discern someone’s feelings by studying their face and speech, according to a report by The Intercept.
Twitter Whistleblower Scored $7 Million Settlement Days Before Dropping Bombshell Allegations
Twitter agreed to pay their former head of security, Peiter Zatko, $7 million in June in exchange for signing an NDA to stop him from speaking publicly about “extreme, egregious deficiencies” over a wide swath of issues — including privacy, platform integrity and content moderation.
Days later he dropped his bombshell allegations in the form of a Congressional whistleblower complaint — which is one of the few venues that trumps an NDA, according to the Wall Street Journal.
And now, Zatko’s allegations will be part of Elon Musk‘s countersuit against the company — which was launched after he filed to back out of a $44 billion deal to purchase the company amid allegations that a significant percentage of Twitter accounts are actually bots — and for which Twitter has sued Musk.
On Wednesday a judge ruled that Musk can amend his countersuit against Twitter to include Zatko’s allegations. A five-day nonjury trial is scheduled for Oct. 17 in Delaware Chancery Court.