Miss a day, miss a lot. Subscribe to The Defender's Top News of the Day. It's free.
Flashback: How and Why the CIA Made Google
As our governments push to increase their powers, INSURGE INTELLIGENCE can now reveal the vast extent to which the U.S. intelligence community is implicated in nurturing the web platforms we know today, for the precise purpose of utilizing the technology as a mechanism to fight global ‘information war’ — a war to legitimize the power of the few over the rest of us. The lynchpin of this story is the corporation that in many ways defines the 21st century with its unobtrusive omnipresence: Google.
Google styles itself as a friendly, funky, user-friendly tech firm that rose to prominence through a combination of skill, luck, and genuine innovation. This is true. But it is a mere fragment of the story. In reality, Google is a smokescreen behind which lurks the U.S. military-industrial complex.
The inside story of Google’s rise, revealed here for the first time, opens a can of worms that goes far beyond Google, unexpectedly shining a light on the existence of a parasitical network driving the evolution of the US national security apparatus, and profiting obscenely from its operation.
Facebook Must Ditch Plans to Launch Instagram for Children Under 13, Experts Say
In a press release, the coalition, led by Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, said research demonstrates “Instagram, in particular, exploits young people’s fear of missing out and desire for peer approval.”
Instagram requires users to be 13 years or older to create an account, but in March, Buzzfeed reported on the social media giant’s plan to build a version of the platform for people under the age of 13 years to allow them to “safely” use Instagram for the first time. Facebook told the Guardian the company was exploring a “parent-controlled version” of Instagram, similar to the Messenger Kids app that is for kids between six and 12.
“The platform’s relentless focus on appearance, self-presentation and branding presents challenges to adolescents’ privacy and well-being … Younger children are even less developmentally equipped to deal with these challenges, as they are learning to navigate social interactions, friendships and their inner sense of strengths during this crucial window of development.”
Bill Maher: ‘I Don’t Want Politics Mixed in With My Medical Decisions’
Bill Maher’s latest new rule is this: “Don’t spin me when it comes to my health.”
In the segment below, the political commentator, comedian and host of “Real Time with Bill Maher” accuses the medical establishment, media and the government of taking a “scared straight” approach to getting people to comply with their COVID recommendations.
“When all the sources for medical information have an agenda to spin us, you wind up with a badly informed public,” Maher said.
The truth, said Maher, is that only between 1% – 5% of people end up needing to be hospitalized for COVID, despite the media’s non-stop “panic porn.”
Big Tech, You’re Running Out of Friends
While the GOP increasingly flirts with anti-corporatism, the executives at Amazon do not seem terribly disturbed. Their focus remains pandering to their natural enemies, even as they alienate their natural allies. Amazon’s repeated public prostrations to the Left have been less than effective at reducing political pressure on the company. March 25 saw Democrats and Republicans in the House interrogating the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook, and Alphabet. Along with other Big Tech stocks, Amazon underperformed the market broadly on the day of the hearing.
While neither current Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos nor incoming CEO Andy Jassy were present at the hearing, they should still be worried: Despite all the left-wing pandering and censorship peddled by Big Tech, they have found no friends in the Democratic Party. Many of the Democrats participating in the interrogation evinced a belief that Big Tech is still, despite the last four years, insufficiently censorious. Each new demonstration of loyalty to the Left by Amazon is met with fury by conservatives, but no equivalent jubilation on the other side. Has there been an outcry of thanks from progressives for their public service in banning “transphobic” books?
The Military/Intelligence Origins Of Facebook
Part 1 of this two-part series on Facebook and the U.S. national-security state explores the social media network’s origins and the timing and nature of its rise as it relates to a controversial military program that was shut down the same day that Facebook launched. The program, known as LifeLog, was one of several controversial post-9/11 surveillance programs pursued by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that threatened to destroy privacy and civil liberties in the United States while also seeking to harvest data for producing “humanized” artificial intelligence (AI).
As this report will show, Facebook is not the only Silicon Valley giant whose origins coincide closely with this same series of DARPA initiatives and whose current activities are providing both the engine and the fuel for a hi-tech war on domestic dissent.
‘Ripe for Fraud’: Coronavirus Vaccination Cards Support Burgeoning Scams
One listing offered eBay customers an “Authentic CDC Vaccination Record Card” for $10.99. Another promised the same but for $9.49. A third was more oblique, offering a “Clear Pouch For CDC Vaccination Record Card” for $8.99, but customers instead received a blank vaccination card (and no pouch).
All three listings were posted by the same eBay user, who goes by “asianjackson” — using an account registered to a man who works as a pharmacist in the Chicago area — and all were illegal, federal regulators say. The account sold more than 100 blank vaccination cards in the past two weeks, according to The Washington Post’s review of purchases linked to it.
The listings are a “perfect example” of burgeoning scams involving coronavirus vaccination cards that could undermine people’s safety, as well as the success of the nation’s largest mass vaccination effort, said North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein. Individuals might use them to misrepresent their vaccination status at school, work or in various living and travel situations, potentially exposing others to risk.
Groundbreaking Smartwatch Could Detect COVID and Other Ailments — Through Your Sweat
A smartwatch has been developed that could potentially revolutionize detection and treatment of COVID-19. The wrist-worn device identifies patients at the highest risk of dying — through their sweat. It picks up signs of a potentially deadly over-reaction by the immune system.
Antibodies ravage the heart, lungs and other organs, triggering inflammation. The phenomenon, known as a “cytokine storm,” is a major reason COVID kills.
“Especially now in the context of COVID-19, if you could monitor pro-inflammatory cytokines and see them trending upwards, you could treat patients early, even before they develop symptoms,” says principal investigator Shalini Prasad, a professor and bioengineer at the University of Texas at Dallas, in a statement.
Germany’s Merkel Pushes for Widening of Powers as COVID Surges
Merkel wants to amend the Infection Protection Act so federal authorities can tighten restrictions, even if regional leaders resist them.
The move seeks to end the patchwork approach that has characterised the pandemic response across Germany’s 16 states to date.
Lockdown measures are currently decided at the state level and many have expressed frustration and confusion in recent months as governors interpreted rules agreed with the federal government in different ways, despite having similar infection rates.
If it comes into effect, the change would allow the federal government to impose an “emergency brake” in regions when the spread of the coronavirus becomes too rapid, and more than 100 new weekly cases per 100,000 inhabitants are being recorded.
U.S. Setting up $1.7B National Network to Track Virus Variants
The U.S. is setting up a $1.7 billion national network to identify and track worrisome coronavirus mutations whose spread could trigger another pandemic wave, the Biden administration announced Friday.
White House officials unveiled a strategy that features three components: a major funding boost for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health departments to ramp up gene-mapping of coronavirus samples; the creation of six “centers of excellence” partnerships with universities to conduct research and develop technologies for gene-based surveillance of pathogens; and building a data system to better share and analyze information on emerging disease threats, so the knowledge can be turned into action.
Family Sues Telecom Giants, Alleging They Hid Risks of Cell Phone Radiation That Caused Man’s Brain Cancer
The family of a pastor from Louisiana who died from glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer, is suing Motorola, AT&T and other telecommunications companies. The lawsuit, filed April 8, alleges the cancer was caused by exposure to cell phones’ radiation and that the telecommunications industry has engaged for decades in fraudulent practices to hide the health risks of cell phone radiation.
The lawsuit was brought by the widow and two sons of Frank Aaron Walker, a pastor, teacher and musician from Louisiana. Mr. Walker, who used cell phones for 25 years, was diagnosed with glioblastoma brain cancer in January 2019. Walker died Dec. 31, 2020, at the age of 49, after a two-year battle with this cancer.
Warning: ‘Keys of the Food System’ Are Being Handed Over to Big Tech
In other words, the keys of the food system are already being handed over to data platforms, e-commerce giants and private equity firms. This could mean dismantling the diversified food websthat sustain 70% of the world’s population and provide environmental resilience. It could mean putting the food security of billions of people at the mercy of high-risk AI-controlled farming systems and opaque supply corridors.
And yet, there is nothing inevitable about this dystopian future. In reality, divisions will grow among corporations and between companies, workers and consumers, as ecosystems refuse to be tamed, people refuse to be nudged, technologies malfunction and environmental and social tipping points draw closer.
Project Veritas Founder Wants to Sue Twitter for Defamation Over Recent Suspension
O’Keefe’s latest attempt at journalism was to have a Project Veritas staff member create a fake account on Tinder. As reported by the New York Post, the staff member pretended to be a nurse on Tinder and went on five dates with Charlie Chester, a technical director at CNN.
The Project Veritas staff secretly recorded Chester as he claimed CNN produces “propaganda”. With rare exception, it’s considered unethical to fail to identify yourself as a journalist when speaking with others and intending to report on what they say and do.
Twitter isn’t a fan of people using its platform to impersonate others, either.
On Telegram, O’Keefe vehemently denied Twitter’s claim and announced his intention to file suit against Twitter for defamation on Monday, April 19. He reiterated his intention when he appeared on Sean Hannity’s show alongside attorney Harmeet Dhillon, a former vice chairwoman for the California Republican Party.
The Journalist and the Whistleblower
In the 21st century, hatred of the press has become bipartisan, and government leak investigations under both Republican and Democratic administrations have altered the landscape for national security reporting. Starting with the George W. Bush administration in the years after 9/11, the federal government has brought criminal charges in nearly 20 cases related to leaks to the press, virtually all of them involving national security matters. In almost all of those cases, it is the sources who have faced criminal charges, not the reporters who published what the sources told them.
As a result, the fate of modern investigative reporting is now on a collision course with high-tech government leak investigations. Being really good at getting people to tell you government secrets — the key to career success as a national security reporter — now brings great danger to a reporter’s sources.
Orange County Won’t Require COVID-19 Vaccine ‘Passport’ Following Backlash
About 200 residents showed up to speak at an Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday to voice their opposition to the county’s program. Orange County Health Care Agency Director Clayton Chau and the supervisors sought to allay their concerns before the public comment period.
Chau said the county isn’t requiring a vaccine passport, but the agency is planning to offer a digital vaccination record for residents who request it. The record will likely be in the form of a scannable QR code in the Othena app, which the county has used for scheduling coronavirus testing and COVID-19 vaccinations.
How the Coronavirus Origin Story Is Being Rewritten by a Guerrilla Twitter Group
After a lot of trial and error, the Seeker stumbled upon exactly what he was looking for: a master’s thesis written by a Chinese doctor. The document contained an account of six cases of “severe pneumonia caused by unknown viruses” in workers who had been cleaning an abandoned copper mine in Yunnan, China, in 2012. The patients’ symptoms seemed eerily similar to those of COVID-19. Three of the patients, it said, died from the mystery illness.
The Yunnan mine and its resident bats, the Seeker knew, had been sampled by researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. He’d uncovered a missing puzzle piece: an association between the closest known relative of the coronavirus and research conducted at the institute in Wuhan, China.
… Minutes after reading the abstract, he posted his find to Twitter, in a long tweet thread tagging members of a loosely defined group known as Drastic, a “Decentralized Radical Autonomous Search Team Investigating COVID-19.” The master’s thesis had the potential to rewrite the origin story of the pandemic.
Mark Zuckerberg Is Urged to Scrap Plans for an Instagram for Children.
“While collecting valuable family data and cultivating a new generation of Instagram users may be good for Facebook’s bottom line,” the groups, led by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood in Boston, said in the letter to Mr. Zuckerberg, “it will likely increase the use of Instagram by young children who are particularly vulnerable to the platform’s manipulative and exploitative features.”
The coalition of nonprofit groups also includes the Africa Digital Rights’ Hub in Ghana; the Australian Council on Children and the Media; the Center for Digital Democracy in Washington; Common Sense Media in San Francisco; the Consumer Federation of America; and the 5Rights Foundation in Britain.
U.S. House Committee Approves Blueprint for Big Tech Crackdown
The U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee has formally approved a report accusing Big Tech companies of buying or crushing smaller firms, Representative David Cicilline’s office said in a statement Thursday.
With the approval during a marathon, partisan hearing, the more than 400 page staff report will become an official committee report, and the blueprint for legislation to rein in the market power of the likes of Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google, Apple Inc. (AAPL.O), Amazon.com (AMZN.O) and Facebook (FB.O).
The report was approved by a 24-17 vote that split along party lines. The companies have denied any wrongdoing.
Governor Bans Use of Vaccine Passports in Montana
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte issued Tuesday an executive order banning the development or use of vaccine passports in Montana.
The move by Gianforte comes as vaccine passports — documents used to verify COVID-19 immunization status and allow inoculated people to more freely travel, shop and dine — have been portrayed by Republicans across the country as a heavy-handed intrusion into personal freedom and private health choices.
The order prohibits Montana state agencies from requiring COVID-19 vaccines to access state services or facilities. It also prohibits the state from issuing or funding such documentation, and sharing individuals’ vaccination status with other entities. Finally, it prohibits businesses in the state from requiring customers to get the COVID-19 vaccine to access services.
Orange County, CA Plans Launch Of Digital Vaccine Passport
“The Digital Passport enables individuals to participate safely and with peace of mind in activities that involve interactions with other people, including travel, attractions, conferences/meetings, concerts, sports, school and more,” officials added.
While details are scant about how the digital vaccine passport would work, the Orange County health agency’s director and health officer, Dr. Clayton Chau, told the O.C. Register that the county’s existing Othena vaccine scheduling app could be modified to include a credentialing feature.
The Othena app is being used to schedule vaccine appointments at the county’s mass inoculation sites, including at Disneyland.
Connecticut Lawmakers to Vote on Repealing Religious Exemption to Vaccine Mandates
If the bills pass as currently written, the religious exemption would be removed immediately for children in daycare, preschool and kindergarten through sixth grade in public and private schools. However, religious exemptions already on file for students currently enrolled in grades seven through 12 and college would be upheld and those students would be allowed to remain in school. New students would be unable to obtain religious exemptions.
Connecticut health freedom advocates faced a number of challenges this year, including changes in membership on the Public Health Committee. State Reps. Jack Hennessy, D-Bridgeport, and David Michel, D-Stamford, who were the only two democrats to vote against the measure last February, did not get reappointed to the health committee.
The EU Is Considering a Ban on AI for Mass Surveillance and Social Credit Scores
If the draft proposal is adopted, it would see the EU take a strong stance on certain applications of AI, setting it apart from the US and China. Some use cases would be policed in a manner similar to the EU’s regulation of digital privacy under GDPR legislation.
Member states, for example, would be required to set up assessment boards to test and validate high-risk AI systems. And companies that develop or sell prohibited AI software in the EU — including those based elsewhere in the world — could be fined up to 4 percent of their global revenue.
Facebook is Under Investigation in the EU for Its Massive Leak of 533 Million People’s Data — and It Could Face a Fine in the Billions
Europe’s leading privacy regulator is investigating whether Facebook broke the law in its handling of a leak of over 533 million people’s phone numbers and personal data.
Ireland’s Data Protection Commission, the body charged with overseeing Facebook’s privacy compliance in the European Union, announced it had opened an investigation into the social media giant on Wednesday. If Facebook is found to have violated the EU’s data rules, it could face a monetary fine of up to 4% of its $86 billion global revenue.
In a statement, the DPC said it believes EU data rules “may have been, and/or are being, infringed in relation to Facebook Users’ personal data.”
China’s Big Tech ‘Rectification’ Continues After Alibaba Record Fine
E-commerce titan Alibaba absorbed the massive $2.78 billion penalty from China’s market watchdog last Saturday, after a months-long investigation found it had been abusing its dominant market position.
Analysts say the chastening was part of Beijing’s plan to force a diet on tech giants — from Alibaba to Tencent to Baidu — who have grown fat on the data and personal finances of the Chinese public.
After being hit with China’s biggest ever corporate fine — the equivalent of four percent of annual sales — Alibaba said it would “fully comply” and drop an exclusivity clause to allow merchants to also sell their goods on rival e-commerce platforms.
The Daunting Challenges Surrounding Vaccine Passports
The PathCheck vaccine passport works by connecting certified vaccination records to a QR code that can be scanned by any facility or immigration office requiring such medical information. The data is stored in a way that can’t be tampered with and is available offline. The information can also be distributed in a paper form from the vaccine provider so that those with no or limited internet would be able to use it.
There is a clear need to standardize data across vaccine passport options so that they can be used globally and in many languages. Eric Piscini, the project lead on a vaccine passport project developed by IBM, points to how businesses can accept multiple types of credit cards (all with slightly different back end technology) using the same card reader as an example of how such standardization would work.
Dr. Saphier & Chaffetz: Big Tech vs. Science — Suppressing Debate Hurts Fight Against COVID
Reasonable experts can and do disagree. It is this discord that fuels trial and error experimentation and discovery. Science, by its very nature, is rarely settled.
In the race for information about the novel virus, technology and media companies have jumped ahead to help shape narratives around partisan policies despite the science changing by the day. Big Tech is collecting massive amounts of data while stifling free speech and removing content that goes against popular opinion. In Saphier’s book “Panic Attack,” she details the many ways Big Tech has censored contrarian opinions about the pandemic, leading to more discord and skepticism than the views themselves.
Missouri House Votes Against Proof-of-Vaccine Mandates
The Missouri House on Monday advanced a bill that would ban private businesses from requiring proof of vaccination from either employees or customers.
The GOP-led House voted 88-56 to tack the provision on another bill.
Biden’s $100 Billion Broadband Plan Gives Big Tech a Free Ride
The White House recently called for 100 percent high speed broadband coverage with a whopping $100 billion price tag. The goal to ensure coverage to all Americans is commendable as is the focus on people in rural areas. However the Biden plan ignores the reality of landline broadband provision in rural America, which is largely delivered by small-scale and family-owned businesses. Moreover, it rejects incorporating Big Tech in network cost recovery, even though the Silicon Valley platforms have the most to gain from high-speed networks. New research examines this issue with an analysis of four fiber to the home networks in rural America. The networks have an average of 20,000 customers and cover 3000 square miles (about two-thirds the side of Connecticut) and include many non-white households with people low-income, the proffered focus of Biden’s plan.
A Supreme Court Justice Weighs in on Section 230: Here’s What It Means
Democrats argue that Section 230 prevents social media companies from doing more to moderate their platforms, such as taking down or limiting hate speech and disinformation about COVID-19. Republicans take a different view. They want the law repealed because of their perception that the Silicon Valley powerhouses are biased against the right and work to censor conservatives, like Trump, while giving liberal politicians a pass.
Thomas, who’s long expressed originalist views about the First Amendment, echoed conservatives’ concerns over censorship. His comments from the highest court in the US could amplify these complaints and help them gain traction in Congress.
What You Need to Know About FLoC, the Ad-Targeting Tech Google Plans to Drop on Us All
About two weeks ago, millions of Google Chrome users were signed up for an experiment they never agreed to be a part of. Google had just launched a test run for Federated Learning of Cohorts — or FLoC – a new kind of ad-targeting tech meant to be less invasive than the average cookie. In a blog post announcing the trial, the company noted that it would only impact a “small percentage” of random users across ten different countries, including the US, Mexico, and Canada, with plans to expand globally as the trials run on.
Google Is Poisoning Its Its Reputation With AI Researchers
The company’s decision to fire Timnit Gebru and Margaret Mitchell — two of its top AI ethics researchers, who happened to be examining the downsides of technology integral to Google’s search products — has triggered waves of protest. Academics have registered their discontent in various ways. Two backed out of a Google research workshop, a third turned down a $60,000 grant from the company, and a fourth pledged not to accept its funding in the future. Two engineers quit the company in protest of Gebru’s treatment and just last week, one of Google’s top AI employees, a research manager named Samy Bengio who oversaw hundreds of workers, resigned. (Bengio did not mention the firings in an email announcing his resignation but earlier said he was “stunned” by what happened to Gebru.)
Pentagon Scientists Reveal a Microchip That Senses COVID-19 in Your Body
The microchip is sure to spark worries among some about a government agency implanting a microchip in a citizen.
Officials who spoke to the 60 Minutes team said the Pentagon isn’t looking to track your every move.
A more detailed explanation was not given.
Retired Colonel Matt Hepburn, an army infectious disease physician leading DARPA’s response to the pandemic, showed the 60 Minutes team a tissue-like gel, engineered to continuously test your blood.
14 Countries, Including U.S., Hit Back Against WHO Investigation Into COVID Origins
While the mainstream media has, by and large, dismissed the theory that SARS-CoV-2 was created and leaked from a high-security biocontainment lab in Wuhan, China, a number of high-ranking U.S. officials are sticking to it, and there’s probably good reason for this.
On the whole, if the virus was actually a natural occurrence, a series of improbable coincidences would have had to transpire. Meanwhile, a series of highly probable “coincidences” point to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) being the most likely source, and to dismiss them as a whole simply doesn’t make sense.
The Facebook Loophole That Lets World Leaders Deceive and Harass Their Citizens
The Guardian has seen extensive internal documentation showing how Facebook handled more than 30 cases across 25 countries of politically manipulative behavior that was proactively detected by company staff.
The investigation shows how Facebook has allowed major abuses of its platform in poor, small and non-western countries in order to prioritize addressing abuses that attract media attention or affect the US and other wealthy countries. The company acted quickly to address political manipulation affecting countries such as the US, Taiwan, South Korea and Poland, while moving slowly or not at all on cases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Mongolia, Mexico, and much of Latin America.
As England Reopens, Apple and Google Block Update to Tracing App
An update to the contact tracing app used in England and Wales has been blocked from release by Apple and Google because of privacy concerns, renewing a feud between the British government and the two tech giants about how smartphones can be used to track COVID-19 cases.
… The dispute, first reported by the BBC, highlights the supernational role that Apple and Google have played responding to the virus. The companies, which control the software of nearly every smartphone in the world, have forced governments to design contact tracing apps to their privacy specifications, or risk not having the tracking apps made available to the public. The gatekeeper role has frustrated policymakers in Britain, France and elsewhere, who have argued those public health decisions are for governments, not private companies to make.
Online Schools Are Here to Stay, Even After the Pandemic
The districts are racing to set up full-fledged online schools even as concerns mount that remote learning has taken a substantial toll on many children’s academic progress and emotional health. Parents and lawmakers, alarmed by the situation, have urged schools to reopen. Last month, Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, went so far as to say there should be no remote learning option for children in New Jersey this fall.
Even so, at least several hundred of the nation’s 13,000 school districts have established virtual schools this academic year, with an eye to operating them for years to come, education researchers said. Unlike many makeshift pandemic school programs, these stand-alone virtual schools have their own teachers, who work only with remote students and use curriculums designed for online learning.
Facebook ‘Still Too Slow to Act on Groups Profiting from COVID Conspiracy Theories’
Facebook insists that it is taking more action on health misinformation, but conspiracy channels on the platform are nevertheless growing in popularity. In the first three months of this year the 100 accounts gained almost a million followers between them. This potentially puts the US tech giant in breach of its undertaking to the UK government last November that it would work to stop users profiting from coronavirus vaccine misinformation online.
The tracked accounts included a group of Instagrammers called Health Freedom for Humanity (HFFH). The group’s executive director and cofounder is Alec Zeck, a 28-year-old serving US army captain and Olympic-level handball player. Zeck’s 85,000-follower Instagram page hosts a range of misleading claims, including that the COVID-19 virus has never been isolated. His account promotes HFFH, but also points to a page on linktr.ee, a startup used extensively by Instagrammers to direct users to other resources, sponsors and products for sale.
Another Huge Data Breach, Another Stony Silence from Facebook
Last week Nick Clegg, vice president of global affairs at Facebook, admitted on The Verge website that the Cambridge Analytica scandal had “rocked Facebook right down to its foundations”. And yet it has learned nothing. It has paid no real price (the record $5 billion fine it paid to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is literally no price at all to Facebook), suffered no real consequences, and failed to answer any questions over the involvement of its executives.
That impunity was in full sight this week. The news of the latest breach, of 533 million people’s data, dropped over a holiday weekend; Facebook responded only by saying it was “old data” and the problem had been “found and fixed in August 2019” – an absurd statement given that the data had only just been dumped on the internet, and clearly that hadn’t been fixed at all.
Peter Thiel-Backed Firm Takes Majority Stake in a Brain Computer Interface Start-Up
ATAI Life Sciences, a Peter Thiel-backed biopharmaceutical company developing psychedelic drugs to treat mental health, has taken a majority stake in U.S. firm Psyber.
Psyber is a business that wants to use brain computer interfaces to help treat people with mental health conditions.
ATAI, which describes itself as a drug development platform, was set up to acquire, incubate and develop psychedelics and other drugs that can be used to treat depression, anxiety, addiction and other mental health conditions.
A $2 Billion Government Surveillance Lab Created Tech That Guesses Your Name By Simply Looking At Your Face
Ever struggle with putting a name to a face? There’s an app for that.
It was created and patented by one of the U.S. government’s most trusted surveillance labs, the nonprofit research center Mitre Corp. The organization is like James Bond’s Q lab but for the whole of the federal government. The Virginia-based Skunk Works has in the past churned out autonomous surveillance drones, smartwatch hacking tech and tools to take fingerprints from social media images. And Forbes has found a previously unreported patent that seeks to boost facial recognition technology by guessing someone’s name by just looking at their face’s characteristics.
Federal Government Illegally Pressured Facebook to Censor CHD Website, Social Media Content, Lawsuit Alleges
In August 2020, Children’s Health Defense (CHD) filed a lawsuit against Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg and two of Facebook’s “fact checkers.” The lawsuit asserts claims of illegal censorship in violation of the First Amendment, illegal “taking” in violation of the Fifth Amendment and corporate fraud in violation of federal law — Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations(RICO) and Lanham Acts.
On Nov.13, 2020, CHD filed a 150-page first amended complaint in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, detailing factual allegations regarding the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), CDC Foundation and World Health Organization’s (WHO) extensive relationships and collaborations with Facebook and Zuckerberg.
Ohio GOP Lawmakers Want to Protect Those Refusing COVID-19 Shot from Discrimination
House Bill 248, introduced Wednesday, would allow Ohioans to decline a COVID-19 shot – or any other vaccine – because of religious reasons, medical reasons or natural immunity, according to our media partners at the Enquirer.
The proposal would prevent anyone who chooses not to be vaccinated from facing discrimination, being denied services or forced to follow a requirement that they wear masks or other penalties financial or social from businesses, schools or government.
“This is a matter of freedom,” state Rep. Jennifer Gross, R-West Chester, said of her bill. “The purpose of this legislation is to allow people to choose to do what they feel is best for their own body and protect individuals from any consequences or hardships for choosing one way or the other.”
A Better Solution Than Laminating Your Vaccine Card
While many Americans will inevitably balk at vaccine mandates and sharing health data with elected officials, as a country, we’ve historically proved willing to share that information in exchange for free stuff. Nudges like free donuts may ultimately be what makes Americans comfortable with the idea of a vaccine passport. It’s not just Krispy Kreme. Instacart is now offering a $25 coupon if you’ve been vaccinated. Employees of Target, Amtrak, and McDonald’s get several hours of additional pay.
All these measures would likely be more efficient and more fairly executed with a simple vaccine passport. As more and more people are inconvenienced by trying to prove they’ve been vaccinated, the need for an app will become clear. We’ll wonder why this was ever a debate.
The Future of AI Is Being Shaped Right Now. How Should Policymakers Respond?
Limited AI systems have taken on an ever-bigger role in our lives, wrangling our news feeds, trading stocks, translating and transcribing text, scanning digital pictures, taking restaurant orders, and writing fake product reviews and news articles. And while there’s always the possibility that AI development will hit another wall, there’s reason to think it won’t: All of the above applications have the potential to be hugely profitable, which means there will be sustained investment from some of the biggest companies in the world. AI capabilities are reasonably likely to keep growing until they’re a transformative force.
Big Tech’s ‘Trust’ Problem Will Soon Cost Lives by Scaring People Away from Life-Saving Technology
Science and medicine can do a lot to make our lives better. But for that to happen, we have to be able to trust the public authorities, companies and institutions that produce and oversee the innovations.
We’re already seeing the sad fruits of distrust in the unwillingness of many people — including health workers on both sides of the Atlantic — to take the COVID-19 vaccines. People don’t trust experts and government agencies as they once did, which means assurances of vaccine safety often fail to persuade. When health officials and other authorities manipulate the public, as they have throughout this pandemic, they lose credibility.
… Back then, we thought, perhaps foolishly, that those companies worked for us. Now we have learned that all too often — and no doubt still more often than we know — they’re simply using us for their own benefit, harvesting our data, manipulating our behavior and otherwise being, well, untrustworthy. (Another friend joked that the way the tech companies’ politics are going, they might decide not to stop your heart attack if they thought you might vote the wrong way. That’s not as crazy-sounding as it might have been in 2005, I’m afraid.)
Idaho Becomes 3rd State to Ban COVID-19 ‘Vaccine Passports,’ Iowa Could Be Next
“Idahoans should be given the choice to receive the vaccine,” Little said in a statement. “We should not violate Idahoans’ personal freedoms by requiring them to receive it. Vaccine passports create different classes of citizens.”
“Vaccine passports restrict the free flow of commerce during a time when life and the economy are returning to normal,” he added. “Vaccine passports threaten individual freedom and patient privacy.”
S.C. Senate Approves Proposal Barring Mandatory COVID Vaccines
The South Carolina Senate unanimously approved Wednesday a proposal to prevent employers from mandating COVID-19 vaccines for workers.
The resolution advanced by senators states that employers can’t punish or fire their workers for refusing to get the shots.
The measure also states that the Department of Health and Environmental Control would not be able to require people who refuse to get vaccinated to quarantine or isolate themselves.
Proof of COVID-19 Vaccination, Tests Should Only Be Temporary Travel Requirements, Industry Group Says
Travel restrictions that require proof of COVID-19 vaccines or negative tests should be lifted once the pandemic is under control, the new head of the International Air Transport Association said Wednesday.
“These are measures that may be necessary as temporary arrangements while we go through this crisis, but once we’re through it, we want to see these restrictions permanently removed so people can get back to traveling as they experienced back in 2019,” Willie Walsh, former CEO of British Airways’ parent International Consolidated Airlines Group, said in his first press briefing as IATA’s director general.
Track Coach Fired for Refusing to Force Athletes to Wear Masks
“I’ll come straight to the point,” he said. “I will not put kids on the track and tell them to run any races while wearing masks.”
Brutally honest in his message to Vezina, Keyes said the athletic directors and school boards that followed New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association recommendations and agreed to outdoor mask-wearing were being dishonest to the athletes, by making decisions without wisdom or science.
“No, the real reason I won’t do it is because it’s senseless, irrational, cowardice b——t and I will not help cover that up,” Keyes wrote. “I will not stand up in front of the kids and lie to them and tell them that these masks are doing anything worthwhile out in an open field with wind blowing and the sun shining.”
“Fire me if you must,” was the title of his follow up message. On Monday, his school bosses did just that. He’s posted his letters and rationale behind them on his track and field website.
More Colleges Move to Make Vaccines Mandatory for Students
Already, Cornell University, Rutgers University, Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, and St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, have said vaccinations will be mandatory for students before returning to campus in the fall.
“Medical and religious exemptions will be accommodated, but the expectation will be that our campuses and classrooms will overwhelmingly consist of vaccinated individuals, greatly reducing the risk of infection for all,” Cornell President Martha Pollack and Provost Michael Kotlikoff said in a statement.
Nebraska Colleges Not Planning to Make COVID Vaccine Mandatory
Nebraska’s colleges and universities won’t require students to get one of the approved coronavirus vaccines before they return to campus for the fall 2021 semester.
But many schools are encouraging students and faculty to get a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available, saying it would help campus life return to normal.
‘100% Vaccinated’: Norwegian Announces Vaccine Requirement for All Passengers, Crew on Cruises
Norwegian shared a letter written by Del Rio, the company’s president and CEO, addressed to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on Monday outlining its plans to resume sailing with intent to have vessels depart with vaccinated passengers and crew starting in July.
The intention, Del Rio said, is for the vaccination policy to apply to all ships, no matter the port of departure. No age group will be exempt from the vaccination requirement.
U.K. Launches New Competition Watchdog Targeting Big Tech
The U.K. launched a new regulatory body aimed at policing allegations of anticompetitive behavior among the world’s largest technology companies, adding another agency to a growing list of watchdogs scrutinizing how tech giants use their market heft.
Britain’s new Digital Markets Unit will be tasked with making sure tech giants like Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google don’t exploit any market dominance to crowd out competition, officials here said. The new unit was unveiled last year but launched officially—with limited powers at first—late Tuesday.
Can Police Spy Without a Warrant? Colorado Supreme Court To Consider Modern Surveillance Techniques
The Colorado Supreme Court will take up the scope of modern police surveillance in a case Tuesday that centers on officers in Colorado Springs who used a camera to spy on a man for three months without ever getting permission from a court to do so.
The justices will consider whether police violated the man’s constitutional rights when they put a camera on a utility pole across the street from his house and watched his driveway, front yard and part of his backyard for months, angling the remote-controlled camera, which could pan and zoom, so that it could see over the man’s 6-foot-tall privacy fence.
Likely Legal, ‘Vaccine Passports’ Emerge as the Next Coronavirus Divide
On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas became the latest Republican governor to issue an executive order barring state agencies and private entities receiving funds from the state from requiring proof of vaccination. The World Health Organization, citing equity concerns, also said on Tuesday that it currently did not support mandatory proof of vaccination for international travel.
Others are moving forward. Universities like Rutgers, Brown and Cornell have already said they will require proof of vaccination for students this fall. The Miami Heat this week became the first team in the N.B.A. to open special “vaccinated only” sections.
And though businesses have yet to announce outright bans on unvaccinated clientele, some states and technology firms are preparing: At least 17 companies or nonprofits are developing websites or apps that might be used by sporting venues, restaurants and other businesses seeking to keep their customers and employees safe, according to Joel White, the executive director of the Health Innovation Alliance, a broad coalition of health providers, tech companies, employers and insurers.
YouTube Discloses the Percentage of Views Going to Videos That Break Its Rules
Every minute, YouTube is bombarded with videos that run afoul of its many guidelines, whether pornography or copyrighted material or violent extremism or dangerous misinformation. The company has refined its artificially intelligent computer systems in recent years to prevent most of these so-called violative videos from being uploaded to the site, but continues to come under scrutiny for its failure to curb the spread of dangerous content.
In an effort to demonstrate its effectiveness in finding and removing rule-breaking videos, YouTube on Tuesday disclosed a new metric: the Violative View Rate. It is the percentage of total views on YouTube that come from videos that do not meet its guidelines before the videos are removed.
The Futility of Vaccine Passports
Though Israel’s green-pass system has been credited with motivating people to get a jab, that isn’t its primary goal. “The reason these rules have been put in place is not to encourage vaccine-hesitant people to get vaccinated,” Ran Balicer, the chairman of Israel’s national coronavirus task force and the chief innovation officer of Clalit, the country’s largest health-care provider, told me. “It’s simply done to make sure that vaccinated people can go and safely eat and enjoy cultural activities and not be exposed to undue risk during this process.”
The problem, however, is that intention and perception don’t always align. The pandemic has already inordinately affected people on the basis of race, gender, and socioeconomic status, and vaccine appointments are disproportionately being taken up by white Britons and those from more affluent areas. By making a return to normal social activity contingent on vaccination, natural immunity, or a negative COVID-19 test, those inequalities could be ingrained further. Though London has promoted testing as an equalizer that will prevent nonvaccinated people from being excluded, it isn’t widely accessible in Britain. Until it is, “the same people who are most at risk are going to be the same people who are least able to get a test,” Clare Wenham, an assistant professor of global-health policy at the London School of Economics, told me, noting the challenges facing those who cannot currently access testing due to cost, inability to get time off work, and transport issues.
Peter Thiel, In Roundtable With Mike Pompeo, Criticizes Big Tech’s Relationship With China and the Deplatforming Of Trump
Thiel, who calls himself a tech contrarian and got his start in Silicon Valley as a PayPal cofounder, has openly criticized Alphabet’s artificial intelligence work in China and Apple’s reliance on the country for its overall supply chain. Pressed on what legislators can do to stop the “infiltration” of Chinese influence in American technology companies, Thiel offered one piece of advice: keep applying pressure on tech companies. “You need to call people out on that relentlessly,” Thiel said.
A Facebook board member since 2005, Thiel also discussed how the social network’s employee base made it more difficult for the company to take a tough stance against China. Thiel brought up the debates among Facebook employees during Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests in 2020 as an example for how internal politics prevented Facebook from taking a more anti-China bent.
Italy Abolishes Film Censorship, Ending Government Power to Ban Movies
Italy has officially abolished film censorship by scrapping legislation that since 1913 has allowed the government to censor scenes and ban movies such as, most famously, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom” and Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Last Tango in Paris.”
The move — which is symbolically important, though censorship is de-facto no longer practiced — definitively does away with “the system of controls and interventions that still allowed the Italian state to intervene on the freedom of artists,” said Culture Minister Dario Franceschini who late Monday announced a new decree ending the government’s powers to censor cinema.
Texas Gov. Abbott Bans Vaccine Passports
Gov. Greg Abbott banned government-mandated vaccine passports through executive order Tuesday, making Texas the latest state to reject proposals for a system that would require individuals to prove they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
… “Texans shouldn’t be required to show proof of vaccination & reveal private health information just to go about their daily lives,” Abbott said in a statement. “Don’t tread on our personal freedoms.”
YouTube Says It’s Getting Better at Taking Down Videos That Break Its Rules. They Still Number in the Millions
The Google-owned video service said 0.16 percent to 0.18 percent of all the video views on its platform during the fourth quarter of 2020 were on content that broke its rules. That’s down 70 percent from the same period in 2017, the year the company began tracking it.
… Democratic lawmakers say the company still isn’t doing enough. They have floated numerous proposals to change a decades-old law known as Section 230 to make Internet companies more liable for hate speech posted on their platforms. Republicans want to change the law too, but with the stated goal of making it harder for social media companies to ban certain accounts. The unproven idea that Big Tech is biased against conservatives is popular with Republican voters.
Justice Thomas Suggests Regulating Tech Platforms Like Utilities
While he agreed that Trump’s Twitter account did “resemble a constitutionally protected public forum” in some respects, “it seems rather odd to say that something is a government forum when a private company has unrestricted authority to do away with it,” he said, referencing Twitter’s decision to remove Trump’s account from the platform following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
“Any control Mr. Trump exercised over the account greatly paled in comparison to Twitter’s authority, dictated in its terms of service, to remove the account ‘at any time for any or no reason,’” Thomas wrote.
Thomas said the solution to the unprecedented issues presented by the tech platforms could lie “in doctrines that limit the right of a private company to exclude.”
Facebook Data Leak Scrutinized by Big Tech’s Top EU Data Watchdog
The Irish Data Protection Commission is trying to “establish the full facts” since the weekend and so far “received no proactive communication from Facebook,” the regulator said in a statement on its website on Tuesday. It said the tech company assured it that “it is giving highest priority to providing firm answers” to the authority.
Personal information on 533 million Facebook users reemerged on a hacker website for free on Saturday. The information included phone numbers and email address of users, the regulator said Tuesday. Facebook has said the data is old and was already reported on in 2019.
NHS COVID-19 Contact Tracing App To Share QR Code Venue Check-Ins
The update to the NHS COVID-19 app will be deployed ahead of shops reopening in both nations on 12 April, as well as outdoor hospitality in England.
The authorities will be able to use the information to tell other visitors if they need to be tested for the virus.
But the system has been designed to protect users’ anonymity.
SEAS Researchers Postpone Test Flight for Controversial Geoengineering Project to Block Sun
According to the Keutsch research group’s website, the project’s goal is to better understand solar geoengineering, a controversial strategy that could be used to curb global warming. The project is supported in part by philanthropist Bill Gates through SEAS’s Solar Geoengineering Research Program.
The Keutsch group planned its first test flight for June 2021, which would have launched a high-altitude balloon over Kiruna, Sweden, but would not have included the release of the particles. On Wednesday, however, the Swedish Space Corporation suspended the test under pressure from the Saami Council, which represents Indigenous Scandinavian peoples.
COVID Passports: Certification Is ‘One Option,’ Vaccines Minister Says
It would be “remiss” of the government not to consider COVID certification as a way of fully reopening the economy, Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi says.
Amid criticism of the plans, Mr Zahawi said: “It’s only right that we look at all these options that are available to us to take our lives back.”
The government said certificates showing vaccination, test or immunity status could “provide reassurance.”
Boris Johnson said they could help signal a person is not contagious.
SHC Asks if 5g Harmful To Health
Sindh High Court (SHC) on Monday issued a notice to the Pakistan Telecommunication Technology (PTA), asking whether 5G technology is harmful to health.
The court’s notice came during a hearing on a petition seeking a ban on the 5G technology. During the hearing, the court asked the petitioner to explain how the 5G technology could be harmful to health and whether anyone had been licensed to roll it out.
… The commission said the main effect that radiofrequency electromagnetic fields have on the human body is the increased temperature of exposed tissue. The body can handle small increases to body temperature, such as through exercising, but radiofrequency exposure and increased temperature can be dangerous above a certain threshold. “Another general characteristic of RF EMFs is that the higher the frequency, the lower the depth of penetration of the EMFs into the body. As 5G technologies can utilise higher EMF frequencies (>24 GHz) in addition to those currently used.
Pharmacies Score Customer Data in Vaccine Effort. Some Are Crying Foul
Many of the pharmacies require people to provide at least phone numbers or email addresses at the point of booking an appointment. Some others — including Walgreens, Sam’s Club and parent company Walmart, and Health Mart Pharmacy — require that people create online user accounts before they can search their websites for still-limited vaccine appointments.
The stores’ online appointment portals usually don’t make explicit how the companies will use the information customers are providing. Privacy watchdog groups and some members of Congress have expressed concern about whether the pharmacy chains will use that data for marketing, like selling ibuprofen or other products to deal with aftereffects of the shots. And they caution that less tech-savvy patients hunting for appointments may unwittingly join pharmacy loyalty programs that could bombard them with unexpected marketing emails and texts.
Feds Won’t Mandate Vaccine Passports, But Will Help States, Businesses, Schools Develop Standards
Andy Slavitt, senior adviser for the White House COVID-19 Task Force, said today the U.S. does not plan to create vaccine passports. Instead, Slavitt said states can develop their own system and the federal government will help develop standards for equity and privacy that programs need to uphold.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to President Biden, echoed Slavitt’s comments during a podcast today with the Politico Dispatch. Fauci said he doubts the federal government would be the “main mover of a vaccine passport concept” but he could see “individual entities” — such as businesses or schools — requiring vaccine passports to enter their buildings, Axios reported.
How Zuckerberg and Other Big Tech CEOs Threaten Democracy
Coinbase will join dozens of other publicly traded tech companies — many with household names such as Google, Facebook, Doordash, Airbnb and Slack — that have issued two types of shares in an effort to retain control for founders and insiders. The reason this is becoming increasingly popular has a lot to do with Ayn Rand, one of Silicon Valley’s favorite authors, and the “myth of the founder” her writings have helped inspire.
YouTube Takes Down Debate on Vaccinations
Last summer Bobby Kennedy, the distinguished environmental lawyer, and I had a thoughtful and substantive debate about the constitutionality of compelling people to be vaccinated against COVID.
Many people watched the debate on YouTube and commented on its educational value. Both sides were presented fairly and effectively, and viewers were able to decide for themselves who got the better of the argument. But that will no longer be possible, because YouTube has emailed the following to Children’s Health Defense: “Our team has reviewed your content and unfortunately we think it violates our medical misinformation policy. We have removed the following content from YouTube: Kennedy and Dershowitz debate.”
… Social media are private businesses not governed by the First Amendment. They have the right to do the wrong thing, including to censor. We have the right to object to their doing the wrong thing by speaking out against them. I am exercising that right in this column.
Facebook Data on Millions of User Accounts Leaked Online in Latest Breach
Data from hundreds of millions of Facebook users was leaked online on Saturday, including personal information such as phone numbers, full names, and email addresses. The leaked data from 533 million users in 106 countries was posted on an obscure hacking forum.
The data is believed to be more than a year old, but security experts say the information could still be used by criminals to commit identity fraud. That data included records on 32 million users in the United States, 11 million users in the United Kingdom and six million users in India.
LexisNexis to Provide Giant Database of Personal Information to ICE
The popular legal research and data brokerage firm LexisNexis signed a $16.8 million contract to sell information to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to documents shared with The Intercept. The deal is already drawing fire from critics and comes less than two years after the company downplayed its ties to ICE, claiming it was “not working with them to build data infrastructure to assist their efforts.”
Should Health-Care Workers Be Required to Get Coronavirus Shots? Companies Grapple with Mandates
The schism in attitudes plays out against a reality that is beginning to shift on the ground. At least a half-dozen other companies that house the elderly or infirm have announced imminent vaccine mandates. Atria Senior Living has said a “Sleeve Up” campaign will require its 10,000 employees to have at least one shot by May 1. Sunrise Senior Living just announced that all of its workers must be fully vaccinated by the end of July.
Among health systems, Houston Methodist last week became the nation’s first to announce that vaccination would be mandatory for the 26,000 employees at its eight hospitals and many outpatient settings, starting with managers, who must get at least one shot by April 15, or risk suspension or layoff.
Nothing To See Here: Microsoft Files Patent to Mine Cryptos Using Human Brain Activity
The patent states: “For example, a brain wave or body heat emitted from the user when the user performs the task provided by an information service provider, such as viewing an advertisement or using certain internet services, can be used in the mining process.”
It continues: “Instead of massive computation work required by some conventional cryptocurrency systems, data generated based on the body activity of the user can be proof-of-work, and therefore, a user can solve the computationally difficult problem unconsciously.”
Such a system would require “hooking up” a device to sensors on the body that “detect the activity required of the user to generate the cryptocurrency.” The report says that “body fluid flow” and “organ activity and movement” are two such body functions, along with brain waves and body heat, that could be monitored.
CDC Says Vaccinated Americans Don’t Need COVID-19 Tests, Quarantine to Travel
Fully vaccinated Americans traveling within the United States do not have to get tested for COVID-19 before or after their trip, and do not need to self-quarantine when they return home, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday.
It is the first change in travel guidance from the CDC since Americans started getting vaccinated and offers an easing of restrictions in place during the pandemic that began last year. The new guidance “now states that fully vaccinated people can resume travel at low risk to themselves,” according to a CDC statement.
Goodbye War on Terror, Hello Permanent Pandemic
One of the key elements in the propagandist’s toolkit for perpetuating fear is repetition, particularly if the fear messages come from different directions and sources and are cloaked in a veneer of officialdom and respectability.
In January, a bipartisan commission released a dramatic 44-page report calling for an “Apollo Program for Biodefense,” explicitly comparing the proposal to the efforts that first landed humans on the moon. The commission laid the groundwork for its report in 2015, when it published a National Blueprint for Biodefense.
Now, seizing the COVID-19 moment, the commission is making the case for a vastly expanded biodefense budget — amounting to billions of biodefense dollars annually — to implement its conveniently ready-to-go blueprint.
Social Media Accounts Should Require Proof of ID According to Australian Govt Proposal
Australia’s federal government is considering a proposal to require internet users to submit several forms of identification before they’re allowed to obtain or even just maintain social media accounts on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, according to shocking reports from several news outlets in Australia.
The extraordinary proposal seeks to ban all anonymous commenting on the internet in Australia and is being made under the guise of helping victims of domestic violence.
The recommendations come from a 471-page study released on Thursday by the Australia House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs, which heard testimony from representatives of Big Tech companies like Google and Facebook.
How America’s Surveillance Networks Helped the FBI Catch the Capitol Mob
The federal documents provide a rare view of the ways investigators exploit the digital fingerprints nearly everyone leaves behind in an era of pervasive surveillance and constant online connection. They illustrate the power law enforcement now has to hunt down suspects by studying the contours of faces, the movements of vehicles and even conversations with friends and spouses.
But civil liberties groups warn that some of these technologies threaten Americans’ privacy rights. More than a dozen U.S. cities have banned local police or government officials from using facial recognition technology, and license plate readers have sparked lawsuits arguing that it is unconstitutional to constantly log people’s locations for government review, with scant public oversight.
“Whenever you see this technology used on someone you don’t like, remember it’s also being used on a social movement you support,” said Evan Greer, director of the digital rights advocacy group Fight for the Future. “Once in a while, this technology gets used on really bad people doing really bad stuff. But the rest of the time it’s being used on all of us, in ways that are profoundly chilling for freedom of expression.”
Facebook Built the Perfect Platform for COVID Vaccine Conspiracies
You’d think during the worst pandemic in a century virtually everyone would be desperate to get their hands on a vaccine that promises to help them get their life back. But you’d be underestimating the power of Facebook and Instagram to provide all the necessary tools for anti-vaccine activists and other wellness hucksters to suck in converts. Over the years, these opportunists have cultivated a strategy optimized for the social era. They drip anti-science skepticism into Facebook groups and Instagram stories and posts, where algorithms reward content that elicits strong emotional reactions, further amplifying the misinformation.
…Even as hesitancy persists and anti-vaccine lies continue to circulate online, Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg stalwartly defends Facebook Inc.’s actions. His critics argue the company still hasn’t done enough. “The content that your websites are still promoting, still recommending, and still sharing is one of the biggest reasons people are refusing the vaccine,” Pennsylvania Representative Mike Doyle, a Democrat, said at a March 25 congressional hearing with Zuckerberg and his fellow social media CEOs. “And things haven’t changed.”
Opposition Grows Against Vaccine Passports as UK Government Looks for Path Out of COVID-19 Pandemic
On Friday, Mr Johnson said that a combination of immunity factors — if people have had the disease, a vaccination or had a COVID-19 test — would give businesses confidence.
…But there has been mounting concern from some in his own Conservative Party, as well as opposition politicians and civil rights groups, about the prospect of vaccine certificates.
“We oppose the divisive and discriminatory use of COVID status certification to deny individuals access to general services, businesses or jobs,” said a statement signed by a group of more than 70 politicians from across the political spectrum.
Attorney General James Calls on Facebook and Twitter to Stop Spread of Anti-Vaxxer Coronavirus Disinformation
New York Attorney General Letitia James, as part of a coalition of 12 attorneys general, today called on Facebook and Twitter to take stronger measures to stop the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine disinformation being spread by anti-vaxxers on their social media platforms. In a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Attorney General James and the coalition urge both CEOs to immediately and fully enforce company guidelines against vaccine misinformation in an effort to prevent needless infection and death and to hasten America’s road to recovery.
“The science is clear — this vaccine saves lives, which is why I already received my vaccine and why I encourage all New Yorkers to get their vaccine when eligible,” said Attorney General James. “As we continue to make strides in vaccinating New Yorkers and recovering from the pandemic, it is imperative that every individual has access to this lifesaving vaccine and the science-based facts about it. We must ensure that there are no barriers to individuals receiving their dose, especially those in communities most impacted by the pandemic, including communities of color. Facebook and Twitter must take immediate action to protect New Yorkers and limit any further loss of life as a result of the spread of inaccurate information.”
China Found Using Surveillance Firms to Help Write Ethnic-Tracking Specs
China enlisted surveillance firms to help draw up standards for mass facial recognition systems, researchers said on Tuesday, warning that an unusually heavy emphasis on tracking characteristics such as ethnicity created wide scope for abuse.
The technical standards, published by surveillance research group IPVM, specify how data captured by facial recognition cameras across China should be segmented by dozens of characteristics – from eyebrow size to skin color and ethnicity.
“It’s the first time we’ve ever seen public security camera networks that are tracking people by these sensitive categories explicitly at this scale,” said the report’s author, Charles Rollet.
Indiana Governor Stands by Decision to Lift Mask Mandate Next Week
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb is sticking by his decision to lift the statewide mask mandate next week amid concerns from health experts about more contagious coronavirus variants and a request from President Joe Biden for states to keep such rules in place.
…Holcomb signed executive orders Wednesday that also end the statewide crowd size and other business restrictions meant to stem the coronavirus spread as of April 6 — the day after the NCAA men’s basketball tournament now being held in Indianapolis ends. He announced those changes last week.
Holcomb said he was confident that Indiana’s health care system had the capacity to care for COVID-19 patients and that the state could react effectively to new spread of the coronavirus.
Arkansas Lawmakers Vote to Prevent Mask Mandate’s Return
Arkansas lawmakers on Wednesday voted to prohibit the state from reimposing a mask mandate to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, a day after Gov. Asa Hutchinson lifted the requirement.
The Senate voted 20-9 in favor of the measure prohibiting mandatory face coverings, sending the measure to the House.
Wisconsin Supreme Court Overturns Statewide Mask Mandate, Blocks Evers From Declaring Multiple Emergency Orders
The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Wednesday blocked Democratic Gov. Tony Evers from issuing any new public health emergency orders to mandate face masks without the approval of the Republican-controlled state Legislature.
In a 4-3 decision, conservative justices in the majority declared the statewide mask mandate invalid and ruled Evers exceeded his authority in issuing multiple emergency declarations over the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Evers used the emergency orders to require face coverings be worn indoors statewide after lawmakers opted not to.
How to Protect Your Privacy in a Post-COVID World
Governments around the world are attempting to pull us out of the COVID-19 pandemic by deploying contact-tracing apps and issuing vaccine certifications. But deep concerns around data privacy are blocking adoption. Think about it: It’s 10 p.m., do you want your local law enforcement to know where you are? How much personal information are you willing to divulge in order to get tickets to a festival or a flight to a sunny locale this year?
Dr. Dawn Song, CEO and founder of privacy-protection startup Oasis Labs, and a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of California at Berkeley, believes the blockchain and privacy technologies are the answer.
Dr. Song’s company has raised $45 million from investors, and she’s been awarded several fellowships for her research, including a MacArthur “Genius” grant and one from the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. As she told us, users need to wrest back control of their personal data (and potentially profit from its use) while keeping a tight leash on information provided to third parties.
Business Class and Bureaucracy Hell: Surviving Global Travel During COVID
While there’s a lot of talk about “vaccine passports” — and the World Health Organization has issued interim guidance on how to roll them out — for now, Iceland, Belize, Seychelles, Lebanon and Georgia are the only countries accepting vaccination certifications from Americans as a reason to skip quarantine. Most countries are relying instead on draconian, expensive and labor-intensive systems to manage their visitors.
If You Care About Privacy, It’s Time to Try a New Web Browser
We have also reached an inflection point in digital privacy. The online advertising industry is on the brink of ceasing to use web cookies, pieces of code planted in browsers that follow us from site to site and help target us with ads. Google, whose Chrome browser is the world’s most popular, has been trying to develop a new way to target us with ads without the cookie.
Let’s not wait for that. You can decide now that you don’t want to be tracked.
“We’re at a fork in the road,” said Gennie Gebhart, a director at the digital rights nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation, who follows privacy issues. “Companies that keep the lights on by advertising to users, Google included, are scrambling to see what’s the next play. It’s also a time for users to be informed and make a choice.”
Battle Rages Over Vaccine Passports
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has urged his state’s GOP-controlled legislature to pass a law forbidding passes showing proof of coronavirus vaccination, while vowing to take executive action. Congressional Republicans have similarly slammed the passports, framing them as invasive.
The Biden administration has said it will provide guidance on the matter, but signaled the decisions will largely be left up to local governments and business owners.
“We’re going to provide guidance, just as we have through the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention],” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday. “There’s currently an interagency process that is looking at many of the questions around vaccine verification.”
Americans Wake Up! Outlaw Technocrats Are Stealing Our Democracy.
Government technocrats, billionaire oligarchs, Big Pharma, Big Data, Big Media, the high-finance robber barons and the military industrial intelligence apparatus love pandemics for the same reasons they love wars and terrorist attacks.
… Now the medical cartel and its billionaire Big Tech accomplices have invoked the most potent, frightening and enduring enemy of all — the microbe.
And who can blame them? Increasing the wealth and power of the oligarchy is seldom a potent vessel for populism. Citizens accustomed to voting for their governments are unlikely to support policies that make the rich richer, increase political and social control by corporations, diminish democracy and reduce their civil rights.
No Shirt, No Shoes, No Vax, No Service? Vaccine Passports Are Coming and We’re Not Ready
“If vaccines become a passport to doing different things, we’re going to see the communities that have been already hardest hit by COVID being left behind,” Nicole Errett, a UW public health expert, told The New York Times.
The upside, of opening up faster, is irresistible. Microsoft is working in a consortium of medicine and Big Tech, called the Vaccination Credential Initiative. Slides from its early meetings show they are planning for a vax badge that would “enable a user to access a signed copy of their clinical data in a standard format, that can then be shared with another entity such as an airline, hotel, school, business, or event organizer.”
What You Need to Know About New York’s New ‘Vaccine Passport’
On Friday, New York became the first state to formally roll out a digital vaccination “passport” that residents can flash as proof that they’ve either gotten jabbed or tested negative for COVID-19. Per a statement from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, the state developed the tech, dubbed Excelsior Pass, alongside IBM as a way to fast track openings of major venues like theaters, stadiums, and—of course—wedding receptions.
The new system could be considered a prelude to the sorts of vaccine passports being trialed in other parts of the country. Back in January, a handful of health and tech heavy-hitters including Microsoft, Oracle, and the Mayo Clinic threw their weight behind the Vaccine Credential Initiative, which announced plans to roll out its own spin on the vaccine passport by this summer. There’s also the World Health Organization’s newly announced efforts to spearhead its own Smart Vaccination Certificate, not to mention the Biden administration’s own internal plans to develop its own set of universal credentials, as the Washington Post reported on Sunday.
UK Now Considering Digital Face Scanning to Enter Pubs
“Britons could have their faces scanned to allow them to access pubs, gigs and sports events under one government-funded plan being drawn up for vaccine passports,” reports the London Times.
Two companies – Mvine and iProov – are working together on the system after being given a £75,000 grant by the government having already worked with the NHS on facial recognition technology in the form of the contact tracing app.
Vaccine Passports Could Prove to Be a Privacy Minefield for Regulators
The aviation and tourism industries — both brutalized over the last year — have been the keenest to pursue this technology to re-open global travel.
The International Air Transport Association introduced its “travel pass” late last year and launched a trial with Singapore Airlines this month.
Initially created to show proof of a negative test, the app will be expanded to show proof of vaccination as well, according to Katherine Kaczynska, assistant director of corporate communications at IATA.
Kaczynska added that IATA is not in favor of mandating vaccines for travel, but the industry group instead views the app as one way to help open up international travel.
Wristbands and Dining Cards: New Army Policies Exclude, Isolate Unvaccinated
What’s happening at Fort Drum is bad enough, but maybe not as bad as the civil rights violation occurring against the unvaccinated at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division has made a vaccination card mandatory to enter a dining facility.
Because a majority of lower enlisted soldiers don’t have access to kitchens in the barracks, they are dependent on the dining facilities for most, if not all of their meals while on duty or in training rotations which don’t provide access to public restaurants.
This mandate will disproportionately affect lower-income personnel who may have to trade accepting an experimental vaccine in order to have food.
Madeira Lets In Tourists Who Can Show COVID ‘Vaccine Passport’
The island has a 7pm curfew, but in its capital of Funchal the esplanades are full of people having coffee in the sun as customers go in and out of the shops. It’s in stark contrast with the empty streets and closed shopfronts across mainland Portugal, which is still under tough restrictions imposed on 15 January to tackle what was then the world’s worst coronavirus surge.
“Obviously, border closures are necessary for extreme situations, but I think it’s time to bet on safe tourism. Why can’t this be done in other European countries?” Sara asks, as a waiter arrives with drinks.
Located off the coast of Morocco and more than 800km from mainland Portugal, Madeira is one of the few places in Europe accepting tourists – and since 18 February it has been operating a green corridor for tourists who have recovered from COVID-19 in the previous 90 days or who have been fully vaccinated against it, in a foretaste of what may be a future of vaccine passports for EU travel.
Biden Pushes Mask Mandate asCDC . Director Warns of ‘Impending Doom’
The president’s comments came only hours after the C.D.C. director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, appeared to fight back tears as she pleaded with Americans to “hold on a little while longer” and continue following public health advice, like wearing masks and social distancing, to curb the virus’s spread.
The back-to-back appeals reflected a growing sense of urgency among top White House officials and government scientists that the chance to conquer the pandemic, now in its second year, may slip through their grasp. Coronavirus infections and hospitalizations are on the upswing, including a troubling rise in the Northeast, even as the pace of vaccinations is accelerating.
“Please, this is not politics — reinstate the mandate,” Mr. Biden said, adding, “The failure to take this virus seriously is precisely what got us into this mess in the first place.”
Proposed NC Bill Would Ban ‘Censorship’ by Social Media Sites
A draft bill circulating among Senate Republicans would allow lawsuits against social media platforms for “censoring” political or religious speech.
Legal experts say it clearly violates federal communications law in a number of ways and would be unlikely to ever take effect.
Conservatives have claimed for some time that their voices are unfairly downgraded or banned by social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, which did ban former President Donald Trump’s account after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
The “Stop Social Media Censorship Act,” sponsored by Sen. Ted Alexander, R-Gaston, would allow users to sue social media sites in state court for censoring or hiding political or religious speech. Users could sue for up to $75,000 in statutory damages, plus any punitive or compensatory damages awarded.
It would also forbid social media sites from censoring or banning users for “hate speech.”
USA TODAY Joins the New Media Trend of Crushing the Unpopular
The subject became a topic on Twitter earlier in the day, after one of its authors wrote that it was her “first story” with USA TODAY.
“Congratulations on using your new journalistic platform to try to pressure tech companies to terminate the ability of impoverished criminal defendants to raise money for their legal defense from online donations,” Greenwald wrote. “You’re well on your way upward in this industry for sure.”
Twitter’s employees tellingly opted to make Greenwald — rather than the story itself — trend on the platform by Monday afternoon, with messages accusing Greenwald of being “misogynistic” or “racist” quickly derailing the discourse.
His effort to broach the topic was nonetheless a laudable one, as valid questions exist about USA TODAY’s report. Among them: Why did it take three reporters to rehash public information?
Journalists Attack the Powerless, Then Self-Victimize to Bar Criticisms of Themselves
Wow, what brave and intrepid journalistic work: speaking truth to power and standing up to major power centers by . . . working as little police officers for tech giants to prevent private citizens from being able to afford criminal lawyers. Clear the shelves for the imminent Pulitzer. Whatever you think about the Capitol riot, everyone has the right to a legal defense and to do what they can to ensure they have the best legal defense possible — especially when the full weight of the Justice Department is crashing down on your head even for non-violent offenses, which is what many of these defendants are charged with due to the politically charged nature of the investigation.
The right to a vigorous defense has always been a central cause of mine as a lawyer and a journalist (it also used to be a central cause of left-wing groups like the ACLU, years ago; it was that same principle that caused then-candidate Kamala Harris to solicit donations last summer that went to protesters charged with violent rioting). A federal prosecutor was recently referred for disciplinary procedures for publicly threatening to charge some of these Capitol protesters with sedition, one of the gravest crimes in the U.S. Code. That is how grave the legal jeopardy is faced by these people trying to raise money for lawyers.
Facebook Freezes Nicolás Maduro’s Page for Spreading Virus Misinformation
The Facebook page of Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, was frozen for “repeated” violations of its misinformation policies, including a post about an unproven remedy for COVID-19, the company said on Sunday, the latest example of the social media giant cracking down on political figures who violate its content policies.
Mr. Maduro’s Facebook page will be frozen for 30 days in a “read-only” mode, the company said, “due to repeated violations of our rules.”
“We removed a video posted to President Nicolas Maduro’s Page for violating our policies against misinformation about COVID-19 that is likely to put people at risk for harm,” a Facebook spokesman said. “We follow guidance from the W.H.O. that says there is currently no medication to cure the virus.” The spokesman was referring to the World Health Organization.
Facebook’s move came after Mr. Maduro posted a video on his page that promoted Carvativir, a drug derived from thyme. He said in January that the medicine was a “miracle,” but did not provide evidence of its effectiveness — and declined to release the name of the “brilliant Venezuelan mind” that created the drug. In the video, Mr. Maduro falsely claimed that Carvativir can be used preventively and therapeutically against the coronavirus.
Coming Soon — Vaccine Passports Will Determine Where You Can Go and What You Can Do
The Biden administration and private companies are working to develop vaccine passports that would allow Americans to prove they’ve been vaccinated against COVID as the country opens, The Washington Post reported Sunday.
The initiative, driven largely by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has gained momentum as a growing number of companies and venues — from movie theaters, restaurants and music venues to cruise lines and sports teams — have said they will require proof of vaccination before opening their doors.
The passports are expected to be free and available through smartphone apps, which would display a scannable code similar to an airline boarding pass. Americans without smartphone access would be able to print out the passports, developers have said.
The ‘COVID-Industrial Complex’ — a Web of Big Pharma, Big Tech and Politicians — are Profiting Off the Pandemic at the Expense of the Public
The COVID-industrial complex (CIC) is a transnational multi-billion dollar public-private partnership. It is a well-oiled machine, hence why it is only appropriate to add it to the select list of industrial complexes where “Businesses become entwined in social or political systems or institutions, creating or bolstering a profit economy from these systems.”
Under this industrial complex, the government, which sits at the top of the food chain, uses its financial power to create an enabling environment that rewards other participants in the CIC. Some may justify the existence of the COVID-industrial complex because overspending and waste are permissible if it results in saved lives.
Others may argue that capitalism rewards those who produce things that are rare and valuable. While there is nothing wrong with making a profit, there is something morally wrong when the excessive gain is made on the back of people’s misery, primarily when characterized by secrecy, overpricing, cronyism, inefficiency, and unfairness.
Several COVID contracts have been awarded without a proper competitive tendering process. An investigation by USA Today on 15 of the states most impacted by the pandemic revealed over 1,600 COVID contracts with no competitive bids.Some of the contracts even went to vendors engaged in tax fraud.
The Sovietization of the American Press
The first 50 days of Biden’s administration have been a surprise on multiple fronts. The breadth of his stimulus suggests a real change from the Obama years, while hints that this administration wants to pick a unionization fight with Amazon go against every tendency of Clintonian politics. But it’s hard to know what much of it means, because coverage of Biden increasingly resembles official press releases, often featuring embarrassing, Soviet-style contortions.
When Biden decided not to punish Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the murder of Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi on the grounds that the “cost” of “breaching the relationship with one of America’s key Arab allies” was too high, the New York Times headline read: “Biden Won’t Penalize Saudi Crown Prince Over Khashoggi’s Killing, Fearing Relations Breach.” When Donald Trump made the same calculation, saying he couldn’t cut ties because “the world is a very dangerous place” and “our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the paper joined most of the rest of the press corps in howling in outrage.
“In Extraordinary Statement, Trump Stands With Saudis Despite Khashoggi Killing.” was the Times headline, in a piece that said Trump’s decision was “a stark distillation of the Trump worldview: remorselessly transactional, heedless of the facts, determined to put America’s interests first, and founded on a theory of moral equivalence.” The paper noted, “Even Mr. Trump’s staunchest allies on Capitol Hill expressed revulsion.”
Big Tech Censors Religion, Too
Consider LifeSiteNews, a popular religious news website. In February its YouTube channel was permanently banned by Google, which deleted all its videos. Google claimed its action was a response to COVID-19 misinformation but wouldn’t tell LSN which video had offended its standards. The tech giant had flagged LSN for a video of an American Catholic bishop criticizing vaccines developed with fetal cells. The website’s editor in chief said “our best guess is that the channel was taken down for our frank and factual discussion of the controversy around abortion-tainted medicines and vaccines.”
In January, Bishop Kevin Doran, an Irish Catholic, tweeted: “There is dignity in dying. As a priest, I am privileged to witness it often. Assisted suicide, where it is practiced, is not an expression of freedom or dignity.” Twitter removed this message and banned Bishop Doran from posting further. While the company reversed its decision after public opposition, others haven’t been so lucky.
The previous month, Twitter blocked a post from the Daily Citizen, which is run by Focus on the Family, an evangelical Christian nonprofit, and suspended its account. The reason: a tweet that respectfully challenged the underlying premise of transgenderism. Twitter made a similar move against Catholic World Report, though the company later said it had acted in error. Ryan T. Anderson of the Ethics and Public Policy Center saw Amazon ban his book criticizing transgenderism, “When Harry Became Sally.” Amazon shows no signs of changing course.
Vaccine Passports (or Something Like Them) May Be Coming Soon
The passport would be free and available in both physical and digital formats, the latter likely being a “scannable code similar to an airline boarding pass,” according to the Washington Post. There are at least 17 initiatives underway to develop the credentialing technology, some of which stem from the private sector and are already moving forward into the testing phase: Currently, New York State is piloting an IBM-developed digital certificate. Another initiative, made up of more than 225 public and private organizations, is preparing to roll out its software next month.
If this is already sounding massively complicated and worryingly scattered, that’s because it is: The number of disparate efforts to build the same technology is “one of the most significant hurdles facing federal officials,” the Post reports. A slide from a recent meeting held by the Federal Health IT Coordinating Council, a government body within the Department of Health and Human Services, warned: “A chaotic and ineffective vaccine credential approach could hamper our pandemic response by undercutting health safety measures, slowing economic recovery, and undermining public trust and confidence.”
Big Tech CEOs Waffle on Banning the 12 Major Anti-Vaxxers at U.S. Congressional Hearing
“Analysis of a sample of anti-vaccine content that was shared or posted on Facebook and Twitter a total of 812,000 times between 1 February and 16 March 2021 shows that 65% of anti-vaccine content is attributable to the Disinformation Dozen,” the report states.
“Despite repeatedly violating Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter’s terms of service agreements, nine of the Disinformation Dozen remain on all three platforms, while just three have been comprehensively removed from just one platform.”
“Research conducted by CCDH last year has shown that platforms fail to act on 95 per cent of the COVID and vaccine misinformation reported to them, and we have uncovered evidence that Instagram’s algorithm actively recommends similar misinformation,” they added. “Tracking of 425 anti-vaccine accounts by CCDH shows that their total following across platforms now stands at 59.2 million as a result of these failures.”
At Thursday’s hearing on disinformation in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce featuring Dorsey, Zuckerberg, and Alphabet/Google CEO Sundar Pichai, all three either hedged or simply reiterated that their companies have rules when pressed by Representative Mike Doyle on the dozen anti-vaxxers, per TechCrunch.
Far-Right Extremists Move From ‘Stop the Steal’ to Stop the Vaccine
Adherents of far-right groups who cluster online have turned repeatedly to one particular website in recent weeks — the federal database showing deaths and adverse reactions nationwide among people who have received COVID-19 vaccinations.
Although negative reactions have been relatively rare, the numbers are used by many extremist groups to try to bolster a rash of false and alarmist disinformation in articles and videos with titles like “COVID-19 Vaccines Are Weapons of Mass Destruction — and Could Wipe out the Human Race” or “Doctors and Nurses Giving the COVID-19 Vaccine Will be Tried as War Criminals.”
If the so-called Stop the Steal movement appeared to be chasing a lost cause once President Biden was inaugurated, its supporters among extremist organizations are now adopting a new agenda from the anti-vaccination campaign to try to undermine the government.
3 Big Tech Billionaires Top List of Pandemic Profiteers
Here are highlights from the last 12 months of billionaire wealth growth:
The combined wealth of the nation’s 657 billionaires increased more than $1.3 trillion, or 44.6%, since the pandemic lockdowns began. [Master Table] Over those same 12 months, more than 29 million Americans contracted the virus and more than 535,000 died from it. As billionaire wealth soared over, almost 80 million lost work between March 21, 2020, and Feb. 20, 2021, and 18 million were collecting unemployment on Feb. 27, 2021.
There are 43 newly minted billionaires since the beginning of the pandemic, when there were 614. A number of new billionaires joined the list after initial public offerings (IPOs) of stock in companies such as Airbnb, DoorDash and Snowflake.
The increase in the combined wealth of the 15 billionaires with the greatest growth in absolute wealth was $563 billion or 82%. [See Table 1] The wealth growth of just these 15 represents over 40% of the wealth growth among all billionaires. Topping the list are Elon Musk ($137.5 billion richer, 559%), Jeff Bezos ($65 billion, 58%) and Mark Zuckerberg ($47 billion, 86%).
Disney World Trials Facial Recognition At Magic Kingdom
According to a Walt Disney World announcement, Magic Kingdom will be using facial recognition to ID guests between March 23 and April 23, 2021.
“At Walt Disney World Resort, we’re always looking for innovative and convenient ways to improve our Guests’ experience — especially as we navigate the impact of COVID-19.”
“The technology we’re testing captures an image of a Guest’s face and converts it into a unique number, which is then associated with the form of admission being used for park entry.”
Nothing says ‘improving a guest’s experience’ quite like using facial recognition to track their movements.
Heat to Open ‘Vaccinated Only’ Section at Home Games
The Heat announced plans Tuesday to open two sections in their lower bowl only for fully vaccinated fans starting with an April 1 game against Golden State. They are the first NBA team to reveal such a plan, though other clubs are believed to be working on similar measures.
Masks will still be required, even for the vaccinated fans, but social distancing rules will be slightly relaxed in those areas.
The NBA told teams last week that such sections would be allowed, under very specific conditions and in accordance with local and state health and safety guidelines. If any of the sections provided by teams include seats within 30 feet of the court, fans in those seats will have to take a PCR test two days prior to the game or an approved antigen test on game day.
Big Tech’s Danger to Kids Finally Aligns Democrats, Republicans
“Big tech is essentially handing our children a lit cigarette and hoping they stay addicted for life,” said Rep. Bill Johnson, an Ohio Republican. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat from Florida, peppered the CEOs with statistics that show a rising level of depression and suicidal thoughts among adolescents that coincides with the rise of social media.
Historically, Big Tech products have been reserved for people 13 and older. But in the past few years, companies like Google and Facebook have tried to push the bounds of those limits, creating services for younger and younger kids. (Twitter, primarily used by older users, evaded scrutiny on the issue.)
YouTube Kids, launched in 2015, is billed as a child-safe version of the massive Google-owned site. Last month, Google said it’s testing new parental controls for kids 9 and up to use the full scale version of YouTube. Facebook four years ago unveiled a version of its Messenger chat app for kids to talk to their parents and friends. Now, the social network is working on a version of Instagram for kids under 13.
12 Attorneys General Call on Facebook and Twitter to Remove Anti-Vaxxers from Their Services
A coalition of 12 state attorneys general on Wednesday called on Facebook and Twitter to enforce their community guidelines and rid their services of misinformation being spread by accounts promoting anti-vaccine ideas.
“Misinformation disseminated via your platforms has increased vaccine hesitancy, which will slow economic recovery and, more importantly, ultimately cause even more unnecessary deaths,” the coalition of attorneys general wrote in a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.
The coalition highlights that just 12 accounts and their associated organizations are responsible for 65% of the public anti-vaccine content on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. In particular, the accounts target people of color to discourage them from getting the COVID-19 vaccines, the letter said.
Lawmakers: Require Nursing Homes to Disclose Vaccine Data
Nursing homes have to publicly disclose their vaccination rates for flu and pneumonia but there’s no similar mandate for COVID-19 shots, even though the steepest toll from the virus has been among residents of long-term care facilities.
Now lawmakers of both parties are urging the Biden administration to require disclosure of coronavirus vaccination rates for residents and staff, and to make it easy for family members, advocacy groups and researchers to access such potentially critical details.
“The continued absence of publicly available COVID-19 vaccination information at the facility level leaves residents, workers, and their families in the dark, makes it impossible to fully evaluate the effect of these vaccines, and hinders efforts to ensure equitable vaccine access for communities of color,” Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, write in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra.
What a Gambling App Knows About You
As gambling apps explode in popularity around the world, the documents show how one of the gambling industry’s most popular apps has adopted some of the internet’s most invasive tracking and profiling techniques. Instead of using data to identify and help problem gamblers like Gregg, critics of the industry said, information is used to keep players hooked.
Gambling apps like Sky Bet make it as easy to wager as to order an Uber. Many people view them as an innocent diversion. But to a group of gambling addiction experts, data-privacy activists and industry critics in Britain, home to the world’s largest app gambling market, the documents offer a warning to players and regulators in countries like the United States, where similar services are growing rapidly. More than a dozen states, including New Jersey, Nevada and Virginia, now allow app-based gambling.
They said the companies behind the apps required more oversight and are calling for tougher laws to identify problem gamblers and prevent data from being used in underhanded and predatory ways.
UK Lockdown One Year On: It Doesn’t Work, It Never Worked, & It Wasn’t Supposed To Work
It’s a long time since “2 weeks to flatten the curve,” became an obvious lie. Sometime in July it turned into a sick joke. The curve was flattened, the NHS protected and the clapping was hearty and meaningful.
…and none of it made any difference.
This was not a sacrifice for the “greater good.” It was not a hard decision with arguments on both sides. It was not a risk-benefit scenario. The “risks” were in fact certainties, and the “benefits” entirely fictional.
Because lockdowns don’t work. It’s really important to remember that.
Even if you subscribe to the belief that “Sars-Cov-2” is a unique discrete entity (which is far from proven), or that it is incredibly dangerous (which is demonstrably untrue), the lockdown has not worked to, in any way, limit this supposed threat.
The Growing Movement to End the Surveillance Economy
Thirty-eight different advocacy organizations have come together to ban surveillance advertising. They argue that as long as social media platforms profit from collecting more user data — so they can use it to target ads — then they will do whatever possible to hook and keep users on their sites, amplifying “echo chambers, radicalization, and viral lies.” By enabling Facebook and Google to track and serve ads across the web and deliver precisely modeled audiences to advertisers, targeted ads also rob news publishers of their own business model, by making irrelevant the unique specialness of their readerships.
In advance of yet another hearing on Thursday, this time in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, on Big Tech disinformation, where we’ll get another array of claims and counterclaims about censorship and moderation, legal immunity for toxic content and antitrust enforcement, the truth is that attacking this central feature of Big Tech’s profit mechanism would be the biggest near-term intervention to fundamentally change the media ecosystem.
Digital Health Pass: IBM and Moderna Hook Up to Capitalize on COVID Reset
IBM is partnering with COVID-19 mRNA vaccine maker Moderna to track vaccine administration in real time through its various blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, and hybrid cloud services. According to a company press release, the collaboration will “focus on exploring the utility of IBM capabilities in the U.S.,” such as a recently unveiled pilot program for a Covid-19 Digital Health Pass in the State of New York, which effectively deputizes private businesses to enforce government-imposed Covid-19 regulations.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the initiative, billed as the “Excelsior Pass,” during his 2021 State of the State Address in January and the program’s initial phase was tested at the Barclays Center during an NBA game, followed by another test at Madison Square Garden for an NHL game on March 2.
According to the state’s official website, the trial runs were designed to maximize “return on investment and saving development time” before submitting the “wallet app” to the Google and Apple app stores.
“The Excelsior Pass will play a critical role in getting information to venues and sites in a secure and streamlined way,” said Cuomo, who in February rolled out the state’s reopening guidelines for sports and entertainment venues, which would pave the way “to fast-track the reopening of these businesses and getting us one step closer to reaching a new normal (emphasis added).”
‘Tomorrow It Could Be Somebody Else’: Bernie Sanders Comes Out Against Trump Twitter Ban
Sen Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) came out against the Twitter ban of former president Donald Trump yesterday. Sanders expressed his discomfort with the role of Big Tech in censorship viewpoints, a sharp departure from his Democratic colleagues who have demanded more such corporate censorship. In an interview on Tuesday with New York Times columnist Ezra Klein, Sanders stated that he didn’t feel “particularly comfortable” with the ban despite his view that Trump is “a racist, sexist, xenophobe, pathological liar, an authoritarian … a bad news guy.” He stated “if you’re asking me do I feel particularly comfortable that the then president of the United States could not express his views on Twitter? I don’t feel comfortable about that.”
‘I Take Full Responsibility’: Merkel Cancels Draconian Easter Lockdown Amid Backlash From Furious Germans
One day after imposing a 5-day ultra-strict lockdown set to take effect over Easter weekend (presumably to head off any holiday-inspired spread), German Chancellor Angela Merkel has abandoned the plan, though Germany is still planning to extend its current restrictions through April 18.
Merkel is dropping the plan after it inspired an intense public backlash and resistance by politicians in the opposition and Merkel’s coalition, anonymous sources reportedly told Bloomberg. Merkel informed the leaders of Germany’s 16 states in a video call on Wednesday morning that she was dropping the five-day lockdown, which would have closed all businesses. Even supermarkets would have been forced to limit operations.
The planned restrictions also prohibited private gatherings of more than five adults from two different households, and required Easter services at German churches to be conducted virtually, angering Germans who already spent their Christmas holiday isolated from family members. During a meeting earlier this week, Germany’s local leaders reluctantly assented to the Chancellor’s plan.
Whitehead: ‘We Are Building Our Own Electronic Concentration Camps’
The government’s efforts to round up those who took part in the Capitol riots shows exactly how vulnerable we all are to the menace of a surveillance state that aspires to a God-like awareness of our lives.
Relying on selfies, social media posts, location data, geotagged photos, facial recognition, surveillance cameras and crowdsourcing, government agents are compiling a massive data trove on anyone and everyone who may have been anywhere in the vicinity of the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
The amount of digital information is staggering: 15,000 hours of surveillance and body-worn camera footage; 1,600 electronic devices; 270,000 digital media tips; at least 140,000 photos and videos; and about 100,000 location pings for thousands of smartphones.
And that’s just what we know.
More than 300 individuals from 40 states have already been charged and another 280 arrested in connection with the events of January 6. As many as 500 others are still being hunted by government agents.
Also included in this data roundup are individuals who may have had nothing to do with the riots but whose cell phone location data identified them as being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Bill Introduced to Allow S.C. Businesses to Publicly Promote and Display Percentage of Fully Vaccinated Employees
Senator Marlon Kimpson proposed the legislation to allow businesses to display a sign, decal, or other media on the their premises with the percentage of employees who have been fully vaccinated for the COVID-19 virus. The bill would also require businesses to disclose that percentage if requested by patrons.
Kimpson said, “Whether those businesses choose to advocate for their employees to get vaccinated, or require masks, or create a safe environment is up to them, but this puts the power of informed choice back in the hands of customers.”
In response to the legislation, Governor Henry McMaster’s office said the bill is an “ill-conceived, unconstitutional attempt to put government squarely in the middle of the relationship between a business and its customers. It threatens personal liberty and places a ludicrous burden on business owners.”
Hang on to That COVID-19 Vaccination Card — It’s Important
“What these little cards have the potential to do is to make something like international travel easier by avoiding requirements for quarantine or testing,” Amesh Adalja, M.D., FIDSA, an infectious disease specialist and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, told ABC News.
The logistics around how a “vaccine passport” would work are still up for discussion. “Nothing has been put into place yet,” said Adalja.
Even so, the COVID vaccination card is hardly the first of its kind. Some countries, for example, require proof of vaccination for yellow fever, and many public and private schools require that the children enrolled be fully vaccinated.
All vaccinations administered in the U.S. should have a paper trail, but if your vaccine card can help you navigate through our new normal, you may want to treat it with care.
A Better Path to Tech Reform? Felony Charges
Disinformation about COVID-19 has undermined the country’s response to the pandemic. Disinformation about the 2020 election led to the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. In both cases, internet platforms played a role in amplifying and spreading that disinformation. If past testimony is any guide, on Thursday the CEOs will dissemble and promise to follow up with better answers to any question they do not want to answer in front of cameras. Nothing will change.
Congress has a duty to investigate internet platforms, but the timing could not be worse. The top priority for the White House and Democrats in Congress is to end the pandemic, followed by minimizing its economic damage. Passing the American Recovery Act is a great accomplishment, but the pandemic exposed structural weaknesses in the economy that call for a huge investment in infrastructure. Then there’s the matter of restoring democracy and voting rights prior to the 2022 midterms. These priorities will leave little time for much else, even an issue as urgent as reforming internet platforms, which have undermined democracy and public health to a degree unprecedented in generations, if ever.
Fortunately, there are two options to buy time, neither of which requires congressional action. It merely requires the government to apply regulatory tools that do not get used frequently, namely subjecting business executives to felony prosecution.
Facebook Hit by French Lawsuit Over Hate Speech
The Paris-based campaign group, known by its French acronym RSF, said it was taking Facebook to court for “misleading commercial practices”.
The watchdog argues that while Facebook pledges in its terms of service to provide “a safe, secure and error-free environment” for users, it fails to do this as hateful content and misinformation are widespread on the site.
The legal complaint, seen by AFP, targets subsidiaries Facebook France and Facebook Ireland, through which the company conducts some of its French activities.
In particular, the complaint referenced death threats against journalists at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo posted on Facebook, as well as “Hold Up”, a widely debunked French film about the coronavirus pandemic.
Companies found to have carried out misleading commercial practices can be fined up to 10 percent of their average annual revenues in France.
Given that Facebook uses the same terms of service worldwide, the French court ruling “could have a global impact”, RSF said, adding that it was considering “launching similar cases in other countries.”
1.3 Billion Facebook Posts Removed Between October and December, Company Says
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle in recent months have pressured Facebook and other social networking giants to do more to combat misinformation peddled on their platforms about the coronavirus, election integrity and other hotly-debated political topics.
Energy and Commerce ranking member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) said earlier this month social that media companies need to “do better” in combatting misinformation given “the significant role they play in our society.”
“Unfortunately, Big Tech has broken any sense of trust that they can be fair stewards for speech and the truth. It is time for Energy and Commerce Republicans to act,” she said. “To be clear, we will not pursue government regulation of speech, but it’s a dereliction of our duty to our constituents to do nothing.”
Democrats Plan to Come for Big Tech With Swarm of Small Antitrust Bills
Representative David Cicilline, the chair of the judiciary committee, told Axiosthis weekend that he sees prepping numerous proposals on antitrust as a sort of drone swarm tactic that would overwhelm Big Tech’s political firewall by sheer numbers.
Cicilline told Axios that he believes the result of the committee’s work could be 10 or more small bills that he believes would increase the likelihood that individual components could pass—as individual propositions may have broader support from members of both parties—and that would be harder for lobbyists to unite against. There’s also the possibility that tech firms could target each other in the crossfire over individual bills. For example, while both Apple and Facebook might put up a united defense on some antitrust issues, they have a bitter, ongoing feud over more specific arguments like user privacy and the way Apple runs the iOS App Store.
“If you look at the way these technology companies have staffed up with their lobbying and the money they’re investing in Washington, it’s designed… to prevent any changes to the current ecosystem that benefits them enormously,” Cicilline told the site. “They have literally billions and billions and billions of reasons to try to protect the current system because it produces… profits not seen on planet Earth.”
“My strategy is you’ll see a number of bills introduced, both because it’s harder for (the tech companies) to manage and oppose, you know, 10 bills as opposed to one,” the representative added.
Hohmann: Technocracy Will Dehumanize All Humans Into ‘Digital Assets’
One year ago, in March 2020, as governments were shutting down their economies citing a mysterious virus, Gates did a series of media interviews calling for a globalized “digital certificate” for every human being on the planet.
He said this was the only way to keep up with who has the virus and who has been vaccinated. Note that no vaccine was known to be in the pipeline in March 2020, but Gates talked about the vaccine as if it was just around the corner. He knew.
In a March 18, 2020 “Ask Me Anything” online forum sponsored by Reddit, Gates was asked what changes needed to be made to the way businesses operate to ensure public health without ruining the economy.
Gates’ answer to the problem was digital certificates, which clearly drives once-free Western societies into a “show your papers” scenario that pre-COVID would have been considered a Nazi-like taboo.
Gates was also known at the time to be investing in the ID2020 initiative, which seeks to connect people’s vaccine history to their purchasing actions.
Instead of taking Gates seriously back in March 2020, the vast majority of folks blew off his comments as the fantasy of the world’s biggest geek.
Big Tech ‘Making Billions’ Off Surveillance Advertising
A global coalition of more than three dozen groups on Monday launched a campaign to ban surveillance advertising, which the leaders of the effort described as “the extractive profit model underlying so many of Big Tech’s worst behaviors.”
“Surveillance advertising — the core profit-driver for gatekeepers like Facebook and Google, as well as adtech middlemen — is the practice of extensively tracking and profiling individuals and groups, and then microtargeting ads at them based on their behavioral history, relationships, and identity” the coalition — co-organized by Accountable Tech and the American Economic Liberties Project — said in a joint statement.
Your Face Is Not Your Own
Computers once performed facial recognition rather imprecisely, by identifying people’s facial features and measuring the distances among them — a crude method that did not reliably result in matches. But recently, the technology has improved significantly, because of advances in artificial intelligence. A.I. software can analyze countless photos of people’s faces and learn to make impressive predictions about which images are of the same person; the more faces it inspects, the better it gets. Clearview is deploying this approach using billions of photos from the public internet. By testing legal and ethical limits around the collection and use of those images, it has become the front-runner in the field.
After Clearview’s activities came to light, Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts wrote to the company asking that it reveal its law-enforcement customers and give Americans a way to delete themselves from Clearview’s database. Officials in Canada, Britain, Australia and the European Union investigated the company. There were bans on police use of facial recognition in parts of the United States, including Boston and Minneapolis, and state legislatures imposed restrictions on it, with Washington and Massachusetts declaring that a judge must sign off before the police run a search.
In Illinois and Texas, companies already had to obtain consent from residents to use their “faceprint,” the unique pattern of their face, and after the Clearview revelations, Senators Bernie Sanders and Jeff Merkley proposed a version of Illinois’s law for the whole country. California has a privacy law giving citizens control over how their data is used, and some of the state’s residents invoked that provision to get Clearview to stop using their photos. (In March, California activists filed a lawsuit in state court.) Perhaps most significant, 10 class-action complaints were filed against Clearview around the United States for invasion of privacy, along with lawsuits from the A.C.L.U. and Vermont’s attorney general. “This is a company that got way out over its skis in an attempt to be the first with this business model,” Nathan Freed Wessler, one of the A.C.L.U. lawyers who filed the organization’s lawsuit, in Illinois state court, told me.
It seemed entirely possible that Clearview AI would be sued, legislated or shamed out of existence. But that didn’t happen. With no federal law prohibiting or even regulating the use of facial recognition, Clearview did not, for the most part, change its practices. Nor did it implode. While it shut down private companies’ accounts, it continued to acquire government customers. Clearview’s most effective sales tool, at first, was a free trial it offered to anyone with a law-enforcement-affiliated email address, along with a low, low price: You could access Clearview AI for as little as $2,000 per year. Most comparable vendors — whose products are not even as extensive — charged six figures. The company later hired a seasoned sales director who raised the price. “Our growth rate is crazy,” Hoan Ton-That, Clearview’s chief executive, said.
Teachers Sue LA School District Over COVID Vaccine Mandate
Employees of the second-largest school district in the U.S. filed suit last week to prevent the district from mandating COVID-19 vaccines as a condition of employment.
In a press release, HFDF said LAUSD’s vaccine mandate violates federal law and basic human rights by requiring employees to take an experimental vaccine in order to remain employed.
All COVID vaccines available in the U.S. — Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — are approved under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). By the FDA’s own definition, that makes the vaccines “experimental” until or unless the FDA licenses them.
School employees alleged in their complaint that the statute granting the FDA power to authorize a medical product for emergency use, 21 U.S.C. § Section 360bbb-3, requires that the person being administered the unapproved product be advised of the benefits and risks, and of his or her right to refuse the product.
Israel’s Supreme Court Rules Air Travel Restrictions Unconstitutional
Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled on Wednesday that the government’s restrictions on entering and exiting the country are unconstitutional, daily Haaretz reported.
Currently, the state will neither permit entry to those who are unvaccinated nor those who have recovered from a bout of COVID-19.
In addition, the Israeli government limited the entry capacity to 3,000 passengers per day — an unprecedented policy that has also drawn legal queries as to its constitutionality.
The air travel limits were due to expire on March 21, and the justices have now ruled that they will not be extended.
States Are Right to Rebel Against Big Tech
As Congress continues its interrogation of monopolistic practices of technology companies, states are getting into the game. Among the first targets on their list are Apple and Google, which together command 100 percent of the market for smartphone operating systems. New bills introduced in several states would threaten the companies’ dominance and represent an opportunity for state leaders to put fairness in commerce at the center of governance.
All apps that iPhone users download pass through Apple’s app store, because Apple doesn’t allow alternative marketplaces. Google uses its own store, which is called Google Play and is preinstalled on most Android phones, to give preference to its own apps over similar apps from competitors. While Google does allow alternative app stores, users must download them.
Both companies retain as much as 30% of the money consumers pay both for apps and for the purchases they make within those apps. (Credit card networks typically charge around 3 percent in transaction fees.) Apple made $72 billion last year from app store fees alone, while Google Play earned Google $39 billion, according to a research company called Sensor Tower. This week Google said it would reduce its commission for some app store sales. Both companies are targets of American and European inquiries into monopolies in the technology market.
Facebook Working on Instagram Product for Children Under 13 Years Old
Facebook did not respond to a request for comment sent late Thursday but did confirm to other news outlets, such as Australia’s ABC News, that it was indeed working on an Instagram product for children. The company did not elaborate on the kinds of things that would differentiate an Instagram For Kids product from regular Instagram.
It’s long been said that social media is the new smoking and this heightened focus on children would seem to give more ammunition to that thesis. Tobacco companies spent the 1970s and 80s marketing their product to kids in an effort to create a new generation of smokers as the negative health effects of smoking became better understood and led people to quit the product. Tobacco ads on TV and radio were banned in 1971, but it wasn’t until the 1990s when there was a concerted effort to crack down on tobacco marketing in the U.S., with a ban on tobacco billboards starting in 1999.
Anti-advertising advocates have long worried about the kinds of messages that kids have been receiving, whether it’s about tobacco or particularly sugary food. But messages about the dangers of social media haven’t been spread with the same cohesive and well-funded movements that emerged like the anti-tobacco organizations of the 1990s.
It obviously remains to be seen what kind of product an Instagram for kids might look like, but we can expect Big Tech to make a concerted effort to find new demographics in the coming years. And, to be frank, there’s not a lot of money in getting Grandma on your social media platform. Aside from being very set in their ways, and by extension their buying habits, making them less attractive to advertisers, it’s much more lucrative to get a child addicted to your product because they’re more likely to use it for life. Again, it’s one of the great lessons from Big Tobacco.
Former FDA Commissioner: ‘Costly’ Social Distancing Mandate ‘Wasn’t Based on Clear Science’
By many measures, March was supposed to be a “difficult month” but as the vaccine campaign continues uninterrupted, April and May will “look much more clear.”
“People can be more liberal… people will be taking off their masks because we are going to see prevalence decline around the country and people who’ve been vaccinated can go out with more confidence.”
This shocking revelation comes just days after Senator Rand Paul destroyed Dr. Fauci’s so-called “science”-based reasons for various restrictions – from mask-wearing to social-distancing – as ‘useless political theater’.
Interestingly, Gottlieb said “both [Paul and Fauci] made valid points,” but specifically said that “Senator Paul was right, we need to see light at the end of the tunnel and have guidance that prescribes an environment where people can start doing things again.”
France to Use ‘Smart’ Cameras to Check How Many Transport Passengers Are Wearing Masks
French government has been accused of dystopian designs after authorizing the use of surveillance cameras to tally how many commuters are masking up.
A new decree has given public transport operators the power to use “intelligent video to measure the rate of mask-wearing on transport.” France’s data protection watchdog, CNIL, said the “smart” cameras will be used on buses, subways and trains to “observe” whether Covid-19 rules mandating facial coverings are being obeyed. However, the government claims that the cameras will only tabulate how many people are wearing masks, without identifying individuals.
Notably, a similar initiative was proposed back in December, but the government shelved the idea after CNIL said it risked “undermining the proper functioning of our democratic society” and that there was no clear legal framework under which it could be justified. The agency said that it decided to approve the surveillance program the second time around because the government had clearly stated its purpose and that the cameras will not “process biometric data” and therefore do not “constitute a facial recognition device.”
The decision was met with fierce opposition by civil rights groups. La Quadrature du Net, which defends digital freedoms, condemned the decree as an “authoritarian offensive.” The group also argued that surveillance was a clear violation of French law, as well as EU regulations regarding the processing of personal data.
Facebook Reveals Plan to Let You Control Augmented Reality With Your Thoughts
Facebook is researching how to take minute nerve movements in your arm and translate them into gesture controls for your gadgets. The idea announced Thursday would help the social networking giant launch augmented reality glasses, which would rely on new ways to control computers and interact with the virtual world.
“We’re developing natural, intuitive ways to interact with always-available AR glasses because we believe this will transform the way we connect with people near and far,” Facebook said in a blog post.
But to launch such a product, the company would also need access to a new type of data: your thinking.
Facebook says the wristband product would rely on a “neural interface” that adapts to you and your environment.
‘We Are Not Doing It’: Vaccine Passports Won’t Be Required in Florida, Desantis Says
As more people get vaccinated against the coronavirus, there is more talk of requiring vaccine passports to travel.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is taking a hard stance against that.
“I want to make it clear in Florida — we are not doing it,” DeSantis told reporters Thursday. “Under no circumstances will the state ask you to show proof of vaccination. People are able to make decisions for themselves.”
“In order to get the airline industry back up in the air, give people confidence that they’re gonna be safe and comfortable, you’re gonna have something like that, but here in Florida the governor is opposed to requiring people to get vaccinated and to show proof that they have been,” said Dr. Jay Wolfson from USF Morsani School of Medicine.
Big Tech Helps Set Standards for COVID-19 Vaccine Verification
The Vaccination Credential Initiative standards will incorporate digitally-verified clinical data with a name and birth date that can be also displayed as machine-readable QR codes.
After the open-source standards are released next month, they can be integrated into mobile apps that people could use to verify they have been vaccinated to gain admission to offices, restaurants, bars, entertainment venues and other public places.
Companies and large venues could also choose to request additional verification, such as a driver’s license, or temperature checks in addition to seeing an individual’s vaccine record.
England Explores Proof of Vaccine, Negative Test for Fans
England is considering the introduction of coronavirus certificates as a way of getting fans back into large sports events in significant numbers as pandemic restrictions are eased.
The government is exploring asking supporters to provide proof they have been vaccinated or have tested negative, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said Friday.
“From June 21, if all goes to plan … we hope to get people back in significant numbers,” Dowden told Sky News. “We’re piloting the different things that will enable that to happen. Clearly it will have to be done in a COVID-secure way.”
One of the pilot events is due to be the FA Cup final on May 15, with the government hoping for more than 10,000 fans at the Wembley Stadium game after they have been tested or vaccinated.
This AI Uses Your Brain Activity to Create Fake Faces It Knows You’ll Find Attractive
A new AI could throw a wrench in the already-overwhelming world of dating apps. Developed by a team from the University of Helsinki and Copenhagen University, the artificially intelligent system was able to generate images of fake faces that it knew particular users would find attractive — because those same users’ brain activity played a part in training the AI. It sounds creepy, futuristic, and like the ultimate catfishing opportunity, right?
The system, which was detailed in a paper published in IEEE Xplore in February, uses a generative adversarial network, or GAN, to create fake faces. The word “adversarial” is in there because a GAN is made up of two different neural networks competing against one another. There’s the generator network, which generates data (in this case, images) similar to what it saw in its training data. The discriminator network, meanwhile, tries to pick out which images are fake and which are real (the fake images created by the generator are mixed with real images from the training data). As the cycle is repeated over and over, the generator gets better at creating realistic images, while the discriminator gets better at picking out the fake ones. Talk about symbiosis!
Analysis: China’s Small Tech Firms Step Out of the Shadows as Giants Reel From Regulatory Crackdown
One firm’s loss is another’s gain. China’s smaller technology companies and investors are eager to seize the day as a sweeping crackdown by anti-monopoly regulators on the country’s internet giants creates a wealth of new opportunities.
Nasdaq-listed microlender 360 DigiTech Inc is one such firm, having seen an increase in new business and a run-up in its share price after the introduction of new rules designed to rein in fintech giant Ant Group and other large rivals.
“Since December, we’ve seen clients whose credit lines have been reduced or restricted by lending giants transfer to our services,” 360 DigiTech Chief Financial Officer Alex Xu told Reuters.
UK Rapidly Moving Toward Police State Tyranny
Britain will take a step closer to police state tyranny this week when parliament passes a bill that will effectively end the cherished, longstanding tradition of ‘the right to protest.’
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021 has been described by one MP as ‘a major step on the road to authoritarianism and suppression of dissent’ and by a leading criminal barrister as ‘absolutely crazy’ and ‘really scary.’
The new legislation is the brainchild of Home Secretary Priti Patel and is being sold to the Conservative base as a way of avoiding repeats of the various Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion demos which caused damage to property, massive disruption and a huge bill to the taxpayer for extra policing costs.
Biden Admin to Provide $10B for COVID Testing to Speed School Reopenings
The Biden administration is directing $10 billion from the recently passed stimulus package toward increased COVID-19 testing in schools, as the White House grapples with the difficult task of getting the nation’s school children back into classrooms.
The funding will go out in April and be awarded directly to states, the administration said Wednesday. Because the funding will be allocated proportionally, large states such as California and Texas will receive more than $800 million each, the administration said.
COVID: EU Plans Rollout of Travel Certificate Before Summer
A digital certificate to kick-start foreign travel should be given to citizens across the EU “without discrimination”, officials say.
The aim is to enable anyone vaccinated against COVID-19, or who has tested negative or recently recovered from the virus to travel within the EU.
The 27 member states will decide how to use the new digital certificate.
Vaccine passports have faced opposition from some EU member states over concerns they might be discriminatory.
Some argue that they would enable a minority to enjoy foreign travel without restrictions while others, such as young people who are not seen as a priority for inoculation, continue to face measures such as quarantine. European Commission officials have made clear they want to avoid discrimination.
Another issue raised has been that data on the efficacy of vaccines in preventing a person from carrying or passing on the virus is incomplete.
Ahead of the EU’s announcement, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that it was working to “create an international trusted framework” for safe travel, but that vaccinations should not be a condition.
What the U.S. Missed With Google
Of the three antitrust lawsuits now pending against Google, I’ll focus on two: First, the Department of Justice says that Google used business deals with Apple and Android smartphone companies to cement its hold on our digital lives. And a group of U.S. state attorneys general claimed that Google hobbled online specialists in areas like home repair services and travel reviews.
The funny thing about the current government lawsuits is that much of the behavior is old news. Not everything. But a lot. That was clear before, but the F.T.C. documents made that undeniable. (The Wall Street Journal also got part of one of these documents in 2015.)
The Politico documents show fear within the F.T.C. in 2012 that Google would use its money and power to ensure that its search box had a prominent position on smartphones and expand its digital dominance. That’s essentially what the U.S. government (and the European Union) now say that Google did. Google has said the government’s claims have no merit.
And based on interviews and emails from executives at Google and other companies, government staffers found that Google promoted its own products — and in some cases demoted identical online information from competitors — because it helped Google’s bottom line. Again, that’s a behavior at the heart of one of the state lawsuits.
The Fully Vaccinated Employee: What the New CDC Guidelines Mean for Employers
As employers consider whether to require vaccinations for employees and how to handle employees who refuse to be vaccinated, the CDC has given employers some clarity … and new issues to navigate. On March 9, the CDC issued its first set of recommendations for fully vaccinated people, providing guidance for everyone who has been patiently wondering what types of pre-COVID activities they can safely resume now that vaccines are here.
According to the CDC, fully vaccinated people can now safely gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask, as well as refrain from quarantining and testing for COVID-19 following a known exposure so long as they remain asymptomatic. (The CDC considers someone to be “fully vaccinated” at two or more weeks after receiving the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or the single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.)
But, as dinner parties make a triumphant return and the noses of the vaccinated are mostly spared from unpleasant swabs, the new guidelines make clear that fully vaccinated people must continue to take certain precautions …
Google Gets Into Sleep Surveillance With New Nest Hub Screen
Google’s next internet-connected home device will test whether consumers trust the company enough to let it snoop on their sleep.
New sleep-sensing technology will be a key feature on Google’s latest version of its Nest Hub, a 7-inch smart screen unveiled Tuesday. Like the previous generation, the $100 Nest Hub can display pictures and video in addition to fielding questions and handling household tasks through Google’s voice-activated assistant. It also doesn’t feature a camera.
But the latest Nest Hub’s new trick may help differentiate it from similar devices, such as Amazon’s Echo Show, while also providing a springboard for Google to get more involved in helping people manage their health.
If you allow it, the device will also monitor your sleeping patterns from your bedside, negating the need to wear a fitness device or any other potentially bothersome gadget in bed. The feature, which Google intends to offer for free through at least this year, relies on a new chip Google calls Soli, which uses radar to detect motion, including the depth of a person’s breathing.
Facebook Must Tackle ‘Spanish-Language Disinformation Crisis’, Lawmakers Say
“[Facebook has] allowed their platform to be used to amplify hate and disinformation about and at our community,” said Jessica J González, the co-CEO of the media reform advocacy group Free Press at the launch of the #YaBastaFacebook campaign. “It shows a complete disregard and complete disrespect for the Latino community.”
The calls come amid growing warnings from advocacy groups that Facebook removes Spanish-language misinformation less consistently on its platforms than it does misinformation in English.
Facebook in past years has introduced several policies to address misinformation, hate speech, and violent organizing including militias on its platforms. But researchers previously told the Guardian that the company does not appear to enforce those policies equally when it comes to misinformation in Spanish.
Fulgent Genetics Awarded Contract from CDC to Study Variants of COVID-19 Virus
Fulgent Genetics, Inc. (NASDAQ: FLGT) (“Fulgent Genetics” or the “Company”), a technology company providing comprehensive testing solutions through its scalable platform, today announced that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) has awarded the Company a contract to provide genomic sequencing of samples of SARS-CoV-2 on an ongoing basis, leveraging the Company’s Next Generation Sequencing (“NGS”) capabilities.
Under the agreement, Fulgent Genetics will sequence the genomes of random samples that have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Fulgent will leverage its NGS platform and provide sequencing data to the CDC as part of their initiative to conduct a large-scale genomic survey of the virus using random samples from across the United States. Ultimately, the CDC believes this large-scale genomic survey of the virus can provide important baseline information for national and state-level virus surveillance, help define important changes in transmission, help to identify unusual or emerging variants, and ultimately improve the public health response to the virus.
Fulgent believes its position as a leading provider of COVID-19 testing solutions, combined with the Company’s ability to handle large volumes of samples on its NGS platform, make the Company uniquely suited to aid the CDC in this initiative. Fulgent was selected as a partner due to its access to samples, laboratory capabilities for processing and sequencing of these samples, ability to manage the significant amount of data collected, and ability to deliver data to the CDC under the strict specifications they require.
Ticket? Passport? Add a COVID Vaccination Card to the List of Must-Have Travel Documents
The world’s airlines are betting on vaccinations to restart international travel.
Two of Europe’s biggest airlines, British Airways and budget carrier Ryanair Holdings PLC, have started allowing fliers to provide vaccination and COVID test-result details alongside personal data, like passport numbers and visa information, during bookings. The airlines say the move will eventually help passengers show they have been inoculated when landing at destinations that have started to welcome vaccinated travelers.
Across the U.S., domestic travel is picking back up, amid stabilizing or falling COVID-19 cases and a relatively quick vaccination drive. That rebound isn’t yet showing up in international travel, where a patchwork of travel bans, quarantine rules and testing requirements have stymied cross-border flights.
Doctors Remix ‘Hamilton’ Song to Celebrate COVID Vaccine. Watch the Video
If you thought “My Shot” from “Hamilton” got stuck in your head before, wait until you hear the coronavirus remix.
A group of doctors in California adapted the hit musical’s song into an anthem on COVID-19 vaccines. The group calls themselves Vax’n 8, and they spent months working on the remix, KOVR reported.
The song is set to the Broadway music, but the group reworked the lyrics. It starts by recounting the impact the coronavirus has had on the U.S. and how people have felt beaten down after spending months fighting the virus.
The song mentions some people were hoping for a cure to “change the game.”
“A vaccine that works most effectively, so COVID can’t strike with impunity,” the song goes. “Essentially, it trains your immunity to recognize virus parts with most certainty. Activate T and B Cells to fight disease and kill the virus before it can grow with ease.”
The lyrics also explain how the vaccine works to fight against the virus and goes over the testing the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines went through before being authorized for emergency use in the U.S.
The Lockdowns Weren’t Worth It
I’ve looked at more than 100 regions and countries. None have seen exponential growth of the pandemic continue until herd immunity was reached, regardless of whether a government lockdown or other stringent measure was imposed. People eventually revert to more-relaxed behavior. When they do, the virus starts spreading again. That’s why we see the “inverted U-shape” of cases and deaths everywhere.
After a year of observation and data collection, the case for lockdowns has grown much weaker. Nobody denies overwhelmed hospitals are bad, but so is depriving people of a normal life, including kids who can’t attend school or socialize during precious years of their lives. Since everyone hasn’t been vaccinated, many wouldn’t yet be living normally even without restrictions. But government mandates can make things worse by taking away people’s ability to socialize and make a living.
The coronavirus lockdowns constitute the most extensive attacks on individual freedom in the West since World War II. Yet not a single government has published a cost-benefit analysis to justify lockdown policies — something policy makers are often required to do while making far less consequential decisions. If my arguments are wrong and lockdown policies are cost-effective, a government document should be able to demonstrate that. No government has produced such a document, perhaps because officials know what it would show.
Facebook To Label Vaccine Posts To Combat COVID-19 Misinformation
Facebook is adding informational labels to posts about vaccines as it expands efforts to counter COVID-19-related misinformation flourishing on its platforms.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a blog post Monday that labels will contain “credible information” about the vaccines from the World Health Organization. They will be in English and five other languages, with more languages added in coming weeks.
“For example, we’re adding a label on posts that discuss the safety of COVID-19 vaccines that notes COVID-19 vaccines go through tests for safety and effectiveness before they’re approved,” Zuckerberg said.
The social network is also adding a tool to help get users vaccinated by connecting them to information about where and when they can get their shot.
Four Hidden Ways Big Tech Platforms Suck Up Your Data
Big Tech companies such as Facebook, Google, and Amazon collect personal user data from many different sources to create “secret identities” of people in order to understand users’ personality traits, predict purchasing behavior, and ultimately sell these profiles to advertisers and sometimes the government.
Most often, users don’t even realize that their data is being collected and exploited by tech companies. Besides advertisers, millions of people’s personal user data has also been sold to U.S. federal agencies for border control purposes as well as to the military for counterterrorism purposes.
User data can also be used by machine learning or artificial intelligence tools that are being used by entities in the criminal justice system to help the government make decisions, including who should be imprisoned to a person’s ability to enter a country.
‘Vaccine Passports’: Will They Be Available in the U.S. in Time for Summer?
Vaccine passports that could determine what people can and can’t do come loaded with ethical considerations. Vaccines are still not easily available around the world and people would be divided into “haves” and “have nots.” Earlier this week, Dr. Mike Ryan, director of WHO’s emergencies program, said using vaccine certification as a requirement for travel “is not advised.”
Proof-of-immunization cards already exist for yellow fever, and I’ve used one for years to travel to Colombia, Ecuador or anywhere around the globe as needed.
Big Tech In Crosshairs As Congress Takes Up Antitrust Reform
Antitrust law is the cornerstone of free markets.
In the U.S., three laws — the Sherman Antitrust Act, the Federal Trade Commission Act and the Clayton Antitrust Act — work in concert to prevent any one company from becoming powerful enough to block competition in its sector, industry or market. When markets stay competitive, businesses innovate to keep prices low and quality high, which benefits consumers.
Lawmakers like Sen. Klobuchar argue that over recent decades, court rulings and inaction by regulators have eroded the ability of antitrust law to protect the market and consumers from monopolies. There’s growing bipartisan agreement that more needs to be done to reign in Big Tech companies — specifically Facebook, Google and Amazon — which many argue have become too powerful.
In December 2020, Facebook was sued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and 46 states for snapping up competitors Instagram and WhatsApp in mergers over the last decade. The FTC is aiming to unravel the acquisitions with its lawsuit. Facebook also has a long history of purchasing dozens of smaller companies that promise to become competitors if left free to grow.
A.I. Is Not What You Think
What downsides are there from neural networks and A.I.?
So many. The machines will be capable of generating misinformation at a massive scale. There won’t be any way to tell what’s real online and what’s fake. Autonomous weapons have the potential to be incredibly dangerous, too.
And the scariest thing is that many companies have promoted algorithms as a utopia that removes all human flaws. It doesn’t. Some neural networks learn from massive amounts of information on the internet — and that information was created by people. That means we are building computer systems that exhibit human bias — against women and people of color, for instance.
Tinder’s Upcoming Feature for Singles? a Criminal Background Check on Potential Dates.
To use Garbo, Tinder users will need to know their date’s first name and phone number, information they presumably get through chatting online or texting. Garbo will then give them a report of that person’s criminal history, pulling from public records.
There are a few intentional limitations to the report. Garbo is focused on violent crimes, said founder and CEO Kathryn Kosmides. It won’t provide any information on drug possession or traffic violations, “which have a disproportionate impact on marginalized groups,” the companies said in a news release.
Garbo wants to stand apart from other background-check services. It won’t provide people’s emails or addresses, in an effort to cut down on doxing and stalking. Kosmides is a survivor of gender-based violence, she said, and met her abuser on a dating app. She was stalked, she said, and doesn’t want to make that easy for anyone else to do — certainly not by using documents pulled from her site.
Who Is Making Sure the A.I. Machines Aren’t Racist?
The big thinkers of tech say A.I. is the future. It will underpin everything from search engines and email to the software that drives our cars, directs the policing of our streets and helps create our vaccines.
But it is being built in a way that replicates the biases of the almost entirely male, predominantly white work force making it.
In the nearly 10 years I’ve written about artificial intelligence, two things have remained a constant: The technology relentlessly improves in fits and sudden, great leaps forward. And bias is a thread that subtly weaves through that work in a way that tech companies are reluctant to acknowledge.
IBM and Moderna Team Up for the Great Reset and Digital Health Passes
IBM and Moderna have taken the next step toward tracking vaccinated persons in real time by teaming up to produce COVID-19 digital health passes. To help roll out the passes, they will implement the plan with artificial intelligence (AI) and hybrid cloud services.
The “focus on exploring the utility of IBM capabilities in the U.S.” is now in place with a pilot program in New York as the Excelsior Pass, which New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced during his 2021 state of the state address, Mint Press News reported.
The Excelsior Pass will enable vaccinated persons to attend events at Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden, as starters. While it’s an intrusion on personal freedoms and choices when it comes to vaccines, IBM is looking at the Excelsior Pass as a model for what IBM predicts will be mandatory digital health passes for other venues in the future.
To that end, IBM’s U.S. public and federal market leader, Steve LaFleche, said there will come a time when the passes will cease to be voluntary “once government guidelines and regulations force the private sector to enforce their implementation.”
Democrats and Republicans Alike Are Talking About Breaking Down Big Tech Monopolies
There’s a growing bipartisan appetite in Congress to crack down on big tech, with progressive Democrats and conservative Republicans preparing to flex the federal government’s anti-monopoly powers.
The Senate began hearings this week on antitrust law. Senators expressed different philosophies and concerns, but they all agreed on at least one key point: Tech giants like Google, Facebook, and Amazon have become too powerful.
It’s the latest sign that Congress is ready to jump into a decades long vacuum created by marginal action from federal regulators as the tech sector became increasingly concentrated. Lawmakers discussed ways both to stop tech giants from growing larger in the future and steps that could be taken to chip away at their existing dominance.
“Why should any dominant corporation be able to merge with any other entity?” Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican, said in a Thursday hearing after rattling off a long list of companies owned by Google. “Why should Google, for instance, or Facebook be able to buy anything else given their dominant size?”
Sen. Marsha Blackburn, also a Republican, blasted tech giants for cornering the online ad market while local newsrooms endure round after round of cuts. Three companies — Google, Facebook, and Amazon — take in about two-thirds of all online advertising dollars. “Every one of these newsrooms have experienced the loss of reporters, which is the loss of journalism, which is the loss of insight of the people into issues,” said Blackburn.
Defying Rules, Anti-vaccine Accounts Thrive on Social Media
With vaccination against COVID-19 in full swing, social platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter say they’ve stepped up their fight against misinformation that aims to undermine trust in the vaccines. But problems abound.
For years, the same platforms have allowed anti-vaccination propaganda to flourish, making it difficult to stamp out such sentiments now. And their efforts to weed out other types of COVID-19 misinformation — often with fact-checks, informational labels and other restrained measures, has been woefully slow.
Twitter, for instance, announced this month that it will remove dangerous falsehoods about vaccines, much the same way it’s done for other COVID-related conspiracy theories and misinformation. But since April 2020, it has removed a grand total of 8,400 tweets spreading COVID-related misinformation — a tiny fraction of the avalanche of pandemic-related falsehoods tweeted out daily by popular users with millions of followers, critics say.
Why Healthy Competition Would Heal Our Big Tech Problems
One could argue that the digital advertising industry has been “regulated” (even if enforcement was less than robust) since 2010 when the industry’s self-regulation group, the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA), rolled out its AdChoices program. In 2018, Europe began enforcing the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). In 2020, the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA) came online followed by the November passage of the GDPR-like California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA).
Against this alphabet soup of patchwork regulation, we may be reaching a tipping point. For one thing, more states are expected to pass consumer privacy laws in 2021. Even with pandemic-altered legislative calendars, 16 states nearly passed laws in 2020.
Additionally, Congress has held countless hearings over the last two years to investigate big tech’s massive data collection operations. Those hearings are sometimes painful to watch, but they are serving to educate members of Congress, who appear to be much more knowledgeable now than they were a few years ago. (Remember when one of them asked Mark Zuckerberg how Facebook makes money? Oy.)
While States Repeal Mask Mandates, the Federal Government Quietly Considers Mask Regulations for Workers
A federal regulatory agency is approaching the deadline to decide whether masks should be required at workplaces in the United States, in response to an executive order by President Biden.
On Jan. 21, President Joe Biden’s first full day in office, he signed an executive order that asked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, to consider if any new emergency temporary standards are needed to protect workers from COVID-19. That could include masks in workplaces, if necessary, the order said — and such standards would need to be issued by March 15.
Covid-19 requirements from OSHA would be very different than the mask guidance and recommendations from the White House or the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
CDC Suggesting Vaccinated People Not Travel Is Curious
With vaccines becoming more available, the CDC has released new guidance for those who have received the vaccine. On the positive side, it makes clear that, once fully vaccinated, more families can meet together and grandparents can see their grandkids. It also stresses that in public and group settings, known proven protocols like masks and distancing still make sense. But after outlining the flexibility that the vaccine brings, the document then states “You should still delay domestic and international travel.”
This is highly curious. Travel has been safe, with proper precautions, even before the vaccines, as long as someone had a place to go. The broad CDC statement suggests that a fully-vaccinated family shouldn’t take a one hour car trip to see fully-vaccinated relatives. This kind of far-reaching statement does not help people get their lives back in order, is not scientifically based, and could encourage those on the fence about the vaccine to just not bother with it.
Big Tech Companies Cannot Be Trusted To Self-Regulate: We Need Congress to Act
It’s been two months since Donald Trump was kicked off of social media following the violent insurrection on Capitol Hill in January. While the constant barrage of hate-fueled commentary and disinformation from the former president has come to a halt, we must stay vigilant.
Now is the time to think about how to prevent Trump, his allies and other bad actors from fomenting extremism in the future. It’s time to figure out how we as a society address the misinformation, conspiracy theories and lies that threaten our democracy by destroying our information infrastructure.
T-Mobile Is Taking All of Your Sweet, Sweet Data… Unless You Tell It to Stop
T-Mobile’s latest Privacy Notice lays out some of the specifics: Starting April 26, the company writes, it will begin a “new program” that shares some personal data — like the apps you download or the sites you visit — with third-party advertisers. T-Mobile also adds that it won’t share your precise location data “unless you give [T-Mobile] your express permission,” and won’t share information in a way that can be directly tied back to your device. But like we’ve written before, just because a dataset is “anonymized” doesn’t mean that you can take the company anonymizing it (T-Mobile, in this case) at its word.
Why Big Tech Is Facing Regulatory Threats From Australia to Arizona
Last week, Arizona’s House of Representatives approved legislation to prohibit platform owners like Apple and Google from locking app makers into their own payment systems. The bill passed only narrowly, and it must be approved by the Arizona Senate and Gov. Doug Ducey before it can become law. But regardless of the bill’s ultimate fate, the vote is the latest sign of a dramatic shift in public attitudes toward Silicon Valley’s most powerful companies.
For the first two decades of the Internet era, there was a broad consensus that politicians shouldn’t tie Silicon Valley companies down with burdensome rules and regulations. Companies like Apple, Amazon, Google, and Uber were widely admired. In 2007, presidential candidates from both parties made pilgrimages to associate themselves with Google. In 2015, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and other Republican hopefuls tripped over each other to position themselves as the most Uber-friendly candidate.
Fitbit Reveals Next Generation of Wearable for Kids
Fitbit is rolling out its latest child-centered wearable called the Fitbit Ace 3 that can track activity and sleep. The latest technology is geared at children over the age of 6 and comes with an eight-day battery life.
The watch and connected app let families set fitness challenges. Parents are able to set limits as to what their child can see, and manage their children’s friend requests. The tech is designed to help motivate kids to get 60 minutes of activity and walk 250 steps per hour. Kids and their families can personalize their goals. The watch is also swim-proof.
One of the ways that Fitbit is pitching this as kid-friendly is by including animated clock faces that change as daily goals are met. They are also incorporating the Minions into the watch art.
Fauci Draws Backlash for Admitting CDC Must Make ‘Judgment Call’ on Whether Vaccinated People Can Travel
The guidelines, which were supposed to be released last week, originally included recommendations about traveling but senior health officials decided to remove that section, according to Politico.
COVID-19: Biden Administration Opens Nursing Home Doors
The Biden administration on Wednesday published revised guidelines for nursing home visits during the pandemic, allowing guests the freedom to go inside to see residents regardless of whether the visitors or the residents have been vaccinated.
The new recommendations, released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services with input from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are the first revision to the federal government’s nursing home guidance since September. And they arrived as more than three million vaccine doses have been administered in nursing homes, the agency said.
The guidance was also the latest indication that the pandemic in the United States was easing, with COVID-19 cases continuing to decrease across the nation, though the seven-day average remains at more than 58,000. The C.D.C. on Monday released long-awaited guidance for Americans who have been fully vaccinated, telling them that it is safe to gather in small groups at home without masks or social distancing.
COVID-19: False Test Results ‘Ruining’ Return to School
Reports have emerged of pupils having to isolate after testing positive at school using the on-the-spot checks – only for a more reliable follow-up lab-based PCR test to find them negative.
Parents said it was “ruining” the return to school.
Rapid tests at home or in workplaces can be overruled by a lab test.
But the government has insisted this cannot happen for tests done in school – although it has been unable to explain why.
Pupils at secondary schools – of which there are around four million – are being offered three lateral-flow tests following their return to school.
But because infection rates are so low, the Royal Statistical Society believes more of the positive results produced this week could be wrong than right.
LA Schools to Track Every Kid Using Microsoft’s ‘Daily Pass’ COVID App
Los Angeles schools plan to reopen next month — and when they do, every child will be required to have a COVID-tracking app that will be scanned daily before they can enter the classroom.
The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) last month announced the launch of Daily Pass, a COVID tracking system developed by Microsoft. The app will scan children in schools, using a barcode, to coordinate health checks, COVID tests and vaccinations.
The Daily Pass generates a unique QR code — each day, for each student and staff member — that authorizes entry to a specific Los Angeles Unified location. An individual must have a negative test result for COVID, show no symptoms and have a temperature under 100 degrees in order to gain entry to class.
All data gathered by the app will be reported as required to health authorities. Anonymized data from Daily Pass will be used by Los Angeles Unified’s research and healthcare collaborators –– Stanford University, UCLA, The Johns Hopkins University, Anthem Blue Cross, Healthnet and Cedars Sinai –– “to provide insights and strategies” to implement in safe school environments, school officials said.
Students without the barcode will be barred from going into school.
Facebook Is Finally Cracking Down Hard on Anti-Vaccine Content. It Is Facing an Uphill Battle.
After years of allowing anti-vaccine groups and pages to rack up followers on its social network, Facebook announced last month that it wants to lead the world’s largest COVID-19 inoculation information campaign and encourage its users to get vaccinated. It’s also banned users from sharing general forms of vaccine misinformation, like the idea that vaccinations cause autism.
Facebook’s big push is meant to help bring an end to a pandemic that has killed more than 2.5 million people around the world. But for some of the people who have for years been sounding the alarm about the dangers of anti-vaccine groups and pages on Facebook and Instagram, the announcement — even if it’s a step forward — feels like too little, too late.
“No matter what the commitment is or the ideas made, at the end of the day … I can clearly see their priority was their job and the reputation of Facebook, versus the lives of Americans,” said vaccine advocate Ethan Lindenberger, who said that Facebook groups helped convince his mother not to vaccinate him as a child against illnesses like measles.
Over the past decade, Instagram and Facebook users have created communities on these platforms to organize against vaccines, mixing with and assuming online affinities like “vaccine safety,” parenting communities, or “health freedom,” among others. In Facebook groups, people have promoted the anti-vaccine movement by posting everything from personal anecdotes claiming vaccines have injured their children to far-out conspiracy theories, including the idea that inoculations are disingenuous money-making schemes.
Instagram is Pushing Anti-Vaccine Misinformation and QAnon Content, Study Finds
In the past year, social platforms like Facebook and Twitter have made very public efforts to try to prevent the proliferation of COVID-19-related misinformation and election fraud conspiracy theories. Yet a new study from the Center for Countering Digital Hate, which tracks the spread of misinformation on digital platforms, suggests that at least one platform — Instagram — has failed in its efforts to curb such content.
According to Imran Ahmed, CEO of the U.K.-based organization, the study was prompted by Instagram’s August 2020 rollout of a new feature called “suggested posts,” which appeared when users reached the bottoms of their feeds. The study’s authors found it curious that the platform would introduce such a feature in the midst of the pandemic, when COVID-19-related misinformation was abounding across social media. They were particularly interested in studying Instagram, which Ahmed refers to as the “fastest-growing” platform regarding misinformation about vaccines, which has been “driven by a new wave of influencers who’ve come along in the anti-vaxx space driven in part by the opportunity COVID-19 has presented,” he says.
Disabled Man Kicked Off Southwest Flight Over Mask Despite Doctor’s Notes
A family from Ohio have been left “disheartened, embarrassed and disappointed” after their disabled son was kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight for not wearing a mask despite having two doctor’s notes explaining his health exemption.
Cheri Fleming and her son Bryan Crislip were trying to travel with one of her friends from Chicago Midway to Los Angeles on Monday when Southwest staff barred them from taking the flight.
Crislip, 22, has been vaccinated against COVID-19 and two doctors have given him an exemption from wearing a face mask for medical reasons, his mother said.
Federal rules on wearing masks during flights have a narrow exception for people with disabilities.
Airline Industry Pushes U.S. to Standardize Health Papers
Leading airline and business groups are asking the Biden administration to develop temporary credentials that would let travelers show they have been tested and vaccinated for COVID-19, a step that the airline industry believes will help revive travel.
Various groups and countries are working on developing so-called vaccine passports aimed at allowing more travel. But airlines fear that a smattering of regional credentials will cause confusion and none will be widely accepted.
“It is crucial to establish uniform guidance” and “the U.S. must be a leader in this development,” more than two dozen groups said in a letter Monday to White House coronavirus-response coordinator Jeff Zients. However, the groups said that vaccination should not be a requirement for domestic or international travel.
Police Use ‘Citigraf’ To Surveil Everyone, Including School Kids
At the click of the “INVESTIGATE” button, Citigraf gives law enforcement the ability to go through a city’s historical police records and live sensor feeds, looking for patterns and connections of a person.
Wired explains that Citigraf allows police to access a person’s address, photographs, license plate number and much more.
“Once a police officer clicks on INVESTIGATE a long list of possible leads appeared onscreen, including a lineup of individuals previously arrested in the neighborhood for violent crimes, the home addresses of parolees living nearby, a catalog of similar recent 911 calls, photographs and license plate numbers of vehicles that had been detected speeding away from the scene, and video feeds from any cameras that might have picked up evidence of the crime itself, including those mounted on passing buses and trains.”
This is an incredible admission and one that I have been warning people about for years. All those DHS surveillance cameras being installed on public transit are actually connected to a much larger police surveillance network. (To see how police departments use Genetec to surveil 911 calls click here.)
Genetec admits police departments love Citigraf because it gives them access to a wide-range of surveillance devices.
At Dubai Airport, Eye Scan Becomes Your Passport
Dubai’s airport, the world’s busiest for international travel, can already feel surreal, with its cavernous duty-free stores, artificial palm trees, gleaming terminals, water cascades and near-Arctic levels of air conditioning.
Now, the key east-west transit hub is rolling out another addition from the realm of science fiction — an iris-scanner that verifies one’s identity and eliminates the need for any human interaction when entering or leaving the country.
It’s the latest artificial intelligence program the United Arab Emirates has launched amid the surging coronavirus pandemic, contact-less technology the government promotes as helping to stem the spread of the virus. But the efforts also have renewed questions about mass surveillance in the federation of seven sheikhdoms, which experts believe has among the highest per capita concentrations of surveillance cameras in the world.
CDC Says Vaccinated People Can Get Together Without Masks
People who are fully vaccinated against the new coronavirus can gather privately in small groups without masks or physical distancing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, relaxing safety guidelines for inoculated individuals under some circumstances.
The CDC said Monday that fully vaccinated people should continue to take precautions in most circumstances to prevent the spread of the virus that causes Covid-19. People who are fully immunized should continue to wear masks and keep their distance from others in public or while visiting unvaccinated people at higher risk for severe cases of Covid-19, the CDC said. The agency, leaving its travel guidance unchanged, said vaccinated people should continue to hold off on long trips.
“Our guidance must balance the risk to people who have been fully vaccinated, the risks to those who have not yet received the vaccine and the impact on the larger community transmission of Covid-19,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at a media briefing.
China Launches ‘Virus Passport’
China has launched a health certificate programme for Chinese citizens traveling internationally, one of the first countries in the world to issue a “virus passport”.
The digital certificate, which shows a user’s vaccination status and virus test results, is available for Chinese citizens via a programme on Chinese social media platform WeChat that was launched on Monday.
The certificate is being rolled out “to help promote world economic recovery and facilitate cross-border travel”, a foreign ministry spokesman said.
The certificate, which is also available in paper form, is currently only for use by Chinese citizens and is not yet mandatory.
There is also no information on which countries China is working with to get the certificate recognised when Chinese travellers go overseas.
Vaccinated Americans Allowed to Taste Freedom
Exactly one horrific, demoralizing and family-splitting year since darkness descended on America, top public health officials arrived at a (virtual) White House coronavirus strategy briefing on Monday armed with tangible hope.
In announcing new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on how fully vaccinated citizens can begin to pick up their lives, they struck a momentous turning point in a pandemic that has killed more than 525,000 Americans.
“It’s science based. It’s sensible. You can hug your grandkids again. If you’ve been waiting to get a haircut, see the dentist, you can do that,” former CDC Director Tom Frieden said on CNN’s “The Situation Room.”
As is the way in the worst public health disaster in 100 years, good news is heavily caveated. Those in the long lines for the vaccine must not let up. Travel, even for those who’ve been vaccinated, is advised against — though some prominent medical experts said the CDC is being overly cautious. And the threat of pernicious COVID-19 variants may be about to inflict another surge of death and sickness, again testing the patience of a weary nation.
Ohio COVID-19 Health Order Allows Dancing at Proms, Weddings
Dancing is again allowed at weddings, proms and banquet hall events in Ohio, state health officials clarified this week.
A March 2 health order lifted the 300-person capacity limit for banquet halls and catering facilities. The order didn’t explicitly mention dancing, but an Ohio Department of Health spokeswoman confirmed the order replaced a November health order temporarily banning socializing in congregate areas and dancing.
Gov. Mike DeWine put that ban in place as cases and hospitalizations were rising statewide.
The new order applies to “wedding receptions, funeral repasts, proms,and other events, whether or not food is served, at banquet facilities.” Facilities must adhere to the business safety guidelines issued in orders on Sept. 23 and July 23. That includes face coverings for everyone except when eating or drinking, which must be done while seated.
Stop Letting Google Get Away With It
What Google does plan on building, though, is its own slew of “privacy-preserving” tools for ad targeting, like its Federated Learning of Cohorts, or FLoC for short. Just to get people up to speed: While cookies (and some of these planned universal ID’s) track people by their individual browsing behavior as they bounce from site to site, under FLoC, a person’s browser would take any data generated by that browsing and basically plop it into a large pot of data from people with similar browsing behavior—a “flock,” if you will. Instead of being able to target ads against people based on the individual morsels of data a person generates, Google would allow advertisers to target these giant pots of aggregated data.
We’ve written out our full thoughts on FLoC before—the short version is that, like the majority of Google’s privacy pushes that we’ve seen until now, the FLoC proposal isn’t as user-friendly as you might think. For one thing, others have already pointed out that this proposal doesn’t necessarily stop people from being tracked across the web, it just ensures that Google’s the only one doing it. This is one of the reasons that the upcoming cookiepocolypse has already drawn scrutiny from competition authorities over in the UK. Meanwhile, some American trade groups have already loudly voiced their suspicions that what Google’s doing here is less about privacy and more about tightening its obscenely tight grip on the digital ad economy.
Which brings us back to that Google blog post from earlier this week—the post that was literally called “charting a course towards a more privacy-first web,” while also glossing over all of the obvious problems that others have pointed out with FLoC: how tracking is still tracking, even if it’s happening in aggregate. How Google’s claim that targeting based on FLoC is “95% as effective” as cookie-based targeting seems to be built on bunk math. How this ploy would give Google exclusive access to a ton of user data that the company already largely monopolizes. If Google actually wants to shift the national conversation on consumer privacy, then it should start by clarifying what they think “privacy” actually means.
Amazon Alexa’s ‘Skills’ Can ‘Pose Significant Privacy, Security Risk,’ Study Warns
When most consumers use Amazon’s friendly voice-activated assistant, they probably think they’re just dealing with the famous Alexa. It turns out, however, Alexa is just a “middle woman” for countless third parties that could put your private information in harm’s way. Researchers from North Carolina State University reveal that Alexa has a number of vulnerabilities when dealing with the programs users interact with via the popular Amazon device.
“When people use Alexa to play games or seek information, they often think they’re interacting only with Amazon,” says study co-author Anupam Das in a university release. “But a lot of the applications they are interacting with were created by third parties, and we’ve identified several flaws in the current vetting process that could allow those third parties to gain access to users’ personal or private information.”
The danger stems from the thousands of programs, or skills, that can run on Alexa. These skills function like the apps on a smartphone, which do everything from play music to order groceries. Study authors say Amazon has sold at least 100 million Alexa devices and there are currently over 100,000 skills users can install. Since the vast majority of these programs are created by third parties and have access to homes all around the world, researchers set out to identify any security issues in this relationship.
The New Normal’s Religion of ‘Techno-Voodooism’ Has Bewitched the World
If COVID-19 has been a boon for anyone, that would be Big Business and Big Tech – overblowing fears, widening the wealth gap and facilitating global control through all-powerful technology the world now depends on.
What happens when systems cross the threshold of peak complexity and can no longer be improved in their current forms? Decision-makers can commission competing models in order to pick a winner. This however calls for patience, prudence and sound oversight. Alternately, they can pounce on a fantastical blueprint that will supposedly gel via Artificial Intelligence and get to play monopoly at the same time. An all-in-one solution!
Such thinking was precisely what beleaguered the F-35 combat aircraft program with its estimated $1.7 trillion in lifetime costs. After 20 years of troubled development, the stealth fighter’s problems have become so insurmountable that there is talk in the US Air Force of considering a clean slate fighter jet program to replace its ageing F-16s.
You Can Poison the Data That Big Tech Uses to Monitor You
Getting ads about something you were searching for is not a coincidence. Tech giants track your online movement; from the shows you watch, the websites you use for shopping, the latest gadget you might be interested in buying, everything is monitored.
The data is collected and stored on machine-learning algorithms which sent ads and recommendations according to your preference. Companies like Google cash in your data for over $120 billion a year from ad revenue, reports MIT.
Even if you disable settings in Google Chrome to purge all website cookies and site data when you close the browser it still stores data for itself and YouTube, according to Mac programmer Jeff Johnson who elaborated on this in a blog.
Big Tech Targets DC With a Digital Charm Offensive
Did you know Facebook supports updated internet regulations? I know that. Boy, do I know it. I’m guessing everyone else who lives in the Washington, DC, area knows it too. For at least the past five weeks, Facebook has been deluging the region with ads declaring its support for regulation. I originally noticed when my morning ritual of watching basketball highlights on NBA.com started getting disrupted by the same 30-second message from Facebook every single time I wanted to watch a 3-minute video. Just let me see the slam dunks, please!
Somehow, despite having seen the ad dozens of times, I still couldn’t quite tell you what regulations Facebook really has in mind. That’s probably because the ads are less about specific policy proposals than about trying to improve Facebook’s battered reputation in the eyes of DC decisionmakers. The regulation ads are part of an all-out blitz on the part of not just Facebook but also Google and Amazon. They, along with American Edge, a pro-tech lobbying group that Facebook has acknowledged backing, have been pumping ads into the feeds of the DC policy audience.
A very visible part of that push has come in the form of newsletter sponsorships. After noticing a deluge beginning in early February, the Tech Transparency Project tracked the sponsorships of 10 super-inside-the-Beltway newsletters, from Politico, the Hill, Axios, and Punchbowl News. They found that for every day in February, at least one of the newsletters was sponsored by one of the three companies or American Edge. In the third week of the month, Facebook alone sponsored three of them.
Can Long-Term Care Employers Require Staff Members to Be Vaccinated?
For much of the winter, Meryl Gordon worried about the people caring for her 95-year-old mother, who was rehabbing in a Manhattan nursing home after surgery for a broken hip.
“Every week they sent out a note to families about how many staff members had positive COVID tests,” said Ms. Gordon, a biographer and professor at New York University. “It was a source of tremendous anxiety.”
Ms. Gordon feels reassured now that her mother is fully vaccinated and has returned to her assisted living facility. But what about the two home care aides who help her 98-year-old father, David, in his Upper West Side apartment?
Neither has agreed to be vaccinated. David Gordon’s doctor has advised him to delay Covid vaccination himself because of his past allergic reactions.
Ms. Gordon has not insisted that the caregivers receive vaccinations. “You’re reluctant to do something that could cause you to lose the people you rely on,” she said. But she remains uneasy.
CDC Says Fully Vaccinated Americans Can Spend Time Together Indoors and Unmasked
People who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can now spend time together indoors and unmasked, according to new Biden administration guidance.
Fully immunized Americans can also visit with low-risk individuals from other households even if they haven’t yet received a vaccine. And if vaccinated individuals are exposed to COVID-19, there’s no need to either quarantine or get tested for the disease, according to new recommendations released Monday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We know that people want to get vaccinated so they can get back to doing the things they enjoy with the people they love,” Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, said in prepared remarks. “There are some activities that fully vaccinated people can begin to resume now in the privacy of their own homes. Everyone — even those who are vaccinated — should continue with all mitigation strategies when in public settings.”
Vaccine Passports Begin at Rangers Game in New York
A vaccine passport system in New York City was introduced to attendees at a New York Rangers game March 2, 2021, at Madison Square Garden. The same passport was tested at The Barclays Center in February 2021.
The “Excelsior Pass” system, which shows a QR barcode on a phone app or printed out on paper, was endorsed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said that it should be used for admission to all sports arenas, theaters and other businesses.
Only a short time earlier, Cuomo had given the OK for certain venues to open to just 10% capacity. With the introduction of the pass, which presumably would allow more spectators inside an arena, MSG Entertainment embraced the passport
program, telling the New York Post, “We applaud Governor Cuomo’s leadership in reopening New York. The Excelsior Pass program, along with his decision to allow venues to begin welcoming fans, will play important roles in helping to get our City back on its feet.”
The Excelsior system was developed by IBM and is expected to be widely adopted by other cities and states.
California Doubles Down on Mask Mandates
Just after Texas and Mississippi declared their states are now free from mask mandates, California Gov. Gavin Newsom responded by doubling down on mandates in his state. And, by doubling down, he means business: Instead of just one mask, everyone in California must now wear two.
Newsom said he was doing this in light of what he called “bad information coming from at least four states” that have loosened or ended their mask mandates. “We will not be walking down their path; we’re mindful of your health and your future,” ZeroHedge reported Newsom as saying.
In response, the California health department updated its guidelines to coincide with the governor’s call for two masks, or a filtered mask if just one is used.
In Apparent New Aim at Web Freedoms, Putin Wants ‘Moral Laws’ for the Internet
Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for the Internet in Russia to be bound by “moral laws” that he says will stop society from “collapsing” — suggesting that Russian children are being exploited by his political opponents at anti-Kremlin demonstrations.
Putin’s televised remarks on March 4 come amid mounting efforts by Moscow to exert greater influence over U.S. social media giants and frustration from Russian authorities over what they say is the failure of U.S. social media firms to follow Russian laws.
As tens of thousands of Russians demonstrated across Russia to protest the jailing of Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny, Moscow accused U.S. social networks of failing to take down what it says are fake posts about anti-Kremlin demonstrations.
In December, the State Duma, the parliament’s lower house, backed substantial new fines on platforms that fail to delete banned content and a separate bill that would allow U.S. social media giants to be restricted if they “discriminate” against Russian media.
Health Ministry Revokes License of Doctor Who Warns Against Using COVID Vaccine
Israel’s Health Ministry revoked the medical license Tuesday of (now former) Dr. Aryeh Avni, an anti-vaccination doctor and current political candidate running as head of the Rapeh Party, according to Health Ministry statement.
The decision was made by retired judge Amnon Strashnov following a review of a report submitted to the medical community’s disciplinary committee, which listed complaints and gave the recommendation to revoke Avni’s license.
Explaining the decision to revoke Avni’s license, Strashnov said that his articles published on websites, YouTube, Facebook, and elsewhere against the public immunization of the coronavirus pose a danger to public health.
YouTube Cancels Myanmar Military-Run Channels, Pulls Videos
YouTube has removed five channels run by Myanmar’s military for violating its community guidelines and terms of service.
The company said Friday that it terminated channels of broadcasters Myawaddy Media, MRTV, WD Online Broadcasting, MWD Variety and MWD Myanmar. The decision follows a Feb. 1 military coup that ousted the country’s elected government, provoking massive public protests.
“We have terminated a number of channels and removed several videos from YouTube in accordance with our community guidelines and applicable laws,” YouTube said in an emailed statement.
The company said it was monitoring the situation for any content that might violate its rules.
YouTube said it had terminated around 20 channels and removed over 160 videos in the past couple months for violating its policies regarding hate speech and harassment, spam and deceptive practices, violent or graphic content policy and violations of its terms of service.
New Technology Can Bring Anne Frank to Life — but Should It?
The technology, called Deep Nostalgia, allows users to animate photos, letting that old sepia-tone picture of Bubbe smile and blink, or Zayde back in the old country turn his head. The company is marketing Deep Nostalgia as a heartwarming tool that can help users connect with relatives they may have never had the chance to meet, or to bring memories of lost loved ones to life. But users have already started to expand past their own families, animating historical figures such as Anne Frank or even famous paintings.
This technology is not new, though MyHeritage’s tool has enhanced its ease of use. But if you’re familiar with the term deepfake, the idea of bringing a photo to life might not sound quite so harmless and wholesome. Deepfakes use technology to alter photos or video, and allow the creator to convincingly replicate the motions and voice of the person in question.
CDC Director Urges People to Keep Masking and Distancing ‘Regardless of What States Decide’
The director of the U.S. Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday said she hopes people will decide to individually “do the right thing” about distancing and wearing masks, even in states moving to eliminate restrictions against the CDC’s recommendations.
“I think we at the CDC have been very clear that now is not the time to release all restrictions,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House COVID-19 Response Team briefing.
Walensky’s comments come after governors of Texas and Mississippi said they were lifting mask mandates and allowing businesses to open at full capacity, starting now or within days.
President Joe Biden sharply criticized states lifting Covid restrictions Wednesday, saying he thought it was a “big mistake” and that “these masks” make a difference.
Big Law’s ‘Big Tech’ Problem: Are You With Them, or Against Them?
With the tech giants entering all manner of industries with increasing speed in Europe, major law firms may have to start picking sides with clients.
Increasing antitrust regulation and enforcement of U.S. tech giants is forcing law firms with EU competition practices to make a tough strategic choice: Do they want to represent Big Tech firms like Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Google? Or do they want to advise the traditional players whose industries those tech players have disrupted?
New Yorkers Would Have to Flash COVID-19 Passport to Enter Venues Under New Program
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday the rollout of a new pilot program in which New Yorkers would have to flash a sort of COVID-19 passport in order to enter sports arenas, theaters and other businesses as the state continues reopening efforts.
The plan is to test the “Excelsior Pass,” which will use secure technology to confirm if a person has gotten vaccinated or has had a recent negative COVID-19 exam result, during events at Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center, Cuomo said in a statement.
The pass was tested at Tuesday night’s New York Rangers game at Madison Square Garden.
Similar to an airline boarding pass, people will be able to print out their pass or save it on their phones using the Excelsior Pass’s “Wallet App.” Each pass will have a secure QR code, which venues will scan using a companion app to confirm a person’s health status.
‘Digital Authoritarianism’ Threatening Basic Rights In Africa, Study Says
From internet shutdowns and online surveillance to social media taxes and arrests for anti-government posts, “digital authoritarianism” is a threat to basic freedoms and rights in many African countries, researchers said on Tuesday.
A study by the African Digital Rights Network (ADRN) focusing on 10 countries found governments used a plethora of measures over the last two decades to stifle people’s ability to organise, voice opinions and participate in governance online.
“Our research shows online civic spaces are being closed through various repressive actions, including unwarranted arrests, unwarranted surveillance and various forms of intimidation,” said Juliet Nanfuka from the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) and member of the ADRN.
“Self-censorship online is being fueled by financial restrictions and online content regulation. All of these actions inhibit freedom of expression and access to information, which are fundamental to a flourishing civic space,” Nanfuka, a digital rights researcher, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Local Police Departments To Receive Drones With ‘Most Advanced AI Ever’
Founded by Google veterans and backed by $340 million from major VCs, Skydio is creating drones that seem straight out of science fiction—and they could end up in your neighborhood soon.
Three years ago, Customs and Border Protection placed an order for self-flying aircraft that could launch on their own, rendezvous, locate and monitor multiple targets on the ground without any human intervention. In its reasoning for the order, CBP said the level of monitoring required to secure America’s long land borders from the sky was too cumbersome for people alone. To research and build the drones, CBP handed $500,000 to Mitre Corporation, a trusted non-profit skunkworks that was already furnishing border police with prototype rapid DNA testing and smartwatch hacking technology.
Mitre’s unmanned aerial vehicles didn’t take off. They were “tested but not fielded operationally” as “the gap from simulation to reality turned out to be much larger than the research team originally envisioned,” a CBP spokesperson says.
But the setback didn’t end CBP’s sci-fi dreams. This year, America’s border police will test automated drones from Skydio, the Redwood City, Calif.-based startup which on Monday announced it had raised an additional $170 million in venture funding at a valuation of $1 billion. That brings the total raised for Skydio to $340 million. Investors include blue chip VC shops like Andreessen Horowitz, AI-chip maker Nvidia and even Kevin Durant, the NBA star. It’s not clear just how well its drones are selling; Skydio refuses to discuss revenue figures, claiming an estimate of sub-$5 million per year was “significantly off base.”
But the Army and Air Force have spent a collective $10 million and the DEA $225,000 on Skydios in the last two years. By Forbes’ calculation, based on documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and Skydio’s public announcements, more than 20 police agencies across the U.S. now have Skydios as part of their drone fleets, including major cities like Austin and Boston.
Vaccine Passports, COVID’s Next Political Flash Point
While such passports are still hypothetical in most places, Israel became the first to roll out its own last week, capitalizing on its high vaccination rate. Several European countries are considering following. President Biden has asked federal agencies to explore options. And some airlines and tourism-reliant industries and destinations expect to require them.
Dividing the world between the vaccinated and unvaccinated raises daunting political and ethical questions. Vaccines go overwhelmingly to rich countries and privileged racial groups within them. Granting special rights for the vaccinated, while tightening restrictions on the unvaccinated, risks widening already-dangerous social gaps.
Vaccine skepticism, already high in many communities, shows signs of spiking if shots become seen as government-mandated. Plans also risk exacerbating Covid nationalism: sparring among nations to advance their citizens’ self-interest over global good.
“Immunity passports promise a way to go back to a more normal social and economic life,” Nicole Hassoun and Anders Herlitz, who study public health ethics, wrote in Scientific American. But with vaccines distributed unequally by race, class and nationality, “it is not obvious that they are ethical.”
Scientists Stimulate Brain To Remove Fear, Boost ‘Confidence’
Via a combination of artificial intelligence and brain scanning technology, scientists in Japan say they’ve discovered avenues to remove specific fears, boost confidence, and even alter individual preferences.
They believe that in the future these techniques may lead to new treatments for patients dealing with issues like PTSD or generalized anxiety disorder.
All of this is incredibly promising, but researchers admit they haven’t perfected their approach just yet. While the treatment they developed has proven effective with many, some individuals haven’t seen the same benefits.
States Roll Back Restrictions as Infections Plateau
Governors across the country have begun to rescind policies meant to stem the coronavirus’s spread, even as the rapid drop in new infections begins to stall.
In Texas, the nation’s second most populous state, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced that he would lift the state’s mask requirement and restrictions on businesses. Mississippi officials unveiled a similar plan.
Health officials reacted with concern, warning that lifting restrictions too early risked another surge of the virus.
Twitter to Permanently Ban Users Who Spread COVID Misinformation
Twitter says it will start labelling misleading tweets about COVID vaccines and ban users who continue to spread such misinformation.
The microblogging platform introduced on Monday a “strike system” that will gradually escalate to a permanent ban after the fifth offending tweet.
“We believe the strike system will help to educate the public on our policies and further reduce the spread of potentially harmful and misleading information on Twitter,” the San Francisco-based company said in a blog post.
“Particularly for repeated moderate and high-severity violations of our rules.”
Twitter users will be notified when a tweet is labelled as misleading or needs to be removed for breaking the platform’s rules, earning a strike, according to the company.
The second and third strikes will each result in the violating account being blocked for 12 hours.
Indonesia Warns of Big Fines for Refusing COVID19 Vaccine, in a World First
Indonesia’s capital Jakarta is threatening residents with fines of up to 5 million rupiah ($450) for refusing COVID-19 vaccines, an unusually stiff penalty aimed at ensuring compliance with a new regulation making jabs mandatory.
Deputy Jakarta governor Ahmad Riza Patria said city authorities were merely following rules and such sanctions were a last resort in Jakarta, which accounts for about a quarter of the archipelago nation’s more than 1.2 million coronavirus infections.
“If you reject it, there are two things, social aid will not be given, [and a] fine,” Mr Riza told reporters, in what appears to be a world first in making the jabs compulsory.
Amazon Quietly Bans Books Containing Undefined ‘Hate Speech’
Amazon has adopted a rule against books that contain anything the company labels as “hate speech.” It appears there was no announcement of the new rule. It was only noticed by media after the online retailer recently banned a book that criticizes transgender ideology.
It’s not clear what Amazon means by “hate speech” or even if it used that label to drop that particular book. In general parlance, Americans hold widely diverging views on what constitutes hate speech, a 2017 Cato poll found. Some tech platforms describe it as speech that disparages people based on characteristics such as race, gender, and sexual proclivities. But insider evidence indicates the companies aren’t clear on where to draw the lines, perpetually redraw them, and at least in some instances ignore violations when politically convenient.
“As a bookseller, we provide our customers with access to a variety of viewpoints, including books that some customers may find objectionable,” an Amazon spokesperson told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement.
“That said, we reserve the right not to sell certain content as described in our content guidelines for books, which you can find here. All retailers make decisions about what selection they choose to offer, and we do not take selection decisions lightly.”
The statement omitted that the $1.5 trillion company changed the rules sometime after August 10 last year, apparently without telling its customers.
Home-Security Cameras Have Become aFruitful Resource for Law Enforcement — And a Fatal Risk
Police forces across the U.S. made more than 20,000 requests last year for footage captured by Ring’s “video doorbells” and other home-security cameras, underscoring how the rapid growth of inexpensive home surveillance technology has given American law enforcement an unprecedented ability to monitor neighborhood life
The requests reflect the Amazon-owned company’s policy of allowing police and fire departments to request video from camera owners who live near the scene of a crime. Some officers have celebrated the digital informants for helping them gather valuable evidence and watch over the public at large.
But the proliferation of the kind of surveillance cameras once limited primarily to airports, banks and convenience stores also has meant millions of unsuspecting people — including camera owners’ neighbors, peaceful protesters and anyone else walking down a residential block — are being recorded without their knowledge or consent.
Red Deer Mother in Tears as Son Taken to Undisclosed Isolation Centre
A Red Deer mom has told of her anguish after watching her son being detained at the Calgary airport, loaded into a van, and taken to an undisclosed isolation centre.
Rebekah McDonald was at the airport late Saturday night, hoping to welcome her son, Ethan, back to Calgary from Arizona.
McDonald hadn’t seen her son for two years.
But the joy soon turned to tears when her son was taken into custody for having what the Canadian federal government considers the wrong COVID-19 test.
“They are saying it’s not accurate and they are wanting to take him to a quarantine facility. They won’t let me talk to him. They won’t let me see him. They won’t come and talk to me. The border patrol services say they have nothing to do with it – they won’t tell me who has to do with it,” said McDonald in a social media video as she walked through the airport concourse.
“They won’t tell me who’s picking him up. They won’t tell me where he’s going. They won’t tell me anything.
Babies Not Exempt From Mask Bylaw at Some Regional Businesses
A Guelph mother says she was following public health advice when she was asked to leave the premises of a nearby ski hill for not putting a mask on her 13-month-old son.
Rebecca Adam said she was picking up a ski badge on Sunday at Chicopee in Kitchener for her three-and-a-half year old daughter’s upcoming lessons.
“At the entrance I got turned down because my baby didn’t have on a mask,” said Adam. “I told her under two, Ontario law is no masks. She said it didn’t matter.”
At no time were Adam and her son indoors. She said people were only allowed to line up outside and that everyone was physically distanced.
Adam said she asked to speak to a manager, who reiterated there were no exceptions to the rule, not even for babies. She ended up walking away without getting the pass.
Judge Approves $650 Million Facebook Privacy Settlement Over Facial Recognition Feature
A federal judge on Friday gave final approval to a $650 million Facebook class action privacy settlement and ordered the 1.6 million members of the class in Illinois who submitted claims to be paid “as expeditiously as possible.”
Chicago attorney Jay Edelson sued Facebook in Cook County Circuit Court back in 2015, alleging that the platform’s use of facial recognition tagging was not allowed under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act. The lawsuit claimed that Facebook’s Tag Suggestions tool, which scanned faces in users’ photos and offered suggestions about who the person might be, stored biometric data without users’ consent in violation of the Illinois law.
The case became a class action lawsuit in 2018. In 2019, Facebook made facial recognition on the platform opt-in only.
Scientists: Vaccination Before EVERY Holiday May Be Needed
Scientists at Oxford University have suggested that people may need to have a coronavirus vaccination not once, not twice, but EVERY time they want to travel out of their home country.
The scientists published a report in the Royal Society Journal last week that acknowledged there is little data on how efficient or long lasting the current vaccines are, and so it is likely that countries will require a recent vaccination.
Having endless vaccinations when there is no indication of how effective they are, or what long term side effects there may be sounds absolutely mental, but that is what is being suggested.
Speaking to the London Telegraph, Epidemiologist Christopher Dye, a leading author of the reports stated “If we thought that the duration of protection was just a matter of months, then the sort of criteria that might be introduced – we’re not saying they should be – is that when one travels internationally for a short trip, going on vacation for example, that one is vaccinated each time on that occasion for that particular trip.”
Lawyers To Sue WHO for ‘Misleading World Over COVID-19 Outbreak’
A group of lawyers is preparing to sue the World Health Organization and some of its partners for allegedly misleading the world over the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak and the measures taken to control it, which they say have damaged livelihoods and caused tremendous harm to economies.
The move was announced by Dr. Reiner Fuellmich, one of four members of the German Coronavirus Investigative Committee that has been hearing international scientists’ and experts’ testimonies since July 10, 2020
Facebook’s Making a Good Case Why You Should Never Wear Its Smart Glasses
Everyone and their mother is supposedly building a pair of smart glasses now, Facebook included. However, a BuzzFeed News report notes that apparently, Facebook is thinking about building facial recognition into its forthcoming pair of AR glasses. Um, no thank you.
In an internal meeting, Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s vice president of augmented and virtual reality, said that the social media giant was considering whether it had the legal capacity to include facial recognition features in its AR glasses. According to Buzzfeed, Bosworth said facial recognition “might be the thorniest issue, where the benefits are so clear, and the risks are so clear, and we don’t know where to balance things.” His comment was in response to an employee’s question about whether such technology had the potential for “real-world harm,” specifically stalking. As for potential benefits, Bosworth pointed to secretly looking up an acquaintance’s name if you’d forgotten it or have face blindness.
How One State Managed to Actually Write Rules on Facial Recognition
Though police have been using facial recognition technology for the last two decades to try to identify unknown people in their investigations, the practice of putting the majority of Americans into a perpetual photo lineup has gotten surprisingly little attention from lawmakers and regulators. Until now.
Lawmakers, civil liberties advocates and police chiefs have debated whether and how to use the technology because of concerns about both privacy and accuracy. But figuring out how to regulate it is tricky. So far, that has meant an all-or-nothing approach. City Councils in Oakland, Portland, San Francisco, Minneapolis and elsewhere have banned police use of the technology, largely because of bias in how it works. Studies in recent years by MIT researchers and the federal government found that many facial recognition algorithms are most accurate for white men, but less so for everyone else.
EU to Propose Vaccine Certificates in Time for Summer Holidays
The European Commission will propose this month an EU-wide digital certificate providing proof of a COVID-19 vaccination that could allow Europeans to travel more freely over the summer.
The EU executive aims to present its plans for a “digital green pass” on March 17 and to cooperate with international organisations to ensure that its system also works beyond the European Union.
The pass would provide proof that a person has been vaccinated, the results of tests for those not yet vaccinated and information on recovery for people who have contracted COVID-19.
“The aim is to gradually enable them to move safely in the European Union or abroad – for work or tourism,” Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said in a tweet on Monday.
Optimizing For Outrage: Ex-Obama Digital Chief Urges Curbs on Big Tech
A former digital strategist for Barack Obama has demanded an end to big tech’s profit-driven optimization of outrage and called for regulators to curb online disinformation and division.
Michael Slaby – author of a new book, For All the People: Redeeming the Broken Promises of Modern Media and Reclaiming Our Civic Life – described tech giants Facebook and Google as “two gorillas” crushing the very creativity needed to combat conspiracy theories spread by former US president Donald Trump and others.
“The systems are not broken,” Slaby, 43, told the Guardian by phone from his home in Rhinebeck, New York. “They are working exactly as they were designed for the benefit of their designers. They can be designed differently. We can express and encourage a different set of public values about the public goods that we need from our public sphere.”
The Art of (Big Tech) War
The government is preparing its antitrust strategies and has begun the battle to “break up Big Tech.” The problem is that they’ve been studying the wrong maps, brought the wrong weapons and aren’t even on the right battlefield.
The uncomfortable truth is the government is the underdog in this fight. The big four—Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google—have thousands of lawyers, lobbyists and corporate communication staffers, better equipped and motivated to win. Therefore, for the government to properly regulate and enact change, it needs to focus on neutralizing Big Tech’s behavioral weapons.
Timnit Gebru’s Ouster Shows How Big Tech Dominates AI Ethics
Timnit Gebru — a giant in the world of AI and then co-lead of Google’s AI ethics team — was pushed out of her job in December.
Gebru had been fighting with the company over a research paper that she’d coauthored, which explored the risks of the AI models that the search giant uses to power its core products—the models are involved in almost every English query on Google, for instance. The paper called out the potential biases (racial, gender, Western, and more) of these language models, as well as the outsize carbon emissions required to compute them. Google wanted the paper retracted, or any Google-affiliated authors’ names taken off; Gebru said she would do so if Google would engage in a conversation about the decision. Instead, her team was told that she had resigned. After the company abruptly announced Gebru’s departure, Google AI chief Jeff Dean insinuated that her work was not up to snuff — despite Gebru’s credentials and history of groundbreaking research.
The backlash was immediate. Thousands of Googlers and outside researchers leaped to her defense and charged Google with attempting to marginalize its critics, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds. A champion of diversity and equity in the AI field, Gebru is a Black woman and was one of the few in Google’s research organization.
Australia Led the Way V. Big Tech, now Congress Needs to Follow
Australia’s Parliament has passed its Media Bargaining Code into law. What’s Congress waiting for?
Lawmakers from both US parties have made lots of noise about cracking down on Big Tech, but actual legislation with any hope of passage remains out of sight. The obvious first step is to copy the law from Down Under, which will force Facebook and Google to pay media companies for news content that the tech firms make big money off of.
Both companies tried to browbeat the Aussies out of moving ahead, and Facebook even blocked Australian news from its sites last week, along with an “accidental” blockage of vital government public-info releases. But it didn’t work.
Yes, Facebook won some concessions, but the law still sets a landmark of the first legislation to force Big Tech to share the huge profits it makes off others’ intellectual property. The Pew Research Center reports that employment at US newspapers is down by over 50 percent since 2008, driven by plummeting ad income — even as Google and Facebook together collect roughly three-quarters of all online advertising revenue.
U.S. House Lays Out Three Potential Areas of Change To Rein in Big Tech
The U.S. House antitrust subcommittee met again on Thursday to listen to expert witnesses and consider legislative proposals to “address the rise and abuse of market power online.”
Thursday’s hearing is slated to be the first of several intended to build on a bipartisan investigation carried out by the U.S. House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust. Unlike the first phase, lawmakers are focused on new regulations and rules in the new series of hearings.
“This problem is a cancer that is metastasizing across our economy and our country. Mark my words. Change is coming. Laws are coming,” said Rep. David Cicilline, the subcommittee’s chairman.