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How ‘ghost work’ in Silicon Valley pressures the workforce, with Mary Gray

How ‘ghost work’ in Silicon Valley pressures the workforce, with Mary Gray

August 16, 2019

The phrase “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” was originally meant sarcastically.

It’s not actually physically possible to do — especially while wearing Allbirds and having just fallen off a Bird scooter in downtown San Francisco, but I should get to my point.

This week, Ken Cuccinelli, the acting Director of the United States Citizenship and Immigrant Services Office, repeatedly referred to the notion of bootstraps in announcing shifts in immigration policy, even going so far as to change the words to Emma Lazarus’s famous poem “The New Colossus:” no longer “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” but “give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet, and who will not become a public charge.”

We’ve come to expect “alternative facts” from this administration, but who could have foreseen alternative poems?

Still, the concept of ‘bootstrapping’ is far from limited to the rhetorical territory of the welfare state and social safety net. It’s also a favorite term of art in Silicon Valley tech and venture capital circles: see for example this excellent (and scary) recent piece by my editor Danny Crichton, in which young VC firms attempt to overcome a lack of the startup capital that is essential to their business model by creating, as perhaps an even more essential feature of their model, impossible working conditions for most everyone involved. Often with predictably disastrous results.

It is in this context of unrealistic expectations about people’s labor, that I want to introduce my most recent interviewee in this series of in-depth conversations about ethics and technology.

Mary L. Gray is a Fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society and a Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research. One of the world’s leading …

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Local governments are forcing the scooter industry to grow up fast

Local governments are forcing the scooter industry to grow up fast

August 15, 2019

Gone are the days when tech companies can deploy their services in cities without any regard for rules and regulations. Before the rise of electric scooters, cities had already become hip to tech’s status quo (thanks to the likes of Uber and Lyft) and were ready to regulate. We explored some of this in “The uncertain future of shared scooters,” but since then, new challenges have emerged for scooter startups.

And for scooter startups, city regulations can make or break their businesses across nearly every aspect of operations, especially two major ones: ridership growth and ability to attract investor dollars. From issuing permits to determining how many scooters any one company can operate at any one time to enforcing low-income plans and impacting product roadmaps, the ball is really in the city’s court.

http://imwunl.com

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US legislator, David Cicilline, joins international push to interrogate platform power

US legislator, David Cicilline, joins international push to interrogate platform power

August 15, 2019

US legislator David Cicilline will be joining the next meeting of the International Grand Committee on Disinformation and ‘Fake News’, it has been announced. The meeting will be held in Dublin on November 7.

Chair of the committee, the Irish Fine Gael politician Hildegarde Naughton, announced Cicilline’s inclusion today.

The congressman — who is chairman of the US House Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law Subcommittee — will attend as an “ex officio member” which will allow him to question witnesses, she added.

Exactly who the witnesses in front of the grand committee will be is tbc. But the inclusion of a US legislator in the ranks of a non-US committee that’s been seeking answers about reining in online disinformation will certainly make any invitations that get extended to senior executives at US-based tech giants much harder to ignore.

Naughton points out that the addition of American legislators also means the International Grand Committee represents ~730 million citizens — and “their right to online privacy and security”.

“The Dublin meeting will be really significant in that it will be the first time that US legislators will participate,” she said in a statement. “As all the major social media/tech giants were founded and are headquartered in the United States it is very welcome that Congressman Cicilline has agreed to participate. His own Committee is presently conducting investigations into Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple and so his attendance will greatly enhance our deliberations.”

“Greater regulation of social media and tech giants is fast becoming a priority for many countries throughout the world,” she added. “The International Grand Committee is a gathering of international parliamentarians who have a particular responsibility in this area. We will coordinate actions to tackle online election interference, ‘fake news’, and harmful online communications, amongst other …

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Phones, laptops and game consoles get tariff reprieve until December

Phones, laptops and game consoles get tariff reprieve until December

August 13, 2019

Update: Trump confirmed to reporters that the delay is due to timing for the holiday shopping season. “We’re doing this for the Christmas season,” he said. “Just in case some of the tariffs would have an impact on U.S. customers.”

Electronics manufacturers are no doubt breathing a collective sigh of relief this morning at the news that the United States Trade Representative (USTR) has delayed tariffs on a number of categories.

A long list of exports, including livestock, foodstuff and clothing will have the additional 10% tariff imposed on September 1. Others, including “cell phones, laptop computers, video game consoles, certain toys, computer monitors, and certain items of footwear and clothing” have simply been delayed until December 15.

It seems the fees are an inevitability, but many might be able to scrape through just in time for the holidays.

“Certain products are being removed from the tariff list based on health, safety, national security and other factors and will not face additional tariffs of 10 percent,” the USTR writes. “Further, as part of USTR’s public comment and hearing process, it was determined that the tariff should be delayed to December 15 for certain articles.”

That list includes a wide range of electronics, from “telephones for cellular networks or for other wireless networks” to “telephone answering machines” and “cassette players (non‐recording) designed exclusively for motor‐vehicle installation.”

Stock prices for companies like Apple have already seen a positive bump following the news. The White House is expected to have additional trade talks with China next month in Washington, though President Trump has since cast some doubt.

Asked by reporters whether he might cancel the talks, the president answered, “Maybe. We’ll see what happens.”

http://imwunl.com

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Huawei’s new OS isn’t an Android replacement… yet

Huawei’s new OS isn’t an Android replacement… yet

August 12, 2019

If making an Android alternative was easy, we’d have a lot more of them. Huawei’s HarmonyOS won’t be replacing the mobile operating system for the company anytime soon, and Huawei has made it pretty clear that it would much rather go back to working with Google than go it alone.

Of course, that might not be an option.

The truth is that Huawei and Google were actually getting pretty chummy. They’d worked together plenty, and according to recent rumors, were getting ready to release a smart speaker in a partnership akin to what Google’s been doing with Lenovo in recent years. That was, of course, before Huawei was added to a U.S. “entity list” that ground those plans to a halt.

http://imwunl.com

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Reports say White House has drafted an order putting the FCC in charge of monitoring social media

Reports say White House has drafted an order putting the FCC in charge of monitoring social media

August 9, 2019

The White House is contemplating issuing an executive order that would widen its attack on the operations of social media companies.

The White House has prepared an executive order called “Protecting Americans from Online Censorship” that would give the Federal Communications Commission oversight of how Facebook, Twitter and other tech companies monitor and manage their social networks, according to a CNN report.

Under the order, which has not yet been announced and could be revised, the FCC would be tasked with developing new regulations that would determine when and how social media companies filter posts, videos or articles on their platforms.

The draft order also calls for the Federal Trade Commission to take those new policies into account when investigating or filing lawsuits against technology companies, according to the CNN report.

Social media censorship has been a perennial talking point for President Donald Trump and his administration. In May, the White House set up a tip line for people to provide evidence of social media censorship and a systemic bias against conservative media.

In the executive order, the White House says it received more than 15,000 complaints about censorship by the technology platforms. The order also includes an offer to share the complaints with the Federal Trade Commission.

As part of the order, the Federal Trade Commission would be required to open a public complaint docket and coordinate with the Federal Communications Commission on investigations of how technology companies curate their platforms — and whether that curation is politically agnostic.

Under the proposed rule, any company whose monthly user base includes more than one-eighth of the U.S. population would be subject to oversight by the regulatory agencies. A roster of companies subject to the

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Why AI needs more social workers, with Columbia University’s Desmond Patton

Why AI needs more social workers, with Columbia University’s Desmond Patton

August 9, 2019

Sometimes it does seem the entire tech industry could use someone to talk to, like a good therapist or social worker. That might sound like an insult, but I mean it mostly earnestly: I am a chaplain who has spent 15 years talking with students, faculty, and other leaders at Harvard (and more recently MIT as well), mostly nonreligious and skeptical people like me, about their struggles to figure out what it means to build a meaningful career and a satisfying life, in a world full of insecurity, instability, and divisiveness of every kind.

In related news, I recently took a year-long paid sabbatical from my work at Harvard and MIT, to spend 2019-20 investigating the ethics of technology and business (including by writing this column at TechCrunch). I doubt it will shock you to hear I’ve encountered a lot of amoral behavior in tech, thus far.

A less expected and perhaps more profound finding, however, has been what the introspective founder Prayag Narula of LeadGenius tweeted at me recently: that behind the hubris and Machiavellianism one can find in tech companies is a constant struggle with anxiety and an abiding feeling of inadequacy among tech leaders.

In tech, just like at places like Harvard and MIT, people are stressed. They’re hurting, whether or not they even realize it.

So when Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society recently posted an article whose headline began, “Why AI Needs Social Workers…”… it caught my eye.

The article, it turns out, was written by Columbia University Professor Desmond Patton. Patton is a Public Interest Technologist and pioneer in the use of social media and artificial intelligence in the study of gun violence. The founding Director of Columbia’s SAFElab and Associate Professor of Social Work, Sociology and Data …

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Trump administration bans federal agencies from buying Huawei, ZTE tech

Trump administration bans federal agencies from buying Huawei, ZTE tech

August 7, 2019

The Trump administration has banned U.S. federal agencies from buying equipment and obtaining services from Huawei and two other companies as part of the government’s latest crackdown on Chinese technology amid national security fears.

Jacob Wood, a spokesperson for the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, was quoted as saying that the administration will “fully comply” with the legislation passed by Congress as part of a defense spending bill passed last year.

CNBC first reported the spokesperson’s remarks.

The new rule will take effect in a week — August 13 — and will also take aim at Chinese tech giants ZTE, Hytera, and Hikvision, amid fears that the companies could spy for the Chinese government. The rule comes in a year before Congress’ mandated deadline of August 2020 for all federal contractors doing business with Huawei, ZTE, Hytera and Hikvision.

The government will grant waivers to contractors on a case-by-case basis so long as their work does not pose a national security threat.

Huawei has long claimed it does not nor can it spy for the Chinese government. Critics, including the government and many lawmakers, say the company’s technology, primarily networking equipment like 5G cell stations, could put Americans’ data at risk of Chinese surveillance or espionage. Huawei has vigorously denied the allegations, despite findings from the U.K. government that gave a damning assessment of the technology’s security.

The company first came to focus in 2012 following a House inquiry, which labeled the company a national security threat.

Huawei spokesperson Chase Skinner said the news was “not unexpected” and that it continues to challenge the ban in court.

“The NDAA law and its implementing provisions will do nothing to ensure the protection of U.S. telecom networks and systems and rather is trade barrier based on country-of-origin, invoking punitive …

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Trump attacks Google and Sundar Pichai in morning tweets

Trump attacks Google and Sundar Pichai in morning tweets

August 6, 2019

The president of the United States of America kicked off the morning with a series of tweets criticizing one of the country’s largest corporations for alleged ties to election tampering and China’s military. In a thread that would have been regarded as a remarkable occurrence under any other administration, Donald J. Trump called out Google by name, tagging CEO Sundar Pichai for good measure.

“[Pichai] of Google was in the Oval Office working very hard to explain how much he liked me, what a great job the Administration is doing, that Google was not involved with China’s military, that they didn’t help Crooked Hillary over me in the 2016 Election,” the president tweeted, “and that they […] are NOT planning to illegally subvert the 2020 Election despite all that has been said to the contrary.”

Trump cited a Lou Dobbs Fox Business Network interview with Peter Schweizer, Breitbart editor and the president of conservative think tank, the Government Accountability Institute. “[Schweizer] stated with certainty that they suppressed negative stories on Hillary Clinton, and boosted negative stories on Donald Ttump [sic],” Trump tweeted. “All very illegal. We are watching Google very closely!”

The tweets are the latest in an ongoing series of public criticisms of Google and other U.S.-based social platforms like Facebook and Twitter . Trump and fellow Republicans have long accused the services of a liberal bias, suggesting that they have “shadow banned” and otherwise repressed conservative voices.

Last month, the White

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Democratic Senate campaign group exposed 6.2 million Americans’ emails

Democratic Senate campaign group exposed 6.2 million Americans’ emails

August 6, 2019

A political campaign group working to elect Democratic senators left on an exposed server a spreadsheet containing the email addresses of 6.2 million Americans.

Data breach researchers at security firm UpGuard found the data in late July, and traced the storage bucket back to a former staffer at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, an organization that seeks grassroots donations and contributions to help elect Democratic candidates to the U.S. Senate.

Following the discovery, UpGuard researchers reached out to the DSCC and the storage bucket was secured within a few hours. The researchers shared their findings exclusively with TechCrunch and published their findings.

The spreadsheet was titled “EmailExcludeClinton.csv” and was found in a similarly named unprotected Amazon S3 bucket without a password. The file was uploaded in 2010 — a year after former Democratic senator and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, whom the data is believed to be named after, became secretary of state.

UpGuard said the data may be people “who had opted out or should otherwise be excluded” from the committee’s marketing.

A redacted portion of the email spreadsheet (Image: UpGuard/supplied)

Stewart Boss, a spokesperson for the DSCC, denied the data came from Sen. Hillary Clinton’s campaign and claimed the data had been created using the committee’s own information.

“A spreadsheet from nearly a decade ago that was created for fundraising purposes was removed in compliance with the stringent protocols we now have in place,” he told TechCrunch in an email.

Despite several follow-ups, the spokesperson declined to say how the email addresses were collected, where the information came from, what the email addresses were used for, how long the bucket was exposed, or if the committee knew if anyone else accessed or obtained the data.

We also contacted the former DSCC staffer who owned the storage bucket and allegedly …

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