Executive Briefing April 26, 2019


Financial Times EU official urges Trump to adopt tough data privacy rules
The EU’s top privacy official has urged Donald Trump’s administration to adopt an equivalent to Europe’s tough new privacy law as a precursor to broader talks between Brussels and Washington on the transatlantic sharing of data by big business. Vera Jourova, EU commissioner for justice, told the Financial Times that an American privacy law — similar to EU data protection regulation GDPR — would make the US “perfect partners” for a data flow agreement that would allow American and European businesses to freely share the personal information of its citizens.

Washington Post Federal investigation of Facebook could hold Mark Zuckerberg accountable on privacy, sources say
Federal regulators investigating Facebook for mishandling its users’ personal information have set their sights on the company’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, exploring his past statements on privacy and weighing whether to seek new, heightened oversight of his leadership. The discussions about how to hold Zuckerberg accountable for Facebook’s data lapses have come in the context of wide-ranging talks between the Federal Trade Commission and Facebook that could settle the government’s more than year-old probe, according to two people familiar with the discussions.

Next Gov FBI’s Facial Recognition Programs Under Fire Over Privacy, Accuracy Concerns
The FBI still has not assessed whether its facial recognition systems meet privacy and accuracy standards nearly three years after a congressional watchdog—the Government Accountability Office—raised multiple concerns about the bureau’s use of the tech. Since 2015, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have used the Next Generation Identification-Interstate Photo System, which uses facial recognition software to link potential suspects to crimes, pulling from a database of more than 30 million mugshots and other photos.

Associated Press Maine senator backs push to narrow “digital divide” in US
A group of U.S. senators including Maine independent Sen. Angus King is introducing legislation designed to narrow the “digital divide” in the U.S. King’s office says in a statement the legislation would create a pair of $125 million grant programs focusing on projects that provide “equal access to information technology and educational materials for communities across the nation.” King says the new grants would help shrink the homework gap in the country that’s caused by unequal access to digital technology. He says the grants will ensure residents are “fluent in the technology that will drive so much of our nation’s future.”

WCAX3 New push to get rural broadband moving along
Congressman Denver Riggleman says the Fifth District is still struggling to expand broadband access in rural neighborhoods. He’s making a push to the federal government to move things along. The Virginia Republican representative wrote this month to the Federal Communications Commission. Riggleman says he thinks part of the problem is that the FCC is not accurately measuring how many people lack high-speed Internet.


New England News Collaborative Episode 143: Invasive Plants and Climate Change; Limited Broadband Access
Nobody’s going to argue that we need clean drinking water, a way to deal with waste, electricity and some way to heat your home. Getting those necessities can still be a struggle, but they’re universally seen as building blocks for a functioning society. So, what about reliable, high-speed internet service? Almost all businesses need it. It’s become increasingly important for medical care, and what about students who need it to do their homework? It drives our global and regional economy, but as the need for it grows, the lack of access to broadband internet is increasingly becoming a problem.

The Neighbor MN Senate funds farmer mental health, rural broadband, affordable housing
The Minnesota Senate passed bipartisan legislation to fund agriculture, rural development, and affordable housing in Minnesota. The comprehensive budget bill places an emphasis on rural broadband expansion, invests in affordable manufactured housing and home ownership, prioritizes value-added agriculture opportunities that directly impact farmers and increases resources for farmer mental health services.

The Verge Microsoft is now a $1 trillion company
Microsoft has become the third US company to pass a market cap of $1 trillion. The software giant passed the milestone briefly today after a jump in stock price today following strong fiscal Q3 earnings. Microsoft joins Apple and Amazon in hitting the $1 trillion valuation ahead of rival Google. Microsoft’s stock has been pushed up thanks to its cloud growth. The software maker has been pushing its cloud products in recent years, and the company is aiming to catch up to Amazon’s AWS dominance. Azure is currently second behind Amazon for cloud services, and ahead of Google’s own offerings.

Axios Microsoft is winning the techlash
The tech industry is feeling the pain of an unprecedented backlash over its business practices and broad impact on society, but original tech giant Microsoft has managed to stay mostly above the fray. Microsoft, which trudged through its own antitrust battle with the Justice Department in the ’90s, has sidestepped the mistakes made by its younger, brasher Big Tech brethren.

Wired Microsoft Is Right: We Need a Digital Geneva Convention
Note: This article is from 2017, but has been included in this briefing because the issues it raises around cyberwarfare and digital cooperation are relevant to current events.

State-sponsored hackers may have meddled in political campaigns from the US to France to the Netherlands. And while nations are finding it tough to cooperate on the issue, Microsoft is pushing for more global cooperation, not less, in proposing a Digital Geneva Convention to prevent cyberwarfare. By invoking the Geneva Convention, Microsoft appears to want to learn from the past. And history shows that while the company is right to propose action, international agreements alone won’t fix our vulnerabilities in cyberspace. Our best chance of success starts with voluntary industry standards.

The Verge Tim Cook says tech needs to be regulated or it could cause ‘great damage to society’
Apple CEO Tim Cook suggested today that for the average person to have their data privacy protected, technology needs to be regulated by the government. “We all have to be intellectually honest, and we have to admit that what we’re doing isn’t working,” Cook said at the Time 100 Summit today in New York. “Technology needs to be regulated. There are now too many examples where the no rails have resulted in great damage to society.” He pointed to Europe’s stringent GDPR data privacy rules as an example that US lawmakers could slowly emulate, while suggesting that Europe could continue to improve on those rules as well. “Europe is more likely to come up with something. GDPR is a step in the right direction,” Cook added.

Bloomberg Apple Face-Recognition Blamed by New York Teen for False Arrest
A New York student sued Apple Inc. for $1 billion, claiming the company’s facial-recognition software falsely linked him to a series of thefts from Apple stores. Ousmane Bah, 18, said he was arrested at his home in New York in November and charged with stealing from an Apple store. The arrest warrant included a photo that didn’t resemble Bah, he said in a lawsuit filed Monday. One of the thefts he was charged with, in Boston, took place on the day in June he was attending his senior prom in Manhattan, he said.


Microsoft AI Blog

  • Blog on AI needing human expertise: Machine teaching seeks to gain knowledge from people rather than extracting knowledge from data alone. A person who understands the task at hand — whether how to decide which department in a company should receive an incoming email or how to automatically position wind turbines to generate more energy — would first decompose that problem into smaller parts. Then they would provide a limited number of examples, or the equivalent of lesson plans, to help the machine learning algorithms solve it. (The AI Blog – Machine teaching – How people’s expertise makes AI even more powerful, Apr. 23, 2019)

Microsoft on the Issues

  • Blog on broadband data mapping: Every day, our world becomes a little more digital. But reaping the benefits of this digital world – pursuing new educational opportunities through distance learning, feeding the world through precision agriculture, growing a small business by leveraging the cloud, and accessing better healthcare through telemedicine – is only possible for those with a broadband connection, a link not available to at least 25 million people, 19 million of whom live in this country’s rural areas, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). (Microsoft on the Issues – It’s time for a new approach for mapping broadband data to better serve Americans, Apr. 8, 2019)


  • Blog on digital technology and the productivity gap: Half of the differences in GDP per capita across countries are because of productivity. Within a country, productivity differences can also be large across firms, even within narrowly defined industries. There is growing evidence that in explaining overall productivity growth, productivity increases within existing firms are more important than the reallocation of resources between firms or the entry and exit of firms. And the adoption of new technologies by existing firms is a big part of productivity differentials. (Future Development Blog – Do digital technologies widen productivity gaps?, Apr. 23, 2019)

Note: Voices for Innovation regularly shares a range of opinion articles and press releases from organizations in and publications covering tech policy. These pieces are meant to educate our audience, not to endorse specific platforms or bills.