Executive Briefing July 26, 2019


Fast Company What it really means when Congress talks about regulating Big Tech
There’s steady chatter in Washington about placing some regulatory guardrails around Big Tech companies, which many lawmakers (and their constituents) believe have become too big, too powerful, and too often unwilling or unable to self-regulate. There’s lots of discussion about new data privacy legislation, antitrust actions to break up big tech companies, and the removal of special legal protections for tech. But it’s all very likely to add up to a big zero in this Congressional session, based on my conversations with Democratic and Republican insiders.

CNET Facial recognition may be banned from public housing thanks to proposed law
Facial recognition doesn’t belong in the home, lawmakers will propose in landmark legislation in Congress this week. As landlords across the country continue to install smart home technology and tenants worry about unchecked surveillance, there’s been growing concern about facial recognition arriving at people’s doorsteps. The proposed bill would prohibit all public housing units that receive funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development from using technology like facial recognition, according to a person familiar with the legislation.

New York Times Justice Department Opens Antitrust Review of Big Tech Companies
The federal government has turned its full investigative powers toward examining the world’s biggest technology companies, building on a backlash against the industry that has been growing for over a year. The Justice Department said on Tuesday that it would start an antitrust review into how internet giants had accumulated market power and whether they had acted to reduce competition. Similar inquiries are underway in Congress and at the Federal Trade Commission, which shares antitrust oversight responsibilities with the Justice Department.

New York Times Calls Mount to Ease Big Tech’s Grip on Your Data
The market for our digital data can seem like a lopsided bargain. We all create valuable data points with every tap on a screen or keystroke — clicks, searches, likes, posts, purchases and more. We hand it over willingly for free services. But the biggest economic windfall goes to the tech giants like Google and Facebook. Their corporate wealth is built on harvesting and commercializing the information supplied by the online multitudes. But there is a growing collection of people seeking ways to alter that arrangement.

Broadcasting + Cable AIRWAVES Act Reintroduced
There was plenty of industry buy-in Tuesday to the reintroduction of the Advancing Innovation and Reinvigorating Widespread Access to Viable Electromagnetic Spectrum (AIRWAVES) Act. The bill would encourage the government to free up more spectrum for commercial licensed and unlicensed broadband and use 10% of any proceeds from spectrum auctions toward closing the urban/rural broadband divide.

Broadcasting + Cable Senate Commerce OK’s Broadband DATA Act
The Senate Commerce Committee has unanimously passed the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act, a bill that would try to improve the data the government uses to establish where broadband is and isn’t via broadband availability maps. The FCC has not yet decided exactly how to collect new data, but has offered up a proposal that would include more granular data and public vetting of the results.

The Hill House passes anti-robocall bill
The House on Wednesday took a major step toward cracking down on illegal robocalls by passing legislation allowing for tougher penalties against the scammers who generate billions of unwanted calls each year. Lawmakers passed the measure, sponsored by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), in a 429-3 vote.


Axios 1 big thing: Obama predicted the techlash
In December 2013, President Obama was meeting with a group of tech leaders, each urging the government to limit its increasingly widespread digital surveillance activities. Obama, while addressing their concerns, also made the prescient suggestion that the tech industry might want to prepare for questions of its own about the gathering and use of data.”I have a suspicion the guns will turn,” Obama said, according to one of the participants, Microsoft president and longtime attorney Brad Smith.

New York Times With $1 Billion From Microsoft, an A.I. Lab Wants to Mimic the Brain
A $1 billion investment from Microsoft, signed early this month and announced on Monday, signals a new direction for Sam Altman’s research lab. In March, Mr. Altman stepped down from his daily duties as the head of Y Combinator, the start-up “accelerator” that catapulted him into the Silicon Valley elite. Now, at 34, he is the chief executive of OpenAI, the artificial intelligence lab he helped create in 2015. He and his team of researchers hope to build artificial general intelligence, or A.G.I., a machine that can do anything the human brain can do. A.G.I. still has a whiff of science fiction. But in their agreement, Microsoft and OpenAI discuss the possibility with the same matter-of-fact language they might apply to any other technology they hope to build, whether it’s a cloud-computing service or a new kind of robotic arm.

New York Times New York City to Consider Banning Sale of Cellphone Location Data
Telecommunications firms and mobile-based apps make billions of dollars per year by selling customer location data to marketers and other businesses, offering a vast window into the whereabouts of cellphone and app users, often without their knowledge. That practice, which has come under increasing scrutiny and criticism in recent years, is now the subject of a proposed ban in New York. If the legislation is approved, it is believed that the city would become the first to forbid the sale of geolocation data to third parties.

Reuters Facial recognition push at India airports raises privacy concerns
The launch of facial recognition technology at two Indian airports and plans to place it in police stations have stoked fears over privacy and increased surveillance among human rights groups in the country. While airlines, airports and the companies developing the software promise greater security and increased efficiency, some technology analysts and privacy experts say the benefits are not clear, and come at the cost of privacy and greater surveillance.

New York Times Your Data Were ‘Anonymized’? These Scientists Can Still Identify You
Your medical records might be used for scientific research. But don’t worry, you’re told — personally identifying data were removed. Information about you gathered by the Census Bureau might be made public. But don’t worry — it, too, has been “anonymized.” On Tuesday, scientists showed that all this information may not be as anonymous as promised. The investigators developed a method to re-identify individuals from just bits of what were supposed to be anonymous data.

Washington Post Facebook’s Libra currency spawns a wave of fakes, including on Facebook itself
A wave of fakes purporting to sell or represent Facebook’s not-yet-available Libra currency have swept onto the social-media giant’s platforms, highlighting how the tech firm is struggling to rebuild trust and fight the fraud likely to surround the new financial system. Roughly a dozen fake accounts, pages and groups scattered across Facebook and its photo-sharing app Instagram present themselves as official hubs for the digital currency, in some cases offering to sell Libra at a discount if viewers visit potentially fraudulent, third-party websites.

Wall Street Journal Facebook Settlement Requires Mark Zuckerberg to Certify Privacy Protections (Paywall)
Facebook Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg will have to personally certify that the company is taking steps to protect consumer privacy under a settlement expected to be announced with the Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday, a person familiar with the matter said.


Information Technology & Innovation Foundation

  • Blog about automation: Despite a prolonged period of slow productivity growth and low unemployment, some commentators continue to voice concern over the threat automation poses to jobs. This worry continues a long tradition of fear over the consequences of machines replacing workers. If the history of automation teaches us anything, it is that while automation can temporarily displace some workers it also raises living standards for society by reducing costs, improving quality, and allowing people to concentrate on higher-value work. (Innovation Files – No, Automation Is Not Causing a Decline in Workers’ Share of Income, July 22, 2019)

 Microsoft on the Issues

  • Blog about farming and AI: Many farmers are turning to Ag-Analytics, a leader in AI solutions, to help address these concerns. Sharing Microsoft’s goal to help monitor, model and manage Earth’s natural resources with cloud and AI, they bring precision agriculture to fruition in a platform that helps farmers leverage all available data to make the best decisions for their land. (Microsoft on the Issues – Ag-Analytics helps farmers and researchers use AI to prepare for climate change, July 23, 2019)

New America

  • Blog about broadband mapping: The United States of Broadband (USBB) map attempts to fill the gap in understanding between the FCC’s data and the actual speeds experienced by Americans, based on billions of speed tests conducted through M-Lab’s platform (almost 900,000 people run M-Lab tests per day in the United States alone). The USBB map shows data both collected through the M-Lab platform, and collected by the FCC through Form 477. (Open Technology Institute – The United States of Broadband Map, July 17, 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.