Executive Briefing May 17, 2019

On May 15, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron brought together government leaders and representatives of technology companies to announce the “Christchurch Call to Action To Eliminate Terrorist and Violent Extremist Content Online.”

Microsoft, together with several other large tech companies, issued a joint statement signing the Call to Action and published nine steps that they will take to address the abuse of technology to spread terrorist and violent extremist content. Read more in this Microsoft on the Issues blog.


Multichannel Rep. Clyburn Forms Rural Broadband Task Force
House Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) has launched the House [Democratic] Task Force on Rural Broadband to try and help close the rural digital divide and eliminate “digital deserts.” “High-speed internet is an essential service in America today—yet too many of our fellow citizens in rural communities are being left behind,” said Rep. Clyburn. “It’s unacceptable in 2019 that many rural communities have limited to no access to the internet. If rural America is to thrive in the 21st century information economy, it must have affordable and accessible internet service to every community.”

B+C Dems Proposing $40 Billion For Broadband Buildout, Again
House Democrats are once again introducing an omnibus infrastructure bill, dubbed the Leading Infrastructure For Tomorrow’s [LIFT] America Act, which includes allocating tens of billions of dollars for broadband deployment. The bill would provide $40 billion over the next five years for “secure and resilient broadband” and to expand access with baked-in security. A similar bill with a similar $40 billion for broadband was introduced by House Democrats in 2017, when they were in the minority.

The Hill House Dems reintroduce bill to protect elections from cyberattacks
House Democratic chairmen on Friday reintroduced a bill to protect U.S. election systems against cyberattacks, including requiring President Trump to produce a “national strategy for protecting democratic institutions.” The Election Security Act is aimed at reducing risks posed by cyberattacks by foreign entities or other actors against U.S. election systems. The national strategy from President Trump would “protect against cyber attacks, influence operations, disinformation campaigns, and other activities that could undermine the security and integrity of United States democratic institutions.”

The Hill Dems push to revive Congress’ tech office
House Democrats are pushing to revive funding for a nonpartisan agency intended to better inform lawmakers about technology. At issue is the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), which was created by Congress in 1972 but closed its doors in 1995 after the then GOP-controlled House cut its funding. The agency provided lawmakers and staffers with expertise on science and technology issues relevant to legislation and public policy, including the areas of intellectual property, technological change, and climate.


TechCrunch World leaders ask tech giants to tackle toxic content with Christchurch Call
This week, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern asked tech companies to sign a pledge called the Christchurch Call.The Christchurch Call is a way to start involving tech companies with a nonbinding pledge. Named after the recent terrorist attack in Christchurch, the agreement should ask tech platforms to increase their efforts when it comes to blocking toxic content. In other words, democracies don’t want another shooting video going viral and also don’t want to block Facebook, YouTube or Twitter altogether.

Broadcasting + Cable FCC’s Pai: White Spaces Item Awaits Broadcast/Microsoft Consensus
FCC chair Ajit Pai suggested this week that the FCC is awaiting consensus among broadcasters and Microsoft before moving ahead with a proposal on freeing up the “white spaces” between and around post-incentive auction repacked TV channels for wireless broadband. That came in an FCC oversight hearing in the House Communications Subcommittee, where he said he hoped to bring the new white spaces regime to reality soon.

Capital Press Microsoft, FFA cooperate on high-tech farming
FFA members across the country will have access to some of the latest on-farm technology as part of a new effort backed by computer software giant Microsoft. The Microsoft FarmBeats Student Kit includes preconfigured Microsoft Azure cloud services and a Raspberry Pi computer with soil moisture, light, ambient temperature and humidity sensors to collect data. According to Microsoft, the data is “brought to life” in an online dashboard using Microsoft Azure IoT Central, providing insights to understand how to improve productivity, increase yield and save resources.

New York Times San Francisco Bans Facial Recognition Technology
San Francisco, long at the heart of the technology revolution, took a stand against potential abuse on Tuesday by banning the use of facial recognition software by the police and other agencies. The action, which came in an 8-to-1 vote by the Board of Supervisors, makes San Francisco the first major American city to block a tool that many police forces are turning to in the search for both small-time criminal suspects and perpetrators of mass carnage.

Gizmodo New York Proposal Would Ban Face Recognition Surveillance By Landlords
In the same week that San Francisco voted to become the first city in the United States to ban government use of face recognition surveillance, two New York State legislators introduced a bill to ban the use of facial recognition surveillance by residential landlords. New York State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assembly Woman Latrice Walker introduced legislation (S5687) banning the technology in the wake of a battle in Brooklyn over a landlord installing face recognition surveillance in a rent-stabilized complex in a working class, majority black neighborhood.

TechCrunch 7 accessibility-focused startups snag grants from Microsoft
Microsoft has selected seven lucky startups to receive grants from its AI for Accessibility program. The growing companies aim to empower people with disabilities to take part in tech and the internet economy, from improving job searches to predicting seizures. Each of the seven companies receives professional-level Azure AI resources and support, cash to cover the cost of data collection and handling and access to Microsoft’s experts in AI, project management and accessibility. Read more about AI and accessibility from Microsoft on the Issues.

WIRED How Tech Companies Are Shaping The Rules Governing AI
In early April, the European Commission published guidelines intended to keep any artificial intelligence technology used on the EU’s 500 million citizens trustworthy. The bloc’s commissioner for digital economy and society, Bulgaria’s Mariya Gabriel, called them “a solid foundation based on EU values.” One of the 52 experts who worked on the guidelines argues that foundation is flawed—thanks to the tech industry. Thomas Metzinger, a philosopher from the University of Mainz, in Germany, says too many of the experts who created the guidelines came from or were aligned with industry interests.

Reuters Exclusive: Amazon rolls out machines that pack orders and replace jobs
Amazon is rolling out machines to automate a job held by thousands of its workers: boxing up customer orders. The company started adding technology to a handful of warehouses in recent years, which scans goods coming down a conveyor belt and envelopes them seconds later in boxes custom-built for each item, two people who worked on the project told Reuters. Amazon has considered installing two machines at dozens more warehouses, removing at least 24 roles at each one, these people said. These facilities typically employ more than 2,000 people.

Reuters Facebook facing 20-year consent agreement after privacy lapses: source
The social media giant Facebook is headed toward an agreement with the U.S. government over its privacy policies and practices that would put it under 20 years of oversight, according to a source knowledgeable about the discussions. The agreement would resolve a probe of whether the company violated a similar consent pact reached in 2011. There had been expectations a deal was imminent after Facebook set aside $3 billion to pay what it said it expected to be a $3 billion to $5 billion penalty. But two sources said on Monday that no deal was expected this week.

Tech Crunch Twitter bug disclosed some users’ location data to an unnamed partner
Twitter on Monday afternoon disclosed a bug that in certain conditions resulted in an account’s location data being shared with a Twitter partner — even if the user had not opted into sharing that data. The bug only affected a portion of Twitter’s iOS user base, the company says, and they’ve since been notified of the issue. Affected users had more than one Twitter account on iOS, and had chosen to share their precise location using the optional feature in one account. Twitter says it may have accidentally collected location data for the other account or accounts on the same mobile device, as well, even when those accounts were not similarly opted into location data sharing.



  • Blog on AI opportunities: AI is already affecting how economies grow, produce jobs, and trade internationally. McKinsey estimates that AI could add around 16 percent or $13 trillion to global output by 2030. According to an analysis by Paul Daugherty and Mark Purdy of the impact of AI on 12 developed economies, including the United States, AI could double annual economic growth in these countries by 2035. (Up Front Blog – Maximizing AI’s economic, social, and trade opportunities, May 13th, 2019)

Microsoft on the Issues

  • Blog on AI for accessibility: Museums are places for people to immerse themselves in culture, as well as learn, create, share and interact. Being accessible — designed for everyone — is one way museums can maximize that role, and a growing number are working hard to do just that to serve the more than one billion people worldwide experience some form of disability. Here is how technology is helping museums get closer to the communities they serve. (Microsoft on the Issues – How technology is making museums more accessible, May 16, 2019)

New America

  • Blog on the privacy debate and civil rights: People who are part of marginalized communities are especially vulnerable to exploitative commercial data practices. This often results in data collection that fuels discrimination, including restricted access to housing and employment. It also opens up avenues through which these communities can be targets of voter suppression and hate campaigns. Put another way, as our lives increasingly shift online, so, too, have methods of discrimination—using individual data profiles—and our laws have been slow to keep up. (Weekly Articles – Centering Civil Rights in the Privacy Debate, May 16th, 2019)

Information Technology & Innovation Foundation

  • Blog on GDPR: The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), while establishing a needed EU-wide privacy framework, will, unfortunately, inhibit the development and use of AI in Europe, putting firms in the EU at a competitive disadvantage to their North American and Asian competitors. The GDPR’s requirement for organizations to obtain user consent to process data, while perhaps being viable, yet expensive, for the Internet economy, and a growing drag on the data-driven economy, will prove exceptionally detrimental to the emerging algorithmic economy. (ITIF Publications – The EU Needs to Reform the GDPR To Remain Competitive in the Algorithmic Economy, May 13th, 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.