Executive Briefing October 11, 2019


GeekWire Microsoft’s Brad Smith cites Boeing crisis as cautionary tale for intelligent machines, calls for AI kill switch
For decades, sci-fi movies have predicted a future in which humans lose control of intelligent machines and chaos ensues. Those apocalyptic portrayals of artificial intelligence may seem like a distant or unrealistic future. But the seeds of a reality in which we lose control of the machines we build are being sewn today. That’s according to Microsoft President Brad Smith who stumped the crowd at the GeekWire Summit — our annual technology conference in Seattle — with a simple question. “What is the biggest software-related issue to impact the economy in Puget Sound in 2019?”


The Hill Iranian attacks expose vulnerability of campaign email accounts
A recent hacking attempt by Iran targeting a U.S. presidential campaign highlighted the vulnerability of email accounts heading into the 2020 elections. Microsoft revealed last week that it had tracked an Iranian group named “Phosphorus” attempting to access the email accounts of an unnamed presidential campaign, along with accounts tied to journalists and former and current U.S. officials. While the group compromised only four accounts, it identified 2,700 accounts for targeting and attacked 241 of them.

The Sacramento Bee Kamala Harris embraced Peter Thiel’s ‘Big Data’ tech in California. How about as president?
As attorney general of California, Kamala Harris embraced the promise of data and technology to improve law enforcement – including data mining systems developed by the secretive Silicon Valley firm Palantir. In the last several years, however, those data systems have come under increasing scrutiny from privacy and civil liberties activists concerned about a lack of transparency, embedded racial bias and misuse by the Trump administration.

Reuters Trump re-election campaign targeted by Iran-linked hackers: sources
A hacking group that appears to be linked to the Iranian government attempted to break into U.S. President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign but were unsuccessful, sources familiar with the operation told Reuters on Friday. Microsoft Corp said earlier on Friday in a blog post that it saw “significant” cyber activity by the group which also targeted current and former U.S. government officials, journalists covering global politics and prominent Iranians living outside Iran.

The Guardian Facebook exempts political ads from ban on making false claims
Facebook has quietly rescinded a policy banning false claims in advertising, creating a specific exemption that leaves political adverts unconstrained regarding how they could mislead or deceive, as a potential general election looms in the UK. The social network had previously banned adverts containing “deceptive, false or misleading content”, a much stronger restriction than its general rules around Facebook posts. But, as reported by the journalist Judd Legum, in the last week the rules have narrowed considerably, only banning adverts that “include claims debunked by third-party fact-checkers, or, in certain circumstances, claims debunked by organisations with particular expertise”.


Bloomberg U.S. Blacklists Eight Chinese Tech Companies on Rights Violations
The Trump administration placed eight Chinese technology giants on a U.S. blacklist on Monday, accusing them of being implicated in human rights violations against Muslim minorities in the country’s far-western region of Xinjiang. The companies include two video surveillance companies — Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co. and Zhejiang Dahua Technology Co. — that by some accounts control as much as a third of the global market for video surveillance and have cameras all over the world.

The Hill Supreme Court declines to hear University of Wisconsin appeal in Apple patent fight
The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal from the University of Wisconsin’s patent licensing arm to reestablish a legal victory against Apple over technology that the school claimed the company used without permission. The justices did not review a lower court’s 2018 decision to throw out the $506 million in damages that Apple was made to pay after a jury decided the company infringed the university’s patent in 2015.

Nextgov The Pentagon is Standing Up a Nonprofit to Assess Vendor Cybersecurity
The Defense Department is looking to stand up a nonprofit organization to measure the strength of its contractors’ cybersecurity practices. The group would be responsible for running the vendor accreditation process under the Pentagon’s new Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification, or CMMC. The framework, which was released in draft form last month, will serve as a yardstick for determining if contractors are taking sufficient steps to protect the sensitive military data that resides on their networks.

The Wall Street Journal How Tim Cook Won Donald Trump’s Ear [Paywall]
With the threat of tariffs on iPhones approaching in August, Apple Inc. stood to lose billions of dollars in profit. Chief Executive Tim Cook reached out to one of his most important contacts in Washington, Jared Kushner. Mr. Kushner arranged a call between Mr. Cook and his father-in-law, President Trump, people familiar with the call said, giving the Apple chief a chance to explain how tariffs would increase iPhone prices and impair Apple’s ability to compete against rivals such as Samsung Electronics Co.

Broadcasting Cable FTC’s Wilson: We’re Not Out to Undermine COPPA
Republican Federal Trade Commission member Christine Wilson said the agency’s current review of kids online privacy protections is is not an effort to undermine those protections. That came at at a daylong workshop Monday (Oct. 7) on the future of the COPPA Rule implementing children’s online privacy protection legislation. COPPA requires operators of web sites targeted to kids or with actual knowledge that kids are using the site to obtain parental permission to collect, use or disclose personal information of anyone under 13.

The New York Times U.S. Using Trade Deals to Shield Tech Giants From Foreign Regulators [Paywall]
The Trump administration has begun inserting legal protections into recent trade agreements that shield online platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube from lawsuits, a move that could help lock in America’s tech-friendly regulations around the world even as they are being newly questioned at home.

The Hill House Democrats introduce new legislation to combat foreign election interference
A group of House Democrats led by Administration Committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (Calif.) on Tuesday introduced new legislation aimed at combating foreign efforts to interfere in U.S. elections. The SHIELD Act would require campaigns to report “illicit offers” of election assistance from foreign governments or individuals to both the FBI and the Federal Election Commission (FEC), and also take steps to ensure that political advertisements on social media are subject to the same stricter rules as ads on television or radio

The Wall Street Journal FBI’s Use of Surveillance Database Violated Americans’ Privacy Rights, Court Found
Some of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s electronic surveillance activities violated the constitutional privacy rights of Americans swept up in a controversial foreign intelligence program, a secretive surveillance court has ruled. The ruling deals a rare rebuke to U.S. spying programs that have generally withstood legal challenge and review since they were dramatically expanded after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The opinion resulted in the FBI agreeing to better safeguard privacy and apply new procedures.


The Verge Microsoft wants to connect another 40 million global internet users
Microsoft’s Airband initiative is going international, with a newly formalized goal to get 40 million more people connected to the internet by July 2022. The program, which launched in 2017 with the goal of improving rural internet access across the US, is expanding to offer better internet access across Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa.In America, Microsoft is relying on unused TV white space (TVWS) operating in the 600 MHz spectrum to offer broadband access to 3 million.

Microsoft On The Issues Teens say parents share too much about them online – Microsoft study
The new school year is well underway in many parts of the world, and parents may be inclined to share news and photos of their star pupil’s success or involvement in new activities. Before you do, however, know that teens around the world say parents share (or “sharent”) too much about them on social media – so much so that it’s become a concern for more than four in 10.

CNBC California’s new privacy law could cost companies a total of $55 billion to get in compliance
California’s new privacy law could cost companies a total of up to $55 billion in initial compliance costs, according to an economic impact assessment prepared for the state attorney general’s office by an independent research firm. The review, released publicly by California’s Department of Finance, provided a broad range for the potential costs companies could face to become and stay compliant with the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) if signed into law by Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom.

The Washington Post Roughly 40 state attorneys general plan to take part in Facebook antitrust probe
Roughly 40 state attorneys general plan to take part in a New York-led antitrust investigation of Facebook, reflecting a broadening belief among the country’s top Democrats and Republicans that the tech giant may be undermining its social-networking rivals. The heightened interest — confirmed Monday by three people familiar with the matter — comes weeks after New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) first announced a wide-ranging probe with seven other states and the District of Columbia to explore whether, in James’s words at the time, Facebook has “endangered consumer data, reduced the quality of consumers’ choices, or increased the price of advertising.”

CNET Snap CEO Spiegel: It’s ‘hard to say’ if breaking up Facebook would benefit society
Facebook has repeatedly pushed back against calls to split up Instagram and WhatsApp from the social media giant, arguing it won’t solve its woes around privacy, election meddling and other issues. It turns out even one of its competitors, Snapchat, isn’t sure if a break-up is a good idea. Evan Spiegel, the CEO and co-founder of Snapchat’s parent company Snap, said Friday that it’s “really hard to say” if breaking up the world’s largest social network would benefit society.

Gizmodo Alabama Hospitals Pay Out in Ransomware Attack Amid FBI Warning of More to Come
Alabama-based DCH Health System said it has paid off the hackers behind a ransomware attack that severely disrupted operations at three hospitals beginning on Tuesday morning, according to a Saturday report by Tuscaloosa News. The news closely follows an FBI warning that the number of sophisticated attacks on businesses and state and local governments is continuing to climb. Ransomware attacks work by encrypting entire file systems, with attackers demanding ransom payments (typically in cryptocurrency) to provide the correct decryption key.

ZDNet What will driving look like in 10 years? A technological wonderland
In plenty of ways, driving in the year 2030 will likely look a lot like it does now. A decade is still well shy of the most ambitious projections for full-autonomy on American highways and city streets. Cars, for all their technological pageantry, will still have a steering wheel, a couple pedals, and four wheels. But in other ways the driver’s seat may well seem like a futuristic wonderland.

CNN How facial recognition is taking over airports
In April 2019, traveler MacKenzie Fegan was left surprised and confused when she boarded a JetBlue flight from the United States to Mexico, without handing over her passport, or travel documents. “There were plastic barricades across the front of each lane, I look to my right, and the gate opens,” she tells CNN Travel. “I was like, ‘What, just happened?’ There was no boarding pass scan, nothing like that.” Before she’d even sat down on her airplane seat, Fegan, a New York-based journalist, fired off a Tweet to JetBlue, asking the airline to explain the process

Wired An AI Pioneer Wants His Algorithms to Understand the ‘Why’
In March, Yoshua Bengio received a share of the Turing Award, the highest accolade in computer science, for contributions to the development of deep learning—the technique that triggered a renaissance in artificial intelligence, leading to advances in self-driving cars, real-time speech translation, and facial recognition. Now, Bengio says deep learning needs to be fixed.

Entrepreneur Technologists Are Creating Artificial Intelligence to Help Us Tap Into Our Humanity. Here’s How (and Why)
When being empathetic is your full-time job, burning out is only human. Few people are more aware of this than customer service representatives, who are tasked with approaching each conversation with energy and compassion — whether it’s their first call of the day or their 60th. It’s their job to make even the most difficult customer feel understood and respected while still providing them accurate information.

Mind Matters How You Can Really Know You’re Talking to a Computer
Long ago, computer genius Alan Turing devised a test for computers: The Turing test basically meant that a human simply could not tell the difference between interacting with the machine and with another human. That would show that machines could be built that would think like humans.* The type of machine he sought is called an artificial general intelligence (AGI).

Vice 36 Civil Rights Groups Demand End to Amazon’s Partnerships with Police
Thirty-six civil rights organizations signed an open letter demanding local, state, and federal officials to end partnerships between Ring, Amazon’s home surveillance company, and over 405 law enforcement agencies around the country. The open letter, which was published yesterday by digital rights advocacy group Fight for the Future, also demands municipalities to pass surveillance oversight ordinances in order to “deter” police from partnering with companies like Ring in the future.

Fast Company Twitter admits it used info shared for security to target ads
Twitter said on Tuesday that it inadvertently helped advertisers target ads using personal data users provided for account security. The company said in a statement on its blog that the data used for targeting included email addresses and phone numbers—information likely provided by users to set up two-factor authentication protection for their accounts. In its statement posted today, Twitter said the personal data in question was used in the “Tailored Audiences” feature it offers advertisers.

Politico How Vocational Education Got a 21st Century Reboot
Suriana Rodriguez is only 19, but she’s already lined up a full-time job at IBM. After her junior year in high school, she interned at the tech giant’s Poughkeepsie, N.Y., campus, 20 miles north of her hometown, for $17 an hour. For a year, Rodriguez has worked 40-hour weeks as an apprentice test technician, examining IBM mainframes to confirm they work before shipping them to customers. In January, she’ll move to a permanent position with a future salary that she says is “definitely much more than I ever thought I’d be making at 19.”

The New York Times Facebook’s Hands-Off Approach to Political Speech Gets Impeachment Test [Paywall]
The 30-second video ad released by the Trump campaign last week is grainy, and the narrator’s voice is foreboding. Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., it says, offered Ukraine $1 billion in aid if the country pushed out the man investigating a company tied to Mr. Biden’s son.

The Atlantic ‘Addictive Technology’ Is the New Reefer Madness
This past summer, Josh Hawley, a Republican senator from Missouri, introduced the Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology Act, which—beyond its forced acronym—was remarkable for how aggressively it would regulate the design of certain tech products. Among other provisions, the law would ban auto-play videos on sites such as YouTube. It would require sites such as Twitter to deploy a mechanism that “automatically limits the amount of time that a user may spend to 30 minutes a day.”

Quartz Technology-oriented religions are coming
Religious ideas and powerful radical theologies pepper our science fiction. From Klingon religions in Star Trek to the Bene Gesserit in the Dune series, Cylon in Battlestar Galactica to the pervasive Cavism in Kurt Vonnegut’s works, our society has little trouble imagining the concept of new religions. We just don’t implement them. Modern society has been unsuccessful in scaling new religions beyond the cults of personality or the niches of Scientology.

MIT Technology Review I tried to hack my insomnia with technology. Here’s what worked.
I stopped sleeping when I was 18. I’d just arrived at college, having moved from a tiny village to a big city for the first time in my life. London was loud and busy. I was staying in a dorm with a load of people I didn’t know. There was a hospital nearby with sirens going off at all hours. I was stressed. I developed insomnia. I tossed and turned, night after night. The more I chased sleep, the more it seemed to elude me.

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