Executive Briefing September 13, 2019


Selected press clips as Microsoft president Brad Smith promotes his book, on sale this week. Find Brad in the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Los Angeles in the coming weeks.

The Economist The Redmond doctrine: Lessons from Microsoft’s corporate foreign policy [Paywall]

CNBC Microsoft president: Being a big company doesn’t mean you’re a monopoly

The Daily Show With Trevor Noah interview from September 10


CNN Homeland Security to collect social media usernames on immigration and visitor applications
The Department of Homeland Security plans to begin requesting social media information on applications for immigration benefits and foreign travel to the US, an expansion of data collection already taking place. Some foreign travelers to the US, as well as applicants for immigration benefits, will be asked to list their social media accounts and usernames for the past five years, according to a notice in the Federal Register. The information will be used to determine whether an individual “poses a law enforcement or national security risk to the United States.”

The Washington Post Google receives demand for documents from Justice Dept., acknowledging federal antitrust scrutiny
Google said Friday that the Justice Department has requested records related to its prior antitrust investigations, marking the tech giant’s first major acknowledgment that it’s a subject of a federal competition probe. The civil-investigative demand — acknowledged in a securities filing and a blog post — comes weeks after Justice Department officials said they would open a broad review of big tech, including search. It also comes days before more than 30 state attorneys general are expected to announce a major antitrust investigation of Google, as The Washington Post first reported.

NextGov DISA is Merging Its Cyber Operations Into a Single Cloud-Based Platform
The Pentagon is planning to consolidate its various cybersecurity capabilities into a single platform that would give digital defenders a bird’s-eye view of the department’s entire digital ecosystem. The Defense Information Systems Agency is looking for vendors to build a cloud-based enterprise platform that would act as a hub for all cybersecurity operations across the Department of Defense Information Network, or DoDIN. By bringing together the department’s disparate cyber capabilities into one place, the platform, called the Unified Situational Cyber Awareness capability, would let personnel rapidly analyze cyber information and coordinate defenses across the department.

Bloomberg Business How the Algorithms Running Your Life Are Biased
Every minute, machines are deciding your future. Software programs don’t just recommend books and movies you might like: they also determine the interest rate you’ll pay on a loan, whether you land a dream job and even the chance you might commit a crime. The hope was that computers trained to find patterns in vast pools of data would make such decisions more objectively than humans do. Instead, researchers are finding that algorithms — the logic at the heart of software programs — can replicate and even amplify the prejudices of those who create them. The U.S. Congress is weighing a bill meant to address such bias by forcing algorithms out into the open.


Roll Call DNC blocks virtual caucuses in Iowa and Nevada
The Democratic National Committee formally decided Friday not to move forward with virtual caucuses in Iowa and Nevada amid cybersecurity concerns. The DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee agreed by voice vote to adopt the recommendation from DNC Chairman Tom Perez that the virtual caucuses should not take place since they would not be secure or reliable. Both states had devised plans to allow people to participate in the caucuses by phone to fulfill a DNC requirement that states provide an absentee voting option.

Politico A Trump social network readies for launch
After spending years alleging anti-conservative bias on social media, President Donald Trump will soon have another way to get his message out how he wants. Trump’s reelection campaign plans to launch a smartphone app this fall to encourage supporters to donate, volunteer and reel in like-minded voters — all while providing the president more unfiltered access to his followers. Supporters who download the all-in-one app are expected to be able to sign up for a Make America Great Again rally, canvas a neighborhood or call voters, maybe even register to vote as the campaign looks to turn passive supporters into activists.

Vice Bernie Sanders Says DMVs Should Stop Profiting From Drivers’ Personal Data
Senator and Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said that Departments of Motor Vehicles should not profit from drivers’ personal information after a Motherboard investigation found DMVs across the country selling data to a wide array of companies, including private investigators. “The DMV should not use its trove of personal information as a tool to make money. While the internet has been an enormous source for good, all that convenience and connection has come with a price: our privacy has been invaded in an unprecedented way, in a manner that would have been unthinkable even 20 years ago,” Sanders told Motherboard in a statement.

POLITICO Opinion: Election security isn’t that hard
A Democratic former California secretary of state and Republican former Colorado secretary of state, both advising Verified Voting, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that promotes verifiable voting practices, suggest a path to “tangible solutions needed to validate our elections.”


Telecompetitor FCC Authorizes $112 Million in Rural Broadband Funding to CAF II Auction Winners
The FCC authorized approximately $112 million in rural broadband funding over 10 years to entities that won funding in the Connect America Fund CAF II auction. The auction awarded a total of $1.488 billion to help cover the cost of bringing broadband to high-cost rural areas where service is not available today. Today’s announcement is the fifth CAF II funding authorization announcement that the FCC has released, bring total authorized funding to over $1 billion. Recipients will deploy broadband to underserved areas in California, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Wisconsin.

The Wall Street Journal Businesses Across the Board Scramble to Comply With California Data-Privacy Law
For Gap Inc., January 2020 will bring a lot more than just after-Christmas sales. Starting next year, all California residents will have the right to ask retailers, restaurants, airlines, banks and many other companies to provide them with any personal information they may have, including individual contact information, purchases and loyalty-program history. Consumers also can ask that businesses delete their information, or opt out of letting it be sold.

Reuters Russia says Facebook, Google distributed political ads on election day
Russian state communications watchdog Roskomnadzor said tech giants Google and Facebook (FB.O) had allowed political advertising during Sunday’s regional elections despite being asked to ban such publicity. “Such actions can be seen as interference in Russia’s sovereign affairs and hindering the conduct of democratic elections in the Russian Federation”, the watchdog said on its website. Reuters was not able to immediately reach Google or Facebook for comments. Russia is holding regional elections on Sunday, including in Moscow, after the exclusion of many opposition candidates triggered big protests in the Russian capital over the past several weeks.

CNET Google collects face data now. Here’s what it means and how to opt out
Google’s latest smart display brings with it a controversial new feature that’s always watching. Face Match, introduced on the Google Nest Hub Max, uses the smart display’s front-facing camera as a security feature and a way to participate in video calls. It also shows you your photos, texts, calendar details and so on when it recognizes your face. This mode of facial recognition sounds simple enough at first. But the way companies like Google collect, store and process face data has become a top concern for privacy-minded consumers. Plenty of people want to know who has their personal information once it makes its way into the cloud.

Business Insider Facebook is developing its own deepfake videos to better train its AI at identifying misinformation
Facebook is developing its own deepfake videos in the order to better train its AI to accurately identify and remove misinformation, per MIT Technology Review. The world’s largest social network is apparently worried that such videos, like the infamous viral Nancy Pelosi deepfake, could present “catastrophic consequences” in the upcoming US elections given their ability to convincingly spread misinformation. Enhancing its ability to combat disinformation is particularly important for the social giant ahead of the 2020 US election as it looks to avoid a repeat of its reputation-tarnishing 2016 election meddling scandal.

Bloomberg Facebook Faces Massive Damages in Cambridge Analytica Suit
Facebook Inc. users suing over the social network’s worst-ever privacy scandal gained leverage to pry into its internal records to back up their claims that it failed to safeguard their personal data, exposing the company to potentially billions of dollars in damages. A federal judge in San Francisco rejected Facebook’s request to throw out a lawsuit claiming the company deceived users into allowing their data to be harvested. The information was sold to a U.K. political consulting firm that mined it to help Donald Trump win the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

BuzzFeed News Period Tracker Apps Used By Millions Of Women Are Sharing Incredibly Sensitive Data With Facebook
Period tracker apps are sending deeply personal information about women’s health and sexual practices to Facebook, new research has found. UK-based advocacy group Privacy International, sharing its findings exclusively with BuzzFeed News, discovered period-tracking apps including MIA Fem and Maya sent women’s use of contraception, the timings of their monthly periods, symptoms like swelling and cramps, and more, directly to Facebook.

CNET 2020 Olympics in Tokyo will use facial recognition technology
If you’re an athlete, sponsor, journalist or volunteer at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, you’ll be using a facial recognition system from Japanese electronics giant NEC and chipmaker Intel to get where you need to be. Intel is collaborating with NEC to provide “a large-scale face recognition system for the Olympics,” said Ricardo Echevarria, general manager of Intel’s Olympics program. The system is designed to let Olympics organizers “ensure smoothly secure verification for the over 300,000 people at the games who are accredited,” he said. People using it will register with photos from government-issued IDs, he added.

Vox Robot priests can bless you, advise you, and even perform your funeral
A new priest named Mindar is holding forth at Kodaiji, a 400-year-old Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. Like other clergy members, this priest can deliver sermons and move around to interface with worshippers. But Mindar comes with some … unusual traits. A body made of aluminum and silicone, for starters. Mindar is a robot. Designed to look like Kannon, the Buddhist deity of mercy, the $1 million machine is an attempt to reignite people’s passion for their faith in a country where religious affiliation is on the decline. For now, Mindar is not AI-powered. It just recites the same preprogrammed sermon about the Heart Sutra over and over.

TechCrunch McDonald’s acquires Apprente to bring voice technology to drive-thrus
McDonald’s is increasingly looking at tech acquisitions as a way to reinvent the fast-food experience. Today, it’s announcing that it’s buying Apprente, a startup building conversational agents that can automate voice-based ordering in multiple languages. If that sounds like a good fit for fast-food drive thru, that’s exactly what McDonald’s leadership has in mind. In fact, the company has already been testing Apprente’s technology in select locations, creating voice-activated drive-thrus (along with robot fryers) that it said will offer “faster, simpler and more accurate order taking.”

Financial Times Brazil: can technology help save the Amazon?
Smoke still billowed above the Amazonian canopy as Jaime Sales clambered atop a 3-metre-high stack of razed trees. “Victory,” he exclaimed, letting his shotgun drop loose and surveying the battered forest around him. At the vanguard of a small team of armed environmental enforcers, the corporal with Pará’s environmental military police unit had ventured deep into the jungle near Altamira in the northern Brazilian state, which has been the site of persistent conflict over deforestation. [Paywall]

Engadget University of Michigan’s self-driving car lab now runs on Verizon 5G
Verizon (Engadget’s parent company) is continuing its very gradual 5G rollout, but this time it’s more about the future of transportation than the phone in your hands. The carrier’s 5G network is now live at the University of Michigan’s Mcity test facility to provide a boost to connected self-driving cars. In theory, the combination of abundant bandwidth with low lag will help autonomous vehicles share crucial data with each other, city cameras and traffic lights to make more informed decisions. A car could receive word of a crash ahead in time to maneuver out of harm’s way, or use traffic lights to warn pedestrians before they cross the street.


Competitive Enterprise Institute    

  • Blog on Antitrust Investigation: CEI claims that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is spearheading a multistate antitrust investigation into Google, made an error in a recent Wall Street Journal piece. CEI writes: “Paxton, in an effort to demonstrate Google’s alleged dominance of the online advertising market, wrote: Each year more than 90% of Google’s $117 billion in revenue comes from online advertising. For reference, the entire market for online advertising is around $130 billion annually. Paxton thus makes it seem like Google controls over 80 percent of the online advertising market. This is completely false.” (CEI BlogLead State AG in Antitrust Suit Misleadingly Inflated Google’s Size in the Wall Street Journal, September 11, 2019)

American Enterprise Institute

  • Blog on Technology and Innovation: It’s clear that phenomenal advances have been made in facial recognition software as internet platforms, such as Facebook, can now identify people in photos with uncanny accuracy. The sophistication of facial recognition software algorithms is such that they can compare a single image to a file reference photograph to identify individuals with close to the same precision as fingerprints or DNA. The software is widely used for many official purposes. For example, automated immigration control points at international airports match a photograph of the person standing at the gate with the coded digital image in the passport being scanned. (AEI IdeasIs facial recognition facilitating efficiency or infringing privacy?, September 10, 2019)

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