December 4 2020

COVID-19: Industry News & Response

CNBC Zuckerberg says Facebook will show ‘authoritative’ info about Covid vaccines
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Monday the social media company plans to provide users with authoritative information about Covid-19 vaccines. Facebook has already reached out to the incoming Biden administration to help with the response to the coronavirus pandemic, Zuckerberg said. “There’ll be a few important things that we can do together,” Zuckerberg said on a live stream with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert.

Wall Street Journal More States Offer Covid-19 Contact-Tracing Apps, but Adoption Is Uneven
Covid-19 contact-tracing apps from Apple Inc. and Google are coming to more states, along with evidence that they can help slow infections as long as enough people use them. Fourteen states and Washington, D.C., have recently adopted the “exposure notification” technology the companies built into their smartphone operating systems—Big Tech’s most significant contribution to the fight against Covid-19. California and other states are piloting the technology and could release it soon.


Microsoft Official Blog Federal agencies advancing government and our nation
As we look ahead to the close of 2020 and the beginning of a new year and administration, I’m more excited than ever to be leading our 3,000-member Microsoft Federal team. Formed in July – the same time I came aboard – this new organization reflects Microsoft’s commitment to, and investment in, federal government agencies and the specialized partners who join us in supporting their mission-critical work.

Washington Post FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to leave agency next year
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced plans on Monday to step down from his post next year, capping a four-year stint atop the nation’s telecom agency that had been marked with contentious fights over his ambitious deregulatory agenda. President Trump tapped Pai, then a Republican commissioner, to serve as his first and only FCC chairman starting in 2017. Pai ultimately presided over some of the agency’s most controversial decisions, including its highly contested effort three years ago to roll back net neutrality rules that had required Internet providers to treat all Web traffic equally.

Reuters Trump signs order on principles for U.S. government AI use
U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Thursday setting guidance for federal agency use of artificial intelligence in government decision-making. The White House said Trump was setting nine principles for the design, development, acquisition and use of AI in government in an effort “to foster public trust and confidence in the use of AI, and ensure that the use of AI protects privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties.” The order directs agencies to prepare inventories of AI-use cases throughout their departments and directs the White House to develop a road map for policy guidance for administrative use.

The Hill Trump doubles down on Section 230 repeal after GOP pushback
President Trump doubled down Thursday on his calls for Republicans to include the repeal of a legal protection for tech companies in a must-pass defense policy bill after many in the GOP pushed back on tying the two issues together. In a tweet, Trump recognized the Republican criticism of his proposal but said repealing Section 230, a provision that protects tech firms from liability over third-party content on their platforms, is a “MUST.” Trump has railed against social media platforms throughout his tenure over unsubstantiated claims that companies such as Twitter and Facebook are unfairly censoring conservative content. He views a repeal of Section 230 as a prime way of hitting back at the firms, and his criticism has ramped up in recent weeks as the platforms flag his posts featuring unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud in the presidential race.

Politico Justices express qualms about sweeping computer crime law
The Supreme Court on Monday indicated serious reservations about the ambiguity and scope of the nation’s only major cybercrime law, hinting it may narrow the law’s applicability to avoid criminalizing such acts as checking social media at work. During arguments in a case involving a Georgia police officer convicted of violating the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act by accessing a license plate database, the justices pushed a Justice Department lawyer to explain how a ruling in the government’s favor wouldn’t open the door to prosecutions of innocuous behavior.

Cyberscoop After years of work, Congress passes ‘internet of things’ cybersecurity bill — and it’s kind of a big deal
Congress last week did something that it rarely does: It passed a meaningful cybersecurity bill. The legislation is aimed at enhancing the safeguards of internet-connected devices — also known as the internet of things (IoT) — such as smart sensors that monitor water quality or control ships in waterway locks. The bill is also a major step toward the federal government encouraging vulnerability disclosure policies that implement programs for organizations to work with security researchers to fix software flaws.

WIRED Congress Is Eyeing Face Recognition, and Companies Want a Say
Microsoft and IBM sent congratulatory public messages to president-elect Joe Biden this month. Both expressed hope that his administration would ease the nation’s political divisions, and suggested it consider crafting the first federal rules governing face recognition. “When it comes to issues such as safeguards for facial recognition, we have no national law at all,” Microsoft president Brad Smith wrote. “We need new laws fit for the future.”

The Hill Lawmakers urge FCC to assist in effort to rip out, replace suspect network equipment
The bipartisan leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Monday to take action to ensure telecommunications providers could begin ripping out and replacing potentially suspect network equipment. The concerns come months after President Trump signed into law the Secure and Trusted Communications Act, which bans U.S. companies from using federal funds to purchase equipment from Chinese telecom groups Huawei and ZTE, citing national security concerns.

Nextgov Biden Team Highlights Cybersecurity Focus With First Cabinet Picks
The Biden-Harris transition team has explicitly called out cybersecurity as a priority in naming the first six individuals it plans to appoint or nominate for key cabinet positions. In a formal announcement planned for Tuesday, President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris intend to introduce Antony Blinken for secretary of State, Avril Haines for director of national intelligence, Jake Sullivan for national security advisor, Alejandro Mayorkas for secretary of Homeland Security, Linda Thomas-Greenfield for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and John Kerry as special presidential envoy for climate.


Wall Street Journal Facebook, Google to Face New Antitrust Suits in U.S.
Big Tech’s legal woes are expected to worsen in the coming weeks as federal and state antitrust authorities prepare to file new lawsuits against Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, people familiar with the matter said. The authorities are readying as many as four more cases targeting Google or Facebook by the end of January, these people said, following the Justice Department’s antitrust lawsuit against Google last month.

Axios FCC commissioner: Access to broadband essential to boosting telehealth
Access to broadband is essential to boost telehealth, which has skyrocketed during the coronavirus pandemic, Federal Communications commissioner Geoffrey Starks said on Thursday at an Axios virtual event on the future of broadband connectivity. “Access to telemedicine and telehealth via affordable, reliable broadband is going to be extremely important to making sure that folks can safely manage their health from home,” Starks said.

ZDNet Microsoft is opening this ‘advanced and sustainable’ datacenter region next year
Microsoft is launching a new datacenter region in Sweden next year, and in line with the company’s commitment to fighting climate change, has vowed that the deployments in the country will be among the company’s most advanced and sustainable locations. The cloud provider has previously pledged that it will use 100% renewable energy in all of its buildings and datacenters by 2025.

Washington Post Microsoft-led housing effort cuts rents in Seattle suburbs
A master’s degree and a full-time job as a middle-school counselor weren’t enough to help Shanon Baker land an apartment she could afford in Seattle’s east-side suburbs. But a $750 million commitment by a local tech giant helped do the trick. In August, Baker moved into her new apartment in one of three complexes recently purchased by Urban Housing Ventures, a partnership backed in part by Microsoft’s affordable housing initiative.

Orlando Sentinel SpaceX’s Starlink internet web undergoes ‘better than nothing’ tests; no word on Florida service
More than a year since SpaceX started work on its Starlink satellite internet system, a lot of progress has been made. So far, SpaceX has deployed about 960 satellites that can beam down the internet from space. They’ve launched in batches of 60 on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral. The launch on Nov. 24 was the 16th since the project began in May 2019. It’s still only a fraction of the thousands needed to blanket the planet but enough to provide service in some parts of the United States.


Information Technology & Innovation Foundation

  • Blog on Trump Administration and Google on the Campaign Trail
    Two weeks before the presidential elections, U.S. Attorney General William Barr, together with 11 Republican state attorneys general, filed a sweeping antitrust suit against Google, which it dubiously cast as the monopolistic “the gatekeeper of the Internet” in what appeared to be a case of envy and resentment rather than legal merit. It was telling that President Trump publicly complained for months that the European Commission fined Google three times for a total of nearly $10 billion. Trump’s complaints appeared to have been not so much about the fines themselves as about the fact that they were owed to Europe instead of to the United States. (ITIF Blog –Fear and Loathing of Google on the Campaign Trail Was a Loss for All of UsDecember 2, 2020)

Taxpayers Protection Alliance

  • Blog on Content Moderation and Big Tech
    Underlying most public policies (good or bad) are the best of intentions. However, on problems as severe as online child sexual abuse material (CSAM), good intentions are no excuse if the policy makes the situation worse. The recent and bipartisan crusade against big tech, fueled by various agendas, is making the fight against CSAM much more difficult. At a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey faced all sorts of questions and criticisms, often contradictory. In general, Republicans seem to think online services are moderating content to such an extent that they are engaging in systemic “censorship” of conservative viewpoints. Meanwhile, Democrats seem to think the same services aren’t doing enough to stop the spread of harmful or misleading content. (Taxpayers Protection Alliance Blog –The content moderation and coordination conundrum for Big Tech, November 24, 2020)

Cato Institute

  • Blog on Voting Machines and Cybersecurity
    Last week, I wrote about a crackpot conspiracy theory making the rounds: The allegation that voting machines or tabulation software produced by Dominion Voting Systems had somehow been “hacked” or “rigged” to alter the outcome of the presidential election. At the time, I worried I might be giving undue attention to an outlandish claim that—given how thin and easily debunked was the “evidence” for it—would surely fade away on its own. Apparently, I need not have worried. Since then, the Dominion Theory has not only led to the firing of Chris Krebs, the well‐ respected head of the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity agency, but featured in a press conference held by Trump attorney Sidney Powell, who made it the centerpiece of a wildly implausible case that Donald Trump had won the presidency by a “landslide” and been deprived of victory by massive and systematic vote fraud. (Cato at Liberty –Voting Machine Conspiracy Theories Harm U.S. Cybersecurity, November 20, 2020)

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.