February 5 2021

COVID-19: Industry News & Response

STAT Amid a crush of Covid-19 research, scientists hone an AI tool to rapidly screen studies
Long before the pace of scientific publishing about Covid-19 broke land speed records, researchers were struggling to keep tabs on new studies in their fields. And to lighten the load, they’re increasingly turning to tools powered by artificial intelligence. Researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands have built one such tool for a particularly labor-intensive step in the scientific process: sifting through many thousands of papers to find the ones most relevant to researchers conducting systematic reviews.

MedCity News Democrats propose bill to protect privacy, data security amid growing use of pandemic-related tech
Technology is the linchpin of the United States’ response to the Covid-19 pandemic. But the growing use of digital solutions raises the complicated issue of ensuring individuals’ right to privacy. Now, a group of Congressional Democrats have introduced a bill to address this concern. The Public Health Emergency Privacy Act would set enforceable privacy and data security rights for health information amid the Covid-19 pandemic.


Vox Biden’s FCC takes its first steps toward making the internet affordable
President Joe Biden’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) isn’t wasting any time trying to get low-income families online. Under acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel, the FCC is moving to expand a broadband services discount program to cover remote schooling. And at least one company, possibly hoping to get into the new FCC’s good graces, has now voluntarily doubled the internet speeds on its package for low-income people.

CNBC Klobuchar unveils sweeping revamp of antitrust enforcement, laying out vision as new subcommittee chair
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., unveiled a sweeping antitrust reform bill on Thursday, setting a tough tone as she becomes chair of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust. Klobuchar has been a frequent critic of what she and other lawmakers have viewed as lax enforcement of existing antitrust laws and has called for strong measures against some of the major tech firms.

The Hill Democrats blast Facebook over anti-vaccine pages
Reps. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) blasted Facebook over anti-vaccine pages on its platform. The Democrats wrote a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg demanding to know why anti-vaccination pages are allowed to spread misinformation on the platform, and how the company plans to remove them. The letter comes after anti-vaccine demonstrators staged a protest at Dodgers Stadium on Saturday, forcing the Los Angeles Fire Department to close the gates for roughly an hour. The Washington Post reported that a Facebook page with nearly 3,000 followers organized the protest.

Politico Will states’ moves on privacy push Congress to act?
Just outside Washington, D.C., where federal privacy legislation talks are (still) slow-moving, Virginia’s legislature is advancing its own comprehensive privacy bill. The Consumer Data Protection Act — comprised of companion Senate and House bills, both introduced in January — would create privacy rules for companies that control or process people’s data. The bill would give consumers the power to pull their personal data from those entities and opt out of having it used for advertising purposes. And it would apply to businesses that either handle the data of more than 100,000 consumers or that make more than half of their gross revenue by selling people’s data, among other specifications.

Axios Exclusive: Joe Manchin’s bid to pierce tech’s shield
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is reviving his bipartisan bill that would add fresh carve-outs to tech’s liability shield to force online platforms to report opioid sales and other illegal activity on their websites to law enforcement. As the 117th Congress shifts into gear, tech companies will again be fighting attempts by lawmakers of both parties to tweak or curb Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields website operators like Facebook or Reddit from liability over content their users post.

ProPublica The U.S. Spent $2.2 Million on a Cybersecurity System That Wasn’t Implemented — and Might Have Stopped a Major Hack
As America struggles to assess the damage from the devastating SolarWinds cyberattack discovered in December, ProPublica has learned of a promising defense that could shore up the vulnerability the hackers exploited: a system the federal government funded but has never required its vendors to use. The massive breach, which U.S. intelligence agencies say was “likely Russian in origin,” penetrated the computer systems of critical federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Treasury Department, the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Justice, as well as a number of Fortune 500 corporations. The hackers remained undetected, free to forage, for months.


ZDNet Microsoft tracked a system sending a million malware emails a month. Here’s what it discovered
Microsoft has posted an extensive account of its investigation of the systems used to fire out millions of emails distributing at least seven different types of malware. Microsoft identifies two elements of the new email infrastructure it discovered in March and April, and then tracked for the rest of the year. It calls the first segment StrangeU because of it often using the word “strange” in new domains. The second segment used a domain generation algorithm, a technique for creating domain names randomly, and was thus dubbed RandomU.

Recode A big hurdle for older Americans trying to get vaccinated: Using the internet
The United States is racing to vaccinate millions of people for Covid-19, but online appointment registration systems are slowing down or preventing access to vaccinations for some of the people most vulnerable to the virus: older Americans. Many states and localities across the US are offering online tools like websites and apps as the primary way to register for vaccine appointments. There are usually options for registering for vaccination via phone lines, but those can be overloaded with calls. That means snagging an appointment quickly involves computer skills and internet access, or at least help from someone else. But America’s digital divide is getting in the way.

Bloomberg Why ‘Section 230’ Is at the Heart of Fights Over Online Speech
In 1996, when the internet was still unexplored territory for most Americans, the U.S. Congress passed a law that included a provision intended to protect free speech online. Twenty-five years later, that provision, Section 230, is seen as crucial to the business models of some of the world’s most valuable companies, including Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google. It’s also being described as a key factor in the ever-deepening swamp of harassment, toxic behavior and misinformation on social media.

CNET SpaceX nails Starlink launch this week, with another coming Sunday
While SpaceX and Elon Musk celebrate another high-altitude test of the company’s next-generation Mars rocket in Texas, it’s also staying busy in Florida, where two Falcon 9 rockets are set to carry dozens of new Starlink satellites to orbit. The next Starlink mission is scheduled to blast off at 10:19 p.m. PT Wednesday (1:19 a.m. Thursday in Florida) from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.


The Brookings Institute

  • Blog on Privacy Laws and Contract-Tracing Apps
    The pandemic has taught us many things: How vulnerable we still are to uncontrolled disease. How divided we are politically, even when it comes to protecting our health. How much we have taken the eradication of earlier diseases, such as polio and smallpox, for granted. How much we enjoy the simple freedom of eating in a restaurant or browsing in a store. How much we rely on interaction with friends and family for our daily happiness. I’m a privacy lawyer, so one of the lessons that I have learned from the pandemic involves privacy and the failure of contact tracing apps. (TechTank – How our outdated privacy laws doomed contact-tracing appsJanuary 28, 2021

Information Technology & Innovation Foundation

  • Blog on Facebook’s Antitrust Lawsuit
    There is no such thing as a clean war. Casualties and large-scale collateral damage always abound. Similarly, there is no such thing as a clean breakup—consumer harm and collateral damage to innovation can always occur. In an orchestrated composition following the DOJ’s lawsuit against Google, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) late last year filed an antitrust lawsuit against Facebook, together with 46 states. After the elite-driven techlash came the judicial techlash. However historic the Google lawsuit might be, the Facebook lawsuit sets another historical stepstone in aggressive antitrust enforcement. (ITIF Blog – Facebook’s Antitrust Lawsuit: The Myth of Clean BreakupsJanuary 29, 2021)

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.