January 8 2021

COVID-19: Industry News & Response

The Hill Website crashes mar early coronavirus vaccine rollouts
Website crashes and tech glitches are afflicting the U.S. coronavirus vaccine rollout that is already behind schedule based on the goals the Trump administration set out. Several counties in Florida experienced delays and website crashes on Monday, and the largest county in Texas had to take its website down as ineligible residents tried to book slots.


Business Insider Apple CEO Tim Cook, Microsoft President Brad Smith, PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, and other business leaders condemn the insurrection at the US Capitol: ‘sad and shameful’
Business leaders have been speaking out against the violence at the US Capitol on Wednesday. The Business Roundtable, an association of 200 CEOs from many of America’s largest companies, released a statement urging Trump and other officials to “put an end to the chaos and to facilitate the peaceful transition of power.” Brad Smith, president of Microsoft retweeted the organization’s post, saying “this is a day to speak up for our Constitution and its values.”

Fortune Attempted coup at Capitol presents key opportunity for cyberattack, experts warn
Rioters who breached the U.S. Capitol building have been spotted sitting at congressional desks with physical access to desktop computers and other devices. According to experts, there’s a low risk that the rioting will pose a direct threat to the security of the Capitol’s computer networks or information on devices. But the chaos may be a golden opportunity for malicious actors, including America’s enemies, to mount cyberattacks elsewhere.

Microsoft Official Blog Thanks to Congress, the FCC can now update America’s broadband maps
Just over a year and a half ago, I wrote about the broadband gap, calling attention to the urgent need for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to update their approach to gathering and reporting broadband mapping data. At the time, we knew very clearly that the FCC was vastly undercounting the number of Americans without access to broadband. And because of new research – including our own – we knew the problem to be much larger than previously thought.

Politico FCC Kicks Off Proceeding on Stimulus Broadband Program
The agency on Monday announced it’s welcoming public comment on how best to implement the $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefits Program that lawmakers included in December’s pandemic relief deal. The cash will flow to broadband providers, who will then give affected low-income households a subsidy of $50 per month. Initial feedback is due Jan. 25, with a reply round of comments due Feb. 16, per the notice.

Reuters U.S. FCC action to limit key social media protection increasingly unlikely
The prospects of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai taking action on an effort to narrow social media companies legal protections under a 1996 law are increasingly unlikely. Both Pai and U.S. President Donald Trump have only 16 days remaining in office and it remains unclear if a new third Republican FCC commissioner could participate in any action.

The Hill Facebook again clamping down on political ads
Facebook early Wednesday clamped down on political ads about the two Georgia Senate runoff elections held Tuesday. The platform announced that it is barring the ads “in line with our existing nationwide social issues, electoral or political ads pause.” “Any ads about the Georgia runoff elections will be paused and advertisers will no longer be able to create new ads about social issues, elections, or politics,” Facebook said.

Politico Democrats Cheer New Google Union
Capitol Hill Democrats are applauding the hundreds of Google employees and contractors who’ve banded together to form a union. Although the Alphabet Workers Union unveiled Monday had been months in the making, the firing of former Google ethicist and AI justice researcher Timnit Gebru in December — which prompted far-reaching outrage inside and outside Google’s ranks — has in recent weeks magnified labor issues at the search giant and across Silicon Valley.

Politico Twitter Faces Flak for Not Testifying on Piracy
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), chair of the Judiciary subcommittee on intellectual property, and two Democratic senators criticized Twitter last week for its “refusal to provide a witness” for an online piracy in December. Tillis, joined by Chris Coons and Mazie Hirono, wrote in a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey last Monday that the company’s recent responses to congressional questions on the topic were “disappointing,” and that they’re concerned about allegations Twitter isn’t adequately addressing copyright infringement.

Politico Section 230 Remains Intact, For Now
Trump’s recent attempt to push Congress into repealing (or quickly amending) Section 230 officially flamed out Friday, with the Senate easily overriding his veto of an annual defense bill that did not target the unrelated legal shield. (Another Trump-inspired push to repeal it separately also went nowhere.) It marked the end of a striking and unprecedented campaign to revoke the protections, which in an unexpected twist have become a defining issue of Trump’s presidency in its final days.


Microsoft Official Blog Continued progress and support in fighting secrecy orders
Today, I’m sharing continued progress in our work to notify our enterprise customers when the U.S. government seeks access to their data. We don’t receive many U.S. requests for enterprise customer data, but when we do, they sometimes come with secrecy orders. As we have previously shared, we strongly believe our customers own their data and have a right to control it.

Protocol Regulation is coming in 2021. Here’s how Big Tech is preparing for it.
The open internet. Section 230. China. Internet access. 5G. Antitrust. When we asked the policy shops at some of the biggest and most powerful tech companies to identify their 2021 policy priorities, these were the words they had in common. Each of these issues centers around a common theme.

New York Times Teachers on TV? Schools Try Creative Strategy to Narrow Digital Divide
Nearly every weekday morning, Valentin Vivar curls up in bed next to his older sister, Araceli, and switches on one of his favorite television shows. The hourlong program, “Let’s Learn NYC!”, isn’t typical children’s fare. Valentin, 5, watches as educators from New York City public schools teach math and science, sing songs and take viewers on virtual field trips to botanical gardens and dance performances.

SpaceNews SpaceX wins $150 million contract to launch Space Development Agency satellites
SpaceX has been awarded a $150.4 million contract to launch as many as 28 satellites for the Pentagon’s space agency, the Defense Department announced Dec. 31. The contract is to launch a mix of small and medium spacecraft of different sizes that the Space Development Agency is acquiring from multiple vendors.


The Brookings Institute

  • Blog on Employer Use of Surveillance Technology
    Lisa Rene worked at an Indianapolis store operated by G. F. Fishers. Without informing company employees, the firm installed keylogger software on the store’s computers which recorded characters typed on the business machines and periodically emailed that information to supervisors. While at work, Rene used the store computer to check her personal email and bank account. Through the installed software, a company employee discovered her personal passwords and used that information to look at her private emails and financial account. When she learned what had happened, she confronted her fellow employees and was fired for poor performance. (TechTank – How employers use technology to surveil employeesJanuary 5, 2021)
  • Podcast on Hacking and Cybersecurity
    Hackers gained access to U.S. government systems in a months-long act of cyberespionage. While the full extent of the security breach is still being determined, Tarah Wheeler explains the third-party software vulnerability that enabled the hack, and what the incoming Biden administration’s priorities should be to meet a higher bar for U.S. cybersecurity. (Brookings Institute Podcast –How did the US government get hacked?, December 16, 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.