July 24 2020

COVID-19: Industry News & Response

Washington Post U.S. accuses China of sponsoring criminal hackers targeting coronavirus vaccine research
U.S. officials accused China on Tuesday of sponsoring criminal hackers who are targeting biotech firms around the world working on coronavirus vaccines and treatments, as the FBI said the Chinese government was acting like “an organized criminal syndicate.”

Politico Coronavirus scams (back) in the spotlight
The director of the FTC’s Consumer Protection Bureau, Andrew Smith, is among the witnesses testifying this afternoon at a Senate Commerce consumer protection subcommittee hearing on Covid-19 scams.

The Hill Democratic senator proposes telehealth expansion
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on Monday released a proposal to expand telehealth services on a permanent basis. Telehealth has grown in popularity during the coronavirus pandemic as a safer alternative to in-person visits. The services help doctors work with patients diagnosed with COVID-19 without putting themselves at risk.

CNBC Google will ban ads from running on stories spreading debunked coronavirus conspiracy theories
Google next month will ban publishers from using its ad platform to show advertisements next to content that promotes conspiracy theories about Covid-19. It will also ban ads that promote those theories.


Associated Press Facebook’s voting labels on candidate posts sow confusion
Facebook has started adding informational labels to all posts about voting by federal elected officials and candidates in the U.S., as it said it would do. But the move appears to be sowing confusion rather than dispelling it. This week, the social network applied labels to posts by President Donald Trump and by Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, among others.

State Tech Microsoft Makes Azure Compatible with Election Security Sensors
With a little more than 100 days before the general election on Nov. 3, state governments, nonprofits and technology companies are increasing their efforts to enhance election cybersecurity. In late June, Microsoft announced a partnership with the nonprofit Center for Internet Security, which runs the Elections Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center.

The Hill Congressional Democrats request FBI briefing on foreign election interference efforts
Democratic leaders in the House and Senate on Monday requested a classified counterintelligence briefing from the FBI, citing concerns that members of Congress are being targeted by a “concerted foreign interference campaign” ahead of the November elections.


Governing House Approves Billions for Broadband, AI and STEM Education
In recent weeks, House appropriators have approved hundreds of billions of dollars in government funding for fiscal 2021, culminating in the Appropriations Committee’s July 15 approval of legislation that would provide nearly $51 billion for the Homeland Security Department. With all 12 of the annual appropriations bills now approved by the committee, Congress is primed to spend heavily on a wide range of technologies.

The Hill Senators demand answers on expired surveillance programs
Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Mike Lee (R-Ut.) on Thursday pressed the Trump administration on whether and how mass surveillance programs authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act have been halted since the act’s expiration.

Axios Lawmakers plot another Section 230 hearing
A Senate Commerce subcommittee has teed up a hearing next week on Silicon Valley’s prized liability shield, slated to take place the day after Big Tech CEOs face a grilling from a House panel. Lawmakers on other congressional panels, including the Senate Judiciary Committee, are already eyeing legislation to chip away at Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Multichannel News FCC: Progress Has Been Made in Communications Accessibility
The FCC is seeking input on its tentative findings, for a biennial report to Congress on the accessibility and usability of telecommunications and communications services, that progress is being made, but that there have been “gaps” and “failures” when it comes to smart device accessibility.


GeekWire Microsoft unveils new sustainability steps in effort to remove all carbon produced in company history
Microsoft unveiled a new suite of sustainability initiatives Tuesday as part of its effort to zero-out the carbon debt the company has accrued over its lifespan. The latest announcements include the largest single renewable energy investment Microsoft has ever made.

Microsoft on the Issues Progress on our goal to be carbon negative by 2030
In January, Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella, President Brad Smith, and Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood launched a bold new environmental sustainability initiative focusing on carbon, water, waste and biodiversity. We began this work by announcing one of the most ambitious carbon commitments put forward by any company: Microsoft will be carbon negative by 2030 and remove from the environment more carbon than we have emitted since our founding by 2050.

NBC Twitter bans 7,000 QAnon accounts, limits 150,000 others as part of broad crackdown
Twitter announced Tuesday that it has begun taking sweeping actions to limit the reach of QAnon content, banning many of the conspiracy theory’s followers because of problems with harassment and misinformation. Twitter will stop recommending accounts and content related to QAnon, including material in email and follow recommendations, and it will take steps to limit circulation of content in features like trends and search.

CNBC These are the best CEOs for diversity, according to employee reviews
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was named the top-rated CEO for his diversity efforts based on reviews from employees, according to the latest annual survey from company review site Comparably. The 2020 list was determined based on ratings from employees who identify as Black, Latino, Asian, Indigenous or another non-White race.

Venture Beat Tech execs urge Washington to accelerate AI adoption for national security
Tech company CEOs may be heading to Washington, D.C. next week to take part in antitrust hearings in Congress, but this week high-profile executives from companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google gave the president, Pentagon, and Congress advice on how the United States can maintain AI supremacy over other nations.

BBC World faces staggering jobs challenge, says Microsoft president
The world is facing a staggering jobs challenge with a quarter of a billion people set to lose their job this year, the president of Microsoft has said. Brad Smith says millions will need to learn new skills to get jobs, or even to hang on to their old one, as the digitisation of economies races ahead.

The Gazette Iowa releases $50 million in CARES Act funding for rural broadband expansion
Iowa will make $50 million in federal CARES Act funding available for broadband internet expansion, Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a tweet Wednesday afternoon. Internet service providers have until Aug. 5 to apply for funding to expand broadband service to underserved parts of the state.

Green Bay Press Gazette State task force to look at expanding internet access to rural Indigenous reservations
A task force created by Gov. Tony Evers this month may help expand broadband access across the state, including on Native American rural reservations.


American Enterprise Institute 

  • Blog on Congress and Big Tech
    On Monday, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing featuring the CEOs of Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Alphabet. Such hearings always evoke drama: The New York Times describes it as Congress uniting to take aim at the companies. Politico describes the power struggles within Congress and between advocacy groups over the shape of the hearing. Marketwatch calls it a grilling of the CEOs. In addition to providing drama, hearings sometimes can reveal how the witnesses think and the challenges they face, and expose what is at stake for the country. Here are five questions the committee might ask the CEOs and my thoughts on how they might respond. (AEIdeas – 5 questions for the Big Tech CEOs, July 23, 2020)


  • How will AI machine learning impact the future of productivity?
    GPT-3 is an AI tool — machine learning, specifically — trained on an extremely large data set that can generate some pretty amazing text when prompted, everything from creative fiction to computer code. It’s also pretty good at answering questions. The tutorial example given on the OpenAI launch page shows a user looking up “bread” on Wikipedia and asking “Why is bread so fluffy?” As the demo user explains, the tool is able to point her directly to the paragraphs based on the context of the text. That, even though nowhere in the article does it use the word “fluffy.” Anyway, lots of people are pretty excited by the demonstrated capabilities, with some even wondering if they’re seeing evidence of sentience or “general intelligence.” One AI researcher even wonders if GPT-3 is pretending to be dumber than what it actually is. (AEIdeas – Is GPT-3 the AI tool that launches a productivity revolution?, July 21, 2020)


The Brookings Institution 

  • Blog on using technology to support the disabled community during COVID-19.
    Across the United States, COVID-19 has had unequal impact on different communities. As numerous studies have shown, Black people, immigrants, and low-income people are more likely to contract the disease and more likely to suffer hospitalization and death when they do. Such disparate impacts also extend to the disabled community, which has similarly experienced far higher rates of hospitalization and mortality. Advocates for social justice and civil rights have repeatedly called for the policy and technology sectors to effectively address COVID-19’s unequal impact on marginalized communities. Yet those advocates, as well as policymakers and technologists themselves, first need to understand the specific concerns that disabled people have. As a disabled person who is also queer, trans, and East Asian, I would argue that centering disability justice as a framework is necessary for achieving racial, gender, and economic justice, especially in light of COVID-19. (TechStream – How to center disability in the tech response to COVID-19, July 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.