October 23 2020

COVID-19: Industry News & Response

NonDoc COVID-19 brings new urgency to the need for rural broadband access
Jolene Oldenberg, principal of Mulhall-Orlando High School, often stays late at school answering emails and completing all her other online work. Many of these tasks could, theoretically, be done at home. But like many rural Oklahomans, Oldenberg does not have reliable internet access at her house, so she depends on the school’s internet connection.

Robotics & Automation What Role is AI and Technology Playing in the Fight Against Covid-19?
Digital technologies have been key in the management and ‘flattening of the curve’ in terms of infection rates across many countries. Surveillance, testing, contact tracing, quarantine and health care can all potentially benefit from the integration of digital technology. In many countries, digital technology has been key in terms of efforts to track Covid-19 infections. By using data dashboards, migration maps, real-time learning (AI) and real-time data from smartphones.


Microsoft On the Issues An update on disruption of Trickbot
Last week, we announced a disruption targeting the botnet Trickbot. Trickbot is a network of servers and infected devices run by criminals responsible for a wide range of nefarious activity including the distribution of ransomware which can lock up computer systems. Our disruption is intended to disable Trickbot’s infrastructure and make it difficult for its operators to enable ransomware attacks, which have been identified as one of the biggest threats to the upcoming U.S. elections. We’ve had many requests for updates on the operation, so I’d like to share more on how it’s going.

The Washington Post U.S. government concludes Iran was behind threatening emails sent to Democrats
U.S. officials on Wednesday night accused Iran of targeting American voters with faked but menacing emails and warned that both Iran and Russia had obtained voter data that could be used to endanger the upcoming election. The disclosure by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe at a hastily called news conference marked the first time this election cycle that a foreign adversary has been accused of targeting specific voters in a bid to undermine democratic confidence — just four years after Russian online operations marred the 2016 presidential vote.

Financial Times US election: Facebook’s political balancing act
It was a “crazy idea”, Mark Zuckerberg declared in the aftermath of the 2016 US presidential election, that fake news on Facebook had any influence over the result. But, within 12 months, the Facebook founder had been forced to apologise amid revelations that Russia had used the world’s largest social media platform to spread falsehoods and stir up tensions as part of a targeted election interference campaign. Four years on Mr Zuckerberg is at pains to prove that his platform is rooting out the deluge of misinformation, voter suppression and violence-inciting content that has already begun to proliferate on its apps.

NBC QAnon accounts make a dent in voting discussion on Twitter
More than 1 in 50 tweets about voting in the 2020 elections in August and September were posted by QAnon accounts, according to research released Friday by Advance Democracy, a nonpartisan nonprofit. The research also found that 2 in every 25 tweets using the hashtag #voterfraud originated from QAnon accounts, a sign of how ubiquitous the conspiracy theory has become on Twitter, one of the last remaining major social media platforms to allow QAnon content. While still a small percentage of the broader discussion, the data shows how the QAnon movement has succeeded in becoming an outsize influence on election discourse.


NPR Google Lawsuit Marks End Of Washington’s Love Affair With Big Tech
The U.S. Justice Department and 11 state attorneys general have filed a blockbuster lawsuit against Google, accusing it of being an illegal monopoly because of its stranglehold on Internet search. The government alleged Google has come by its wild success — 80% market share in U.S. search, a valuation eclipsing $1 trillion — unfairly. It said multibillion-dollar deals Google has struck to be the default search engine in many of the world’s Web browsers and smartphones have boxed out its rivals.

Nextgov DHS Biometrics Proposal Represents ‘Unacceptable Escalation of Government Surveillance,’ Senators Say
A group of prominent progressive senators is urging the Homeland Security Department to withdraw its proposal to expand the biometric information collection practices of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., sent a letter to DHS acting Secretary Chad Wolf Friday urging the agency to abandon its biometrics proposal due to privacy concerns, calling biometric data collection “invasive.”

U.S. Dept of Defense ‘Swat Team of Nerds’ Tackles Tough Tech Challenges
The Defense Digital Service is a team of 82 engineers, data scientists and computer scientists, working on some of the hardest problems in the Defense Department. Brett Goldstein, DDS director, said they’re a “swat team of nerds.” He spoke remotely today to the Center for a New American Security in Washington, D.C. A big advantage of DDS, he said, is that it reports directly to the secretary of defense.

Cyberscoop NSA warns defense contractors of recent Chinese government-backed hacking
U.S. defense contractors should be wary of Chinese government-backed hackers who are actively exploiting a multitude of known vulnerabilities to target — and successfully breach — victim networks, the National Security Agency said in an advisory Tuesday. The hackers are specifically going after 25 known vulnerabilities that primarily affect products used for remote access or for external web services, which the NSA lays out in detail in the advisory.

Politico Senate panel delays vote to subpoena Twitter, Facebook CEOs as some Republicans waver
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday postponed plans to vote on subpoenas to compel the CEOs of Twitter and Facebook to testify on allegations of anti-conservative bias after some panel Republicans expressed reservation about the maneuver. President Donald Trump and his Republican allies have scorched the two social media companies in recent days over their handling of disputed New York Post reports alleging ties between Joe Biden and his son’s business interests.

The Hill Democrats introduce bill providing $400 million to protect schools from cyberattacks
Reps. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) on Friday introduced legislation designed to funnel federal dollars and other resources to K-12 schools to defend against cyberattacks. The Enhancing K-12 Cybersecurity Act would establish a $400 million “K-12 Cybersecurity Human Capacity” grant program at the National Science Foundation to help expand the cyber workforce and improve infrastructure in order to better protect educational institutions against attacks.


Microsoft Official Blog Microsoft’s 2020 Diversity & Inclusion report: A commitment to accelerate progress amidst global change
Microsoft started publicly sharing its annual workforce demographics in 2014. This year’s report reflects the trends and learnings over our five most recent demographic data disclosures. The following data reflects Microsoft only; it does not include our broader family of companies (LinkedIn, GitHub, and our minimally integrated gaming studios), nor does it include new acquisitions and joint ventures. Diverse representation: Overall, we have seen some modest gains since 2019 including among women who now represent 28.6% of the global Microsoft workforce, an increase of 1.0 percentage point since last year. However, racial and ethnic minority communities have largely seen incremental progress and there is still much work to be done.

Engadget Microsoft partners with SpaceX on a cloud computing business for space
Microsoft has launched a new cloud computing business in an effort to make Azure the space industry’s platform of choice. The tech giant says it’s developing technologies to help the public and private sectors launch faster and to make sure they achieve mission assurance. One — and the first — of those technologies is the Azure Orbital Emulator, which is capable of conducting massive satellite constellation simulations.

CNBC Microsoft, in climate pledge, to buy jet fuel made with waste oil for Alaska Airlines
Microsoft said Thursday it plans to buy alternative jet fuel for some Alaska Airlines flights, the technology giant’s latest effort to reduce carbon emissions, this time those generated by its frequent business travel. The pandemic has devastated air travel demand, particularly for lucrative business trips, but even the maker of the Teams video conferencing app is preparing for a rebound.

Recode What the FCC can and can’t do to Section 230
The Trump administration is once again trying to force social media platforms to do its bidding. This time, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been tapped to use a law called Section 230 to prevent websites from moderating content in a way that many conservatives believe is biased against them. Despite the law being designed to prevent FCC intervention — and the FCC itself using that as justification not to regulate the internet just a few years ago — it appears the agency is going to try.

WBCK Rural Broadband Hookups Expand In SW Michigan
The federal government is using more of your tax payments to help cover the cost of expanding broadband internet coverage to underserved areas in Michigan. In this latest round of grant funding, $3.3 million is being allocated by the Agriculture Department to bring broadband coverage to dozens of isolated areas in Kalamazoo, Van Buren, and Allegan Counties. The Department is completing the program funding with a loan of over $3 million to Southwest Michigan Communications, Inc.

Fierce Wireless Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Dish submit C-band applications
A lot of the usual suspects are among the applicants for the FCC’s C-band auction, set to start on December 8. The FCC on Monday released the list of 74 short-form applicants signing up to participate in the auction. Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile are among those registering, as well as U.S. Cellular, C Spire and Dish Network. Dubbed Auction 107, the C-band auction will offer 5,684 licenses across a total of 280 megahertz in the 3.7-3.98 GHz C-band.

Reuters Japan to join forces with U.S., Europe in regulating Big Tech firms: antitrust watchdog head
Japan will join forces with the United States and Europe to take on any market abuses by the four Big Tech companies, the new head of its antitrust watchdog said on Monday, a sign Tokyo will join global efforts to regulate digital platform operators. Kazuyuki Furuya, chairman of Japan’s Fair Trade Commission (FTC), also said Tokyo could open a probe into any merger or business tie-up involving fitness tracker maker Fitbit if the size of such deals are big enough.


This week, several think tanks on both sides of the political spectrum offered their opinions on the DOJ’s antitrust lawsuit against Google. We also re-surface a report from the left-leaning Center for American Progress, and share the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation’s response below.

  • From the Brookings Institute
    … This reads like a serious challenge to Google. But observers should perhaps curb their enthusiasm. This complaint is but one step in a process, the outcome of which is far from certain. (TechTank – Assessing the DOJ lawsuit against Google, October 21, 2020)
  • From Cato Institute
    … The suit bears all the hallmarks of a political stunt—an unnecessary government intervention in the online search market that has little chance of yielding any meaningful benefit to consumers. (Cato at Liberty – Searching for Monopolies, October 21, 2020)
  • From the Center for American Progress
    This brief explores four examples of areas where there appear to be both entry barriers and potentially anti-competitive behavior at Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon. The selection of these examples is not meant to imply that there are not competitive issues elsewhere, at these or other digital service companies. Nor does it imply that an antitrust investigation would lead to an enforcement action after a thorough inquiry that provided access to confidential company information. There is, however, enough publicly available information to suggest the need for close scrutiny by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Antitrust Division. (Center for American Progress – Using Antitrust Law To Address the Market Power of Platform Monopolies, July 28, 2020)
  • Press release from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation
    While the DOJ should always take action against any anti-competitive conduct that hurts consumers, they should avoid structural remedies, which are often grounded in a “big is bad” anti-monopoly ideology without considering the broader implications that such a policy would have on innovation. (ITIF press release – DOJ Should Avoid “Big Is Bad” Antimonopoly Ideology in Cases Against Big Tech, Says ITIF, October 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.