October 9 2020

COVID-19: Industry News & Response

CNBC States are finally starting to use the Covid-tracking tech Apple and Google built — here’s why
Six months after it was announced, the tech that Apple and Google built for sending Covid-19 exposure alerts to smartphones is finally gaining momentum in the United States. New York and New Jersey both released Covid-19 alert apps this week, bringing the total to 10 states plus Guam that have published apps using technology from the Apple-Google partnership.

NVIDIA Triaging COVID-19 Patients: 20 Hospitals in 20 Days Build AI Model that Predicts Oxygen Needs
Researchers at NVIDIA and Massachusetts General Brigham Hospital have developed an AI model that determines whether a person showing up in the emergency room with COVID-19 symptoms will need supplemental oxygen hours or even days after an initial exam. The original model, named CORISK, was developed by scientist Dr. Quanzheng Li at Mass General Brigham. It combines medical imaging and health records to help clinicians more effectively manage hospitalizations at a time when many countries may start seeing a second wave of COVID-19 patients.

New York Times How Facebook and Twitter Handled Trump’s ‘Don’t Be Afraid of Covid’ Post
Facebook and Twitter have pledged to keep their networks safe from misinformation about the coronavirus to protect the public’s health. But on Monday, the sites were tested when President Trump posted that people should not be afraid of the disease. Medical experts immediately took issue with the post. More than 200,000 Americans have died from the virus, and more than 35 million cases have been reported around the world.


Washington Post Facebook to temporarily halt political ads in U.S. after polls close Nov. 3, broadening earlier restrictions
Facebook said it plans to temporarily suspend all political and issue-based advertising after polls close Nov. 3, a move the company said was intended to limit confusion, misinformation and abuse of its services in the days after the presidential election. The social media giant also said it would remove calls for people to watch the polls when those posts use militaristic or intimidating language. Executives said the policy applies to anyone, including President Trump and other officials. Trump has made calls for people to engage in poll-watching, including at the presidential debate, and son Donald Trump Jr. appeared in an ad last month urging people to “defend your ballot” and join an “army” to protect the polls.

Slate Magazine Three Supreme Court Justices Just Showed They’re Willing to Throw Out Mail-In Ballots
The Supreme Court reinstated South Carolina’s witness signature requirement for mail-in ballots on Monday night, a predictable blow to voting rights in a state with a close Senate race. Monday’s order certainly was bad news; it means that South Carolinians, including those infected with COVID-19, will once again need witnesses to sign their ballot envelopes. This administrative burden is potentially dangerous and totally pointless, and it will likely lead the state to nullify thousands of otherwise valid ballots.

Axios Florida voter registration site crashes hours before deadline
Florida Democrats are demanding Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) launch an investigation after the state’s voter registration website for November’s election crashed Monday hours before enrollment closed at midnight. Fla. Secretary of State Laurel Lee tweeted Monday evening, “Due to high volume, for about 15 minutes, some users experienced delays while trying to register. We have increased capacity.” Several people replied to her post saying the site was still down and asked for the deadline to be extended.

Government Technology Security Lapse Plagues Philadelphia Election Tech Warehouse
More lapses in security and record-keeping surfaced Thursday at the warehouse where Philadelphia’s voting machines are stored, prompting city officials to pledge — for the second time in less than a week — that they would beef up security amid an investigation into the theft of a laptop and USB drives from the facility. A lack of surveillance footage from inside the warehouse has stymied investigators seeking to track down the thief.

Washington Post The Cybersecurity 202: Legal battles in swing states could reshape the election
A crush of lawsuits in key swing states is boosting uncertainty as Election Day approaches and as absentee and early votes are already being cast in some states. The lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia, Texas and elsewhere are raising the chances of last-minute changes that could confuse voters and poll workers and damage confidence in the election’s outcome. They’re also ramping up tension as President Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis has prompted increased concerns that foreign adversaries will be emboldened to interfere in the election.


Bloomberg House Panel Urges Tech Giant Breakup in Plan Republicans Shunned
A House panel proposed far-reaching antitrust reforms to curb the power of U.S. technology giants including Amazon.com Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, culminating a 16-month investigation with a damning 449-page report that Republicans largely shunned. The recommendations from the House antitrust subcommittee represent the most dramatic proposal to overhaul competition law in decades, and could lead to the breakup of tech companies if approved by Congress. The findings target four of the biggest U.S. tech companies — Amazon, Google, Facebook Inc., and Apple Inc. — describing them as gatekeepers of the digital economy that can use their control over markets to pick winners and losers. The companies have abused their power to snuff out competitive threats, leading to less innovation, fewer choices for consumers and a hobbled democracy, the report said.

Politico Senate panel secures top tech CEO testimony for Oct. 28
The CEOs of Facebook, Google and Twitter have agreed to testify before the Senate Commerce Committee on Oct. 28, less than a week before the election, committee aides told POLITICO on Friday, speaking anonymously to speak candidly about deliberations. It will be the second time this year that top tech executives testify before Congress, following a blockbuster summer hearing before the House antitrust subcommittee featuring the heads of Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook.

TVTechnology FCC Puts White Spaces, Audio Descriptions on October Meeting Agenda
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has set out the agenda for the commission’s October meeting, with a pair of key TV industry issues expected to be up for votes. The first will revolve around TV white space. There has been much debate over who should be allowed to operate in the 600 MHz spectrum and what potential interference concerns could occur as a result, but the vote to take place during the October meeting will seek to, as Chairman Pai puts it, expand devices’ ability to provide broadband coverage in rural and unserved areas, as well as help narrowband Internet of Things devices operate in TV white spaces. Pai claims that the new rules would still protect TV broadcasters already operating in the band. “We expect that these changes will spur continued growth of the white space ecosystem and help close the digital divide,” said Pai.

Multichannel News Administration Gets Bipartisan Backing for Privacy Efforts
Legislators from both parties are rooting for the Trump Administration, specifically the Commerce Department and Federal Trade Commission, to come up with a successor to the invalidated Privacy Shield that allows cross-border data flows with the EU. The Trump Administration has been huddling with the European Commission to talk about that successor to the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield after the EU’s Court of Justice ruled in July that the U.S. can’t live up to its part of the bargain.

Axios SCOTUS to hear FCC media deregulation case
The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear a case brought to it by the Federal Communications Commission, with support from the National Association of Broadcasters, about the FCC’s longtime attempts to relax media ownership rules. The case will determine whether a 2017 FCC rule allowing broadcast companies to own more than one of the top four stations in a market can stand. If it does, it will likely usher in even more local broadcast consolidation in the U.S.

Financial Times Google vs Oracle tech dominance battle heads to US Supreme Court
When a decade-long legal battle between Google and Oracle finally reaches the US Supreme Court this week, many in the tech industry will be following the proceedings with unusual interest. It is not just that the oral hearing scheduled for Wednesday marks a rare confrontation at the top US court between two tech giants, with Oracle claiming $9bn in damages over illegal use of its software. Nor is it because the case comes to a head just as the two find themselves on a political knife-edge in Washington.


The Verge America’s Internet Wasn’t Prepared for Online School
Almost seven months later, rural districts around the country are still scrambling to accommodate all of their pupils. It’s become clear to teachers, administrators, and community members that the digital divide is too big for schools to bridge on their own. The infrastructure needed to teach rural students remotely would require systemic change — it would require government assistance. Months into the pandemic, educators say they still don’t have what they need.

Wall Street Journal New Rules for H-1B Visas: What You Need to Know
The Trump administration introduced long-anticipated changes to the H-1B visa program for high-skilled foreign workers on Tuesday, aimed at tightening eligibility for a program highly valued by U.S. high-tech firms and other employers. The changes, some of which come under immediate effect and all of which will likely face legal challenges, would make it tougher for applicants to qualify for an H-1B visa and significantly more expensive for companies to sponsor them. Here are a few things you need to know about the new policies.

FedScoop How a small group of Marines is advancing modernization with coding
A small, informal group of Marines has banded together to bring greater digital understanding and modernization to the force, which has been late to adopt the digital trends embraced by other services. The Marine Coders, as they call themselves, are on a mission to connect code-savvy Marines and educate others through open-source software projects and training. Their efforts are tied to advancing the guidance recently put out by the corps’ top officials to better take advantage of Marines’ time by automating away rote, time-intensive tasks.

The Verge Microsoft is letting employees work from home permanently
Microsoft will now allow employees to work from home freely for less than 50 percent of their working week, or for managers to approve permanent remote work. Employees who opt for the permanent remote work option will give up their assigned office space, but still have options to use touchdown space available at Microsoft’s offices. Microsoft highlights a few roles that still require access to the company’s offices, including those that require access to hardware labs, data centers, and in-person training. Employees will also be allowed to relocate domestically with approval, or even seek to move internationally if remote working is viable for their particular role.

USA Today Microsoft plan to increase Black representation in its U.S. workforce probed by Labor Department
Microsoft says the Labor Department is investigating whether its commitment to increase Black representation in its U.S. workforce is discriminatory in what some are warning is a broadside by the Trump administration against corporate initiatives to take on systemic racism following the death of George Floyd. In a blog post, Microsoft says it believes its June pledge to double the number of Black managers and senior employees by 2025 complies with civil rights laws.

Associated Press Andrew Yang takes lead in California data privacy measure
The Fitbits on our wrists collect our health and fitness data; Apple promises privacy but lots of iPhone apps can still share our personal information; and who really knows what they’re agreeing to when a website asks, “Do You Accept All Cookies?” Most people just click “OK” and hope for the best, says former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang.

Reuters FCC chairman stands by net neutrality repeal after appeals court ruling
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said on Monday he stands by the agency’s repeal of landmark net neutrality rules and circulated a proposal to address three issues raised by a U.S. appeals court. A federal appeals court in October 2019 largely upheld the FCC’s December 2017 net neutrality repeal, but directed the agency to reconsider the order’s impact on public safety, regulations on attachments to utility poles and the agency’s ability to provide subsidies for broadband service.

TechCrunch Twitter is building ‘Birdwatch,’ a system to fight misinformation by adding more context to tweets
Twitter is developing a new product called “Birdwatch,” which the company confirms is an attempt at addressing misinformation across its platform by providing more context for tweets, in the form of notes. Tweets can be added to “Birdwatch” — meaning flagged for moderation — from the tweet’s drop-down menu, where other blocking and reporting tools are found today. A small binoculars icon will also appear on tweets published tothe Twitter Timeline.

Cyberscoop Foreign spies use front companies to disguise their hacking, borrowing an old camouflage tactic
Professional hackers who already try to hide their activity through an array of technical means now seem to be trying on more corporate disguises, by creating front companies or working as government contractors to boost their legitimacy. U.S. law enforcement in September accused hackers based in Iran and China of conducting global espionage operations while appearing to exist as otherwise innocuous technology firms.

New York Times Clinical Trials Hit by Ransomware Attack on Health Tech Firm
A Philadelphia company that sells software used in hundreds of clinical trials, including the crash effort to develop tests, treatments and a vaccine for the coronavirus, was hit by a ransomware attack that has slowed some of those trials over the past two weeks. The attack on eResearchTechnology, which has not previously been reported, began two weeks ago when employees discovered that they were locked out of their data by ransomware, an attack that holds victims’ data hostage until they pay to unlock it.


The Brookings Institution

  • Report on vehicle decarbonization and climate change.
    Many jurisdictions are focused on achieving very low or net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by mid-century, bringing a spotlight to the biggest challenges in decarbonization. The transportation sector is responsible for about one-quarter of global GHG emissions and emissions are growing, even in the developed world where other emissions are generally flat. Liquid fuels made from oil dominate the sector; they are easy to transport and store, contain a great deal of energy for their weight and volume, and enable use of internal combustion engines. The degree of difficulty in decarbonizing transport varies across the sector. Electrification is relatively easy for smaller vehicles that travel shorter distances carrying lighter loads. For these vehicles, the added weight of a battery is less of a hindrance and the inherently simpler and more efficient electric motor and drivetrain (the system that delivers power from the motor to the wheels) make up for some of the weight penalty. However, the heavier forms of transportation are among the fastest growing, meaning that we must consider solutions for these more difficult vehicles as well. The challenge of decarbonizing these sectors and the technologies to overcome these challenges are global, but this paper focuses on policy options in the United States. (Research – The challenge of decarbonizing heavy transport, October 2020)

American Enterprise Institute

  • Blog on genetic code innovation and DNA editing.
    In the last eight years, geneticists have figured out how to edit humanity’s genetic code using an innovation known as CRISPR. As a result, humanity is approaching the ability to cure horrible genetic diseases and to genetically engineer plants and livestock to improve food supplies. But we are also approaching the question of how far we should allow this technology to go. Do we allow scientists to edit the human genome, or would that be a step too far? And if we do begin editing genomes, do we stop at preventing genetic diseases, or do we begin to augment humanity with superintelligence or extended lifespans? I discussed these, and many more, questions with Kevin Davies on the latest episode of Political Economy. (AEIdeas – How will CRISPR and gene-editing change the world? My long-read Q&A with Kevin Davies, October 6, 2020)

Cato Institute

  • Blog on social media platform moderation and international definitions of free speech.
    Why do social media companies have the right to suppress speech on their platforms? In the United States, they may do so because the U.S. Supreme Court has said the First Amendment does not apply to private companies. But the companies want more than sheer discretion, and they seem unwilling to say, “we’re maximizing shareholder value which requires suppressing speech.” Indeed, they seem to want an answer to the question: why should we suppress speech? (Cato At Liberty – Rights against Speech, October 7, 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.