12 Attorneys General Call on Facebook and Twitter to Remove Anti-Vaxxers + More

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12 Attorneys General Call on Facebook and Twitter to Remove Anti-Vaxxers + More

By Children’s Health Defense Team

The Defender’s Big Brother NewsWatch brings you the latest headlines related to governments’ abuse of power, including attacks on democracy, civil liberties and use of mass surveillance.

March 26

Big Tech CEOs Waffle on Banning the 12 Major Anti-Vaxxers at U.S. Congressional Hearing

Gizmodo reported:

“Analysis of a sample of anti-vaccine content that was shared or posted on Facebook and Twitter a total of 812,000 times between 1 February and 16 March 2021 shows that 65% of anti-vaccine content is attributable to the Disinformation Dozen,” the report states.

“Despite repeatedly violating Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter’s terms of service agreements, nine of the Disinformation Dozen remain on all three platforms, while just three have been comprehensively removed from just one platform.”

“Research conducted by CCDH last year has shown that platforms fail to act on 95 per cent of the COVID and vaccine misinformation reported to them, and we have uncovered evidence that Instagram’s algorithm actively recommends similar misinformation,” they added. “Tracking of 425 anti-vaccine accounts by CCDH shows that their total following across platforms now stands at 59.2 million as a result of these failures.”

At Thursday’s hearing on disinformation in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce featuring Dorsey, Zuckerberg, and Alphabet/Google CEO Sundar Pichai, all three either hedged or simply reiterated that their companies have rules when pressed by Representative Mike Doyle on the dozen anti-vaxxers, per TechCrunch.

Far-Right Extremists Move From ‘Stop the Steal’ to Stop the Vaccine

The New York Times reported:

Adherents of far-right groups who cluster online have turned repeatedly to one particular website in recent weeks — the federal database showing deaths and adverse reactions nationwide among people who have received COVID-19 vaccinations.

Although negative reactions have been relatively rare, the numbers are used by many extremist groups to try to bolster a rash of false and alarmist disinformation in articles and videos with titles like “COVID-19 Vaccines Are Weapons of Mass Destruction — and Could Wipe out the Human Race” or “Doctors and Nurses Giving the COVID-19 Vaccine Will be Tried as War Criminals.”

If the so-called Stop the Steal movement appeared to be chasing a lost cause once President Biden was inaugurated, its supporters among extremist organizations are now adopting a new agenda from the anti-vaccination campaign to try to undermine the government.

3 Big Tech Billionaires Top List of Pandemic Profiteers

Common Dreams reported:

Here are highlights from the last 12 months of billionaire wealth growth:

The combined wealth of the nation’s 657 billionaires increased more than $1.3 trillion, or 44.6%, since the pandemic lockdowns began. [Master Table] Over those same 12 months, more than 29 million Americans contracted the virus and more than 535,000 died from it. As billionaire wealth soared over, almost 80 million lost work between March 21, 2020, and Feb. 20, 2021, and 18 million were collecting unemployment on Feb. 27, 2021.

There are 43 newly minted billionaires since the beginning of the pandemic, when there were 614. A number of new billionaires joined the list after initial public offerings (IPOs) of stock in companies such as Airbnb, DoorDash and Snowflake.

The increase in the combined wealth of the 15 billionaires with the greatest growth in absolute wealth was $563 billion or 82%. [See Table 1] The wealth growth of just these 15 represents over 40% of the wealth growth among all billionaires. Topping the list are Elon Musk ($137.5 billion richer, 559%), Jeff Bezos ($65 billion, 58%) and Mark Zuckerberg ($47 billion, 86%).

Disney World Trials Facial Recognition At Magic Kingdom

Technocracy News reported: 

According to a Walt Disney World announcement, Magic Kingdom will be using facial recognition to ID guests between March 23 and April 23, 2021.

“At Walt Disney World Resort, we’re always looking for innovative and convenient ways to improve our Guests’ experience — especially as we navigate the impact of COVID-19.”

“The technology we’re testing captures an image of a Guest’s face and converts it into a unique number, which is then associated with the form of admission being used for park entry.”

Nothing says ‘improving a guest’s experience’ quite like using facial recognition to track their movements.

Heat to Open ‘Vaccinated Only’ Section at Home Games

Yahoo Sports reported:

The Heat announced plans Tuesday to open two sections in their lower bowl only for fully vaccinated fans starting with an April 1 game against Golden State. They are the first NBA team to reveal such a plan, though other clubs are believed to be working on similar measures.

Masks will still be required, even for the vaccinated fans, but social distancing rules will be slightly relaxed in those areas.

The NBA told teams last week that such sections would be allowed, under very specific conditions and in accordance with local and state health and safety guidelines. If any of the sections provided by teams include seats within 30 feet of the court, fans in those seats will have to take a PCR test two days prior to the game or an approved antigen test on game day.

Big Tech’s Danger to Kids Finally Aligns Democrats, Republicans

CNET reported:

“Big tech is essentially handing our children a lit cigarette and hoping they stay addicted for life,” said Rep. Bill Johnson, an Ohio Republican. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat from Florida, peppered the CEOs with statistics that show a rising level of depression and suicidal thoughts among adolescents that coincides with the rise of social media.

Historically, Big Tech products have been reserved for people 13 and older. But in the past few years, companies like Google and Facebook have tried to push the bounds of those limits, creating services for younger and younger kids. (Twitter, primarily used by older users, evaded scrutiny on the issue.)

YouTube Kids, launched in 2015, is billed as a child-safe version of the massive Google-owned site. Last month, Google said it’s testing new parental controls for kids 9 and up to use the full scale version of YouTube. Facebook four years ago unveiled a version of its Messenger chat app for kids to talk to their parents and friends. Now, the social network is working on a version of Instagram for kids under 13.

***

March 25

12 Attorneys General Call on Facebook and Twitter to Remove Anti-Vaxxers from Their Services

CNBC reported:

A coalition of 12 state attorneys general on Wednesday called on Facebook and Twitter to enforce their community guidelines and rid their services of misinformation being spread by accounts promoting anti-vaccine ideas.

“Misinformation disseminated via your platforms has increased vaccine hesitancy, which will slow economic recovery and, more importantly, ultimately cause even more unnecessary deaths,” the coalition of attorneys general wrote in a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

The coalition highlights that just 12 accounts and their associated organizations are responsible for 65% of the public anti-vaccine content on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. In particular, the accounts target people of color to discourage them from getting the COVID-19 vaccines, the letter said.

Lawmakers: Require Nursing Homes to Disclose Vaccine Data

ABC News reported:

Nursing homes have to publicly disclose their vaccination rates for flu and pneumonia but there’s no similar mandate for COVID-19 shots, even though the steepest toll from the virus has been among residents of long-term care facilities.

Now lawmakers of both parties are urging the Biden administration to require disclosure of coronavirus vaccination rates for residents and staff, and to make it easy for family members, advocacy groups and researchers to access such potentially critical details.

“The continued absence of publicly available COVID-19 vaccination information at the facility level leaves residents, workers, and their families in the dark, makes it impossible to fully evaluate the effect of these vaccines, and hinders efforts to ensure equitable vaccine access for communities of color,” Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, write in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra.

What a Gambling App Knows About You

The New York Times reported:

As gambling apps explode in popularity around the world, the documents show how one of the gambling industry’s most popular apps has adopted some of the internet’s most invasive tracking and profiling techniques. Instead of using data to identify and help problem gamblers like Gregg, critics of the industry said, information is used to keep players hooked.

Gambling apps like Sky Bet make it as easy to wager as to order an Uber. Many people view them as an innocent diversion. But to a group of gambling addiction experts, data-privacy activists and industry critics in Britain, home to the world’s largest app gambling market, the documents offer a warning to players and regulators in countries like the United States, where similar services are growing rapidly. More than a dozen states, including New Jersey, Nevada and Virginia, now allow app-based gambling.

They said the companies behind the apps required more oversight and are calling for tougher laws to identify problem gamblers and prevent data from being used in underhanded and predatory ways.

UK Lockdown One Year On: It Doesn’t Work, It Never Worked, & It Wasn’t Supposed To Work

Zero Hedge reported:

It’s a long time since “2 weeks to flatten the curve,” became an obvious lie. Sometime in July it turned into a sick joke. The curve was flattened, the NHS protected and the clapping was hearty and meaningful.

…and none of it made any difference.

This was not a sacrifice for the “greater good.” It was not a hard decision with arguments on both sides. It was not a risk-benefit scenario. The “risks” were in fact certainties, and the “benefits” entirely fictional.

Because lockdowns don’t work. It’s really important to remember that.

Even if you subscribe to the belief that “Sars-Cov-2” is a unique discrete entity (which is far from proven), or that it is incredibly dangerous (which is demonstrably untrue), the lockdown has not worked to, in any way, limit this supposed threat.

The Growing Movement to End the Surveillance Economy

The American Prospect reported:

Thirty-eight different advocacy organizations have come together to ban surveillance advertising. They argue that as long as social media platforms profit from collecting more user data — so they can use it to target ads — then they will do whatever possible to hook and keep users on their sites, amplifying “echo chambers, radicalization, and viral lies.” By enabling Facebook and Google to track and serve ads across the web and deliver precisely modeled audiences to advertisers, targeted ads also rob news publishers of their own business model, by making irrelevant the unique specialness of their readerships.

In advance of yet another hearing on Thursday, this time in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, on Big Tech disinformation, where we’ll get another array of claims and counterclaims about censorship and moderation, legal immunity for toxic content and antitrust enforcement, the truth is that attacking this central feature of Big Tech’s profit mechanism would be the biggest near-term intervention to fundamentally change the media ecosystem.

***

March 24

Digital Health Pass: IBM and Moderna Hook Up to Capitalize on COVID Reset

Mint Press News reported:

IBM is partnering with COVID-19 mRNA vaccine maker Moderna to track vaccine administration in real time through its various blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, and hybrid cloud services. According to a company press release, the collaboration will “focus on exploring the utility of IBM capabilities in the U.S.,” such as a recently unveiled pilot program for a Covid-19 Digital Health Pass in the State of New York, which effectively deputizes private businesses to enforce government-imposed Covid-19 regulations.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the initiative, billed as the “Excelsior Pass,”  during his 2021 State of the State Address in January and the program’s initial phase was tested at the Barclays Center during an NBA game, followed by another test at Madison Square Garden for an NHL game on March 2.

According to the state’s official website, the trial runs were designed to maximize “return on investment and saving development time” before submitting the “wallet app” to the Google and Apple app stores.

“The Excelsior Pass will play a critical role in getting information to venues and sites in a secure and streamlined way,” said Cuomo, who in February rolled out the state’s reopening guidelines for sports and entertainment venues, which would pave the way “to fast-track the reopening of these businesses and getting us one step closer to reaching a new normal (emphasis added).”

‘Tomorrow It Could Be Somebody Else’: Bernie Sanders Comes Out Against Trump Twitter Ban

ZeroHedge reported:

Sen Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) came out against the Twitter ban of former president Donald Trump yesterday. Sanders expressed his discomfort with the role of Big Tech in censorship viewpoints, a sharp departure from his Democratic colleagues who have demanded more such corporate censorship. In an interview on Tuesday with New York Times columnist Ezra Klein, Sanders stated that he didn’t feel “particularly comfortable” with the ban despite his view that Trump is “a racist, sexist, xenophobe, pathological liar, an authoritarian … a bad news guy.” He stated “if you’re asking me do I feel particularly comfortable that the then president of the United States could not express his views on Twitter? I don’t feel comfortable about that.”

‘I Take Full Responsibility’: Merkel Cancels Draconian Easter Lockdown Amid Backlash From Furious Germans

Zero Hedge reported:

One day after imposing a 5-day ultra-strict lockdown set to take effect over Easter weekend (presumably to head off any holiday-inspired spread), German Chancellor Angela Merkel has abandoned the plan, though Germany is still planning to extend its current restrictions through April 18.

Merkel is dropping the plan after it inspired an intense public backlash and resistance by politicians in the opposition and Merkel’s coalition, anonymous sources reportedly told Bloomberg. Merkel informed the leaders of Germany’s 16 states in a video call on Wednesday morning that she was dropping the five-day lockdown, which would have closed all businesses. Even supermarkets would have been forced to limit operations.

The planned restrictions also prohibited private gatherings of more than five adults from two different households, and required Easter services at German churches to be conducted virtually, angering Germans who already spent their Christmas holiday isolated from family members. During a meeting earlier this week, Germany’s local leaders reluctantly assented to the Chancellor’s plan.

Whitehead: ‘We Are Building Our Own Electronic Concentration Camps’

Technocracy News reported:

The government’s efforts to round up those who took part in the Capitol riots shows exactly how vulnerable we all are to the menace of a surveillance state that aspires to a God-like awareness of our lives.

Relying on selfies, social media posts, location data, geotagged photos, facial recognition, surveillance cameras and crowdsourcing, government agents are compiling a massive data trove on anyone and everyone who may have been anywhere in the vicinity of the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

The amount of digital information is staggering: 15,000 hours of surveillance and body-worn camera footage; 1,600 electronic devices; 270,000 digital media tips; at least 140,000 photos and videos; and about 100,000 location pings for thousands of smartphones.

And that’s just what we know.

More than 300 individuals from 40 states have already been charged and another 280 arrested in connection with the events of January 6. As many as 500 others are still being hunted by government agents.

Also included in this data roundup are individuals who may have had nothing to do with the riots but whose cell phone location data identified them as being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Bill Introduced to Allow S.C. Businesses to Publicly Promote and Display Percentage of Fully Vaccinated Employees

MSN reported:

Senator Marlon Kimpson proposed the legislation to allow businesses to display a sign, decal, or other media on the their premises with the percentage of employees who have been fully vaccinated for the COVID-19 virus. The bill would also require businesses to disclose that percentage if requested by patrons.

Kimpson said, “Whether those businesses choose to advocate for their employees to get vaccinated, or require masks, or create a safe environment is up to them, but this puts the power of informed choice back in the hands of customers.”

In response to the legislation, Governor Henry McMaster’s office said the bill is an “ill-conceived, unconstitutional attempt to put government squarely in the middle of the relationship between a business and its customers. It threatens personal liberty and places a ludicrous burden on business owners.”

Hang on to That COVID-19 Vaccination Card — It’s Important

ABC reported:

“What these little cards have the potential to do is to make something like international travel easier by avoiding requirements for quarantine or testing,” Amesh Adalja, M.D., FIDSA, an infectious disease specialist and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, told ABC News.

The logistics around how a “vaccine passport” would work are still up for discussion. “Nothing has been put into place yet,” said Adalja.

Even so, the COVID vaccination card is hardly the first of its kind. Some countries, for example, require proof of vaccination for yellow fever, and many public and private schools require that the children enrolled be fully vaccinated.

All vaccinations administered in the U.S. should have a paper trail, but if your vaccine card can help you navigate through our new normal, you may want to treat it with care.

A Better Path to Tech Reform? Felony Charges

Wired reported:

On March 25, the CEOs of Google, Facebook, and Twitter will once again testify before a committee of the House of Representatives, this time about the spread of disinformation on their platforms.

Disinformation about COVID-19 has undermined the country’s response to the pandemic. Disinformation about the 2020 election led to the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. In both cases, internet platforms played a role in amplifying and spreading that disinformation. If past testimony is any guide, on Thursday the CEOs will dissemble and promise to follow up with better answers to any question they do not want to answer in front of cameras. Nothing will change.

Congress has a duty to investigate internet platforms, but the timing could not be worse. The top priority for the White House and Democrats in Congress is to end the pandemic, followed by minimizing its economic damage. Passing the American Recovery Act is a great accomplishment, but the pandemic exposed structural weaknesses in the economy that call for a huge investment in infrastructure. Then there’s the matter of restoring democracy and voting rights prior to the 2022 midterms. These priorities will leave little time for much else, even an issue as urgent as reforming internet platforms, which have undermined democracy and public health to a degree unprecedented in generations, if ever.

Fortunately, there are two options to buy time, neither of which requires congressional action. It merely requires the government to apply regulatory tools that do not get used frequently, namely subjecting business executives to felony prosecution.

Facebook Hit by French Lawsuit Over Hate Speech

Tech Xplore reported:

The Paris-based campaign group, known by its French acronym RSF, said it was taking Facebook to court for “misleading commercial practices”.

The U.S. social media giant has allowed the “massive proliferation” of hate speech and false information on its site, RSF said.

The watchdog argues that while Facebook pledges in its terms of service to provide “a safe, secure and error-free environment” for users, it fails to do this as hateful content and misinformation are widespread on the site.

The legal complaint, seen by AFP, targets subsidiaries Facebook France and Facebook Ireland, through which the company conducts some of its French activities.

In particular, the complaint referenced death threats against journalists at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo posted on Facebook, as well as “Hold Up”, a widely debunked French film about the coronavirus pandemic.

Companies found to have carried out misleading commercial practices can be fined up to 10 percent of their average annual revenues in France.

Given that Facebook uses the same terms of service worldwide, the French court ruling “could have a global impact”, RSF said, adding that it was considering “launching similar cases in other countries.”

***

March 23

1.3 Billion Facebook Posts Removed Between October and December, Company Says

The Hill reported:

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle in recent months have pressured Facebook and other social networking giants to do more to combat misinformation peddled on their platforms about the coronavirus, election integrity and other hotly-debated political topics.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee this week will hold hearings to examine what tech companies are doing to stem the flow of misinformation and disinformation.

Energy and Commerce ranking member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) said earlier this month social that media companies need to “do better” in combatting misinformation given “the significant role they play in our society.”

“Unfortunately, Big Tech has broken any sense of trust that they can be fair stewards for speech and the truth. It is time for Energy and Commerce Republicans to act,” she said. “To be clear, we will not pursue government regulation of speech, but it’s a dereliction of our duty to our constituents to do nothing.”

Democrats Plan to Come for Big Tech With Swarm of Small Antitrust Bills

Gizmodo reported:

Representative David Cicilline, the chair of the judiciary committee, told Axiosthis weekend that he sees prepping numerous proposals on antitrust as a sort of drone swarm tactic that would overwhelm Big Tech’s political firewall by sheer numbers.

Cicilline told Axios that he believes the result of the committee’s work could be 10 or more small bills that he believes would increase the likelihood that individual components could pass—as individual propositions may have broader support from members of both parties—and that would be harder for lobbyists to unite against. There’s also the possibility that tech firms could target each other in the crossfire over individual bills. For example, while both Apple and Facebook might put up a united defense on some antitrust issues, they have a bitter, ongoing feud over more specific arguments like user privacy and the way Apple runs the iOS App Store.

“If you look at the way these technology companies have staffed up with their lobbying and the money they’re investing in Washington, it’s designed… to prevent any changes to the current ecosystem that benefits them enormously,” Cicilline told the site. “They have literally billions and billions and billions of reasons to try to protect the current system because it produces… profits not seen on planet Earth.”

“My strategy is you’ll see a number of bills introduced, both because it’s harder for (the tech companies) to manage and oppose, you know, 10 bills as opposed to one,” the representative added.

Hohmann: Technocracy Will Dehumanize All Humans Into ‘Digital Assets’

Technocracy News reported:

One year ago, in March 2020, as governments were shutting down their economies citing a mysterious virus, Gates did a series of media interviews calling for a globalized “digital certificate” for every human being on the planet.

He said this was the only way to keep up with who has the virus and who has been vaccinated. Note that no vaccine was known to be in the pipeline in March 2020, but Gates talked about the vaccine as if it was just around the corner. He knew.

In a March 18, 2020 “Ask Me Anything” online forum sponsored by Reddit, Gates was asked what changes needed to be made to the way businesses operate to ensure public health without ruining the economy.

Gates’ answer to the problem was digital certificates, which clearly drives once-free Western societies into a “show your papers” scenario that pre-COVID would have been considered a Nazi-like taboo.

Gates was also known at the time to be investing in the ID2020 initiative, which seeks to connect people’s vaccine history to their purchasing actions.

Instead of taking Gates seriously back in March 2020, the vast majority of folks blew off his comments as the fantasy of the world’s biggest geek.

Big Tech ‘Making Billions’ Off Surveillance Advertising

Common Dreams reported:

A global coalition of more than three dozen groups on Monday launched a campaign to ban surveillance advertising, which the leaders of the effort described as “the extractive profit model underlying so many of Big Tech’s worst behaviors.”

“Surveillance advertising — the core profit-driver for gatekeepers like Facebook and Google, as well as adtech middlemen — is the practice of extensively tracking and profiling individuals and groups, and then microtargeting ads at them based on their behavioral history, relationships, and identity” the coalition — co-organized by Accountable Tech and the American Economic Liberties Project — said in a joint statement.

***

March 22

Your Face Is Not Your Own

The New York Times reported:

Computers once performed facial recognition rather imprecisely, by identifying people’s facial features and measuring the distances among them — a crude method that did not reliably result in matches. But recently, the technology has improved significantly, because of advances in artificial intelligence. A.I. software can analyze countless photos of people’s faces and learn to make impressive predictions about which images are of the same person; the more faces it inspects, the better it gets. Clearview is deploying this approach using billions of photos from the public internet. By testing legal and ethical limits around the collection and use of those images, it has become the front-runner in the field.

After Clearview’s activities came to light, Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts wrote to the company asking that it reveal its law-enforcement customers and give Americans a way to delete themselves from Clearview’s database. Officials in Canada, Britain, Australia and the European Union investigated the company. There were bans on police use of facial recognition in parts of the United States, including Boston and Minneapolis, and state legislatures imposed restrictions on it, with Washington and Massachusetts declaring that a judge must sign off before the police run a search.

In Illinois and Texas, companies already had to obtain consent from residents to use their “faceprint,” the unique pattern of their face, and after the Clearview revelations, Senators Bernie Sanders and Jeff Merkley proposed a version of Illinois’s law for the whole country. California has a privacy law giving citizens control over how their data is used, and some of the state’s residents invoked that provision to get Clearview to stop using their photos. (In March, California activists filed a lawsuit in state court.) Perhaps most significant, 10 class-action complaints were filed against Clearview around the United States for invasion of privacy, along with lawsuits from the A.C.L.U. and Vermont’s attorney general. “This is a company that got way out over its skis in an attempt to be the first with this business model,” Nathan Freed Wessler, one of the A.C.L.U. lawyers who filed the organization’s lawsuit, in Illinois state court, told me.

It seemed entirely possible that Clearview AI would be sued, legislated or shamed out of existence. But that didn’t happen. With no federal law prohibiting or even regulating the use of facial recognition, Clearview did not, for the most part, change its practices. Nor did it implode. While it shut down private companies’ accounts, it continued to acquire government customers. Clearview’s most effective sales tool, at first, was a free trial it offered to anyone with a law-enforcement-affiliated email address, along with a low, low price: You could access Clearview AI for as little as $2,000 per year. Most comparable vendors — whose products are not even as extensive — charged six figures. The company later hired a seasoned sales director who raised the price. “Our growth rate is crazy,” Hoan Ton-That, Clearview’s chief executive, said.

Teachers Sue LA School District Over COVID Vaccine Mandate

The Defender reported:

Employees of the second-largest school district in the U.S. filed suit last week to prevent the district from mandating COVID-19 vaccines as a condition of employment.

California Educators for Medical Freedom, with assistance from the Health Freedom Defense Fund (HFDF), filed a federal lawsuit March 17 against the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).

In a press release, HFDF said LAUSD’s vaccine mandate violates federal law and basic human rights by requiring employees to take an experimental vaccine in order to remain employed.

All COVID vaccines available in the U.S. — Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — are approved under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). By the FDA’s own definition, that makes the vaccines “experimental” until or unless the FDA licenses them.

School employees alleged in their complaint that the statute granting the FDA power to authorize a medical product for emergency use, 21 U.S.C. § Section 360bbb-3, requires that the person being administered the unapproved product be advised of the benefits and risks, and of his or her right to refuse the product.

Israel’s Supreme Court Rules Air Travel Restrictions Unconstitutional

I24 News reported:

Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled on Wednesday that the government’s restrictions on entering and exiting the country are unconstitutional, daily Haaretz reported.

Currently, the state will neither permit entry to those who are unvaccinated nor those who have recovered from a bout of COVID-19.

In addition, the Israeli government limited the entry capacity to 3,000 passengers per day — an unprecedented policy that has also drawn legal queries as to its constitutionality.

The air travel limits were due to expire on March 21, and the justices have now ruled that they will not be extended.

States Are Right to Rebel Against Big Tech

The New York Times reported:

As Congress continues its interrogation of monopolistic practices of technology companies, states are getting into the game. Among the first targets on their list are Apple and Google, which together command 100 percent of the market for smartphone operating systems. New bills introduced in several states would threaten the companies’ dominance and represent an opportunity for state leaders to put fairness in commerce at the center of governance.

All apps that iPhone users download pass through Apple’s app store, because Apple doesn’t allow alternative marketplaces. Google uses its own store, which is called Google Play and is preinstalled on most Android phones, to give preference to its own apps over similar apps from competitors. While Google does allow alternative app stores, users must download them.

Both companies retain as much as 30% of the money consumers pay both for apps and for the purchases they make within those apps. (Credit card networks typically charge around 3 percent in transaction fees.) Apple made $72 billion last year from app store fees alone, while Google Play earned Google $39 billion, according to a research company called Sensor Tower. This week Google said it would reduce its commission for some app store sales. Both companies are targets of American and European inquiries into monopolies in the technology market.

Facebook Working on Instagram Product for Children Under 13 Years Old

Gizmodo reported:

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment sent late Thursday but did confirm to other news outlets, such as Australia’s ABC News, that it was indeed working on an Instagram product for children. The company did not elaborate on the kinds of things that would differentiate an Instagram For Kids product from regular Instagram.

It’s long been said that social media is the new smoking and this heightened focus on children would seem to give more ammunition to that thesis. Tobacco companies spent the 1970s and 80s marketing their product to kids in an effort to create a new generation of smokers as the negative health effects of smoking became better understood and led people to quit the product. Tobacco ads on TV and radio were banned in 1971, but it wasn’t until the 1990s when there was a concerted effort to crack down on tobacco marketing in the U.S., with a ban on tobacco billboards starting in 1999.

Anti-advertising advocates have long worried about the kinds of messages that kids have been receiving, whether it’s about tobacco or particularly sugary food. But messages about the dangers of social media haven’t been spread with the same cohesive and well-funded movements that emerged like the anti-tobacco organizations of the 1990s.

It obviously remains to be seen what kind of product an Instagram for kids might look like, but we can expect Big Tech to make a concerted effort to find new demographics in the coming years. And, to be frank, there’s not a lot of money in getting Grandma on your social media platform. Aside from being very set in their ways, and by extension their buying habits, making them less attractive to advertisers, it’s much more lucrative to get a child addicted to your product because they’re more likely to use it for life. Again, it’s one of the great lessons from Big Tobacco.

Former FDA Commissioner: ‘Costly’ Social Distancing Mandate ‘Wasn’t Based on Clear Science’

ZeroHedge reported:

By many measures, March was supposed to be a “difficult month” but as the vaccine campaign continues uninterrupted, April and May will “look much more clear.”

“People can be more liberal… people will be taking off their masks because we are going to see prevalence decline around the country and people who’ve been vaccinated can go out with more confidence.”

This shocking revelation comes just days after Senator Rand Paul destroyed Dr. Fauci’s so-called “science”-based reasons for various restrictions – from mask-wearing to social-distancing – as ‘useless political theater’.

Interestingly, Gottlieb said “both [Paul and Fauci] made valid points,” but specifically said that “Senator Paul was right, we need to see light at the end of the tunnel and have guidance that prescribes an environment where people can start doing things again.”

***

March 19

France to Use ‘Smart’ Cameras to Check How Many Transport Passengers Are Wearing Masks

RT reported:

French government has been accused of dystopian designs after authorizing the use of surveillance cameras to tally how many commuters are masking up.

A new decree has given public transport operators the power to use “intelligent video to measure the rate of mask-wearing on transport.” France’s data protection watchdog, CNIL, said the “smart” cameras will be used on buses, subways and trains to “observe” whether Covid-19 rules mandating facial coverings are being obeyed. However, the government claims that the cameras will only tabulate how many people are wearing masks, without identifying individuals.

Notably, a similar initiative was proposed back in December, but the government shelved the idea after CNIL said it risked “undermining the proper functioning of our democratic society” and that there was no clear legal framework under which it could be justified. The agency said that it decided to approve the surveillance program the second time around because the government had clearly stated its purpose and that the cameras will not “process biometric data” and therefore do not “constitute a facial recognition device.”

The decision was met with fierce opposition by civil rights groups. La Quadrature du Net, which defends digital freedoms, condemned the decree as an “authoritarian offensive.” The group also argued that surveillance was a clear violation of French law, as well as EU regulations regarding the processing of personal data.

Facebook Reveals Plan to Let You Control Augmented Reality With Your Thoughts

Washington Post reported:

Facebook is researching how to take minute nerve movements in your arm and translate them into gesture controls for your gadgets. The idea announced Thursday would help the social networking giant launch augmented reality glasses, which would rely on new ways to control computers and interact with the virtual world.

“We’re developing natural, intuitive ways to interact with always-available AR glasses because we believe this will transform the way we connect with people near and far,” Facebook said in a blog post.

But to launch such a product, the company would also need access to a new type of data: your thinking.

Facebook says the wristband product would rely on a “neural interface” that adapts to you and your environment.

‘We Are Not Doing It’: Vaccine Passports Won’t Be Required in Florida, Desantis Says

WFLA reported:

As more people get vaccinated against the coronavirus, there is more talk of requiring vaccine passports to travel.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is taking a hard stance against that.

“I want to make it clear in Florida — we are not doing it,” DeSantis told reporters Thursday. “Under no circumstances will the state ask you to show proof of vaccination. People are able to make decisions for themselves.”

“In order to get the airline industry back up in the air, give people confidence that they’re gonna be safe and comfortable, you’re gonna have something like that, but here in Florida the governor is opposed to requiring people to get vaccinated and to show proof that they have been,” said Dr. Jay Wolfson from USF Morsani School of Medicine.

Big Tech Helps Set Standards for COVID-19 Vaccine Verification

The Wall Street Journal reported:

A coalition that includes tech giants and healthcare providers is preparing to release global standards for mobile apps that verify whether someone has had a COVID-19 vaccine.

The Vaccination Credential Initiative standards will incorporate digitally-verified clinical data with a name and birth date that can be also displayed as machine-readable QR codes.

After the open-source standards are released next month, they can be integrated into mobile apps that people could use to verify they have been vaccinated to gain admission to offices, restaurants, bars, entertainment venues and other public places.

Companies and large venues could also choose to request additional verification, such as a driver’s license, or temperature checks in addition to seeing an individual’s vaccine record.

England Explores Proof of Vaccine, Negative Test for Fans

USA Today reported:

England is considering the introduction of coronavirus certificates as a way of getting fans back into large sports events in significant numbers as pandemic restrictions are eased.

The government is exploring asking supporters to provide proof they have been vaccinated or have tested negative, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said Friday.

“From June 21, if all goes to plan … we hope to get people back in significant numbers,” Dowden told Sky News. “We’re piloting the different things that will enable that to happen. Clearly it will have to be done in a COVID-secure way.”

One of the pilot events is due to be the FA Cup final on May 15, with the government hoping for more than 10,000 fans at the Wembley Stadium game after they have been tested or vaccinated.

This AI Uses Your Brain Activity to Create Fake Faces It Knows You’ll Find Attractive

Singularity Hub reported:

A new AI could throw a wrench in the already-overwhelming world of dating apps. Developed by a team from the University of Helsinki and Copenhagen University, the artificially intelligent system was able to generate images of fake faces that it knew particular users would find attractive — because those same users’ brain activity played a part in training the AI. It sounds creepy, futuristic, and like the ultimate catfishing opportunity, right?

The system, which was detailed in a paper published in IEEE Xplore in February, uses a generative adversarial network, or GAN, to create fake faces. The word “adversarial” is in there because a GAN is made up of two different neural networks competing against one another. There’s the generator network, which generates data (in this case, images) similar to what it saw in its training data. The discriminator network, meanwhile, tries to pick out which images are fake and which are real (the fake images created by the generator are mixed with real images from the training data). As the cycle is repeated over and over, the generator gets better at creating realistic images, while the discriminator gets better at picking out the fake ones. Talk about symbiosis!

Analysis: China’s Small Tech Firms Step Out of the Shadows as Giants Reel From Regulatory Crackdown

Reuters reported:

One firm’s loss is another’s gain. China’s smaller technology companies and investors are eager to seize the day as a sweeping crackdown by anti-monopoly regulators on the country’s internet giants creates a wealth of new opportunities.

Nasdaq-listed microlender 360 DigiTech Inc is one such firm, having seen an increase in new business and a run-up in its share price after the introduction of new rules designed to rein in fintech giant Ant Group and other large rivals.

“Since December, we’ve seen clients whose credit lines have been reduced or restricted by lending giants transfer to our services,” 360 DigiTech Chief Financial Officer Alex Xu told Reuters.

***

March 18

UK Rapidly Moving Toward Police State Tyranny

Technocracy News reported:

Britain will take a step closer to police state tyranny this week when parliament passes a bill that will effectively end the cherished, longstanding tradition of ‘the right to protest.’

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021 has been described by one MP as ‘a major step on the road to authoritarianism and suppression of dissent’ and by a leading criminal barrister as ‘absolutely crazy’ and ‘really scary.’

The new legislation is the brainchild of Home Secretary Priti Patel and is being sold to the Conservative base as a way of avoiding repeats of the various Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion demos which caused damage to property, massive disruption and a huge bill to the taxpayer for extra policing costs.

Biden Admin to Provide $10B for COVID Testing to Speed School Reopenings

NBC News reported:

The Biden administration is directing $10 billion from the recently passed stimulus package toward increased COVID-19 testing in schools, as the White House grapples with the difficult task of getting the nation’s school children back into classrooms.

The funding will go out in April and be awarded directly to states, the administration said Wednesday. Because the funding will be allocated proportionally, large states such as California and Texas will receive more than $800 million each, the administration said.

COVID: EU Plans Rollout of Travel Certificate Before Summer

BBC News reported:

A digital certificate to kick-start foreign travel should be given to citizens across the EU “without discrimination”, officials say.

The aim is to enable anyone vaccinated against COVID-19, or who has tested negative or recently recovered from the virus to travel within the EU.

The 27 member states will decide how to use the new digital certificate.

Vaccine passports have faced opposition from some EU member states over concerns they might be discriminatory.

Some argue that they would enable a minority to enjoy foreign travel without restrictions while others, such as young people who are not seen as a priority for inoculation, continue to face measures such as quarantine. European Commission officials have made clear they want to avoid discrimination.

Another issue raised has been that data on the efficacy of vaccines in preventing a person from carrying or passing on the virus is incomplete.

Ahead of the EU’s announcement, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that it was working to “create an international trusted framework” for safe travel, but that vaccinations should not be a condition.

What the U.S. Missed With Google

The New York Times reported:

Of the three antitrust lawsuits now pending against Google, I’ll focus on two: First, the Department of Justice says that Google used business deals with Apple and Android smartphone companies to cement its hold on our digital lives. And a group of U.S. state attorneys general claimed that Google hobbled online specialists in areas like home repair services and travel reviews.

The funny thing about the current government lawsuits is that much of the behavior is old news. Not everything. But a lot. That was clear before, but the F.T.C. documents made that undeniable. (The Wall Street Journal also got part of one of these documents in 2015.)

The Politico documents show fear within the F.T.C. in 2012 that Google would use its money and power to ensure that its search box had a prominent position on smartphones and expand its digital dominance. That’s essentially what the U.S. government (and the European Union) now say that Google did. Google has said the government’s claims have no merit.

And based on interviews and emails from executives at Google and other companies, government staffers found that Google promoted its own products — and in some cases demoted identical online information from competitors — because it helped Google’s bottom line. Again, that’s a behavior at the heart of one of the state lawsuits.

The Fully Vaccinated Employee: What the New CDC Guidelines Mean for Employers

The National Law Review reported:

As employers consider whether to require vaccinations for employees and how to handle employees who refuse to be vaccinated, the CDC has given employers some clarity … and new issues to navigate. On March 9, the CDC issued its first set of recommendations for fully vaccinated people, providing guidance for everyone who has been patiently wondering what types of pre-COVID activities they can safely resume now that vaccines are here.

According to the CDC, fully vaccinated people can now safely gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask, as well as refrain from quarantining and testing for COVID-19 following a known exposure so long as they remain asymptomatic. (The CDC considers someone to be “fully vaccinated” at two or more weeks after receiving the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or the single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.)

But, as dinner parties make a triumphant return and the noses of the vaccinated are mostly spared from unpleasant swabs, the new guidelines make clear that fully vaccinated people must continue to take certain precautions …

***

March 17

Google Gets Into Sleep Surveillance With New Nest Hub Screen

TechExplore reported:

Google’s next internet-connected home device will test whether consumers trust the company enough to let it snoop on their sleep.

New sleep-sensing technology will be a key feature on Google’s latest version of its Nest Hub, a 7-inch smart screen unveiled Tuesday. Like the previous generation, the $100 Nest Hub can display pictures and video in addition to fielding questions and handling household tasks through Google’s voice-activated assistant. It also doesn’t feature a camera.

But the latest Nest Hub’s new trick may help differentiate it from similar devices, such as Amazon’s Echo Show, while also providing a springboard for Google to get more involved in helping people manage their health.

If you allow it, the device will also monitor your sleeping patterns from your bedside, negating the need to wear a fitness device or any other potentially bothersome gadget in bed. The feature, which Google intends to offer for free through at least this year, relies on a new chip Google calls Soli, which uses radar to detect motion, including the depth of a person’s breathing.

Facebook Must Tackle ‘Spanish-Language Disinformation Crisis’, Lawmakers Say

The Guardian reported:

“[Facebook has] allowed their platform to be used to amplify hate and disinformation about and at our community,” said Jessica J González, the co-CEO of the media reform advocacy group Free Press at the launch of the #YaBastaFacebook campaign. “It shows a complete disregard and complete disrespect for the Latino community.”

The calls come amid growing warnings from advocacy groups that Facebook removes Spanish-language misinformation less consistently on its platforms than it does misinformation in English.

Facebook in past years has introduced several policies to address misinformation, hate speech, and violent organizing including militias on its platforms. But researchers previously told the Guardian that the company does not appear to enforce those policies equally when it comes to misinformation in Spanish.

Fulgent Genetics Awarded Contract from CDC to Study Variants of COVID-19 Virus

Yahoo! Finance reported:

Fulgent Genetics, Inc. (NASDAQ: FLGT) (“Fulgent Genetics” or the “Company”), a technology company providing comprehensive testing solutions through its scalable platform, today announced that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) has awarded the Company a contract to provide genomic sequencing of samples of SARS-CoV-2 on an ongoing basis, leveraging the Company’s Next Generation Sequencing (“NGS”) capabilities.

Under the agreement, Fulgent Genetics will sequence the genomes of random samples that have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Fulgent will leverage its NGS platform and provide sequencing data to the CDC as part of their initiative to conduct a large-scale genomic survey of the virus using random samples from across the United States. Ultimately, the CDC believes this large-scale genomic survey of the virus can provide important baseline information for national and state-level virus surveillance, help define important changes in transmission, help to identify unusual or emerging variants, and ultimately improve the public health response to the virus.

Fulgent believes its position as a leading provider of COVID-19 testing solutions, combined with the Company’s ability to handle large volumes of samples on its NGS platform, make the Company uniquely suited to aid the CDC in this initiative. Fulgent was selected as a partner due to its access to samples, laboratory capabilities for processing and sequencing of these samples, ability to manage the significant amount of data collected, and ability to deliver data to the CDC under the strict specifications they require.

Ticket? Passport? Add a COVID Vaccination Card to the List of Must-Have Travel Documents

The Wall Street Journal reported:

The world’s airlines are betting on vaccinations to restart international travel.

Two of Europe’s biggest airlines, British Airways and budget carrier Ryanair Holdings PLC, have started allowing fliers to provide vaccination and COVID test-result details alongside personal data, like passport numbers and visa information, during bookings. The airlines say the move will eventually help passengers show they have been inoculated when landing at destinations that have started to welcome vaccinated travelers.

Across the U.S., domestic travel is picking back up, amid stabilizing or falling COVID-19 cases and a relatively quick vaccination drive. That rebound isn’t yet showing up in international travel, where a patchwork of travel bans, quarantine rules and testing requirements have stymied cross-border flights.

Doctors Remix ‘Hamilton’ Song to Celebrate COVID Vaccine. Watch the Video

The Sacramento Bee reported:

If you thought “My Shot” from “Hamilton” got stuck in your head before, wait until you hear the coronavirus remix.

A group of doctors in California adapted the hit musical’s song into an anthem on COVID-19 vaccines. The group calls themselves Vax’n 8, and they spent months working on the remix, KOVR reported.

The song is set to the Broadway music, but the group reworked the lyrics. It starts by recounting the impact the coronavirus has had on the U.S. and how people have felt beaten down after spending months fighting the virus.

The song mentions some people were hoping for a cure to “change the game.”

“A vaccine that works most effectively, so COVID can’t strike with impunity,” the song goes. “Essentially, it trains your immunity to recognize virus parts with most certainty. Activate T and B Cells to fight disease and kill the virus before it can grow with ease.”

The lyrics also explain how the vaccine works to fight against the virus and goes over the testing the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines went through before being authorized for emergency use in the U.S.

***

March 15

The Lockdowns Weren’t Worth It

Wall Street Journal reported:

I’ve looked at more than 100 regions and countries. None have seen exponential growth of the pandemic continue until herd immunity was reached, regardless of whether a government lockdown or other stringent measure was imposed. People eventually revert to more-relaxed behavior. When they do, the virus starts spreading again. That’s why we see the “inverted U-shape” of cases and deaths everywhere.

After a year of observation and data collection, the case for lockdowns has grown much weaker. Nobody denies overwhelmed hospitals are bad, but so is depriving people of a normal life, including kids who can’t attend school or socialize during precious years of their lives. Since everyone hasn’t been vaccinated, many wouldn’t yet be living normally even without restrictions. But government mandates can make things worse by taking away people’s ability to socialize and make a living.

The coronavirus lockdowns constitute the most extensive attacks on individual freedom in the West since World War II. Yet not a single government has published a cost-benefit analysis to justify lockdown policies — something policy makers are often required to do while making far less consequential decisions. If my arguments are wrong and lockdown policies are cost-effective, a government document should be able to demonstrate that. No government has produced such a document, perhaps because officials know what it would show.

Facebook To Label Vaccine Posts To Combat COVID-19 Misinformation

NBC News reported:

Facebook is adding informational labels to posts about vaccines as it expands efforts to counter COVID-19-related misinformation flourishing on its platforms.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a blog post Monday that labels will contain “credible information” about the vaccines from the World Health Organization. They will be in English and five other languages, with more languages added in coming weeks.

“For example, we’re adding a label on posts that discuss the safety of COVID-19 vaccines that notes COVID-19 vaccines go through tests for safety and effectiveness before they’re approved,” Zuckerberg said.

The social network is also adding a tool to help get users vaccinated by connecting them to information about where and when they can get their shot.

Four Hidden Ways Big Tech Platforms Suck Up Your Data

Washington Examiner reported:

Big Tech companies such as Facebook, Google, and Amazon collect personal user data from many different sources to create “secret identities” of people in order to understand users’ personality traits, predict purchasing behavior, and ultimately sell these profiles to advertisers and sometimes the government.

Most often, users don’t even realize that their data is being collected and exploited by tech companies. Besides advertisers, millions of people’s personal user data has also been sold to U.S. federal agencies for border control purposes as well as to the military for counterterrorism purposes.

User data can also be used by machine learning or artificial intelligence tools that are being used by entities in the criminal justice system to help the government make decisions, including who should be imprisoned to a person’s ability to enter a country.

‘Vaccine Passports’: Will They Be Available in the U.S. in Time for Summer?

NBC News reported:

With more than 335 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine administered around the world so far, according to the World Health Organization, the race is on to develop a COVID-19 “vaccine passport.”

Vaccine passports that could determine what people can and can’t do come loaded with ethical considerations. Vaccines are still not easily available around the world and people would be divided into “haves” and “have nots.” Earlier this week, Dr. Mike Ryan, director of WHO’s emergencies program, said using vaccine certification as a requirement for travel “is not advised.”

Proof-of-immunization cards already exist for yellow fever, and I’ve used one for years to travel to Colombia, Ecuador or anywhere around the globe as needed.

 

Big Tech In Crosshairs As Congress Takes Up Antitrust Reform

Forbes reported:

Antitrust law is the cornerstone of free markets.

In the U.S., three laws — the Sherman Antitrust Act, the Federal Trade Commission Act and the Clayton Antitrust Act — work in concert to prevent any one company from becoming powerful enough to block competition in its sector, industry or market. When markets stay competitive, businesses innovate to keep prices low and quality high, which benefits consumers.

Lawmakers like Sen. Klobuchar argue that over recent decades, court rulings and inaction by regulators have eroded the ability of antitrust law to protect the market and consumers from monopolies. There’s growing bipartisan agreement that more needs to be done to reign in Big Tech companies — specifically Facebook, Google and Amazon — which many argue have become too powerful.

In December 2020, Facebook was sued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and 46 states for snapping up competitors Instagram and WhatsApp in mergers over the last decade. The FTC is aiming to unravel the acquisitions with its lawsuit. Facebook also has a long history of purchasing dozens of smaller companies that promise to become competitors if left free to grow.

A.I. Is Not What You Think

The New York Times reported:

What downsides are there from neural networks and A.I.?

So many. The machines will be capable of generating misinformation at a massive scale. There won’t be any way to tell what’s real online and what’s fake. Autonomous weapons have the potential to be incredibly dangerous, too.

And the scariest thing is that many companies have promoted algorithms as a utopia that removes all human flaws. It doesn’t. Some neural networks learn from massive amounts of information on the internet — and that information was created by people. That means we are building computer systems that exhibit human bias — against women and people of color, for instance.

Tinder’s Upcoming Feature for Singles? a Criminal Background Check on Potential Dates.

Washington Post reported:

To use Garbo, Tinder users will need to know their date’s first name and phone number, information they presumably get through chatting online or texting. Garbo will then give them a report of that person’s criminal history, pulling from public records.

There are a few intentional limitations to the report. Garbo is focused on violent crimes, said founder and CEO Kathryn Kosmides. It won’t provide any information on drug possession or traffic violations, “which have a disproportionate impact on marginalized groups,” the companies said in a news release.

Garbo wants to stand apart from other background-check services. It won’t provide people’s emails or addresses, in an effort to cut down on doxing and stalking. Kosmides is a survivor of gender-based violence, she said, and met her abuser on a dating app. She was stalked, she said, and doesn’t want to make that easy for anyone else to do — certainly not by using documents pulled from her site.

Who Is Making Sure the A.I. Machines Aren’t Racist?

The New York Times reported:

The big thinkers of tech say A.I. is the future. It will underpin everything from search engines and email to the software that drives our cars, directs the policing of our streets and helps create our vaccines.

But it is being built in a way that replicates the biases of the almost entirely male, predominantly white work force making it.

In the nearly 10 years I’ve written about artificial intelligence, two things have remained a constant: The technology relentlessly improves in fits and sudden, great leaps forward. And bias is a thread that subtly weaves through that work in a way that tech companies are reluctant to acknowledge.

March 12

IBM and Moderna Team Up for the Great Reset and Digital Health Passes

Mercola reported:

IBM and Moderna have taken the next step toward tracking vaccinated persons in real time by teaming up to produce COVID-19 digital health passes. To help roll out the passes, they will implement the plan with artificial intelligence (AI) and hybrid cloud services.

The “focus on exploring the utility of IBM capabilities in the U.S.” is now in place with a pilot program in New York as the Excelsior Pass, which New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced during his 2021 state of the state address, Mint Press News reported.

The Excelsior Pass will enable vaccinated persons to attend events at Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden, as starters. While it’s an intrusion on personal freedoms and choices when it comes to vaccines, IBM is looking at the Excelsior Pass as a model for what IBM predicts will be mandatory digital health passes for other venues in the future.

To that end, IBM’s U.S. public and federal market leader, Steve LaFleche, said there will come a time when the passes will cease to be voluntary “once government guidelines and regulations force the private sector to enforce their implementation.”

Democrats and Republicans Alike Are Talking About Breaking Down Big Tech Monopolies

Buzzfeed News reported:

There’s a growing bipartisan appetite in Congress to crack down on big tech, with progressive Democrats and conservative Republicans preparing to flex the federal government’s anti-monopoly powers.

The Senate began hearings this week on antitrust law. Senators expressed different philosophies and concerns, but they all agreed on at least one key point: Tech giants like Google, Facebook, and Amazon have become too powerful.

It’s the latest sign that Congress is ready to jump into a decades long vacuum created by marginal action from federal regulators as the tech sector became increasingly concentrated. Lawmakers discussed ways both to stop tech giants from growing larger in the future and steps that could be taken to chip away at their existing dominance.

“Why should any dominant corporation be able to merge with any other entity?” Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican, said in a Thursday hearing after rattling off a long list of companies owned by Google. “Why should Google, for instance, or Facebook be able to buy anything else given their dominant size?”

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, also a Republican, blasted tech giants for cornering the online ad market while local newsrooms endure round after round of cuts. Three companies — Google, Facebook, and Amazon — take in about two-thirds of all online advertising dollars. “Every one of these newsrooms have experienced the loss of reporters, which is the loss of journalism, which is the loss of insight of the people into issues,” said Blackburn.

Defying Rules, Anti-vaccine Accounts Thrive on Social Media

ABC News reported:

With vaccination against COVID-19 in full swing, social platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter say they’ve stepped up their fight against misinformation that aims to undermine trust in the vaccines. But problems abound.

For years, the same platforms have allowed anti-vaccination propaganda to flourish, making it difficult to stamp out such sentiments now. And their efforts to weed out other types of COVID-19 misinformation — often with fact-checks, informational labels and other restrained measures, has been woefully slow.

Twitter, for instance, announced this month that it will remove dangerous falsehoods about vaccines, much the same way it’s done for other COVID-related conspiracy theories and misinformation. But since April 2020, it has removed a grand total of 8,400 tweets spreading COVID-related misinformation — a tiny fraction of the avalanche of pandemic-related falsehoods tweeted out daily by popular users with millions of followers, critics say.

Why Healthy Competition Would Heal Our Big Tech Problems

E&P reported:

One could argue that the digital advertising industry has been “regulated” (even if enforcement was less than robust) since 2010 when the industry’s self-regulation group, the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA), rolled out its AdChoices program. In 2018, Europe began enforcing the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). In 2020, the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA) came online followed by the November passage of the GDPR-like California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA).

Against this alphabet soup of patchwork regulation, we may be reaching a tipping point. For one thing, more states are expected to pass consumer privacy laws in 2021. Even with pandemic-altered legislative calendars, 16 states nearly passed laws in 2020.

Additionally, Congress has held countless hearings over the last two years to investigate big tech’s massive data collection operations. Those hearings are sometimes painful to watch, but they are serving to educate members of Congress, who appear to be much more knowledgeable now than they were a few years ago. (Remember when one of them asked Mark Zuckerberg how Facebook makes money? Oy.)

While States Repeal Mask Mandates, the Federal Government Quietly Considers Mask Regulations for Workers

CNN reported:

A federal regulatory agency is approaching the deadline to decide whether masks should be required at workplaces in the United States, in response to an executive order by President Biden.

On Jan. 21, President Joe Biden’s first full day in office, he signed an executive order that asked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, to consider if any new emergency temporary standards are needed to protect workers from COVID-19. That could include masks in workplaces, if necessary, the order said — and such standards would need to be issued by March 15.

Covid-19 requirements from OSHA would be very different than the mask guidance and recommendations from the White House or the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CDC Suggesting Vaccinated People Not Travel Is Curious

Forbes reported:

With vaccines becoming more available, the CDC has released new guidance for those who have received the vaccine. On the positive side, it makes clear that, once fully vaccinated, more families can meet together and grandparents can see their grandkids. It also stresses that in public and group settings, known proven protocols like masks and distancing still make sense. But after outlining the flexibility that the vaccine brings, the document then states “You should still delay domestic and international travel.”

This is highly curious. Travel has been safe, with proper precautions, even before the vaccines, as long as someone had a place to go. The broad CDC statement suggests that a fully-vaccinated family shouldn’t take a one hour car trip to see fully-vaccinated relatives. This kind of far-reaching statement does not help people get their lives back in order, is not scientifically based, and could encourage those on the fence about the vaccine to just not bother with it.

Big Tech Companies Cannot Be Trusted To Self-Regulate: We Need Congress to Act

Tech Crunch reported:

It’s been two months since Donald Trump was kicked off of social media following the violent insurrection on Capitol Hill in January. While the constant barrage of hate-fueled commentary and disinformation from the former president has come to a halt, we must stay vigilant.

Now is the time to think about how to prevent Trump, his allies and other bad actors from fomenting extremism in the future. It’s time to figure out how we as a society address the misinformation, conspiracy theories and lies that threaten our democracy by destroying our information infrastructure.

March 11

T-Mobile Is Taking All of Your Sweet, Sweet Data… Unless You Tell It to Stop

Gizmodo reported:

Heads up, fellow T-Mobile customers: You might want to take a look at your mobile carrier’s privacy policy.

As first spotted by the Wall Street Journal, the company’s latest update to its privacy policy is set to automatically enroll paying phone subscribers into an ad-targeting program that will see their data shared with unnumbered advertisers starting next month. It’s also worth noting here that the privacy policy update also carries over for any Sprint customers who were gobbled by T-Mobile during the two company’s mega-merger last year.

T-Mobile’s latest Privacy Notice lays out some of the specifics: Starting April 26, the company writes, it will begin a “new program” that shares some personal data — like the apps you download or the sites you visit — with third-party advertisers. T-Mobile also adds that it won’t share your precise location data “unless you give [T-Mobile] your express permission,” and won’t share information in a way that can be directly tied back to your device. But like we’ve written before, just because a dataset is “anonymized” doesn’t mean that you can take the company anonymizing it (T-Mobile, in this case) at its word.

Why Big Tech Is Facing Regulatory Threats From Australia to Arizona

Ars Technica reported:

Last week, Arizona’s House of Representatives approved legislation to prohibit platform owners like Apple and Google from locking app makers into their own payment systems. The bill passed only narrowly, and it must be approved by the Arizona Senate and Gov. Doug Ducey before it can become law. But regardless of the bill’s ultimate fate, the vote is the latest sign of a dramatic shift in public attitudes toward Silicon Valley’s most powerful companies.

For the first two decades of the Internet era, there was a broad consensus that politicians shouldn’t tie Silicon Valley companies down with burdensome rules and regulations. Companies like Apple, Amazon, Google, and Uber were widely admired. In 2007, presidential candidates from both parties made pilgrimages to associate themselves with Google. In 2015, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and other Republican hopefuls tripped over each other to position themselves as the most Uber-friendly candidate.

Fitbit Reveals Next Generation of Wearable for Kids

Mobile Health News reported:

Fitbit is rolling out its latest child-centered wearable called the Fitbit Ace 3 that can track activity and sleep. The latest technology is geared at children over the age of 6 and comes with an eight-day battery life.

The watch and connected app let families set fitness challenges. Parents are able to set limits as to what their child can see, and manage their children’s friend requests. The tech is designed to help motivate kids to get 60 minutes of activity and walk 250 steps per hour. Kids and their families can personalize their goals. The watch is also swim-proof.

One of the ways that Fitbit is pitching this as kid-friendly is by including animated clock faces that change as daily goals are met. They are also incorporating the Minions into the watch art.

Fauci Draws Backlash for Admitting CDC Must Make ‘Judgment Call’ on Whether Vaccinated People Can Travel

Fox News reported:

White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci drew backlash on Wednesday for admitting that the Biden administration has to make a “judgment call” when it comes to COVID travel guidance.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced new health guidelines for vaccinated people Monday, but made no mention of travel.

The guidelines, which were supposed to be released last week, originally included recommendations about traveling but senior health officials decided to remove that section, according to Politico.

During an appearance on CNN, Fauci was pressed about what “science” is preventing the Biden administration from declaring that Americans with both doses of the COVID vaccine can travel safely.

COVID-19: Biden Administration Opens Nursing Home Doors

The New York Times reported:

The Biden administration on Wednesday published revised guidelines for nursing home visits during the pandemic, allowing guests the freedom to go inside to see residents regardless of whether the visitors or the residents have been vaccinated.

The new recommendations, released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services with input from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are the first revision to the federal government’s nursing home guidance since September. And they arrived as more than three million vaccine doses have been administered in nursing homes, the agency said.

The guidance was also the latest indication that the pandemic in the United States was easing, with COVID-19 cases continuing to decrease across the nation, though the seven-day average remains at more than 58,000. The C.D.C. on Monday released long-awaited guidance for Americans who have been fully vaccinated, telling them that it is safe to gather in small groups at home without masks or social distancing.

***

March 10

COVID-19: False Test Results ‘Ruining’ Return to School

BBC News reported:

Reports have emerged of pupils having to isolate after testing positive at school using the on-the-spot checks – only for a more reliable follow-up lab-based PCR test to find them negative.

Parents said it was “ruining” the return to school.

Rapid tests at home or in workplaces can be overruled by a lab test.

But the government has insisted this cannot happen for tests done in school – although it has been unable to explain why.

Pupils at secondary schools – of which there are around four million – are being offered three lateral-flow tests following their return to school.

But because infection rates are so low, the Royal Statistical Society believes more of the positive results produced this week could be wrong than right.

LA Schools to Track Every Kid Using Microsoft’s ‘Daily Pass’ COVID App

The Defender reported:

Los Angeles schools plan to reopen next month — and when they do, every child will be required to have a COVID-tracking app that will be scanned daily before they can enter the classroom.

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) last month announced the launch of Daily Pass, a COVID tracking system developed by Microsoft. The app will scan children in schools, using a barcode, to coordinate health checks, COVID tests and vaccinations.

The Daily Pass generates a unique QR code — each day, for each student and staff member — that authorizes entry to a specific Los Angeles Unified location. An individual must have a negative test result for COVID, show no symptoms and have a temperature under 100 degrees in order to gain entry to class.

All data gathered by the app will be reported as required to health authorities. Anonymized data from Daily Pass will be used by Los Angeles Unified’s research and healthcare collaborators –– Stanford University, UCLA, The Johns Hopkins University, Anthem Blue Cross, Healthnet and Cedars Sinai –– “to provide insights and strategies” to implement in safe school environments, school officials said.

Students without the barcode will be barred from going into school.

Facebook Is Finally Cracking Down Hard on Anti-Vaccine Content. It Is Facing an Uphill Battle.

VOX reported:

After years of allowing anti-vaccine groups and pages to rack up followers on its social network, Facebook announced last month that it wants to lead the world’s largest COVID-19 inoculation information campaign and encourage its users to get vaccinated. It’s also banned users from sharing general forms of vaccine misinformation, like the idea that vaccinations cause autism.

Facebook’s big push is meant to help bring an end to a pandemic that has killed more than 2.5 million people around the world. But for some of the people who have for years been sounding the alarm about the dangers of anti-vaccine groups and pages on Facebook and Instagram, the announcement — even if it’s a step forward — feels like too little, too late.

“No matter what the commitment is or the ideas made, at the end of the day … I can clearly see their priority was their job and the reputation of Facebook, versus the lives of Americans,” said vaccine advocate Ethan Lindenberger, who said that Facebook groups helped convince his mother not to vaccinate him as a child against illnesses like measles.

Over the past decade, Instagram and Facebook users have created communities on these platforms to organize against vaccines, mixing with and assuming online affinities like “vaccine safety,” parenting communities, or “health freedom,” among others. In Facebook groups, people have promoted the anti-vaccine movement by posting everything from personal anecdotes claiming vaccines have injured their children to far-out conspiracy theories, including the idea that inoculations are disingenuous money-making schemes.

Instagram is Pushing Anti-Vaccine Misinformation and QAnon Content, Study Finds

Rolling Stone reported:

In the past year, social platforms like Facebook and Twitter have made very public efforts to try to prevent the proliferation of COVID-19-related misinformation and election fraud conspiracy theories. Yet a new study from the Center for Countering Digital Hate, which tracks the spread of misinformation on digital platforms, suggests that at least one platform — Instagram — has failed in its efforts to curb such content.

According to Imran Ahmed, CEO of the U.K.-based organization, the study was prompted by Instagram’s August 2020 rollout of a new feature called “suggested posts,” which appeared when users reached the bottoms of their feeds. The study’s authors found it curious that the platform would introduce such a feature in the midst of the pandemic, when COVID-19-related misinformation was abounding across social media. They were particularly interested in studying Instagram, which Ahmed refers to as the “fastest-growing” platform regarding misinformation about vaccines, which has been “driven by a new wave of influencers who’ve come along in the anti-vaxx space driven in part by the opportunity COVID-19 has presented,” he says.

Disabled Man Kicked Off Southwest Flight Over Mask Despite Doctor’s Notes

MSN reported:

A family from Ohio have been left “disheartened, embarrassed and disappointed” after their disabled son was kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight for not wearing a mask despite having two doctor’s notes explaining his health exemption.

Cheri Fleming and her son Bryan Crislip were trying to travel with one of her friends from Chicago Midway to Los Angeles on Monday when Southwest staff barred them from taking the flight.

Crislip, 22, has been vaccinated against COVID-19 and two doctors have given him an exemption from wearing a face mask for medical reasons, his mother said.

Federal rules on wearing masks during flights have a narrow exception for people with disabilities.

***

March 9

Airline Industry Pushes U.S. to Standardize Health Papers

ABC News reported:

Leading airline and business groups are asking the Biden administration to develop temporary credentials that would let travelers show they have been tested and vaccinated for COVID-19, a step that the airline industry believes will help revive travel.

Various groups and countries are working on developing so-called vaccine passports aimed at allowing more travel. But airlines fear that a smattering of regional credentials will cause confusion and none will be widely accepted.

“It is crucial to establish uniform guidance” and “the U.S. must be a leader in this development,” more than two dozen groups said in a letter Monday to White House coronavirus-response coordinator Jeff Zients. However, the groups said that vaccination should not be a requirement for domestic or international travel.

Police Use ‘Citigraf’ To Surveil Everyone, Including School Kids

Technocracy News reported:

At the click of the “INVESTIGATE” button, Citigraf gives law enforcement the ability to go through a city’s historical police records and live sensor feeds, looking for patterns and connections of a person.

Wired explains that Citigraf allows police to access a person’s address, photographs, license plate number and much more.

“Once a police officer clicks on INVESTIGATE a long list of possible leads appeared onscreen, including a lineup of individuals previously arrested in the neighborhood for violent crimes, the home addresses of parolees living nearby, a catalog of similar recent 911 calls, photographs and license plate numbers of vehicles that had been detected speeding away from the scene, and video feeds from any cameras that might have picked up evidence of the crime itself, including those mounted on passing buses and trains.”

This is an incredible admission and one that I have been warning people about for years. All those DHS surveillance cameras being installed on public transit are actually connected to a much larger police surveillance network. (To see how police departments use Genetec to surveil 911 calls click here.)

Genetec admits police departments love Citigraf because it gives them access to a wide-range of surveillance devices.

At Dubai Airport, Eye Scan Becomes Your Passport

TechXplore reported:

Dubai’s airport, the world’s busiest for international travel, can already feel surreal, with its cavernous duty-free stores, artificial palm trees, gleaming terminals, water cascades and near-Arctic levels of air conditioning.

Now, the key east-west transit hub is rolling out another addition from the realm of science fiction — an iris-scanner that verifies one’s identity and eliminates the need for any human interaction when entering or leaving the country.

It’s the latest artificial intelligence program the United Arab Emirates has launched amid the surging coronavirus pandemic, contact-less technology the government promotes as helping to stem the spread of the virus. But the efforts also have renewed questions about mass surveillance in the federation of seven sheikhdoms, which experts believe has among the highest per capita concentrations of surveillance cameras in the world.

CDC Says Vaccinated People Can Get Together Without Masks

MSN News reported:

People who are fully vaccinated against the new coronavirus can gather privately in small groups without masks or physical distancing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, relaxing safety guidelines for inoculated individuals under some circumstances.

The CDC said Monday that fully vaccinated people should continue to take precautions in most circumstances to prevent the spread of the virus that causes Covid-19. People who are fully immunized should continue to wear masks and keep their distance from others in public or while visiting unvaccinated people at higher risk for severe cases of Covid-19, the CDC said. The agency, leaving its travel guidance unchanged, said vaccinated people should continue to hold off on long trips.

“Our guidance must balance the risk to people who have been fully vaccinated, the risks to those who have not yet received the vaccine and the impact on the larger community transmission of Covid-19,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at a media briefing.

China Launches ‘Virus Passport’

Aljazeera reported:

China has launched a health certificate programme for Chinese citizens traveling internationally, one of the first countries in the world to issue a “virus passport”.

The digital certificate, which shows a user’s vaccination status and virus test results, is available for Chinese citizens via a programme on Chinese social media platform WeChat that was launched on Monday.

The certificate is being rolled out “to help promote world economic recovery and facilitate cross-border travel”, a foreign ministry spokesman said.

The certificate, which is also available in paper form, is currently only for use by Chinese citizens and is not yet mandatory.

There is also no information on which countries China is working with to get the certificate recognised when Chinese travellers go overseas.

Vaccinated Americans Allowed to Taste Freedom

CNN reported:

Exactly one horrific, demoralizing and family-splitting year since darkness descended on America, top public health officials arrived at a (virtual) White House coronavirus strategy briefing on Monday armed with tangible hope.

In announcing new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on how fully vaccinated citizens can begin to pick up their lives, they struck a momentous turning point in a pandemic that has killed more than 525,000 Americans.

“It’s science based. It’s sensible. You can hug your grandkids again. If you’ve been waiting to get a haircut, see the dentist, you can do that,” former CDC Director Tom Frieden said on CNN’s “The Situation Room.”

As is the way in the worst public health disaster in 100 years, good news is heavily caveated. Those in the long lines for the vaccine must not let up. Travel, even for those who’ve been vaccinated, is advised against — though some prominent medical experts said the CDC is being overly cautious. And the threat of pernicious COVID-19 variants may be about to inflict another surge of death and sickness, again testing the patience of a weary nation.

Ohio COVID-19 Health Order Allows Dancing at Proms, Weddings

The Cincinnati Enquirer reported:

Dancing is again allowed at weddings, proms and banquet hall events in Ohio, state health officials clarified this week.

A March 2 health order lifted the 300-person capacity limit for banquet halls and catering facilities. The order didn’t explicitly mention dancing, but an Ohio Department of Health spokeswoman confirmed the order replaced a November health order temporarily banning socializing in congregate areas and dancing.

Gov. Mike DeWine put that ban in place as cases and hospitalizations were rising statewide.

The new order applies to “wedding receptions, funeral repasts, proms,and other events, whether or not food is served, at banquet facilities.” Facilities must adhere to the business safety guidelines issued in orders on Sept. 23 and July 23. That includes face coverings for everyone except when eating or drinking, which must be done while seated.

***

March 8

Stop Letting Google Get Away With It

Gizmodo reported:

What Google does plan on building, though, is its own slew of “privacy-preserving” tools for ad targeting, like its Federated Learning of Cohorts, or FLoC for short. Just to get people up to speed: While cookies (and some of these planned universal ID’s) track people by their individual browsing behavior as they bounce from site to site, under FLoC, a person’s browser would take any data generated by that browsing and basically plop it into a large pot of data from people with similar browsing behavior—a “flock,” if you will. Instead of being able to target ads against people based on the individual morsels of data a person generates, Google would allow advertisers to target these giant pots of aggregated data.

We’ve written out our full thoughts on FLoC before—the short version is that, like the majority of Google’s privacy pushes that we’ve seen until now, the FLoC proposal isn’t as user-friendly as you might think. For one thing, others have already pointed out that this proposal doesn’t necessarily stop people from being tracked across the web, it just ensures that Google’s the only one doing it. This is one of the reasons that the upcoming cookiepocolypse has already drawn scrutiny from competition authorities over in the UK. Meanwhile, some American trade groups have already loudly voiced their suspicions that what Google’s doing here is less about privacy and more about tightening its obscenely tight grip on the digital ad economy.

Which brings us back to that Google blog post from earlier this week—the post that was literally called “charting a course towards a more privacy-first web,” while also glossing over all of the obvious problems that others have pointed out with FLoC: how tracking is still tracking, even if it’s happening in aggregate. How Google’s claim that targeting based on FLoC is “95% as effective” as cookie-based targeting seems to be built on bunk math. How this ploy would give Google exclusive access to a ton of user data that the company already largely monopolizes. If Google actually wants to shift the national conversation on consumer privacy, then it should start by clarifying what they think “privacy” actually means.

Amazon Alexa’s ‘Skills’ Can ‘Pose Significant Privacy, Security Risk,’ Study Warns

StudyFinds reported:

When most consumers use Amazon’s friendly voice-activated assistant, they probably think they’re just dealing with the famous Alexa. It turns out, however, Alexa is just a “middle woman” for countless third parties that could put your private information in harm’s way. Researchers from North Carolina State University reveal that Alexa has a number of vulnerabilities when dealing with the programs users interact with via the popular Amazon device.

“When people use Alexa to play games or seek information, they often think they’re interacting only with Amazon,” says study co-author Anupam Das in a university release. “But a lot of the applications they are interacting with were created by third parties, and we’ve identified several flaws in the current vetting process that could allow those third parties to gain access to users’ personal or private information.”

The danger stems from the thousands of programs, or skills, that can run on Alexa. These skills function like the apps on a smartphone, which do everything from play music to order groceries. Study authors say Amazon has sold at least 100 million Alexa devices and there are currently over 100,000 skills users can install. Since the vast majority of these programs are created by third parties and have access to homes all around the world, researchers set out to identify any security issues in this relationship.

The New Normal’s Religion of ‘Techno-Voodooism’ Has Bewitched the World

RT reported:

If COVID-19 has been a boon for anyone, that would be Big Business and Big Tech – overblowing fears, widening the wealth gap and facilitating global control through all-powerful technology the world now depends on.

What happens when systems cross the threshold of peak complexity and can no longer be improved in their current forms? Decision-makers can commission competing models in order to pick a winner. This however calls for patience, prudence and sound oversight. Alternately, they can pounce on a fantastical blueprint that will supposedly gel via Artificial Intelligence and get to play monopoly at the same time. An all-in-one solution!

Such thinking was precisely what beleaguered the F-35 combat aircraft program with its estimated $1.7 trillion in lifetime costs. After 20 years of troubled development, the stealth fighter’s problems have become so insurmountable that there is talk in the US Air Force of considering a clean slate fighter jet program to replace its ageing F-16s.

You Can Poison the Data That Big Tech Uses to Monitor You

The Express Tribune reported:

Getting ads about something you were searching for is not a coincidence. Tech giants track your online movement; from the shows you watch, the websites you use for shopping, the latest gadget you might be interested in buying, everything is monitored.

The data is collected and stored on machine-learning algorithms which sent ads and recommendations according to your preference. Companies like Google cash in your data for over $120 billion a year from ad revenue, reports MIT.

Even if you disable settings in Google Chrome to purge all website cookies and site data when you close the browser it still stores data for itself and YouTube, according to Mac programmer Jeff Johnson who elaborated on this in a blog.

Big Tech Targets DC With a Digital Charm Offensive

Wired reported:

Did you know Facebook supports updated internet regulations? I know that. Boy, do I know it. I’m guessing everyone else who lives in the Washington, DC, area knows it too. For at least the past five weeks, Facebook has been deluging the region with ads declaring its support for regulation. I originally noticed when my morning ritual of watching basketball highlights on NBA.com started getting disrupted by the same 30-second message from Facebook every single time I wanted to watch a 3-minute video. Just let me see the slam dunks, please!

Somehow, despite having seen the ad dozens of times, I still couldn’t quite tell you what regulations Facebook really has in mind. That’s probably because the ads are less about specific policy proposals than about trying to improve Facebook’s battered reputation in the eyes of DC decisionmakers. The regulation ads are part of an all-out blitz on the part of not just Facebook but also Google and Amazon. They, along with American Edge, a pro-tech lobbying group that Facebook has acknowledged backing, have been pumping ads into the feeds of the DC policy audience.

A very visible part of that push has come in the form of newsletter sponsorships. After noticing a deluge beginning in early February, the Tech Transparency Project tracked the sponsorships of 10 super-inside-the-Beltway newsletters, from Politico, the Hill, Axios, and Punchbowl News. They found that for every day in February, at least one of the newsletters was sponsored by one of the three companies or American Edge. In the third week of the month, Facebook alone sponsored three of them.

Can Long-Term Care Employers Require Staff Members to Be Vaccinated?

The New York Times reported:

For much of the winter, Meryl Gordon worried about the people caring for her 95-year-old mother, who was rehabbing in a Manhattan nursing home after surgery for a broken hip.

“Every week they sent out a note to families about how many staff members had positive COVID tests,” said Ms. Gordon, a biographer and professor at New York University. “It was a source of tremendous anxiety.”

Ms. Gordon feels reassured now that her mother is fully vaccinated and has returned to her assisted living facility. But what about the two home care aides who help her 98-year-old father, David, in his Upper West Side apartment?

Neither has agreed to be vaccinated. David Gordon’s doctor has advised him to delay Covid vaccination himself because of his past allergic reactions.

Ms. Gordon has not insisted that the caregivers receive vaccinations. “You’re reluctant to do something that could cause you to lose the people you rely on,” she said. But she remains uneasy.

CDC Says Fully Vaccinated Americans Can Spend Time Together Indoors and Unmasked

STAT reported:

People who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can now spend time together indoors and unmasked, according to new Biden administration guidance.

Fully immunized Americans can also visit with low-risk individuals from other households even if they haven’t yet received a vaccine. And if vaccinated individuals are exposed to COVID-19, there’s no need to either quarantine or get tested for the disease, according to new recommendations released Monday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We know that people want to get vaccinated so they can get back to doing the things they enjoy with the people they love,” Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, said in prepared remarks. “There are some activities that fully vaccinated people can begin to resume now in the privacy of their own homes. Everyone — even those who are vaccinated — should continue with all mitigation strategies when in public settings.”

***

March 5

Vaccine Passports Begin at Rangers Game in New York

Mercola reported:

A vaccine passport system in New York City was introduced to attendees at a New York Rangers game March 2, 2021, at Madison Square Garden. The same passport was tested at The Barclays Center in February 2021.

The “Excelsior Pass” system, which shows a QR barcode on a phone app or printed out on paper, was endorsed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said that it should be used for admission to all sports arenas, theaters and other businesses.

Only a short time earlier, Cuomo had given the OK for certain venues to open to just 10% capacity. With the introduction of the pass, which presumably would allow more spectators inside an arena, MSG Entertainment embraced the passport

program, telling the New York Post, “We applaud Governor Cuomo’s leadership in reopening New York. The Excelsior Pass program, along with his decision to allow venues to begin welcoming fans, will play important roles in helping to get our City back on its feet.”

The Excelsior system was developed by IBM and is expected to be widely adopted by other cities and states.

California Doubles Down on Mask Mandates

Mercola reported:

Just after Texas and Mississippi declared their states are now free from mask mandates, California Gov. Gavin Newsom responded by doubling down on mandates in his state. And, by doubling down, he means business: Instead of just one mask, everyone in California must now wear two.

Newsom said he was doing this in light of what he called “bad information coming from at least four states” that have loosened or ended their mask mandates. “We will not be walking down their path; we’re mindful of your health and your future,” ZeroHedge reported Newsom as saying.

In response, the California health department updated its guidelines to coincide with the governor’s call for two masks, or a filtered mask if just one is used.

In Apparent New Aim at Web Freedoms, Putin Wants ‘Moral Laws’ for the Internet

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for the Internet in Russia to be bound by “moral laws” that he says will stop society from “collapsing” — suggesting that Russian children are being exploited by his political opponents at anti-Kremlin demonstrations.

Putin’s televised remarks on March 4 come amid mounting efforts by Moscow to exert greater influence over U.S. social media giants and frustration from Russian authorities over what they say is the failure of U.S. social media firms to follow Russian laws.

As tens of thousands of Russians demonstrated across Russia to protest the jailing of Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny, Moscow accused U.S. social networks of failing to take down what it says are fake posts about anti-Kremlin demonstrations.

In December, the State Duma, the parliament’s lower house, backed substantial new fines on platforms that fail to delete banned content and a separate bill that would allow U.S. social media giants to be restricted if they “discriminate” against Russian media.

Health Ministry Revokes License of Doctor Who Warns Against Using COVID Vaccine

Worthy News reported:

Israel’s Health Ministry revoked the medical license Tuesday of (now former) Dr. Aryeh Avni, an anti-vaccination doctor and current political candidate running as head of the Rapeh Party, according to Health Ministry statement.

The decision was made by retired judge Amnon Strashnov following a review of a report submitted to the medical community’s disciplinary committee, which listed complaints and gave the recommendation to revoke Avni’s license.

Explaining the decision to revoke Avni’s license, Strashnov said that his articles published on websites, YouTube, Facebook, and elsewhere against the public immunization of the coronavirus pose a danger to public health.

YouTube Cancels Myanmar Military-Run Channels, Pulls Videos

AP News reported:

YouTube has removed five channels run by Myanmar’s military for violating its community guidelines and terms of service.

The company said Friday that it terminated channels of broadcasters Myawaddy Media, MRTV, WD Online Broadcasting, MWD Variety and MWD Myanmar. The decision follows a Feb. 1 military coup that ousted the country’s elected government, provoking massive public protests.

“We have terminated a number of channels and removed several videos from YouTube in accordance with our community guidelines and applicable laws,” YouTube said in an emailed statement.

The company said it was monitoring the situation for any content that might violate its rules.

YouTube said it had terminated around 20 channels and removed over 160 videos in the past couple months for violating its policies regarding hate speech and harassment, spam and deceptive practices, violent or graphic content policy and violations of its terms of service.

New Technology Can Bring Anne Frank to Life — but Should It?

The Forward reported:

The technology, called Deep Nostalgia, allows users to animate photos, letting that old sepia-tone picture of Bubbe smile and blink, or Zayde back in the old country turn his head. The company is marketing Deep Nostalgia as a heartwarming tool that can help users connect with relatives they may have never had the chance to meet, or to bring memories of lost loved ones to life. But users have already started to expand past their own families, animating historical figures such as Anne Frank or even famous paintings.

This technology is not new, though MyHeritage’s tool has enhanced its ease of use. But if you’re familiar with the term deepfake, the idea of bringing a photo to life might not sound quite so harmless and wholesome. Deepfakes use technology to alter photos or video, and allow the creator to convincingly replicate the motions and voice of the person in question.

CDC Director Urges People to Keep Masking and Distancing ‘Regardless of What States Decide’

CNN reported:

The director of the U.S. Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday said she hopes people will decide to individually “do the right thing” about distancing and wearing masks, even in states moving to eliminate restrictions against the CDC’s recommendations.

“I think we at the CDC have been very clear that now is not the time to release all restrictions,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House COVID-19 Response Team briefing.

Walensky’s comments come after governors of Texas and Mississippi said they were lifting mask mandates and allowing businesses to open at full capacity, starting now or within days.

President Joe Biden sharply criticized states lifting Covid restrictions Wednesday, saying he thought it was a “big mistake” and that “these masks” make a difference.

Big Law’s ‘Big Tech’ Problem: Are You With Them, or Against Them?

Law.com reported:

With the tech giants entering all manner of industries with increasing speed in Europe, major law firms may have to start picking sides with clients.

Increasing antitrust regulation and enforcement of U.S. tech giants is forcing law firms with EU competition practices to make a tough strategic choice: Do they want to represent Big Tech firms like Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Google? Or do they want to advise the traditional players whose industries those tech players have disrupted?

***

March 3

New Yorkers Would Have to Flash COVID-19 Passport to Enter Venues Under New Program

The New York Post reported:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday the rollout of a new pilot program in which New Yorkers would have to flash a sort of COVID-19 passport in order to enter sports arenas, theaters and other businesses as the state continues reopening efforts.

The plan is to test the “Excelsior Pass,” which will use secure technology to confirm if a person has gotten vaccinated or has had a recent negative COVID-19 exam result, during events at Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center, Cuomo said in a statement.

The pass was tested at Tuesday night’s New York Rangers game at Madison Square Garden.

Similar to an airline boarding pass, people will be able to print out their pass or save it on their phones using the Excelsior Pass’s “Wallet App.” Each pass will have a secure QR code, which venues will scan using a companion app to confirm a person’s health status.

‘Digital Authoritarianism’ Threatening Basic Rights In Africa, Study Says

Thomson Reuters Foundation reported:

From internet shutdowns and online surveillance to social media taxes and arrests for anti-government posts, “digital authoritarianism” is a threat to basic freedoms and rights in many African countries, researchers said on Tuesday.

A study by the African Digital Rights Network (ADRN) focusing on 10 countries found governments used a plethora of measures over the last two decades to stifle people’s ability to organise, voice opinions and participate in governance online.

“Our research shows online civic spaces are being closed through various repressive actions, including unwarranted arrests, unwarranted surveillance and various forms of intimidation,” said Juliet Nanfuka from the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) and member of the ADRN.

“Self-censorship online is being fueled by financial restrictions and online content regulation. All of these actions inhibit freedom of expression and access to information, which are fundamental to a flourishing civic space,” Nanfuka, a digital rights researcher, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Local Police Departments To Receive Drones With ‘Most Advanced AI Ever’

Forbes reported:

Founded by Google veterans and backed by $340 million from major VCs, Skydio is creating drones that seem straight out of science fiction—and they could end up in your neighborhood soon.

Three years ago, Customs and Border Protection placed an order for self-flying aircraft that could launch on their own, rendezvous, locate and monitor multiple targets on the ground without any human intervention. In its reasoning for the order, CBP said the level of monitoring required to secure America’s long land borders from the sky was too cumbersome for people alone. To research and build the drones, CBP handed $500,000 to Mitre Corporation, a trusted non-profit skunkworks that was already furnishing border police with prototype rapid DNA testing and smartwatch hacking technology.

Mitre’s unmanned aerial vehicles didn’t take off. They were “tested but not fielded operationally” as “the gap from simulation to reality turned out to be much larger than the research team originally envisioned,” a CBP spokesperson says.

But the setback didn’t end CBP’s sci-fi dreams. This year, America’s border police will test automated drones from Skydio, the Redwood City, Calif.-based startup which on Monday announced it had raised an additional $170 million in venture funding at a valuation of $1 billion. That brings the total raised for Skydio to $340 million. Investors include blue chip VC shops like Andreessen Horowitz, AI-chip maker Nvidia and even Kevin Durant, the NBA star. It’s not clear just how well its drones are selling; Skydio refuses to discuss revenue figures, claiming an estimate of sub-$5 million per year was “significantly off base.”

But the Army and Air Force have spent a collective $10 million and the DEA $225,000 on Skydios in the last two years. By Forbes’ calculation, based on documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and Skydio’s public announcements, more than 20 police agencies across the U.S. now have Skydios as part of their drone fleets, including major cities like Austin and Boston.

Vaccine Passports, COVID’s Next Political Flash Point

The New York Times reported:

While such passports are still hypothetical in most places, Israel became the first to roll out its own last week, capitalizing on its high vaccination rate. Several European countries are considering following. President Biden has asked federal agencies to explore options. And some airlines and tourism-reliant industries and destinations expect to require them.

Dividing the world between the vaccinated and unvaccinated raises daunting political and ethical questions. Vaccines go overwhelmingly to rich countries and privileged racial groups within them. Granting special rights for the vaccinated, while tightening restrictions on the unvaccinated, risks widening already-dangerous social gaps.

Vaccine skepticism, already high in many communities, shows signs of spiking if shots become seen as government-mandated. Plans also risk exacerbating Covid nationalism: sparring among nations to advance their citizens’ self-interest over global good.

“Immunity passports promise a way to go back to a more normal social and economic life,” Nicole Hassoun and Anders Herlitz, who study public health ethics, wrote in Scientific American. But with vaccines distributed unequally by race, class and nationality, “it is not obvious that they are ethical.”

Scientists Stimulate Brain To Remove Fear, Boost ‘Confidence’

StudyFinds reported:

Via a combination of artificial intelligence and brain scanning technology, scientists in Japan say they’ve discovered avenues to remove specific fears, boost confidence, and even alter individual preferences.

They believe that in the future these techniques may lead to new treatments for patients dealing with issues like PTSD or generalized anxiety disorder.

All of this is incredibly promising, but researchers admit they haven’t perfected their approach just yet. While the treatment they developed has proven effective with many, some individuals haven’t seen the same benefits.

States Roll Back Restrictions as Infections Plateau

The Washington Post reported:

Governors across the country have begun to rescind policies meant to stem the coronavirus’s spread, even as the rapid drop in new infections begins to stall.

In Texas, the nation’s second most populous state, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced that he would lift the state’s mask requirement and restrictions on businesses. Mississippi officials unveiled a similar plan.

Health officials reacted with concern, warning that lifting restrictions too early risked another surge of the virus.

***

March 2

Twitter to Permanently Ban Users Who Spread COVID Misinformation

Aljazeera reported:

Twitter says it will start labelling misleading tweets about COVID vaccines and ban users who continue to spread such misinformation.

The microblogging platform introduced on Monday a “strike system” that will gradually escalate to a permanent ban after the fifth offending tweet.

“We believe the strike system will help to educate the public on our policies and further reduce the spread of potentially harmful and misleading information on Twitter,” the San Francisco-based company said in a blog post.

“Particularly for repeated moderate and high-severity violations of our rules.”

Twitter users will be notified when a tweet is labelled as misleading or needs to be removed for breaking the platform’s rules, earning a strike, according to the company.

The second and third strikes will each result in the violating account being blocked for 12 hours.

Indonesia Warns of Big Fines for Refusing COVID19 Vaccine, in a World First

ABC News reported:

Indonesia’s capital Jakarta is threatening residents with fines of up to 5 million rupiah ($450) for refusing COVID-19 vaccines, an unusually stiff penalty aimed at ensuring compliance with a new regulation making jabs mandatory.

Deputy Jakarta governor Ahmad Riza Patria said city authorities were merely following rules and such sanctions were a last resort in Jakarta, which accounts for about a quarter of the archipelago nation’s more than 1.2 million coronavirus infections.

“If you reject it, there are two things, social aid will not be given, [and a] fine,” Mr Riza told reporters, in what appears to be a world first in making the jabs compulsory.

Amazon Quietly Bans Books Containing Undefined ‘Hate Speech’

The Epoch Times reported:

Amazon has adopted a rule against books that contain anything the company labels as “hate speech.” It appears there was no announcement of the new rule. It was only noticed by media after the online retailer recently banned a book that criticizes transgender ideology.

It’s not clear what Amazon means by “hate speech” or even if it used that label to drop that particular book. In general parlance, Americans hold widely diverging views on what constitutes hate speech, a 2017 Cato poll found. Some tech platforms describe it as speech that disparages people based on characteristics such as race, gender, and sexual proclivities. But insider evidence indicates the companies aren’t clear on where to draw the lines, perpetually redraw them, and at least in some instances ignore violations when politically convenient.

“As a bookseller, we provide our customers with access to a variety of viewpoints, including books that some customers may find objectionable,” an Amazon spokesperson told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement.

“That said, we reserve the right not to sell certain content as described in our content guidelines for books, which you can find here. All retailers make decisions about what selection they choose to offer, and we do not take selection decisions lightly.”

The statement omitted that the $1.5 trillion company changed the rules sometime after August 10 last year, apparently without telling its customers.

Home-Security Cameras Have Become aFruitful Resource for Law Enforcement — And a Fatal Risk

The Washington Post reported:

Police forces across the U.S. made more than 20,000 requests last year for footage captured by Ring’s “video doorbells” and other home-security cameras, underscoring how the rapid growth of inexpensive home surveillance technology has given American law enforcement an unprecedented ability to monitor neighborhood life

The requests reflect the Amazon-owned company’s policy of allowing police and fire departments to request video from camera owners who live near the scene of a crime. Some officers have celebrated the digital informants for helping them gather valuable evidence and watch over the public at large.

But the proliferation of the kind of surveillance cameras once limited primarily to airports, banks and convenience stores also has meant millions of unsuspecting people — including camera owners’ neighbors, peaceful protesters and anyone else walking down a residential block — are being recorded without their knowledge or consent.

Red Deer Mother in Tears as Son Taken to Undisclosed Isolation Centre

Western Standard reported:

A Red Deer mom has told of her anguish after watching her son being detained at the Calgary airport, loaded into a van, and taken to an undisclosed isolation centre.

Rebekah McDonald was at the airport late Saturday night, hoping to welcome her son, Ethan, back to Calgary from Arizona.

McDonald hadn’t seen her son for two years.

But the joy soon turned to tears when her son was taken into custody for having what the Canadian federal government considers the wrong COVID-19 test.

“They are saying it’s not accurate and they are wanting to take him to a quarantine facility. They won’t let me talk to him. They won’t let me see him. They won’t come and talk to me. The border patrol services say they have nothing to do with it – they won’t tell me who has to do with it,” said McDonald in a social media video as she walked through the airport concourse.

“They won’t tell me who’s picking him up. They won’t tell me where he’s going. They won’t tell me anything.

Babies Not Exempt From Mask Bylaw at Some Regional Businesses

Kitchener Today reported:

A Guelph mother says she was following public health advice when she was asked to leave the premises of a nearby ski hill for not putting a mask on her 13-month-old son.

Rebecca Adam said she was picking up a ski badge on Sunday at Chicopee in Kitchener for her three-and-a-half year old daughter’s upcoming lessons.

“At the entrance I got turned down because my baby didn’t have on a mask,” said Adam. “I told her under two, Ontario law is no masks. She said it didn’t matter.”

At no time were Adam and her son indoors. She said people were only allowed to line up outside and that everyone was physically distanced.

Adam said she asked to speak to a manager, who reiterated there were no exceptions to the rule, not even for babies. She ended up walking away without getting the pass.

***

March 1

Judge Approves $650 Million Facebook Privacy Settlement Over Facial Recognition Feature

The Verge reported:

A federal judge on Friday gave final approval to a $650 million Facebook class action privacy settlement and ordered the 1.6 million members of the class in Illinois who submitted claims to be paid “as expeditiously as possible.”

Chicago attorney Jay Edelson sued Facebook in Cook County Circuit Court back in 2015, alleging that the platform’s use of facial recognition tagging was not allowed under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act. The lawsuit claimed that Facebook’s Tag Suggestions tool, which scanned faces in users’ photos and offered suggestions about who the person might be, stored biometric data without users’ consent in violation of the Illinois law.

The case became a class action lawsuit in 2018. In 2019, Facebook made facial recognition on the platform opt-in only.

Scientists: Vaccination Before EVERY Holiday May Be Needed

Summit News reported:

Scientists at Oxford University have suggested that people may need to have a coronavirus vaccination not once, not twice, but EVERY time they want to travel out of their home country.

The scientists published a report in the Royal Society Journal last week that acknowledged there is little data on how efficient or long lasting the current vaccines are, and so it is likely that countries will require a recent vaccination.

Having endless vaccinations when there is no indication of how effective they are, or what long term side effects there may be sounds absolutely mental, but that is what is being suggested.

Speaking to the London Telegraph, Epidemiologist Christopher Dye, a leading author of the reports stated “If we thought that the duration of protection was just a matter of months, then the sort of criteria that might be introduced – we’re not saying they should be – is that when one travels internationally for a short trip, going on vacation for example, that one is vaccinated each time on that occasion for that particular trip.”

Lawyers To Sue WHO for ‘Misleading World Over COVID-19 Outbreak’

Israel National News reported:

A group of lawyers is preparing to sue the World Health Organization and some of its partners for allegedly misleading the world over the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak and the measures taken to control it, which they say have damaged livelihoods and caused tremendous harm to economies.

The move was announced by Dr. Reiner Fuellmich, one of four members of the German Coronavirus Investigative Committee that has been hearing international scientists’ and experts’ testimonies since July 10, 2020

Facebook’s Making a Good Case Why You Should Never Wear Its Smart Glasses

Gizmodo reported:

Everyone and their mother is supposedly building a pair of smart glasses now, Facebook included. However, a BuzzFeed News report notes that apparently, Facebook is thinking about building facial recognition into its forthcoming pair of AR glasses. Um, no thank you.

In an internal meeting, Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s vice president of augmented and virtual reality, said that the social media giant was considering whether it had the legal capacity to include facial recognition features in its AR glasses. According to Buzzfeed, Bosworth said facial recognition “might be the thorniest issue, where the benefits are so clear, and the risks are so clear, and we don’t know where to balance things.” His comment was in response to an employee’s question about whether such technology had the potential for “real-world harm,” specifically stalking. As for potential benefits, Bosworth pointed to secretly looking up an acquaintance’s name if you’d forgotten it or have face blindness.

How One State Managed to Actually Write Rules on Facial Recognition

The New York Times reported:

Though police have been using facial recognition technology for the last two decades to try to identify unknown people in their investigations, the practice of putting the majority of Americans into a perpetual photo lineup has gotten surprisingly little attention from lawmakers and regulators. Until now.

Lawmakers, civil liberties advocates and police chiefs have debated whether and how to use the technology because of concerns about both privacy and accuracy. But figuring out how to regulate it is tricky. So far, that has meant an all-or-nothing approach. City Councils in Oakland, Portland, San Francisco, Minneapolis and elsewhere have banned police use of the technology, largely because of bias in how it works. Studies in recent years by MIT researchers and the federal government found that many facial recognition algorithms are most accurate for white men, but less so for everyone else.

EU to Propose Vaccine Certificates in Time for Summer Holidays

Reuters reported:

The European Commission will propose this month an EU-wide digital certificate providing proof of a COVID-19 vaccination that could allow Europeans to travel more freely over the summer.

The EU executive aims to present its plans for a “digital green pass” on March 17 and to cooperate with international organisations to ensure that its system also works beyond the European Union.

The pass would provide proof that a person has been vaccinated, the results of tests for those not yet vaccinated and information on recovery for people who have contracted COVID-19.

“The aim is to gradually enable them to move safely in the European Union or abroad – for work or tourism,” Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said in a tweet on Monday.

Optimizing For Outrage: Ex-Obama Digital Chief Urges Curbs on Big Tech

The Guardian reported:

A former digital strategist for Barack Obama has demanded an end to big tech’s profit-driven optimization of outrage and called for regulators to curb online disinformation and division.

Michael Slaby – author of a new book, For All the People: Redeeming the Broken Promises of Modern Media and Reclaiming Our Civic Life – described tech giants Facebook and Google as “two gorillas” crushing the very creativity needed to combat conspiracy theories spread by former US president Donald Trump and others.

“The systems are not broken,” Slaby, 43, told the Guardian by phone from his home in Rhinebeck, New York. “They are working exactly as they were designed for the benefit of their designers. They can be designed differently. We can express and encourage a different set of public values about the public goods that we need from our public sphere.”

The Art of (Big Tech) War

Nextgov reported:

The government is preparing its antitrust strategies and has begun the battle to “break up Big Tech.” The problem is that they’ve been studying the wrong maps, brought the wrong weapons and aren’t even on the right battlefield.

The uncomfortable truth is the government is the underdog in this fight. The big four—Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google—have thousands of lawyers, lobbyists and corporate communication staffers, better equipped and motivated to win. Therefore, for the government to properly regulate and enact change, it needs to focus on neutralizing Big Tech’s behavioral weapons.

Timnit Gebru’s Ouster Shows How Big Tech Dominates AI Ethics

Fast Company reported:

Timnit Gebru — a giant in the world of AI and then co-lead of Google’s AI ethics team — was pushed out of her job in December.

Gebru had been fighting with the company over a research paper that she’d coauthored, which explored the risks of the AI models that the search giant uses to power its core products—the models are involved in almost every English query on Google, for instance. The paper called out the potential biases (racial, gender, Western, and more) of these language models, as well as the outsize carbon emissions required to compute them. Google wanted the paper retracted, or any Google-affiliated authors’ names taken off; Gebru said she would do so if Google would engage in a conversation about the decision. Instead, her team was told that she had resigned. After the company abruptly announced Gebru’s departure, Google AI chief Jeff Dean insinuated that her work was not up to snuff — despite Gebru’s credentials and history of groundbreaking research.

The backlash was immediate. Thousands of Googlers and outside researchers leaped to her defense and charged Google with attempting to marginalize its critics, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds. A champion of diversity and equity in the AI field, Gebru is a Black woman and was one of the few in Google’s research organization.

Australia Led the Way V. Big Tech, now Congress Needs to Follow

New York Post reported:

Australia’s Parliament has passed its Media Bargaining Code into law. What’s Congress waiting for?

Lawmakers from both US parties have made lots of noise about cracking down on Big Tech, but actual legislation with any hope of passage remains out of sight. The obvious first step is to copy the law from Down Under, which will force Facebook and Google to pay media companies for news content that the tech firms make big money off of.

Both companies tried to browbeat the Aussies out of moving ahead, and Facebook even blocked Australian news from its sites last week, along with an “accidental” blockage of vital government public-info releases. But it didn’t work.

Yes, Facebook won some concessions, but the law still sets a landmark of the first legislation to force Big Tech to share the huge profits it makes off others’ intellectual property. The Pew Research Center reports that employment at US newspapers is down by over 50 percent since 2008, driven by plummeting ad income — even as Google and Facebook together collect roughly three-quarters of all online advertising revenue.

U.S. House Lays Out Three Potential Areas of Change To Rein in Big Tech

Apple Insider reported:

The U.S. House antitrust subcommittee met again on Thursday to listen to expert witnesses and consider legislative proposals to “address the rise and abuse of market power online.”

Thursday’s hearing is slated to be the first of several intended to build on a bipartisan investigation carried out by the U.S. House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust. Unlike the first phase, lawmakers are focused on new regulations and rules in the new series of hearings.

“This problem is a cancer that is metastasizing across our economy and our country. Mark my words. Change is coming. Laws are coming,” said Rep. David Cicilline, the subcommittee’s chairman.

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