Daily Archives: October 24, 2020

Column: Barrett confirmation will roll back social progress – Valley News

Posted: October 24, 2020 at 6:06 am

Published: 10/23/2020 10:10:19 PM

Modified: 10/23/2020 10:10:09 PM

She lost me at sexual preference. I refer to Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, whose qualifications fall far short of supreme.

During her hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee she may as well have invoked the Fifth Amendment, given the number of reasonable questions she dodged.

As to sexual preference, she used that phrase as naturally as a Proud Boy might drop the n word. Among the factors I find disqualifying, this semantic slip is glaringly revealing. Sexual preference is laden with homophobic bigotry and legal peril. It not merely implies that gay and lesbian citizens choose their sexuality, but it denies the biological realities of sexual and gender identity.

Particularly at the time Barrett was coming of age, choosing to be gay would be a mighty masochistic choice unless one enjoyed humiliation from peers, scorn from family members, secrecy, risk of physical harm and, too often, terrible loneliness. Now, despite magnificent legal progress and a more accepting society, gay students and teachers are denied enrollment and employment at schools Barretts religion supports. Gays and lesbians are beaten by marauding gangs of thugs in areas of major cities and benighted rural towns.

Society and the law more easily shortchange gay and lesbian citizens when they claim (inaccurately) the infallibility of scripture and the notion that homosexuality is a choice too often accompanied by haughty language about conversion or psychiatric intervention.

Too many people are intimidated by religion and fail to speak up. The National Association of Independent Schools has a diversity standard requiring no discrimination on the basis of sexual identity yet accredits religious schools that exclude gay students and teachers. Hypocritical much? I confronted the association, but the board and president wiggled uncomfortably and sided with explicit bigotry, inaccurately citing the so-called ministerial exception accompanied by some convoluted babbling about a big tent. I dont want homophobes in my tent even especially in splendid ecclesiastic garb.

More as to Barrett: She was unwilling to affirm that climate change is at least partially due to human behavior. She couldnt go out on a limb and say tobacco causes cancer. She merely acknowledged that cigarette packages have warning labels. She wouldnt deny the president the power to unilaterally delay an election. She couldnt state whether voter intimidation was illegal. Fortunately no one asked her about up or down, black or white.

Although it may have been strategically wise, it was absurd that no Democrat examined her religious views. The idea that there can be no religious test for public office is a joke. As an enthusiastic atheist, Ive long recognized that I am unelectable. We will have a gay or Muslim president long before we inaugurate a non-believer, and I wouldnt bet the ranch on gay or Muslim.

Even among those claiming a more popular religious affiliation, oughtnt there be some inquiry about how far a candidates or nominees beliefs stray from the rational and empirical bases of our laws and secular social contract? Barretts written record, life choices, and confirmation hearing stonewalling suggest a woman who will be unable to divorce her lifelong indoctrination from her judicial contemplation.

This is not meant as an insult. Many things about her and her life are admirable, but she is ill-suited to sit on the nations highest secular court.

Finally, a word or two about Barretts (and others) originalism or textualism.

Originalism is the judicial approach that limits constitutional consideration to the text of the Constitution as written by the founders and by interpreting what they meant in the 18th century. It is cited as a judicial philosophy. It is not. It is a political philosophy masquerading as a judicial philosophy. It is no coincidence that the conservative justices march in lockstep. They are conservative. By limiting the scope of argument to the bare text, they may reject arguments of petitioners and respondents because the original text makes no mention of the redress they seek. Any legal scholar will tell you that this is done selectively, nearly always in support of a conservative political position. Pure originalism would have precluded nearly every social advance in American history womens rights, reproductive rights, voting rights, civil rights, gay rights, union rights, to name a few.

Barrett will almost certainly be confirmed and, in many ways, our rights and social contract will be rolled back to an era when Barrett and her conservative colleagues will be more comfortable, exclusive religious beliefs included.

Steve Nelson lives in Boulder, Colo., and Sharon. He can be reached at stevehutnelson@gmail.com.

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Searl Letter to the Editor 10/23/20 | Opinion | carrollspaper.com – Carroll Daily Times Herald

Posted: at 6:06 am

Are you getting tired of all the political TV ads? There is one reason these ads are on TV, the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court. This decision has created a legal form of bribery and corruption. Citizens United gave corporations and political action committees the right to give millions to political candidates.

The U.S. Constitution gives the right to vote to citizens; corporations and PACs cannot vote. The Supreme Court has in the past denied corporations and PACs rights reserved for citizens. People are taxed and regulated differently than corporations. People enjoy the right in the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination in criminal investigations, while corporations do not.

Personally I do not like the idea of an out-of-state corporation or PAC trying to influence the votes of Iowans. I do not like the idea these organizations giving large amounts of cash to candidates who are supposed to represent Iowans and thereby trying to corrupt or bribe an Iowa candidate. Even citizens should not be able to donate to a candidate they cannot actually vote for or against, and the amount of a donation should be limited. Just because a person has millions, it does not make their vote worth more than any other persons vote.

I would love to see a political campaign based on a candidates record, what they plan to do or their goals for the people they represent. Here is a unique idea: How about a campaign based on honesty and the truth, rather than lies and deception?

If candidates were required to give their opponents the same amount they spend on a negative ad so the opponents can respond, there would be far fewer negative ads.

During this election cycle, Republicans are using Citizens United money to prevent people voting by challenging absentee voting, eliminating polling locations and making people travel extended distances and stand in line during a pandemic to cast their vote. Following the election, Republicans undoubtedly will spend millions of Citizens United dollars to challenge the results of the election. This is just another method of taking your vote away.

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Court Holds That Corporation Need Not Verify Its Answer – JD Supra

Posted: at 6:06 am

Section 446 of the California Code of Civil Procedure concerns the verification of pleadings. Subdivision (a) provides that an answer to a complaint generally must be verified in either of two following circumstances:

The first exception does seemingly applies to any party, including a party that is not an a natural person. In a recent case, however, the state argued that the exception did not apply to corporations because corporations have no privilege against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Braswell v. United States, 487 U.S. 99 (1988).

The Court of Appeal, however, rejected the state's argument:

"Section 446, subdivision (a) does not refer to a 'person' being compelled to be a witness against themselves. Instead it refers to a 'party' who might be subjected to a criminal prosecution. How the word person has been interpreted in the context of the constitutional privilege is immaterial."

Paul Blanco's Good Car Company Auto Group v. Superior Court,Cal. Ct. App. Case No. A159623 (Oct. 20, 2020). The Court made it clear that it was not extending the privilege against self-incrimination to corporations and that corporations will likely have to provide responses under oath in discovery.

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Big Techs Professional Opponents Strike at Google – The New York Times

Posted: at 6:05 am

Months before the Justice Department filed a landmark antitrust suit against Google this week, the internet companys adversaries hustled behind the scenes to lay the groundwork for a case.

Nonprofits critical of corporate power warned lawmakers that Google illegally boxed out rivals. With mounds of documents, economists and antitrust scholars detailed to regulators and state investigators how the company throttled competition. And former Silicon Valley insiders steered congressional investigators with firsthand evidence of industry wrongdoing.

An unlikely collection of lawyers, activists, economists, academics and former corporate insiders are now fueling the backlash against the worlds largest technology companies. Bolstered by millions of dollars from high-profile sponsors like the financier George Soros and the Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, they have coalesced to become a new class of professional tech skeptic.

To rein in Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon, the tech opponents have employed a wide set of tactics. They have lobbied regulators and lawmakers about anticompetitive business practices, filed legal complaints about privacy violations, organized boycotts and exposed the risks of disinformation and artificial intelligence.

Their potency was cemented on Tuesday when the Justice Department filed its suit accusing Google of maintaining an illegal monopoly over internet search and search advertising. After years of making the same argument, the opponents claimed the action as a victory.

Its a moment of pride, said Cristina Caffarra, a London-based economist who advised state attorneys general on their Google investigation and worked on an earlier probe of Google in Europe that the Justice Departments case is similar to. We did it.

Their rise underlines the growing sophistication of opponents to the more than $5 trillion technology industry. Even if the Justice Departments suit against Google becomes mired in legal wrangling, their swelling numbers and activity suggests that the tech behemoths will face years of scrutiny and court battles ahead. That could eventually lead to new regulations and laws that reshape peoples digital experiences.

There is a counterweight growing in reaction to Big Tech similar to what weve seen in relation to Big Oil over these past decades, said Martin Tisn, managing director of Luminate, a foundation that has provided $78.3 million since 2014 to civil society groups and law firms focused on tech-accountability issues. I would hope the companies are concerned and watching.

Google declined to comment beyond its statements on Tuesday that the Justice Departments lawsuit was flawed and would do nothing to help consumers.

Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple have girded themselves for a long battle. Often outspending their critics, they have hired law firms, funded policy think tanks, built out their lobbying operations and started public relations campaigns. They have also argued that they behave responsibly and that consumers love their products.

Carl Szabo, the vice president of NetChoice, a trade group that represents Google, Facebook and Amazon, dismissed the tech critics as an industry for activists and an opportunity for rivals to put on the moniker of consumer protection.

The anti-tech professionals agree on many broad points: that the companies have too much power and have transformed commerce and communication. But they have sometimes found themselves at odds with one another and do not agree on the fixes. Some support using antitrust laws to take on the companies, potentially breaking them up. Others said tougher regulations were better to rein in the firms.

Sarah Miller, executive director of American Economic Liberties Project, a group focused on corporate concentration, favors breaking up the companies. She said there was jockeying to put forward ideas, but that the movement was a fairly aligned, functional ecosystem.

Many of the groups are increasingly well funded. Billionaires including Mr. Soros and Pierre Omidyar, the eBay co-founder who backs Luminate and other groups, have poured tens of millions of dollars into opposing the tech industry. Mr. Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook, is funding think tanks and activists who pressure the companies.

Institutions like the Ford Foundation are also funding civil society groups and research efforts to study techs harms. And human rights groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Anti-Defamation League have devoted more resources to tech-accountability issues.

If you compare today to five years ago, there is a much different awareness among policymakers and the public, said Vera Franz, deputy director of the Open Society Foundations Information Program, an organization backed by Mr. Soros that has spent $24 million this year on groups focused on privacy, online discrimination and other tech topics. The key question is how to translate that awareness to real change and real accountability.

The anti-tech movements first signs of success came in the European Union about a decade ago when some of Googles rivals banded together to persuade regulators to investigate the company for antitrust violations. The resulting cases cost Google more than $9 billion in fines.

In 2016, the opponents scored another victory when the European Union passed a landmark data privacy law, the General Data Protection Regulation, which many lawyers and activists now use against the tech companies.

In the United States, few were alarmed by techs power until the 2016 presidential election, when Russia used social media to spread disinformation and sow political discord. In 2018, the Cambridge Analytica scandal exposed Facebooks weak privacy safeguards and added to the momentum.

Since then, the influence of industry critics has swelled. Antitrust lawyers and economists focused on tech accountability are in demand at law firms and think tanks. Civil society groups eager to investigate the industry are hiring data scientists and researchers. Universities are adding programs looking at techs harm.

Bookstores are also stocking titles like The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, by the Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff, about how companies like Facebook and Google try to predict and control human behavior. Netflix films like The Social Dilemma, which is critical of social media, have become surprise hits.

Tristan Harris, a former Google design ethicist, said few shared his concerns about tech five years ago. Now he speaks with American and European authorities about regulating the tech giants as public utilities. Mr. Harris, who starred in The Social Dilemma, said he wanted to mobilize a global movement of regular people and citizens, akin to what Al Gore did for the environment after releasing The Inconvenient Truth.

It took a long time to get here, said Mr. Harris, who in 2018 also co-founded the Center for Humane Technology, a nonprofit that raises awareness about techs dangers.

One clear impact of the anti-tech community was the 449-page report released on Oct. 6 by the House antitrust subcommittee, in one of Congresss deepest looks at the industry in years. House lawmakers concluded that Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook had abused their power to block competitors.

Tech critics played a central role influencing the direction of the report. Lina Khan, an antitrust and competition law scholar, was a counsel for the committee that drafted the report. Fiona Scott Morton, a Yale economist, and Gene Kimmelman, a former Justice Department antitrust official, provided legal and economic background to investigators. Roger McNamee, an early Facebook investor who later turned against the social network, also met so regularly with congressional staff members that he thanked several of them in his 2019 book, Zucked, about the damage Facebook was doing to society.

A similar coalition helped build momentum for the Justice Department and state attorneys general investigations of Google. Lawyers at the Justice Department built the case off theories developed by economists including Ms. Caffarra. Google has criticized Ms. Caffarras involvement in an inquiry led by Texas because she has done work for prominent rivals of the company, including News Corp.

There was a consensus that enforcement has not delivered, said Ms. Caffarra, who works at Charles River Associates, an economic consulting firm. Im in favor of really putting on pressure. Too little has happened.

But their criticism varies by company. While Ms. Caffarra and Ms. Scott Morton have raised alarms about Google and Facebook, they have also done work on behalf of Amazon.

Gary Reback, an antitrust lawyer who has battled Microsoft and Google, said the political momentum could evaporate. Two decades ago, he said, the government filed a landmark antitrust case against Microsoft but did not produce the safeguards to prevent misbehavior later.

We should have had a seminal moment 20 years ago, he said. Something happened that caused the momentum to dissipate, and thats the risk here.

For now, the mood is largely celebratory. After this months House report, Googles critics in Washington passed around a version of a meme that featured dancing pallbearers holding a coffin, essentially jubilant over the misfortune of the coffins occupant.

The pallbearers were Representative David Cicilline, the Rhode Island Democrat who chairs the House antitrust subcommittee, and Representative Ken Buck, a Republican member of the panel who agreed with parts of the report.

And the coffin? It bore Googles logo.

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U.S. Accuses Google of Illegally Protecting Monopoly – The New York Times

Posted: at 6:05 am

A significant number of entities spanning major public corporations, small businesses and entrepreneurs depend on Google for traffic, and no alternate search engine serves as a substitute, the report said. The lawmakers also accused Apple, Amazon and Facebook of abusing their market power. They called for more aggressive enforcement of antitrust laws, and for Congress to consider strengthening them.

The scrutiny reflects how Google has become a dominant player in communications, commerce and media over the last two decades. That business is lucrative: Last year, Google brought in $34.3 billion in search revenue in the United States, according to the research firm eMarketer. That figure is expected to grow to $42.5 billion by 2022, the firm said.

In its complaint, the Justice Department said that Googles actions had hurt consumers by stifling innovation, reducing choice and diminishing the quality of search services, including consumer data privacy. It also said that advertisers that use its products must pay a toll to Googles search advertising and general search text advertising monopolies.

The lawsuit is the result of an investigation that has stretched for more than a year. Prosecutors have spoken with Googles rivals in technology and media, collecting information and documents that could be used to build a case.

The Justice Department also investigated Googles behavior and acquisitions in the overall market for digital advertising, which includes search, web display and video ads.

But the search case is the most straightforward, giving the government its best chance to win. To prevail, the Justice Department has to show two things: that Google is dominant in search, and that its deals with Apple and other companies hobble competition in the search market.

The Justice Department said Google estimates that almost 50 percent of its search traffic originated on Apple devices in 2019. Because it is such a large portion of its queries, Google pays the iPhone maker an estimated $8 billion to $12 billion a year to remain the default option on its phones, iPads and Mac computers.

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Google, Facebook and YouTube found to make up more than 80% of Australian digital advertising – The Guardian

Posted: at 6:05 am

Google, Facebook and YouTube have increased their already substantial share of the digital advertising pie in Australia, leaving less than 20% for news and other websites, according to a new report from the competition regulator.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission report was released on Friday as the government puts the final touches on its legislation to force the digital platforms to share revenue with Australian media companies.

The platforms may be forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in fines if they fail to comply with the proposed news media bargaining code which was unveiled by the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, in July.

The ACCC notes that for a typical $100 spent by advertisers in 2018, $49 went to Google (including ad tech services), $24 to Facebook and $27 to all other websites and ad tech, the report says.

This trend has continued in the 2019 calendar year, with $53 to Google, $28 to Facebook and $19 to all other websites and ad tech.

While Facebook and Googles share of advertising has grown, the industry as a whole has been impacted by Covid-19, with spending slowing.

Facebook advertising expenditure may also be impacted by a number of multinational advertisers which reportedly boycotted advertising on Facebook, but it remains to be seen how these and other events will affect the longer-term advertising revenue of Google and Facebook-owned and operated platforms, and also online advertising services in Australia more broadly, the report says.

The ACCC found the pandemic and the need for isolation have contributed to the growth of online private messaging and other services including Zoom. The social media platform with the biggest growth has been TikTok.

TikTok has risen in Australia from 500,000 unique users in May 2019 to almost 3.7 million unique users in June 2020.

But along with the increase in online activity has been a growth in privacy concerns. The ACCC says Australians online activity is being extensively tracked and it is Facebook and Google who are benefiting from that data.

The ACCCs website analysis found Google and Facebook had the largest presence in online tracking, with Google and Facebooks third-party scripts present on over 80% and 40% respectively of 1000 popular websites in Australia, the report says. Amazon and Microsoft tracking were present on nearly 30% and almost 20% of websites respectively.

Private messaging services have been put under the microscope by the consumer commission.

As of June 2020, Facebook Messenger had an estimated 14.7 million monthly active users and Facebook-owned WhatsApp had an estimated 8 million monthly active users.

Apples private messaging system, iMessage, has between 6 million and 12 million daily active users in Australia while Apples FaceTime has been used by 33% of online Australian adults in the past six months. Messenger and WhatsApp are funded by advertising and privacy concerns are growing.

While the content of messages between users is private, the policies of most services confirm that other user information (such as users account, device and location information) may be used for targeted advertising, the report says.

The ACCC chairman, Rod Sims, has said the watchdog and the Treasury are working to deliver the revised news media bargaining code to the government later in October.

We are considering submissions and taking broad feedback into account, Sims said earlier this month. The news media bargaining code is designed to encourage good faith, commercial negotiations between news media businesses and platforms. The objective is commercial, not one-sided, outcomes.

But Google and Facebook remain opposed to the code as it stands.

Google says it wants a code that works for everyone involved, and most importantly for you and the millions of other Australians who rely on services such as Search and YouTube and is talking to the government about amendments.

Facebook has warned it will block Australians from sharing news if the landmark plan to make digital platforms pay for news content becomes law.

Google has been running a public campaign against the proposed code and launched an international campaign targeting YouTube users when the government announced it would force the company to pay news publishers for content.

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Google kills off app that let you find loved ones location during an emergency – The Verge

Posted: at 6:05 am

Google will discontinue its emergency location sharing app Trusted Contacts in December, and has already yanked it from the Google Play Store. Instead, its directing existing users to try similar but less helpful features in Google Maps. Thats a shame, because while Trusted Contacts could let you find a family member even if they dont respond (say, if they are unconscious or in danger), Google Maps requires them to proactively broadcast their location to you.

The announcement was quite abrupt:

Google Maps has been able to do real time location sharing since 2017, but again, you have to opt-in to constant tracking, sharing your location with other people all the time instead of only broadcasting it to loved ones if you dont respond. Trusted Contacts, by comparison, allows you to add people to your contacts who youd like to instantly share your locations with in case of emergency. If one arises, your contacts can request a status update to see if youre alright and you can respond with your location to reassure them. If you dont respond, the app automatically shares your last known location so they can send for help.

When Google originally launched Trusted Contacts, it created this GIF to show how it works:

Folding other apps and features into Google Maps has been Googles strategy for a while, but the Maps feature doesnt feel quite as valuable. And while its possible the Trusted Contacts app didnt have a lot of users, those who were counting on it will need to find something else.

Google is ending support for the app in December, but youll be able to download your contacts from your Trusted Contacts page until the app is shut down. Until then, you might as well get familiar with Google Maps take on location sharing.

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Google removes 3 Android apps for children, with 20M+ downloads between them, over data collection violations – TechCrunch

Posted: at 6:05 am

When it comes to apps, Android leads the pack with nearly 3 million apps in its official Google Play store. The sheer volume also means that sometimes iffy apps slip through the cracks.

Researchers at the International Digital Accountability Council (IDAC), a nonprofit watchdog based out of Boston, found that a trio of popular and seemingly innocent-looking apps aimed at younger users were recently found to be violating Googles data collection policies, potentially accessing users Android ID and AAID (Android Advertising ID) numbers, with the data leakage potentially connected to the apps being built using SDKs from Unity, Umeng and Appodeal.

Collectively, the apps had more than 20 million downloads between them.

The three apps in question Princess Salon, Number Coloring and Cats & Cosplay have now been removed from the Google Play app store, as you can see in the links above. Google confirmed to us that it removed the apps after IDAC brought the violations to its attention.

We can confirm that the apps referenced in the report were removed, said a Google spokesperson. Whenever we find an app that violates our policies, we take action.

The violations point to a wider concern with the three publishers approach to adhering to data protection policies. The practices we observed in our research raised serious concerns about data practices within these apps, said IDAC president Quentin Palfrey.

The incident is being highlighted at a time when a lot of attention is being focused on Google and the size of its operation. Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Justice and 11 states sued the company, accusing it of monopolistic and anticompetitive behavior in search and search advertising.

To be clear, the app violations here are not related to search, but they underscore the scale of Googles operation, and how even small oversights can lead to tens of millions of users being affected. They also serve as a reminder of the challenges of proactively policing individual violations on such a scale, and that those challenges can land in a particularly risky area: how minors use apps.

At least in the case of two of the publishers, Creative APPS and Libii Tech (whose apps are built around the cast of characters illustrated at the top of this story), other apps are still live. And it also appears that versions of the apps are also still downloadable through APK sites (like this one). There are also versions on iOS (for example here), but IDACs tech team said that in an initial analysis, it didnt immediately see analogous concerns, but will continue to monitor the situation.

The violation in this case is complex but is an example of one of the ways that users can unknowingly be tracked through apps.

Pointing to the behind-the-scenes activity and data processing that gets loaded into innocent-looking apps, IDAC highlighted three SDKs in particular used by the app developers: the Unity 3D and game engine, Umeng (an Alibaba-owned analytics provider known as the Flurry of China that some have described also as an adware provider) and Appodeal (another app monetization and analytics provider) as the source of the issues.

Palfrey explained that the problem lies in how the data that the apps were able to access by way of the SDKs could be linked up with other kinds of data, such as geolocation information. If AAID information is transmitted in tandem with a persistent identifier [such as Android ID] its possible for the protection measures that Google puts in place for privacy protection to be bridged, he said.

IDAC did not specify the violations in all of the SDKs, but noted in one example that certain versions of Unitys SDK were collecting both the users AAID and Android ID simultaneously, and that could have allowed developers to bypass privacy controls and track users over time and across devices.

IDAC describes the AAID as the passport for aggregating all of the data about a user in one place. It lets advertisers target ads to users based on signals for preferences that a user might have. The AAID can be reset by users. However, if an SDK is also providing a link to a users Android ID, which is a static number, it starts to create a bridge to identify and track a user.

Palfrey would not get too specific on whether it could determine how much data was actually drawn as a result of the violations that it identified, but Google said that it was continuing to work on partnerships and procedures to catch similar (intentional or otherwise) bad actors.

One example of the work we are doing here is the Families ad certification program, which we announced in 2019), said the spokesperson. For apps that wish to serve ads in kids and families apps, we ask them to use only ad SDKs that have self-certified compliance with kids/families policies. We also require that apps that solely target children not contain any APIs or SDKs that are not approved for use in child-directed services.

IDAC, which was launched in April 2020 as a spin-off of the Future of Privacy Forum, has also carried out investigations into data privacy violations on fertility apps and COVID-19 trackers, and earlier this week it also published findings on data leakage from an older version of Twitters MoPub SDK affecting millions of users.

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Google tests smart displays that activate without a wake word – The Verge

Posted: at 6:05 am

A new feature being internally tested at Google could remove the need to say Hey Google before voicing commands to Nest Hub smart displays, Android Central reports. Instead, the feature codenamed Blue Steel could allow the device to simply sense your presence, and proactively listen for commands without first needing to hear the wake word.

The functionality has been shown off in a video posted to YouTube by Jan Boromeusz, who Android Central notes previously leaked features like the Nest Hubs new dark mode prior to its official announcement. In the video, Boromeusz can be seen asking for a variety of information, all without once uttering the words Hey Google. His Nest Hub Max smart display is reportedly running leaked internal firmware meant for testing within Google, and its unclear if the company has any plans to release the functionality publicly.

The speculation is that the Nest Hub Max is using its existing ultrasound sensing to sense a persons presence and start listening. At the moment, the smart display uses this to simply adjust the information it shows. However, in the future, this same technology could allow it to listen out for voice commands when it knows youre nearby. Ars Technica speculates that it could also use its cameras Face Match feature to get a better idea of whos speaking. Boromeusz shows an option to turned Blue Steel on and off in the smart displays settings menu.

If released to the public, Blue Steel could raise privacy concerns. A key element of current smart speakers and displays is that they only pay attention to what youre saying after they hear the wake word. Relying upon proximity detection alone increases the risk of the devices hearing something theyre not supposed to, at the expense of your privacy.

That said, Blue Steel could make for a useful optional feature for some. Having to repeatedly say Hey Google or Ok Google before every voice command can be a pain, and this potentially makes accessing information you need far quicker.

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Why Washington Hates Big Tech – The New York Times

Posted: at 6:05 am

This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it weekdays.

American politicians from opposite parties dont agree on much except that technology superpowers are too powerful.

Liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans applauded the Justice Departments lawsuit this week accusing Google of illegally protecting its monopoly over search and search advertising. And members of a House committee on both sides mostly agreed that Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple had grown too muscular and were abusing their power.

To find out how Americas tech giants became bipartisan punching bags, I spoke with my colleague Cecilia Kang, who has written about technology companies and Washington policy for nearly 15 years.

Shira: For years, Washington politicians tended to agree that technology companies were great American successes. How did that change?

Cecilia: The moment that many people point to was the 2016 U.S. election, when Russians used Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram to spread disinformation and disrupt the election. But I would say the political backlash to Big Tech started earlier.

Even in the Obama administration, there was the beginning of unease about tech companies influence over commerce, the exchange of ideas, entertainment, advertising and other areas of our lives. And it was easy to see Big Tech as symbols of something amiss when Americans wages stagnated, but tech companies got richer.

Could the tech companies have done anything different to avoid political anger?

In some ways it was inevitable. Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook together have a stock market value of more than $5 trillion. Amazon is one of the biggest employers in the United States. You cant hide at that size. And there is an American tradition of suspicion of big corporations.

(Read Cecilias latest: The Federal Trade Commission is moving closer to a decision about filing an antitrust lawsuit against Facebook.)

Republicans tend to believe the government should be hands-off with corporations. But now prominent Republican politicians want more government intervention or even breakups of Google and other tech companies. Why?

Enforcing antitrust laws is generally seen as a technical, nonpartisan area of law and policy.

And theres a belief among some conservatives that because companies like Facebook and Google have so much power, they too tightly control what people say online and are biased against conservative views. Its fairly novel for Republicans to link free speech to antitrust violations like this.

Is there evidence that Google or Facebook exhibit bias against conservative material online?

From what I understand, credible research tends to show that it isnt true. Its hard to believe conservative voices are suppressed online when people like our colleague Kevin Roose show how widely shared conservative content is on Facebook.

If President Trump or other conservative figures have their social media posts flagged or fact checked by internet companies, its often for nonideological reasons they are more likely to push the limits of companies rules against bullying or sharing false information on important issues like elections.

But most Americans, especially Republicans, believe internet sites censor political viewpoints the companies disagree with.

I get it. Companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter have enormous influence over what we see or dont online, and theres little transparency about how they make those decisions. And top executives of large tech companies are largely seen as liberal.

Googles former chief executive said the antitrust lawsuit was a political hit job by the Trump administration. Was it?

Something can be both politically motivated and done on the merits.

If Joe Biden becomes president and Democrats take over a majority of the Senate, would the Google lawsuit end? Would Big Tech be more in favor?

No. Theres a consensus among Democrats that Big Tech has gotten too powerful and deserves antitrust scrutiny.

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I want to spend another moment on how government officials have handled technology companies.

When I saw politicians cheering the antitrust lawsuit against Google, I wondered if they should be wallowing in shame instead. If government officials had effectively enforced the rules, that might have stopped or slowed some of Googles behavior before it led to what the government now says is an illegal monopoly.

Corporations are going to do what they do find ways to give people a product or service they like and make money doing so. Its up to our elected representatives and watchdogs to make sure companies dont cross the lines.

Thats also a point that my colleague Kate Conger made about Uber and similar app-based companies. One of the ways Uber and Lyft got big fast was their novelty in taking contractor rules typically used for people like the owner of a trucking business and applying it to millions of people who drive perhaps a few hours a week.

Now, more cities and states are questioning whether this widespread gig work was a misapplication of the law that created crummy jobs and burdened taxpayers with costs like unemployment insurance that the companies should be paying instead. Uber and other app-based companies are now fighting a law in California that would reclassify their workers as employees.

One of Kates questions, and mine, is: Where were the government officials before now? The legality of the gig employment model has been in question since these companies founding, Kate told our colleague Jill Cowan for the California Today newsletter. But California and other states moved slowly to clarify and enforce the law.

Like Googles tactics to make its search engine and other web services more prominent, gig work was a legal, ethical and policy question mark for years. There is no clear cut answer, to be fair, but government officials chose not to do much about Google or Uber until the problem became a huge, expensive mess to try to fix.

Russian hackers are at it again: U.S. officials said Russias state hackers had targeted computer networks of dozens of state and local governments and aviation networks, my Times colleagues reported. Theres no evidence that the Russians disrupted any essential election information or changed any votes. American officials wanted to call attention to the activity in case the hackers try to create chaos around the November election.

He made the phone of choice for criminals and mobs: This is quite a yarn from Vice about a business owner whose customized BlackBerry phones became the go-to choice for criminals, gangs and drug dealers to hide their tracks from law enforcement.

This is the most heartwarming thing youll read today. Promise: A woman in New Jersey and a man in Quebec bickered and bonded playing the online game Final Fantasy. Last month, they got married. Lauren Rowello writes for The New York Times about how they fell in love.

Two young raccoons broke into a California bank after hours. They made a mess, but dont worry. They didnt steal anything. (And they werent harmed.)

We want to hear from you. Tell us what you think of this newsletter and what else youd like us to explore. You can reach us at ontech@nytimes.com.

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Why Washington Hates Big Tech - The New York Times

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