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Category Archives: Big Tech
Posted: June 24, 2020 at 5:57 am
In 2018, when Google engineer Liz Fong-Jones was rallying fellow employees to oppose the companys contract to do artificial intelligence work for the U.S. Department of Defense, she turned to Coworker.org, a nonprofit that supports employee activism.
Coworker helped Fong-Jones, who had no experience as a labor organizer, set up petitions and gave her access to experts who were skilled at managing workplace actions. The effort succeeded: In the wake of employee protests, Google opted to stop selling AI software to the Pentagon.
Although Fong-Jones wasnt initially aware of it, Coworker was backed by Pierre Omidyar, the billionaire founder of eBay who has quietly become one of Facebook, Amazon and Google's biggest antagonists. His advocacy and investment organization, Omidyar Network, has supported a slew of efforts to reduce the power and influence of big tech companies, which he believes are harming consumers and stifling public debate.
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Posted: at 5:57 am
Dow Jones Industrial Average rises 131 pointsApple hits record high
Apple shares rose 2.13% to a record high as Wall Street ananalyst and investors cheered a slew of announcements from the tech giant. One analyst hiked his price target on the stock to $400 per share from $325 per share. MicrosoftandAmazon also hit all-time highs, rising 0.67% and 1.86%, respectively.
Tuesday's gains came after a wild overnight session amid comments fromWhite House trade advisor Peter Navarro. In an interview with Fox News, Navarro said the U.S.-China trade deal was "over." The comment sent stock futures tumbling. However, Navarro later clarified his comments "had nothing at all to do with the Phase I trade deal, which continues in place." This clarification sent stock futures back higher.
Weekly jobless claims data are set for release Wednesday morning.
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Posted: at 5:57 am
Investor Chamath Palihapitiya made part of his fortune at Facebook, where he was a vice president for more than four years, leaving one year before its 2012 IPO.
Though he has voiced concerns numerous times since about his former employer, he also believes it has played an active role in enabling users to report and disseminate important information. For example, he suggests it was in part social media that has made so many Americans aware of the George Floyd tragedy and enabled citizens in the U.S. and at least 12 other countries to organize protests against racism. Without these platforms, he believes, we might even be engaged in another civil war in this country.
That doesnt mean Facebook or others of its gigantic peers are any more immune to regulation, however not in his view. As Palihapitiya said of the companies during a CB Insights event this morning: Are they going to get broken up? Yes. Will every single government go after them? Absolutely.
His more specific prediction is that Facebook, as well as Amazon, Google and Apple, will continue to be investigated and fined by regulators around the world until they are no longer the leviathans they have become. First, theyll taxed to death, then theyll get trust-busted, said Palihapitiya.
He doesnt think it will take all that much longer, either.
While investors are currently being rewarded for going long on the companies as they grow largely unabated, Palihapitiya said that, on the margin, over the next 10 years . . . regulators will get their way because these internet companies undermine what regulators want, which is power. And the more you distribute power and information to the edges, the more in the crosshairs you will be. (Palihapitiya noted that the only big tech company that hasnt become a target of antitrust regulators is Microsoft, and he suggested it wont be spared forever, either. He more or less thinks the company was given a break, following the consent decree approved in 2002 that curbed some of Microsofts practices and that only expired in 2011.)
Interestingly, no matter Facebooks size going forward, Palihapitiya thinks the pendulum will swing for it to be more sort of Middle America, the sort of Fox News of social media, as Twitter meanwhile swings to the coastal cities in the United States.
Its already easy to see these demographic segmentations that are happening amongst these huge products, he said.
The latter development may be much closer at hand. Kevin Roose, a New York Times columnist covering the intersection of technology, business and culture, occasionally tweets about the top-performing posts on Facebook. Yesterday, as is often the case, the searches skewed heavily toward conservative figures and themes.
Teased by interviewer Robin Wigglesworth of the FT about how Facebook might react to the comparison, Palihapitiya said matter-of-factly of the different platforms, The content reinforces the kind of person that wants to be using them. Its no different today than when you choose to watch MSNBC versus CBS versus Fox News.
Big Tech’s Opposition to Section 101 Reform: Policy Rhetoric versus Economic Reality – IPWatchdog.com
Posted: at 5:57 am
Big Tech companies are not nownor were they everthe victims of a massive wave of patent lawsuits, either before or after the Alice-Mayo inquiry was created by the Supreme Court. This is a policy canard.
A year ago, the Senate held three days of hearings with 45 witnesses on a legislative proposal that would have brought much-needed reform of 35 U.S.C. 101. These extensive hearings on patent reform were unprecedented in recent times. They were a strong signal of a commitment by policymakers to abrogate the disastrous and destructive Alice-Mayo inquiry. Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Christopher Coons (D-DE) promised quick action with a bill formally introduced by mid to late summer. A year later, there is no bill and the reform effort has stalled.
What happened? Notably, Big Tech refused to participate in the hearings. Senator Tillis explained in the second day of hearings that we invited some of the large, high-tech companies to be present and they decided not to as individual companies and instead be represented by the High Tech Inventors Alliance, and thats okay, but silence is consent. What we want here is people working out of the shadows collaboratively with the bill. In his opening remarks on the third day of hearings, Senator Tillis stated again that we did invite Google, Apple, Dell, Microsoft, and Oracle to testify, and again noted that these companies declined to do so in lieu of a single witness from the High Tech Innovators Alliance (HTIA).
At the hearings, HTIA and other opponents of reform from policy organizations closely linked with HTIA members invoked the tread-worn narrative of abusive patent litigation by patent trolls. They argued they needed the Alice-Mayo inquiry to quickly and efficiently dismiss these patent troll lawsuits to avoid incurring unnecessary litigation expenses.
The patent troll narrative in the patent policy discussions in D.C. has worked well for Big Tech for more than a decade. The patent system has been substantially weakened over the past 15 years with a slew of court decisions, regulatory actions, and legislation that have mostly restricted or eliminated many patent rights. By itself, the Alice-Mayo inquiry has wrought legal uncertainty and unprecedented invalidations of patents or rejections of patent applications. The data confirms a loss of the longstanding competitive advantage of the gold-standard U.S. patent system in promoting innovation relative to Europe and China.
The simple fact, though, is that Big Tech is not truly concerned about patent litigation. Yes, there are some bad actors in the patent system, such as the notorious scammer MPHJ, just as there are in any field of law or other human endeavor. But rhetorical epithets and junk science statistics do not prove the patent system is broken or that patents impose a tax on innovation.
Big Techs goal is more strategic: a weakened patent system makes it possible for these companies to engage in what lawyers and policy wonks call efficient infringement. Everyone else calls it piracy. Invention theft has become more common because its now an easier and cheaper method for large, well-capitalized companies to simply take someone elses technology than to invest the time, money, and resources in creating it themselves.
Piercing the veil of Big Techs self-serving policy rhetoric, the data confirms that they are not suffering from widespread abusive litigation by patent trolls. Big Tech companies are not nownor were they everthe victims of a massive wave of patent lawsuits, either before or after the Alice-Mayo inquiry was created by the Supreme Court. This is a policy canard.
In fact, the litigation trend for HTAI member companies is downward. Since 2010, HTAI companies have experienced approximately a one-half to one-quarter drop in lawsuits filed against them (with a significant number of the recent lawsuits filed by a single company):
One might still argue that approximately 150 patent infringement lawsuits filed per year against a handful of high-tech companies is a tremendous number of lawsuits. But the question is always: By what standard? Or, as economists put the point: As compared to what?
First, theres a denominator problem. It is wrong to assume that all 150 lawsuits filed against HTAI companies are abusive (regardless of how this term is defined). Of course, HTAI member companies make this assumption, for obvious economic reasons. Policymakers should not accept Big Techs assertion that these are abusive lawsuits filed by patent trolls. When a company says, Do no evil, this does not mean it practices what it preaches.
The optimal number of lawsuits in any field of law is not zero. Disputes always occur, and these disputes sometime require resolution by the courts. This is as true today as it was in the 19th century, in which there were many more patent lawsuits by an order of magnitude than today.
Second, HTAI members represent large, multi-national companies with hundreds of billions in revenue, and this makes clear that these lawsuits are statistically insignificant. Normally, all companies see legal disputes increase as their businesses grow, including intellectual property disputes. Not so for HTIA members.
HTIA members have enjoyed phenomenal economic success in the past decade while patent infringement lawsuits have decreased over this same period. HTAI members had a combined market cap of $140,717,157.10 (millions) on December 31, 2010. Their combined market cap increased to $337,093,637.32 (millions) by December 31, 2019. This is a whopping 58.3% increase (this excludes Dell, which was a private company for a period from 2013 to 2018). Their combined revenues grew at an equally impressive rate. In 2013, HTAI members had a combined revenue of $574,435,112,000.00 and by 2019, it was $953,776,235,000.00a 39.8% increase (again, this excludes Dell). These numbers have only increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, as Big Tech companies have had massive increases in profits if only because demand for uses of their services skyrocketed during the quarantines and shutdowns.
In sum, while patent lawsuits have dropped against Big Tech, their revenues have soared:
During this same time period, according to data from the AIPLAs annual Report of the Economic Survey and from Lex Machina, costs of patent litigation generally have dropped:
Even more important, damages awards on findings of infringements of valid patents have dropped significantly over this same time period (2011-2019), and while there has been a slow rise in recent years, they are still below the levels they were in 2011 or 2012:
In sum, the data paints a very different picture than that portrayed by HTAI member companies in their public statements and lobbying efforts. Instead of a never-ending tsunami of ongoing lawsuits brought by abusive patent trolls (defined broadly to encompass any patent owner, including even universities and inventors), HTAI members have experienced a relative low number of total patent lawsuits, with decreasing overall costs and generally lower damages awards. (Data also confirms a significant drop in awards of injunctions for many patent owners, including for both manufacturers and licensors.) Concurrently, HTAI member companies have benefited from massive increases in both revenue and market capitalization.
Why then are HTAI member companies opposing reform of Section 101?
The answer to this question is found in the answer to the question, Who benefits from a weakened patent system? Sonos can answer this question. The innovative startup pioneered wireless speaker technology in 2005. In 2013, Sonos entered into a commercial relationship with Google and Google gained access to Sonos proprietary technology. Sonos then spent the ensuing years continually requesting that Google respect its intellectual property rights, especially after Google began competing with Sonos by selling its own wireless speakers, which incorporated Sonos technology and which were sold at lower prices than Sonos speakers. For years, Sonos insisted that Google enter into a license to use its technology. Instead, Google held out and refused to do so. After years of negotiations and increasingly aggressive holdout behavior by Google, Sonos filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Google in early 2020.
The outlook for Sonos is grim. It will have to navigate years of litigation in which Google has a veritable arsenal of legal opportunities to invalidate Sonos patents, including the Alice-Mayo inquiry. Even if Sonos succeeds in winning the lawsuit, it faces another uphill battle in receiving its rightful remedies. Joe Nocera, the commentator responsible for popularizing efficient infringement with his op-ed, The Patent Troll Smokescreen, observed shortly after Sonos filed its lawsuit against Google that, even if Sonos wins its lawsuit, it still loses.
Many inventors, startups and small business know this story all too well. In recent years, we have all read of prominent cases in which a lucky patent owner initially receives a large damages award against a Big Tech company, such as the University of Wisconsin receiving a $506 million judgment against Apple for the unauthorized use of its patented technologies in the Facetime app. These patent owners watch their initial success evaporate as appellate courts apply the new legal rules and reverse the judgments. After a multi-year legal battle, this is what happened to the University of Wisconsin, which was accused of being a patent troll by the supporters of Big Tech. A few patent owners have succeeded in holding Big Tech accountable for invention theft and their refusals to enter into a license, but it takes a decade of running a legal gauntlet in which attorneys fees and lost commercial opportunities take their toll.
For many of these patent owners, though, there never is a lawsuittheir attorneys tell them their patents will be invalidated in court or at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB). If they are lucky and prevail, they must be willing to pay for a decade of litigation in which deep-pocketed defendants grind them down. They then will receive minimal to non-existent remedies, and even then the remedies will be further challenged on appeal with more opportunities for reversals or reductions in the awards.
In sum, invention theft works because the legal cards, such as the Alice-Mayo inquiry, are stacked against patent owners. Many undercapitalized patent ownersindividual inventors, startups, universities, small businessesare unable to enforce their rights against those deliberately trespassing on their rights. For Big Tech companies who can afford to fund and staff their legal departments with $1 billion annual budgets, spending even $17 million in litigation expenses is a rounding error compared to the billions added to their bottom line when they pirate a patented technology.
Bruce Sewell, former General Counsel for Apple, explained in a talk he gave last year at Columbia Law School at the same time the Senate was holding its Section 101 reform hearings, a $1 billion legal budget made it possible for him to use risk as a competitive advantage. He said that Apple CEO Tim Cook told him, I dont want you to stop pushing the envelope. Sewell didnt talk explicitly about patent litigation, but this was clearly part of this legal strategy. Apple is notorious for playing legal hardball with business partners, competitors, and litigation opponents in patent cases.
Patent owners are often accused of acting for their own immediate economic interests when they petition Congress for much-needed patent reform, such as addressing the legal and policy disaster of the Alice-Mayo inquiry. In opposing this reform, Big Tech companies have wrapped themselves in the cloak of innovation and freedom to operatemade safe by the Alice-Mayo inquiry from unremitting abusive patent litigation. It is time to distinguish Big Techs self-serving policy rhetoric from the economic reality of its self-serving lobbying efforts.
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Posted: at 5:57 am
Facebook's Like logo is shown on a sign at the company's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. Jeff Chiu/AP hide caption
Facebook's Like logo is shown on a sign at the company's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.
Foreign influence-mongers are altering their tactics in response to changes in the practices of the big social media platforms since the 2016 election, three Big Tech representatives told House Democrats on Thursday.
Leaders from Facebook, Twitter and Google told the House Intelligence Committee that their practices have prompted hostile nations to make some of their information operations less clandestine and more overt than they have in recent years.
"It reminds us the challenges we faced in 2016 are constant and this is an evolving security challenge and we have to keep constantly watching out for bad actors who change their behavior," said Nicholas Pickles, Twitter's director of Public Policy Strategy and Development.
He and his colleagues told Democrats in a videoconference they are seeing fewer coordinated efforts to use social media to spread false information or inflame tensions among Americans and more of that work via official government channels some of which, however, have a presence on social media.
The tech companies say they're willing to label such material and, in some cases, demote it or remove it. That is where much of the war has moved, they said, although covert work continues too.
Facebook has taken down nearly 2 billion fake accounts just this year and it has dismantled 18 coordinated influence networks, said Nathaniel Gleicher, its head of security policy. They included three Russian and two Iranian networks and two based in the United States.
"We're proud of the progress we've made to protect authentic discourse on our platforms but there's obviously more work to do," he said.
The witnesses told members of Congress they so far haven't seen foreign actors using the old covert techniques to exploit divisions in the U.S. over race and law enforcement or target voting or the presidential election.
Those references are being made semi-officially or officially.
"Those media entities and those government accounts are engaging in the geopolitical conversation; for example, Chinese actors comparing the police response in the U.S. with the police response in Hong Kong," Pickles said. "That's a shift from platform manipulation over to state assets is something we've observed."
Americans support some limits
Americans are in favor of some limitations on what can be posted online, according to a new Gallup/Knight Foundation poll out this week. More than 80% of Americans think false health information and false information about voting and politics should be prohibited, for instance.
But it's also clear that Americans don't trust the companies to conduct the oversight of their content themselves.
A wide majority, 84% of Americans, said they either had little or no confidence in the social media companies' abilities to make "the right decisions" about what can be posted on their platforms.
Mostly, people think the companies haven't been tough enough when it comes to removing content up to this point, with only about a fifth of Americans saying the companies are "too tough." Men, whites and less educated Americans are all more likely to say content oversight is "too tough."
No Republicans participated in the videoconference hearing on Thursday.
The majority members who did take part peppered the Big Tech witnesses with questions about individual issues, often becoming exasperated by what they called actions that lag the biggest problems rather than getting ahead of them.
Alabama Rep. Terri Sewell wanted to know why the platforms aren't doing more to quash what she called attempted voter suppression targeting black people.
Sewell cited a CNN story about a Russian election interference network operating out of Ghana likely to avoid efforts to detect traffic originating from Europe which resulted in Facebook and Twitter deactivating a number of false accounts.
Sewell implored the witnesses to do more to keep black Americans from being targeted and divided in the way they were during the interference in the 2016 election.
"My community has been the victim of misleading information about voting for decades," she said.
Other members of the committee exhorted the Big Tech witnesses to redouble their efforts to turn down the volume on partisanship in the United States, because the high resting temperature, in this metaphor, means the nation is in constant danger of boiling over.
"We don't recognize each other," said Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut. "If every American house is full of toxic gas, as I think it is today ... all it takes is a spark from Russia to set off a conflagration."
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Posted: at 5:57 am
The argument is that covid-19 has taught us to stop worrying and love Silicon Valleyto simply embrace the connections it brings to our quarantine and the surveillance it can apply to contact tracing.
But as people find themselves relying on the tech economy in fuller, more intimate ways, they are finding new reasons to be concerned.
An Amazon vice president stepped down in May in support of workers who were fired for organizing for better workplace safety measures against the coronavirus. Low-wage workers from other companies, including Instacart, Target, and Walmart, have gone on strike for similar reasons. Airbnb hosts are disgruntled that the platform they work for and lobby for is giving customers who cancel bookings full refunds, leaving hosts with no income and all the costs.
In moments of crisis, when new technology seems to offer quick and easy answers, it might appear difficult to devise an imaginative response to the large tech firms growing power. But even though the litany of things that tech platforms get away with is quite remarkable, tools for fixing some of techs deepest problems are closer at hand than one might think.
Companies on the internet can collect data about peoples behavior in ways old phone companies and mail carriers never could: a telecom cant listen to your phone conversations and send you relevant robocalls. Ride-sharing apps got their start in part by bypassing regulations their taxicab competitors had to follow. Gig-economy platforms routinely claim the right to ignore hard-won labor protections on the grounds that they offer part-time freelance work, even though in many cases this work involves the kind of control over workers that is tantamount to standard employment.
There has long been a presumption in some quarters that the old rules dont apply to new tech. Earlier this year, before the virus set in, Michael ORielly, a commissioner at the US Federal Communications Commission, spoke at the university where I teach. He expressed his hope that with the days of circuit--switched copper networks behind us, the FCCs role would diminish exponentially, like a puff of smoke on a windy day. But we find ourselves in a moment when the companies the FCC regulates mediate more of our lives than ever before.
Indeed, many of the USs major antitrust laws were created for crises not so unlike the one we face todaytimes of super-powerful magnates and widespread economic upheaval.
These laws, crafted for the railroads and Standard Oil, empower regulators to, among other things, break up any company abusing its market dominance. Regulators have not recently exercised these powers against Big Tech because for decades they have narrowly fixated on consumer prices as the measure of whether a market is being monopolizeda measure that doesnt work for services, like Facebook and Google, that are free. This would change if regulators allowed themselves to see how far--reaching the old antitrust mandate against market manipulation really is. With many smaller businesses now on the brink of collapse, the danger of consolidation has never been greater. A moratorium on mergers is probably a necessary stopgap.
Theres a similar story of amnesia in labor law. The gig-economy platforms have all but admitted that their business depends on systematically violating labor protections. California recently woke up to that fact, passing a law reclassifying many gig workers as employees. Especially now, when people with precarious incomes are risking their health by providing essential services from grocery delivery to elder care, they deserve every protection society can reasonably offer.
Regulations alone, however, are not enough. Policy should enable more than it prevents. In the 1920s and 1930s, US legislators put this principle into practice. Following the 1929 stock market crash, it was clear that banks were not accountable to their clients, and there were huge swaths of the country that banks didnt serve. In addition to new regulations that constrained the banks, the 1934 Federal Credit Union Act turned a few local experiments in community finance into a government-insured system. Member-owned, member--governed credit unions proliferated. They held banks to higher standards and brought financial services to places where there had been none.
In similar fashion, two years later, the Rural Electrification Act helped bring electricity to farm country, where investor--owned utilities hadnt bothered to string lines. Low-interest loans through the Department of Agriculture enabled communities to organize cooperativesnearly 900 of which still operate today. The loan program now earns more than it costs. Like the housing policies of the time that gave us the 30-year mortgage, it was a public policy that enabled widespread private ownership.
These were some of the most powerful economic development programs in US history. They introduced dynamism and decentralization to markets in danger of being held in thrall to monopoly and exploitation. If we want a more inclusive tech economy, the New Deal legacy would be a good place to start.
Internet users need the capacity to form cooperative alternatives to the dominant platforms and infrastructure. For instance, much the same model as that of the cooperative electric companies could be used to bring customer-owned broadband to underserved communities. Some old rural electric co-ops are offering fiber-to-the-home already.
Furthermore, gig workers and customers who rely on them currently have to use investor-owned platforms. But one proposed bill in California, the Cooperative Economy Act, would enable platform workers to organize co-ops that could collectively negotiate with platformsand perhaps even build platforms of their own. This would enable these workers, many of whom are now essential as drivers and delivery people, to obtain better wages and working conditions.
Quarantine and remote work also leave many people more dependent than ever on communication platforms, which typically collect personal data for uncertain purposes. This shouldnt be a necessary trade-off. Using free, open-source tools like NextCloud for file-sharing and Jitsi for videoconferencing, groups can manage their own privacy-protecting systems and decide for themselves how their data is used. Public investment in projects like this could ensure that, as with credit unions, people have the means to organize alternatives when the big platforms arent meeting their needs or respecting their values.
The internet may have near-magical powers that can help us get through the coronavirus crisis, but making technology firms accountable can begin with lessons learned from the last depression. Good tech policy requires recognizing that tech is just another way of wielding power.
Posted: at 5:57 am
This gives our companies, our employees great peace of mind because they know that everybody thats coming into the laboratory to do the research is negative, Dr. Kathiresan said. So its an expense that is well worth it.
Updated June 22, 2020
A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort and requires balancing benefits versus possible adverse events. Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. In my personal experience, he says, heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask. Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.
The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.
The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who dont typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the countrys largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.
So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was very rare, but she later walked back that statement.
Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus whether its surface transmission or close human contact is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.
A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.
The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nations job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.
States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you arent being told to stay at home, its still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.
Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.
If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)
If youve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.
He said he expected employee-testing costs to decrease significantly over time as home self-collection kits, which allow people to swab their own noses or collect saliva samples and then send them to labs, became more available.
Federal health authorities, however, have so far provided little guidance for businesses on testing employees for coronavirus.
In late May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published guidelines on Resuming Business, which recommended that employers prepare a plan for conducting daily in-person or virtual health checks (e.g., symptom and/or temperature screening) before employees enter the facility. But the guidelines mentioned employee testing for the virus only in passing.
One concern is that the diagnostic tests could give employees a false sense of security, public health experts said. Because the virus can take several days to develop, they said, the time between taking a test and getting the lab results back could cause some employees who have the virus to receive false negative test results. Despite comprehensive testing, for instance, a group of Army recruits and instructors at Fort Benning, Ga., recently suffered a major outbreak of the virus.
Another concern is that scaling employee-testing programs nationwide could lead to unnecessary medical screening particularly for workplaces where employees, wearing masks, can be spaced far enough apart to adhere to social-distancing guidelines and might overwhelm labs that are running more urgent coronavirus tests for patients with serious symptoms. And some employees may object to being required to take medical tests and have the results automatically sent to their employers.
Dr. Lee, the Verily executive, said the company would consult with employers to tailor virus testing and workplace safety protocols to the number of their employees, workplace locations, the prevalence of coronavirus in the local community and the type of work employees performed.
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Posted: at 5:57 am
For more than two decades, the ankle shackle has remained the standard electronic monitoring (EM) device. While cellphones, tablets, smartwatches and laptop computers evolved, the black plastic band remained bulging out under socks and scraping the skin off criminalized legs. Even at this stage of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, many of these devices require a landline phone to function. They retain ancestral ties to the analog age.
COVID-19 and decarceration are bringing rapid change to this monitoring landscape. As Sam Biddle of The Intercept has argued, a climate of perpetual bio-anxiety has paved the way for broader acceptance of carceral technologies. In the world of electronic monitoring, this may ultimately spell the end of ankle-based shackles and the ushering in of a range of smaller, more powerful devices that grab far more than location data. Furthermore, as local authorities look for ways to defund policing, new technologies may be one of the carceral solutions they employ to dilute the demands for transformation.
The catalyst for change has been the rampant presence of COVID-19 in U.S. jails and prisons. Pressures to social distance and isolate behind the walls prompted authorities to find a way to release people while promising public safety. In many jurisdictions, the electronic monitor, despite having no proven track record of success, has become the policy tool of choice. In Pittsburgh, Chicago and Milwaukee, decarceration with EM grew so quickly that authorities ran out of monitoring devices. Decision-makers in Pittsburgh reacted by placing people on home detention without an electronic tether. Their Chicago counterparts took the draconian course, making people wait in Cook County Jail (where seven incarcerated people had already died from COVID-19) until monitor inventories could be replenished. Cities like Indianapolis and Cleveland also turned to EM to reduce their jail populations.
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Yet, release on EM presents serious dangers under COVID-19. To even leave the house, most monitoring regimes require advance permission from law enforcement. This poses a huge dilemma for a person who suddenly shows symptoms of COVID-19. Delaying a visit to the doctor while waiting for permission could have dire health consequences. On the other hand, an unauthorized visit to the doctor could result in reincarceration. Moreover, many EM programs charge daily fees that can reach as high as $35 a day. In this time of massive unemployment, extra carceral fees add to the burdens in households already stretched to the limit.
In addition to expansion in the use of EM, COVID-19 has also prompted changes in the actual technology. Smartphone-based apps are replacing the ankle shackle. BI, the nations largest electronic monitoring company, is the market leader in this arena. While BI still produces traditional ankle monitors, the SmartLINK app is their front-runner into the future. SmartLINK has already become the go-to device for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). As of May 16, 2020, BI had over 20,000 people under ICE supervision on SmartLINK, nearly double the figure for June 2019. Although BI is guarded about the functionalities of SmartLINK, reports reveal that users may be required to enter the contact details of five friends or family members in the United States when they log on, setting those individuals up for ICE surveillance.
BI has also been aggressively marketing SmartLINK as an add-on to other supervision regimes. For example, since the start of shelter-in-place, Illinois parole agents have been ordering clients not under EM to download SmartLINK to their personal phone. The app allows agents to practice safe distancing through video check-ins rather than in-person meetings. Users can log onto the app through facial and voice recognition. SmartLINK also claims to offer services like court date reminders and lists of local resources. Probation authorities in Akron, Ohio, adopted a similar course, ordering 1,000 of their 4,000 people on probation to download a rival app, Outreach Smartphone Monitoring.
Another major player in this cellphone-based sphere is Guardian, made by prison phone profiteer GTL. Guardian is promoted as an ultra-modern smartphone app with the slogan, Dont give them an ankle bracelet, give them a hand. Those under supervision can be prompted any time of day to read a series of numbers into the screen. Once downloaded, Guardian has the capacity to pick up ambient sound, adding another dimension of techno-invasion of privacy. An article in Gizmodo estimated that users had downloaded Guardian up to 50,000 times but noted that the app has such a history of technical failures like inaccurate location reporting that the authors categorized it as faulty to the point of being unusable.
Unlike producing ankle monitors, developing an app does not require a factory and a workforce. Hence, a number of start-ups are pouring into this space. Acivilates Pokket and Promise embody the spirit of new market players fully in line with the notion of carceral humanism. While SmartLINK and Guardian struggle to distance themselves from their parent companys historical ties to incarceration, Pokket and Promise dont carry that baggage. They emerged in the Obama years when providing alternatives to incarceration began to mainstream. Acivilates Pokket cloud service focuses on safely sharing information by providing the parole officer with the full context of the clients progress and challenges in order to break the cycle of recidivism. Acivilate has secured contracts with Maryland and Utah. Promise, launched via a capital injection from seven investors, including Jay-Zs Roc Nation, boasts that it is not a clunky tool like an ankle shackle but a smart dashboard a caring app for clients who need attention each day for ongoing and timely support including court date reminders and lists of service providers.
Libre by Nexus took this carceral humanism to a new level. For years, Libre has been lending immigrants bail money, then charging them $14 a day to be on EM, plus a debt service fee on the loan. When one of the companys clients died of COVID-19 this year with the shackle still on their ankle, company President Mike Donovan pivoted away from EM. Referring to his deceased client as family, he decided to totally reject the technology of electronic monitoring, arguing that placing a tracking device on someone simply isnt effective in actually solving problems associated with immigrants in detention or pretrial criminal defendants in U.S. jails. Labeling ankle monitors as unreliable and unhelpful, Donovan asserted that ending the use of body affixed GPS technology is a goal all governments should be committed to achieving. He capped his critique by announcing that the 7,000 individuals on Libre by Nexus ankle monitors would move to cellphone apps which would not only track location, but offer access to telemedicine opportunities and appointment reminders.
Despite the claims of cellphone-based apps to provide services, many researchers and policy-makers are skeptical. Mark Latonero, a researcher at the technology nonprofit research organization Data and Society, notes that these devices are not just about support, they can just as easily be used to track, surveil, discriminate and stigmatize. University of Illinois researcher Daniel Gonzalez told Truthout that while some smartphone-based technology may be useful for short-term public health purposes during the COVID-19 crisis, in the long run, it poses two distinct dangers. First, developers can create new apps and mandate download of updates with such speed that keeping up with the changes or enacting regimes of regulation becomes virtually impossible. Second, these cellphone-based electronic monitors move the scope of the surveillance of a monitor from the individual to the household, even the community. An enormous data matrix can emerge by combining audio/video connections and location tracking with databases that contain information on individuals living in the house or nearby.
While cellphone apps are a major shift in EM, more is on the boil: the blending of carceral electronic monitoring with coronavirus quarantine management. This involves both the re-framing of tracking technology in the discourse of public health and a deeper infusion of carceral logic into the public health sphere. The prototype of this move is Israel-based SuperCom, an established EM provider in the U.S. According to the head of SuperComs Americas division, Ordan Trabelsi,
Many customers and potential customers around the world asked us if we could use that same platform to do COVID-19 home quarantine tracking and compliance. And we thought, of course we can because its exactly what we do in the offender tracking space. But now well just be tracking people that are not essentially offenders but unluckily were exposed to the virus.
SuperCom is marketing this quarantine management software in a number of countries.
A second set of coronavirus-dedicated devices involves contact tracing via the use of Bluetooth. These necessitate a critical mass of users downloading a Bluetooth-based app which alerts the user when they come in contact with another user who has tested positive. A surprise partnership between competitors Google and Apple leads the field in these applications, but national governments in Singapore, Taiwan, Australia and several other countries have followed suit. In the U.S., Utah along with North and South Dakota have been front-runners in this market, followed by Rhode Island with its Crush COVID RI application.
More advanced data grabbers combine field work techniques of social science with the exclusion zones programmed into certain GPS devices. Exclusion zones categorize specific parts of a city as forbidden areas. An ankle monitor sounds an alarm if a user crosses the techno-border. Such zones most frequently apply to individuals with sex offense convictions or alleged gang members.
The contact tracing platforms implemented in China and India demonstrate more advanced modes of exclusion zones, more widely known as geofencing. In these geofencing operations, authorities use technology to create boundaries and borders within entire urban spaces. The Chinese government, in partnership with mega corporations Alipay and Alibaba, have compelled virtually their entire online population to download an app that yields an Alipay health code a sort of risk assessment that represents the users health status in terms of coronavirus. The assessment converts to a color QR code housed in a persons phone that determines an individuals freedom of movement. Public banners in the city of Hangzhou highlight the rules: Green code, travel freely. Red or yellow, report immediately. Those with red or yellow may be quarantined at home or taken to a medical isolation unit for up to 14 days. The New York Times report also alleges that such personal data are added to the individuals police record.
While Chinas assessments are individualized, India deploys the government-established Aarogya Setu (bridge to health) app to color code entire neighborhoods. Through grabbing health data from the more than 100 million people who have downloaded the app, the government is able to geofence parts of cities. People who live in a green zone have pretty much unrestricted movement, while those residing in a red zone will be spending the bulk of their days sheltering in place.
Other countries and even some states in the U.S. are using technology to construct simpler forms of geofences, much like traditional borders. The best example is the notion of COVID passes or immunity passports, documents which provide proof that the bearer has tested negative for COVID-19. The passport idea is currently under consideration in Italy, the U.K., Germany and Chile.
A variation on this theme is linking entrance through a national border with technologies of movement control. South Korea requires international visitors to download an app and remain in quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Hawaii has examined the possibility of placing all visitors on a GPS monitor for their first 14 days in the Aloha State.
This array of geofences demonstrates how ultimately the exclusion zones of EM could morph into a far more systematic segregation, based not only on a persons criminal background but a range of data that might go into their profile, including the health data collected for COVID-19 detection. Just as Indian urban authorities can color code neighborhoods and grant differentiated freedoms to residents of different parts of the city based on health criteria, a U.S. version, drawing data gathered from sources tainted by structural racism is not difficult to imagine. (I have referred to this process previously as e-gentrification.)
In a recent report on COVID-19 data gathering, the ACLU urged people to skeptically scrutinize new products and proposals especially when they have implications for our privacy or other civil liberties. Human Rights Watch expressed similar concerns directed at the use of mobile location data in the COVID-19 response, noting that such data usually contains sensitive and revealing insights about peoples identity, location, behavior, associations and activities. One logical extrapolation of these critiques could be the creation of legislation akin to the European Unions, a regulation that places serious restrictions on corporate behavior and guarantees some individual rights to privacy.
However, any oversight of data gathering must assess the racial impact of new technologies. Think tanks like Ibram X. Kendis Antiracist Research Center along with independent journalists like Zo Carpenter have systematically gathered data on racial inequalities and disparities in cases and deaths, and have incontrovertibly connected these to structural racism. Kendi argues that these data allow us to provide policymakers with the ability to make evidence-based policy decisions to curtail health disparities during the pandemic. Such critiques are crucial in determining which aspects of data gathering pertain to public health and which are merely the surveillance state and Big Data widening their nets.
Yet gathering data and mounting critique is not enough. We need a bigger picture. While the onset of the pandemic and the resulting technological changes seem sudden, this is a moment for which people like former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos have been preparing. In a talk to the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence in 2019, Schmidt outlined his vision of the techno-future. For Schmidt, the lethal coronavirus has come along just in time to become the great enabler. Schmidt envisages a world in which big tech increasingly takes over the functions of government. In this model, more and more profits go to a small circle of tech firms, while disposable and semi-disposable workers of color deliver Amazon packages, health care and other services to those who can afford them. To ensure efficient delivery, these workers will be tracked by apps akin to Pokket for location, for productivity, and to check if they show any biochemical imbalances that might precede violent episodes, waves of lethargy or moments of rebellion.
Daniel Gonzalez notes that while mainstream critics stress the use of data to market consumer goods, for Black, Latinx, Indigenous folks and other marginalized sectors, data are weaponized to exclude, ban and block access to employment, health care, education, mobility and other public benefits.
This means challenging e-carceration during the pandemic and beyond is about much more than contesting the use of electronic monitors for pretrial release or even contact tracing. As author Simone Browne has reminded us, the state has a long history of surveilling Black bodies and those of other marginalized groups. She calls for people to claim ownership of their data by organizing and developing a critical biometric consciousness, an awareness of how companies and the racial capitalist state appropriate the data of criminalized bodies for profit and political gain. In particular, she argues developing that consciousness and building on it is even more crucial now.
A primary obstacle to the emergence of that consciousness is the power of the Apples and the Samsungs to produce enchanting technologies which we often cant imagine living without, even when we know the dangers they pose. Can we develop such a consciousness without soberly examining and reshaping how these conveniences literally become shackles?
As Big Data continues to grow, as electronic monitors morph from bands on legs to mini think tanks inside our phones or smart watches and as grassroots pressures to defund policing and abolishing prisons grows, another issue inevitably emerges: the question of ownership. As long as we reside in a world where a handful of big tech companies control the production of devices, social media platforms and the clouds where our data live, they will use that data to enforce racialized systems of control and oppression, the very systems activists are calling out for defunding and abolishing. These companies and elected politicians may sugarcoat surveillance as either fun, necessary or in the interest of public health. But digital policing and e-carceration are not solutions they extend the power of those who have already made billions during the COVID crisis.
Shoshana Zuboff, author of Surveillance Capitalism, contends that while those in power have long understood that times of crisis are opportunities for states of exception that allow all manner of ills to be rushed into normalization before anybody has even pulled up their socks, there is nothing here that is inevitable. I dont agree that we are doomed to a future of biosurveillance and dystopia we have to move forward, doubling down on democracy as the way out of this.
This is why we need a movement that fights for abolition but also imagines a world where media and data are under grassroots control. Such a notion seems beyond the realm of remote possibility right now, but so did defunding police just a month ago. In a crisis, the dream that seemed impossible for decades, even centuries, can become possible overnight.
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Ben Domenech: Small Groups Have Power To Weaponize Big Tech Against People They Don’t Like – The Federalist
Posted: at 5:56 am
Co-Founder of The Federalist Ben Domenech joined Dagen McDowell on Fox Business Monday morning to discuss Googles attempt to demonetize The Federalist and what it means for the future of censorship.
The controversy began with NBC coordinating with a left-wing British think tank to turn The Federalist as well as another outlet, Zero Hedge, into Google for their content. NBC claimed an issue with an article by The Federalist that criticized the media.
Google in this case, I think embarrassed by the whole situation came up with the spin that its because of our comment section, Domenech said. Thats something that actually undercuts all of their arguments about Section 230, which Attorney General Barr addressed with Maria [Bartiromo] this weekend, in a way that I think clearly sets up a situation where that aspect of our law is going to be reformed.
Big tech companies such as Google are protected under Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which passed just before Google grew as one of the most powerful global sources of information.
In a Sunday morning interview with Fox News Maria Bartiromo, Attorney General William Barr said companies built themselves off of this agreement, promising an open platform with a wide variety of views. It gave the companies their strong market position, Barr said, and now theyre censoring some companies while allowing a concentration of large companies who have an inordinate amount of influence on sharing viewpoints.
Domenech said he sees both sides, keeping companies from undercutting competitors in underhanded ways, as well as avoiding becoming tools for woke leftist mobs.
What were really seeing here is the power that small groups have to weaponize these large internet entities against people that they dont like, he said. Its the appeal of radical leftists going after people whose opinions they think dont just run afoul of their ideas but shouldnt even see the light of day or have the financial support to continue staying open, and I think were going to see more of that.
Now almost a week since Google took action against the publication, Domenech promised The Federalists comments section will return.
Were not going to be pushed around by some big tech entity telling us what we can and cant do, he said. Now the comments section is essential.
Allison Schuster is an intern at The Federalist and is also a rising senior at Hillsdale College working toward a degree in politics and journalism. Follow her on Twitter @AllisonShoeStor.
Posted: at 5:56 am
I had forgotten all about Sir Nick Clegg. In 2015, Britains deputy prime minister led his Liberal Democrats to a spectacular electoral wipeout, going from 57 members of Parliament to eight. Two years later, he lost his own Sheffield constituency and disappeared or so we thought from public life.
But he was back last week as the vice president of Facebook, explaining why the company had removed a number of ads from Donald Trump.
I am all in favor of people doing well for themselves, and who can blame Cleggie, once my colleague in the European Parliament, for swapping the gray skies of Sheffield for a $9 million mansion in Silicon Valley? Still, it is worth asking why Facebook and other tech giants are prepared to offer multimillion-dollar salaries to ex-pols as part of their colossal lobbying efforts.
The answer, of course, is that Big Tech is now very much in the politics business. Last week, for example, it emerged that Google had threatened to demonetize the Federalist, a tiny, online conservative magazine, because NBC had objected to some of the remarks posted in its comment section. (Hilariously, Google insists that it cannot be held liable for its own content since it does not curate it, but it is unwilling to apply the same logic to the Federalist's comments section.)
Ten years ago, perhaps even five years ago, a news item like that would have been shocking. Now, it is just the latest in a series of political stories involving social media companies and other online behemoths. The days when Google was a laid-back, laissez-faire, dont be evil outfit are long gone. Facebook and YouTube, similarly, have started weeding out content they dislike on political grounds including, for example, content criticizing the coronavirus lockdowns.
You cant entirely blame Google, Facebook, or YouTube. As they grew larger, politicians started wanting to tax and regulate them. It is an act of self-defense to hire lobbyists including politicians who, like Clegg, brought their contacts with current rule-setters.
Once it starts, though, corporatism almost always turns into a racket. I remember from my days in the European Parliament how active these companies were in Brussels, where a combination of control-freakery and anti-Americanism had created a hostile regulatory environment. Almost every U.S. tech colossus had at one time or another found itself on the receiving end of hostile regulations from the European Union, including Microsoft, Google, and Apple.
They did not respond, as you might have expected, by lobbying against all such regulations. On the contrary, they would sometimes push for more stringent rules, knowing that they would find it easier than their smaller rivals to meet the compliance costs. An initially adversarial relationship between governments and big business thus became symbiotic, as both worked to keep out new competitors. That, in a nutshell, is what we mean by crony capitalism.
It works both ways. Politicians can use laws to reward or threaten particular corporations. But some of these corporations are now powerful enough to level equivalent threats against politicians.
Consider, as a hypothetical illustration, the following scenario. Google knows a great deal about you. Your search history, even if you are uninterested in politics, will indicate, with perhaps an 80% accuracy rate, how likely you are to vote in November and for whom. You dont need to have looked at any political websites. A good algorithm will be able to infer your opinions from apparently unrelated traits, such as what you order from Amazon, where you book your vacations, and whether you own a pet.
Suppose that on Election Day, Google changed its doodle, the image on its homepage, to GO VOTE. But suppose that it did so only for the 2 million voters whom it knew to be likely to vote for a particular party and to be most in need of a prompt.
No wonder politicians handle it gently.
Whose fault is all this? Im afraid its yours. You allowed the Big Tech companies to get their hands on your data in the first place. You say you dont like it, but in practice, you dont really care.
How do I know you dont care? Well, if youre reading these words online, there is a good chance that you have recently been asked to click I agree in order to access something or other. Did you read the blurb, or did you just scroll straight down and click? I thought so.
If you resent the tie-up between Big Tech and big government, I sympathize. Cartels are never good news. But it is you we, all of us who enabled this cartel in the first place.
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