Daily Digest 4/16/2018 (What We Learned From Mark Zuckerberg)

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The week ahead


What We Learned From Mark Zuckerberg This Week

[Analysis] After some 10 hours of testimony and questions from almost 100 politicians, we finally learned some things from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg this week. Just some things. But are we any closer to a regulatory solution? Probably not so much. Still, this week marked an important moment in the on-going debate about privacy in the Digital Age. The hearings were ostensibly about social media privacy and the use and abuse of data. But few lawmakers seem to truly understand how data is used and shared between platforms, advertisers, data brokers, and app developers. 

What Mark Zuckerberg Didn’t Tell Congress

[Commentary] Ranking Digital Rights that has been analyzing and comparing the commitments and policies of internet, mobile and telecommunications companies affecting users’ freedom of expression and privacy since 2015. Our analysis has consistently found that Facebook discloses fewer details about how it handles users’ personal information than most of its peers. Our forthcoming 2018 Corporate Accountability Index evaluates 12 companies that run some of the world’s most powerful internet and mobile platforms headquartered in the U.S., South Korea, China and Russia. Facebook discloses less information about how the company handles data that can be used to identify, profile or track users than six other companies: Twitter, Google, Microsoft, Oath, Apple and Kakao (a Korean company). While Facebook has simplified and clarified its explanation about what is shared with advertisers and how, the fundamental practices described have not changed. Options for users to delete some types of information are provided, but people are not given more control over what information is collected about them in the first place, or how they are tracked around the internet. People can adjust their settings if they so choose, but they must actively select settings to restrict access. If users do not opt out, information about their online activities, likes and dislikes is shared by default with advertisers seeking to target them. What’s more, based on the policies that have been in effect since we started tracking in 2015, and which remain in force today (the new ones are not yet implemented), our researchers have consistently found that Facebook gives users fewer options to control what is collected about them, and how it is used, than any other internet or mobile platform company evaluated in the Index—including two Chinese companies and two Russian companies.

[Rebecca MacKinnon is director of the Ranking Digital Rights program at New America]

Democrats plan to push privacy rules after Facebook hearings

House Democrats plan to use the Facebook hearings as the starting point for an aggressive push for privacy legislation, which sets them up to move a bill forward if the House flips in November 2018. Democrats on the House Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over tech issues, will introduce proposals in the near term. That gives Democrats the opportunity to point to their efforts even if Republicans fail to make good on their regulatory threats.

via Axios

Why Europe, not Congress, will rein in big tech

Technology companies are readying themselves for sweeping new privacy rules that go into effect in May 2018 across the European Union. They could face billion-dollar fines if they fail to give European users far more control over their personal information. Whether the US Congress follows the European model, as some lawmakers floated, or whether big tech companies determine it’s too cumbersome to treat the 500 million people of the EU differently from the rest of the world, Europe is likely to keep setting the global pace for aggressive regulation. At the center of the action is Helen Dixon, Ireland’s data protection commissioner. Because the European operations for many big technology companies are headquartered in low-tax Ireland, Dixon is set to become the top cop for U.S. tech giants including Facebook, Google, Apple, LinkedIn and Airbnb when the new privacy regime comes into force on May 25. She will have the power to slap companies with fines of up to 4 percent of global revenue — which for Facebook could mean penalties of up to $1.6 billion.

Mark Zuckerberg was grilled. Silicon Valley took it personally.

The tech industry’s engineers and entrepreneurs saw the Facebook hearings as more than just the grilling of one of its stars.  To them, the congressional criticism against Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg felt like a referendum on the industry itself and on the social network’s growth-at-any-cost playbook that hundreds of start-ups have sought to emulate over the last decade — and that some have turned against. “In a way, Silicon Valley is Facebook,” said Max Motschwiller, a general partner with the venture firm Meritech Capital Partners. “This is who we are. The whole identity is being challenged.” Motschwiller said the revelations about how Facebook allowed its users’ data to be mishandled amounted to a broader questioning of the ways people’s information is being used.“We’ve been beating this drum around open data and AI and a connected world and everyone having a voice and simplifying your life with new convenience,” Motschwiller said. But there were consequences, he added, such as the growing public distrust of tech giants, the threat of new legislation and the harmful ways the technology is being used. “And for the first time, everyone is saying, we can’t ignore them anymore,” Motschwiller said.

Facebook Takes the Punches While Rest of Silicon Valley Ducks

As Facebook has taken it on the chin over the way it has handled the personal information of its users, the leaders of other tech companies have demonstrated that even in publicity-hungry Silicon Valley, it is entirely possible for billionaire executives and their sprawling empires to keep a low profile. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairma Charles Grassley (R-IA) sent letters to Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, and Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, 14 questions. In his letter to Google, Chairman Grassley wanted to “understand how Google manages and monitors user privacy for the significant amounts of data which it collects.” The companies have until April 25 to respond. 

Facebook Picks Fight With Cambridge University Over Researchers

After tackling U.S. lawmakers, Mark Zuckerberg is now taking on one of England’s oldest and most prestigious academic institutions amid a widening probe into the misuse of Facebook user data.  During his U.S. congressional testimony, the Facebook chief executive officer said his company was questioning “whether there was something bad going on at Cambridge University overall that will require a stronger reaction from us.” Representatives for Facebook did not elaborate on what a "stronger reaction" might mean. Initially, the company was chiefly concerned with the activities of Aleksandr Kogan, a researcher at the university. But Zuckerberg said that the social-media giant had now discovered “a whole program” associated with the school, in which people built apps that vacuumed up the data of its users and their friends. The elite 800-year-old British university said in a statement that it would be “surprised” if Zuckerberg had only just become aware that a number of its academics had been researching what a person’s Facebook data says about their personality.  “Our researchers have been publishing such research since 2013 in peer-reviewed scientific journals and these studies have been reported widely in international media,” the university said, adding that Facebook had contact with the researchers themselves in 2013.

Google loses landmark 'right to be forgotten' case

A businessman has won his legal action to remove search results about a criminal conviction in a landmark “right to be forgotten” case that could have wide-ranging repercussions. The ruling was made by Justice Warby in London. The judge rejected a similar claim brought by a second businessman who was jailed for a more serious offence. The claimant who lost, referred to only as NT1 for legal reasons, was convicted of conspiracy to account falsely in the late 1990s; the claimant who won, known as NT2, was convicted more than 10 years ago of conspiracy to intercept communications. NT1 was jailed for four years, while NT2 was jailed for six months. Granting an appeal in the case of NT1, the judge added: “It is quite likely that there will be more claims of this kind, and the fact that NT2 has succeeded is likely to reinforce that.”  Both men demanded that Google remove search results mentioning the cases for which they were convicted. These include links to web pages published by a national newspaper and other media. Google refused their request and the men took the company to the high court. The decision in NT2’s favour could have implications for other convicted criminals and those who want embarrassing stories about them erased from the web. 


Foundations Gear Up to Influence 2018 Elections

With congressional and state elections heating up, grant makers are focusing on new ways to help connect the people they serve to the political process — and ultimately lead more of them to the ballot box. Those efforts were in the spotlight at a conference held by the Council on Foundations, which drew more than 200 grant makers from across the country.

The National Enquirer, a Trump Rumor, and Another Secret Payment to Buy Silence

Late in 2015, a former Trump Tower doorman named Dino Sajudin met with a reporter from American Media, Inc., the publisher of the National Enquirer, at a McDonald’s in Pennsylvania. A few weeks earlier, Sajudin had signed a contract with A.M.I., agreeing to become a source and to accept thirty thousand dollars for exclusive rights to information he had been told: that Donald Trump, who had launched his Presidential campaign five months earlier, may have fathered a child with a former employee in the late nineteen-eighties. Sajudin declined to comment for this story. However, six current and former A.M.I. employees, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared legal retaliation by the company, said that Sajudin had told A.M.I. the names of the alleged mistress and child. Reporters at A.M.I. had spent weeks investigating the allegations, and Sajudin had passed a lie-detector test, during which he testified that high-level Trump employees, including Trump’s head of security, Matthew Calamari, had told him the story. The New Yorker has uncovered no evidence that Trump fathered the child. A spokesperson for the Trump Organization denied the allegations, including the assertion that Calamari told Sajudin the story.

See also: Wooing Saudi Business, Tabloid Mogul Had a Powerful Friend: Trump


CLIC Strongly Rebukes FCC BDAC Process and Outcome

In a strongly-worded letter submitted on April 12, 2018, CLIC has communicated to the Federal Communications Commission its deep concerns regarding the selection process and associated restrictive outcomes of its Broadband Deployment Advisory Council (BDAC). As CLIC states: “The Commission’s startling failure to include adequate local government representation in the BDAC process… has unsurprisingly resulted in BDAC recommendations that would undercut the important potential of local governments to help improve and accelerate broadband access and availability throughout the nation.”  CLIC’s letter details the failings of the BDAC member selection process and sets forth eight specific concerns with Article 12 of BDAC draft model state code. 

Sen. Tina Smith Introduces Bill to Deploy Broadband to Unserved Rural and Tribal Communities

Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) introduced legislation—the Community Connect Grant Program Act—to establish the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) program under law and make improvements to the grant program that makes funding available for broadband projects in tribal, low-income, and remote rural areas. The USDA Community Connect program through the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) helps fund broadband deployment into rural communities. In addition to authorizing the program and targeting areas that lack access across the nation, Sen. Smith’s bill would increase internet speed service under the program because she hears time and time again that this is a real concern for Minnesotans. The Community Connect Grant Program Act would:

  • Provide grants to construct, acquire, or lease facilities—including spectrum, land, or buildings—to deploy broadband service
  • Modernize minimum speed service to coordinate with the Federal Communications Commission and keep pace with 21st Century needs.
  • Provide essential community facilities—like fire stations and public schools—with service for up to two years.
  • A portion of the grant funding may also be used to improve, expand, construct, or acquire a community center within the proposed service area to provide community access.
  • Avoid duplicating deployment efforts by not building over existing broadband networks, responsibly investing federal funding and taxpayer money.
  • Authorize funding for Community Connect grants at $50 million per fiscal year.

Paid Prioritization: Leaving Startups in the Slow Lane

[Commentary] Internet service providers would like you to think there’s broad agreement on net neutrality because everyone agrees cable companies shouldn’t block or slow access to websites and online services. But mention the words “paid prioritization” and you’ll get a much different reaction. Paid prioritization refers to an ISP charging a website or online service for better and quicker access to users, effectively creating internet “fast lanes.” Since studies show that even small changes in web page loading times can have significant impacts on user behavior, a company that can pay to connect to their users faster will be at a huge advantage. Paid prioritization is especially harmful to startups, which are often competing against deep-pocketed incumbents. A startup with just tens of thousands of dollars in funding can’t outspend market giants for faster access to users. Small companies with less funding will be at a serious disadvantage as larger firms use paid prioritization for anti-competitive reasons. This problem will be most acutely felt by the startups who dare to compete with services owned or affiliated with ISPs, like a video streaming service that could replace cable TV.

via Medium


FCC’s pending vote on national security raises more concerns

Nokia, the Rural Wireless Association and others are raising additional concerns about the Federal Communications Commission’s planned vote in April on a proposal that is designed to bar companies deemed a national security threat from supplying equipment to US carriers. The issue is a complex one, but it largely centers on a proposal from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to block money from the government’s Universal Service Fund from going to telecom companies that use equipment from the likes of Huawei and ZTE, which have been fingered as possible conduits for Chinese espionage. While those companies have argued against such claims, momentum appears to be growing around actions that would further prevent them from selling equipment into the US market. Nokia, for its part, said  that it agrees with the FCC’s goal of securing the nation’s infrastructure, but that the agency should clarify certain aspects of its plans, including by providing further details on exactly what constitutes a threat to the nation’s security. Nokia also noted that “certain parties,” which the company did not name, have been using the FCC’s pending vote to gin up sales ahead of a possible crackdown on suppliers. Rural Wireless Association offered broader opposition to the FCC’s plans. The association warned specifically that the proposal would both fail to protect national security and “irreparably damage broadband networks (and limit future deployment) in many rural and remote areas throughout the country.” Specifically, the RWA urged the agency to focus on the creation of standards and a testing system to attain its goals rather than “imposing a costly and ultimately ineffective ‘country of origin’ prohibitory regime that would provide nothing more than a false sense of security.” Perhaps not surprisingly, the National Federation of Independent Business also registered its opposition to the FCC’s plans, arguing it would have an adverse impact on small businesses.

via Fierce

NTIA Signs Agreement for Wireless Test Bed Study in Partnership with University of Colorado Boulder

The Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) today announced a five-year cooperative research and development agreement with the University of Colorado Boulder to develop a wireless test bed. NTIA’s Boulder-based Institute for Telecommunication Sciences (ITS) will work with the university to install spectrum monitoring sensors throughout the CU Boulder campus, with data to be available to both parties for spectrum management research. The project will enable measurement of wireless spectrum and system occupancy and spectrum utilization, testing and evaluation of spectrum sharing scenarios, and validation of radio wave propagation models. It also will help to develop early interference detection, interference mitigation, and spectrum forensics techniques. Access to this wireless facility will allow researchers to efficiently explore new technology and investigate spectrum properties over a city-scale area under real world conditions, providing significant benefits to govern­ment, academia, and industry. When it is completed, the test bed could be used not only to field-test spectrum monitoring technology but also to offer wireless technology trial and development capabilities. The test bed will also provide a glimpse of what it will take to prototype and build a nationwide spectrum monitoring network.


Report for America Supports Journalism Where Cutbacks Hit Hard

A group of journalists have decided to do something about the diminution of newsrooms at the local level. They’re making reporting part of a national service program. Report for America, a nonprofit organization modeled after AmeriCorps, aims to install 1,000 journalists in understaffed newsrooms by 2022. Now in its pilot stage, the initiative has placed three reporters in Appalachia. It has chosen nine more, from 740 applicants, to be deployed across the country in June. Report for America fellowships last one to two years, and the pay is about $40,000, with half covered by the program and the rest split between participating news organizations and donations. Two media veterans, Steven Waldman and Charles Sennott, started the project with funding from sponsors.

Michael Ferro sells stake in Los Angeles Times parent Tronc to McCormick family for $208.6 million

Michael Ferro, who resigned recently as chairman of Chicago-based newspaper chain Tronc, has struck a deal to sell his entire stake in the company, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Ferro, who owned more than 25% of Tronc -- the parent of the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and other newspapers -- agreed to sell his more than 9 million shares at $23 per share, or $208.6 million, to McCormick Media, pending approval by regulators. Ferro owned the shares personally and through his Merrick Media and Merrick Venture Management entities. McCormick Media is related to the McCormick family that controlled the Chicago Tribune throughout much of its history.

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