Cambridge Analytica, the Anglo-American data and behavioral science firm that worked for Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Donald Trump–and that sparked an investigation in the UK and inquiries by US lawmakers–has announced two initiatives in the past year that highlight some of the newer techniques in targeted advertising and the complex relationships that surround them. Since 2016’s presidential campaigns, the company has sought to expand further into targeted, or addressable, TV, an emerging type of data-driven ad technology that marketers and political campaigns can use to know not just what key
Nowadays, students looking to go to college complete almost the entire application process online: finding schools, sending in application forms and essays, and applying for financial aid, all with the click of a mouse or tap of a screen. By fall 2014, colleges and universities received 94% of their applications online, up from 68% in 2007 and 49% in 2005, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (the NACAC).
But between getting into college and figuring out how to pay for it, a strictly online application process can become an additional challenge for teens who have limited financial means and minimal access to the internet. Students whose application fees are waived due to family incomes often end up only applying to a single college. Meanwhile, the average American teen applies to between four and six, according to Annie Reznik, executive director of the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success, a group of more than 90 colleges including Harvard, Princeton, Penn State, and the University of Arizona working to improve application success. “This digital divide is essentially one more barrier that low-income students face,” says David Hawkins, NACAC’s executive director for educational content and policy.
[Commentary] Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai’s central argument for eliminating network neutrality rules, which he introduced with a plan to “reverse the mistake” of the Obama-era regulations, is that doing so will fire up investment in broadband networks. But that prediction is very optimistic, say experts who warn that his proposal could very well do little or nothing to stimulate such investment.
Chairman Pai’s central argument is that [the Title II] net neutrality rules had the immediate effect of slowing down investment in broadband networks. He said the internet was already working fine before the FCC stepped in to impose unnecessary regulations for purely political reasons. “While investment in broadband infrastructure has certainly dwindled in recent years, the impact that net neutrality regulation has had is very much open to debate,” says Dan Hays, global tech, media, and telecom lead at PwC’s Strategy& group. “In fact, it’s quite plausible that growth in market penetration of broadband services, coupled with acceleration of industry consolidation over the past few years, have more to do with reduced spending, despite the pleas of network operators,” Hays says. The subtext here is that investors in telecommunication companies, as a rule, detest massive new capital expenditure spending on network infrastructure. Combining with other networks is one way to avoid doing so.
Earlier in 2017, AZ officials announced a plan they say could harness more than $100 million in federal funds to bring broadband internet connections to schools and libraries across the state. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, appointed in January to head the agency by President Trump, has generally spoken in favor of the E-Rate system.“Regarding E-rate, Chairman Pai strongly supports the program,” an FCC spokesman wrote.
But the FCC retracted the largely favorable January report shortly after Pai’s appointment, and it remains to be seen whether he will seek to make changes to the E-Rate rules approved under his Democratic predecessor, and what effects that may have on the program. Whether E-Rate will continue in its current form under the Trump administration and the Republican-led FCC is still an open question. Some conservatives have spoken out against the E-Rate program altogether; a 2015 set of budget recommendations from the conservative Heritage Foundation advocated phasing out the program.
Years before Donald Trump took over the government, secure digital communication tools including Signal and Tor have been receiving substantial funding from a perhaps surprising source: the US taxpayer. Since 2012, an organization called the Open Technology Fund (OTF) has operated within an often overlooked offshoot of the US government that traces its origins back to the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe broadcasts that took otherwise censored information—and highlighted American culture and prosperity—behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War.
The OTF’s budget is inexpensive by the standards of government programs, and laughably small for a tech incubator—its reported budget last year was $7.5 million, compared to $27 million that Y Combinator invested in early-stage startups. Yet it faces an uncertain future under President Donald Trump.
A combination of political transition, economic forces, and good timing may spark a flurry of mergers and acquisitions in the telecommunications and media industries in 2017. Deregulation and market determinism are major parts of the new administration’s agenda. And the new Republican Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai isn’t likely to push against the tide when it comes to industry consolidation. Chairman Pai recently said that he’ll use a “light touch” approach to regulating the industry, and not “micromanage” the marketplace.
In 2015, shortly after Donald Trump announced that he was running for president, polls found that only 19% of Americans trusted the government “always” or “most of the time.” (The survey has not been repeated, but presumably, the numbers have not improved.) Only 11% approved of Congress. Those numbers are historic lows; in 1958, when a poll first asked the question, 73% of Americans said that they could trust the government most of the time.
Flux’s app is one of a handful of new platforms that aim to use technology to let people participate directly in politics, at scale. All are premised on the fact that–around the world–representative democracy isn’t working well. But technology could potentially help end corruption and lobbying, allow people to delegate votes to trusted friends rather than politicians, and empower experts in a field to meaningfully impact policy.