Digital Content

Information that is published or distributed in a digital form, including text, data, sound recordings, photographs and images, motion pictures, and software.

AI Programs Are Learning to Exclude Some African-American Voices

Some artificial intelligence (AI) systems are learning to be prejudiced against some dialects. And as language-based AI systems become ever more common, some minorities may automatically be discriminated against by machines, warn researchers studying the issue.

Anyone with a strong or unusual accent may know what it’s like to have trouble being understood by Siri or Alexa. This is because voice-recognition systems use natural-language technology to parse the contents of speech, and it often relies on algorithms that have been trained with example data. If there aren’t enough examples of a particular accent or vernacular, then these systems may simply fail to understand you. The problem may be more widespread and pernicious than most people realize. Natural-language technology now powers automated interactions with customers, through automated phone systems or chatbots. It’s used to mine public opinion on the Web and social networks, and to comb through written documents for useful information. This means that services and products built on top of language systems may already be unfairly discriminating against certain groups.

Cox starts charging $50 extra per month for unlimited data

Cox is now charging its customers $50 extra each month for unlimited data.

Cox also introduced a $30-per-month charge that adds 500GB to the standard 1TB data plan. Cox customers who go over the 1TB cap without having purchased extra or unlimited data pay a $10 charge for each additional 50GB. Naturally, "unused data does not roll over," Cox says. Cox, the third-largest cable company in the US after Comcast and Charter, has about 6 million residential and business customers in 18 states. It has rolled the data caps out on a city-by-city basis, so not all Cox customers face the caps yet.

Silicon Valley escalates its war on white supremacy despite free speech concerns

Silicon Valley significantly escalated its war on white supremacy, choking off the ability of hate groups to raise money online, removing them from Internet search engines, and preventing some sites from registering at all.

The new moves go beyond censoring individual stories or posts. Tech companies such as Google, GoDaddy and PayPal are now reversing their hands-off approach about content supported by their services and making it much more difficult for “alt-right” organizations to reach mass audiences. But the actions are also heightening concerns over how tech companies are becoming the arbiters of free speech in America. And in response, right-wing technologists are building parallel digital services that cater to their own movement., a social network for promoting free speech, was founded shortly after the presidential election by Silicon Valley engineers alienated by the region’s liberalism. Other conservatives have founded Infogalactic, a Wikipedia for the alt-right, as well as crowdfunding tools Hatreon and WeSearchr. The latter was used to raise money for James Damore, a white engineer who was fired after criticizing Google’s diversity policy. “If there needs to be two versions of the Internet so be it,” tweeted. The company’s spokesman, Utsav Sanduja, later warned of a “revolt” in Silicon Valley against the way tech companies are trying control the national debate.

Digital platforms force a rethink in competition theory

Anxiety about the health of competition in the US economy — and elsewhere — is growing. The concern may be well founded but taking forceful action will require economists to provide some practical ways of proving and measuring the harm caused by increasing market power in the digital economy.

The forces driving concentration do not affect the US alone. In all digital markets, the cost structure of high upfront costs and low additional or marginal costs means there are large economies of scale. The broad impact of digital technology has been to increase the scope of the markets many businesses can hope to reach. In pre-digital days, the question an economist would ask is whether the efficiencies gained by big or merging companies would be passed on to consumers in the form of lower prices. Another key question was whether it would still be possible for new entrants to break into the market. Digital platforms make these questions harder to answer.

  • One much-needed tool is how to assess consumer benefits.
  • A second issue is how to take into account the interactions between markets, given that most platforms and tech companies steadily expand into other activities and markets.
  • A third issue, perhaps the most important, is the effect increasing concentration has on incentives to innovate and invest.

[Diane Coyle is professor of economics at the University of Manchester]

Lawsuit over false online data revived after US top court review

A federal appeals court revived a California man's lawsuit accusing Spokeo of publishing an online profile about him that was filled with mistakes.

The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 3-0 in favor of Thomas Robins, 15 months after the US Supreme Court asked it to more closely assess whether he suffered the "concrete and particularized" injury needed to justify a lawsuit. Spokeo sells data aggregated from various databases to users including employers and people seeking romantic partners. Robins sued after learning that his profile, which carried someone's else's photo, said he was married with children, affluent, in his 50s and employed, and had a graduate degree. He said all of this was wrong, and accused Pasadena, California-based Spokeo of willfully violating the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, with potential damages of $1,000. The case was significant because Robins tried to pursue a class action, which if successful could expose Facebook, Alphabet's Google and other online data providers to mass claims in similar lawsuits.

This Was the Alt-Right’s Favorite Chat App. Then Came Charlottesville.

They posted swastikas and praised Hitler in chat rooms with names like “National Socialist Army” and “Führer’s Gas Chamber.” They organized last weekend’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville (VA), connecting several major white supremacy groups for an intimidating display of force. And when that rally turned deadly, with the killing of a 32-year-old counterdemonstrator, they cheered and discussed holding a gathering at the woman’s funeral.

For two months before the Charlottesville rally, I embedded with a large group of white nationalists on Discord, a group chat app that was popular among far-right activists. I lurked silently and saw these activists organize themselves into a cohesive coalition, and interviewed a number of moderators and members about how they used the service to craft and propagate their messages. I also asked Discord executives what, if anything, they planned to do about the white nationalists and neo-Nazis who had set up shop on their platform and were using it to spread their ideology. Several said they were aware of the issue, but had no concrete plans to crack down on any extremist groups. On Aug 14, Discord finally took action, banning several of the largest alt-right Discord communities and taking away one of the white nationalist movement’s key communication tools.

The Open Internet Rule expands online streaming video options

[Commentary] The front-page story in The Wall Street Journal announced, “Walt Disney Co. just became the biggest cord-cutter Hollywood has ever seen.” The iconic company announced it was starting two online streaming services that will bypass its traditional cable television distribution. Thank you, Open Internet Rule!

The sine qua non that made it all possible was the Federal Communications Commission Open Internet Rule that the cable operators cannot deny, degrade or deprioritize Disney access to their broadband service, even when it is competitive to their cable service. This is the very same rule that the Trump FCC, at the request of the lobbyists for the big broadband companies, has announced an intention to eliminate. And the very same rule that Republican legislators are pushing content providers to help them scuttle. The Open Internet Rule – especially the General Conduct Rule portion – is like Disney’s famous character Jiminy Cricket, who acted as Pinocchio’s conscience. As the Jiminy Cricket of the Internet Age, the Open Internet Rule sits on the shoulder of broadband providers to make sure they do the right thing.

[Tom Wheeler is a visiting fellow with the Governance Studies, Center for Technology Innovation, and former Chairman to the FCC.]

Tech has the Tools to Fight Hate. It Just Needs to Use Them.

[Commentary] Say you're a white supremacist who happens to hate Jewish people—or black people, Muslim people, Latino people, take your pick. Today, you can communicate those views online any number of ways without setting off many tech companies' anti-hate-speech alarm bells. And that's a problem.

As the tech industry walks the narrow path between free speech and hate speech, it allows people with extremist ideologies to promote brands and beliefs on their platforms, as long as the violent rhetoric is swapped out for dog whistles and obfuscating language. All the while, social media platforms allow these groups to amass and recruit followers under the guise of peaceful protest. The deadly riots in Charlottesville (VA) last weekend reveal they're anything but. Now it's up to those same tech companies to adjust their approaches to online hate—as companies like GoDaddy and Discord did on Aug 14, by shutting down hate groups on their services—or risk enabling more offline violence in the future.

The global online terror crackdown

China announced Aug 11 that it's investigating its own tech companies, like Tencent and Baidu, for giving users an avenue to spread violence and terror. The announcement follows government campaigns earlier this year in the United Kingdom, France and Germany that intend to place legal liability on tech companies for failing to control the presence of terrorist-related content on their platforms.

U.S. regulators have largely remained silent when it comes to policing the role of tech giants in distributing terrorist content, leaving the companies to police themselves in accordance to their own standards. In the past, tech companies have reacted to crises in a uniform fashion, but the attack in Charlottesville shows a a split. Some sites, like Google and GoDaddy, announced Monday that they would cut ties to a white nationalist website, while others have yet to comment. Neither Facebook nor Twitter updated their policies in response to the attack, although both groups do already have policies about violence.

Tech firm is fighting a federal order for data on visitors to an anti-Trump website

A Los Angeles-based tech company is resisting a federal demand for more than 1.3 million IP addresses to identify visitors to a website set up to coordinate protests on Inauguration Day — a request whose breadth the company says violates the Constitution.

“What we have is a sweeping request for every single file we have” in relation to, said Chris Ghazarian, general counsel for DreamHost, which hosts the site. “The search warrant is not only dealing with everything in relation to the website but also tons of data about people who visited it.” The request also covers emails between the site’s organizers and people interested in attending the protests, any deleted messages and files, as well as subscriber information — such as names and addresses — and unpublished photos and blog posts that are stored in the site’s database, according to the warrant and Ghazarian.