Further Reading (5 April)

  • Exclusive: U.S. officials agree on new ways to control high tech exports to China – sources” – Reuters. Sounds like internecine warfare in the Trump Administration over China trade policy has spilled out into the open again. It appears as if those in favor of stricter export restrictions are leaking the details of regulations (which may be described here) that would choke off the flow of key technology such as optical equipment, radar, and semiconductors on the grounds that such goods imported by China for civilian purposes end up in the hands of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), obviating the distinction in the U.S.’s export regime. They favor pulling any licenses that allow for the trade of these goods, ending the PLA’s ability to buy civilian equipment, and instituting a process under which foreign companies shipping banned U.S. items into China would need U.S. approval. Of course, these changes depend on the President agreeing to them, and it’s not at all clear he would.
  • Big Tech Could Emerge From Coronavirus Crisis Stronger Than Ever” – The New York Times. A severe economic downturn could place large companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon on even stronger footing as smaller companies falter. This dynamic could be driven by increased use of their services while people eschew going out and companies are relying more on cloud and other products as employees work from home. Paradoxically, this dynamic could amplify calls in Washington and elsewhere to break up tech companies.
  • Coronavirus pandemic changes how your privacy is protected” – CNET. Governments around the world are either using exceptions in privacy and data protection laws for emergencies or extreme conditions and agencies are signalling they will ease up on what they consider legitimate activities using personal data to fight COVID-19. Notably, a number of nations are using the location data on people’s phones to ensure the sick are staying home and people are not congregating together in groups. It remains to be seen whether such uses will become accepted and the possibly the norm going forward.
  • As Coronavirus Surveillance Escalates, Personal Privacy Plummets” – The New York Times. This article shows some of the darker sides of governments using personal data, most often obtained from people’s phones, to combat the spread of COVID-19, namely the publishing of detail about possibly infected people. In South Korea, hackers were able to identify such people and online harassment began. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio identified the law firm at which the second confirmed case of the virus worked with predictably bad results. Moreover, civil libertarians are warning that some of these changed uses of personal data could become permanent as they did after September 11, 2001 with legislation like the PATRIOT Act.
  • How Civic Technology Can Help Stop a Pandemic” – Foreign Affairs. In what may be a pro-Taiwan article, Taipei and the people of the island nation are lauded for numerous bottom-up uses of technology to very successfully fight the spread of COVID-19. In fact, the nation of 24 million has had fewer than 400 confirmed cases despite being roughly 600 miles from Wuhan and plenty of travel between Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China.
  • U.S. government, tech industry discussing ways to use smartphone location data to combat coronavirus” – The Washington Post. The White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy has convened a task force to coordinate the U.S.’s technological response to COVID-19 to grapple with the myriad, novel problems of trying to use location data to track and even predict infections and outbreaks. Of course, this task force and the technology industry has also wrestling with how to collect the right type of information while also protecting privacy, or so they are claiming.
  • How to Think About the Right to Privacy and Using Location Data to Fight COVID-19” – Just Security. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) flagged a number of practical and policy reasons not to hail the use of location information as the holy grail for fighting COVID-19. For example, given that the location services on cell phone do not always provide exact whereabouts, these data may have limited value in determining who may have been exposed to an infected person. Use of location data to identify and possibly restrict the movement of allegedly infected people may cause people to not cooperate for fear of harm or inability to earn their salary. The ACLU also thinks the crisis may be leveraged by technology companies to normalize the privacy policies that are ultimately contrary to the public good.
  • Democrats say Google’s COVID-19 ad ban is a gift to Donald Trump” – Protocol. A now altered Google advertising policy was preventing Democrats from running advertisements criticizing the Trump Administration and what they considered its lies while allowing the Trump Administration to place advertisements. A few days after the article first ran, Google reversed course and will not allow some of this type of advertising.
  • Google uses location data to show which places are complying with stay-at-home orders — and which aren’t” – The Verge. Google will start releasing COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports that show population-level changes in how frequently people are going to retail establishments and parks, to cite two categories.
  • Leaked Amazon Memo Details Plan to Smear Fired Warehouse Organizer: ‘He’s Not Smart or Articulate’” – Vice News. Leaked notes from a high-level Amazon meeting including CEO Jeff Bezos suggest the company was trying to portray the leader of a walkout organized at Staten Island warehouses as stupid and unable to speak coherently. The purpose was to throw attention on the worker and away from the company’s continuing labor troubles. The leader of the walkout urged Amazon’s management to better sterilize and to communicate which workers tested positive for COVID-19. In response he was fired for allegedly violating company policy regarding a 14-day quarantine after exposure.

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