First things first, if you would like to receive my Technology Policy Update, email me. You can find some of these Updates from 2019 here.
- “Taiwan joins Canada in banning Zoom for government video conferencing” – CBC and “Video service Zoom taking security seriously: U.S. government memo” – Reuters. The island nation joined Canada in banning the use of popular web conferencing app, Zoom, even though the company is allegedly addressing security concerns turned up over the last few weeks. Taiwan’s Cabinet cited “security concerns” without identifying those concerns in its statement recommending the use of other apps. However, the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program reportedly issued a memorandum finding the government version of Zoom safe to use, which is different from its free or business versions. Citizen Lab has issued a report calling into question Zoom’s security, among other things, however.
- “We Saw NSO’s Covid-19 Software in Action, and Privacy Experts Are Worried” – Vice’s Motherboard. Israel’s NSO Group and Italy’s Cy4Gate have pitched systems to their respective governments and possibly others that would use people’s phones to track them in the name of preventing and tracing COVID-19. NSO Group’s system allegedly uses the contacts in one’s phone to suss out who a person has contacted or is liable to contact. Cy4Gate would rely more on location data to much the same aims. Questions have been raised from the perspective of civil liberties and privacy and effectiveness. Thus far, as far as is known, it has just been government agencies using location data although there is possibly help from private sector companies.
- “The Far-Right Helped Create The World’s Most Powerful Facial Recognition Technology” – HuffPost. A long read on Clearview AI and its ties to white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and Peter Thiel, who has invested in Clearview and owns a large stake in Palantir which contracts with numerous federal agencies to provide data analytics. This epic examination of all the interconnections is worth the time.
- “The Humble Phone Call Has Made a Comeback” – The New York Times. In a somewhat surprising development, Verizon is saying that boring, vanilla wireless calls have risen by 50% and AT&T says the same on their networks has increased 35%. Everyone quoted in the article claims this is because sheltering-in-place Americans are looking for connection in the form of voice. The article hints that over the top call services like WhatsApp are also experiencing surges, and, of course, the now ubiquitous Zoom has experienced phenomenal growth. However, something the article touches on but does not develop is the possibility that internet capacity issues may be limiting video calls and so phone calls are a more appealing option.
- “As School Moves Online, Many Students Stay Logged Out” – The New York Times. As should not be a surprise for anyone with even just a rudimentary grasp of the Digital Divide, more affluent children are participating in distance learning programs at a much higher rate due to a variety of reasons, including a household’s inability to afford broadband service, an area’s spotty or non-existent coverage, or new duties foist on children by parents who still need to work outside the home. It would seem absent dramatic, even miraculous, changes in federal and state programs and funding, the gap between the digital haves and haves not will only grow with the differences in the education of American children growing as well.
- “Mass school closures in the wake of the coronavirus are driving a new wave of student surveillance” – The Washington Post. Another feature of digital life that has accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic: online proctors for tests. However, allowing these proctors to access laptop cameras, microphones, and screens present all sorts of privacy issues, in addition to the other software and apps universities and high schools are using to surveil their students. More dramatically, some companies use facial recognition technology, eye-tracking software, and even predictive software to determine whether a student is cheating. Moreover, these companies get access to all sorts of sensitive student data in the name of ensuring the person taking the test is actually who she claims to be. And, many students have to pay fees for the service they are being forced to use.
- “WhatsApp to impose new limit on forwarding to fight fake news” – The Guardian. The popular messaging app is trying to slow the spread of COVID-19 misinformation and lies by setting new limits on the forwarding of certain messages. Now, if a message has been forwarded five or more times, a user will only be able to send it on to one person or chat at a time. In 2018, WhatsApp instituted a five person/chat forward limit in India where the mass forwarding of rumors and fake news led to the lynchings of more than 30 people who were allegedly kidnapping children. This limit was extended to the rest of the world in 2019. Presently, there are WhatsApp messages indicating that 5G is the cause of COVID-19 and all manner of pseudo-science and incorrect medical advice being sent via WhatsApp.