Further Reading and Other Developments (4 July)

First things first, if you would like to receive my Technology Policy Update, email me. You can find some of these Updates from 2019 and 2020 here.

Other Developments

  • The Senate invoked cloture on the nomination of acting Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Russell Vought to be confirmed in that role and will vote on the nomination on 20 July. OMB has been without a Senate-confirmed Director since Mick Mulvaney resigned at the end of March, but he was named acting White House Chief of Staff in January 2019, resulting in Vought serving as the acting OMB head since that time.
  • The United States Federal Chief Information Officer (CIO) Suzette Kent announced she is stepping down in July, and Deputy Federal CIO Maria Roat is expected to be named acting Federal CIO. Given the Trump Administration’s approach to submitting nominations to the Senate for confirmation and the Senate’s truncated work schedule due to the election, it is likely no nomination is made this year. Kent technically held the position of Administrator of the Office of Electronic Government within the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and her portfolio includes a range of technology related matters including cybersecurity, information technology IT policy and procurement, workforce, data security, data management and others.
  • The General Services Administration (GSA) announced the next step in “establish[ing] a program to procure commercial products through commercial e-commerce portals for purposes of enhancing competition, expediting procurement, enabling market research, and ensuring reasonable pricing of commercial products.” GSA “awarded contracts to three e-marketplace platform providers…[to] Amazon Business, Fisher Scientific, and Overstock.com, Inc. allows GSA to test the use of commercial e-commerce portals for purchases below the micro-purchase threshold of $10,000 using a proof-of-concept (for up to three years).” Section 846 of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (P. L. 115-91) directed GSA to implement such a program, and the agency claimed in a blog posting:
    • These contracts and platforms will be available to federal agencies as part of a governmentwide effort to modernize the buying experience for agencies and help them gain insights into open-market online spend occurring outside of existing contracts.  It is estimated that open market purchases on government purchase cards represent an addressable market of $6 billion annually.
    • The goal of the proof of concept is to provide a modern buying solution for federal customers and increase transparency on agency spending that’s already taking place with better data through this solution. Further, this solution leverages the government’s buying power and increases supply chain security awareness with a governmentwide approach.
  • In response to the ongoing and growing advertising boycott, Facebook announced in a press release some changes to the platform’s policies regarding voter suppression or hateful content. CEO Mark Zuckerberg stated “Three weeks ago, I committed to reviewing our policies ahead of the 2020 elections…[and] [t]hat work is ongoing, but today I want to share some new policies to connect people with authoritative information about voting, crack down on voter suppression, and fight hate speech:
    • 1. Providing Authoritative Information on Voting During the Pandemic
      • Last week, we announced the largest voting information campaign in American history, with the goal of helping 4 million people register to vote. As part of this, we’re creating a Voting Information Center to share authoritative information on how and when you can vote, including voter registration, voting by mail and early voting. During a pandemic when people may be afraid of going to polls, sharing authoritative information on voting by mail will be especially important. We’ll be showing the Voting Information Center at the top of the Facebook and Instagram apps over the coming months.
    • 2. Additional Steps to Fight Voter Suppression
      • Since the most dangerous voter suppression campaigns can be local and run in the days immediately before an election, we’re going to use our Elections Operations Center to quickly respond and remove false claims about polling conditions in the 72 hours leading into election day. Learning from our experience fighting Covid misinformation, we will partner with and rely on state election authorities to help determine the accuracy of information and what is potentially dangerous. We know this will be challenging in practice as facts on the ground may be uncertain and we don’t want to remove accurate information about challenges people are experiencing, but we’re building our operation to be able to respond quickly.
      • We will also ban posts that make false claims saying ICE agents are checking for immigration papers at polling places, which is a tactic used to discourage voting. We’ll also remove any threats of coordinated interference, like someone saying “My friends and I will be doing our own monitoring of the polls to make sure only the right people vote”, which can be used to intimidate voters. We will continue to review our voter suppression policies on an ongoing basis as part of our work on voter engagement and racial justice.
    • 3. Creating a Higher Standard for Hateful Content in Ads
      • This week’s study from the EU showed that Facebook acts faster and removes a greater percent of hate speech on our services than other major internet platforms, including YouTube and Twitter. We’ve invested heavily in both AI systems and human review teams so that now we identify almost 90% of the hate speech we remove before anyone even reports it to us. We’ve also set the standard in our industry by publishing regular transparency reports so people can hold us accountable for progress. We will continue investing in this work and will commit whatever resources are necessary to improve our enforcement.
      • We believe there is a public interest in allowing a wider range of free expression in people’s posts than in paid ads. We already restrict certain types of content in ads that we allow in regular posts, but we want to do more to prohibit the kind of divisive and inflammatory language that has been used to sow discord. So today we’re prohibiting a wider category of hateful content in ads. Specifically, we’re expanding our ads policy to prohibit claims that people from a specific race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, caste, sexual orientation, gender identity or immigration status are a threat to the physical safety, health or survival of others. We’re also expanding our policies to better protect immigrants, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers from ads suggesting these groups are inferior or expressing contempt, dismissal or disgust directed at them.
    • 4. Labeling Newsworthy Content
      • A handful of times a year, we leave up content that would otherwise violate our policies if the public interest value outweighs the risk of harm. Often, seeing speech from politicians is in the public interest, and in the same way that news outlets will report what a politician says, we think people should generally be able to see it for themselves on our platforms.
      • We will soon start labeling some of the content we leave up because it is deemed newsworthy, so people can know when this is the case. We’ll allow people to share this content to condemn it, just like we do with other problematic content, because this is an important part of how we discuss what’s acceptable in our society — but we’ll add a prompt to tell people that the content they’re sharing may violate our policies.
      • To clarify one point: there is no newsworthiness exemption to content that incites violence or suppresses voting. Even if a politician or government official says it, if we determine that content may lead to violence or deprive people of their right to vote, we will take that content down. Similarly, there are no exceptions for politicians in any of the policies I’m announcing here today.
  • On 30 June, Facebook banned the boogaloo movement from its platform. The company “designat[ed] a violent US-based anti-government network under our Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy and disrupting it on our services…[and] [a]s a result, this violent network is banned from having a presence on our platform and we will remove content praising, supporting or representing it.”
  • The United States Department of Commerce suspended “regulations affording preferential treatment to Hong Kong… including the availability of export license exceptions.” The Trump Administration took this latest action in its trade war with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) because of “the Chinese Communist Party’s imposition of new security measures on Hong Kong” and “the risk that sensitive U.S. technology will be diverted to the People’s Liberation Army or Ministry of State Security has increased, all while undermining the territory’s autonomy.” The United States Department of State added “the United States will today end exports of U.S.-origin defense equipment and will take steps toward imposing the same restrictions on U.S. defense and dual-use technologies to Hong Kong as it does for China.”
  • The Democratic National Committee (DNC) updated its “social media comparative analysis to reflect changes companies have made in recent months to their counter disinformation and election integrity policies.” The DNC is working with Facebook/Instagram, Twitter, Google/YouTube, and now Snapchat to “to combat platform manipulation and train our campaigns on how best to secure their accounts and protect their brands against disinformation.”
  • The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) and three privacy agencies for provinces of Canada announced an investigation “into a Tim Hortons mobile ordering application after media reports raised concerns about how the app may be collecting and using data about people’s movements as they go about their daily activities.” A journalist made a request to Tim Hortons under Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) and learned the company’s app had logged his longitude and latitude coordinates over 2,700 times in five months, sometimes when he was not using the app even though the company has claimed it only tracks users when the app is being used. Moreover, Tim Hortons combines data from sister companies also owned by Restaurant Brands International like Burger King and Popeyes.
  • The United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) released an “investigation report into the use of mobile phone extraction (MPE) by police forces when conducting criminal investigations in England and Wales” which “found that police data extraction practices vary across the country, with excessive amounts of personal data often being extracted and stored without an appropriate basis in existing data protection law.” The ICO made a range of recommendations, many of which will require a legislative revamp of the laws that currently govern these practices.
  • Ireland’s Data Protection Commission released its “2018-2020 Regulatory Activity Under GDPR” and listed the following enforcement actions under the General Data Protection Regulation:
    • An Garda Síochana–reprimand and corrective powers applied in accordance with the Data Protection Act, 2018.
    • Tusla; The Child and Family Agency –reprimand and fine applied in accordance with the Data Protection Act, 2018.
    • Tusla; The Child and Family Agency –reprimand and fine applied in accordance with the Data Protection Act, 2018.
    • Twitter–Inquiry completed and draft decision forwarded to EU concerned data protection authorities in accordance with Article 60 of the GDPR.
    • DEASP-Enforcement notice issued regarding the use of the Public Services Card (currently under appeal).
    • 59 Section 10 decisions issued.
    • 15,000 breach notifications assessed and concluded.
    • 9 litigation cases concluded in the Irish Courts.
    • Hearing in CJEU Standard Contractual Clauses case brought by DPC to Irish High Court.
    • 80 % of cases received under the GDPR have been concluded.
  • The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) issued its “American Broadband Initiative Progress Report,” an update on a Trump Administration inter-agency effort to implement “a cohesive government-wide strategy to reform broadband deployment” started in 2019. NTIA highlighted the following accomplishment:
    • Through the ReConnect program, as of March 2020, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded over $744 million in funds to support more than 80 broadband projects benefiting more than 430,000 rural residents in 34 states. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and USDA also established processes to coordinate awards for rural broadband deployment to ensure that USDA-funded grants do not overlap with the FCC’s $20 Billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) or the $9 Billion 5G Fund for Rural America
    • The Department of the Interior (DOI) launched a Joint Overview-Established Locations (JOEL) mapping tool to make site locations visible to service providers looking to locate equipment on Federal property, and added new data layers from the General Services Administration, the U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Postal Service. Since its release, the map has been viewed 4,294 times, averaging 7 views per day.
    • In June 2019, the General Services Administration (GSA) published the FY 2018 Federal Real Property Profile (FRPP) public data set, updated with a set of filters allowing users to identify Federal property that could be candidates for communications infrastructure installation. This publicly available data now includes the height of buildings and facilities and the elevation above mean sea level, helping the communications industry to determine a structure’s suitability for siting communications facilities. In June 2020, GSA will update the FRPP public data set with more current data from FY 2019.
    • In March 2019, the Department of Commerce’s NTIA updated its website with information about Federal Agencies’ permitting processes and funding information to provide easier, “one-stop” access to the information. NTIA continues to update this information with support from Agencies.
    • In September 2019, NTIA completed the first phase of its National Broadband Availability Map (NBAM), a geographic information system platform which allows for the visualization and analysis of federal, state, and commercially available data sets. As of June 2020, the NBAM program includes 18 States who are partnering on this critical broadband data platform.
    • In February 2020, GSA and USDA’s Forest Service (FS) finalized a revised Standard Form (SF-299), making this Common Application Form suitable for telecommunications purposes.

Further Reading

  • Google will start paying some publishers for news articles” – The Verge. In part because of pressure from regulators in Australia and France, Google will begin paying some new outlets for articles. This could be the start of a larger trend of online platforms compensating media which has long argued this should be the case. However, similar systems in Germany and Spain earlier this decade failed to bolster the media in those countries financially, and Google responded to the Spanish statute by ceasing to operate its News platform in that country.
  • Trump’s strike at Twitter risks collateral damage inside the executive branch” – Politico. One aspect to the Trump Administration executive order on online platforms is that it directs federal agencies to review their online advertising and marketing subject to additional Office of Management and Budget and Department of Justice review. If fully implemented, this process could derail a number of agency initiatives ranging from military recruitment to fighting drug addiction.
  • Column: With its Sprint merger in the bag, T-Mobile is already backing away from its promises” – The Los Angeles Times. Critics of the T-Mobile-Sprint merger have pounced on a recent filing with the California Public Utilities Commission in which the company has asked for two additional years to build out its 5G network despite making this a signal promise in selling California Attorney General Xavier Becerra on the deal. Likewise, the company is trying to renegotiate its promise to create 1,000 new jobs in the state.
  • Facebook policy changes fail to quell advertiser revolt as Coca-Cola pulls ads” – The Guardian. Despite Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement of policy changes (see Other Developments above), advertisers continue to join a widening boycott that some companies are applying across all major social media platforms. Unilever, Coca Cola, Hershey’s, Honda, and other joined the movement. The majority of Facebook’s income comes from advertising, so a sustained boycott could do more than pushing down the company’s share value. And, the changes announced at the end of last week do not seem to have impressed the boycott’s organizers. It would be interesting if pressure placed on companies advertising on Facebook affects more change than pressure from the right and left in the United States, European Union, and elsewhere.
  • Trump administration tells Facebook, Twitter to act against calls to topple statues, commit violent acts” – The Washington Post. The Department of Homeland Security sent letters late last week to the largest technology companies, asserting they may have played a role in “burglary, arson, aggravated assault, rioting, looting, and defacing public property” by allowing people to post on or use their platforms. The thrust of the argument seems to be that Twitter, Facebook, Apple, Google, and other companies should have done more to prevent people from posting and sharing material that allegedly resulted in violence. Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf argued “In the wake of George Floyd’s death, America faced an unprecedented threat from violent extremists seeking to co-opt the tragedy of his death for illicit purposes.” These letters did not mention President Donald Trump’s tweets that seem to encourage authorities to use violence against protestors. Moreover, they seem to be of a piece with the recent executive order in that there is a scant legal basis for the action designed to cow the social media platforms.
  • Twitch, Reddit crack down on Trump-linked content as industry faces reckoning” – Politico. Two platforms acted against President Donald Trump and his supporters for violating the platforms terms of service and rules. The irony here is that the recent executive order on social platforms seeks to have them held accountable for not operating according to their terms of service.
  • Inside Facebook’s fight against European regulation” – Politico. Through until now unavailable European Commission documents on meetings with and positions of Facebook, this article traces the slow evolution of the company’s no-regulation approach in the European Union (EU) to a public position ostensibly amenable to regulation. It is also perhaps the tale of using lobbying tactics that work in Washington, DC, that have largely failed to gain traction in Brussels.

© Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog and michaelkans.blog, 2019-2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog, and michaelkans.blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

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