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The Fog of News

Some tech stories you might have missed.

October 3, 2018
 
 

So much of our attention has been focused on the drama of the Supreme Court nomination, other news stories tend to slip by. Over 1,600 kids have been roused in the middle of the night to be taken to an isolated detention camp in the desert. Donald Trump’s fortune was not, as he has claimed, due to his own business acumen but rather thanks to inventive and possibly illegal tax avoidance schemes cooked up with his father. Devin Nunes’ fabled family farm isn’t in California after all, it’s in Iowa – where dairy farmers know they would be in crisis if they couldn’t hire the undocumented workers their elected representative abhors. We have an election coming up and our voting machines are exremely hackable. There’s more tech news getting lost in the shuffle.

  • Just a few weeks ago, news broadcasts were full of Mark Zuckerberg trying to explain Facebook’s follies before Congress. While grilling Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, lawmakers were irritated that Google refused to show up and explain how it plans to deal with election interference. Sundar Pichai is going to testify soon, but now there’s another line of questioning. Republicans want to know what Google will do about supposed bias against right-wing sources. Google denies there is such a bias, but this is your periodic reminder that algorithms are made by people; like it or not, humans shape search results, and as Zeynep Tufekci argues, the election interference is coming from inside the house given the ways tech companies monetize our polarized attention.
  • California has passed a net neutrality bill, scheduled to take effect in the new year. If you recall, the FCC destroyed it in spite of overwhelming support for prohibiting internet service providers from favoring some content over other. Within hours the Department of Justice sued the state. Several states and the Senate have passed bills to restore net neutrality. It seems the administration is planning to fight them all.
  • California and other states have also passed some privacy regulations that are lacking at the federal level. Now some industry players want the feds to pass regulations that would preempt state laws. This may seem like a good thing, but caveat emptor: the businesses urging these federal regulations are mainly interested in watering state regulations down.  
  • Which reminds me of Facebook’s massive data breach affecting 50 million accounts, not just on Facebook but possibly on sites that use a Facebook login, which is to say a whole lot of sites. You didn’t hear about that? Well, it’s not as big and dangerous as the Equifax breach that released identifying information, including Social Security numbers, of half of the country, but it’s one more sign that we’re incredibly vulnerable – and that a year after a horrifying breach of personal data, nothing much has changed.
  • Meanwhile, in academia’s backyard, commercial science and scholarly publishers have decided it’s better to let China censor information than to bow out of those markets altogether, making the argument that censorship isn’t as bad as losing access to the information the state will allow in. (Google is struggling with the same thing and getting pushback from its own employees). Shame on them, and good for scholars and coders who push back. Censorship is not acceptable, particularly when it comes to scholarly and scientific knowledge.

What other news about technology and information tech have I missed in the last week? I have a feeling there's lots of news I'm quite seeing as we march onward through the fog.

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