The EU’s Big Tech Offensive
December 16, 2020
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“There will come a time when it isn’t ‘They’re spying on me through my phone’ anymore. Eventually, it will be ‘My phone is spying on me’.” ― Philip K. Dick
“The ultimate freedom is a free mind, and we need technology that’s on our team to help us live, feel, think and act freely.” — Tristan Harris
The EU’s Big Tech Offensive
(Kenzo Tribouillard via Getty Images)
On Tuesday, the European Commission revealed a proposed comprehensive set of new rules for all digital services, including social media, online marketplaces, and other online platforms that operate in the European Union (EU). If passed, the new laws would update current rules that have been in place for 20 years, when some of the tech firms affected didn’t exist. They would become effective once the Brexit transition period ends.
The Digital Services Act (DSA) specifically addresses online safety, with the goal of creating a single set of rules for the EU to keep users safe, protect their freedom of expression and help both them and local authorities hold tech companies to account. It requires all internet firms to provide users with a way of getting in touch and the ability to see their terms and conditions. Operators of online platforms — such as social media apps and video-sharing sites of any size — must prioritize complaints raised by “trusted flaggers,” who have a track record of highlighting valid problems.
All online stores must be able to trace traders selling goods on their platforms, in case they are offering counterfeit items or other illegal products. In addition to an annual audit, the biggest players must report on their handling of major risks, including users posting illegal content, disinformation that could sway elections, and the unjustified targeting of minority groups.
The law specifies that local officials can send cross-border orders to make tech firms remove content or provide access to information, wherever their EU headquarter is based. For example, Amsterdam’s local government could ask a service like Airbnb, based in Dublin, to remove a listing of a non-registered apartment and share details about a host suspected of not paying taxes.
The Digital Markets Act (DMA) centers on regulating “gatekeepers” — those behind “entrenched” services that other businesses use to provide their own products — including operators of search engines, social networks, chat apps, cloud computing services, and operating systems, among others. The goal is to prevent tech giants like Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft from gaining unfair advantages via their elevated positions. The firms must inform regulators of any planned takeover of another service, not treat their own service more favorably than rivals’ when deciding which order to show them on screen, not use data gathered via their main service to launch a product that will compete with other established businesses, and allow users to uninstall pre-installed apps on their platform and use different software.
The commission can fine non-complying companies up to 10 percent of their annual turnover in Europe under the DSA, and 6 percent under the DMA. And “recurrent infringers” could be made to divest “certain businesses, where no other equally effective alternate measure is available to ensure compliance.”
Not Eager To Help The Uighurs
(Ozan Kose via Getty Images)
- Prosecutors for the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague have declined, for now, to pursue an investigation into China’s mass detention of Muslims. Activists had been lobbying it to investigate allegations of genocide and crimes against humanity regarding Uighurs, a predominately Muslim ethnic group, and to hold Beijing accountable for its repressive policies against ethnic and religious minorities.
- The chief prosecutor said in a report that the allegations would not be investigated because the abuses described “have been committed solely by nationals of China within the territory of China,” which is not a party to the court. China has faced growing international condemnation for its harsh treatment of Muslims, including confining them in vast indoctrination camps in the western region of Xinjiang.
- A disappointed Uighur activist who lives in Australia exclaimed that the ICC had been formed for just one reason: “to confront the most horrific international crimes.” President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign also labeled China’s actions in Xinjiang as genocide. (NYT)
There’s (Officially) A New Sheriff In Town
- On December 14th, well over a month after American voters made Joe Biden the new president-elect, members of the Electoral College formally submitted their votes to confirm the Democrat’s win. Normally that activity would have gone virtually unnoticed, but this has not been a normal election.
- Several world leaders delayed congratulating Biden, choosing to wait while the incumbent president’s endlessly bogus legal challenges played out. For Russia in particular, President Trump’s refusal to concede his loss provided ample fodder for state media to highlight the chaotic and illegitimate nature of American democracy to its domestic audience.
- But after Monday’s Electoral College vote, President Vladimir Putin finally congratulated Biden, as did the presidents of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and Poland, Andrzej Duda. It must be hard to acknowledge there’s a new sheriff in town, when you’ve been getting away with murder. (NYT)
Additional World News
- Don’t count your chickens South Korea… South Korea: from early Covid success to fears over ‘ferocious spread of virus’ (Guardian)
- The Ghosts Who Haunt the South China Sea (Atlantic, $)
- Xi Jinping’s China is preparing for a world after Trump (WaPo, $)
- China’s little brother has a (computer) chip on their shoulder: Pound for Pound, Taiwan Is the Most Important Place in the World (NYT, $)
- Iran Is in Syria to Stay (Foreign Affairs)
- Macron’s Attacks on Muslims Won’t Stop Terrorism in France (The Intercept)
- Western nations are beginning to step into the cyberwars: Facebook sanctions dueling fake French and Russian accounts targeting Africa (WaPo, $)
- Russian hack into Treasury, Commerce, DHS raises federal alarms (Axios)
- Hungary’s “Trump Before Trump” strikes again: Hungary Just Passed a Law Effectively Banning Gay Couples From Adopting (Vice)
- In Belarus, Cracks Appear Among Lukashenko’s Security Forces After Months of Protests (Foreign Policy)
- Cuba rejects US report on diplomat health incidents (Reuters). Waiving off microwave allegations.
- As COVID-19 vaccines emerge, a global waiting game begins (Science Mag)
- Moderna Vaccine Is Highly Protective and Prevents Severe Covid-19, Data Show (NYT, $)
- COVID-19 Changed Science Forever (Atlantic, $)
- Fauci: 85 percent of the US needs to get the Covid-19 vaccine for “true herd immunity” (Vox)
- Men on Dating Apps Are Pressuring Women to Break Lockdown Rules (Vice)
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- If you know an inquisitive investigator who would ask “What is quantum computing?” then give them the gift of learning.
America’s Health And Wealth Gap
- COVID-19’s continuing onslaught, coupled with the expiration of the federal eviction ban at the end of the month, is not only exacerbating long-term racial disparities in housing, but creating a huge revolving door that could likely prolong the pandemic and forecast continuing financial hardship.
- First, ending the ban on evictions will disproportionately hurt Black and Latino tenants, who are twice as likely to rent as white people. They’ve been more vulnerable to job and income losses in part because they’re over-represented in the service industries wiped out by shutdowns.
- Second, evicting millions of struggling tenants into the streets in the middle of winter, or forcing them into cramped quarters with others amid a dramatic surge in the pandemic, will inevitably mean more of those people will get sick.
- Third, communities of color have already seen higher infection and death rates from the virus, yet they’re more likely to resist receiving a vaccine. And fourth, even renters who manage to find a safe place to stay and who remain healthy will still suffer long-term economic consequences with eviction filings on their records. (Politico)
Lowering The Barr
- Attorney General Bill Barr barely outlasted his predecessor in the Trump administration, Jeff Sessions — 22 months vs. 21 months — even though Barr willingly trashed his own reputation bending over backward to carry out President Trump’s will, including misrepresenting special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the Russia investigation and repeatedly making false claims about the integrity of mail-in voting.
- Of course, when Barr contradicted Trump earlier this month by saying the Justice Department had found no evidence of widespread election fraud, he had to go. Barr will vacate his office on December 23rd, and probably be labeled the most scandalous attorney general in recent memory, including Spiro Agnew.
- Next up is Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, 62. He will run the department for less than a month, but at a time when White House officials are preparing for a wave of pardons and Trump is still demanding officials take more action on his baseless claims of voter fraud. Rosen might be able to finesse his way past some of those issues — try to avoid controversy to protect his own reputation — but then there’s Trump’s insistence that a special counsel be appointed to investigate tax allegations against President-elect Joe Biden’s son, Hunter.
- Some insiders doubt Rosen would be able to withstand that kind of pressure. “I think [Rosen] is more prone to agree with the White House and do what the White House counsel wants,” one current prosecutor said. (NPR)
Additional USA News
- Looks like Putin set a precedent… McConnell for the first time recognizes Biden as President-elect & McConnell sets up a clash with Trump over who’s in charge in the GOP (CNN, WaPo, $)
- Wisconsin Supreme Court Was One Vote Away From Flipping the State to Trump (Intelligencer)
- As Biden won the presidency, Republicans cemented their grip on power for the next decade (Guardian). For the GOP, things are looking up down the ballot.
- Biden faces a massive boom ahead — or maybe another recession first (Politico)
- Taking stock of Wall St. madness: The stock market frenzy is making overall inequality harder to ignore (Axios)
- America’s CEOs give Biden advice before he moves into the White House (CNN)
- Mayor Pete gets a seat: Joe Biden Expected To Tap Pete Buttigieg As Transportation Secretary (NPR)
- Tracking the Trump Administration’s “Midnight Regulations” (ProPublica)
- Obama-era program for immigrants faces new court challenge (AP)
- Medical grade: If Teachers Get the Vaccine Quickly, Can Students Get Back to School? (NYT, $)
- The sexual harassment allegation against Gov. Andrew Cuomo, explained (Vox)
- Why You Really Can’t Fight City Hall, At Least Over the Police (Politico)
It’s Time For Us To Do Some Machine Learning
- COVID-19 vaccines are a godsend, but they cannot resurrect what’s deceased, like your job, maybe. Workforce transformations have happened, and we’re not going back. Here to tell us what the next five years in employment looks like is the 2020 edition of the World Economic Forum’s “Future of Jobs” report. It surveys corporate executives in 35 countries around the globe about workforce transformations they anticipate in the next five years. The 291 responses come from companies that collectively have more than 7.7 million employees. The primary objective is to map the jobs and skills of the future.
- Here’s what businesses are doing to adjust for the pressures of COVID-19: One percent plan to increase their workforce; 14 percent plan to permanently reduce their workforce; 28 percent plan to temporarily reduce their workforce; 30 percent plan to temporarily reassign workers to different tasks; and 83 percent plan to accelerate automation of tasks.
- In other words, the movement towards widespread automation is more deeply evident in the workforce than anywhere else. One of the report’s central findings is that by 2025, the time spent on tasks at work by humans and machines will be equal. That amounts to 15 percent of the global workforce being disrupted by the shift in the division of labor between humans, machines, and algorithms. That’s 85 million displaced jobs.
- Of course, while automation is wiping out some jobs, it’s generating others. There’s opportunity for 97 million workers here, with titles like Data Analysts and Scientists, AI and Machine Learning Specialists, Robotics Engineers, Software, and Application developers as well as Digital Transformation Specialists, Process Automation Specialists, Information Security Analysts, and Internet of Things Specialists.
- Remote work will still be a thing, as in the chances of returning to work-life as we once knew it are … remote. This year 84 percent of employers said they were set to “rapidly digitalize working processes,” with the potential to move 44 percent of their employees to operate remotely. 80 US companies announced either a fully distributed or remote-first workforce from here on.
- Quick summary: COVID’s a wrecking ball, automation is coming faster than greased lightning, remote work isn’t going anywhere, and inequality is worse than ever … and yet, there’s still hope. That is, if you can quickly learn new skills, and you find robots attractive. (Vice)
- It’s all Greek to me: The last speakers of ancient Sparta (BBC)
- The man in the iron lung (Guardian)
- A filter made for astronaut urine could soon be providing drinking water on Earth (CNN)
- Treasure hunter stuck in jail for 5 years because he still won’t disclose whereabouts of 500 gold coins (CBS). What’s the price of freedom? 500 gold coins, apparently.
- Passwords are terrible for security, and AI can help (Fast Company)
- Step aside, The Queen’s Gambit: We have a winner in the world’s first quantum chess tournament (Ars Technica)
- Fake masks, fake cures, fake money—2020 was a great year for scammers (The Verge)
- Canceled culture: 2020: A Year Without Parties, Celebrations, or Ambition (Atlantic, $)
- The Biggest Cultural Moments of 2020 (Vice)
- Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to produce podcasts through exclusive deal with Spotify (NBC)
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