Technical Difficulties

Technical difficulties hinder trial of inauguration protesters; Facebook still permits discriminatory advertising; and more.


  • Although the news cycle is full to breaking, one story that isn’t getting as much attention as it deserves is the trial of the protesters arrested en masse on inauguration day. Alan Pyke reports for ThinkProgress that the second day of the trial was a farce, a series of technical difficulties that mocked the severity of the charges. “Wonky HDMI cables, rechargeable wireless headsets and frozen laptops repeatedly left the well-meaning but often confused attorneys to spar with technology more than with each other,” Pyke writes. “Lawyers from each side struggled Tuesday to work up any kind of rhythm in their questioning because of the repeated interruptions necessary to navigate the gigantic pile of video evidence the government is relying upon. One might expect a serious felony trial involving thousands of gigabytes of video data covering hours of chaos in the streets to have some state-of-the-art system for playback—or at least the kind of pre-cut clips common on sports highlights shows.”

  • Cyber-insecurity: Last year, hackers stole the personal data of 50 million Uber users and 7 million drivers, including names, email addresses, and phone numbers, and the company concealed the breach for more than a year by paying the hackers $100,000 to keep quiet, Eric Newcomer reports for Bloomberg. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has opened an investigation into the hack.

  • Mike Isaac, Katie Benner, and Sheera Frenkel report for The New York Times that Uber disguised the payout to the hackers as a “bug bounty”—the rewards that tech companies give white hat hackers for finding security vulnerabilities.

  • Android phones have been sending user location data back to Google, even when location tracking has been disabled, Keith Collins reports for Quartz.

  • In a deep dive for The New York Times Magazine, Cliff Kuang investigates whether “A.I. [can] be taught to explain itself.” The article opens with the story of Michal Kosinski, the researcher who wrote a paper about an A.I. that could predict whether someone was gay with remarkably high accuracy, and yet had no idea how the A.I. was doing it. The question of accountability and transparency becomes all the more pressing, not only because of the impact these algorithms have on our lives, but because some government bodies like the European Union will soon begin demanding that decisions made by machine be explainable.

  • Must-read: “They wanted to disrupt the status quo, but weren’t at all prepared for what it would mean when they controlled the infrastructure underlying democracy, the economy, the media, and communication,” writes Data & Society’s danah boyd about the technologists who have shaped our world, on how power has corrupted a certain geek-masculine ideal. “Today, we’re watching as diversity becomes a wedge issue that can be used to radicalize disaffected young men in tech. The gendered nature of tech is getting ugly.”

  • Life in Facebookistan: After ProPublica reported last year that advertisers on Facebook could show housing ads to whites only, the company promised to crack down on discriminatory ads. Reporters Julia Angwin, Ariana Tobin, and Madeleine Varner circled back to test them on it, and found that they could still purchase ads and hide them from categories of users, including African Americans, Jews, and Spanish speakers, all groups protected under the Fair Housing Act.

  • Although one of the main sources of anti-Rohingya propaganda has been banned from preaching, he is free to spread his hateful message through a coordinated campaign on Facebook, Mathew Ingram reports for the Columbia Journalism Review.

  • Quotes originating from Russian Twitter accounts run out of the Internet Research Agency in St Petersburg were quoted more than 80 times in various U.K. news outlets, Alex Hern, Pamela Duncan, and Helena Bengtsson report for The Guardian.

  • ProPublica has posted the White House visitor records that the Trump administration tried to conceal from the public, after the transparency group Property of the People sued for their release.
  • Media matters: Lucia Moses reports for Digiday on the rise and fall of Mashable.

  • This is civic tech: Brooklyn startup JustFix.nyc, which helps renters file complaints against negligent landlords, won the $180,000 top prize in the WeWork Creator Awards, Tyler Woods reports for Technical.ly.

  • Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and the economist Tyler Cowen’s is that the end of net neutrality isn’t the end of the world, as he shares in the Bloomberg opinion pages. However, I think many of the people who object to the end of net neutrality are concerned with more than the cost of their Netflix subscription, or that company’s share prices, which is the primary example Cowen gives in his everything-is-going-to-be-fine argument.

  • In a letter to FCC chairman Ajit Pai, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman writes that his office has been investigating the corruption of the FCC’s notice and comment process, in which fake comment posters used the identities of real Americans to share anti-net neutrality comments, an investigation the FCC is refusing to cooperate with. “I encourage the FCC to reconsider its refusal to assist in my office’s law enforcement investigation to identify and hold accountable those who illegally misused so many New Yorkers’ identities to corrupt the public comment process,” Schneiderman writes. “In an era where foreign governments have indisputably tried to use the internet and social media to influence our elections, federal and state governments should be working together to ensure that malevolent actors cannot subvert our administrative agencies’ decision-making processes.”

  • Apply: The U.K. nonprofit mySociety is looking to fill three telecommute position: GIS developer for the Democratic Commons, data pipeline developer for the Democratic Commons, and a data analyst for the Democratic Commons. Learn more here.