Terms of Service
Battles over AI regulation; Toronto's Civic Hall turns one; and much more.
This is civic tech: Our sister organization Civic Hall Toronto turned one last week, and here’s program manager Shea Sinnott‘s reflections on what she and her colleagues have learned so far. She reports that in their first year, “we signed up 13 teams from the City of Toronto and the City of Markham as government members and welcomed them to co-work with us at the Centre for Social Innovation. We ran 32 events for 771 people, including 13 training workshops for public servants, held six office hours, where the public can meet our members and discuss the issues that matter to them, and we delivered on seven projects by fostering collaboration between our government members, the civic tech community and residents.”
Fortune Magazine’s Beth Kowitt goes deep on the “civil war” inside Google, arguing that it is rooted in the gap between “Old Google” and “New Google,” to wit: “At Old Google, employees say they had a voice in how the company was run. At New Google, the communication and trust between the rank and file and executives is in decline. Decision-making power, some say, is now concentrated at the very top of a company run by executives who are increasingly driven by conventional business metrics.” That and the fact that many employees who went to work at the company because they believed they would be able to do work consonant with their values have ended their silence on a range of issues including coddling China, making killer drones, and workplace harassment.
Brave new world: Google has started to show off Translatotron, which can convert speech in one language into another while maintaining a speaker’s voice and cadence. The work is still at an early stage, but wow!
As cities like New York look toward implementing congestion pricing, long-time transportation guru Robin Chase (cofounder of Zipcar) writes in The Atlantic that it’s time to abandon automated license plate recognition (an intrusive and expensive technology) and shift toward an app-based approach that could be more decentralized and privacy-protective.
Tech and politics: The Internet Association tweets that it is “excited to present Advisor to the President, @IvankaTrump with the Internet Freedom Award for her continued leadership in expanding the computer science education pipeline and closing the skills gap for computing jobs in today’s economy.” The Internet Association represents “leading global internet companies” including Airbnb, Amazon, Ebay, Etsy, Google, Lyft, Microsoft, PayPal, Reddit, Twilio, Twitter and Uber. (h/t Siva Vaidhyanathan)
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has launched TOSsed Out, a new project that aims to highlight how social media platforms inconsistently and erroneously apply their terms of service. Said Jillian York, EFF Director for International Freedom of Expression,“Last week the White House launched a tool to report take downs, following the president’s repeated allegations that conservatives are being censored on social media. But in reality, commercial content moderation practices negatively affect all kinds of people with all kinds of political views. Black women get flagged for posting hate speech when they share experiences of racism. Sex educators’ content is removed because it was deemed too risqué. TOSsed Out will show that trying to censor social media at scale ends up removing far too much legal, protected speech that should be allowed on platforms.”
The ACLU is pressing Amazon shareholders to back a resolution limiting the sale of its Rekognition tool to law enforcement, Zack Whittaker reports for TechCrunch.
With governments starting to move more quickly to address new technologies like artificial intelligence, Tom Simonite reports for Wired on how big tech companies are maneuvering to dominate the conversation and pre-empt potential moratoria to allow more time for consideration of the issues involved. For example, in Washington state, Microsoft, which has been outspoken about the dangers of some uses of facial recognition tech, opposed a bill that would have required companies to obtain independent confirmation that their tool worked equally well for all skin tones and genders before deploying it. Simonite writes, “Irene Plenefisch, Microsoft’s director of government affairs, testified against that version of the bill, saying it ‘would effectively ban facial recognition technology [which] has many beneficial uses.’ The house bill stalled. With lawmakers unable to reconcile differing visions for the legislation, Washington’s attempt to pass a new privacy law collapsed.”
Privacy, shmivacy: “Cars not only know how much we weigh but also track how much weight we gain. They know how fast we drive, where we live, how many children we have — even financial information. Connect a phone to a car, and it knows who we call and who we text. But who owns and, ultimately, controls that data? And what are carmakers doing with it?” Some very good questions from Bill Hanvey, the head of the Auto Care Association, in a New York Times oped.
What sharing economy? Uber is now offering riders choosing its “premium” service the ability to silence talkative drivers with a “quiet mode” option that they can select before hailing a ride, Michael Grothause reports for Fast Company.
Uber and Lyft drivers at Reagan National Airport congregate several times a night to turn off their apps together for a minute or two to trick the company into turning on surge pricing, Sam Sweeney reports for WJLA. The drivers say they are resorting to this tactic to fight back against three years of pay cuts.