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Hate speech, collusion, and the constitution

Half an hour into their two-hour testimony on Wednesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey were asked about collaboration between social media companies. “Our collaboration has greatly increased,” Sandberg stated before turning to Dorsey and adding that Facebook has “always shared information with other companies.” Dorsey nodded in response, and noted for his part that he’s very open to establishing “a regular cadence with our industry peers.”

Social media companies have established extensive policies on what constitutes “hate speech” on their platforms. But discrepancies between these policies open the possibility for propagators of hate to game the platforms and still get their vitriol out to a large audience. Collaboration of the kind Sandberg and Dorsey discussed can lead to a more consistent approach to hate speech that will prevent the gaming of platforms’ policies.

But collaboration between competitors as dominant as Facebook and Twitter are in social media poses an important question: would antitrust or other laws make their coordination illegal?

The short answer is no. Facebook and Twitter are private companies that get to decide what user content stays and what gets deleted off of their platforms. When users sign up for these free services, they agree to abide by their terms. Neither company is under a First Amendment obligation to keep speech up. Nor can it be said that collaboration on platform safety policies amounts to collusion.

This could change based on an investigation into speech policing on social media platforms being considered by the Justice Department. But it’s extremely unlikely that Congress would end up regulating what platforms delete or keep online – not least because it may violate the First Amendment rights of the platforms themselves.

What is hate speech anyway?

Trying to find a universal definition for hate speech would be a fool’s errand, but in the context of private companies hosting user generated content, hate speech for social platforms is what they say is hate speech.

Facebook’s 26-page Community Standards include a whole section on how Facebook defines hate speech. For Facebook, hate speech is “anything that directly attacks people based on . . . their ‘protected characteristics’ — race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, sex, gender, gender identity, or serious disability or disease.” While that might be vague, Facebook then goes on to give specific examples of what would and wouldn’t amount to hate speech, all while making clear that there are cases – depending on the context – where speech will still be tolerated if, for example, it’s intended to raise awareness.

Twitter uses a “hateful conduct” prohibition which they define as promoting “violence against or directly attacking or threatening other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease.” They also prohibit hateful imagery and display names, meaning it’s not just what you tweet but what you also display on your profile page that can count against you.

Both companies constantly reiterate and supplement their definitions, as new test cases arise and as words take on new meaning. For example, the two common slang words to describe Ukrainians by Russians and Russians by Ukrainians was determined to be hate speech after war erupted in Eastern Ukraine in 2014. An internal review by Facebook found that what used to be common slang had turned into derogatory, hateful language.

Would collaboration on hate speech amount to anticompetitive collusion?

Under U.S. antitrust laws, companies cannot collude to make anticompetitive agreements or try to monopolize a market. A company which becomes a monopoly by having a superior product in the marketplace doesn’t violate antitrust laws. What does violate the law is dominant companies making an agreement – usually in secret – to deceive or mislead competitors or consumers. Examples include price fixing, restricting new market entrants, or misrepresenting the independence of the relationship between competitors.

A Pew survey found that 68% of Americans use Facebook. According to Facebook’s own records, the platform had a whopping 1.47 billion daily active users on average for the month of June and 2.23 billion monthly active users as of the end of June – with over 200 million in the US alone. While Twitter doesn’t disclose its number of daily users, it does publish the number of monthly active users which stood at 330 million at last count, 69 million of which are in the U.S.

There can be no question that Facebook and Twitter are overwhelmingly dominant in the social media market. That kind of dominance has led to calls for breaking up these giants under antitrust laws.

Would those calls hold more credence if the two social giants began coordinating their policies on hate speech?

The answer is probably not, but it does depend on exactly how they coordinated. Social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat have grown large internal product policy teams that decide the rules for using their platforms, including on hate speech. If these teams were to get together behind closed doors and coordinate policies and enforcement in a way that would preclude smaller competitors from being able to enter the market, then antitrust regulators may get involved.

Antitrust would also come into play if, for example, Facebook and Twitter got together and decided to charge twice as much for advertising that includes hate speech (an obviously absurd scenario) – in other words, using their market power to affect pricing of certain types of speech that advertisers use.

In fact, coordination around hate speech may reduce anti-competitive concerns. Given the high user engagement around hate speech, banning it could lead to reduced profits for the two companies and provide an opening to upstart competitors.

Sandberg and Dorsey’s testimony Wednesday didn’t point to executives hell-bent on keeping competition out through collaboration. Rather, their potential collaboration is probably better seen as an industry deciding on “best practices,” a common occurrence in other industries including those with dominant market players.

What about the First Amendment?

Private companies are not subject to the First Amendment. The Constitution applies to the government, not to corporations. A private company, no matter its size, can ignore your right to free speech.

That’s why Facebook and Twitter already can and do delete posts that contravene their policies. Calling for the extermination of all immigrants, referring to Africans as coming from shithole countries, and even anti-gay protests at military funerals may be protected in public spaces, but social media companies get to decide whether they’ll allow any of that on their platforms. As Harvard Law School’s Noah Feldman has stated, “There’s no right to free speech on Twitter. The only rule is that Twitter Inc. gets to decide who speaks and listens–which is its right under the First Amendment.”

Instead, when it comes to social media and the First Amendment, courts have been more focused on not allowing the government to keep citizens off of social media. Just last year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a North Carolina law that made it a crime for a registered sex offender to access social media if children use that platform. During the hearing, judges asked the government probing questions about the rights of citizens to free speech on social media from Facebook, to Snapchat, to Twitter and even LinkedIn.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made clear during the hearing that restricting access to social media would mean “being cut off from a very large part of the marketplace of ideas [a]nd [that] the First Amendment includes not only the right to speak, but the right to receive information.”

The Court ended up deciding that the law violated the fundamental First Amendment principle that “all persons have access to places where they can speak and listen,” noting that social media has become one of the most important forums for expression of our day.

Lower courts have also ruled that public officials who block users off their profiles are violating the First Amendment rights of those users. Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald, of the Southern District of New York, decided in May that Trump’s Twitter feed is a public forum. As a result, she ruled that when Trump blocks citizens from viewing and replying to his posts, he violates their First Amendment rights.

The First Amendment doesn’t mean Facebook and Twitter are under any obligation to keep up whatever you post, but it does mean that the government can’t just ban you from accessing your Facebook or Twitter accounts – and probably can’t block you off of their own public accounts either.

Collaboration is Coming?

Sandberg made clear in her testimony on Wednesday that collaboration is already happening when it comes to keeping bad actors off of platforms. “We [already] get tips from each other. The faster we collaborate, the faster we share these tips with each other, the stronger our collective defenses will be.”

Dorsey for his part stressed that keeping bad actors off of social media “is not something we want to compete on.” Twitter is here “to contribute to a healthy public square, not compete to have the only one, we know that’s the only way our business thrives and helps us all defend against these new threats.”

He even went further. When it comes to the drafting of their policies, beyond collaborating with Facebook, he said he would be open to a public consultation. “We have real openness to this. . . . We have an opportunity to create more transparency with an eye to more accountability but also a more open way of working – a way of working for instance that allows for a review period by the public about how we think about our policies.”

I’ve already argued why tech firms should collaborate on hate speech policies, the question that remains is if that would be legal. The First Amendment does not apply to social media companies. Antitrust laws don’t seem to stand in their way either. And based on how Senator Burr, Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, chose to close the hearing, government seems supportive of social media companies collaborating. Addressing Sandberg and Dorsey, he said, “I would ask both of you. If there are any rules, such as any antitrust, FTC, regulations or guidelines that are obstacles to collaboration between you, I hope you’ll submit for the record where those obstacles are so we can look at the appropriate steps we can take as a committee to open those avenues up.”

Bernie Sanders’ problem with Amazon

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is seeking additional information about the working conditions in Amazon warehouses in advance of legislation he’s preparing to introduce on September 5. 

Income inequality was, after all, the centerpiece of Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. It was a populist message that resonated strongly with voters, giving the dark horse candidate a boost among concerned progressives and independents during a tooth and nail primary battle.

But while the message, perhaps, wasn’t enough to put him over the top, it’s a mission that’s remained central to Sanders’ work on Capitol Hill, finding him taking aim at some of the world’s largest corporations. In recent months, Amazon has been in the senator’s sights.

Earlier today, Sanders tweeted out a link asking employees of the online retail giant to share their experiences working for the company. The form allows current and former Amazon employees to share their stories either on the record or anonymously. It asks whether workers “struggle[d] with the demanding working conditions,” and whether they required public assistance.

Are you a current or former Amazon employee? Please share your experiences with Sen. Bernie Sanders . https://t.co/fQzm3SuyXA

— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) August 28, 2018

In a phone call today, Sanders told TechCrunch that his office already knows enough about the working conditions in Amazon warehouses, but is seeking additional information as it prepares to introduce legislation on September 5.

“We know that the median salary for Amazon employees is about $28,000,” the Senator told TechCrunch. “And about half the workers who work for Amazon make less than $28,000 a year.”

It’s easy to see why the company has become a prime target for Sanders. A recent SEC filing put the median salary at $28,446 — less than owner Jeff Bezos makes every 10 seconds.

“We have every reason to believe that many, many thousands of Amazon workers in their warehouses throughout the country are earning very low wages,” Sanders explained. “It’s hard to get this information. Amazon has not been very forthcoming. From what information we’ve gathered, one out of three Amazon workers in Arizona, as we understand it, are on public assistance. They are receiving either Medicaid, food stamps or public housing.”

The Senator acknowledges that nothing about what Amazon is doing, on the face of it, is breaking any laws. But the discrepancy between its highest and lowest wage earners is enough for him to call into question why government subsidies are required to buoy those on the bottom rung. This is precisely what the proposed legislation aims to address.

Put simply, Sanders says we have every reason to believe that the richest man in the world can afford to pay employees more.

“The taxpayers in this country should not be subsidizing a guy who’s worth $150 billion, whose wealth is increasing by $260 million every single day,” said Sanders. “That is insane. He has enough money to pay his workers a living wage. He does not need corporate welfare. And our goal is to see that Bezos pays his workers a living wage.”

While Amazon is notoriously tight-lipped about matters these matters, the company has been on the defensive since the senator made it a kind of pet project. Amazon won’t comment directly on the forthcoming legislation until it’s made official, but the company did provide TechCrunch with comment regarding the blowback.

“We encourage anyone to compare our pay and benefits to other retailers,” an Amazon spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Amazon is proud to have created over 130,000 new jobs last year alone. These are good jobs with highly competitive pay and full benefits. In the U.S., the average hourly wage for a full-time associate in our fulfillment centers, including cash, stock, and incentive bonuses, is over $15/hour before overtime. That’s in addition to our full benefits package that includes health, vision and dental insurance, retirement, generous parental leave, and skills training for in-demand jobs through our Career Choice program, which has over 16,000 participants.”

Amazon further suggests that those interested in learning more about warehouse conditions book a tour of one of its fulfillment centers to “see for themselves.” 

A representative from Sanders’ office tells TechCrunch that Amazon invited the senator on a tour of a fulfillment center, and he plans to take the company up on the offer.

SAN FERNANDO DE HENARES, SPAIN – 2018/07/16: General view of the Amazon warehouse in San Fernando de Henares.

Of course, the concerns over Amazon’s treatment of workers aren’t new. Mother Jones ran an exposé of what it was like working as an Amazon warehouse slave in 2012. In 2013, Gawker published a series of emails from employees discussing life in fulfillment centers citing things like “unrealistic goals,” “very short breaks” and “below zero temps” in warehouses. A protestor cited by The Guardian in 2014 said it was better to be homeless than work for the retailer. And, most recently, Business Insider documented the “horror stories” faced by the Amazon warehouse workers, including nonstop surveillance and so little ability to take breaks, they couldn’t even use the facilities, when needed.  

Amazon has since been on something of a charm offensive in response to those PR headaches.

Last week, there was the odd phenomenon of an army of Twitter accounts claiming to be warehouse workers who were serving up similar talking points.

“Hello!” one wrote, cheerfully. “I work in an Amazon FC in WA and our wages and benefits are very good. Amazon pays FC employess [sic] ~30% more than traditional retail stores and offers full medical benefits from day 1. Working conditions are very good- clean/well lit- Safety is a top priority at my facility!”

That Amazon positions its own offerings as “highly competitive” can, perhaps, be seen as something of an indictment of larger issues with warehouse fulfillment. While the company is an easy target, it’s certainly not alone. And Sanders notes that his office is casting the net wider than just Amazon. Disney and Walmart have also been targeted by the senator.

In June, Sanders told a crowd at an Anaheim church, “I want to hear the moral defense of a company that makes $9 billion in profits, $400 million for their CEOs and have a 30-year worker going hungry. Tell me how that is right.” 

A month later, he took to Twitter to call out CEO Bob Iger directly, writing, “Does Disney CEO Bob Iger have a good explanation for why he is being compensated more than $400 million while workers at Disneyland are homeless and relying on food stamps to feed their families?”

Does Disney CEO Bob Iger have a good explanation for why he is being compensated more than $400 million while workers at Disneyland are homeless and relying on food stamps to feed their families?

— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) July 13, 2018

Earlier this week, however, Disney reached an agreement with the Walt Disney World union to pay workers a $15 minimum wage.

“We’ve seen real progress at the Disney corporation,” Sanders told TechCrunch, “and I believe that Jeff Bezos can play a profound role in American society today if he were to say, ‘yes, I’m the richest guy in the world. I will pay my workers a living wage at least $15 and make sure all of my workers have the security and dignity they need. I will improve conditions.’”

Amazon and Walmart, meanwhile, remain the two key targets for the impending legislation. With Democrats in the minority in the U.S. Senate, it seems unlikely that a hearing will be called where Bezos would be asked to testify à la Mark Zuckerberg, but the senator plans to go ahead with the legislation next week, regardless.  

“That legislation is pretty simple,” explained Sanders. “It says: if you are a large company of 500 or more employees and you’re paying your workers wages that are so low that they have to go on food stamps, Medicaid, public housing, etc., then you have to pay taxes commensurate to how much the government is now spending for that assistance. It’s going to be the employer – the Jeff Bezos, the Walton family – who will pick up the tab for these public assistance programs, rather than the middle class of the country.”

Facebook is the recruiting tool of choice for far-right group the Proud Boys

Twitter may have suspended the Proud Boys and their controversial leader Gavin McInnes, but it was never their platform of choice.

The Proud Boys, a self described “Western chauvinist” organization that often flirts with more hard-line groups of the far right, runs an elaborate network of recruiting pages on Facebook to attract and initiate members. While McInnes maintained a presence on many platforms, Facebook is the heart of the group’s operations. It’s there that the Proud Boys boast more than 35 regional and city-specific groups that act as landing pages for vetting thousands of new members and feeding them into local chapters.

When it comes to skirting the outer boundaries of social acceptability, McInnes could teach a master class. The Vice founder and Canadian citizen launched his newest project in 2016, capturing a groundswell of public political activity on the far right and launching the Proud Boys, a men’s club allied around the mantra “West is best,” its dedication to Trump and a prohibition against flip-flops and porn.

Facebook recruiting

The group makes national headlines for its involvement in violent dust-ups between the far right and far left and has a robust recruitment network centered on initiating members through Facebook groups. As for where it fits into the far right’s many sub-factions, McInnes objects to the term alt-light, sometimes used to describe far right group that oppose some mainstream conservative ideals but don’t openly endorse white nationalism. “Alt Light is a gay term that sounds like a diet soda in bed w Alt Right,” he said on Twitter last year. “We’re “The New Right.”

To that end, most regional affiliate pages run a message outlining some ground rules, including a declaration that its members not be racist or homophobic — a useful disclaimer for making the group more palatable than many of its less clever peers.

The Proud Boys’ agenda is less explicitly race-based than many groups it has affiliations with, espousing instead a broad sort of antagonism to perceived enemies on the political left and a credo of “western chauvinism.” The language is cleaned up, but it’s one degree removed from less palatable figures, including Unite the Right leader Jason Kessler. McInnes hosted Kessler on his own talk show just days after Kessler led the Charlottesville rally that left counter-protester Heather Heyer dead. In the segment, McInnes tried to create space between Kessler and the Proud Boys, though it wasn’t Kessler’s first time on the show or his only affiliation with the Proud Boys.

The Proud Boys also coordinates with the Vancouver, Washington-based group known as Patriot Prayer, another fairly social media-savvy far right organization that doesn’t openly endorse explicitly white nationalist groups, but still welcomes them into the fold during demonstrations that often turn violent.

Who are the Proud Boys?

Like much of the young, internet-fluent alt-right, the Proud Boys intentionally don’t take themselves too seriously, a strategy that conveniently opens the door for them to denounce any kind of controversy that might arise. They show up to protests wearing black and gold Fred Perry polo shirts, have a whole charter’s worth of inside jokes and in general seem a bit more media and internet savvy than hardline white nationalist groups, some of which Facebook has managed to clear out in the last year.

Unlike some less strategic and internet-savvy portions of the far right, McInnes and his Proud Boys are careful not to openly encourage preemptive violence. Still, the Proud Boys do encourage retaliatory violence, going so far as to enshrine physical altercations in its organizational hierarchy.

To earn their “first degree,” Proud Boys must openly declare their allegiance to the group’s ideals, usually in a Facebook vetting group.

To earn the second, they have to get beaten up by other members while naming five breakfast cereals (maybe a loose tie-in to the group’s mantra against masturbation). To earn the third degree they have to get a Proud Boys tattoo. The fourth degree is reserved for members who get in a brawl sufficient for the honor:

“You can’t plan getting a fourth degree. Its a consolation prize for engaging in a major conflict for the cause. Being arrested is not encouraged, although those who are immediately become fourth degree because the court has registered a major conflict. Serious physical fights also count and it’s up to each chapter to decide how serious the conflict must be to determine a fourth degree.”

That’s where the Proud Boys Facebook network comes in. To get accepted into a local chapter, prospective members join specific vetting groups and are asked to upload a video of them meeting their “first degree” requirements:

“Once you are added here, to be properly vetted you must upload and post a video of yourself reciting our First Degree. This is just a quick video of you saying EXACTLY THIS:

“My name is [full name], I’m from [city, state], and I am a western chauvinist who refuses to apologize for creating the modern world.” You can add anything else you’d like to your video, as long as you say those words exactly.

YouTube is full of first and second degree videos depicting the usually short half-ironic hazing ceremonies.

Facebook also hosts pages dedicated to the Fraternal Order of the Alt-Knights, a new-ish subdivision of the Proud Boys and its paramilitary wing. The Alt-Knights, also known as FOAK, are led by Kyle Chapman, a.k.a. “Based Stickman,” a far right figure who grew to fame after beating political enemies with a stick at a 2017 Berkeley protest. The Alt-Knights aren’t always quite as careful to denounce violence.

Whether the Proud Boys are in violation of Facebook’s unevenly enforced and sometimes secretive policies or not, the organization is making the most of its time on the platform. Facebook has rules against organizing harm or credible violence that the Proud Boys’ brawling ethos and alt-knights would seem to run afoul of, but the group stands by the useful mantra “We don’t start fights, we finish them.”

TechCrunch reached out to the Proud Boys to get an idea of their membership numbers and will update this story if we receive a reply. An analysis of affiliated pages shows that Proud Boys groups have added hundreds of members in the last 30 days across many chapters.

With a second Unite the Right rally around the corner and the ugly reality of more real-life violence organized on social media looming large, platforms are on their toes for once. Facebook has cleaned up some of the rampant racism that stemmed from the extreme right presence on its platform, but savvier, self-censoring groups like the Proud Boys are likely to be the real headache as Facebook, Twitter and Google trudge through an endless minefield of case-by-case terms of service violations, drawing sharp criticism from both sides of the political spectrum no matter where they choose to place their feet.

Geoffrey Starks nominated as FCC Commissioner to fill Democratic gap left by Clyburn

The President has officially named Geoffrey Starks as his pick to fill the FCC Commissioner role left open by Mignon Clyburn’s departure. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai confirmed the news, rumored over the past few weeks, in a statement.

“I congratulate Geoffrey Starks on his forthcoming nomination to serve as a Commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission,” said Pai. “He has a distinguished record of public service, including in the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, and I wish him all the best during the confirmation process.”

Starks isn’t exactly a well known figure, but in public service that’s actually something of a compliment. He has worked in the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau for three years and is currently one of several assistant bureau chiefs. Previously he was at the Justice Department, which makes sense, as the Enforcement Bureau’s responsibility is “to investigate and respond quickly to potential unlawful conduct.”

It’s unclear as yet what his position is on the various measures currently being addressed by the FCC, from net neutrality to the revamping of media regulations.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer reportedly settled on Starks as long as a couple months ago, the interim no doubt being spent on due diligence, cultivating endorsements, and so on. The Senate will have to confirm Starks, but there’s no timeline on that yet. Commissioners generally serve five-year terms.

The FCC is kept at an uneven split between the two parties, ideally 3:2 in favor of the current administration. At the moment it has three Republican Commissioners and one Democrat, Commissioner Clyburn having left just a few weeks ago.

I’ve asked the FCC for more information on Starks and no doubt his nomination will trigger considerable scrutiny by press and politicians alike.

Twitter will give political candidates a special badge during US midterm elections

Ahead of 2018 U.S. midterm elections, Twitter is taking a visible step to combat the spread of misinformation on its famously chaotic platform. In a blog post this week, the company explained how it would be adding “election labels” to the profiles of candidates running for political office.

“Twitter has become the first place voters go to seek accurate information, resources, and breaking news from journalists, political candidates, and elected officials,” the company wrote in its announcement. “We understand the significance of this responsibility and our teams are building new ways for people who use Twitter to identify original sources and authentic information.”

These labels feature a small government building icon and text identifying the position a candidate is running for and the state or district where the race is taking place. The label information included in the profile will also appear elsewhere on Twitter, even when tweets are embedded off-site.

The labels will start popping up after May 30 and will apply to candidates in state governor races as well as those campaigning for a seat in the Senate or the House of Representatives.

Twitter will partner with nonpartisan political nonprofit Ballotpedia to create the candidate labels. In a statement announcing its partnership, Ballotpedia explains how that process will work:

Ballotpedia covers all candidates in every upcoming election occurring within the 100 most-populated cities in the U.S., plus all federal and statewide elections, including ballot measures. After each state primary, Ballotpedia will provide Twitter with information on gubernatorial and Congressional candidates who will appear on the November ballot. After receiving consent from each candidate, Twitter will apply the labels to each candidate profile.

The decision to create a dedicated process to verify political profiles is a step in the right direction for Twitter. With major social platforms still in upheaval over revelations around foreign misinformation campaigns during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Twitter and Facebook need to take decisive action now if they intend to inoculate their users against a repeat threat in 2018.

Backpage pleads guilty to sex trafficking, CEO faces up to 5 years for money laundering

Backpage .com, for years the primary online platform for the sex trade, has pleaded guilty as a company to charges of sex trafficking in Texas, the state’s attorney general announced today. Its CEO, Carl Ferrer, pleaded guilty to money laundering, for which he may be sentenced to up to 5 years in prison.

The site was seized last week and a 93-count indictment issued days later.

Ferrer was arrested back in 2016, and will be sentenced “once he’s fulfilled the terms of his plea agreement.”

The Texas AG’s office does not elaborate beyond the charges mentioned in the press release, except to say that Ferrer’s cooperation could lead to new ones. Considering the site was an international and popular platform for all kinds of sex-related commerce — allegedly including child trafficking — it seems likely there’s far more yet to come, including pleas for similar crimes in different jurisdictions.

The execution of this strike against Backpage, the culmination of an 18-month investigation (beginning around the arrest of Ferrer), is coincident but not directly related to the passage and signing of FOSTA. The bill, just this week signed into law, effectively removes the “safe harbor” enjoyed by internet companies protecting them from having liability for the actions of their users. Under FOSTA, a company like Craigslist would be responsible if, for example, a prostitute listed their services on the site.

Unsurprisingly Craigslist and other sites have removed listings or services that may put them at risk under FOSTA, prompting criticism from the more legitimate sides of the sex industry that relied on them.

US authorities ban electronics larger than a phone from flights from 13 countries

 According to numerous reports, US authorities today alerted a number of Middle Eastern and African airlines that starting soon, their passengers will have to check any electronic items larger than a cell phone. That means passengers on these flights will have to put their laptops, tablets, Kindles and portable game consoles into their checked baggage for the foreseeable future. There is still… Read More

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If Trump wants an easy policy win, he should focus on funding smart cities

cityscape and technology and network connection concept As America’s cities continue to grow, they face mind-boggling challenges: worsening traffic, increasing pollution, expensive housing, aging infrastructure and strained services. These challenges can only be solved by harnessing the power of big data, machine learning and other technology. Read More

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Elon Musk says he put travel ban on the agenda as he defends continued Trump council participation

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 03:  SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk (L) talks with White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon at the beginning of a policy forum with U.S. President Donald Trump in the State Dining Room at the White House February 3, 2017 in Washington, DC. Leaders from the automotive and manufacturing industries, the financial and retail services and other powerful global businesses were invited to the meeting with Trump, his advisors and family.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) Elon Musk only noted very briefly that there had been “progress” on the matter of the immigration order made during his meeting with Donald Trump’s economics advisory council on Friday, but on Saturday the Tesla CEO shared a bit more about what happened at the event. Musk said that he specifically requested inclusion of discussion of the travel ban at the closed meeting, as… Read More

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Federal judge puts nationwide block on President Trump’s travel ban

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks before signing an executive order surrounded by small business leaders in the Oval Office of the White House January 30, 2017 in Washington, DC. Trump said he will "dramatically" reduce regulations overall with this executive action as it requires that for every new federal regulation implemented, two must be rescinded. (Photo by Andrew Harrer - Pool/Getty Images) President Trump’s executive order banning travelers from seven countries could be over just one chaotic week after its hasty introduction. That’s because a federal judge from Seattle has obtained a restraining order which looks set to overrule the order with nationwide effect. The ruling came after U.S. states Washington and Minnesota filed legal action against the order on… Read More

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Elon Musk says he’ll present objections to Trump’s immigration order at Friday advisory council meeting

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 23:  White House Senior Advisor Stephen Miller (L) and Klaus Kleinfeld of Arconic visit with Elon Musk (C) of SpaceX before a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in the Roosevelt Room at the White House January 23, 2017 in Washington, DC. Business leaders who also attend the meeting included Elon Musk of SpaceX, Mark Sutton of International Paper, Michael Dell of Dell Technologies, Marillyn Hewson of Lockheed Martin, Andrew Liveris of Dow Chemical and others.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) Tesla CEO Elon Musk issued a statement about his participation in Donald Trump’s economic advisory council, and a scheduled meeting of the group tomorrow. Musk said that he and others on the council will take the opportunity to voice their opposition to the president’s executive order on immigration and suggest how it might be changed. Musk took the opportunity to specifically… Read More

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Using tech to fix the criminal justice system

police-use-of-force-data Criminal justice reform at the federal level is kind of up in the air, but local jurisdictions around the country are continuing to step up to ensure that we move in the right direction. And local and state levels are where criminal justice policies and procedures matter the most, with local and state officials in charge of more than 90% of the prison and jail populations. Through the… Read More

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We need startups to build democracy tech

i-want-you-to-build-democracy-tech It’s time to actually make the world a better place.
Silicon Valley was birthed from an existential threat to the world. Nazi radar defense technology was decimating the Allied air forces. But American engineers heeded the call, and in a Harvard lab led by Stanford professor Frederick Terman, invented radar jammers that helped win the war.
Terman brought the engineering talent back to… Read More

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DraftKings has received a Malta gaming license, paving the way for European expansion

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 16:  The fantasy sports website DraftKings is shown on October 16, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. DraftKings and its rival FanDuel have been under scrutiny after accusations surfaced of employees participating in the contests with insider information. An employee recently finished second in a contest on FanDuel, winning $350,000. Nevada recently banned the sites.  (Photo illustration by Scott Olson/Getty Images) DraftKings was just approved for a Controlled Skill Games License from the Malta Gaming Authority, which is the entity that runs gaming in Malta – a small island nation south of Italy. While this may not sound like a big deal, (especially considering Malta has a population of under 500,000 people) the nation is part of the European Union, meaning DraftKings can now expand into some other… Read More

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Uber CEO offers compensation for drivers impacted by immigration ban, will talk to Trump

Travis Kalanick Onstage at Disrupt Uber co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick added his voice today to a growing chorus of tech executives troubled by President Donald Trump’s recent immigration order banning the entry of US residents from seven countries.
Echoing the sentiments of Google’s Sundar Pichai and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, Kalanick wrote a letter to Uber staff, also posting to his Facebook wall. Read More

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Top Microsoft execs weigh in on Trump’s immigration ban

satya-nadella Slowly but surely, the tech world is reacting to a sweeping executive order signed by Trump on Friday that closes the United States’ borders to refugees and citizens from a number of countries. Some have shared personal stories or reflected on the ways in which such policy will negatively impact the Silicon Valley, where so much of the work force has immigrated from around the… Read More

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Google CEO Sundar Pichai fears impact of Trump immigration order, recalls staff

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 04: Pichai Sundararajan, known as Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google Inc. speaks during an event to introduce Google Pixel phone and other Google products on October 4, 2016 in San Francisco, California. The Google Pixel is intended to challenge the Apple iPhone in the premium smartphone category. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty Images) Google CEO Sundar Pichai has outlined his disapproval of the impact arising from Trump’s dangerous, inhumane and short-sighted sweeping immigration order, which imposes for at least 90 days a block on entry to the U.S. for citizens (including valid visa holders) from seven countries, blocks indefinitely refugee admittance from Syria and also caps the total number of refugees allowed… Read More

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Twitter releases national security letters

twitter-ban-speech-gray Over the last eight months, tech companies have slowly been revealing that they’ve received national security letters from the Federal Bureau of Investigation that force the firms to secretly disclose user data to the government. Today, Twitter joined the ranks of Yahoo, Cloudflare and Google by announcing it had received two national security letters, one in 2015 and one in 2016. The… Read More

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Zuckerberg defends immigrants threatened by Trump

zuckerberg-immigration While other tech leaders glad-hand with The Donald, Mark Zuckerberg is facing him head on. Today the Facebook CEO called out the president for his unAmerican views that demonize immigrants, while also tactfully encouraging the few positive policies and comments Trump has offered on the subject. You should read Zuckerberg’s full Facebook post on the topic embedded at the bottom of this… Read More

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Trump’s FCC Chairman pick Ajit Pai heralds a weaker, meeker Commission

Ajit pai FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai was elevated today to Chairman by the Trump administration, setting the stage for a more restrained and permissive FCC than under Tom Wheeler, who resigned last month. Pai has consistently opposed Wheeler and the other Democratic Commissioners on controversial issues like Net Neutrality, often dissenting on the grounds that the FCC is overstepping its authority. Read More

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The White House is adding four ‘Skype Seats’ to its press briefings

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Among the revelations at Sean Spicer’s first official White House briefing as press secretary was the newly minted administration’s plans to add a quartet of so-called “Skype Seats” to the room beginning this week. The addition is an attempt to open the traditionally closed-off briefing up to reporters outside of the White House walls. According to Spicer, the… Read More

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The inauguration is happening tomorrow; here’s where you can stream it

American flags hang at the United States Capitol, in preparation for President Obama's second term inauguration ceremony in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images) If, say, the presidential inauguration is a thing you’d like to watch on Friday morning, then great news, friend, there are plenty of options. The bad news is that you’ve missed the musical stylings of Toby Keith, Lee Greenwood and 3 Doors Down.
The good news is that the real, good-old-fashioned inauguratin’ doesn’t really get started until 11:30AM ET tomorrow. Read More

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Alphabet’s Eric Schmidt heads to Trump Tower (again)

lobby After their much-publicized meeting with President-elect Trump last month, many prominent figures in tech appear to be circling back to Trump tower. Eric Schmidt is the latest to be spotted at Trump’s Manhattan outpost, stopping by a few hours after AT&T’s Randall Stephenson met with Trump. Around the time of his visit, Schmidt, a former close Hillary Clinton supporter,… Read More

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U.S. Department of Transportation announces a new committee focused on automation

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 15: Mary Barra, Chairman and CEO of General Motors, speaks during a General Motors press conference at the Renaissance Center on December 15, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan. General Motors announced it will soon begin autonomous vehicle testing on Michigan's public roads and start manufacturing the next generation of autonomous vehicles at the Orion assembly plant, Michigan in 2017.   (Photo by Rachel Woolf/Getty Images) The U.S. regulatory agency overseeing transportation of all kinds at the federal level has announced a new official federal committee on automation, be it autonomous driving, drones or other self-guided modes of getting around. The new federal committee is designed to help the Department of Transportation (DOT) learn from industry experts regarding how it should be shaping policy and research… Read More

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