Protego Press Weekly Round Up (August 22nd, 2019)

While Congress may be on summer recess, events in the tech policy world are not. There is a bit of everything, from consumer privacy, forthcoming governmental regulation and oversight, fake news and cyber-mobs, ransomware attacks and more, all in this week’s Protego Press Weekly Round Up.

In Case You Missed It: Combatting cyber-mob attacks must be a priority. Law should raise the cost of cyber-mob attacks. It is time for tech companies to redress some of the negative externalities of their business model. That’s what Danielle Citron argues in a preview of an upcoming article in The Michigan Law Review (118 Mich. L. Rev. (forthcoming 2019).)

In Case You Missed It II: Bryan Jones wrote about issues raised by FaceApp, the viral app that shows what you might look like in a few decades.  How can we address the privacy and national security concerns exposed by this app? Perhaps it’s time to empower the FCC to have authority to set forth and enforce guidelines governing the collection, use, storage and sharing of consumer data would be a significant step towards protecting not just consumers but our nation as well.

In Case You Missed It III: R. Kelly Garrett, Robert Bond, and Shannon Poulsen, PhD Student in Communication, all from The Ohio State University, write about how many of the false stories weren’t the kind that were trying to intentionally deceive their readers; they actually came from satirical sites, and many people seemed to believe them. As they point out, the larger question, though, is what we should do about this problem.

In Case You Missed It IV:  The Federal Trade Commission issued its largest-ever fine, of US$5 billion, to Facebook for violating a 2011 privacy settlement in late July. More significantly, Facebook is required to have an “outside assessor” – a sort of privacy cop – to monitor the company’s handling of user data, along with following a few other corporate procedural requirements.Yet, writes Dean Bhaskar Chakravorti, this new ‘privacy cop’ is doomed to fail.

Increasing Push on Antitrust Investigations Into Tech: According to Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, the chief of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, the U.S. government is forging ahead with its review of online platforms for potential antitrust violations, coordinating with state attorneys general while signaling it could send demands for documents to Silicon Valley companies and their critics.  Delrahim went on to say there are growing questions about large tech giants’ purchase of “nascent competitors” and the “intention of the incumbent” in gobbling up startups in the first place. This comes on the heels of a New York Times report that the FTC discovered “internal Facebook documents that prompted concerns around how the company was acquiring rivals.”  It’s the latest sign that this issue isn’t just an issue raised as a political talking point for Democratic presidential candidates

Meanwhile, the tech companies are preparing themselves against government intervention. At Facebook, Engineers and developers at the company are integrating all three of its main products so that they’re interoperable, which is a move that would make splitting the trio apart a much more cumbersome process. The company is also slapping Facebook branding prominently onto Instagram and WhatsApp (“Instagram From Facebook”) so that everyone seems like one company instead of three.

Texas Under Cyber Attack: A total of 23 local government organizations in Texas were hit by a coordinated ransomware attack earlier this week, raising concerns about the cyber security of local municipalities. The type of ransomware has not been revealed, and Texas officials asserted that no state networks were compromised in the attack. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and state cybersecurity experts are examining the ongoing breach, which began Friday morning and has affected mostly smaller local governments. Officials have not disclosed which specific places are affected. While the ransomware used in the attack has not been identified, the details reported thus far do not appear to match with the ransomware used in attacks on local governments in June and July.

Microsoft Listening To Your Conversations?: Microsoft is the latest tech giant to amend its privacy policy after media reports revealed it uses human contractors to review audio recordings of Skype and Cortana usersThe tweaks to the privacy policy of Microsoft’s Skype VoIP software and its Cortana voice AI comes after Motherboard found contractors were listening to audio from both services, including sensitive and personal conversations of Microsoft customers, based on a cache of leaked documents, screenshots, and audio recordings.

Quick Hits:

Want more on how big tech might be reigned in? The NYT has 4 ways that this might be accomplished.

HUD’s changes to algorithm rules continues to raise concerns it would make it harder to hold people accountable for subtler forms of discrimination.

Boston Dynamic’s Atlas Robot is getting pretty good at doing parkour.