Protego Press Weekly Roundup- November 14th, 2019

The second week of November brings record chills to much of the US, but the tech policy world isn’t cooling down. From social media monitoring to GRU operations, to social media ads and AI blackbox issues – it’s all in this week’s Protego Press Weekly Round Up.

In Case You Missed It: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a proposed rule to collect social media identifiers from an estimated 33 million people annually who seek permission to enter or stay in the United States, or become citizens. DHS plans to demand this information from a host of immigrants: lawful permanent residents seeking to become citizens, people applying for political asylum, and for many other immigration benefits assessed by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). However, compelling people who seek admission to the United States…to disclose their social media handles so what they say or have said can be used against them now, or monitored in the future, will chill their right to express themselves. Mana Azarmi writes more in DHS Should Scrap Proposed Collection of Social Media Identifiers

GRU’s Online Influence: The Stanford Internet Observatory published a white paper on GRU online influence operations from 2014 to 2019. The authors conducted this research at the request of the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) and began with a data set consisting of social media posts provided to the Committee by Facebook.  As Renee DiResta, one of the researchers on the project (and a Protego Press EIC) writes: “There is a “playbook” here but it’s not the one used by the IRA. No ‘Jesus memes’. The GRU-attributed ops revolved around the creation of front media orgs and fake people who wrote for them…and freelanced for real ideologically aligned media organizations.”

Search vs Privacy Interests Resolved?: A federal judge ruled this week that the current practice of searching travelers’ cell phones, laptops, and other electronic devices when crossing into the U.S. border is unconstitutional. In a 48-page decision, U.S. district judge Denise Casper ruled that border officials need justifiable reasons to search a person’s electronic devices, which should be balanced against the privacy interests of travelers.  “The CBP and ICE policies for ‘basic’ and ‘advanced’ searches, as presently defined, violate the Fourth Amendment to the extent that the policies do not require reasonable suspicion that the devices contain contraband for both such classes of non-cursory searches and/or seizure of electronic devices,” Casper found.

Social Media Ads: Facebook announced new efforts to prepare for the upcoming General Election in the UK on December 12, 2019. In a press conference, Rebecca Stimson, Head of UK Public Policy for Facebook share that “ Helping protect elections is one of our top priorities and over the last two years we’ve made some significant changes – these broadly fall into three camps:

  • We’ve introduced greater transparency so that people know what they are seeing online and can scrutinize it more effectively; 
  • We have built stronger defenses to prevent things like foreign interference; 
  • And we have invested in both people and technology to ensure these new policies are effective.” 

Meanwhile, The Daily Beast submitted anti-vaccination ads via Google, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and Snapchat. Google and Twitter approved ads that repeated widely debunked claims, advocated directly against vaccination, and linked to conspiracy theory websites. The article continues to reveal just how easy it is to place an ad filled with blatant medical misinformation on some of the world’s biggest online platforms.

BlackBox AI: Kashmir Hill with the NY Times dives into how little-known companies are amassing your data — like food orders and Airbnb messages — and selling the analysis to clients. Hill goes on to share what information Shift, a data aggregator, had found out about him: “As of this summer, though, Sift does have a file on you, which it can produce upon request. I got mine, and I found it shocking: More than 400 pages long, it contained all the messages I’d ever sent to hosts on Airbnb; years of Yelp delivery orders; a log of every time I’d opened the Coinbase app on my iPhone. Many entries included detailed information about the device I used to do these things, including my IP address at the time.

Sift knew, for example, that I’d used my iPhone to order chicken tikka masala, vegetable samosas and garlic naan on a Saturday night in April three years ago. It knew I used my Apple laptop to sign into Coinbase in January 2017 to change my password. Sift knew about a nightmare Thanksgiving I had in California’s wine country, as captured in my messages to the Airbnb host of a rental called “Cloud 9.”

And, Apple’s new Apple Card finds it’s black box algorithm is creating controversy after allegations that women were being provided with lower credit limits than males. The story gathered national attention when Ruby on Rails creator David Heinemeier Hansson accused Apple of providing him with a credit limit of 20x that of his wife.  And, the Verge reports that “After Hansson’s complaints went viral, other Apple Card customers reported similar incidents. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak was among them, saying he was given ten times the credit limit offered to his wife. Wozniak called on the government to investigate the operation of such black-box algorithms, which experts say are often discriminatory.”  All of which has led to at least one governmental agency looking into how these decisions are made.

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