New polling sheds light on why we should be skeptical about the techlash

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The CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google are testifying before Congress today in a hearing billed as crucial for the future of both antitrust law and Big Tech’s relationship with Washington. Putting these companies under the glare of a national spotlight isn’t new, and is just the latest episode in Congress’ ongoing efforts to increase the public scrutiny of these companies.

There is little doubt that attacking tech companies scores cheap political points. …

Mark Zuckerberg takes on free speech

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Earlier today, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave a wide-ranging, “unfiltered” speech outlining his views on free expression and the internet (you can read it here and a companion oped here).

It marked a rare and forceful speech from someone who has become a bit of a boogeyman among policymakers on both the left and right. It also outlined, in clear and unapologetic terms, where Facebook’s founder falls on the growing debates over digital free speech.

In the runup to the 2020 presidential election, the company has become a lightning rod. And almost everything the company does lately seems to elicit near-immediate controversy (for the latest example, look at the company’s efforts to create a cryptocurrency in a world where thousands already exist). …

Balancing the freedom to experiment and fear

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Earlier this year, shoppers at Jacksons Food Stores in Tacoma, Washington found a new sign greeting them when they tried to enter the store. It told them to “Look at the Camera for Entry” because facial recognition technology was in use.

Billy Easley examines the implications of this becoming commonplace across the United States in a recent article for the fall volume of James Madison Institute’s policy magazine, The Journal. As Easley explains, “The experience of this Takoma community is a small-scale illustration of an incoming national conversation about commercial use of facial recognition technology.” I’ve written about this for a while (you can find some of my thoughts here, here and here) and one big issue isn’t going away. …


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Coauthored with Harith Khawaja

This week, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) called for a ban on police use of facial recognition as part of his presidential campaign’s criminal justice reform platform. He’s not alone. Earlier this year, San Francisco became the first city in the US to ban local agencies’ use of facial recognition technology. Since then, officials in Oakland, CA and Somerville, MA also voted to limit how police departments use this technology.

This is the latest part of a broader conversation about the costs and benefits of facial recognition technology — a complex puzzle worth unpacking.

From open letters calling on companies like Amazon to stop selling its technology to law enforcement to recent unsuccessful efforts by Amazon shareholders to prohibit the company from selling its facial recognition technology to government customers, there is a serious conversation taking place in the United States about when it is appropriate for governments to use emerging technology that may not be ready for broad deployment. …

They’re about the Border Patrol’s culture

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Note: AP Photo/Eric Gay

Co-authored with Josh Smith

We should expect the best from our public servants, and they should feel an obligation to provide their very best to us. Otherwise, they should find other work. Earlier this month, ProPublica revealed posts from a secret Facebook group that raises questions about the culture within the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). As the Washington Post put it, “Something is rotten in the Border Patrol, but is it a few bad apples or has a fungal disease infected the whole orchard?”

In response to these reports, House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asking the company to “preserve all documents, communications, and other data” including log files and metadata. He also asked Facebook to produce “all postings and comments, including images, videos, and text, as well as any deleted content.” …

Your friends are

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Photo by George Pagan III on Unsplash

Much has been made lately of social media “bias.” Senator Ted Cruz is holding hearings about it. The White House launched an online tool to report it. Senator Josh Hawley has made it the centerpiece of his time so far in Washington. And, as Megan Hansen and I pointed out last year, the cries of social media bias seems to run both ways across the political spectrum. Companies like Facebook, for example, are being blamed for both “catering to conservatives” and for acting as a network of “incubators for far-left liberal ideologies.”

When it comes down to it, however, the data doesn’t seem to support these claims. As it turns out, it isn’t Facebook hunting down particular posts but other users flagging posts as violations of the platform’s community standards relating to hate speech, bullying, and harassment. Unpacking the numbers in Facebook’s latest transparency report from the first quarter of 2019 suggests that the anecdotes of censorship aren’t lining up with reality. …

And it’s not big tech

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Photo by William Hook on Unsplash

Quite a bit of ink has been spilled lately over America’s “monopoly problem” and how to fix it. Nobel Prize winners are writing about it. Executives are being called into congressional hearings and questioned about it. Presidential candidates are building platforms on it. And while calls to “break up big tech” can now be heard from both ends of the political spectrum, history proves that many of the perceived issues with “bigness” can sort themselves out.

There is, however, a very real monopoly problem that has been percolating for some time now in the United States. In fact, if left unchecked, it could grow to a point where it becomes a much more serious threat to innovation than any “big tech” company poses. It’s already grown to an astronomical size without most of us even noticing. …

How the quiet battle over biometric data will shape the future

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Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

In what is being called “the first known example of a government intentionally using artificial intelligence for racial profiling,” China is using facial recognition technology and its network of surveillance cameras to identify and track Uighurs, a mostly Muslim minority in China’s Xinjiang region.

As the New York Times reported, this marks yet another dramatic shift in who is shaping cutting-edge technologies and for what purpose. While democracies have had a near monopoly in this space for decades, the past year has been marked by China setting the tone for technologies like CRISPR and AI. While the United States may still lead the world in innovation, China is winning the race to implementation. …

Come work with us!

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Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

At the Center for Growth and Opportunity, we are dedicated to producing ideas that transform lives, improving individual well-being, and breaking down barriers that are holding back progress. As a part of this, our research team is focused on finding optimistic and actionable solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges and opportunities — clean energy, data privacy, artificial intelligence, genetic editing and synthetic biology, mobility and transportation, emerging technologies, the future of work, competition policy, regulation.

As we grow our research team, we are excited to announce that we are looking for creative, enthusiastic researchers to join our team as Innovation Fellows. This is the perfect opportunity for early-career individuals looking to build their career in research with a focus on public policy issues surrounding technology policy. …

That’s probably a good thing

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Photo by Con Karampelas on Unsplash

Perhaps the most common activity on the internet today is mindlessly agreeing to terms of service (ToS). We’ve all been there. If you have ever signed up for new services at websites like Google, Facebook, Uber, or Amazon, the odds are that you agreed to the terms without reading any of them.

If you feel some sense of embarrassment to admit it, you shouldn’t. You’re not alone. Some of the greatest minds in America sign contracts without reading them. Chief Justice John Roberts doesn’t bother with them. Judge Posner signed a home loan without reading anything.

This may strike a chord with some internet users. After all, even if we wanted to read them all, who has the time? In 2012, Alexis Madrigil estimated that 53.8 billion hours would be required for every Internet user in the United States to read every privacy policy on every website they visit. It’s a safe bet that this number has only grown since then. Just reading Amazon’s ToS out loud would take an entire workday (nine hours, to be exact). …


Christopher Koopman

Senior Director @cgousu

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